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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Black Swan

'Black Swan,' but with Facebook?

June 24, 2011 |  8:36 am


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.


Black Swan an unlikely hit

Natalie Portman's swan baby

Darren Aronofsky dances with 'Swan'

-- Steven Zeitchik

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

Oscars: What's next for the winners?

February 28, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Yourhighness They might have stood on the most prestigious stage in Hollywood on Sunday night. But this year’s Academy Award winners won’t necessarily be in Oscar mode when they next pop up on a movie screen.

Because they took jobs before the awards angel landed on their shoulders — or because they simply want to perform in  diverse roles — many of the winners will star in more commercial films than the ones that netted them their statuettes.

In April, Natalie Portman will appear in the (not exactly Oscar-like) stoner comedy “Your Highness" (and opposite Oscar co-host James Franco). Just a month later, she’ll star as a scientist in a Marvel superhero movie, "Thor," the new take on the Norse god. (She'll also appear in a supporting role in the independent drama “Hesher,” which is expected to get a limited release.)

After that? It could be a while before we see the pregnant actress on screen again; Portman said backstage at the Oscars on Sunday that she had no idea how impending motherhood would affect the roles she takes. “One of the exciting things about becoming pregnant is that I’m expecting a complete unknown,” she said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Candid quotes from the red carpet and beyond

Melissa Leo, the “Fighter” costar who provided the, er, most colorful moment of the Oscars during her acceptance speech for supporting actress, will next make more niche appearances on the big screen. She’ll play a gun-toting member of a homophobic cult in Kevin Smith’s “Red State,” which the filmmaker is self-distributing in October, and she’ll star in an independent golf dramedy titled “Seven Days in Utopia,” which does not yet have a theatrical distributor. (She also has a recurring role on HBO’s post-Katrina New Orleans-set series “Treme.”)

After years of romantic comedy roles leading up to his turn as George VI in “The King’s Speech,” lead actor winner Colin Firth is skewing a little bit more commercial than the film that landed him his statuette — but only a little bit.

The English actor will next be seen in the adaptation of John le Carré’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” a film he was shooting while promoting “The King’s Speech” this season. He plays a British intelligence officer (code name Tailor) suspected of being a Russian mole. The espionage drama, whose rights have just been acquired by Universal Pictures, does not yet have a release date.

 Firth this summer also aims to shoot Park Chan-Wook’s “Stoker,” a mystery drama that will put him in a film with another 2011 award-season personality, Nicole Kidman.

PHOTO GALLERY: Behind the scenes of the 2011 Academy Awards

And Christian Bale? He's spent the last part of his Oscar campaign in an artistically rigorous place: in China shooting a part as a heroic priest in the Asian period piece “The 13 Women of Nanjing." But blockbusters aren’t too far from the actor’s mind; Bale will reprise his superhero role in “The Dark Knight Rises,” which is scheduled for the summer of 2012.

“When I finish the movie in China,” he told reporters Sunday, “it’s straight to Batman. Much more Batman.”

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Natalie Portman, Danny McBride, center, and James Franco in "Your Highness." Credit: Universal


Oscars: Natalie Portman and Colin Firth win top acting awards

February 27, 2011 |  8:46 pm

Natalieosc Yeah Natalie; Ye-ye-yeah Colin!!!

I guess the surprise would have been if Natalie Portman hadn't won for her soul-destroyed ballerina in "Black Swan." It may be the defining performance in her career, so visceral it was, so true did it feel. It was one of my favorites of the year the moment I saw it. She came into the night on a tsunami of support -- Indie Spirit award, Golden Globe, SAG, she even got the British vote from BAFTA. That girl can fly.

How wonderful is Colin Firth? He had racked up a whole bunch of gold too -- Globes, SAG, BAFTA too. Stepping onstage to accept his trophy, he came with the threat of dance moves, as only the still stiff upper-lipped Brit so winningly, wryly could. What can you say about the performance? So moving, so much dignity. Onscreen or off, in character or not, he is such a class act.

Though considering the performance this year, maybe next year the academy should consider ties....


Red carpet photos

Oscar scorecard

Complete coverage: The Oscars

-- Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Natalie Portman and fiancee Benjamin Millepied arrive at the Academy Awards. Credit: Lionel Hahn/Abaca Press/MCT 


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

January 17, 2011 |  6:52 pm


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."



Black Swan's risks pay off

 Black Swan's passionate dance

Are Americans ready for dramas again?

— Steven Zeitchik

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

'Black Swan,' by way of the Black List

January 14, 2011 |  7:57 pm

Last month we told you about the Black List, the group of scripts that Hollywood deems hot. (The winner of last year's poll, "The Beaver," is coming to theaters this spring courtesy of Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson.)

Now the man who had the hottest of them all in 2010 has something new that could one day make its way to the multiplex. Wes Jones, who drew the most votes as the author of the Karl Rove movie "College Republicans," has been circulating a treatment for a new idea.

Called "The Epic of Troy Knight," it's one of the more unusual hybrids out there. According to two people who've heard the pitch, it's about a man seeking his love in a fantasy-world New York that's been plunged into a blackout — all while he's looked after by a set of "Clash of the Titans"-esque rulers who play chess with the universe. One person familiar with the pitch described it as a "fantasy-comedy-existential romance."

And you thought "Black Swan" was an unusual genre combination.

— Steven Zeitchik


The filmgoers' guide to getting your drink on

January 12, 2011 |  3:24 pm


With so many good films in theaters this time of year, dinner and a movie may figure in your night-life plans. Nice idea. But this season’s crop of films seem to be more about booze than cuisine. Apparently, you're not a serious Oscar contender this year unless you have a drink associated with your movie.

Film-cocktails With that in mind, we’ve compiled a pairing guide to help you match your flick ("The King's Speech," "Black Swan," etc.) to your firewater (Scotch, tequila, you get the drift...). Check out the gallery at right, settle on a film and tip back a glass (though maybe not in the theater). To do anything else would be ... un-cinematic.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Colin Firth sips a Scotch in "The King's Speech." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

With so many good films in theaters this time of year, dinner-and-a-movie may figure in your night life plans. Nice idea. But this season’s crop of films seem to be more about booze than cuisine. Apparently, you're not a serious Oscar contender this year unless you have a cocktail associated with your movie.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a pairing guide to help you match your flick to your firewater. Check out the list, settle on a film and tip back a glass (though maybe not in the theater). To do anything else would be ... un-cinematic.

Jim Carrey puts on his chicken wings [Video]

January 10, 2011 | 11:21 am

Jim Carrey currently has "I Love You Phillip Morris" in theaters, but he may well wish he had a more, er, successful art-house film. This weekend on "Saturday Night Live," Carrey got to act out that fantasy -- and we got to see what might have happened had a casting director gone on a serious acid trip -- when Carrey deftly sent up Lily, Mila Kunis' loose-limbed and freewheeling dancer from "Black Swan." Is there a better target for Carrey’s goofball physicality than that movie's somber theatrics? The video is below if you haven't seen it.

Are Americans ready for dramas again?

January 10, 2011 |  8:00 am

This weekend marked a milestone at the box office. No, not beause it was the first time someone paid to see Nicolas Cage as a witch-transporting Crusader. It was a weekend that saw the fourth independent drama in this season of serious movies pass the $30 million mark in domestic box office.

That may not seem like a hugely noteworthy event. But the last time it happened, the world was quite a different place.  It was January 2008, and a quartet of dramas  ("No Country for Old Men," "Atonement," "There Will Be Blood" and "The Great Debaters") all achieved that same watermark of mainstream success. A few months later, the financial crisis would take root and the world would go bleak, and Americans don't like to see dramas when the world goes bleak. The mark wouldn't be reached again until this weekend.

The movie that got this year's group over the hump, "The King's Speech," is continuing to show surprising strength even as it approaches two months in release. Two others of the fab four, "Black Swan" and "The Fighter," are doing even better, maintaining momentum as they push well into mainstream-hit territory. (The fourth, "Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls," has all but finished its run at a decent but more niche place.)

All this doesn't count the blockbuster-level success of a pair of tough dramatic sells, "True Grit" and "The Social Network," which were made by studios but traffic in difficult subjects and embody an auteur spirit.

We've been hearing for years why audiences don't want to see dramas when the economy is bleak and wars are being fought -- namely, things are tough enough without us being reminded of more toughness at a movie theater. It's why studios have all but stopped making dramas, and even independent producers have spent the past few years talking a lot more about genre films. ("The Fighter" and "Black Swan' had to pare their budgets considerably even to get made as independents.)

And yet both of those movies have turned into bona fide hits, far outperforming supposedly more commercial bets like "Burlesque" and "Saw 3D." Is the no-drama rule finally being broken?

It would be easy to point to a (slightly) brighter financial picture as a reason we're embracing darker material. And there is a correlation between up economies and down movies (and vice versa), though it's not as direct as you'd think. During the Great Depression, for instance, people turned out in great numbers to see not uplifting movies but mob movies; in a time when people feel powerless, there's  gratification that comes from watching those taking matters into their own hands. Besides, given everything from a polarized electorate to the events in Tuscon over the weekend, it's not like these are days of rainbows and unicorns.

Some might say this year's movies are simply that strong, and strong movies can never be denied. But it's not as though "The Hurt Locker" -- another difficult movie, but one that few people came out to see last year -- was any slouch.

There may, however, be something more specific going on with these films. The three movies powering the trend deal with drug addiction, mental imbalance and the rise of Hitler. Not light subjects. But they also take place in worlds most of us don't have much  familiarity with. Unless you're an under-duress ballerina, a washed-up boxer or a speech-challenged duke, the content of these films won't hit very close to home. (Contrast these movies with "Rabbit Hole," a drama that deals with the far more relatable topic of death and family crisis; that film hasn't even reached $1 million in box office.)

There's also something weirdly triumphant about the dynamic trio -- all of them are, in their way, underdog stories, and give characters and audiences a happy ending  (yes, even "Swan," though exactly how happy is a matter of debate).

It may well be that, after a few years of saying no, we're finally ready for some drama. Or it may simply be that filmmakers have finally figured out a more palatable way to serve it to us.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: 'The King's Speech.' Credit: The Weinstein Company


Black Swan Theory: Watch movie. Drink tequila. Then what?

January 7, 2011 |  6:20 pm

Marketers frequently piggyback on movies they have nothing to do with. But of all the tie-ins floating around out there, this one, from a tequila bottler, has to be one of the most tenuous:

"As Black Swan prepares to dominate the box office again this weekend," began the press release that landed in our inbox this afternoon, "and with news of stars Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis’ dark, tequila induced sex scene making waves around the internet, the folks at DOBELTequila have created this one of a kind BLACK SWAN COCKTAIL, inspired by the psychological thriller. After this one part sexy, one part sinister scene, you’ll need a strong drink."

Forget the barely noticeable relationship between drink (amaretto, black raspbery liqueur and tequila, in case you're curious) and movie. We're not sure how many marketing benefits there are to connecting your drink with the Portman-Kunis scene in the first place. Drink our product and you too will have lesbian sex in your childhood bedroom while your mother angrily waits in the next room? Some associations are best left unmade.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Mila Kunis. Credit: Liz O. Baylen/Los Angeles Times


Natalie Portman's 'Other' movie, now on screen

January 3, 2011 | 11:44 am


It's been a busy few months for Natalie Portman. First there is the awards campaign for her performance in "Black Swan," for which she is considered by many to be the front-runner for the Oscar for best actress. Then there was the recent one-two announcement that she is engaged to her "Black Swan" choreographer, Benjamin Millepied, and the couple is expecting a child. Next is a full slate of upcoming releases, starting with the rom-com "No Strings Attached," the comic-book adaptation "Thor" and the action-comedy "Your Highness." That's not to mention "Hesher," which premiered at Sundance in 2010, and in which Portman costars and has her first credit as producer. (And what have you been up to lately?)

Add to that pile "The Other Woman," which has reemerged with the release of a poster and trailer that appeared online and the sudden announcement that it would be available on video on demand starting Jan. 1 before hitting theaters Feb. 4. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2009, where it was shown under the title "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," after the Ayelet Waldman novel from which it is adapted.

Anyone looking to chart how Portman arrived at her performance in "Black Swan" would be interested to give "The Other Woman" a look. In the film, Portman plays a young woman dealing with the grief of losing a newborn while struggling to fit in with her husband (Scott Cohen), dodging the scorn of his first wife (Lisa Kudrow) and learning the ropes with her new stepson (Charlie Tahan). In many ways, a more accurate re-titling might have been "The Second Wife," as the film explores the emotional minefield of moving from being an awkwardly tolerated outsider to part of an actual working family unit.

"The Other Woman" also marks something of a departure for director and screenwriter Don Roos, as adapting someone else's work for the first time seems to have tempered his tendency toward acidic camp as seen in "The Opposite of Sex" and "Happy Endings." Prior to the film's premiere in Toronto, Roos introduced the movie by perhaps inadvertently pointing the way forward in Portman's career trajectory and "Black Swan" when he told the audience, "I hope you like challenging women."

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: Natalie Portman and Charlie Tahan in "The Other Woman." Credit: IFC Films


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