Tag Archives: Darren Aronofsky

Hollywood Wants a Challenge for Clinton

The clip above is Mark Ruffalo on his iPhone, sending a message from a movie set in London to a group of Hollywood figures urging Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for President in 2016. It is so easy to make fun of this group. Last month several members of what you might call this liberal elite gathered, according to Vanity Fair, in a Chinatown loft in New York City, where the food included charred broccoli with roasted eggplant and a meatless burger, to encourage the progressive former Harvard Law School professor and consumer protection advocate to jump into the 2016 fray. It’s a bit like watching Tea Partyers assemble to maybe cook a few cows and burn a few crosses while discussing how to throw that uppity Obama out of the White House. Neither fringe is likely to get what they want.

If Warren does decide to challenge Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries (and so far she is the only one who could do so in an interesting way), she has the initial backing of Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Edward Norton, Darren Aronofsky, Chloë Sevigny and Peter Coyote among many other Hollywood figures (read their open letter here). Of course, that support is carefully worded. A key part of the letter says:

“There’s too much at stake to have anything other than our best candidates taking part in the debate; everyone is better off with a contested primary.”

That does not mean an automatic, long-term support for Warren’s presidential candidacy; only that these celebrities think there should be a contest and not a coronation of Hillary Clinton. I can certainly agree with that – a former Republican, Clinton needs a challenge from the left because she can easily swat her conservative critics.

So, the Democrats may need to shake things up a bit, if only to challenge and strengthen Clinton. The Republicans, on the other hand, are in for another tough election cycle. They may have triumphed in the midterms, but a presidential election is another beast. They’ve lost the last two and are not looking good now either. A few days ago, Mitt Romney decided not to run for a third time, giving the impression that he’s finally come to his senses. Sarah Palin may want another go, but has spent the last years bucking the GOP establishment; her recent incoherent appearance in Iowa became a viral sensation (the whole tragic speech is in the clip above) and was sort of a final nail in the coffin of her political career, unless she comes up with a smart way to mend ties with her party and build a serious operation.

It was argued in a recent Politico article, that the NRC under Reince Priebus’s leadership desperately wants to avoid the clown show of 2012. They will do everything they can to keep the fringe candidates from appearing in debates alongside those who actually have a shot at the GOP candidacy. Polls suggest that Jeb Bush is the frontrunner by far, followed by Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson. It would be good for the GOP to take Paul seriously; that would be a beneficial debate for them. 

However, Huckabee and Carson need to go away as soon as possible. The former is a dinosaur, representing an oppressive Christian culture that hurts women, gays and the young; there was even a recent report that Huckabee as a teenager regarded dancing as something Christians shouldn’t do (shades of Footloose!). It would be another thing if Huckabee showed any signs of having matured since then, but he rarely does. As for Carson, he constantly seems to be struggling with what he knows best; in the clip above, we hear him correctly arguing in favor of vaccinating children after a measles outbreak – only to then avoid clashing with the moronic conservative argument that parents should have a choice, and he ends up blaming immigrants! Not smooth at all, doctor.

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noahThe story of how Noah (Russell Crowe) came to build the ark that saved two of all species from the wrath of God gets its Hollywood blockbuster treatment. Effects-laden, majestic and sometimes completely absurd, director Darren Aronofsky’s film is nevertheless packed with visual treats and a provocative philosophy; this is a very untraditional way to tell a Bible story. Never boring, with “the Watchers”, stone golems, as an ingredient that elevates an exciting battle later on in the film. Crowe is solid, but the story loses momentum near the end when the fight is on to destroy Ray Winstone’s villain.

2014-U.S. 138 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel. Cast: Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Ray Winstone (Tubal-cain), Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman. Voices of Nick Nolte, Frank Langella. 

Trivia: Michael Fassbender and Christian Bale were allegedly considered as Noah.

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The Greatest Hits of 2014

It’s time for that annual list of this year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2014 for ya.


* Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit – This reboot of Tom Clancy’s CIA analyst cum action hero has Chris Pine, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh (who’s also directing), but the trailer disturbingly shows another variation on the Jason Bourne concept.

* Labor Day – Jason Reitman returns, aided by Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. Unfortunately, what looked like a promising drama has now been dumped in the frigid January slot.


* The Monuments Men – George Clooney directs this story about museum curators and art historians trying to rescue vital pieces of art before Hitler gets his hands on them. Starring Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Daniel Craig. Originally slated for a late 2013 release.

* RoboCop – The remake has Joel Kinnaman, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman. One vital question remains: What’s the point?

Also interesting to note this month: Kevin Costner and Liam Neeson will clash in 3 Days to Kill and Non-Stop, two action thrillers that look pretty similar in style and tone. One likely hit will be Son of God, a movie based on material from The Bible as well as previously unseen footage.


* The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson’s new movie has a star-studded cast and an intriguing story set between the world wars.

* Grace of Monaco – Another movie originally slated for a late 2013 release, this one is hopefully better than Diana. Nicole Kidman plays the princess.

* Muppets Most Wanted – The Muppets return for a jewel-heist caper. Lots of star cameos, as expected.

* Noah – One can’t help but being intrigued by a Darren Aronofsky movie about the biblical hero. Stars Russell Crowe, and the trailer has Gladiator-esque qualities.


* Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A summer of big blockbusters begins with this Marvel sequel.


Sabotage – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to movies has been largely tongue in cheek, but the trailer for this film, directed by David Ayer of End of Watch fame, suggests a different approach.

* Transcendence – Johnny Depp stars in this sci-fi flick about a scientist who downloads his mind into a computer. Directing debut of cinematographer and Christopher Nolan loyalist Wally Pfister.


* The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – The sequel looks like it might have the same problems as the first one. On the other hand, the first one was surprisingly good.

* Godzilla – Looks like a tired retread on paper, but director Gareth Edwards and the cast might make a difference. The trailer has the right look.

* X-Men: Days of Future Past – Bryan Singer tries to unite two franchise threads. Let’s hope it’s better than Star Trek Generations (1994).


* Edge of Tomorrow – Tom Cruise fighting aliens. Again. Directed by Doug Liman.

* How to Train Your Dragon 2 – Could become the animated hit of the summer. DreamWorks will be anxious to make sure that the sequel matches the wonderful original.

* Transformers: Age of Extinction – The last time I made the mistake of giving Michael Bay the benefit of a doubt. This time I’m sure Mark Wahlberg will be lost in a flurry of incomprehensible battles.


* Tammy – Melissa McCarthy puts her stardom to the ultimate test, being directed by her husband, Ben Falcone, in a summer blockbuster comedy that has Susan Sarandon playing her alcoholic grandmother.

* Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – The sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) has Gary Oldman (but Andy Serkis is still the star). Directed by Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame.

* Jupiter Ascending – The Wachowski Siblings return after Cloud Atlas (2012) with another sci-fi movie, this one starring Mila Kunis.


* Guardians of the Galaxy – Marvel strikes back with another adventure, this one starring among others Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel.

* Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s follow-up to their 2005 movie. Postponed for a year after its original 2013 release date. Hardly promising.

* The Expendables 3 – I’ll mention this simply because Mel Gibson plays the villain and the cast also has Harrison Ford, Antonio Banderas and Kelsey Grammer. I guess it has to be seen to be believed.

As a Swede, I have to highlight two world-famous fellow Swedes this month: Lasse Hallström is set to release The Hundred-Foot Journey, a film about an Indian family competing with a Michelin-starred restaurant in France, starring Helen Mirren, and Alexander Skarsgård who’s starring alongside Meryl Streep in Phillip Noyce’s sic-fi drama The Giver.


* The Equalizer – Another TV show gets a movie adaptation, this one directed by Antoine Fuqua and starring Denzel Washington.


* Gone Girl – David Fincher adapted the bestseller, with Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris set to put the screen ablaze.

* Get On Up – James Brown is the latest music star to get a proper screen biography. Directed by Tate Taylor (of The Help) and starring Chadwick Boseman.


* Interstellar – Christopher Nolan returns with one of the year’s most highly anticipated sci-fi films. Starring Matthew McConaughey, who’s clearly continuing his current brilliant streak.

* Dumb and Dumber To – Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels return after 20 years. Are they getting any smarter?

* Fury – Another film by David Ayer this year (after Sabotage), a war movie set near the end of World War II. Stars Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf.

* The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – Francis Lawrence directs this complex endeavor, where author Suzanne Collins’s book has been chopped into two chapters.


* Exodus – Ridley Scott mounts a comeback after the creative abyss known as The Counselor. This biblical epic, starring Christian Bale, looks more like Kingdom of Heaven (2005).

* The Hobbit: There and Back Again – The third and final chapter in Peter Jackson’s insanely protracted franchise

* Annie – Another movie adaptation of the Broadway hit, this time featuring Jamie Foxx, Rose Byrne, Cameron Diaz and Beasts of the Southern Wild star Quvenzhané Wallis.

* Into the Woods – The Brothers Grimm fairy tales are presented with a twist in this film, directed by Rob Marshall, and starring Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine and Johnny Depp.

* Unbroken – Angelina Jolie is set to direct this World War II story, which is based on a best-selling book and adapted by the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson.

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The Black Swan Turns 30

Mila Kunis turns 30 years old today, so congratulations!

At an early age, she moved from Ukraine to Los Angeles and was hired at the age of 15 (barely) for That ’70s Show, the sitcom that became her breakthrough. At 16, she was also hired to voice the ever unfortunate Meg on Family Guy. These two shows have become a foundation for Mila Kunis, one that gave her opportunities in movies. From 2008 and onwards, she primarily appeared in Forgetting Sarah MarshallTed (a terrific girlfriend part written by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane) and Black Swan, a film that steered Kunis in a darker direction and earned her positive reviews. In the clip above, Kunis appears on Conan and gives the host a badass stare.

Kunis has been dating Macaulay Culkin, but is currently in a relationship with former That ’70s Show co-star Ashton Kutcher; in fact, there are now rumors that she could be planning a wedding with him. Her career is looking as bright as the sun; projects she has lined up include The Angriest Man in Brooklyn with Robin Williams, Hell & Back with Susan Sarandon, the Paul Haggis drama Third Person and the Wachowski Siblings adventure Jupiter Ascending

Kunis recently played a very wicked witch in Oz the Great and Powerful. Considering her roles as a black swan in Darren Aronofsky’s film and an occasionally intimidating girlfriend on That ’70s Show, it’s obvious that Mila Kunis is at her best showing off a darker side. 

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Black Swan: Diary of a Mad Woman


blackswanThe Wrestler (2008) portrayed an man who suffered for his art; as a professional wrestler he had to torture his body in order to give the audience what it craved. Director Darren Aronofsky considers Black Swan to be a companion piece. The film shares similar themes with The Wrestler, but its main focus doesn’t lie on the painful physical process behind a ballet performance, but the mental illness that’s about to break the protagonist. The audience might have felt more comfortable merely observing this condition, but Aronofsky forces us to take part in it. It’s not a horror movie, but it will certainly make your skin crawl.

At the New York City Ballet Company, the brilliant director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) is preparing a new take on Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”. He needs a dancer capable of portraying both the innocent White Swan and the evil Black Swan. Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) desperately wants the part, but Leroy is far from convinced; he knows that the timid Nina can do White Swan but he has yet to see her dark side. What he doesn’t know is that Nina has certain issues that few others know about. She shares an apartment with her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) who has devoted her entire life to her daughter and potential success in ballet. Nina has had problems in the past, scratching parts of her body until it bleeds. As she competes for the “Swan Lake” part, she seems to be hurting herself again and also starting to see strange things. Eventually, Nina lands the part of the Swan twins, which thrills her… but the nightmarish visions only intensify.

Pure Cronenberg
There’s a lot going on in this film and it’s hard not to be fascinated. Aronofsky wanted to do a story about understudies, what it feels like to be shadowed by a double. All About Eve (1950) comes to mind and that part of the film is represented by the confident and blunt Lily (Mila Kunis) who becomes Nina’s understudy and a person Nina considers a threat as well as an object of sexual desire. Startlingly, she sees herself in others at times and those scenes are reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s eerie The Tenant (1976). The theme of self-mutilation and the unlimited possibility of the human body as a tool is pure Cronenberg, of course. Tortured feet, sharp scissors cutting fingers and skin that gets ripped off one’s body… it all serves as an entrée to the real feast, the final half-hour where Nina merges entirely with the physical and mental aspects of her “Swan Lake” character. Often we are not entirely sure of what’s real and Aronofsky likes to keep it that way; we should be on edge, just like Nina. The director and his collaborators cleverly turn the entire film into a frenzied, very dark, operatic show that takes characteristics of ballet (such as the physical hard work and the always present mirrors) and make them part of what is sick in Nina’s life. Most films about ballet celebrate the beauty of the art; this one makes it look like something Satan invented. Portman invested a lot into her character; she wanted to do something decidedly adult and she carries the film through some of its sillier moments. She’s very ably assisted by Hershey as the mother who enables Nina’s illness and Kunis as the sexy dancer who in Nina’s mind turns into a lesbian schemer.

Some critics thought the film is too overblown. Also, I couldn’t help laughing a little at Cassel’s stereotypical character, an insulting Frenchman who uses sex to manipulate the women who work for him. Still, this is a highly intelligent, raw and very visual experience that leaves one breathless.

Black Swan 2010-U.S. 108 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Scott Franklin, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer, Brian Oliver. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andrés Heinz, John McLaughlin. Cinematography: Matthew Libatique. Editing: Andrew Weisblum. Cast: Natalie Portman (Nina Sayers), Mila Kunis (Lily), Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy), Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, Benjamin Millepied.

Trivia: Meryl Streep was allegedly considered for the part of Nina’s mother.

Oscar: Best Actress (Portman). BAFTA: Best Actress (Portman). Golden Globe: Best Actress (Portman).

Last word: “[Portman and I] talked a bit about it and I started to develop it, but it was a really tough film because getting into the ballet world proved to be extremely challenging. Most of the time, when you do a movie and you say, ‘Hey, I want to make a movie about your world,’ all the doors open up, and you can do anything and see anything you want. The ballet world really wasn’t at all interested in us hanging out, so it took a long time to get the information to put it together. Over the years, Natalie would say, ‘I’m getting too old to play a dancer. You better hurry up.’ I was like, ‘Natalie, you look great. It’ll be fine.’ And then, about a year out from filming, or maybe a little bit earlier, I finally got a screenplay together. That’s how it started.” (Aronofsky, Collider)

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The Wrestler: Stuck in the ’80s


thewrestlerPrior to this film, director Darren Aronofsky enjoyed recognition primarily from critics who loved his first film (Pi (1998)) or his second (Requiem for a Dream (2000)). This film, however, became a mainstream breakthrough for a filmmaker who rarely has chosen the easy path. He ended up picking washed-up actor Mickey Rourke for the lead, which turned out to be a brilliant move. Just like Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Rourke has now been granted a second chance in life.

Randy used to be big. He spent the better part of the 1980s as one of professional wrestling’s greatest stars. When we meet him, twenty years after those glory days, his star has faded. He’s still wrestling, but only on weekends doing various gigs for independent wrestling promoters in New Jersey. Randy keeps dreaming of his great comeback, but earning enough money to pay rent is a constant challenge. Most of his life still revolves around wrestling; when he’s not in the ring he’s preparing for another fight, buying steroids, pumping iron and working on his tan. Weekdays are spent loading boxes at a supermarket. He’s also trying to get closer to Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), whose real name is Pam; she works as a stripper at a local bar and is always happy to see Randy but considers him a customer only.

After a particularly gruesome fight in the ring, Randy suffers a heart attack and barely escapes death. His doctor tells him that his wrestling days are over, which is a great shock to Randy. He seeks comfort with Cassidy, but she tells him to reconnect with his long-estranged daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). She, on the other hand, isn’t impressed with his first attempt…

Real life keeps interfering
The film largely portrays people who have turned abusing their bodies into a career. Professional wrestling may be a childish, incomprehensible game to most people over the world, but the movie shows the contestants suffering constant body blows. The animosity is fiction, the pain isn’t always. The woman Randy is attracted to engages in similar games; she makes men believe that the show she’s putting on is real. Both of them had the best time of their lives in the ’80s (they love bombastic rock anthems from those days) and now they’re always struggling to recapture some of that glory. Real life keeps interfering, posing both challenges and temptations to them, but they’re not strong enough to accept them.

For a while, the filmmakers have us (as well as their characters) thinking that a normal, healthy, happy alternative lifestyle is a possibility… but we’re all brutally pulled back into the inescapable. It isn’t easy to give up something that defined us a long time ago. As the end credits roll and Bruce Springsteen performs his terrific theme song, a great sense of sadness might overcome audience members, but perhaps there’s a nobility in Randy’s hopeless choices.

There are few surprises in this story, but it feels genuine, elevated by a documentary-like direction by Aronofsky and superior performances by the cast.

Tomei gives one of her best efforts as the stripper with a heart of gold, but this picture could not have been what it is without Rourke’s performance, so closely tied to the fate of his own career. Real-life professional wrestler Roddy Piper allegedly broke down crying in the star’s arms after watching this film. Apparently, it touches a nerve. Let’s just hope that unlike Randy, Rourke chooses a more hopeful path.

The Wrestler 2008-France-U.S. 109 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Screenplay: Robert Siegel. Song: “The Wrestler” (Bruce Springsteen). Cast: Mickey Rourke (Randy “The Ram” Robinson), Marisa Tomei (Pam/Cassidy), Evan Rachel Wood (Stephanie), Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens.

Trivia: Several real-life wrestlers make appearances. Nicolas Cage and Sylvester Stallone were allegedly considered for the lead.

Golden Globes: Best Actor (Rourke), Original Song. BAFTA: Best Actor (Rourke). Venice: Golden Lion.

Last word: “I knew how to push the buttons. And I think that’s what [Rourke] wanted. To be pushed away from his fear you just had to challenge him, and then he would rise and he would keep rising. The more I pushed him, the better he would get. And that’s what was interesting, how much better. But another thing that method actors do is they do props a lot of times. They want to have something in their hands so kind of the greatest accomplishment in a joking way for me in this film was the fact that Mickey Rourke doesn’t wear sunglasses for one scene in the entire film, because in every scene he wanted to wear sunglasses to hide. And I’m like, ‘Mickey, people are coming to the movies to look into peoples’ eyes. That’s what they want to see. They don’t want to see a reflection of the camera; they want to see your soul, so no sunglasses.’ And there was a fight every day, every day.” (Aronofsky, About.com)

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The Fountain


Director Darren Aronofsky’s movie is set in three different centuries and jumps back and forth between them, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as incarnations of two basic characters, Tomas and Isabel. The myth of the tree of life is what holds them together; in the 16th century a conquistador is looking for it, in modern time a researcher finds its powers and some time in the future an astronaut is taking the tree far into space. Ambitious and spectacular at times, but a little out there and not as moving as it should be.

2006-U.S. 95 min. Color. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Music: Clint Mansell. Cast: Hugh Jackman (Tomas/Tommy/Tom Creo), Rachel Weisz (Isabel/Izzi Creo), Ellen Burstyn (Lillian Guzetti), Cliff Curtis, Mark Margolis, Sean Patrick Thomas.

Trivia: In the early stages of this project, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were hired for the leads.



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