‘Rabbit Hole’: Death drama done right
For his third film, John Cameron Mitchell pulls back from the flamboyancy and sexiness marking his directing repertoire, which includes “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus,” for this guileless meditation on grief. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a suburban couple reeling from their 4-year-old’s death in a car accident eight months ago. Now everything’s changed – their now-rocky relationship, interacting with family, a simple grocery store stop. Cameron’s film is a painful portrait that captures one family’s hopeful recovery so realistically – and, with its poetic cinematography, beautifully – that it feels both very exclusive and universal. There’s a sensitivity that’s never overdone, resisting melodrama that would otherwise cheapen this artful piece of poignant greatness. Kidman and Eckhart, both terrific, are deep rooted into their roles as their grief throws them into isolation – she wants to move on by moving out, and he feels like she’s erasing their son’s memory. Fights break out, and the best resolution the movie can hope for is hope itself. That comes in a stirring monologue from scene-stealer Dianne Wiest, Kidman’s onscreen mother who’s also lost a son. It’s a beautiful act of grace. But death’s aftermath isn’t one-note, and much like “Six Feet Under” handled mortality, so does “Rabbit Hole” play scribe/screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire – with a witty bite that’s hilariously inappropriate (especially during the awkward group therapy sessions). The anguish-humor duality is a genius balance in a genius movie.
‘Black Swan’: Killing me softly
The who-danced-what hoopla surrounding the berserk ballerina movie Natalie Portman won a Best Actress Oscar for is inconsequential to how fantastically she plays a self-destructive dancer. Whether the actress did little footwork in Darren Aronofsky’s artistically maniacal masterpiece, as a dance double recently alleged, it’s the intensity of the transformative acting – particularly Portman’s haunting metamorphosis into a darker version of herself (i.e. full-blown nutcase) – that’s unshakable. As Nina Sayers, Portman is pushed relentlessly by her artistic director (Vincent Cassel) and smother mother (Barbara Hershey) to perfect her part in “Swan Lake,” enveloping the innocent and ominous extremities of the role. The pressure takes hold of her, especially when a rival dancer (Mila Kunis) becomes her understudy/wet dream fodder, and throws Nina into out-of-character craziness. What transpires is so nightmarish it might as well be horror – haunting hallucinations, nail-biting melodramatics and a disturbing mother-daughter relationship. Portman is profound, as deep into Nina as possible, and so are many of the supporting actors: Hershey excels doing deranged mom from hell (watch her face go from blissful to ice cold in a finger snap), and Winona Ryder, in just a few scenes, turns in a scary performance as a washed-up diva. The “Black Swan” cast reflects on their roles during a three-part special feature, “Metamorphosis,” a long look at day-to-day production that’s an intriguing supplement to one of the best films of last year.
‘I Love You Phillip Morris’: Jailhouse cock
A queer love story in prison is just the kind of wackiness that would attract someone like Jim Carrey, who plays Steven Russell, a married family man whose epiphany drives him to gaydom. Now one-hundred percent homo (see: expensive taste and a move to South Beach), he falls for a genuine gentleman, Phillip Morris (an adorable Ewan McGregor), in the lock-up library, where the two men forge a sweet romantic chemistry. This crazy thing called love gets much, much crazier when Morris is released and Russell devises outlandish schemes – one involving AIDS that’s particularly disturbing – to reunite with him. McGregor and Carrey fit together like a puzzle; they’re the yin and yang of love. But not without a few missing pieces, like Russell’s trouble-making shenanigans, that strain their lovebird attachment. And here’s the real kicker: This one’s based on a true story. Yep, Russell exists. Keep that in mind during some of the unrealistic ridiculousness that the same writers of “Bad Santa,” another overlooked dark comedy, work into the well-balanced, offbeat script. A love-or-hate hoot, “I Love You Phillip Morris” manages to be as absurdly unsettling as rompy and raunchy, with a stereotypical commentary on gay lifestyle and an endearing love story that somehow ends up sweeter than it should be. Bummer that there’s not more to love in the features department, with just a filmmaker commentary, a typical making of and a handful of dull deleted scenes. Don’t they know that gays like to accessorize?