Winona Ryder (#110 of 5)

The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

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The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan
The Conversations: Darren Aronofsky Part II: Black Swan

Ed Howard: Jason, you ended the first half of our conversation about Darren Aronofsky by wondering both where the director would go next after his first four films and which Aronofsky would be represented in Black Swan, his fifth feature. Throughout that exchange, we mostly divided Aronofsky's career in half, considering Pi and Requiem for a Dream as blunt, bleak rehearsals for the more fully realized explorations of thematically similar territory in The Fountain and The Wrestler. So I suppose it's appropriate that for the first half of Black Swan, I found myself thinking I was watching another Requiem for a Dream, while the second half ventured into the richer, deeper territory of Aronofsky's more recent career. It's appropriate, too, that the film itself is so concerned with halving and doubling, with mirrors and doppelgangers, built as it is around a production of the ballet Swan Lake in which the dancer Nina (Natalie Portman) is asked to play the dual role of the Swan Queen and her dark rival, the titular Black Swan.

It's a fascinating film, and especially so in the context of Aronofsky's career, because it feels like such a consolidation of everything he's been exploring and dealing with in his other work. I haven't read any reviews of Black Swan yet, but I feel pretty confident predicting that at least a few of them will call it “The Wrestler in ballet slippers,” or something similar, and they will be more or less accurate. As in The Wrestler and his other films, Aronofsky is exploring his protagonist's singleminded pursuit of her obsession, in this case Nina's pursuit of dancing perfection. As in The Wrestler, Aronofsky is recycling familiar cinematic clichés, drawing on the backstage movie's tropes of domineering mothers, neurotic stars, ambitious rivals, aging hasbeens, and predatory/sexual relationships between male directors and female performers. In working with these clichés, however, Aronofsky reinvests them with vitality and freshness through the raw intensity of his filmmaking.

Nina wants, desperately and obsessively, to be “perfect,” though the film itself eschews this purity for grime, chaos and fragmentation, mocking Nina's desire to be perfect by running her through an increasingly harrowing gauntlet of real and imagined trials and terrors. Black Swan begins in methodical, observational realism and slowly morphs, like a woman becoming a swan, into a psychological horror film, a dizzying fever dream that haunts the audience and the central character alike. I'm still wrestling with this dense film, and I'm sure we'll delve more into its substance and its connections to Aronofsky's oeuvre throughout this conversation. But one thing I'm already sure of is that I can't forget this film; it's provocative and viscerally exciting and visually compelling. I haven't totally resolved my feelings about this film or its effect on me, but I'm already sure that it has affected me.

One Beep for Yes: Star Trek

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One Beep for Yes: <em>Star Trek</em>
One Beep for Yes: <em>Star Trek</em>

I'll cut to the chase and say that as a fan of Star Trek for thirty-five years, I enjoyed the new J.J. Abrams' Star Trek reboot. Sure, my first edition Star Fleet Technical Manual is now useless. But, if you want to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs.

The long promised (or dreaded) “origins” movie goes back to the Star Fleet Academy days of the Enterprise crew. And by Enterprise, I mean good old “NCC-1701” (no bloody A, B, C or D). Old-school fans like myself were up in arms when rumors about the proposed prequel started circulating a few years ago. The main complaint was that such a storyline would require a major reworking of Star Trek canon (and if you've ever had your canon majorly reworked, you know how painful that can be). In the original series episode “Shore Leave,” dialog between Kirk and Spock makes it fairly clear that they didn't know each other at the academy. I could go on (and on and on) with other examples, but I won't (and I'm sure no one really wants me to).

Tribeca Film Festival 2009: Stay Cool

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Tribeca Film Festival 2009: <em>Stay Cool</em>
Tribeca Film Festival 2009: <em>Stay Cool</em>

Invoking every John Hughes movie under the sun, the Polish brothers' Stay Cool chronicles the return of a successful writer, Henry McCarthy (Michael Polish), to his hometown and high school, reunited with longtime friends and confronted with his past—and still clinging—inadequacies. Pulling up to the airport in a flamboyantly decorated mini cooper are Henry's two old high school buds, a supremely gay hairdresser (Sean Astin) and a rebellious tattoo artist (Josh Holloway); despite the 15-year leap forward, everyone appears frozen in a mundane, unchallenged existence, and when Henry reemerges he cleanly slips back into that role of nerdy son that everyone was used to, even with a bestselling novel on the shelves and an ever-expanding bank account. Flipping through an old yearbook, he comes across the photo of Scarlett Smith (Winona Ryder), the popular girl he once fawned after and who inspired his book How Lionel Got Me Laid. With his planned commencement speech coming up for his alma mater's graduating class, Henry now must make a decision: leave his hometown with dignity intact or reconnect with an unrequited old flame that more burned than lit ablaze.