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i n e v e r s e e yo u lo s e yo u r s e l f.


B l a c k S w a n Directed by Darren Aronofsky Star r ing Natalie Por tman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel Released Januar y 21

N ata l i e p o r t m a n ' s p o r t r aya l o f a n u n b a l a n c e d d a n c e r m a k e s f o r s u i ta b ly s c h i z o p h r e n i c c i n e m a .

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omposed in 1875 and initially considered a disappointment, Swan Lake came to be viewed as Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece. The same may be true of Darren Aronofsky’s contemporary refit. It takes several viewings before the film’s unnerving blend of psychological trauma and traditional horror reveals itself as something unique and powerful. And fittingly so. With its depiction of a dancer (Natalie Portman) struggling to play the roles of the Swan Queen and her evil twin in a new adaptation of the ballet, Black Swan is a film about transformation and transcendence. It recapitulates Aronofsky’s favourite themes of performance and mortality, but it is also a self-reflexive film of mirrors, doubles and doppelgängers. It is Aronofsky’s comment on the art of creation and the creation of art, and in its ingenuity and audacity he advances a claim for cinema as the most alchemical art form of them all. The New York City Ballet may transform the Swan Queen using make-up and choreography, but up there on screen, the magical metamorphosis of cinema is real. Credit for that must be shared not just by the director and his technicians (including regular collaborators Clint Mansell, boldy reworking Tchaikovsky’s original score; and DP Matthew Libatique, painting the film in moody hues of grit and grain), but by his performers, too. From the opening scene – a pas de deux shot with hand-held intimacy, but as menacing as anything in The Wrestler – Natalie Portman demonstrates a remarkable transformation, occupying both the mind and body of a vulnerable dancer. Gaunt and timid, with a voice that disappears into a frightened whisper, yet beautiful in the film’s striking close-ups, her performance is the anchor that keeps Black Swan grounded through its dramatic shifts in tone and texture.

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by

Matt

Bochenski

Chosen to embody a dual role, Nina struggles to suppress her intellect and surrender to instinct. Her emotional inhibition is exacerbated by the situation at home, where Nina shares a small apartment with her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey). A dancer who never escaped the chorus line, a bitter and jealous mother who smothers her daughter with love, Erica is one of the great maternal psychos. The paintings of Nina that cover Erica’s bedroom wall hint at a simmering sexual tension, brilliantly revealed in a masturbation scene (fearlessly performed by Natalie Portman) that sees Aronofsky at his provocative best. Here, in an apartment with no locks, Nina is trapped alongside an older, crueller image of the woman she might become. If Tchaikovsky’s Swan Queen represents a nineteenth-century ideal of womanhood, this transgressive tension infuses Black Swan with a twenty-first-century psychosis where female transformation – in the guise of sexual maturity, pregnancy and ageing – is a challenge to our airbrushed ideal of femininity. Surrounded by mirrors, Nina is constantly subject to an objectifying gaze, whether her own self-critical pursuit of perfection or the taunting scrutiny of company director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). “Honestly, would you fuck that girl?” he asks her partner. Gradually, Nina’s sense of self begins to unravel as the demands of this schizophrenic performance take their toll. Enter Lily. Played by a perfectly cast Mila Kunis, she is wild and instinctive where Nina is uptight and repressed. Lily is soon established in the corps as Nina’s professional alternate, but more than that she is Nina’s equal and opposite – her own evil twin. As dreams, hallucinations and fantasies unpick the fragile weave of Nina’s mind, Lily emerges as Black Swan’s Jungian subconscious; its very own Tyler Durden. Is she a projection of Nina’s shadow aspect or does she truly exist? Is she a mixture


"in Black Swan's ingenuity a n d a u d a c i t y, aronofsky a dva n c e s a c l a i m for cinema as the most alchemical art of them all."

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008 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e


"Sound and fury a c c e n t u at e a d e l i r i o u s disconnection as N i n a i s l i t e r a l ly a n d m e t a p h o r i c a l ly s e d u c e d by the demons within." of the real and the imagined? And how do we tell the difference between the two? These questions climax in a nightclub scene in which Black Swan throws off the shackles with primal force. Sound and fury accentuate a delirious disconnection as Nina is literally and metaphorically seduced by the demons within. It’s a make-or-break moment that crystallises the film’s psychosexual subtext. But it also precipitates Black Swan’s descent into a disorientating last act. With Nina’s emotions fatally unleashed, Aronofsky uses a subjective viewpoint to place us inside her fracturing mind. No longer able to believe what we see, the audience is forced to question the very foundation of the cinema experience. But this veneer of sophistication masks a simple showmanship. Aronofsky has given himself license to play with the film’s internal consistency, but in doing so he raises questions over whether any of it makes logical sense. The excuse of subjectivity is his handy escape hatch. And yet this interrogation of the medium is compelling. As Leroy manipulates Nina to extract a performance, it’s impossible not to see Cassel transmuted into Aronofsky, mischievously deconstructing his own role in the creative process. Is the director the real artist, or simply a conduit for the genius of others? Is he, at that, nothing but a bully? If Black Swan is Aronofsky’s claim to creative genius, it’s one that is undermined by an overcooked finale and the film’s own dual nature.

One half is a hugely effective psychological horror in which the scares arise from a perfectly calibrated balance between the mind and body. Make no mistake – Black Swan isn’t for the squeamish. Aronofsky viciously portrays the frailty of the human body – the stretch and creak of fragile bones and the gashes and grazes that cut deep into the viewer’s imagination. But the film’s own evil twin is a clichéd slapstick shocker of crash-bang sound cues and age-old sight gags. Here, the brooding tone slips into melodrama, and you begin to notice the things that don’t work – like the over-literal costumes (black for Lily; pastels for Nina), or the casting of Vincent Cassel. So charismatic in recent films, here he plays Leroy as a cartoon villain, lacking only a moustache to twirl. Perhaps its fitting that a film about duality should succumb to its own Jungian schism. But for all that Black Swan is an uneven experience, it’s a ferocious combination of intelligence and adrenalin. It is dark and deep and complex. It is aggravating, ambitious and arrogant. After all, how many films fade to white as the director’s name appears to a soundtrack of thunderous applause? But then, how many directors have earned the indulgence? Black Swan may or may not see him at his imperious best, but Aronofsky has Head to page 24 to read the thoughts of director Darren Aronofsky, and page 46 for an interview with actress Mila Kunis.

Anticipation.

Any new film from Aronofsky is a cinematic event, and Black Swan comes with rapturous praise f r o m m a j o r f i l m f e s t i v a l s i n Ve n i c e a n d To r o n t o .

Enjoyment.

This is a brooding, ambivalent and complex f i l m t h a t d o e s n ’ t r e l i n q u i s h i t s s e c r e t s e a s i l y.

In Retrospect. W i t h r e p e a t v i e w i n g s , t h e t h e m a t i c s u b t e x t s l i p s into focus and the performances take on a new significance. I t ’s n o t v i n t a g e A r o n o f s k y, b u t i t ’s s t i l l a t o u r d e fo r c e .

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E v e r y o n e c a r r i e s a s h a d o w, a n d t h e l e s s i t i s e m b o d i e d i n t h e i n d i v i d u a l ’s c o n s c i o u s life, the blacker and denser it is. Car l Jung , Psycholog y and Relig ion


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Published by The Church of London Top Floor 8-9 Rivington Place London EC2A 3BA +44 (0) 207 7293675

012 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e

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The articles appearing within this publication reflect the opinions and attitudes of their respective authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or editorial team. Made with paper from sustainable sources. LWLies is published six times a year. ISSN 1745-9168 Š TCOLondon 2011


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t’s a crisp autumn day, one of the few in London that doesn’t come with a side order of grey skies and blanket cloud. With the film festival in full swing, activity in the BFI’s Southbank HQ is even more frenzied than usual – a vivid mix of movie fans, officials and autograph hunters tracking the ebb and flow of celebrity sightings and premiere screenings. After Venice and Toronto, Black Swan has arrived in London to maintain its profile as a major awards contender. Right now, its director is the biggest show in town. To his fans, Darren Aronofsky is proof that you can make bold, independent, artistic films in an industry that disavows anything but the bottom line. To actors like Mickey Rourke – brought out of the wilderness for a lead role in The Wrestler – he’s a kind of spiritual healer. To aspiring filmmakers he’s a role model; the geek who rode a $20,000 debut all the way to the top table of Hollywood. His films, five of them in the last 12 years and each its own peculiar struggle, have made Aronofsky one of the most talked about directors of his generation. And yet he’s one of those rare filmmakers whose work speaks for itself. Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Fountain (2006), The Wrestler (2008) and now Black Swan – all of them are linked by an abrasive energy and emotional pressure, by characters who are struggling to contain the demons within, by death as the road to awe. These are midnight visions of the human soul, but Aronofsky shows little interest in what his films reveal about his own personality. “I’m not a film theorist – I just make ’em as I feel ’em,” he says. “The characters I push to create just come out of me; I haven’t really analysed what it’s all about. I’m not interested in that.” This lack of curiosity about his work has another function – a kind of self-preservation,

keeping him moving forwards instead of always looking back. It even extends to re-watching his old films. “One of my mentors told me, ‘Never watch your films when you’re done’, and I’ve kinda subscribed to that,” he says. “If you stay connected to the films it can mess you up. You have to let them go and enter the world and disappear for a while. I think that’s what I’m trying to do – not hold on to past successes and past failures but to just live it and see what’s fascinating about the present.” And yet occasionally, that resolve wavers and the insight is revealing. “Just recently the studio did a Blu-ray version of Requiem for a Dream,” Aronofsky explains. “I didn’t really want to get involved but I watched the final product just to make sure it was okay, and I couldn’t recognise the young man who had made that film. I definitely couldn’t have made that film today; it was a different person who made that. And so that was kind of interesting, how much you change. I was really curious who that person was. I couldn’t remember the mind-space. To allow yourself to change is important, to allow yourself to grow.”

Aronofsky wasn’t meant to become a filmmaker. He drifted through school in New York doing a bit of writing, a little black-and-white photography. He went to college without really knowing the questions, forget about the answers – a B-minus student who never stood out. It wasn’t until he enrolled in a drawing class in his sophomore year that things started to change. He started to see the world in a different way and applied to sculpture and filmmaking class. The sculpture class didn’t want him. He spent the last year of college making a movie, the next year promoting it. This was the early ’90s, a different era. The indie festival circuit was in its infancy and the application procedure involved postal forms and video dubs. But Aronofsky tasted enough success to stay hungry,

and finally moved to LA to attend the prestigious American Film Institute. For a couple of years he networked hard while putting together a feature script. When it was finished, Aronofsky reckoned it was a $3million film. No chance. So he figured out the minimum amount of money he’d need to produce a script, ended up with a figure of $20,000, sat down with an old actor friend from New York, Sean Gullette, and worked out a story they could actually make – about a paranoid maths genius searching for the key to unlock the secrets of the universe. He got people to work for nothing and his mum to do the catering. Alongside Reservoir Dogs, Pi became one of the most talked about debuts of the ’90s.

Aronofsky has certainly changed since then. Today, sitting in a VIP room surrounded by red leather and photo equipment, he looks older than the last time we met. The aggressive, imposing figure he cut then has slackened a little. The youthful beard has become a wiry moustache. He looks paler. Perhaps he already knows about the news headlines that will emerge a few weeks later, announcing his split from Rachel Weisz, Aronofsky’s wife of nine years – a little bit of the dream in tatters. Perhaps it’s simply the rigours of filmmaking finally taking their toll. We’re talking about transformation and growing old, what happens when reputation and wealth replace hunger and ambition when he suddenly cuts in: “Wealth hasn’t come,” he says with an air of finality. “When you make films like I do… The Wrestler, I got paid scale. Black Swan I got a little bit, but I never get ownership. The problem is that all these films, no one on the planet ever wants to make them. It’s only me and my team that are pushing it forward, and we always have to find that one investor who either wants to break into the business or understands the vision, and then they always pay an incredibly low amount of money, all of which ends up on the screen.”

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He talks about ‘the pain of filmmaking’, ‘the grind’. “It’s long days, very intense. I mean, they’re fun and you get to do a lot of great stuff, but there’s a lot of challenges and a lot of pressures and that’s just in the creative work. Then there’s all the pressures of not enough money, not enough time. ‘What are we going to do?’ ‘How do we fix this?’ It’s a real hustle.” So why does he do it? Why does he make the films he makes? “It’s character,” he replies. “There’s something about the character that I like and I want to explore and see. It’s also responsibility and duty. When you set up all this money and a team to do something, you do it – I have that instilled from my parents. But I think the thing that allows me to forget about the pain that is going to come while shooting a movie is the excitement of telling a story and exploring a character. And that’s it. You have to be in love with your characters and your story if you’re going to do these films because if you’re not, it’s just going to be that much harder to get out of bed. And for some reason I always seem to shoot in the winter, which is a freakin’ nightmare,” he adds. “I’d love to shoot something in the Bahamas with bikinis at some point because it’d make my life much easier.” It was character that brought Aronofsky to Black Swan. After The Wrestler, initial rumours suggested that his next project would either be a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop, or an original feature based on the story of Noah’s Ark. At one point he was attached to The Fighter. How did he end up making a ballet movie instead? “It’s very hard to make movies so you’ve gotta throw a lot of things out there and see what sticks,” he explains. “With the ones that cross the finish line, often there’s something about them that keeps us going back. Black Swan was in development for eight or nine years and there was something about it that kept pulling me back to it. It was a chance to work with Natalie; it was the opportunity to make a

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werewolf movie, but it was a were-swan movie; the fact that it’s about transformation was exciting; the challenge of shooting ballet and dance and making it sexy and fun and interesting. All those things.” True to form, Black Swan is a genre-bending mash-up of melodrama, scares, psychological trauma and traditional horror. “We were into the old-school horror film, not what horror has become in today’s world,” Aronofsky says, explaining his influences. “I was a little scared because we knew we were going to be doing these gags where you make the audience jump and scare the hell out of them, but we were excited by it. I kind of took it as a challenge to figure out a way to do them in a fresh way. We used a lot of digital effects to remove the reflections of the camera and crew so we could put the camera in impossible places, and we used a lot of one-way mirrors and some really crazy, fun stuff. We tried to push it.”

But if the scares in Black Swan are effective, right now there’s something else causing Aronofsky’s audience to hide behind the sofa. Shortly before he arrived in London, the internet hit meltdown over rumours that the director was being lined up to take charge of C-list superhero sequel Wolverine 2. The outcry was instant and passionate – Aronofsky was selling out, betraying his legacy, letting down his fans. He could make the greatest Wolverine 2 movie you could ever see, and it’d still be a piece of shit unworthy of him. Right now, Aronofsky says, “It’s not true that I’m doing Wolverine 2. Never trust the internet, man.” But a month later, the rumours are confirmed – the director is moving ahead on a Wolverine script from Christopher McQuarrie. Still, he was always unapologetic about his attraction to the genre. “I do have an interest in doing one of these films,”

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he admits. “I kinda want to make a film that other people want to make for once. I think it could be a lot of fun to check it out and have the support of the studio as opposed to fighting and fighting and fighting, and spending 14 months trying to make money, and just go out and make a film. I’m open to it. We’re looking for the right experience.” The truth is, he’s been looking for a while. Aronofsky was linked with both Batman and Watchmen before Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder were given charge of the respective movies. Looking back at the last time we met, it was clearly something that was on his mind even then. “I think a big problem with people who create content is that you fall into a pattern and you end up making the same thing over and over again. I think it’s important to be curious and reinvent yourself,” he said in 2008 after the release of The Wrestler. “I hope I can constantly keep making films that are unique and personal but find an audience.” He spoke about William Friedkin and Peter Bogdanovich, two great directors who faded away because they couldn’t move with the market. But he also struck a note of warning: “Sticking to your guns and making stuff that’s authentic helps. People that sell out and do stuff that’s not authentic and fuck up once, that’s how they end up destroying themselves.” Today, he reiterates some of those sentiments. His audience, he reckons, are holding him to an impossible standard. He doesn’t want to be a symbol of independence or purity or any of that stuff. “The reality is, I just want to do something that’s different and challenging. And for me, taking on a big Hollywood studio film would be a big challenge, to try and deliver something like that which could work.” Is this Aronofsky’s own evil twin talking? His Hollywood doppelgänger? “We all have the dark and light,” he acknowledges. “Fortunately or unfortunately, what makes us people is that we’re complex creatures.”


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IN CINEMAS JANUARY 14 A SOURCE


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andy ‘The Ram’ Robinson hits the mat in a packed arena in Wilmington, Delaware. Adrenaline flooding his veins, he digs deep and rises precariously to his feet, loosening the razor wire choking his coronary artery long enough to ascend the top rope, salute the enraptured crowd, and steady himself to deliver one last Ram Jam. Roll credits. Cue awards. Acting legacies are built on moments like this. Mickey Rourke’s career-defining turn in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler was shaped not by smoke and mirrors, but by blood, sweat and tears. To become The Ram, Rourke committed to a strict six-month bodybuilding and cardio training regime that would culminate in 33 pounds of extra muscle. Aside from looking the part, however, Rourke was required to do all of his own stunts, meaning that before stepping foot into the ring he had to learn the ropes. Guiding Rourke through Grappling 101 was Afa Anoa’i, a WWE hall of famer and founder of The Wild Samoan Training Center, which counts some of the industry’s biggest names amongst its alumni. Despite ordinarily taking several years to complete basic training, Rourke’s crash course with the man nicknamed ‘The Godfather of Professional Wrestling’ saw him master landing techniques and various moves in a matter of months, as Anoa’i reveals: “I give him all the credit in the world, because wrestling is not easy, especially for someone who has never done it before and had to learn it so quickly,” he says. “Normally, a student takes six months to a year of training just to learn the basics, but Mickey learned everything in four months, which is amazing. A lot of respect comes with that.”

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But while his intensive transformation into an ’80s maineventer was relatively quick, it was anything but painless. Rourke ruptured a disc in his back, suffered a severe neck injury and continual anterior cruciate ligament trauma prior to and during filming. “There were some days when he could hardly walk,” admits Anoa’i, “but he still came in and did the training because he was so dedicated and he is extremely competitive by nature. In fact, when we practiced the moves for the matches and Darren would leave the training area, Mickey would try things that he saw us wrestlers perform on television. Things that, at that time, would have made Darren flip.” The hard graft paid off. The resulting performance was widely hailed as Rourke’s finest, while his trainers claimed that he could happily have gone toe-to-toe with some of the WWE’s top professionals. The fact that some critics saw Rourke’s Ram as an echo of real life is resounding testament both to the actor’s grit and dedication, and the proficiency of Anoa’i and his two main trainers Jon Trosky and Tom Farra (who both have small parts in the film). Moreover, although it has been suggested that Rourke’s two brief flirts with a career in boxing facilitated his training for The Wrestler, he has described the two sports as being “about as similar as ping-pong and rugby.” Aronofsky’s Black Swan is bolstered by a heavyweight performance of its own, with Natalie Portman commanding the spotlight as Swan Queen incarnate, Nina Sayers. While Nina’s psychological flux provides the film’s narrative lifeblood, Portman’s characterisation has a more tangible foundation: every pointe, plié and fouetté jeté are her own; each pose and gesture for real. Despite having studied ballet as a child, Portman admits that relearning each step at 28-years-old proved to be a far greater challenge than she had anticipated. “Even if you’ve taken dance lessons before, you just don’t realise how much goes into it at the elite level,” she has said. “I love dancing so much, I thought it was going to be so much fun to dance at work, but I had no idea how gruelling it would be. I knew it would be a challenge, but I never expected just how physically tough it turned out to be.”

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For 10 months before filming, Portman lived and breathed ballet. In order to achieve perfection, however, she put herself through three additional months of rehearsals under the tutelage of Benjamin Millepied, an internationally renowned choreographer and principal dancer with The New York Ballet, who also stars alongside Portman in Black Swan as David, the Swan Queen’s infatuated Prince. Millepied relished working with two devoted actors in Portman and Mila Kunis, although he confesses that preparing two non-ballerinas for their respective roles was no mean feat. “It was really important to Darren to keep true to a real Swan Lake, but you can’t train someone to be a lead ballerina in six months, so we worked very hard on choosing specific movements for Natalie and Mila that would work on film,” he explains. “Natalie had already started taking dance classes before I was introduced to her and she had done some training in her childhood, but Mila had no training whatsoever. So my role was to really refine their movements and to use the choreography to bring out exactly what was needed. We set the bar very high but we were able to pull it off.” Like wrestling, ballet is poetry of the body, and for Aronofsky the emotional performance had to be born from the grace and lyricism of the physical. As such, for the director, authenticity was paramount. But during the production of Black Swan life would imitate art when, as with Rourke before her, Portman’s intense education began to take its toll. Despite an agonising rib injury forcing her to dance through the pain in a number of key scenes, however, this first-person understanding of a dancer’s sacrifice was essential in helping Portman make the transformation into this complex and demanding character. This organic, studious approach is a fundamental component of modern cine-realism, but cinema has a rich history of calling on professionals to lend their expertise in order to sculpt actors. Vietnam War veteran Dale Dye has become Hollywood’s go-to military advisor. His company, Warriors, Inc., has served as a training centre for the cast members of Platoon, Saving Private Ryan and HBO’s Band of Brothers as well as recent companion piece The Pacific. Stanley Kubrick famously promoted R Lee Ermey to the


role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket after the former US Marine drill instructor submitted a ball-shrivelling audition tape which showed him being pelted by oranges and tennis balls while unflinchingly reproaching a company of Marine grunts. There are similar examples of scene-stealing technical advisors becoming regular fixtures in mainstream genre features, but it is the assured input of behind-the-scenes specialists that has become increasingly vital to filmmakers and their production teams. A glance at the early awards season contenders in 2011 confirms this. Alongside Black Swan, David O Russell’s underdog drama The Fighter – for which Mark Wahlberg hit the bag with boxing trainer Joe Lupino – and Tom Hooper’s period darling The King’s Speech – which required the entire cast to take voice coaching lessons – are tipped to vie for the major honours. While extreme acting transformations have been known to reach mythical status in the annals of cinema, that latter film is a prime example of how the acquisition of a few subtler tricks can be equally imperative to a film’s success and an actor’s reputation. As dialect coach on The King’s Speech, Neil Swain, who has worked on the likes of Atonement, Hot Fuzz, Defiance and An Education, was tasked with enabling the accurate characterisations of several iconic British figures, including the Queen Mother, Winston Churchill and King George VI. Having honed his ear for accents as a voice teacher at the Central School of Speech and Drama, Swain spent three years working as resident voice and dialect coach at the Royal Shakespeare Company, where he worked on over 30 productions before moving into film six years ago. “My job is about helping actors find a very specific characterisation, finding the voice of a character, which is as important as finding how they look and act,” he explains. “The King’s Speech has been the most interesting project for me to be involved with because at its heart it’s about speech, and more than that it’s actually about voice; about a man who, through a debilitating stammer, ostensibly didn’t have a voice at a time when the public absolutely needed him to.” Swain’s chief priority on The King’s Speech was working with Colin Firth, whose performance called for the actor to adopt a severe stammer while retaining a strong tongue. Getting this right meant meticulous preparation and

research, as Swain reveals. “The character of Bertie [as the King was known before his coronation] was very interesting because not only was there a particular accent to him and the royal family at the time, an extremely heightened form of RP, but of course there was also his crippling, debilitating stammer. Before we could really start to think about the specifics of his accent we had to think about his stammer and how it manifested itself physically within the mouth, and the issues that brought with it.” He continues: “We listened to a lot of recordings of Bertie and through that started to pinpoint certain sounds, certain words that he stammered on. And then we started thinking about the fact that inside the mouth the tongue was very tight, because the style of speech of the time was very specific, with shorter vowel sounds and heavy, crisp consonants. Through listening to him, we found the essence of Bertie’s accent.” Colin Firth’s performance is proof that this detailed forethought paid dividends, with every tick and stutter that bursts from his mouth as precisely executed as each pirouette in Black Swan and every elbow drop in The Wrestler. But more than this, it shows just how valuable experts like Swain are in helping an actor complete their onscreen transformation. “Tom Hooper was absolutely adamant that a voice coach was involved,” he says. “He saw that as being as important as anything else. And when I worked with Joe Wright on Atonement, he said to me, ‘It is as important to me as a director that these characters sound right as the clothes they wear and the cars they drive are from the right period, because if the accents aren’t right then the audience will never believe this world.’” Swain asserts: “If my job is done well, you should never really be aware of it.” But audiences will only ever see the end result and consequently it is all too easy to take for granted the exhaustive work that can go into preparing for a part. But it is important to note that this is not about improvisation, ad libbing, or channelling the philosophies of Stanislavski and Strasberg. This is lifelikeness realised through new skills and real world know-how – a progressive acting mindset that emphasises the pursuit of truth through action and technical dexterity. Practice might make perfect, but without the help of professional trainers and coaches many definitive performances simply wouldn’t pack the same punch

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t doesn’t take long for the artful placing of mirrors in Black Swan to begin breaking down borders between the real and the reflected world. We meet Natalie Portman’s Nina at almost the same moment we are introduced to her mirror image, and a sense is soon developed that we need to be paying as much attention to the actions of one as to the other – be that in the mirrors that clutter the New York apartment Nina shares with her mother, those that line the studios and dressing rooms of her prestigious ballet school, or the smeared subway windows in which she gazes at her black-eyed reflection as she travels between the two. The effect is uncanny in its blurring of the foreign and the familiar, but as the film progresses there emerges a deeper significance of mirror images as manifestations of Nina’s psychological shearing into two separate personas. As this emotionally fragile, sexually frustrated perfectionist struggles to reconcile the two halves of the lead role she has worked so hard to secure – the virginal White Swan on the one hand; the violent and malicious Black Swan on the other – she begins seeing in her own reflection a dark half that she never knew existed, and which before long will act of its own accord. All of which sets the stage for one of the most intense psychological breakdowns in film history; one lent an unsettling authenticity by a superb performance from Portman, herself a Harvard psychology graduate. Clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice sees Aronofsky’s use of mirrors and doubling as an accurate prism through which to view the dangers of scrutinising the self, a psychological trap as old as the legend of Narcissus, who wasted away after falling so deeply in love with his own reflection in a pool of water that he was unable to leave it for even a moment. “Narcissism is an increasingly powerful force in the modern world,” says d’Felice. “Nina’s plight could be seen as an extreme example of something that most of us suffer to some degree: you can’t have advanced capitalism without constantly drilling into your population the idea that they’re inadequate in countless unquantifiable ways, that they need more of something indefinable to achieve a state of perfection that is itself unattainable. It’s easy to begin projecting those messages onto the person we see in the mirror, which is the foundation of narcissistic injury, and often leads to depression, self-medication and even psychosis.” There are few places to study narcissistic injury as fitting as the world of professional ballet; few places where scrutiny, criticism and rejection are so deeply ingrained in daily life, or where the body can be trained to the point that it operates

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almost independently of the mind. Ballet offers little of the grounding in conventional character that actors find in theatre: dancers instead spend months inhabiting identities that are more like ideas, personas that are closer to the masks of Greek tragedy. They live with the constant danger of becoming disconnected from reality through the motifs of the dance. “Ballet schools are also hothouses of repression,” d’Felice adds. “Girls begin training when they’re three or four, and from that day forward they’re pushed until they no longer feel like they own their bodies. That’s what makes the prevalence of mirrors so disturbing: you’ve got all these girls constantly scrutinising bodies that they feel are no longer theirs, and which they fear might at any moment betray them in some unspeakable way.” It’s an idea that Aronofsky seizes on in some of the most sinister sequences in Black Swan. As the story unfolds, Nina’s reflection begins to act independently of her form in front of the mirror – subtly at first, but later in ways that deliver some truly jolting visual shocks. Yet despite the computergenerated conviction of such moments, the notion that the mirror might not always obey the master is one that filmmakers have been playing with for almost a century. An early example is the scene in 1933’s Duck Soup in which Harpo and Groucho Marx emulate each other’s movements from opposite sides of a false mirror, the former trying to establish the illusion of being the latter’s reflection – an illusion that dissolves only when Harpo drops his hat and Groucho reaches beyond the mirror to replace it. It’s a moment that has been affectionately lampooned by everyone from Bette Midler to Bugs Bunny, and from episodes of Gilligan’s Island to Family Guy, but the Marx brothers were themselves prefigured by a similar scene in Max Linder’s silent movie Seven Years Bad Luck (1921), which in turn aped a Charlie Chaplin routine from 1916’s The Floorwalker. Such continuity implies something profoundly affecting in the idea of a mirror image that acts of its own accord, and suggests that no amount of slapstick can completely hide the degree to which it resonates with us on a deeper level. As such, many filmmakers who utilise the idea do so with the aim of unsettling rather than amusing audiences. Witness Czech animator Jan Svankmajer’s surrealist 1968 short The Flat, in which a nightmarish tour of a residence that refuses to obey the laws of nature leads to the hapless protagonist staring at a mirror that reflects the back of his head; as he turns to face the audience, that same face turns to gaze back from the mirror behind him. More recently, Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors (2008) saw Kiefer Sutherland play Ben Carson, a security guard patrolling a burned-out shopping mall filled with impossibly pristine mirrors. As the film progresses, the mirrors reflect images that begin to take on a life of their own, eventually following Ben home and


terrorising his family. In one gruesome scene, his wife watches in horror from the bath as her mirror image reaches up and rips off its own jaw.

Such moments owe their disquieting nature to a subversion of a notion, as old as mirrors themselves, that reflections cannot lie. As far back as 6,000BC, when the first primitive mirrors were being fashioned from polished obsidian in Anatolia, they were reverently believed to reflect part of the human soul. All of which helps explain our unease with the idea of reflections acting independently of us, though d’Felice sees another fundamental reason for mankind’s wariness of mirror images. “A mirror is giving you information the wrong way round,” she says. “The idea that a mirror allows you to see yourself as other people see you is misleading: you’re actually seeing yourself in reverse. That registers unconsciously, even if few people realise it. I think it’s something that’s helped develop a deep-seated suspicion of mirrors over the millennia.” That same suspicion has given rise to a large number of superstitious practices involving mirrors, many of which have found themselves represented on film. The long-held belief that breaking a mirror brings seven years bad luck could be seen to get an airing in Black Swan itself, with Nina’s predecessor, Beth (Winona Ryder), launching an attack on the mirrors of her dressing room after learning that she has been ousted from the role of the White Swan, subsequently spiralling into a violent decline that leads to her eventual hospitalisation and attempted suicide. It’s a suspicion that d’Felice says has led to a subconscious sense of the mirror’s ability to reflect not so much the external as the internal identity, something that makes it an excellent arena for confrontations with the self – from an encouraging whisper or a stiff dressing-down to a full-on screaming match. It’s no coincidence that directors have so often used the mirror as a plane for protagonists confronting some essential element of their character – from De Niro giddily trying on his war mask in Taxi Driver, to Christian Slater seeking emotional support from his inner-Elvis in True Romance.

Aronofsky finds a similar use for the mirror in Black Swan, manifesting Nina’s ‘shadow self’ in keeping with the theories of Carl Jung. A Swiss contemporary of Sigmund Freud, Jung was a renegade psychologist who fused the fundamentals of his discipline with a personal fascination in everything from astrology and alchemy to Eastern philosophy and dream interpretation.

Jung’s map of the mind is divided into the conscious and unconscious, but essentially begins at an outermost point with the ‘persona’ (the part of our conscious identity that we present to the world, and one defined by things like our sense of humour and our taste in clothes), and ending, at the centre, with the ‘self’ (the coherent and unified whole of the psyche). Buried deep in that map is the ‘shadow self’, an unconscious repository for the darker aspects of our personality – fears and insecurities, inappropriate desires and shameful associations – all of which we hide away lest they interfere with our persona and unstitch the public face we’ve taken such care to construct. Not that the shadow is inherently wrong or evil. In Jung’s analysis, a reconciliation with the shadow is the first step on the great psychological journey he called ‘individuation’, namely, a unifying of the disparate parts of identity and an ultimate elevation of the self. This is no easy process – he called the simple act of admitting the existence of a shadow self ‘the first act of courage’ – but it is easier for those whose shadow finds adequate expression in their daily lives than for more restrained persons in denial of a darker side. ‘Everyone carries a shadow,’ wrote Jung, ‘and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.’ It is in these more repressed cases that the shadow poses a danger, gathering so much mass that it threatens to break free of its subconscious prison and swallow the conscious self, leading to the sort of split personality that we see overwhelm Nina in Black Swan. “Nina is a pure ballerina dedicated to her art,” says d’Felice, “but her sexuality has no natural outlets, and she’s afraid of exploring her darker instincts for fear of learning how depraved she might actually be. By failing to express herself authentically, she’s feeding that Jungian shadow side, bottling up a raging chaos that eventually breaks free without her permission.” So it is that the archetypal ‘sweet girl’ we see wrestling with her demons at the outset of Black Swan is eventually consumed by them. Just as the White Swan of the ballet is undone by the malicious scheming of the Black Swan, so Nina can only watch in despair as the shadow self detaches from her conscious identity, steps out of the mirror and begins one final, destructive flourish on stage before the curtain comes down and the halls echo with horrified silence. For all its drama, it’s a depiction that d’Felice sees as essentially rooted in real life. “There are people who become so fragmented in the separation of their conscious and unconscious selves that they do occasionally lose touch with reality, flipping in and out of fugue states in which they find themselves saying things, doing things – even harming other people or themselves – and then coming round with no recollection of the event. So the plot of Black Swan might seem fantastic, but it’s not so far from what can actually happen when a split personality comes out to play.”

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I n va s i o n o f t h e B o dy S n atc h e r s Directed by Don Siegel (1956)

No amount of remakes or reinterpretations seems able to erode the horror at the heart of the original Invasion, which plays with the idea that our friends and family members can be taken over by alien forces while still looking and sounding like their original selves. The success of the film rests not on special effects (though the discovery of the seed pods in Jack’s greenhouse remains supremely stomach-turning), but in the uncanny way characters slip into their alien alter egos with blank eyes and continue to walk the streets as though nothing has happened. The film has long outgrown its associations with Cold War fears of Russian communism, for which the invasion was an extended metaphor, and today stands as a master class in psychological tension.

Persona Directed by Ingmar Bergman (1966)

Bibi Andersson plays an idealistic nurse caring for an actress who has fallen mute after an unexplained existential revelation. As the two women grow closer, the borders between their personalities begin to break down and their pasts, presents and futures interweave. The number of meanings attached to the film over the years is as many as the characters in it are few, but it offers a profound insight into personas as masks for hiding metaphysical fears and insecurities which, once exposed, have the power to overwhelm us. The film continues to resonate with directors to this day, and was a strong influence on David Lynch’s own meditation on identity, Mulholland Drive (2001).

T h e M a n W h o H a u n t e d Him s e l f Directed by Basil Dearden (1970)

Roger Moore plays Harold Pelham, a conservative businessman who dies momentarily on an operating table and comes back to life to find a manipulative doppelgänger dogging his footsteps. This more liberated double is constantly one step ahead, skewering the protagonist’s business deals, drinking with

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his colleagues, and – in a sly nod to Bond – sleeping with his exotic lady friends. It’s a film that walks a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous, and one more concerned with flash car chases than ruminations on the nature of identity, but it’s an entertaining movie that deserves to be better known, if only for a wonderfully manic performance from Moore, which he declared a personal favourite.

T h e D o u b l e Li f e o f V é r o n i q u e Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski (1991)

Three Colours director Krzysztof Kieslowski moved and mystified audiences with this tale of two women – Weronika in Poland and Véronique in Paris (both played by Irène Jacob) – who are physically identical and share many character traits, and who seem subconsciously aware of each other’s existence despite never meeting beyond a brief glimpse through a bus window. The former pursues a singing career after a chance encounter in Krakow; the latter falls for a puppeteer who is fascinated by her implied double life. It’s a film in which very little happens, but which raises interesting questions about déjà vu, alternate existences and what it means to feel connected to places and people we’ve never known.

The Broken Directed by Sean Ellis (2008)

A large mirror falls and smashes during a birthday dinner organised by a young doctor, Gina (Lena Headey); the moment is nervously laughed off, but the following day Gina sees a woman who looks just like her driving the exact double of her own car. So begins a series of events leading to the revelation that doppelgängers of those at dinner were released from the mirror when it broke, and are now hunting down and killing their real-world counterparts. It’s a film that updates the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers to contemporary London with mixed results; the story becomes tangled up in its desire to deliver too many twists and turns, but provides plenty of satisfyingly sinister moments along the way


© 2010 TWENTIETH CENTUR CENTURYY FO FOXX


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A dead bird has more power to me than a dead mammal. We are used to seeing mammals sleeping, the position assumed often being indistinguishable from death. A flightless bird is like a toothless tiger; it is a picture of vulnerability. These things stir polarised reactions – either to protect or to abuse. My instincts fall in the former category. For something so small and quiet to stop me dead in my tracks makes me find it worth hanging onto.

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Birds have played a significant role in my personal and gallery work over the past few years I suppose the most significant of which was in my 2008 exhibition ‘Migration’, which took place in two parts, in two major cities in two months. A flock of abstracted birds was first installed on a billboard at the Truman Brewery, London, in late August. In September, the birds reappeared in New York flocking towards the billboard on the side of the Espeis Gallery in Williamsburg - the project inheriting the migrational nature of its content.

042 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e


K at e o n e

g i b b b i r d

If I’m honest, my love for silk-screening ornithological imagery is not intrinsically linked to our feathery friends. My passion lies more in exploring and depicting their textures, shape, colour and costumes. With so many varieties and many more unexplored, I am provided with an endless stream of inspiring images to dissect and enjoy. The process may feel reminiscent of an abstract painting, a colour study or even an experiment in printmaking. But the resulting illustration has the essence of the above while being pulled into a recognisable shape – a beautiful bird.

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K at e A

M a c D o w e l l

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I’m fascinated by the ‘weak links’, the smallest bellwethers of environmental damage: the frogs, small birds and field mice that are often the first to succumb to environmental stresses. These easily overlooked tiny extinctions foreshadow future impacts on human health and welfare. They also raise larger moral and theological questions. How significant is the fall of a sparrow? I also like to play with the myth of Icarus and the idea of a dead or decaying bird as a flying creature brought down. For me they evoke a fall from grace, as well as from the sky.

044 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e


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I am interested in the symbolism of all sorts of creatures and how that shapes our perception of them. Birds are steeped in symbolism, the fact that they fly gives them access to both earthly and heavenly worlds. They have become symbols of the human soul. Owls were often thought of as messengers from the gods, and guardians of the underworld. In this drawing, ‘Keeper of Souls’, I chose to draw a beautiful owl that I saw when visiting a family who bred birds of prey. There was something very gentle and peaceful about her.

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hey’re 10-a-penny, these California girls. These West Coast vixens with the blond bleach and sun-kissed skin. They all want to be stars. They’re all looking for access to the gilded gates of Hollywood, and most of them will never get it. It’s not just that you have to be different; you have to be special. And by definition, specialness is rare. When you see it you’ll recognise it by the charge of excitement it sets off in your guts, by the electric caress of its presence. It’s charismatic and seductive and it lights up Mila Kunis like a signal flare at midnight. The daughter of Russian parents who moved to LA when she was nine-years-old, Kunis hardly had the usual upbringing. Swapping post-Soviet Russia for working-class America, she was pitched

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into the US public school system despite speaking barely a word of English. But what could have been a lost year became a transformative one when she signed up to after-school acting classes at the Beverly Hills Studios. Commercials soon followed, and by the time she was 14 Kunis had talked her way into a role in a sitcom pilot despite being four years under the age limit. That ’70s Show threw a teenage girl into the spotlight, and she’s remained there, rooted, grounded, ever since. Eye-catching support roles in Apatow comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Denzel Washington action vehicle The Book of Eli saw her come to the attention of Darren Aronofsky. Black Swan represents Kunis’ true breakthrough, with an award for Best Young Actor at the Venice Film Festival. Dirty, sexy, funny – you’re going to have plenty of time to get used to this face.


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LWLies: You started acting at nine and then it was five years until you landed That ’70s Show. What was your life like during that period? Were there sacrifices that you had to make? Kunis: When you’re nine-years-old you don’t make sacrifices. I mean, I didn’t. I never did it as a career at nine. My family’s life wasn’t dependent on me doing this. So for me it was a hobby. But I ended up between nine and 15 doing, I think, 30 commercials. But it’s brutal just to get those, right? I was protected. I had an amazing family. My parents worked full time, they didn’t want me to do this. Their constant thing was, ‘If you ever don’t want to do it, don’t do it.’ They were the opposite of everything you ever hear about. I didn’t have to go to school, I did commercials, it was fantastic. I never thought anything of it, ever, ever, ever. I was just having fun. There must have been a point at which you put off the hobby and got serious though? I was 20-years-old when I changed, so it took a long time for me not to think of it as a hobby. What changed? I decided to make it a career. How do you get through five years of a popular TV show, when your life must have changed dramatically, and not see it as a career? I was 14 – I had a lot more important things to learn, for instance puberty

048 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e

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and boys. This was literally a hobby. Not that I didn’t care about it, not that I didn’t pursue it or study it. I did, but it was like anything else; it wasn’t anything out of the norm. My parents never put weight on it, my family never made me feel any more special than just being a daughter would. It never made an impact. And so, call it naïve, but I never understood that what I was doing was different. So what clicked when you were 20? I started ’70s when I was 14 and it ended when I was 22. I went to Fairfax High School, I went to college. And this was going to end when my contract ended, then I was going to go off and do whatever else. Then around 20-years-old I realised that this is all I know how to do. I loved what I did and I was like, ‘I’m going to actually try and make a career out of it.’ Because beforehand I did it for fun, and I still do it for fun, but I did it purely for fun. So when I made the decision that I was going to do this for my career, everything had to shift. I had to think of it as a career so I had to make smarter choices; I had to separate myself from the industry. How quickly did you start to feel That ’70s Show was holding you back? I think you always think that as an actor. You never want to do the same thing for a long time. I think the reason why anybody goes into this industry is because they want to do different things. So even though I was lucky to be on a show for eight years, to do the same show gets really hard. You just get a little repetitive with it. When I decided to make acting a career, I decided to move my way out of this genre and see what I can do. And if I failed then I failed, but at least I failed knowing that I tried.


How do you make that transition? As much as you pick a path, it doesn’t mean that path is going to stick because this industry is based on opinion so you have to fight and fight and fight. But the sad thing is that someone else has to believe in you. I can fight and I can be great, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to get hired. It all depends on the person hiring. Is there any way you can prepare yourself for the experience? No. I don’t think you can prepare yourself for it because I think this industry has so much negativity in it, you can’t. The only thing I can say to prepare yourself is not to have your happiness be based on the industry. The only way you can actually succeed is if your happiness is not based on your career. Is that negativity something you’ve experienced first-hand? I never had it to my face but I’m sure behind my back it’s happened plenty of times. With That ’70s Show, when did you realise that things had changed for you personally? Is it about a cheque dropping through the front door? Well, I was raised poor. Money to me never mattered. It still doesn’t matter. That being said, I didn’t know how much I was earning. I would go to school, I would go to work, I came home, I had to make my bed, I had to do the laundry, I had to do whatever my chores were for the day and then I got to go and play with my friends. My friends weren’t rich, my friends were not in the industry, my friends did not have pay cheques,

so I lived my life the way they lived their life. Nothing changed for me. If I needed money, I asked my parents for money. I didn’t have my own money. They took all the money, put it in the bank, didn’t touch a penny and didn’t let me touch a penny. So when I turned 18 they were like, ‘Sit down and let us explain to you everything that has happened.’ I was in shock. But I wasn’t in shock in the sense like, ‘I can’t believe no one ever told me this!’ I was like, ‘This is amazing! This is great!’ But it didn’t change anything. It didn’t make me go out and buy a mansion. It didn’t make me go off and buy a car. Did you feel the weight of responsibility of it? No. Because I think money is the root of all evil. I’m a firm believer that money is what makes people crazy. Easy for you to say. Absolutely, but I was poor and I thought the same. From when I was born to the age of seven, my family was fine, we were pretty well off. When I moved to America, we were poor, like, really, really, really poor. I didn’t know I was poor because nothing changed. My parents still loved me; they still gave me everything that a child needed, so I didn’t know what money bought. It made no difference to me. I’m not saying that I would want to get rid of all my money – I am so blessed. I think it’s fantastic to be able to go and buy anything that I want or eat anywhere that I want and not have to worry about where my next cheque is going to come from and have a roof over my head. I think it’s a blessing; I’m honoured by it. But it’s not where my happiness comes from

049


050 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e


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ery few musicians can make the jump from songwriting to feature film-scoring. Even fewer can claim to be one of the finest in the business. But when Pop Will Eat Itself disbanded in 1996, Clint Mansell found himself directionless in a frosty New York City, and ready to start that journey. “I was at a strange place,” he admits. “I still thought of myself as a songwriter at the time and I wanted to write an album, but I didn’t think people wanted to listen to an emotional middle-class white boy who’d moved to New York. It’s hardly gripping stuff. Anyway, my thengirlfriend introduced me to Eric Watson, who was producing Pi, and was talking to just about everybody and anybody who could contribute something towards the film because they had absolutely no money.

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“Originally I was only meant to write the music for the opening titles, but after a few conversations with Darren [Aronofsky] he asked if I could write a piece on spec based on the script,” Mansell continues. “So I wrote what was basically a variant of the main theme that was used and I had to take it down to their offices. I remember being so nervous because it was quite a personal thing for me, and it’s never easy to put yourself out there. So Darren being Darren, he got everybody around this boombox to listen to it and luckily for me they loved it. From there, it just progressed really, and with every piece of music that they couldn’t license, I had to write a piece to replace it. “The experience was a real eye-opener because before meeting Darren I didn’t know if I had anything to say or where I was going, but he kind of gave me this belief that I could do it. In truth, Pi liberated me. I remember that after we’d finished, Darren called me up – and

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Pi hadn’t come out by this point so we still had no idea how it would do – and he said to me that I’d done a great job and that he thought if I wanted to, I could do this for a career, which had never crossed my mind. Then after the success at Sundance [where Aronofsky received a Directing Award, and the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize], I got a couple of calls to work for other films and although nothing really came together, it made me start believing in what Darren had told me.

“Some time passed and Darren calls me again and says he’s got this new project based on a book by Hubert Selby, Jr. We’re talking about the film and he mentions that he’s spoken to a few people who are interested in scoring it – like Lou Reed, who knew Selby, Jr himself. For whatever reason, and I honestly don’t know why, Darren says he wants

051


me to do it. I think that’s when I first started believing I could actually do this. He didn’t have to sell me on it; accepting Darren’s invitation was a no-brainer. “The thing is, Pi worked on the emotional level, but in some respects it was still a tad onedimensional musically. With Requiem [for a Dream], me and Darren agreed from the start that we really needed the next stage, and at the time I don’t know if either of us knew whether we had that in us. “At the same time,” Mansell says, “we initially had some trouble with the music because Darren had this idea that we could use classic hip-hop and somehow rework it. So we tried a couple of these themes, and the one that I particularly remember was ‘She Watch Channel Zero?!’ by Public Enemy, underneath the scene where Ellen Burstyn’s character first takes the pills. It looked fantastic, but Darren said, ‘Well, yeah, it looks great but it doesn’t do anything other than look great.’ That put a spanner in the works. “We were at a loose end; it wasn’t a blank page but there was no piece like I brought in on Pi that galvanised everything. So I created this 18-track CD of ideas – because by this point we’d actually moved on from cassettes – and I’d written one track that was classical, using strings as opposed to beats and electronic stuff and put it on the scene where Marion [played by Jennifer Connelly] is leaving the psychiatrist, and it worked fantastically. It moved her down the hallways and outside with the lightning, but it also had this sense of dread. It was like the film had suddenly come to life. “So, I did this thing, which is probably highly illegal now, where I took stabs of orchestral chords and then I cut them all up and laid them across the keyboard in my sampler. I just recorded all these different rhythms – it was essentially beats playing strings. When I first sent it to Darren and Jay [Rabinowitz] who was editing the film, they probably thought, ‘What the fuck is this?’ because it was very rough around the edges, but they said, ‘Okay, that’s off the wall, let’s see where you go with it.’ Darren’s always been like that – he’s never said, ‘I don’t like that.’ He’ll always allow me the time to develop ideas and I think that’s because he believes in me, even if he doesn’t quite see where I’m going at first. In fact, the only conversations we have about any sort of dilemma are always about time. He’ll never rein me in or do anything to discourage me. It’s always been a very open environment that Darren creates, which is obviously great for me.”

052 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e

After Requiem for a Dream, it took Aronofsky six years to move ahead with his next project, the ambitious sci-fi epic The Fountain. But despite spending the intervening period working on scores for The Hole, Sahara and Nic Cage’s directing debut Sonny, Mansell admits that he was still daunted by the challenge that The Fountain represented. “Even though Requiem taught me a lot, I don’t think I was quite ready for The Fountain,” he confesses. “In the time between the two, I was able to build up a team of people and I learnt a bit about working with orchestras, just discovering myself in the context of the film scoring world. “Eventually, we were working on the top floor of the Brill Building in Times Square. Darren would edit the film all week and I’d be in another room across the hall writing music. Then come Friday morning, we’d deliver everything to Jay in the edit suite to see where we were at and talk about what was working or what wasn’t. It was like a very intensive boot camp. But that’s how Darren works – he’ll always drive people to their limits without a doubt, and there were… ‘heat ups’, shall we say. But that’s purely because we were constantly pushing each other to make it the very best it could be. “People think, ‘Oh, you’re living in New York, you were probably out all night, partying all the time,’ but nothing could be further from the truth. There were endless nights looking at my computer and walking home at midnight, all to get up at 7am and do it the next day, which is sometimes what it takes. It was a very intensive affair, but from my point of view musically, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had; all that time, that closeness to each other. You have the time to really focus on the film in a much deeper way than if it had been done six weeks before the end, and I think it’s certainly one of my best pieces of work and it really benefited from the experience we endured.

“Those incidents have helped me tremendously because after The Fountain, I knew I was prepared for anything that got thrown at me,” he continues. “With Black Swan, me and Darren knew there was going to be a lot of work, and it did seem a little daunting at first, but we worked through it. When we set out, we had this mindset that nothing was sacred because the score is essentially constructed from Tchaikovsky’s Swan

Lake. I just thought that there was no point in trying to pretend that I’m this classical appreciator. What we’ve done is kind of what Vincent Cassel’s character says at the start of the film: ‘Swan Lake has been done to death, but not like this, stripped down and raw.’ That’s where we thought we should start. “So where Tchaikovsky had written a 16bar passage with 144 notes in it, I would strip that down to a repetitive four-bar loop that had maybe 24 notes in it. So the essence of Tchaikovsky’s piece was still there but it was now something totally different, something haunting and psychological. We had to do that because if you took Swan Lake as it is and used it as a modern film score it would be laughable, because it’s so obvious – it’s telling you everything going on with these grand gestures, but that’s just not me or Darren. “It’s funny because I saw somebody on Twitter say they were trying to imagine the grand conversations that Darren Aronofsky and Clint Mansell must have about their work, but in truth it’s nothing like that. It’s like a lot of problem solving, it’s never high-solution and conceptual; it’s just a case of nuts and bolts. Maybe that sounds unromantic, but I think because we’re always quietly bouncing these ideas around from a very early stage, there’s never any great revelation. Maybe unconsciously I’m always quietly travelling along Darren’s intended path anyway and that’s how it’s always been. “I don’t know how this is for other people, but for me, I can pinpoint how my life changed for the better when I met Darren,” Mansell concludes. “I mean, it’s obviously impacted on both of our worlds, undoubtedly more so mine than his – I’m sure he could have found another musical collaborator and maybe the outcome of his work would have been slightly different, but I think that his quality would have shone through all the same. “The thing is, I’ve worked with other filmmakers and they’re not like Darren. I undoubtedly do my best work with him, and that’s down to the relationship that we have. We don’t hang out all the time – he lives in New York and I live in LA – I think we’re both a little bit ‘internal’, shall we say, we’re not particularly demonstrative hangers out, and I think that probably works for both of us. It’s something that’s sort of emotional and connected, the things that excite us must have a lot of common ground. I’ve never really analysed it, but I think that’s why we have a great connection and why we’ll continue to work so well together in the future.”


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n an early scene in Black Swan, Natalie Portman’s Nina boards a busy train. Glancing through the carriage, she seems to see a mirror image. But what she glimpses is a new competitor whose arrival will have consequences that Nina could never begin to guess. In Mila Kunis’ Lily, she finds her black swan. Two World Wars, planes hitting the Twin Towers, the financial meltdown of 2008, the invention of the internet; each was an unanticipated event that reordered the fundamental structures of our society. And yet each was explained in hindsight as if it was destined to happen. Each was a black swan. In 82AD, the Roman satirist Juvenal wrote about ‘a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan.’ It was a joke, an expression of impossibility that was still in use in the sixteenth century. No one had ever seen such a thing and therefore none could conceivably exist. Until, in 1697, Willem de Vlamingh stumbled upon a river of black swans in Western Australia, turning centuries of thinking on its head. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, dissident Wall Street analyst, libertarian poster boy and blockbuster scholar, recalls the term in his 2007 book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. In it he quotes David Hume: ‘No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white, but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refute that conclusion.’

For Taleb, black swans are ‘outliers’: ‘First, [a black swan] lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable,’ he writes. We like reassurance. We like to feel that we are in control, and so we invent ways to kneecap chance before it runs amok. We manipulate knowledge, relying on what we can explain and understand - the white swans of our life - to anticipate the events of the future. If things run smoothly, our confidence grows. Eventually, we begin to act as if black swans don’t exist. We become fooled by randomness.

According to Taleb, acting in such a way isn’t fuelled by stupidity, but by hubris. ‘We certainly know a lot, but we have a built-in tendency to think that we know a little bit more than we actually do, enough of that little bit to occasionally get into serious trouble,’ he writes. We rationalised 9/11 – found a culprit and a cause. We realised we’d built an economy based on debt rather than value. We now know that the death of Franz Ferdinand precipitated the Western Front, that Versailles and the Weimar constitution gave rise to Hitler. We have dwelt on these events like ex-lovers, rendering them into digestible narratives of accepted understanding. And yet, when it comes to the here and now, it doesn’t seem to

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In fact, history proceeds by leaps fuelled by ‘the tyranny of the singular, the accidental, the unseen and the unpredicted.’ Most of the past lies silent and unknowable, impervious to the disciplines we invent to make sense of the world. And from this silence, black swans fly. Take the financial crisis. ‘What is surprising is not the magnitude of our forecast errors, but our absence of awareness of it,’ claims Taleb. ‘We do not spontaneously learn that we don’t learn that we don’t learn. Metarules [such as the rule that we have a tendency not to learn rules] we don’t seem to be good at getting. Who gets rewarded, the central banker who avoids a recession or the one who comes to ‘correct’ his predecessor’s faults and happens to be there during some economic recovery?’

But Andrew Gelman, director of the Applied Statistics Center at Columbia University, is wary of applying a singular theory to so complex a beast as the future: “Psychology researchers have indeed shown that people – even experts – make systematic errors in judgment,” he admits. “A classic book on this, Judgment Under Uncertainty, came out in 1983, and there’s been a lot more research since then on cognitive strategies and shortcuts.

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help. As Taleb puts it: ‘In spite of the empirical record, we continue to project into the future as if we were good at it.’

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“That said, I don’t know that you need to bring in this kind of bias to explain some of the recent financial scandals. It’s been well known for many years that financial traders are in the business of making one-way bets: the sort of bets where, if you win, you make millions of dollars, but if you lose, you still have a comfortable life. [Controversial former Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers never had to pay back all those consulting fees he received over the years.” So as our economy is weaned from its lifesupport, as we witness the slash-and-burn of the welfare state while city bonuses return to pre-crash normality, what is the black swan song of the last decade and the lesson for the new? Taleb writes: ‘We cannot truly plan, because we do not understand the future — but that is not necessarily bad news. We could plan while bearing in mind such limitations. It just takes guts.’ But maybe it isn’t as simple as that. As Gelman remarks: “A key question is why did the crash happen in the past few years and not 10 or 20 years earlier. After all, absence of awareness of cognitive error is nothing new. If anything, most economists agree that we are now more aware than ever of our failures as reasoning machines.” As Nina’s dual nature attests, maybe black swans are simply an irrevocable part of all of us


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Then he met the love of his life.

“BRIL ★★L★IANT”

Jame s MotT ra

barneysversionmovie.co.uk

IN CINEMAS JANUARY 28

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The Fighter Directed by David O Russell S t a r r i n g M a r k Wa h l b e r g , C h r i s t i a n B a l e , A m y A d a m s R e l e a s e d Fe b r u a r y 4

unny thing, acting. When it’s good it goes unnoticed. When it’s great it is lauded. But when it’s too good it can upset the applecart entirely. Take Christian Bale in The Fighter. He plays Dickie, a rake-thin former boxer-turned-crack addict, and current wildcard trainer of baby brother and welterweight hopeful Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg). The latter, a real-life Rocky archetype from mid-’90s Lowell, Massachusetts, is the ostensible subject of this film, which charts his rise from eminently beatable wannabe, right through to world champion pugilist, and all with sassy lover Charlene (Amy Adams) in tow. And yet, make no mistake; the real subject of the movie is Bale’s fraternal horror show. Embracing the weight loss that’s become emblematic of the ‘serious’ Bale performance (The Machinist, say, as opposed to The Dark Knight), and adding to this a savage thinning of his angular pate, the 36-yearold former child actor is nowhere to be found on screen. Instead, as Dickie repeatedly promises greatness for Mickey but delivers only cataclysm (including some shockingly mismatched fights, and a brutal beating at the hands of some police heavies), what we get is a mesmerising display of bird-like twitches, bodily jerks and bug-eyed stares, often overlaid with thick Bostonian

pronouncements such as his opening statement, “I’m squirrelly as fuck!” In this routine, Bale has found the rhythm of a charismatic crack addict: always on, always centre-stage, always ready to perform for any inquisitive eyes. The first act inclusion of a camera crew from HBO, who are allegedly shooting a documentary about Dickie’s down-and-out life in Lowell, is a stroke of genius from director David O Russell and writers Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson. For it allows Dickie the ideal ever-present mirror against which he can enact the fantasy version of himself (he relentlessly recounts the ancient story of the fight where, allegedly, he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard), and it also permits Russell to indulge in some suave Scorsesestyle formal shenanigans at the start, with a long rolling track through the streets of Lowell that sets up both the narrative milieu and the dramatic tension between Mickey’s restrained introversion and Dickie’s incessant scene stealing. And this, surely, is the rub. For when acting becomes nothing short of transformative fireworks – and it does so very rarely (think De Niro in Raging Bull, or Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood) – it can be distracting. The Francophile film theorist Gilbert Adair calls this ‘watching the effect of acting, rather

than watching acting itself.’ And certainly there are moments in The Fighter – with Bale, for instance, on full bulge in a crack den – when you’re struck by the thought that this just might be the best performance ever committed to film. Or the worst. Thankfully, however, the hammer never falls on either side. Russell throws so much at the screen that there is little time to make your mind up. Instead, what you get is a formulaic boxing movie with some primitive gender-based stereotypes (skinny babes in black underwear are good; plain fat girls in sweaters are bad), that is made utterly compelling by a single turn from one of the most committed actors in the business. Kevin Maher

Anticipation.

Does the world really need another boxing movie?

Enjoyment.

Can’t take your e ye s o f f B a l e . H e ’s t u r n i n g straw into gold.

In Retrospect. Wa s i t g o l d ? Or just ver y compelling straw?

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David Michôd

Filmography David Michôd A n i m a l K i n g d o m (2010)

Jungle King Interview by Matt Bochenski

rom Truffaut’s 400 Blows or Godard’s Breathless, to Malick’s Badlands and Welles’ Citizen Kane, there’s nothing in cinema more exhilarating than the great first film. It is the joy of discovery, of electric excitement when the early stirrings of genius are first revealed. If it’s too early to put David Michôd in that kind of company, then it’s fair to say that Animal Kingdom, the crime drama that scooped the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, has set him on a course which, if sustained, will lead the young filmmaker to greatness. Originally from Sydney, Michôd moved to Melbourne to attend university – a decision that would prove fateful. Australia’s second city was coming to the end of a major gangland war that was spilling over into civilian life. Mobsters were being shot in crowded restaurants and popular nightclubs while the police sat back and did nothing. Michôd watched it all from film school, where his growing abhorrence at the violence around him began to coalesce with his broader thoughts about Australian filmmaking. “I had an idea of the kind of crime film that I wanted to make, but also the kind of Australian film that I wanted to make, which was one that worked within the parameters of the crime genre and yet felt rich and detailed and substantial,” he explains. “I feel like a lot of Australian films in recent years have been quite thin, and it just felt important to me to make something that was a really rich stew. I wanted to do something that felt big, as rich as a novel, and yet still worked within the vaguely familiar bounds of genre. “I asked myself at every turn whether the stuff hitting the page was rich and substantial enough for me as an audience member to want to pay money to go and see it. And sometimes I wonder whether that’s a question that filmmakers generally ask themselves often enough,” he continues. “I had no idea whether I was going to pull it off. I had no

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idea whether or not I’d feed all this stuff into the filmmaking machine and it would come out the other end feeling undercooked. But my aspiration at the beginning was just to make sure that it felt big and rich and packed full of detail.” For inspiration, all Michôd needed to do was look around him. In effect, Animal Kingdom is a riposte to the peculiar celebration of criminality that was beginning to take hold in Melbourne. “One of the things about Melbourne is its strange propensity to turn its criminal figures into celebrities,” he says. “It reached such absurd heights in Melbourne that the criminals were quite openly enjoying parading themselves outside court rooms, and their extended family members were in the process of becoming celebrated too. The wife of one of the most prominent of these gangland figures very nearly ended up on Dancing with the Stars in Australia, which boggles my mind, how that level of celebrity can be attained via the most insalubrious channels.” For Michôd, Australia’s willingness, even its eagerness, to embrace and be seduced by its criminal elements links directly into the country’s origins. “I’m wary of perpetuating clichés, but at the same time I don’t know that you can ignore the profound influence of a country’s origins, or at least its contemporary origins,” he admits. “The influence of that Australian mythology of criminality, having been born out of a giant prison, is quite profound.” But cinema’s broader fascination with crime comes as no surprise: “There’s something innately fascinating about people who choose to live dangerous and marginal lives in which the difference between success or failure can mean life or death,” he says. And yet Michôd was adamant that Animal Kingdom should take a more objective approach to what was, after all, a shocking turn of violence in Melbourne. “What I didn’t want to be actively participating in was some turning of real people associated with events that I had found harrowing into celebrities,” he says. “So I knew that I wanted to fictionalise that world and I wanted the characters to be my own creation.”

In creating those characters – the riveting and terrifying Cody family – was there a danger that he could get too close, and ultimately be seduced by the outlaw lifestyle he had set out to expose? “For me, it’s about being aware of what my motives are at every turn,” Michôd says. “I never want to keep an emotional distance from my characters – it’s important to me that I feel a genuine empathy for them because I want to be fully participating to whatever extent possible in their emotional lives. For me, that’s what makes them interesting. But I was always wary of drifting into a territory that might be trying to make them cool. I wanted to make a crime film about a particular family of criminals who were, for possibly obvious sociocultural reasons, really quite damaged individuals who carried within them a frightening potential for violence.” In that, Michôd has certainly succeeded, aided and abetted by an ensemble of on-form actors. Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton, Luke Ford and Jacki Weaver exude a dangerous charisma – to the extent that, on set, Michôd found that he was often having to rein them in. “I knew that on a certain level I would need to restrain them just to keep them in the kind of film I wanted to make,” he says. “I knew I wanted to make a crime film that had a kind of pervasive undercurrent of menace, and for that reason it was important that the film not exist in a too-heightened territory. It was important for me that I not be making a Guy Ritchie film or a Quentin Tarantino film for that menace to be truly palpable. So I knew that I would need to monitor closely where the performances were being pitched, but I knew that if they were being pitched where they needed to be to best communicate that menace, then there wouldn’t ever necessarily be anything seductive about the characters themselves.” Check out the full transcript online around the week of release.


Animal Kingdom Directed by David Michôd S t a r r i n g B e n M e n d e l s o h n , Jo e l E d ge r t o n , G u y Pe a r c e R e l e a s e d Fe b r u a r y 2 5

elatively infrequently a film emerges, seemingly from nowhere, and stakes a claim to be considered a modern classic. Animal Kingdom, a pulsating account of Australia’s contemporary criminal landscape from first-time director David Michôd, belongs in this category. Armed robber Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody (Ben Mendelsohn, for whom the part was written) is in hiding from a gang of renegade detectives who want him dead. His business partner, Baz (Joel Edgerton), wants out, recognising that their days of old-school banditry are over. Pope’s younger brother, the volatile Craig (Sullivan Stapleton), is making a fortune in the drugs trade – the true cash cow of the modern criminal fraternity – while the youngest Cody brother, Darren (Luke Ford), naively navigates his way through the Melbourne underworld. Following the death of his heroin-addicted mother, the Codys’ estranged nephew, J (newcomer James Frecheville, holding his own against a cast of veterans), is welcomed into the family, presided over by his doting, deceptively sunny grandmother Janine (veteran actress Jacki Weaver). Ensconced in a den of savage criminals, J succumbs to the Cody lifestyle but soon finds himself at the centre of a cold-blooded revenge plot between the family and the police. One senior cop, Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce), becomes J’s sole ally, luring him

into the police fold with a mixture of kindness and empathy, and then shepherding the teenager towards testimony through a complex minefield of witness protection, corrupt cops, slippery lawyers and a paranoid and vengeful family. Evolving over a nine-year period and resulting from Sydney born writer/director Michôd’s fascination with the illicit landscape of Melbourne, Animal Kingdom looks at a substrata of society that operates below what we understand to be moral and correct. A film that has a lot to say about violence and the effects of growing up around it, Michôd effectively uses J as our tour guide to an era on the brink of crisis and collapse. Determinedly authentic and naturalistic (natural light is pervasive), Michôd’s decision to avoid overplaying the violence and his aversion to cartoon bloodbaths is particularly effective. Animal Kingdom is a film in which the threat of brutality is everpresent, lurking ominously, constantly threatening to explode. The director has confessed to a desire to make a sprawling, multi-layered drama with manifold locations and characters, some of which are not introduced until half-way through, and in superbly realising this, acclaim goes to the terrific ensemble cast. Jacki Weaver particularly excels as the domineering matriarch, achieving one of the most

vivid and bone-chilling portraits of pure, undiluted evil in modern cinema. A moustached Pearce is characteristically excellent as Leckie (the one male character in the film to be shown stepping aside from his job and enjoying a loving and stable family life), offering J a glimpse of a safer and calmer world. During production, Michôd referenced Heat and Magnolia as the benchmarks of what he wanted to achieve. With Animal Kingdom, he arguably surpasses both. Jason Wood

Anticipation.

A debut feature from a little-known formershorts director, but one that won the Grand Jur y Prize at Sundance.

Enjoyment.

David Michôd doesn’t put a foot wrong. The writing, direction and performances are first-rate.

In Retrospect. U t t e r l y t h r i l l i n g , Animal Kingdom exudes stunning d e p t h a n d c o m p l e x i t y.

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Conviction D i r e c t e d b y To n y G o l d w y n Starring Hilar y Swank, Sam Rockwell, Minnie Dr iver Released Januar y 14

hat high school dropout Betty Anne Waters, played by Hilary Swank, went through an intensive education process with the aim of becoming a lawyer to free her wrongly incarcerated brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) is remarkable stuff. Yet Conviction doesn’t just ladle on the schmaltz, it tips a bucket of it over our heads. Whereas Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich swaggered around with a cocky aesthetic that matched its protagonist’s personality, Tony Goldwyn’s film is fudged by pedestrian direction and a central character who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. Though devoid of the sass and spirit of Soderbergh’s picture, there are similarities nonetheless. Waters is an equally – if not more – inspirational working-class figure, in that she actually put in the hard graft, went to law school, graduated and won the case (with a little help from her friends). But the fact that her belief in Kenny’s innocence is

West Is West Directed by Andy DeEmmony Starring Aqib Khan, Om Puri, Linda Bassett R e l e a s e d Fe b r u a r y 2 5

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beyond doubt is precisely what’s wrong with the film. Pamela Gray’s screenplay removes all the interesting shades, and never offers us a contrasting viewpoint. It makes the film feel anti-dramatic as it plods along to an obvious denouement. Why was Kenny such a police magnet in the first place? We see him brawling – quite viciously – in a bar but it’s laughed off as ‘just Kenny’ when he starts dancing and acting the goat. The devil, as they say, is in the detail, but Goldwyn’s film raises so many unanswered questions that the plot holes soon open up into chasms. Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell give committed performances, and there’s a cracking cameo from Juliette Lewis as a monstrous ex-girlfriend whose false testimony helps put Kenny in the slammer for life without parole. Goldwyn’s sentimental hymn ticks all the predictable boxes and is fearful of being too probing even as Waters sacrifices her own family in her quest

to prove Kenny’s innocence. The sad irony, not mentioned in the film’s closing legends, is that three months after being released Kenny fell from a wall while taking a shortcut to his brother’s house and died. Perhaps Goldwyn felt that such a detail would muddy the triumphant tale he was hell-bent on telling. Martyn Conterio

he long-awaited sequel to East Is East picks up at the Khan family’s Salford chippy in 1976, where all but one of the Khan kids have flown the coop. Parka-wearing Sajid (Aqib Khan) is now 13-years-old, dealing with racist bullies, the injustice of puberty, and still not conforming to the Punjabi ways his father expects. When Sajid gets caught shoplifting, George (Om Puri) decides that a clip round the ear won’t be enough and, in an attempt to teach his pottymouthed son a thing or two about respect, he takes them both back to their roots in rural Pakistan. But it is George who, returning to the family he left behind, is forced to reap what he sowed 30 years before and is made to feel like a foreigner in his own country. Swapping chips for chapatis, West IsWest attempts to revisit the British/Pakistani clashes its predecessor brought to the big screen 11 years ago. Apart from an unexpected (and flatulent) visit from Auntie Anne and Ella, however, the cultural faux pas just don’t hit as many funny beats as they did first time round. At a time when discussions about political correctness were particularly rife, East Is East provided comic relief. While it branches out geographically, West Is West fails to go the distance for an audience who have aged twice as much in its absence. Being set just five years on means the film can concentrate on the father/son relationship. It also

means it avoids having to dirty its hands with the recent (more relevant) politics of Pakistan. At least the family dynamic works – with 45 years and a continent of experience between them, Sajid and George have a believable tension and touching chemistry that provokes questions about whether ethnic identity can be passed down through generations of immigrants. West Is West may be the second half of a comingof-age tale, but it hasn’t grown up all that much. This is where the film feels lacking – not in the identity crisis of its characters, but in its own lethargic maturation. Zara Miller

Anticipation. T h e

buzz suggests another knockout Hilar y Swank performance in a true-life tale.

Enjoyment.

A wor thy stor y told in a pedestrian manner.

In Retrospect. S c h m a l t z y and lacking dramatic drive.

Anticipation.

After the surprise success of East Is East, could this be another comic gem?

Enjoyment. Yo u

can take the Khans out of the country but you can’t take them out of the ’70s. Shame.

In Retrospect.

It may avoid politics, but something is stirring beneath the fart jokes and biracial blunders.


New British Cinema Quarterly The place to see the most distinctive and original British feature films.

If you missed the stand-out British films of 2010 including the Edinburgh International Film Festival Michael Powell award winner SKELETONS then the NBCQ annual brings you a collection of daring, original and inventive films, 1234, NO GREATER LOVE & BRILLIANTLOVE. Includes the NBCQ 2010 magazine which looks back at British Cinema in 2010 with comment from leading industry figures including Tim Bevan, Tessa Ross and Sandra Hebron. The NBCQ annual will take you directly to the heart of great British independent cinema. NBCQ was started in 2010 as a touring cinema programme to showcase the best of British cinema selected from the Edinburgh and London film festivals. The 2011 showcase starts with Col Spector’s HONEYMOONER starring Gerard Kearns and Lisa Faulkner.

The NBCQ 2010 Annual DVD Box-Set is out from 31st January 2011 available to pre-order now at www.nbcq.co.uk


Inside Job D i r e c t e d by C h a r l e s Fe r g u s o n Starring Matt Damon R e l e a s e d Fe b r u a r y 1 8

harles Ferguson – political scientist, software entrepreneur and director of award-winning anti-war documentary No End in Sight – returns with a new tale of immorality and greed. Over 125 minutes, Ferguson fixes an accusatory eye on the institutions, academics and federal representatives whose actions precipitated a global economic meltdown in 2008. The corruption he unearths is heartbreaking. Andrew Sheng, Chief Advisor to the China Banking Regulatory Commission, sums it up well: “Financial engineers build dreams,” he says, “but when those dreams turn out to be nightmares, the people pay for it.” Inside Job opens in the frigid landscape of postrecession Iceland, but before you are chilled into a market-jargon coma, Ferguson cuts to a bird’s-eye view of Manhattan set against the jazzy, aspirational backdrop of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Big Time’. Such colourful digressions – including interviews with a Wall Street therapist and the madam of a popular banking brothel – sweeten an otherwise bitter exposé.

Men on the Bridge Directed by Asli Özge S t a r r i n g C e m i l e I l k e r, U m u t I l k e r, F i k r e t Po r t a k a l Released Januar y 28

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Ferguson masterfully guides the viewer through the history of modern finance and the factors that contributed to the economic downturn. From the Great Depression to deregulation in the Reagan era, via the passing of the Commodity Futures Modernisation Act by the Clinton administration and further deregulation during the Bush era, the house of cards is built. And after it falls, Ferguson studies the Obama government’s inadequate response with pathos. The film’s mission is to debunk the myths and set aside the over-intellectualised terminology that Ferguson claims has disguised a monumental fraud.To that end, Inside Job is no dumbed-down, anti-capitalist tirade; it’s a measured and critical investigation. But the director’s frustration and incredulity occasionally spill over off camera, with several verbal tussles resulting in the premature termination of interviews. Ferguson’s lofty polemics may influence every frame, but the doc oozes credibility through the voices of its talking heads. As well as exclusive footage of global leaders, chief execs of investment

banks, financial lobbyists, business school deans and journalists, there are news reports of people who declined to be interviewed, and profiles of Obama’s current financial consultants – all key players, it transpires, in the 2008 disaster. Shelley Jones

n the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the European side of Istanbul to the Asian, three downtrodden men make their livings. Umut, a taxi driver, struggles with a domineering boss and a wife desperate to escape the confines of their tiny apartment. Seventeen-year-old Fikret tries to sell bunches of roses amongst the slow-moving traffic (we never see him succeed). Mild-mannered cop Murat manages the traffic, spending his evenings on internet chat rooms trying to meet a woman. Suffering under differing extremes of poverty and urban isolation, they search for freedom, happiness or self-determination. None of them are likely to find what they need. Asli Özge’s film emerged from a planned documentary project, and while she has created a fiction, the documentary aesthetic and, arguably, purpose remain. Both Fikret and Umut essentially play themselves (traffic cop Murat is played by the brother of the policeman that originally inspired Özge – the production having been denied access to serving police officers). Dialogue stems largely from improvisation, while camerawork is handheld and unobtrusive. The result is a work of sustained skill and subtlety, full of painfully recognisable moments, aiming for authenticity and finding it with an aplomb comparable to Özge’s countryman Nuri Bilge Ceylan. This realist aesthetic is so uniform that it does, occasionally, feel stunting. Özge picks what she calls a

‘worrying rise’ in Turkish nationalism as a secondary subject but seems wary of making any overt criticism of her characters’ chauvinist tendencies. Stringent realism is all well and good, but when it leads to blanket objectivity you begin to wonder about its usefulness as a defining aesthetic – an aesthetic, in this case, that defines the content. But such quibbles are minimal. In the main, Özge has created a film of genuine emotional resonance. The hulking bridge is presented in a positively Miltonian manner – a dreadful rumbling, glinting morass, burdened with a constant crawling stream of honking, fumespewing vehicles. For such a rigorously realist film these compositions are quite stunning. Are we beginning to see a Turkish new wave, rolling along the waters of the Bosphorus? Chris Neilan

Anticipation.

Stories about corrupt bankers don’t make billboards, but they should.

Enjoyment.

Po p h i t s f r o m the ’80s and brothel talk make subprimes and hedge f u n d s s l i g h t l y m o r e s e x y.

Retrospect.

An insightful and thought-provoking doc that will enrage and frustrate after digestion.

Anticipation.

G l u m Tu r k i s h realism? On a rainy winter night?

Enjoyment.

G l u m Tu r k s are surprisingly intriguing.

In Retrospect. S t r i n g e n t realism doesn’t boast much replay value.


Biutiful Directed by Alejandro González Iñár r itu Starring Javier Bardem, Mar icel Álvarez, Hanaa Bouchaib Released Januar y 28

lejandro González Iñárritu is a global citizen. From Japan to North Africa via Mexico, California and now Barcelona, his films are invested in the meaning and condition of our twentyfirst-century lives. It is a grand undertaking, this social archaeology, and it is one that exists on the very edge of sententiousness and self-importance. Biutiful flirts with both, but this elegiac fable has such compassion and moral purpose that it’s possible – necessary, perhaps – to forgive its lapses into cliché and contrivance. Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a small-time grifter connected to illegal Chinese labour. Drifting between the squalid warehouse where the immigrants live in abject conditions, the streets of the city’s shopping district where African hucksters ply their trade, and the tiny apartment he shares with his two kids, Uxbal’s life is a portrait of social decay and economic despair. But he is also a spiritualist who communes with the dead, a skill that throws his own fate into sharp relief when Uxbal is diagnosed with cancer. Fearful of what the future may hold for his children without him, Uxbal attempts to put his affairs in order, only for tragedy and disaster to intrude. This is feel-bad cinema at its most intense and

unforgiving. Iñárritu drops a veil of pitch-black desolation across the screen and leaves it there, offset by stolen moments of tenderness between Uxbal and Maramba (Hanaa Bouchaib) – an African woman to whom he feels a personal obligation – but without any comforting interludes of humour. Do we believe that this is the reality of life for people like Uxbal – a debilitating struggle in which misery is piled on top of anguish? Certainly, it feels hard to credit the sheer weight of misfortune that collapses on his shoulders. Or is it mere arrogance to question the cycle of economic oppression from the safe side of a cinema screen? Perhaps it’s simply that we don’t want to see what Iñárritu has to show us; the wafer thin surface that keeps us from falling through the cracks. At least here, separated from long-time screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, Iñárritu has broken free of his own fractured formula to present a more straightforward drama in which misery accumulates like poison gas. In this endeavour, he is memorably supported by Bardem, who offers his cavernous face to Iñárritu’s camera like a cartographer etching some unknowable map. Bardem, all weary eyes and sculpted hollows, brings a strange kind of nobility to Uxbal’s suffering.

Though he may be responsible for terrible things, it’s impossible not to be swayed by his charisma, his energy, the indomitable will to do something right, even as everything falls apart around him. While his contemporaries enjoy the fruits of the Hollywood system, a decade on from Amores Perros, Iñárritu is still making films on his own terms. Biutiful is bruising, provocative and uncompromising. The director may retain his faith in people – in our capacity for redemption – but his audience, like Uxbal, will have to search hard to find it. Matt Bochenski

Anticipation.

Iñárritu is a serious-minded filmmaker and a world cinema heavyweight.

Enjoyment.

Dark and difficult, but Javier Bardem is sensational.

In Retrospect. A s h a t t e r i n g portrait of life, death and redemption.

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Danny Boyle Golden Boy I n t e r v i e w b y A d a m Wo o d w a r d

t’s late October and Danny Boyle’s new film, 127 Hours, has just closed the 54th London Film Festival. There’s an audible buzz surrounding Boyle, much like there was in 2008, when Slumdog Millionaire wooed critics, swept the Oscars, and catapulted the Lancashire-born filmmaker into the big leagues. Since then, doors have been thrown open for the director, but his response to all this fuss has been characteristically humble. “When you have a success like Slumdog, it’s like a big warm cuddle is suddenly being extended to you. But you’ve got to remember that it is fake, or, if you’re being generous, temporary,” Boyle says. “You have to learn to deal with it circumspectly and not get too involved in all the warm cuddling. Or you’ll find yourself very lonely when it’s taken away, which it always is. Age has definitely helped me in that respect though,” he adds. “Anybody who’s in their thirties that it happens to I think, ‘Fucking good luck, mate,’ because it’s very tough. It’s a bit insane, but it’s great when you’re then able to go out and make whatever you like. Usually after a success there’s two options: a huge movie where everybody’s cashing in getting huge fees, or a vanity project that nobody wants to do and is a disaster. I’m sure the studio thought 127 Hours was the vanity project, but just getting back to work and doing something with a restrictive budget has been really good for me.” Boyle admits, however, that while affording him more artistic freedom, the success of Slumdog had a much more fundamental bearing on 127 Hours. “Without Slumdog we wouldn’t have been able to make this movie. We certainly wouldn’t have got it financed,” he admits. “And to be honest, it was still difficult, even with the cash in the bank from Slumdog.” More important to Boyle, however, has been retaining the creative integrity that is so rooted in his filmmaking

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ideology. “There’s a certain power of having a success that allows you to dream bigger,” he says, “but there’s also a flush of confidence that you get in being able to tell a story. That helped me get through this film for sure because whenever you direct something you’re constantly working through people’s caution and doubts, and you have to have that self-belief.” In truth, confidence is something that pours from everything Boyle does, and the energy of his films is mirrored by his own enthusiastic, animated manner. But, as he confesses, there’s an element of selfconsciousness that arises whenever the time comes to start work on a new project. “I’m very aware of not repeating myself. Although there’s no rational reason for it – I don’t know whether it is just a knee-jerk thing – I feel the need to do something different to whatever it is I last did.” He continues: “I think it’s about wanting to get back to your first film. There’s an innocence about your first film that is fantastic, where you don’t know what you’re doing and you have to find out quickly what it is. And the only way you can get back to that is to pick a subject where you don’t really know how to do it. I’ve never tried to go into a film that’s the same tone as the last one because the danger with that is you think, ‘Oh, I know how to do this, we’ll just do that.’ Even if you pick something different though, you always bump into yourself and you start to think you’re making the same fucking film. That happens, and that’s why I’ve always thought of my first film as my best. It’s easily the time when you learn the most, and it’s a very pure process in that sense.” Shallow Grave to 127 Hours has been a 16-year journey that has taken Boyle to the upper echelons of British cinema. Today he’s a household name with a reputation for delivering exciting, crowd-pleasing

Filmography Danny Boyle 127 Hours Slumdog Millionaire Sunshine Millions 28 Days Later… The Beach A Life Less Ordinar y Tr a i n s p o t t i n g Shallow Grave

(2010) (2008) (2007) (2004) (2002) (2000) (1997) (1996) (1994)

films. Yet throughout his career Boyle has remained grounded, a trait he attributes to his ‘second family’ – the crew he has collaborated with since the early days of his career. “It’s important to try and stick together because making a film is a long campaign,” he says. “There are many temptations within that and many people put in front of you the opportunity to split, join your own band. So it’s a big factor, staying together, because everyone knows you and understands the process – they know your fallibilities and they don’t accept all the warm cuddles.” Boyle looks set to resist the lure of Hollywood for another film, but his immediate ambitions are very much golden, having been awarded the position of artistic director for the forthcoming London Olympics. Is Boyle at all daunted by the challenge of overseeing the opening ceremony of one of the most important fixtures in British cultural history? Not a chance. “It’s a good time to do it actually because Beijing is almost impossible to follow. It was beyond the scale of any economy other than the Chinese, so we’re not taking it as a benchmark. They had a very breast-thumping reason to do it, whereas I think ours will really utilise the intimacy of the stadium – which is the same seating capacity as Beijing, but half the size. So it will be a bit more about the people in the stadium rather than the sheer spectacle on TV.” He continues, hinting at what audiences can expect on July 27, 2012: “It does have to be a spectacle, of course, but it needs to have a personal side to it as well. Let’s just say it’s going to be nothing like Beijing. I think if we tried to match them it would end up looking like a half-arsed Halifax advert. No one wants to see that.” Check out the full transcript online in the week of the film’s release.


127 Hours Directed by Danny Boyle S t a r r i n g J a m e s F r a n c o , A m b e r Ta m b l y n , K a t e M a r a Released Januar y 7

n May 2003, Aron Ralston was on a solo hiking trip when the unthinkable happened – after a freak rock fall, his right arm was trapped beneath an immovable boulder. After five days of dwindling water and repeated failures to escape, he recorded his last goodbyes on a camcorder and resigned himself to death. Then he thought, ‘Fuck that’, hacked his own arm off and made a getaway on foot. A gutsy character, then, and director Danny Boyle has turned in an appropriately gutsy take on Ralston’s story. First things first: yes, the amputation is shown in full-frame close-up, as are the two auto-arm-breakings that precede it. 2011 is unlikely to see a more intense scene than these, and it’s easy to believe the reports of fainting at film festivals. But is there anything going on with 127 Hours beyond its grisly USP? In short, yes. Re-teaming with Slumdog DP Anthony Dod Mantle, Boyle has trounced Pepsi’s ’90s ad team at their own game. Ralston’s preaccident to-the-max lifestyle is captured in exhilarating fashion, whether rocketing on his bike through golden Utah landscapes, or a stolen afternoon with two co-eds in a preposterously inviting concealed pool. It’s so electrifying, Boyle should be on the speed-dial of every tourist board in the world. And it’s here, finally, that James Franco proves he’s a bona fide star, his charisma

unmistakable even as he ramps up the dorkiness for a few sly laughs at Ralston’s expense. Then the rock drops. Where more sedate minds would slow things down for some serious long-take self-examination, Boyle treats Ralston’s ordeal as one long crescendo. As initial panic moves inexorably to delirium and Ralston starts to realise he might not make it, Boyle reaches deep into his bag of cinematic tricks, employing everything from time-lapse photography to hallucinations of Scooby Doo as he ratchets up the tension. Franco, too, digs deep – holding the attention even as he’s reduced to drinking his own bodily fluids, or enduring a sudden moment of unexpected horniness. As hope dwindles, he seizes avidly on a few award-friendly set pieces; in particular a scene where he interviews himself on his camcorder, castigating himself for neglecting his family. But it’s in these latter scenes that 127 Hours’ only real flaw emerges: arm-hacking aside, and despite Franco’s best efforts, Aron Ralston just isn’t that interesting a guy. A nice middle-class lad, his worst crime is not calling his mum enough, but the way he beats himself up about it, you’d think he’d knifed her the night before. Faced with a real-life protagonist without any big-time ‘issues’ he can resolve, Boyle

flirts with disaster by heavy-handedly breaking out a theme that the Hallmark Channel might find a bit much; preachily revealing that people, like, need each other to get by. That said, once he’s done teaching the world to sing, Boyle cranks up the Sigur Rós for a phenomenally uplifting finale and all is forgiven. There’s no denying it – in taking a Movie of the Week plotline and giving it a technical supercharge, Boyle has restated his case among the front rank of filmmakers. Andrew Lowry

Anticipation.

James Franco in league with the Slumdog team. Sold.

Enjoyment.

Boyle uses ever y trick in the book to hold the attention.

In Retrospect. F o r g e t t h e TV movie trappings, 127 H o u r s i s e l e va t e d b y F r a n c o ’s p e r f o r m a n c e a n d B oy l e ’s bravura direction.

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Morning Glory Directed by Roger Michell Starring Rachel McAdams, H a r r i s o n Fo r d , D i a n e K e a t o n Released Januar y 21

achel McAdams, she of the saucer eyes and ivory smile, made all the girls cry in The Notebook and all the boys cry in Wedding Crashers. After that promising start, however, she has been criminally ill-served by the Hollywood machine, playing candy (Sherlock Holmes), plucky (State of Play) and sappy (The Time Traveller’s Wife). In Morning Glory, she gets to do perky as Becky Fuller, a determined TV producer trying to make it in recession-era America. Becky’s big chance sees her attempting to whip into shape ailing morning talk show Daybreak. Her plan is to unite morose newsman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford) with long-term anchor and alphabitch Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton, having fun). Morning Glory shares its name with the Katharine Hepburn film from 1933. There, Hepburn played a talented actress struggling to be recognised for anything more than her looks. Eighty years later, it seems that little has changed.

I Spit on Your Grave Directed by Steven R Monroe S t a r r i n g S a r a h B u t l e r, Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese Released Januar y 21

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This film was produced by JJ Abrams, directed by the guy who made Notting Hill, and written by the woman who adapted The Devil Wears Prada. Bottom line? It should have offered more. At times, Morning Glory musters the courage to say something interesting, both about women in work – the fixed roles and silent assumptions – and about the failings of the modern media – the crippling budgets, the dumbing down, the ceaseless dichotomy between information and entertainment. But it retires from both, sliding inexorably into cloying sentiment. Each character, once established, never breaks the mould of predictability, while Becky, who begins the film with such idealism, is never granted the chance of self-realisation. Reticent to the point of hidebound, the movie reeks of compromise. Even as a vehicle for an extraordinary actress, it fails to use McAdams for more than her looks. An early montage sees Becky

laimed retroactively as an example of female empowerment, the original I Spit on Your Grave was a Z-grade 1978 rape-revenge flick which taught us very little about either of its twin tenets. It did feature a man getting his cock chopped off, though, plus leery shots of director Meir Zarchi’s wife Camille Keaton in the buff – and you don’t get much more empowering than that. Better shot, acted, written and directed than its predecessor, Monroe’s cynical update features a vicious gang-rape and some ridiculously OTT revenge, but it’s also completely pointless, like being in the Guinness Book of Records for eating a wheelbarrow of your own shit. Perhaps Zarchi (now exec-producing) should have cast his daughter in the lead – that might have stirred up some extra infamy. To be fair, a film review is no place for moral indignation – let’s leave that to the BBFC, who cut 43 seconds – and Monroe hits his marks about half the time. After an overly schematic set-up in which Sarah Butler’s Jennifer, on a writing jaunt to the countryside, angers the local inbreds with her ‘big-city, cock-teasing’ ways (wearing lipgloss, drinking vodka, not fancying them), there follows protracted scenes of rape, humiliation and torture. Although Monroe succeeds in making them suitably unpleasant and non-titillating,

riding a ferry across the Hudson River while the Statue of Liberty rises beyond her. It’s a windswept picture of beauty, as simple and enduring as Hollywood gets. But McAdams deserves to be recognised for so much more. Tom Seymour

Anticipation.

One face, one name on the poster. No chiselled chump in sight.

Enjoyment.

Some laughs, some charm, but edges covered in treacle.

In Retrospect. A v e h i c l e for an effortless performer, but void of conviction.

a lot more has been achieved with a lot less. Besides, what does he want, a fucking biscuit? Sorry. End of indignation. Left for dead by her tormenters, Jennifer becomes strangely omnipotent – lifting unconscious men three times her size, crafting booby-traps out of rubbish like an AWOL A-Teamer, and enacting the sort of ironic vengeance beloved of Wes Craven’s Wishmaster. One chap who ‘likes to watch’ has his eyes pecked out, and what happens to the self-declared ‘ass man’ has to be seen to be believed, unless you’re a Danny Dyer fan, in which case it has to be seen to be seen again. And that’s the problem here – no matter how horrible the rape, or how bloody the revenge, the most shocking thing about this film is the fact anyone bothered to make it once, let alone twice. Matt Glasby

Anticipation. T h i r t y - t h r e e long years. Only kidding.

Enjoyment.

Not really the

right word.

In Retrospect. E f f i c i e n t but oddly forgettable.


Brighton Rock Directed by Rowan Joffe S t a r r i n g S a m R i l e y, A n d r e a R i s e b o r o u g h , H e l e n M i r r e n R e l e a s e d Fe b r u a r y 4

hen it comes to remakes, there is no triedand-tested method for guaranteeing a safe return. Yet often the most successful are those that embody the spirit that made the original stand out, while establishing a sense of identity and purpose that is entirely their own. Having assembled an impressive cross-section of British filmmaking talent – with stalwarts and rising stars accounted for, not to mention a reputable cinematographer (John Mathieson) and composer (Martin Phipps) – Rowan Joffe (who’s on a career high after penning the screenplay for Anton Corbijn’s The American) has certainly stacked the odds in his favour. And well he might, given that he’s chosen to reinterpret a cherished British novel and seminal film noir for his directorial debut. Sadly, the task has ultimately proven too big for him. Wearing the scar and scowl made famous by Richard Attenborough, Sam Riley looks and acts the part as Pinkie Brown, the young sociopath hell-bent on shanking his way to the top of the crime pile following the death of his mentor at the hands of a rival gang. After exacting his own brand of eye-for-an-eye justice, Pinkie finds himself in deep barney with both the law and resident cigarchewing mob king Mr Colleoni – played with

pomp by Andy Serkis, who relishes laying it on thick but is fatally underused. To keep the former off his tail, Pinkie woos the girl whose testimony would bring about his undoing. But while doe-eyed waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough) might be meek and impressionable at first, her growing clinginess and unconditional devotion soon put both their lives at risk. He might be quick with a blade and lethal with a wink, but Pinkie’s not as sharp as he thinks he is. Joffe has applied his own signature to this Scarface-lite tale by bringing the setting forward from the late-1930s to 1964; the year that the last hanging took place in the decade of the great British gangster. And it is here, crucially, that the mods and rockers first inspired moral panic on the streets and shoreline of South East England. This is a period rich in countercultural iconography that has traditionally lent itself well to cinema, but it’s a time to which Pinkie doesn’t really belong – his disenfranchisement at odds with the social emancipation of his brawling contemporaries. Where John Boulting’s 1947 film eloquently captured the voice of post-war youth, Joffe’s is fixated on Vespas, Brylcreem and tailored suits – it’s all style and no substance.

Lacklustre supporting turns further sour the mix, most notably from Helen Mirren and John Hurt, who come across as if they’ve stumbled in fresh from a day’s shift pulling pints and thumping punters down the local boozer on some tawdry terrestrial soap. All of this amounts to one damning prosecution against the director. Graham Greene’s original prose might be tricky to recycle without losing some of its resonance, but when the individual components are this strong, it’s criminal that the end product is so bland. Adam Woodward

Anticipation.

The American scribe takes on a revered British classic with a solid cast.

Enjoyment.

Rowan Joffe delivers a stale and soapy rehash when he should have dared to dream bigger.

In Retrospect.

Staggeringly

forgettable.

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Mark Romanek

Filmography Mark Romanek N e v e r L e t M e G o (2010) O n e H o u r P h o t o (2002)

Tu r n i n g J a p a n e s e Interview by Matt Bochenski

ow cool is your office? It doesn’t matter – it’s not as cool as Mark Romanek’s office when he worked for music video agency Propaganda Films in LA in the mid-’90s. Romanek worked alongside David Fincher, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry – the next generation of filmmakers who crossed over from 30-second spots and three-minute promos into the fertile feature ground of Hollywood. They’d regularly get together after hours, scheming and dreaming their way through grand plans and big ideas. But where Jonze and Gondry were feted as the wonder boys of twenty-firstcentury pop culture, and Fincher became the digital visionary, Romanek’s path has been less clear-cut. His debut feature, One Hour Photo, was the least aggressive, most classical work of all his peers. That film was released in 2002, but as his friends flourished, Romanek stalled. An abortive experience with The Wolfman effectively put the director out of action for the rest of the decade. But if his latest film is anything to go by, that absence from the big screen has only sharpened his skills. Never Let Me Go, an adaptation of the 2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, is both a hugely successful translation and a profound piece of cinema in its own right. Romanek has returned in triumph. The director himself modestly attributes the film’s success to its source material. “You take your cue from this great book,” he says, “its tension attached to real emotion attached to a sincere expression about the human condition. Those are the things you look for that give something the potential to have any lasting value. Almost every scene has a quality of conflict, of desolation and of oddness – like people ordering food in a diner, or a young child who’s perplexed by something, asking a question of one of her teachers. That’s all it is but the context and the metaphor that Ishiguro created fills everything with this pathos and tension, and that’s gold for a filmmaker.” For Romanek, the major challenge was to reflect the tone of Ishiguro’s novel; its understated and deceptive sense of beauty and horror combined.

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The story of three children who mature into adulthood with the terrible knowledge that they will be farmed for their organs, is a heartbreaking tale of love and friendship that touches on our most basic fear: mortality. Romanek knew that if he didn’t nail the tone, “People would run screaming from the cinema because it’s too disturbing a truth that the novel is dealing with.” While researching Ishiguro’s work to find a way into the film’s visual grammar, Romanek came across an interview in which the novelist admitted that he was more influenced by Japanese cinema of the ’50s and ’60s than the work of other writers. It was a key revelation for the director, who began studying Japanese aesthetics, determined to develop “a Japanese sensibility that could be overlaid on this very British story.” Reading up on Noh theatre, he came across the concept of ‘yugen’, a complex idea which, in part, describes the calm surface that belies the deep emotional currents beneath. It is complemented by ‘ugen’, the joyful acceptance of the essential sadness of life. “When you put those two together, you start to describe a lot of Ishiguro’s writing,” explains Romanek. “I knew that everything in front of the camera was going to be British by nature, but if it was seen through a filter of my layman’s idea of a Japanese sensibility then it would create this tone that would start to approximate the tone of the novel.” The next step was to capture a retro-futurist vision of England in which the post-war decay of the 1970s was offset by rapid scientific change. Once again, Romanek took his inspiration from Japan, eschewing an emblematic approach to the period in favour of a more romantic, pictorial aesthetic. “I came across a concept called ‘wabi-sabi’,” he explains. “It’s the idea that things that are old and broken and faded and frayed are more beautiful than things that are clean and new – this was very radical in the 1950s. We tried to wabi-sabi the movie because the film is about the preciousness of time. I wanted to see the effect of time in almost everything that was in front of the camera.” With the visual approach so carefully

calibrated, the danger was that the final film would lack the spark of life that comes through chance, instinct and improvisation. Like most lowbudget films, once the cameras started rolling, Never Let Me Go became a balancing act between orchestration and spontaneity. “On a lower-budget movie you have to be efficient and organised. You can’t go in and go, ‘Okay, we’re going to improvise.’ There’s shit that you’ve got to do that day and you’ve got to have a plan to do it,” says Romanek. “However, you have to be open to being in the moment, just like you want your actors to be open to the moment.” He uses as an example a scene in which the three lead actors – Andrew Garfield, Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan – are driving back home in a car that had been rigged by the crew with an ungainly assembly of lights and scaffolding. Garfield suggested that his character, Tommy, should stick his head out of the window, even though it was late in the day and not easily arranged. “I said, ‘Get that window cranked down; I don’t care how long it takes. We gotta do it quickly because we’re losing the light but get the fucking window cranked down because that’s a good instinct,’” says Romanek. “You have to be open to a little spontaneity.” On the subject of his actors, three (well, maybe two) of the most promising talents of their generation, Romanek says, “I tried to just stay out of their way.” That, of course, is only half the story – on set, each of them required a different kind of handling. “Keira is more cerebral; Andrew’s very physical, he’s very inspired, he thinks about movement a lot; and Carey is very intuitive,” says Romanek. “Keira always wants to know the ‘why’ in what she’s doing; Andrew likes to be fed certain information during rehearsal and once he’s ingested that he really needs to be left alone; and Carey is very clear about what she wants to do. She’s kind of a minimalist. When I started to see how she was playing it, it emboldened me to go further in my Japanese influences. She works in an almost mystical way. She embodies yugen, I think.” Catch the full transcript online in the week of release.


Never Let Me Go Directed by Mark Romanek S t a r r i n g C a r e y M u l l i ga n , K e i ra K n i g h t l e y, A n d r e w G a r f i e l d R e l e a s e d Fe b r u a r y 1 1

uffused in desolate sadness, Never Let Me Go is a disquieting journey through the bleak midwinter of the human soul. Based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, it has been adapted for the screen by The Beach author Alex Garland with a sympathetic feel for tone and texture. And it marks a triumphant return to directing for Mark Romanek, after eight years in the wilderness. England in the 1970s, a society stuck beneath grey skies somewhere between the old world and the new. At Hailsham, students are reminded that they’re ‘special’, but the fences that enclose them and the guards at their gate strike an unsettling note. These children are clones, created to donate their organs as young adults and eventually reach ‘completion’. Hailsham is the acceptable face of barbarity: a grotesque parody of childhood, education and care. It’s here that Tommy (Andrew Garfield), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Kathy (Carey Mulligan) form a friendship that will come to define their lives. After they leave Hailsham, they will get a brief taste of life on the threshold of death. And they will come to understand in their own ways what it means to be

truly human, with its attendant tragedies, betrayals and rare, precious moments of transcendence. Romanek and his production team have fashioned an exquisitely moving film that revels in the precise artifice of cinema – composition, framing, light and editing – but which demonstrates the artist’s flair for emotional connection. Inspired by Japanese Noh drama, Romanek’s formal rigour belies the pain, loss and solitude shifting like oceanic currents beneath the surface. The passions that ignite between the three friends are a heartbreaking contrast to the repressive monotony of the country at large. Glimpsed from car windows or through café doors, the world that denies them is a place of dormancy and decay – one in desperate need of their life, lust and joy. Above all else, Never Let Me Go is a story of tragic waste. It is also a showcase for a new generation of English actors, led by Carey Mulligan, who proves once again that she is a performer of great restraint and subtlety. An ungenerous reading might suggest that Kathy’s passivity in the face of tragedy, perhaps even her collusion in it, betrays her own essential inhumanity. But it’s her grace, her acceptance of life and her

determination to experience fully those moments she has that speaks to the best part of our nature. Close your eyes for a moment and listen, and it’s possible to hear the agonised cry for help buried at the film’s core, but that anguish never breaks the surface. Its restraint is a challenge – we’re conditioned to expect some sort of cathartic resolution founded in anger and revenge – but Romanek doesn’t offer us that release. Instead, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy find solace in forgiveness. And what could be more human than that? Matt Bochenski

Anticipation.

A seminal novel, a filmmaker with much to prove and a stunning cast.

Enjoyment.

Provocative in its lack of provocation, Never Let Me Go is a thoughtful, subtle and profound piece of cinema.

In Retrospect.

Deeply moving.

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Rabbit Hole Directed by John Cameron Mitchell Starring Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh R e l e a s e d Fe b r u a r y 4

t is said that in order to grieve healthily we must acknowledge, experience and express the pain of our loss. Rabbit Hole explores this process intimately and openly through the eyes of a suburban American couple whose blissful equilibrium has been shattered by the death of their young son. It is a powerful and enriching reminder of cinema’s ability to convey and even facilitate grief. Ever since the car accident that took four-year-old Danny from them several months ago, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) Corbett have been prisoners in their own white-picket ideal. Domestic routine has become a cancer. The family home is now a living scrapbook, with fridge paintings and idle toys serving as bitter souvenirs of the anguish that is rapidly consuming them. So far, so bleak. But John Cameron Mitchell’s film – which sees the writer/director depart from the

The Way Back D i r e c t e d b y P e t e r We i r Starring Jim Sturgess, E d H a r r i s, C o l i n Fa r r e l l Released December 26

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offbeat subversiveness of his two previous features, Hedgwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus – is not all gloom and sorrow. Far from it, in fact. With internal tensions rising, both husband and wife are forced to find comfort independently or risk their marriage imploding. It is here that Rabbit Hole liberates itself from the bondages of melodramatic convention, as the hitherto taut narrative is punctuated by moments of kind affection and humorous respite – with Becca befriending the young driver responsible for Danny’s death, and Howie bunking group therapy to clear his conscience by means of some light herbal relief. That these scenes work so well within such a context is testament to Kidman and Eckhart, who are equally compelling together and apart. This is a film about reconnecting, but Mitchell doesn’t insult his audience or characters by tacking

n paper, The Way Back is full of promise. Peter Weir epitomises the tasteful end of the mainstream. Jim Sturgess can be decent without being dull; Colin Farrell is returning to his charismatic best; and Ed Harris is, well, Ed Harris. And how’s this for a premise? A group of prisoners bust out of a Gulag in 1940 and make their escape from northern Siberia across the Gobi desert, over the Himalayas into India. On foot. In a true story. Well, true-ish. Weir and Keith Clarke’s screenplay is a loose adaptation of a memoir by Slavomir Rawicz, which has been widely discredited. No matter – Rawicz was let off the hook by the suggestion that his book was a compendium of stories from various refugees. They certainly have the ring of truth, but that’s where The Way Back’s problems begin. Cinema is much more literal than prose. Writing about an epic journey on foot leaves room for as much reflection and rumination as you care to pack in; photographing it just means you’re watching the grimmest Duke of Edinburgh expedition ever. Writing about real life makes allowances for all the abruptness and contingency of real life; capturing that in The Way Back means characters show up, get interesting and promptly wander out of the narrative, never to be heard from again. Worse, little thematic meat is put on the film’s bones. Any resonance beyond the here-and-now

on a swift and tidy resolution. Rather, he follows the first ripples of tragedy as they engulf the Corbetts like a tidal wave, before calming and clearing away the debris so that they might begin to rebuild and grow again. Adam Woodward

Anticipation.

A poignant family drama from the director of Shortbus sounds like an odd mix.

Enjoyment.

R a w, e f f o r t l e s s cinema from start to finish.

In Retrospect. W i l l s t a y w i t h you for days. A moving and truly beautiful film.

tribulations of the journey is fumbled. Instead, we get the odd anti-Soviet grumble, before Weir drops the ball spectacularly with a final montage linking our heroes’ plight with half a century of resistance to communism. All of which is a pity, because when The Way Back works, it really works. Ed Harris is as good as he’s ever been as a taciturn convict, and the unsparing depiction of the depths to which the travellers sink hints at the punishing hymn to endurance the film might have been. In these few exultant moments, The Way Back threatens to soar in a way that makes its muddled and disjointed narrative all the more frustrating. Andrew Lowry

Anticipation.

In Soviet Russia, a classy filmmaker is excited at your return!

Enjoyment.

In Soviet Russia, they wonder if you are there yet!

In Retrospect. I n S o v i e t R u s s i a , y o u d i s a p p o i n t P e t e r We i r , despite your hear t being in the right place!


Neds D i r e c t e d by Pe t e r M u l l a n S t a r r i n g C o n o r M c C a r r o n , Pe t e r M u l l a n , M a r i a n n a Pa l k a Released Januar y 21

large portion of Peter Mullan’s first directorial outing since 2002’s similarly provocative The Magdalene Sisters might centre on gang violence and seemingly psychotic bloodshed, but at its core, Neds is a glorious coming-of-age tale like no other. Set in 1970s Glasgow, the film revolves around highly intelligent schoolboy John McGill (Conor McCarron), and his slow integration into the wild street gangs that inhabit the estates around his home. The first five minutes are deceptively quiet, but no sooner has the film hit its stride than we’re confronted with an explosive, foul-mouthed tirade directed at our helpless protagonist by an unknown hoody. This attack, which sucker punches the audience early on, sets the precedent for much of the remaining two hours, and initiates the beginning of a tour de force of pure, concentrated tension. The film itself could easily be likened to a two-hour mugging, with clever positioning of random acts of extreme violence throughout the narrative insinuating into the audience a nagging sense of anxiety. While Mullan allows the story to flow, he sharply switches the tone and pace of scenes, constantly placing the viewer

in an unnerving state of uncertainty. What’s more, there’s a genuine feeling that Neds is authentic in its portrayal of the landscape and character of this despairing neighbourhood. Unlike many plastic British gangster films, the action doesn’t feel cheap or cynical, but forceful, dominant and wholly plausible. And when it comes to language, Neds is brave enough to stick to its naturalistic guns – employing a local Glaswegian vernacular that renders large portions of the dialogue only semi-comprehensible (when it was screened at the Toronto Film Festival it came complete with subtitles). Rather than jerking us out of the environment, this commitment to authenticity simply makes the experience all the more immersive. One thing the film is certainly never short of is drama; with a seemingly endless supply of subplots sustaining our attention and contributing to John’s exponential growth from a spineless boy into a confident young man. However, this is perhaps Neds’ only undoing – too many of these sprawling stories are in dire need of resolution towards the final third of the film. Nonetheless, this is an accomplished piece of storytelling. Brave, bold and true to the Scottish

roots from which it grew, it is nothing less than we’ve come to expect from the formidable Peter Mullan. James Wright

Anticipation.

The Magdalene Sisters was an incendiar y piece of filmmaking. All the festival talk has pointed towards yet another provocative hit for Mullan.

Enjoyment.

It draws you in and shakes you to your ver y core. This is an urban British drama of the highest order. B e t t e r s t i l l , t h e r e ’s n o D a n ny Dyer in sight.

In Retrospect. T h e c l o s i n g 30 minutes sag a little, but overall this is stor ytelling at its most engrossing.

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The King’s Speech D i r e c t e d b y To m H o o p e r Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter Released Januar y 7

Barney’s Version Directed by Richard J Lewis S t a r r i n g Pa u l G i a m at t i , Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman Released Januar y 28

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he piano refrain that opens The King’s Speech tells you to expect a film that prizes respectability above all else. And yet almost imperceptibly, something shifts in Tom Hooper’s period comedy. As its awkward composition accentuates the stifling confines of a country in stasis, you realise you’re watching not just one of the most entertaining British films in years, but one of the most intriguing, too. In 1936, Hitler was demonstrating the might of the modern German army at the Nuremberg parades. In Britain, a complacent empire was defined by the empty pageantry of its royal family. With the death of King George V, his eldest son, Edward (a superb cameo from Guy Pearce), was crowned. But behind the scenes, trouble was brewing. Parliament refused to accept the new king’s marriage to divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson, and Edward abdicated from the throne. Hooper brilliantly shows us the human side of this constitutional crisis by framing it against the story of Edward’s younger brother, Albert (Colin Firth). Known to his friends as ‘Bertie’, the prince inherited a Gordian Knot of emotional issues from his domineering father, which manifested themselves as a debilitating stammer. With the wireless changing the nature of communication, and the role of the royal family under intense scrutiny at a time of social unrest, Bertie was thrust into a spotlight he was ill-equipped to face. Both literally and metaphorically, the putative king lacked a voice.

Enter upstart Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Approached by the future Queen Mother (Helena Bonham Carter) to cure her husband, he becomes one half of a hilarious oddcouple comedy that also has something simple yet profound to say about the country’s national identity at a transformative moment in its history. Firth, Rush and Bonham Carter foreground both the comedy and the humanity in David Seidler’s script, with Bonham Carter in particular illuminating the film with the small touches and deft gestures she shares with her stricken husband. It’s quite cosy, a bit toothless and fundamentally conservative. But The King’s Speech is persuasive precisely because of the affection and generosity it offers its protagonists. Would more of Edward’s roguish spirit make it a bolder film? Perhaps. Would it be as captivating? Unlikely. Matt Bochenski

or Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti), life is all about savouring the finer things. But his love for literature, special reserve single malt and Montecristo cigars is overshadowed by his insatiable appetite for women – a fact asserted over a three-decade confession, candidly serialised in Richard J Lewis’ smart, offbeat drama. Playing out in Shakespearean fashion, Act I introduces us to Barney the bachelor, whose taste of la vie de bohème in Rome is cut short by the unexpected promise of fatherhood. After gallantry backfires on him, however, Barney relocates to Canada where Act II gets underway with another whirlwind fling, which itself quickly gives way to a moment of wanton impetuosity. If you haven’t sussed it by now, Barney is a bit of a schmuck. But we’re encouraged to dig deep and muster up some compassion for our hirsute antihero because, in the brief moments when he’s not wallowing in self-pity or haranguing the opposite sex, our Barney’s quite the philanthropist. And later, in his bleak autumn battling Alzheimer’s, he cuts a figure so forlorn it is hard not to find some sympathy for him, however diluted by the errant haste of his youth. This being his version, of course, we’re always inclined to root for Barney to some degree, no matter how much we might oppose his cantankerous worldview.

Loathsome but fallible, Barney is the type of movie villain actors often relish playing, and Giamatti, who wheezes, grunts and glugs his way through most of the film, is perfectly cast. So too Dustin Hoffman as his rambunctious father, Izzy, and Rosamund Pike as the third Mrs P; the love of Barney’s life and the mother of his children. These characters give Barney’s Version vitality and texture, but more importantly, they help turn a two-hour dissection of one man’s self-destruction into an enriching ensemble drama. Adam Woodward

Anticipation. Wo n

the Audience Awa r d at t h e To r o n t o F i l m Fe s t i va l .

Enjoyment. Wo n d e r f u l l y written, beautifully performed and energetically directed.

In Retrospect.

Brings a patriotic

tear to the eye.

Anticipation.

Giamatti does middle-aged crank in an offbeat indie. Haven’t we been here before?

Enjoyment.

Maybe so, but Richard J Lewis’ film is an unassuming treat nonetheless.

In Retrospect. B a r n e y i s someone you’ll hate to love, b u t i t ’s t h e s u p p o r t i n g characters that will ultimately endear you to his version.


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A FILM BY

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OFFICIAL SELECTION

BFI London Film Festival 2010

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Horizontes Award San Sebastián Film Festival 2010

FROM EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS JOHN MALKOVICH & GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL JOSÉ MARÍA

YAZPIK

KARINA

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AND IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE 7 JANUARY


Paul Haggis

Filmography Pa u l H agg i s T h e N e x t T h r e e D a y s (2010) I n t h e Va l l e y o f E l a h (2007) C r a s h (2004)

Rewriting the Script Interview by Matt Bochenski

ew people in Hollywood have made the transition from small screen to big as smoothly as Paul Haggis. In the ’80s, he was writing for US TV staples like The Love Boat, Diff’rent Strokes and The Tracey Ullman Show. In the ’90s, he exec produced Due South and EZ Streets. By the end of the decade Haggis had several feature scripts with his name on, but he couldn’t get a studio to bite. Finally, after four years knocking on doors, he managed to get one into production. That was an achievement, but even more impressive was the fact that Haggis managed to swing himself a directing gig. Crash was released in 2004, dividing audiences but uniting the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which granted both the film and its writer their top awards. Haggis didn’t look back. His script for Million Dollar Baby led to more awards glory for Clint Eastwood the following year, and he followed that with critical favourites Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima, with commercial hit Casino Royale sandwiched between. Forget the scripts, Haggis was rewriting the rulebook, dragging the writer from his traditional place at the bottom of the Hollywood heap to a position of power and influence. At least, that’s how it seemed from the outside. Haggis begs to differ. “No. You would think so, but no,” he replies when asked if this incredible run of success made his life easier as a writer. In reality, the lowly place in the pecking order is something you have to learn to live with. “You just know that’s the case, so they pay you a little more money to compensate for it. It doesn’t, but you try,” Haggis muses. It’s a marked contrast from his experience in television, where show runners – the people who exercise total control of the final product – are usually writer/creators like Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner.

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The difference, says Haggis, is that “in television, they need you next week. In films they don’t. Or, at least, they think they don’t.” It’s no surprise that so many writers retain an abiding sense of insecurity. Haggis admits that he still gets nervous when confronted by that first blank piece of paper in the typewriter. “Every scene,” he says with a shake of his head, “every scene I sit there and go, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ Every single scene.” Crucial to his character, then, is both the ego that allows him to overcome those doubts, and a healthy sense of self-awareness that ensures the end product is up to scratch. “I know when I’m good and I know when I’m not,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what kind of statuettes you have – if the script is rubbish, it’s rubbish, and I can write a really bad script as well as the next guy. It’s really, truly about the story.You always try and live up to what the story could be because when you first get a sense of it you go, ‘Oh, this could be great.’ You just keep trying to reconnect with it.” For Haggis, there’s the extra pressure of actually making the film himself, although it’s one that he welcomes: “You’re so tired of writing at that point, of that intense period beating yourself up, that you just can’t wait to be on the set and have a little fun,” he says. “Then it has an intensity all its own.” The Next Three Days was Haggis’ most intense shoot to date, taking in multiple action scenes shot on location across the city of Pittsburgh. “You have to do so many set-ups that you just try and figure out how you’re going to make it through the day – that’s all it is,” he confesses. “And then you have to remember that if you’re working that fast you can’t forget about the emotion of the characters; that’s what you’re there to do but it’s very easy to forget when you’ve got so many bits and pieces to put

together. I think there were 380 scenes in this movie when we started out,” he adds. “I was shooting in the same town as Ed Zwick, and he was complaining because he had 140 scenes. It means you have to hop around all over the city to get this thing done. Just for that reason alone you need stamina. The best thing you can do is get some sleep.” Haggis did extensive research in the city before he started shooting, having chosen Pittsburgh “because of its past, its steel town history – I wanted a city that could really be anywhere in America.” He visited the jail that would become the centrepiece of the movie, and actually planned a true-to-life escape route, right down to realising that on Saturdays, the streets of the city were transformed by yellowand-black-clad NFL fans: “I drove round and I saw all these people going to Steelers games and it was just, ‘My god, what the hell’s happening?’ The streets were full of folks dressed in Steelers colours and I thought, ‘Okay, cool, I can use that.’” Aside from the location, the film’s other key component is Russell Crowe, who sheds the tough guy persona of Robin Hood to become a desperate and disappointed middle-aged college teacher. Still, so recognisable a star is not an obvious choice to play an Everyman. “You have to have a movie star to make a movie,” is how Haggis defends the decision to cast Crowe. “Look at Crash – we had 11 name actors in the thing to get six-and-a-half million dollars. I can’t seem to find a way to make movies without them. And for me, these actors – these movie stars – are movie stars because they’re really, really good at what they do. So I don’t fight it a bit; I want to work with good actors.” There’s much more in the full transcript, which will be available online around the week of release.


The Next Three Days D i r e c t e d by Pa u l H agg i s Starring Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson Released Januar y 7

or a man who’s only directed three films, Paul Haggis inspires a surprising intensity of feeling. The vitriolic backlash against Crash in 2004 painted Haggis as the ultimate company man – a conservative chancer whose repeated opportunities and armful of awards stood in stark contrast to his actual gifts as a filmmaker. This reading ignores the fact that Crash is merely a flawed debut rather than cinematic blasphemy, while Haggis’ second film, In the Valley of Elah, was one of the better liberal-leaning Iraq War movies that arrived fashionably late in 2007. The Next Three Days continues this sense of steady progress. A remake of mediocre French thriller Pour Elle, it’s Haggis’ most ambitious film yet, and by some distance, his most enjoyable. Some slightly silly moments aside, this is rock solid multiplex entertainment with at least as much brain as brawn. Russell Crowe tucks into the scenery as John Brennan, a college teacher whose rewarding family life mitigates a disappointing career. When the police come crashing through his door over breakfast, ripping his young son out of the hands of wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) and carting her off to the slammer on a murder charge, that fragile equilibrium is splintered.

Convinced of Lara’s innocence but unable to find redress through the courts, John prepares to take justice into his own hands and break his wife out of prison. But as personal sacrifice is inexorably corrupted by moral compromise, it’s unclear whether the family can truly emerge unscathed. Tautly paced and tightly shot, The Next Three Days is a ruthlessly effective piece of manipulation. But it’s also smart, challenging our perceptions of right and wrong, and forcing us to question our own assumptions. Such is the power of the storytelling that Haggis deftly draws the audience into John’s subjective frame of reference without us really noticing, until, in the end, we realise that we too will believe only what we want to believe. Such is the power of faith – and self-delusion. In truth, both leads are miscast. Whatever Russell Crowe might be these days, he’s too fussy and conspicuous an actor to convince as an Everyman. While Elizabeth Banks – 36 but looking 10 years younger – doesn’t have the lines and wrinkles to play either a mother or an inmate, however sparingly applied the make-up. The real star here is Pittsburgh. It is the city

itself that will determine the success or failure of John’s plan, and Haggis captures the energy and vitality of its streets, neighbourhoods and people. The authenticity of the locations rubs off on the action, which is frantic, immediate and (one CG-heavy chase scene aside) real. The film’s last third is one glorious, nailbiting finale – a breathlessly old-school will-theywon’t-they escape sequence, but one that packs an emotionally ambivalent coda. After The Next Three Days, it may be time to stop hating on Haggis. Matt Bochenski

Anticipation.

A re-make of a sos o F r e n c h f i l m b y e ve r y b o d y ’s least favourite director.

Enjoyment.

Rock solid thrills and spills. Don’t get comfy – this is edge-of-the-seat stuff .

In Retrospect. H a g g i s m a y s t a r t to win some people over if he carries on like this.

077


Catfish

Chalet Girl

Directed by Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost Starring Megan Faccio, Ariel Schulman,Yaniv Schulman Released December 17

Directed by Phil Traill Starring Bill Nighy, Ed Westwick, Felicity Jones Released February 18

hot with pocket cameras without a tripod or script in sight, Catfish boldly claims to possess the ‘truth’. Its subject is the relationship between Nev (director Ariel Schulman’s younger brother) and Megan, a rural girl from Michigan.There’s only one hitch – their sole point of contact is Facebook.Through the social network, Nev meets Megan’s family, friends and acquaintances. He learns about her life, job, interests and sexual preferences. He emotionally invests in her pictures and words. But then cracks appear – Megan may not be all she says she is. It’s a Hitchcockian set-up in which the film’s ungainly composition adds both to the suspense and the sense of discovery. The nature of that discovery must remain a secret, but the result is a sad and troubling film that does well to avoid cynicism. Tom Seymour 3 3 3

ollowing her mother’s death, wisecracking Kim (Felicity Jones) is offered the catering job of a lifetime in the Alps. OMG, can you think of anything better? How about Gossip Girl hottie Ed Westwick being your new crush? With a pout that apparently causes amnesia, it doesn’t take long for Johnny (Westwick) to take Kim’s mind off recent tragedy. Chalet Girl may be a completely unrealistic tale of grief, but the dialogue is clever and Felicity Jones delivers some punchy Juno-style one-liners. It’s also nice to see comedian Bill Bailey as a baked beansguzzling father – if only he wasn’t endorsing the sexist stereotype of a man left to his own devices. It’s definitely more about the laughs than the loss, but as long as you don’t forget that, as teen rom-coms go, Chalet Girl hits just above medium on the laugh-o-meter. Zara Miller 2 3 3

Blue Valentine

Love and Other Drugs

Directed by Derek Cianfrance Starring Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel Released January 21

Directed by Edward Zwick Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Hank Azaria Released December 29

erek Cianfrance’s searing drama was controversially threatened with an NC-17 rating in the US, which would fatally harm its commercial prospects. The decision, narrowly averted, would have been a disgrace, because Blue Valentine is one of the most honest correctives to the myth of romantic love ever committed to celluloid. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are painfully intense as a couple captured in beautifully assembled cross-cuts simultaneously falling in love and falling apart. There are moments of passion and drama, but it’s the film’s quiet, keening tragedy that knocks you down and keeps you floored. That Blue Valentine should be considered controversial because it presents sex, marriage and human intimacy in a raw and unsentimental light is a profound and censorious challenge to art by the forces of puritanical cowardice. Matt Bochenski 3 4 4

here’s a reason why Parkinson’s disease is not a common springboard for mainstream comedy. But erectile dysfunction? Now that’s something worth having a poke at – as Blood Diamond director Ed Zwick shows in this refreshing mid-’90s-set boy-meets-girl drama. Drugs dictate the lives of our two protagonists. For headstrong artist Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), it’s a strict cocktail to help suppress her early-onset Parkinson’s. For cocky pharmaceuticals rep Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), it’s a little blue miracle pill that’s putting him on the fast track to wealth and women. That is, until the pair meet and get hooked on something a little stronger. Although a sugary coating makes Love and Other Drugs all too easy to swallow, Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are an act impossible not to be seduced by. Adam Woodward 3 3 3

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Zebra Crossing

Abel

Directed by Sam Holland Starring Lee Turnbull, Greg Wakeham, Aaron White Released January 28

Directed by Diego Luna Starring Geraldine Alejandra, Karina Gidi, Christopher Ruíz-Esparza Released January 7

he bleak and desperate lives of four South London adolescents are woefully presented in Zebra Crossing, an entirely misjudged attempt at gritty realism that portrays these teenagers in the most ludicrous and formulaic manner imaginable. Structured as a loose series of scenes that gather little dramatic momentum, the film follows these friends as they run around aimlessly, scoring drugs, shooting pigeons and committing a series of robberies and assaults. These homophobic, sexist and racist wild boys are a tabloid vision, shorn of any nuance. The politics of Zebra Crossing are utterly depressing. Redemption and comeuppance are divided accordingly in a bullet-riddled finale, thankfully polishing off enough of the cast to signal an end to this wreck of a film. James Mansfield 2 1 1

iego Luna often cites as inspiration the influence of his father, a famous Mexican film producer. He is now a devoted dad himself, and yet his featuredirecting debut is an ode to the consequences of absent paternity. We meet Abel, a disturbed nine-year-old, as he returns home from a psychiatric ward. His caring and careworn mum is determined to prevent him from suffering another breakdown, so when he suddenly adopts the disciplinary role of man of the house, she plays along, sustaining the illusion. Luna does not yet possess the capacities of his mentor Alfonso Cuarón, and at times his direction feels reticent. But his film is buoyed by the discovery of Christopher Ruíz-Esparza, who shifts in and out of reality with barely discernible gradations of emotion. For a feature debut, this is an impressive piece of work: elusive, dark and finally moving. Tom Seymour 2 3 3

GasLand

Travellers

Directed by Josh Fox Starring Josh Fox, Dick Cheney, Pete Seeger Released January 21

Directed by Kris McManus Starring Shane Sweeney, Tom Geoffrey, Alex Edwards Released January 13

hen filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he turns his eye away from the money and towards what it could be trying to hush. Travelling across America, Fox discovers a domestic empire of natural gas thriving underground. But while the drilling goes on in the backyards of the people he meets, the health risks exist silently under their noses. When a man walks over to his kitchen sink and sets alight the water running from his tap, you know there’s something not quite right. As he travels from state to state collecting contaminated water samples, Fox emerges as a twenty-first-century Erin Brockovich. The vast landscape of the US give GasLand a rich backdrop against which Fox’s poignant personal mission unfolds in entertaining style. GasLand is a shocking look at how out of sight must not mean out of mind. Zara Miller 3 3 3

hotguns, gypsies and gnashing of teeth abound in this low-budget British rip of Deliverance. Swapping American rednecks for Irish travellers, and a group of racist Londoners for Burt Reynolds, bloody consequences soon ensue. While writer/director Kris McManus tries to paint in shades of grey – it’s hard to scrub ‘pikey scum’ off a caravan, but harder to change people’s opinions, after all – it’s just impossible to care. There are too many broad strokes; the gypsies are all knives and bare knuckles, while the city boys are all snide and sneers. Add in some strange casting (Dean S Jagger takes his top off in the penultimate reel to distract from his acting ‘skills’ with an unexpected six pack) and there’s so much here that fails to ring true, it’ll take more than gallons of fake blood to fix it. James Benefield 1 1 1

079


Back Section The

ILLUSTRATIONS BY Luke Pearson


IT’S OUR ANNUAL SURVEY OF THE DEARLY (AND NOT-SO-DEARLY) DEPARTED. W O R D S

DENNIS HOPPER

(MAY 17, 1936 – MAY 29, 2010) After reading the script for Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper got on the blower to director David Lynch and demanded, ‘David, you have to let me play Frank because I am Frank.’ Granting his wish, Lynch cast Hopper as the cussing, raping, drug-smuggling megalomaniac Frank Booth. With lines like, “Don’t toast to my health, toast to my fuck!” we can only imagine what the man behind the myth, behind the maverick, could have possibly meant. Best known for directing, co-writing and starring in the 1969 counterculture masterpiece Easy Rider, Hopper was more than just a nutjob; he was the epitome of cool. Show Hopper the rulebook and he’d wipe his arse with its pages. Show him half a gallon of rum, 28 beers and three grams

082 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e

B Y

Z A R A

M I L L E R

of cocaine (at one time his daily intake) and he’d ask ‘What’s for dessert?’ Show him a contract for an animated kids film about cuddly wolves frolicking in the snow and he’d sign that shit. No one knows what Dennis Hopper was thinking with his final role as Tony the wolf (it sounds cooler than it is) in Alpha and Omega. We can only hold on to the hope that he was either drunk or high when he agreed to it. After all, this was the

man who once attempted suicide by lying down in a coffin near a highway in Texas, surrounding himself with dynamite and challenging onlookers to blow him up. Tony the wolf aside, this freewheeling daddy of cool lived his reputation, both on-screen and off. So raise your glasses – not to Dennis Hopper’s life, but to his fuck.

COREY HAIM

(DECEMBER 23, 1971 – MARCH 10, 2010) In 2004, Irish indie band The Thrills posed the question ‘Whatever Happened to Corey Haim?’ It’s probably fair to say that, apart from being the subject of a pretty catchy tune right there, no one really gave a toss. Such is the cruel fate of being a 1980s teen idol-turned-smack head. In actual fact, Haim reportedly answered The Thrills’ concern with the defiant statement: ‘For eight-and-a-half years I was just


watching movies, and just staying in bed and just eating food and just, you know, being just miserable.’ Maybe he shoulda just… kept schtum? From household name to crack house, Haim’s public fall from grace was on a par with wetting yourself in the queue for the job centre. On Christmas Eve. Naked. But you’ve got to give it to Corey, he did manage to tick every crumbling box on the ‘rejected by Hollywood’ list: lose job; get fat; take coke; take crack; get arrested for running a BB-gun rampage against flatmate; file for bankruptcy; check in to rehab 15 times; move in with mum; attempt a comeback; break-down on reality TV; overdose. Then again, it’s possible that Haim fitted the cliché so perfectly because he was the cliché. With more direct-to-video movies than you could shake a cold turkey at, you can’t say he didn’t try. But Hollywood loves a breakdown, and if there ever was a victim of Tall Poppy Syndrome, it was poor old Corey. But Haim would always go that one step too far – he’d probably try to smoke

them metaphorical poppies. At the time of his death, ironically, he had just been cast in a comedy called The Science of Cool. In the role of the janitor.

BENICIO DEL TORO’S CREDIBILITY (AUGUST 25, 1995 – MARCH 2, 2010)

As Benicio Del Toro heard the Grim Reaper’s scythe rapping against the door of his LA mansion, the droopy-eyed actor, in a state of panic, gathered all his most prized possessions. Then, in another sacred moment of clarity, he suddenly realised that these material things, these mere possessions, would do him no service on the Other Side. So he dropped the childhood photos, the Che memorabilia, the Oscar statuette, ran to the kitchen, unplugged his freezer full

of Magnum Gold ice cream and, hauling it upon his weary back, marched bare foot to meet his cruel fate. Since early childhood, Del Toro has had to suffer the stigma of a shameful illness: sucredentimia, aka an insatiable sweet tooth. It is presumed that this is what led The Usual Suspects actor to his untimely career death: starring in that advert. The ad sees Del Toro saying ‘Adiós!’ to credibility, ‘Hasta luego, integrity!’ and ‘Hola!’ to a life-time supply of Magnum ice cream, as he runs around like a bloated ninja in a spoof of Brangelina’s Mr & Mrs Smith. The actress working alongside Del Toro looks remarkably like Angelina Jolie; he looks like he’s scoffed too many freebies. But this lucrative move to the high-end world of confectionery advertising is one that Che Guevara would surely be proud of. In the last year, sales of the iconic Che T-shirt have sky-rocketed, as the ‘Viva la Revolución!’ slogan has been replaced with the more provocative: ‘Magnum Gold: as good as gold!’

083


IN MeM GLORIA STUART

who so often fall under our eyeline. In the annals of Hollywood history, however, Rubinstein will forever be remembered as the eccentric midget medium in Poltergeist. Oh, cruel irony.

Gloria Stuart passed away this year at the same honourable age as her best-known film role – 100-year-old Rose, who drops the necklace in the ocean at the end of Titanic. Near, far, wherever you are, Gloria, we believe that your heart will go on.

JAMIE GILLIS

(JULY 4, 1910 – SEPTEMBER 26, 2010)

JOHN FORSYTHE

(JANUARY 29, 1918 – APRIL 1, 2010)

We can only pray that John Forsythe, who played unseen millionaire Charles Townsend in Charlie’s Angels, will now be wishing ‘good morning, Angels’ to those up above.

TAKESHI SHUDO

(AUGUST 18, 1949 – OCTOBER 29, 2010)

With the exception of a few religious extremists, this Pokémon writer who brought to life such cinematic legends as Pikachu, Charmander and, of course, JigglyPuff leaves an unmatched fan-base behind him. Guess you just can’t catch ’em all, Takeshi.

ZELDA RUBINSTEIN (MAY 28, 1933 – JANUARY 27, 2010)

In life, Zelda Rubinstein was an activist for ‘little people’; doing her part for those

084 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e

(APRIL 20, 1943 – FEBRUARY 19, 2010)

You may remember Jamie Gillis from such hits as Sunset Stripped, Die You Zombie Bastards!, New Wave Hookers, or perhaps for winning the 1977 Adult Film Association of America Best Actor award for Coming of Angels. Gillis is dearly missed, but will be forever immortalised in the wank banks of thousands.

MARSHALL ALEN FLAUM

(SEPTEMBER 13, 1925 – OCTOBER 1, 2010)

Marshall Flaum earned a pair of Emmy awards for his segments on dolphins and sea otters in The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, lovingly satirised by director Wes Anderson in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. We hope Flaum will be reborn a dolphin, ’cos he’d really, really like that.

BARBARA BILLINGSLEY (DECEMBER 22, 1915 – OCTOBER 16, 2010)

This groovy lady was the only passenger on board the film Airplane! who could speak the language of ‘jive’. Seeing a sixty something-year-old white woman recite the line “Jus’ hang loose, blood” has given Babs her place in our hall of fame, ya dig?

GRAHAM CROWDEN

(NOVEMBER 30, 1922 – OCTOBER 19, 2010)

Among other quirky authority-figure roles in films such as Calendar Girls and Out of Africa, and TV shows like Vanity Fair or Rumpole of the Bailey, Graham Crowden played an eccentric history master in Lindsay Anderson’s scabrous satire If… The red-haired Scottish thespian apparently turned down the opportunity to be the fourth Doctor Who, remarking that working with a lot of Daleks didn’t sound like his idea of fun.


MORIAM KEVIN MCCARTHY

(FEBRUARY 15, 1914 – SEPTEMBER 11, 2010)

Star of Don Siegel’s 1956 cult horror Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Kevin McCarthy played the small-town doctor and the only human left after pod-dwelling aliens take over the entire neighbourhood. Aliens: you just can’t take ’em anywhere!

MEINHARDT RAABE (SEPTEMBER 2, 1915 – APRIL 9, 2010)

“She’s not only merely dead; she’s really, most sincerely dead!” With that line Munchkin coroner Meinhardt Raabe announced the death of the Wicked Witch of the East. Of all The Wizard of Oz cast members (with dialogue) Raabe was, poignantly, the last to pop his clogs.

LESLIE NIELSEN

THE VAMPIRE GENRE

How do you kill a vampire? Stake through the heart? By exposing their pale skin to sunlight? Brandishing a crucifix toward the demon children of the night and rebuking them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost? Or by turning them into a moneymaking franchise and rinsing all possible life out of a once reputable film genre? From Nosferatu to Blade, the preTwilight/Vampire Diaries/True Blood vamp used to fit the ‘nightmarishly scary yet rather sexy stalker of the night’ bill perfectly. But with Tom Cruise (who played Lestat de Lioncourt in Interview with the Vampire) more interested in Scientology, and now that Wesley Snipes faces a three-year jail sentence for taxrelated crimes, the stars of the best vampire movies appear to have become a bit too human.

Since R-Patz crawled out of the woodwork in 2008 to become the palefaced poster-boy for teenage girls and mums alike, you’ve got to feel sorry for the average vampire. Following an ugly divorce from his bride earlier this year, Count Dracula has been seen passed out in his local graveyard clutching a hip flask of rat’s blood (the Special Brew of blood beverages), while the government of Transylvania are suffering serious cutbacks in tourist numbers. And Buffy’s on the dole. Numerous suicide attempts have also been reported within the vampire community; the most popular method being an overdose of garlic. As if the Twilight series wasn’t enough of a kick for the vampire community, earlier this year the team that brought us such auteur films, nay masterpieces, as Date Movie, Epic Movie and Disaster Movie has put the final nail in the coffin by releasing Vampires Suck. In more positive news, Nosferatu’s agent recently revealed that the German star of the ’20s is undergoing an intensive manicure and will be making a comeback in the new year with Meet the Frankensteins. We fear it may be too little, too late.

(FEBRUARY 11, 1926 – NOVEMBER 28, 2010)

On hearing the news of Leslie Nielsen’s death, a universal cry echoed around the world: ‘Surely, this cannot be!’ But the lord of the one-liner had passed… and don’t call him Shirley. At 84-years-old, the grey fox of Airplane! was finally dead, though maybe not loving it. In Naked Gun he explained how he wanted to bow out: “A parachute not opening – that’s a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine. Having your nuts bit off by a Laplander; that’s the way I wanna go!” He may not have managed that, but he achieved an awful lot else in his career.

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THE THE

TEXAS CHAIN SAW HIGHS AND LOWS OF I N T E R V I E W

TOBE HOOPER MIGHT BE THE NICEST MAN EVER TO HAVE DREAMT OF WIELDING A CHAINSAW IN A SHOPPING MALL, BUT HE’S ALSO SEEN A SIMILAR KIND OF SABOTAGE MAR HIS CAREER. AFTER CHANGING EXPLOITATION CINEMA FOREVER WITH THE CHARNEL-HOUSE HISTRIONICS OF THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, HOOPER ENDURED FRUSTRATION, FAILURE AND FIRINGS, SACRIFICING THE RESPECTABILITY OF SALEM’S LOT AND POLTERGEIST FOR THE ANONYMITY OF NIGHT TERROR, THE MANGLER AND MORE. IN TOWN TO PROMOTE HIS 1969 STUDENT FILM EGGSHELLS, HE’S LESS KEEN THESE DAYS TO TREAD ON ANY HIMSELF, SKIRTING ROUND CONVERSATIONAL BLACK SPOTS SUCH AS THE BBFC (“I DON’T NEED ANY ENEMIES”), BUT REMAINING SINCERE AND SELFDEPRECATING THROUGHOUT. “YOU CAN CHANGE THIS ANYWAY YOU LIKE,” HE SAYS OF A WELL REHEARSED CHAIN SAW TALE. IF ONLY WE COULD, TOBE…

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MASSACRE A 40-YEAR B Y

M A T T

DIRECTOR DISCUSSES CAREER IN HORROR.

G L A S B Y

LWLies: Tell us about Eggshells. Hooper: It was a labour of love and it was my first 35mm. When I picked up the can it was so heavy I could barely get it in the car and I thought, ‘Well, this is it, I’ve finally made a feature-length movie!’ Then it only got 50 play dates around local campuses, so I started thinking, ‘I’ll make a horror film…’ How did The Texas Chain Saw Massacre come about? I was in a mall and I was standing in the hardware department, and I thought, ‘Oh god, I hate to be caught in these crowds,’ so I racked focus and realised I was standing in front of some chainsaws. And it instantly came to mind that the way to get the hell out of there was to start a chainsaw. When I got home I put on the vinyl of Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and within a matter of seconds this damn thing came to me… Everyone’s got a Texas anecdote, are they all true? I don’t know. I was in LA doing a live commentary and someone asked if Leatherface really cut

Marilyn Burns’ finger on set, because he said he did. I mean, there was a knife with a blood tube on the back, but it’s news to me. I didn’t tell him to do that. Anyway, I look at the film and when he cuts her, the blood does seem to get bigger, like it didn’t just appear but it seems to expand by itself, you know, so maybe it’s real… The first murder is still horrendous. Yeah, I wanted to show that it was more difficult for someone to be killed, because before that someone could just shoot someone once and they’d be dead. But from my own experience from being hit upside the head the body goes into spasms. Have you been hit upside the head often? Not a lot, but I was in a terrible car accident before my career. I had a really bad skull fracture. People tremble, there are involuntary muscle spasms and I hadn’t seen that in a film, I hadn’t seen that reality. There’s an anti-establishment streak in Eggshells and Chain Saw. Is that something you’ve carried through your career?


“I’VE BEEN A GOOD GUY AND A BAD BOY AT THE SAME TIME THROUGHOUT MY LIFE AND I’VE HAD TO LEARN THE HARD WAY... AND I’VE HAD JUST AS MUCH GOOD LUCK AS BAD, BUT I KEEP GETTING OUT AND I KEEP MAKING FILMS.”

Yes, but I’m only responding to the times around me, I’m just reflecting them. Like with Chain Saw, I was living in Austin and watching the news from San Antonio, and it was extremely gory – a car crash would be shown with blood on the sidewalk – so I’m constantly responding. You seemed to get fired a lot in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Is that the anti-establishment streak again? It was anger. Anger at what? It was anger at the producer on one film trying to start a fight; he was a total drunk. He showed up really loaded, a big guy, and he was going to whip my ass, so I left the film. He eventually destroyed himself. Which film was that? [Smiles, but doesn’t answer] What about the others? I’ve been a good guy and a bad boy at the same time throughout my life and I’ve had to learn the hard way.

What’s happening with the Stephen King adaptation From a Buick 8? It’s still just kind of wobbling around. King’s been great for me. This car accident I was telling you about, my best friend was killed instantly and my skull was fractured from the nose and through the base of the skull. I was in hospital for about three months. Anyway, jump-cut 15 years and I’m shooting Salem’s Lot. In the middle of the night Stephen King calls me, and I ask how he got my number because I was way uptight about anyone having it. Turns out my best friend’s parents separated and his father remarried this lady from Bangor, Maine, who had a son, and that was Stephen King’s best friend. Are you the unluckiest film director around? Well I’ve had just as much good luck as bad, in that I keep getting out and I keep making films. The fact that I’ve made films for 40 years is in itself good luck. No, I don’t want to say unlucky. Eggshells will be available to buy on DVD in early 2011. The full transcript of this inter view is online now.

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AVAILABLE J A NU A R Y 17

MORGAN,

ADIRECTED SUITABLEBY CASEKARELFOR REISZ TREATMENT ( 1966) WORDS BY ED ANDREWS, ANTON BITEL, MATT BOCHENSKI, GUY BOLTON, MARTYN CONTERIO, ZARA MILLER, OLIVER SMITH, TOM SEYMOUR, JONATHAN SPATZ, ADAM WOODWARD

AVAILABLE DE C E MBE R 2 7

I’M STILL

DEADLY CROSSING DIRECTED BY KEONI WAXMAN (2010)

DIRECTED BY

It’s 2011, and everything seems to be changing – except Steven Seagal. Seagal, that interrogator of genre, is maybe our last great unifier. Here he plays Elijah Kane – a sensitive, softly spoken Seattle cop, untrained in kung fu and with a slavish adherence to the chain of command. Sample dialogue: “We gotta do what we gotta do to get the job done. We gotta get the bad guys and protect the good guys. That’s why we’re here.” Don’t forget it. TS

AVAILABLE

J A NU A R Y

3

FREAKONOMICS DIRECTED

BY

VARIOUS

(2010)

Freakonomics is like The A-Team for documentarians. Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki, among others, provide 20-minute explorations into our reliance on incentives and stats. Gibney takes on sumo wrestling while Spurlock examines how a baby’s name can affect development, although by far the most provocative is Jarecki’s hypothesis on the historically low crime rates of the early ’90s. But even though the ingredients are there, it feels undercooked. OS

AVAILABLE J A NU A R Y 10 BRILLIANTLOVE

DIRECTED BY ASHLEY HORNER (2010) A Bohemian photographer’s favourite pastime is taking saucy photos of his girlfriend who, hornier than a field full of stag, is more than a willing muse... until the photos go public. With more explicit sex than you can shake your rhythm stick at, Brilliantlove is a story that’s not for the faint of heart. ZM

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HERE CASEY

AFFLECK

(2010)

Lewd, crude and almost certainly a hoax, Casey Affleck’s provocative documentary chronicling the ‘lost’ year of Joaquin Phoenix is as intriguing as it is unwatchable. Despite its star and subject delivering the most committed performance of his career, it still remains to be seen when and if he’ll return to acting. If he is still here, of course. AW

RESIDENT EVIL:

A cult classic from the ’60s that no one has ever heard of, this madcap comedy of sorts stars British arch-villain David Warner in his first and only lead role. Unfortunately, he plays a gorillaobsessed anarchist. Cut with scenes from King Kong and Tarzan, and full of ’60s signifiers, this is humour at its most hallucinatory. Vanessa Redgrave makes her big-screen debut, and it’s directed by Karel Reisz, of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning fame. OS

IN THEIR SLEEP

DIRECTED BY CAROLINE DU POTET, ÉRIC DU POTET (2010) European horror movies tend to get an easy ride. Haneke makes über-critiques about our relationship with screen violence, while Alexandre Aja’s Switchblade Romance is still talked of as a modern classic. No such excuses can be made for this odious French smirk-fest. Starring Anne Parillaud as a bereaved mother who takes pity on a bloodied and terrified young man who claims to be running from a wandering sociopath, it’s less Carla Bruni, more Sarah Palin. TS

YOUR AFTERLIFE SHED TEARS DIRECTED BY PAUL WS ANDERSON (2010)

Taking the video game film franchise to its fourth iteration, the malevolent Umbrella Corporation’s finest creation, Alice (Milla Jovovich), once again battles hordes of T-Virus-afflicted zombies, mutants and private militia stooges in a post-apocalyptic wasteland as she strives to destroy her creators. All in not-that-glorious, post-Avatar 3D. EA

DEVIL

DIRECTED BY JOHN ERICK DOWDLE (2010) Five people. In a lift. And one of them is the devil. Only someone with a name as silly as M Night Shyamalan could spend somebody else’s cash turning this startling idea into reality. Lady in the Water should have been a low, but then he confidently came forth with The Last Airbender. This has to be a recovery, right? Handing over directorial rights is a brave move, and a much needed irreverence is added to undeniable suspense. Let’s not switch the life support off yet. TS

DIRECTED

BY

JEZ

LEWIS

(2009)

Hebden Bridge, North Yorkshire. A nowhere town in the Pennines with more than its fair share of young suicides – either the town has found drugs, or drugs have found the town. Jez Lewis, a contemporary of Nick Broomfield, grew up there, and this compassionate, acridly personal doc captures his reunification with, and attempts to help, childhood mates now hooked on pot, booze and smack. TS

AVAILABLE J A NU A R Y 24

THE REEF DIRECTED BY ANDREW TRAUCKI (2010)

Like his 2007 crocodilian debut Black Water, Andrew Traucki’s The Reef pits hapless boaters against Australia’s marine life – this time a 14-foot great white. Despite the generic set-up, the story on which this survival horror is based is real enough, as are the cleverly composited, non-CG sharks. AB


UNDERCOVER WAR DIRECTED

BY

NICOL AS

STEIL

(2010)

Luxembourg is the latest European country to confront its involvement in World War II. This film centres on François, a defiant youth living under the shadow of Nazi rule. The question of whether to stay true to a compliant family and thus negotiate with his ethics are dutifully explored, but resistance under occupation is now well-trod ground, regardless of nationality. TS

BLACK

DYNAMITE DIRECTED BY SCOT T SANDERS (2009) What could so easily have been nothing more than a vanity vehicle for writer/star Michael Jai White turns out to be one of the funniest films of the year that nevertheless criminally failed to find much of an audience on its theatrical release. Still, this affectionate but ruthless blaxploitation pastiche is perfectly suited to DVD, where its blend of slapstick violence and pitch-perfect visual gags can be appreciated by drunk crowds everywhere. MB

AVAILABLE J A NU A R Y 31

DEADFALL DIRECTED

BY

BRYAN

FORBES

( 1968)

Michael Caine is the debonair cat burglar who, with accomplices Fé and Richard Moreau in tow, attempts to steal the jewels from a millionaire’s chateau. Directed by Bryan Forbes, with a score from John Barry, and – uncomfortably for Get Carter fans – featuring a very mannered performance from Michael Caine, this should really be better than it is. Too bad there’s a distracting, trivial artiness at work. JS

DECISION BEFORE DAWN

DIRECTED BY ANATOLE LITVAK ( 1951 ) Great title, great movie. A social-realist war film shot on location in a still-devastated Germany, it follows an American intelligence unit that recruits German POWs to infiltrate the Nazis. Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, it’s a futility-of-war parable that, only a few years after the end of the conflict, shows a wonderful dignity towards the vanquished enemy. TS

JUNGLE BURGER DIRECTED BY PICHA , BORIS SZULZINGER ( 1975 )

An animated parody of the life and adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, with a voice cast provided by the Saturday Night Live crew, including John Belushi and Bill Murray. Roles are reversed, Tarzan becoming Shame – weak, cowardly and sexually inadequate; while Jane becomes June – strident, sexually demanding and naked most of the time. JS

THE LONG, HOT SUMMER DIRECTED

BY

MARTIN

RIT T

( 1958)

The late Paul Newman won a Best Actor award at Cannes for this portrayal of a loveable con man in the American Deep South. Adapted from three stories by William Faulkner, it’s a Sunday afternoon duvet pleasure – incoherent, but full of unique performances from Orson Welles, Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury. It marked the first onscreen collaboration between Newman and his then-wife Joanne Woodward. GB

MAN HUNT DIRECTED

BY

FRITZ

L ANG

( 1941 )

An intriguing but listless piece of American agitprop from Fritz Lang (Metropolis, M, Ministry of Fear) in his later Hollywood period, Man Hunt follows erstwhile British hunter Thorndike, forced on the run from the Gestapo after he takes an accidental pot shot at Hitler. Joan Bennett, a young cockney streetwalker with an audaciously inaccurate accent, comes along for the ride. GB

THE THIN RED LINE

DIRECTED BY ANDREW MARTON ( 1964 ) Terrence Malick’s profoundly elusive adaptation of James Jones’ novel has a little-known companion from Andrew Marton (55 Days in Peking, King Solomon’s Mines). Like Malick, Marton focuses not on the invisible enemies of Guadalcanal but on the heart of darkness within. But, unlike Malick, Marton’s film wreaks of compromised studio values. Malick occupied Jones’ narrative; Marton treats it like a brief excursion. TS

AMER

DIRECTED BY HÉLÈNE CATTET, BRUNO FORZANI (2009) Eroticism and its kinship with death and desire are laced perfectly in this film tribute to the iconic Italian giallo. Amer is a sensory experience of exquisite production following three key stages in a woman’s life. Directors Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet’s work of pure cinema is spellbinding stuff. MC

AVAILABLE F E BR U A R Y 1 4

ZVENIGORA & ARSENAL

DIRECTED BY ALEKSANDR DOVZHENKO (1928 & 1930) Aleksandr Dovzhenko was, alongside Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, one of the first architects of Soviet cinema who managed to keep Stalin happy (Dovzhenko won the Stalin Prize in 1941) while crafting what are now considered some of the most poetic films of the age. Arsenal, about an uprising of Bolshevik workers against the Ukrainian Central Council, casts doubt on the morality of violent retribution; while Zvenigora conveys a millennium of Ukrainian history, myth and lore through the wizened stories retold by an old man to his grandson. TS

TOUCHING WILD HORSES DIRECTED BY ELEANOR LINDO (2002) Following a car accident that has left his mother trapped in a coma, Mark moves to his auntie’s lonely island where, through reuniting a preserve of wild horses, the two find solace in each other’s company. Not a porno, then. ZM

B E T R AYA L

DIRECTED BY H ÅKON GUNDERSEN (2009) It’s World War II, occupied Norway, and, as plans go, running a nightclub where he can keep the Nazis sweet with liquor, cigarettes and various building materials is a foolproof one for Tor Lindblom. Until the books are checked and his gal turns out to be a British spy. ZM

AVAILABLE F E BR U A R Y 2 8 BEDEVILLED DIRECTED BY

JANG

CHEOL-SO

(2010)

Pressure at work drives businesswoman Haewon away from the chaos of the mainland to a remote island where an old friend, Bok-nam, begs her to help her escape an unexpected slavelike existence. A dark and disturbing Korean treat for all the family. ZM

BRIGHTON ROCK DIRECTED BY

JOHN

BOULTING

( 194 7 )

Restored in unison with Rowan Joffe’s new adaptation, John Boulting’s stylish version of Graham Greene’s iconic seaside noir is difficult to surpass. Richard Attenborough plays Pinkie, the small-time hoodlum running rackets through Brighton’s streets. Greene wrote the screenplay himself – famously changing his own ending – and the screenplay grasps the novel’s wiry, acute prose. From the looks of Joffe’s remake, it might be worth just buying the original. TS

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HB HALICKI W O R D S “Halicki realises Dziga Vertov’s dream,” declaims film critic Thom Andersen in 2003’s Los Angeles Plays Itself. “He creates an anti-humanist cinema of bodies and machines in motion. His materialist masterpiece was the first manifesto for a cinema of conspicuous destruction.” HB ‘Toby’ Halicki was an auteur of terminal motion. Born in 1940, he grew up towing cars to scrapyards with his dad and 12 siblings. He could drive before the age of 10 and was working as a body and fender man on luxury cars in California by 17. Known in the industry as ‘The Car Crash King’, Halicki didn’t make films with car chases, he made car chases with narrative attached. And they always ended in carnage. With a wiry mullet, massive sideburns, audacious Aviators and billowing flares, Halicki was almost a parody of the sleazy ’70s speed-dealer. Los Angeles is the world’s biggest freeway and Halicki provided it with auto-snuff. He created pornography for gearheads. He took big, beautiful American cars – the most enduring signifier of the baby boomer generation – and drove them to oblivion. For the original Gone in 60 Seconds in 1974, Halicki bought and smashed up 93 separate cars over the course of seven months. It cost him $160,000 of his own money – nearly a fifth of the film’s total budget. He directed, produced and starred in the film and, of course, helmed all the big stunts. He provided what little script there was – casting himself (with just a touch of irony) as a car insurance investigator who not so secretively moonlighted as the granddaddy of grand theft auto.

B Y

T O M

S E Y M O U R

Ostensibly forced to steal 48 cars for power-crazed criminals, he manically drives towards the horizon after a police tip-off. Starting in Long Beach, careening through a total of seven different counties and five different cities, leaving an elephants’ graveyard of demolished vehicles in its wake, the chase sequence lasts 32 minutes – the longest in cinema history. During the sequence, one stunt driver missed his mark, forcing Halicki to drive ‘Eleanor’ – his prize Ford Mustang Fastback – into a telephone pole at 100mph. He was dragged out of the car’s carcass limp and lifeless. When he regained consciousness his first words were, “Did

we get coverage?” They did, and the scene was left in. For all its lo-fi cult stylings, Gone in 60 Seconds was a zeitgeist movie. American cinema has always been obsessed with transport, from the earliest pioneering westerns to the behemoth sci-fi adventures of today. Some of the most marketable directors working in Hollywood, from Tony Scott to Michael Bay, have tethered their careers to the adrenaline of motion. But the ‘New Hollywood’ movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s possessed

a unique obsession with the car. Bullitt (1968) paired Dodge Vipers with Steve McQueen. McQ (1974) saw John Wayne riding around in a Plymouth Belvedere. With The French Connection (1971), William Friedkin made it de rigueur for crime thrillers to be structured around car chases; while Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point (1971) continued to channel the countercultural existentialism of Easy Rider (1968). But no one bathed in the hedonism of the car chase as nakedly as Halicki. Halicki felt no obligation to the conventions of narrative, and he wasn’t exactly a perfectionist – there were no professional actors on set, and many of his scenes aren’t even voice-synced. To him, storytelling was mere confectionary for the real business; the ruinous artistry of forcing a Mustang to its absolute max and then totalling it in slow motion. His instincts started, ended and lived in the scrapyard. As film critic Andrew Tracy wrote of Gone in 60 Seconds: ‘Greed, desire, jealousy and revenge are briefly invoked and quickly forgotten, self-aware sops to convention which barely attempt to mask the film’s true narrative – the fascination of mechanism divorced from motive.’ Halicki died in 1989 behind the wheel of a Mustang while trying to pull of an impossible stunt in Gone in 60 Seconds II: The Slasher. He had been cheating death for a while so perhaps it’s no surprise that his farewell sounds like a scene from Final Destination. A 160-foot water tower was rigged to collapse but fell earlier than expected, snapping a supporting cable which, in turn, sheared a nearby power pole. The pole came crashing to the ground, killing Halicki as crowds of fans, the press and his fiancée looked on. It was the only way he was ever going to go.

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Source Code

DIRected by Duncan Jones ETA Spring 2011 Duncan Jones’ follow-up to Moon has a release date, and a trailer. The British director’s latest has a head-scratcher of a plot that’s best described as a cross between Twelve Monkeys and Quantum Leap. Watch the (excellent) promo and all may become clear.

The Dark Knight Rises

Escape from New York

The third film in Nolan’s Batman series now has a title – see above – and an addition to the cast in the form of Tom Hardy as the yet-unnamed villain. We also know that it will be in IMAX, not 3D. The rest is locked away in the recesses of Nolan’s brain. If only there was some way to get inside and steal it...

Hollywood’s attempt to remake every movie in existence continues, as this iconic John Carpenter flick gets the let’s-doit-again treatment. In talks to strap on the eyepatch once worn by Kurt Russell are Jeremy Renner and Timothy Olyphant.

DIRected by Christopher Nolan ETA Summer 2012

The wolverine Akira DIRected by Darren Aronofsky ETA 2012

The ever unpredictable Black Swan director is doing a Christopher Nolan and taking on a comic-book franchise. Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) has written a script that will see Hugh Jackman’s mammalian superhero battle samurai in Japan.

Cowboys & Aliens

DIRected by Jon Favreau ETA Summer 2011

On paper, it sounds like a Wild Wild West-sized disaster-inwaiting. But the teaser trailer for this Daniel Craig starrer looks, dare we say it, pretty damn good. Aliens, cowboys, laser-firing bracelets and Harrison Ford back in a Stetson. What’s not to like?

DIRected by The Hughes Brothers ETA 2013 As if it wasn’t dispiriting enough that the directors of The Book of Eli are remaking one of the finest animes of all time, along comes the news that the filmmakers are considering shiny-toothed Zac Efron for the role of Kaneda. Is nothing sacred?

Fright Night DIRected by Craig Gillespie ETA 2012

David Tennant’s bid for Hollywood stardom begins in the form of a remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 vampire flick. The former Time Lord plays a Vegas magician who must help troubled teen Anton Yelchin battle evil bloodsucker Colin Farrell.

DIRected by Breck Eisner ETA 2013

Lincoln

DIRected by Steven Spielberg ETA Christmas 2012 Attention, Hollywood types. News that Daniel Day-Lewis will be playing Abraham Lincoln in a lavish Spielberg biopic scripted by Tony Kushner means that 2013’s awards season is effectively sewn up. Time to return to making mediocre superhero movies.

The Bourne Legacy

DIRected by Tony Gilroy ETA August 2012 Good news and bad news regarding the latest Bourne sequel. On the plus side, it’s directed by long-time Bourne collaborator Tony Gilroy. On the other hand, neither Matt Damon nor Paul Greengrass are involved. The jury’s still out on this one.

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094 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e


SUBMARINE

DIRected by Richard Ayoade ETA Spring 2011 Fans of The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh have long been in a geeky fluster over Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut, but healthy receptions at several festivals towards the tailend of 2010 mark Submarine as a potential new benchmark for British comedy. Here’s hoping it’s as refreshing and original as the hype suggests.

Porco Rosso: The Last Sortie DIRected by Hayao Miyazaki ETA 2012

Ghibli fans will be delighted to know that Hayao Miyazaki will return with a sequel to his bizarre flying romp Porco Rosso, about a 1920s bush pilot who was transformed into a pig.

The Great Gatsby

DIRected by Baz Luhrmann ETA 2012 It looks as if Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s long-gestating adaptation of F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel is finally going ahead, with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby (too old) and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan (too English). Still, at least Nicole Kidman’s not in it.

Wilson

DIRected by Alexander Payne ETA 2012 The long-dormant Sideways director is the perfect choice to direct this adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel, which tells the story of a grumpy loner who attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife. Payne hasn’t finalised the deal yet, but it looks likely.

The Hobbit: Part I

DIRected by Peter Jackson ETA Christmas 2012 Peter Jackson’s cast is beginning to come together over in New Zealand. Joining Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) will be James Nesbitt (Bofur) and Being Human’s Aidan Turner (Kili). Also rumoured: Brian Blessed, Leonard Nimoy and Michael Fassbender.

095


Auschwitz DIRected by Uwe Boll ETA 2011

The director best known for making sub-par videogame adaptations is stretching the boundaries of taste with a gore-filled picture about the horrors of the Holocaust. Boll promises to show the ‘real, everyday truth’ of what went on behind the concentration camp’s gates. German critics are planning to boycott its release.

The Iron Lady DIRected by Phyllida Lloyd ETA 2011

Yes, it’s true – the long-rumoured Meryl Streep-starring Margaret Thatcher biopic has been given the greenlight. Filming will begin in January, with Mamma Mia! director Phyllida Lloyd behind the camera. Whatever you think of Maggie, this production’s not for turning.

The Pack

DIRected by Franck Richard ETA 2011 This award-winning French horror flick has been picked up by an international distributor, which means it should make its way to our shores soon enough. Bringing a Gallic spin to the hicksploitation genre, it comes off like a snowy, surreal answer to Wolf Creek.

Sucker Punch Directed by Zack Snyder ETA Spring 2011

From the look of this trailer, the Watchmen director has simply stuffed every idea he’s ever had into a single movie – dragons, robots, Nazis, samurai, zombies… the lot. Smells an awful lot like The Fifth Element from where we’re sitting.

Anonymous

DIRected by Roland Emmerich ETA Autumn 2011 Filming has now wrapped on Emmerich’s latest which, in a startling volte-face from his apocalyptic SFX epics, attempts to solve the mystery of who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Rafe Spall plays the Bard, with Rhys Ifans, Mark Rylance and Jamie Campbell Bower in support.

Shame

DIRected by Steve McQueen ETA 2011 The artist/filmmaker’s follow-up to Hunger will reunite him with Michael Fassbender in the story of a thirty-something sex addict whose sister moves in with him. Brick Lane scribe Abi Morgan has written the script.

096 T h e B l a c k S w a n I s s u e

ATTACK THE BLOCK

DIRected by Joe Cornish ETA Spring 2011 The debut feature from Joe Cornish – formerly one half of comedy duo Adam and Joe – Attack the Block looks set to pick up the British movie baton from Edgar Wright and co. Wright alum Nick Frost stars alongside Jodie Whittaker in this story of an alien invasion on a British estate repelled by a bunch of local youths. Expect laughs and action from a film that could be 2011’s answer to Kick-Ass.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

DIRected by Timur Bekmambetov ETA Summer 2012 It’s looking as if 2012 is shaping up to be Lincoln’s year. Rumour has it that Liam Neeson (who, intriguingly, waited for years for Spielberg to get his shit together and make a proper version, only for Day-Lewis to step in at the eleventh hour) is considering taking on the role of the vampire-slaying sixteenth President of the United States.

Contagion

DIRected by Steven Soderbergh ETA Autumn 2011 The Ocean’s 11 director had to put his Liberace biopic on the backburner while star Michael Douglas recovers from cancer, so he’s filming this instead — a virus thriller starring (deep breath) Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, Laurence Fishburne and Elliott Gould.

Tyrannosaur DIRected by Paddy Considine ETA Spring 2011

Filming has wrapped on Paddy Considine’s debut feature behind the camera, and advance word is already positioning it as a possible Brit indie awards contender for 2011. Everybody’s favourite Glaswegian, Peter Mullan, stars as a man saved from violent self-destruction by Christian charity shop worker Olivia Colman, who co-starred alongside Considine in 2009’s Le Donk. Can Considine make the leap from one of our best actors to one of our premier directors?


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Hi HEB – add this one to the collection.


BASED ON THE CLASSIC NOVEL BY GRAHAM GREENE

“SPELLBINDING” “THRILLING” “A MASTERPIECE” DAILY MAIL

THE TIMES

SAM

RILEY

ANDREA

RISEBOROUGH

THE GUARDIAN

HELEN

MIRREN CERT TBC

FROM THE PRODUCER OF ‘ATONEMENT’ AND ‘EASTERN PROMISES’

OPENS IN CINEMAS FEBRUARY 4

Little White Lies 33 - The Black Swan Issue  

LWLies is a bi-monthly, independent movie magazine that features cutting edge writing, illustration and photography to get under the skin of...

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