24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Darren Aronofsky

Venice Film Festival lineup: Polanski, Friedkin, Cronenberg

July 28, 2011 |  9:40 am

David Cronenberg The 68th Venice Film Festival, which is to take place Aug. 31 through Sept. 10, unveiled its lineup Thursday morning. Besides the previously announced opening-night film, "The Ides of March," the political thriller starring and directed by George Clooney, Venice will be screening such high-profile productions as Tomas Alfredson's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"; David Cronenberg's "A Dangerous Method"; William Friedkin's "Killer Joe"; Steve McQueen's "Shame"; Roman Polanski's "Carnage"; and Todd Solondz's "Dark Horse."

Several of these films will also be screening at the Toronto Film Festival, which is to take place Sept. 8-19.

Venice is the first major fall film festival and is one of the first stops for filmmakers hoping the exposure will lead to Oscar gold in February.

Last year's opening-night film, "Black Swan," directed by Darren Aronofsky, went on to earn numerous Academy Award nominations, including best film and best director. Star Natalie Portman took home the Oscar for lead actress. Aronofsky is to head up the Venice jury this year. The full program can be viewed at the festival's website.

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-- Susan King

Photo: David Cronenberg. Credit: Damian Dovarganes /Associated Press


'Black Swan,' but with Facebook?

June 24, 2011 |  8:36 am

Swanse

EXCLUSIVE: The sight of Mila Kunis' Lily (possibly) tormenting Natalie Portman's Nina in "Black Swan" on the big screen this winter still feels fresh. Which may be one of the reasons why a new script from one of the people behind that film has caught the eye of studio executives in Hollywood.

Mark Heyman, the Darren Aronofsky producing partner who penned "Black Swan," has written a new script that offers a few callbacks to his worldwide hit. A thriller titled "XOXO," the script is, like "Black Swan," an upscale genre story about a complicated relationship, according to a studio executive who has read it. Aronofsky will produce "XOXO" with the producer of "Sideways."

"XOXO" tells of a twentysomething man who meets a female contemporary on Facebook and begins a digital relationship with her, only to find the object of his affections take the relationship to an obsessed and stalker-y place. Think "Fatal Attraction" (but with Facebook).

Of course, when one thinks of Facebook, it's impossible not to think of "The Social Network," which means that the script is a bit like two of the 2011 Oscar heavyweights got together themselves (perhaps on Facebook). Unlike that film, though, "XOXO" assumes a social-media world that exists seamlessly within our own -- much as it does in real life -- instead of one that is discovered as a novelty over the course of the film.

"XOXO," which makes use of streaming video and other social-media platforms in addition to Facebook, also evokes the documentary "Catfish" in its exploration of slippery digital identities (The letter-centric title is, of course, a reference to affectionate, and potentially creepy, online sign-offs.)

The script is now being circulated in Hollywood, including to numerous genre labels, as it seeks financing and distribution. A message to Heyman was not returned.

One of the historic challenges in depicting digital life on a movie screen is showing characters interact with a computer screen in a way that's also cinematically interesting. "XOXO" seeks to avoid the problem by constructing the digital interactions in stylized visual sequences, according to a second person familiar with the script who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak about it publicly.

Heyman developed "Black Swan" closely with Aronofsky after a much earlier version of the movie hit the skids in development. The pair revamped the movie -- it was originally a murder-mystery set in the theater world instead of a horror story in the realm of ballet. They also heightened the ambiguity of the Lily-and-Nina rivalry.

Heyman, who was nominated for BAFTA and Writers Guild of America awards for the screenplay, has been a hot commodity ever since "Black Swan" became a worldwide hit. He's currently writing a movie titled "Age of Rage" for director Marc Webb, about teenagers who fight a virus in an apocalyptic America, and has also been developing "Machine Man," a "Robocop"-infused story about a man who's targeted after he gives his body a titanium-heavy upgrade.

When "Black Swan" became a phenomenon last year, many wondered if it would spawn a renaissance in upscale horror films. That hasn't quite happened, but the subject has certainly transfixed one of the key people involved in that film.

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-- Steven Zeitchik
Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Natalie Portman in "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight


'Lincoln Lawyer' director Brad Furman discusses next project

March 10, 2011 |  8:51 pm

Requi

[For the record, 12:35 p.m. March 11: On Friday morning, producer Scott Franklin said that, although he did give notes on "Intricate" and introduce Brad Furman to a screenwriter, Protozoa is not currently attached to produce it. Furman was not available to comment further. A spokeswoman for Darren Aronofsky said that the director himself was not attached to produce the film and was not engaging with it. The original headline, "Darren Aronofsky returns to the drug world," has been changed accordingly.]

Darren Aronofsky cemented his auteur status a decade ago with "Requiem for a Dream," a dark story of a murky drug underworld. Now he could be returning to that milieu in a different capacity.

The director of "Black Swan," along with that movie's producer, Scott Franklin, are putting their weight behind "Intricate," a story of a promising young athlete who finds himself caught up in the drug trade in 1990s New York, according to the new film's director.

Brad Furman, who helmed the upcoming legal thriller "The Lincoln Lawyer," will direct "Intricate." Furman said he is developing the independent project with Franklin and Aronofsky — who incubate films at their New York-based company Protozoa Pictures — serving as producers.

"The movie is about where this man begins and where he ends, with New York City as an important character," Furman said. Franklin was not immediately available for comment. 

Inspired by a true story, "Intricate" tells of a highly touted college basketball recruit who gets involved in the drug underworld after his hoops career doesn't pan out. At the time, the New York narcotics trade is rife with violence and connections to the burgeoning rap industry.

Although dark dramas remain difficult to finance, Protozoa has a way of getting movies to the screen: Franklin helped secure the money for "Black Swan" after the project fell apart numerous times.

— Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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Photo: "Requiem for a Dream." Credit: Artisan Entertainment

 


'Black Swan': Moviedom's most unlikely hit ever?

January 17, 2011 |  6:52 pm

  Swa

Sure, "Little Miss Sunshine," "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Juno" were quirky movies that came out of nowhere to become mainstream conversation pieces. But these were films about the American suburbs and comedies to boot.

For true indie sleeper status, you need look at Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," which as of Monday crossed the improbable $75-million mark in domestic box office. As my colleague Ben Fritz and I note in a Times print story, not only is it not a comedy, it's about the behind-the-scenes machinations at an elite ballet, a world as far from most Americans' everyday experience as Tchaikovsky's Russia.

If you're shopping for comparisons, "Slumdog Millionaire" may come to mind. That movie got Middle America to embrace the conventions of Bollywood, just as "Black Swan" has gotten older Americans to see a horror film filled with young stars (though the Danny Boyle movie had a decidedly happier and less ambiguous ending).

The best corollary might actually be "Brokeback Mountain," another drama and a period cowboy romance as equally removed from our lives as "Black Swan."

But that film took in much of its $83 million on the back of topical relevance — not that many newspaper op-eds written yet, and it also rode an awards train. "Black Swan" is different: It's become a cultural phenomenon on the strength of Twitter recommendations, YouTube clips and general word-of-mouth buzz.

That's the hows of its popularity. For the whys, people have theories. There may be the simple fact of the film's intensity. (As one executive said, Aronofsky has "made melodrama cool again.") There's the lesbian scene. And the horror elements. (Certainly that it plays as both an art-house character study and a scream-inducing horror flick has helped broaden its appeal.)

But the best assessment may come from Aronofsky himself, who told us he was as flummoxed as anyone. "I get the teenage-girl part of the audience because it's a coming-of-age story about a girl becoming a woman. But older people are seeing it too," he said. "I don't know if even I understand it."

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

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— Steven Zeitchik

Photo: "Black Swan" poster. Credit: Fox Searchlight.


'Black Swan' gets a big mainstream push, but how far can it go?

December 18, 2010 |  7:14 pm

At nearly $10 million in domestic box office, "Black Swan" is already a hit on the art-house circuit. But can Darren Aronofsky's supernatural drama defy the odds and become a mainstream sensation?

Swan The film's distributor, Fox Searchlight, is making a big bet that it can. The studio had initially planned on releasing the Natalie Portman film, which tells the story of a ballerina who may or may not be hallucinating, on about 800 screens over Christmas weekend. But buoyed by the movie's performance in three weeks of limited release, it has decided to nearly double that number to 1,400 screens.

"After seeing the opening grosses and realizing we were crossing over to the commercial multiplex theatres, we decided to quicken the pace," Searchlight distribution chief Sheila DeLoach told 24 Frames.

The movie already has some of the hallmarks of a cultural conversation piece, with David Letterman and other prominent types riffing on it. But the road to crossover success won't be easy. Two years ago, "Slumdog Millionaire" became a national sensation, while five years ago "Brokeback Mountain" pulled off the feat. But most indie dramas eventually hit a ceiling (Aronofsky's previous effort, the buzzed-about Mickey Rourke movie "The Wrestler," topped out at a respectable but not groundbreaking $26 million).

Because of their more limited marketing budgets, independent films can't browbeat their way to mainstream acceptance. And because of their dark and difficult subject matter -- something "Swan" has in spades -- most independent dramas need to induce people to get over their natural reluctance to come out to see it ... and then have those people enjoy the film enough to recommend it to others.

Key to "Black Swan" getting anywhere in the same stratosphere as "Brokeback" ($80+ million in domestic box office) or even considerably ahead of "The Wrestler" will be Searchlight convincing older audiences to overcome a possible innate skepticism about the movie's outrageous and ambiguous elements -- while also getting a younger crowd to see a movie about ballet.

There are other obstacles. While the horror elements bring a built-in audience, they also could preclude a larger base; it's rare for a horror movie to become a mega-hit. And the film could be hampered in more conservative quarters by its salacious lesbian love scene (ironically, the very scene that made the movie such a conversation piece in the first place).

This weekend brings the first test of the film's broad appeal, as "Black Swan" goes from the very selective precincts of 90 theaters to 10 times that number, including multiplexes in a host of suburbs. As of Saturday afternoon, the figures look solid, but it's still far too soon to say whether hopes for a mainstream hit are real or, well, an illusion.

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-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

 

How deep is the 'Black Swan' age divide?

December 6, 2010 |  7:30 am

Swanse
The release of "Black Swan" this weekend continued to demonstrate what many in moviedom had suspected  since the trailer blew up YouTube last summer: The movie could become an art-house sensation. At the 18 big-city locations the film played this weekend, Darren Aronofsky's supernatural ballet drama took in an average of nearly $80,000, which is a fancy numerical way of saying that audiences jammed theaters.

It's still far from resolved how well the Natalie Portman-Mila Kunis film will travel. Will it go beyond the urbane audiences who came out to see it this weekend and become a pop-culture juggernaut like the 2008 film "Slumdog Millionaire," another holiday-season genre bender? Or is it more akin to, well, Aronofsky's "The Wrestler," a well-received awards film that, at $26 million in box office, was nonetheless mainly a niche hit?

But one weekend into its release, one thing has become clear about "Black Swan." There's a generational divide. And despite its ballet-world setting, it's a divide that cuts sharply against older audiences.

In an informal poll of theater managers this weekend, distributor Fox Searchlight found that audiences were almost overwhelmingly younger than 50, with most 35 and under. "This is much younger than we usually get," Nancy Utley, co-president of distributor Fox Searchlight, said in an interview last week.

Meanwhile, critics about 50 or younger have embraced the horror-ballet combination almost universally: Michael Phillips ("an exciting fairy tale for grown-ups"), Andrew O' Hehir ("a memorable near-masterpiece") and Manohla Dargis ("shocking, funny and touching"), to name a few. Not so at the other end of the age spectrum. Some older critics liked it, but plenty didn't. David Denby, the L.A. Times' Kenneth Turan ("You won't be having a lot of fun at 'Black Swan' "), Rex Reed and Kirk Honeycutt ("trying to coax a horror-thriller out of the world of ballet doesn't begin to work for Darren Aronofsky") wrote skeptical or scathing reviews.

Continue reading »

Critical Mass: 'Black Swan'

December 3, 2010 |  5:27 pm

Black-swan-critical-mass1

Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" isn't your typical ballet movie. It's got as many jump scares as a horror flick, lots of blood and yes, dirty, explicit sex with Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis. It's bold and extreme and in order to convey the experience, critics are combing back through their film memories to paint a picture of comparison and provide enough comparable films to fill a Netflix queue.

The Times' Kenneth Turan sounds like he would rather be at home watching "Great Performances" (or cleaning his septic tank) than enduring Aronofsky's intense take on the arts. He writes, "When you experience ballet the Aronofsky way, you count yourself lucky that the dancers don't have easy access to staple guns." And no, that's not a compliment.

Perhaps because the movie turned him off so intensely, Turan's mind seems to have wandered off to other films he liked better. In the course of his review he brings up "The Red Shoes" and describes Portman and Kunis' sex scene as "soft-core antics that will remind those with long memories of Radley Metzger's mostly forgotten 'Therese and Isabelle' and 'Camille 2000.'"

Continue reading »

Darren Aronofsky will make a robot movie (but not that robot movie)

October 26, 2010 |  4:15 pm

Arono
Darren Aronofsky is known for making hybrid films, a la the upcoming supernatural-ballet blend "Black Swan." So the headlines write themselves on his decision to take on "Machine Man," a story of a man who becomes part-robot as he gradually replaces his vital organs with mechanized parts.

The film, based on Max Barry's online-serial novel, will be a slower burn than Aronofsky's "Wolverine 2," a studio film with a lot of momentum. "Machine Man" is being written by Mark Heyman, Aronofsky's producing partner who spent years meticulously researching and chiseling out "Black Swan" (Aronofsky's non-studio movies are developed slowly and carefully in general).

Fanboys hoping against hope Aronofsky still will take on the financially troubled "Robocop" reboot will be disappointed with the news -- with the director doing this robot-themed project, there's almost no chance Aronofsky will go back to the same well again.

--Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Darren Aronosky. Credit: Samir Hussein / Getty Images

 


It's a swan, it's a plane...Darren Aronofsky latest name to surface in Superman director search

September 27, 2010 |  1:24 pm

When we interviewed Darren Aronofsky at the start of the Toronto International Film Festival, he had a deadpan answer on the progress of "Robocop," the remake of the 1980s action movie that has been felled by financial problems at MGM.

"I think I'm still attached," he said. "I don't know. I haven't heard from anyone in a while."

Now there's talk that he could make his studio debut with a different classic property: Superman.

Super As he intensifies his search for a director on the Warner Bros. reboot, Christopher Nolan, who's godfathering the new Superman and producing the David Goyer script, has had discussions with Aronofsky about the job, sources say.

Aronfosky's latest, "Black Swan," the hybrid dramatic thriller with Natalie Portman, looks on track to become an art-house hit, if not more, and the idea would be to bring Aronofsky's auteur sensibility to the comic book mythology (much as Nolan has done with Batman).

Of course, Aronofsky is just one name among many. Nolan and producing partner Emma Thomas are casting a net wider than Krypton for the job, with Zack Snyder (a man known for action scenes and physical movement), Matt Reeves (getting heat off this Friday's "Let Me In") and a number of veteran filmmakers also reportedly in the running.

There would also be questions about how the relationship would work between two strong-willed auteurs like Aronosky and Nolan. And the "Wrestler" director has famously resisted taking on bigger-budget studio pictures in the interest of retaining creative control.

Still, it's an enticing idea to bring on an Aronofsky or someone of his ilk. He and Nolan have had similar roots, if vastly different trajectories. Both gained  acclaim for low-budget indies that told fractured stories (Nolan with "Following" and Aronofsky with "Pi") and have continued to maintain an auteur vision even as they worked with bigger stars. If Warner Bros. and financier Legendary are going to give Nolan a significant degree of creative freedom, it makes sense to go with someone who knows how to make the most of that.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT

Photo: Vintage Superman art. Credit: Jack Burnley / Taschen.

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Toronto 2010: 'Black Swan' gets an academy dry run

September 14, 2010 |  3:08 pm

The crowd that turns out to the most formal of Toronto venues, the capacious Roy Thomson Hall, is usually enthusiastic but exactingly polite. There are standing ovations, restrained in-movie reactions and, at the end of the screening, spotlights on the filmmaker so he or she can take a bow. It's the closest the more rough-and-tumble North American film festival world gets to Cannes or Venice.

(It's also a sharp contrast from the campus setting of Toronto's Ryerson Theatre, where loud and informal rules the day. There, a young crowd hoots and hollers at the genre movies and comedies, and the red carpet is as likely to be populated by go-go dancers as it is by Oscar de la Renta.)

Swan So it would have been folly to assume campy anarchy at the "Black Swan" premiere at Roy Thomson Monday night, no matter how much the movie indulges in same. But for a buttoned-down event, things did get a little ... unhinged.

During the screening, moments of unexpected scares sent ripples of gasps and nervous laughter through the crowd. Festival screenings can feel a little cold, and thus less communal, than the commercial variety. That wasn't a problem here.

Meanwhile, rather than just politely presenting the cast on stage before the lights went down, director Darren Aronofsky took some liberties. Introducing co-star Vincent Cassel, he said that "my big regret is that I'll never get to direct him in French, because I'm from Brooklyn, and we don't speak French in Brooklyn."

A moment later he encouraged the audience to continue clapping for star Natalie Portman and keep the spotlight on her because "she hates this stuff," and Aronofsky, evidently, enjoys making her squirm (good-naturedly).

The scene was fitting for a film that is willing to flirt with the over-the-top -- and then vault right over it -- with its crazy mix of serious ballet scenes, magical realism, Argento scares and the occasional moments of violence and soft-core sex.

In a way, Roy Thomson is the best test for a hybrid composition like "Swan." The venue offers a crowd disposed to liking auteurs and high-art setting such as ballet, but one that may not be as ready for something more lurid. In other words, it offers the academy crowd. And it clearly played to them.

Fox Searchlight may still have some concerns that awards attention will get channeled to Portman (a very strong lead actress candidate) instead of spread all around. But the fact that the movie was embraced by the Roy Thomson crowd, which embraced the moments of physical grace and symphonic beauty and at least accepted, if not enjoyed, the other elements, has to be reassuring. There's still work to be done if Searchlight wants this to be an all-category contender. But if the Monday reaction said anything, it said that it's work that can pay off.

Speaking to 24 Frames as part of our larger print story on the film,  Aronofsky said he's ready for disparate reactions, from the awards community or anyone else. "I'm used to controversy with my work because it doesn't fit people's expectations." With the start of the awards circuit upon us, he can begin bracing himself.

--Steven Zeitchik

Twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT


Photo: "Black Swan." Credit: Fox Searchlight


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