Movie Reviews: One for the Kids, One for Adults

The Chronicles of Narnia:
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The fun falls a bit short in the film adaptation of the third published novel in the C. S. Lewis epic fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. This time around, the two younger Pevensie kids Edmund (Skandar Keynes) and Lucy (Georgie Henley) are transported back to Narnia along with their annoying younger cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). They join the new King of Narnia, Caspian (Ben Barnes) in his quest to rescue seven lost lords to save Narnia from a corrupting evil that resides on a dark island. Each character is tested as they journey to the home of the great lion Aslan at the far ends of the world.

The core cast is fine as always, but some of the supporting players are not seen as much as they were in the previous installments. Liam Neeson reprises his voice role of Aslan, the great lion and the highest of all the Kings of Narnia. And don't blink or you will miss the cameo returns of Tilda Swinton (I am Love) as the White Witch, and the older Pevensie siblings -- William Moseley as Peter and Anna Popplewell as Susan. Somehow minimizing these roles in the threequel really weakens the ride.

The positives -- it's great to see the kids again as they set off on a new journey -- and some of the special effects are top-notch. But unfortunately, the storytelling is quite simplistic this time around -- and the overall effect is pretty bland. Available in both 2D and 3D formats -- I saw the latter and can say, save your money and go with the standard format. Nothing spectacular happens in 3D. In summation, a minimal nostalgic recommendation from me -- based on continuing a classic story with some interesting characters and the actors who play them. Directed by Michael Apted (Amazing Grace), who has also signed on to do the fourth installment in the series, The Silver Chair. [Rated PG; opens today]

Grade: B-

Black Swan

Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler) is back to his wacky ways with the psychological thriller, Black Swan. Natalie Portman (Brothers) is sensational as Nina, who lands the lead in a production of Swan Lake by a New York City ballet company. She lives with her obsessive former ballerina mother who exerts suffocating control over her. The stress of gaining the role and dealing with more pressure at home has pushed Nina over the edge. Things get even crazier when a new dancer, Lily (the equally great Mina Kunis from Forgetting Sarah Marshall), enters the mix.

The film is beautifully shot and is carried by some of the best acting of the year. But it's also a bit too bizarre for its own good. Nina pushes herself so hard that her stress causes her to be unsure if things she is experiencing are real, psychotic episodes, drug-induced hallucinations or dreams. And you'll be left wondering the same, too.

The excellent supporting cast includes Vincent Cassel (Ocean's Twelve and Ocean's Thirteen) as the ballet's demanding artistic director and Barbara Hershey (The Portrait of a Lady) as Nina's mother. On the flip side, Winona Ryder (Girl, Interrupted) is a bit too campy as another dancer forced to retire due to age. The movie is very dark and compelling -- but also difficult to recommend strongly because it's way too over the top for all audiences. [Rated R; opens wider today]

Grade: B+


  • Fourteen members of the Pennsylvania Ballet were cast as the corps de ballet in the Black Swan -- backdrop for the main actors' performances. A few were on hand at my screening for Q&A -- and admitted that real ballet life is stressful and drama-filled, but that Nina's character takes her grueling preparation a bit too far.
  • Click on the Film Reviews icon at left for more reviews, including the highly-recommended 127 Hours.

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