Since I’ve had to deal with a barrage of e-mails begging me for the Black Swan script (note to those looking for script: There are no pictures), I almost forgot that I did a guest review over on LatinoReview for the comedy Ed Helms just signed onto, “Central Intelligence.” You may wonder how I have the time to write guest reviews AND Scriptshadow reviews and my response would be: Yeah, I wonder too. So unfortunately I can’t give the Black Swan script away. :( Let your imagination suffice for now. :)
Genre: Psychological (Supernatural?) Thriller
Premise: A ballerina competes against a rival dancer who may or may not be another version of herself.
About: Black Swan will star drool-worthy starlets Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis and is being helmed by visionary director Darren Aronofsky. Aronofsky originally tried to set up the project in 2007 but Universal put it in turnaround. Thanks to “The Wrestler” doing so well though, Portman twirled onto the project a couple of months ago and everything’s been full steam ahead since.
Writer: Mark Heyman (original script by John McLaughlin)
Details: 131 pages – March 25, 2009 draft.
Can I just tell you why none of my review matters? Can I just tell you why my review is absolutely pointless?
Because in this movie, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis have sex.
Yeah. You read that right. And not just nice sweet innocent sex either. We’re talking ecstasy-induced hungry aggressive angry sex. Yeah so…this movie is already on the must-see list of 2010. But how good is it? Does the story that surrounds the sex disappoint or excel?
Black Swan is a very intriguing story with a quiet slow burn. So slow, in fact, that I nearly lost interest halfway through it. Heyman focuses on the tiniest of things. The way shoes sound as they click against the pavement. The way a slight breeze tussles at your hair. You know how as film evolved, we’ve been encouraged to cut out all the meaningless stuff? For example, instead of showing a character walk from their house to the train, we should just cut to the train? Yeah, Heyman doesn’t do that. If someone needs to walk somewhere, we walk with them. And after awhile, it really begins to test your patience. And if you’re looking for the culprit in the 131 page screenplay length, that’s where you’ll find him. But it’s pretty clear these are the moments Aronofsky is interested in in Black Swan. He wants you living every second of this character’s life, lulling you into a sense of security so that you get used to the mundane. That way when the extraordinary happens, it slams into you like an SUV.
Nina is a ballerina in one of New York City’s top ballet companies. She appears to be the only sweet girl of the bunch however, as it’s established early on that these companies are packed with jackals, every seemingly sweet-natured princess scheming to backstab the girl next to her if only it gets her one rung higher on the ladder. High School’s got nothing on these bitches. Nina’s sorta friend, Beth, who has been the school’s running lead in all the productions, is nearing the end of her career, and everyone’s gunning to take her place in the next big ballet: Swan Lake.
The lead role is the part of Odette, the Swan Queen. The role is complicated by the fact that the ballerina must be able to play both sweet, the “White Swan,” and dark, the “Black Swan”. It is the ultimate challenge. Of course, Nina has the white swan down. But does she have the darkness to nail the Black Swan?
The director of the production is the handsome but sinister Yevna. He sees something in Nina but before he gives her the part, he wants to speak with her privately. It is there, in his office, that he pries into Nina’s mind, searching for her dark side, even going so far as to force a kiss on her. But it’s unclear whether Yevna is trying to seduce Nina or simply seeing how she’ll react. As the sweet polite girl she is. Or as the raging disturbed woman she will have to be. In the end, Nina is given the role. But it’s clear Yevna has doubts as to if she can pull it off.
As the days go by and Nina searches desperately to find her darkness, she begins noticing another girl around town and at the ballet company who looks exactly like her. But not just “exactly.” We’re talking identical. Yet every time Nina tries to get close, the girl turns away or hides her face. Finally, Nina meets this mysterious doppelganger after rehearsal. Her name is Lily. And while she definitely looks like Nina, she’s by no means an identical replica. Was it Nina’s imagination perhaps?
Whereas Nina is calculated about every move she makes, Lily is the opposite – uncaring and uninterested in perfection. Everything she does seems so…effortless. The two begin a tepid friendship, one which Nina is constantly trying to pull away from. But while she is afraid of Lily, she is also drawn to her in some way. And then there’s those strange fleeting moments where Lily looks exactly like her.
As they get closer to production, Nina’s world starts to spin out of control as Lily befriends Yevna and continues to move up the ballet company ladder. The girls will go out, get drunk, and Nina will show up at rehearsal late the next day only to find that Lily is standing in for her. Is Lily scheming to steal her role as the Swan Queen? Or is Nina making this all up in her head in order to find her dark side? That is the ultimate question.
As in all Aronofsky movies, there are some controversial moments. In one scene, Nina basically gets raped by Yevna. It’s cold and off-putting, and yet it’s an important moment as it demonstrates just how high the stakes are in this seemingly innocent world. The script is steeped in darkness (surprise surprise) and makes you feel so uncomfortable at times that you can’t read it without constantly resituating yourself.
Black Swan is an interesting read. As I mentioned before, it takes its time. But if there’s any director who knows how to make the quiet moments work, it’s Aronofsky. He’s rarely boring as a director. Much has been made of the “supernatural” aspect of Black Swan, with some even comparing it to, “The Others.” (one of my favorite scary films btw) But I never saw it that way. To me it was clear that Nina was always imagining her relationship with Lily. I never doubted that Lily was real. But I believe Nina made up the more elaborate aspects of their friendship in order to discover her dark side. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a talking point of the film after its release, which, if the film is good, will surely help word of mouth and repeat business.
As a screenplay, I thought Black Swan was good. It definitely could’ve moved faster and I would’ve preferred we get some answers sooner instead of being strung along with weird unexplained moment after weird unexplained moment. After awhile that just gets exhausting. But the feel of the story is just so original. It’s not quite like anything I’ve read or seen before. If you like your scripts dark and moody, check out Black Swan for sure.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Don’t be afraid to explore the details in your screenplay if they help tell the story. It’s okay to create mood and atmosphere. Just make sure you don’t go overboard with it. I don’t think Black Swan would have a prayer on the spec market because it’s just sooooooooo slow at times. But some movies require you to indulge in the seemingly mundane things. That’s fine if you know when to stop.
And of course, don’t forget to…
In other news, McAvoy will play opposite Seth Rogan in the movie “I’m With Cancer”, the 2008 Black List entry that is one of the only scripts off that list I didn’t read. A good friend has read it however, and it’s apparently a very humorous look at cancer. It’s not a big downer by any stretch. The bigger question is the one all of us are thinking…didn’t Seth Rogan just do this movie? Maybe he has a mancrush on McAvoy or something. He is rather dashing. One other note: Rogen is producing. Which now has him involved in 18 quadrillion projects. If you think I should review this on the site, let me know in the comments.
Okay, so Intense Debate sucked. For whatever reason, it didn’t work on the most popular browser in the world. And when comments just started disappearing on Bubba Ho-Tep, that was the last straw for me. So out with the old, in with the new. On to the next service! I’m not going to give Disqus near the leash I gave Intense Debate. If this doesn’t work, it’s back to generic comments (despite its own problems) and I’m never thinking about comments again. Test it out and tell me what you think.
Premise: A conservative woman goes on a blind date only to get wrapped up in a game of international espionage.
About: To be directed by James Mangold (Walk The Line), this picture will star Cameron Diaz and Tom Cruise. Originally written by Dana Fox, it was then rewritten by Patrick O’Neill, and finally, in this draft (spookily dated Halloween 2007) by one of the best screenwriters in the biz, Scott Frank. It appears Mangold and Shutter Island writer Laeta Kalogridis are doing current revisions, because the script was deemed “too coherent” by the producers (okay, I made that last part up). Speaking of producers, Todd Garner, Kathy Conrad, Steve Pink, and Joe Roth are onboard for Wichita. Because Cruise’s career is considered by many to be in a serious state of limbo, Cruise was very careful in choosing his next film, cycling through a number of potential projects. He finally decided on the character of Milner in Wichita (Wichita is more of a code-name than anything. The city never appears in the script. This project is not to be confused with one of my favorite screenplays I read all year, the 2006 ultra violent Black List screenplay “Wichita.”) To see if this was a wise move by the man who never stops smiling, read on.
Writer: Scott Frank (109 pages)
When you’re in a script rut, like I’ve been the last couple of weeks, you start to distrust every script you open. All the scripts you’ve tagged as interesting begin to look decidedly uninteresting. You think you might have reached that point where you’ve seen every possible story and are no longer able to be entertained. I heard Sumner Redstone is like that. He’s heard so many ideas and seen so many movies, that he’s unable to be entertained anymore. Ugh, what a terrifying thought. All of this leads to a general lack of trust when a new script comes your way. Even if a few lines impress you or you hear yourself chuckling, it’s always followed by a grumpy under-your-breath, “lucky.” But then magically, the funny lines keep coming. The characters are interesting and relate-able. Before you know it you’re breaking out the vanilla coke and pepperoni hot pockets and having yourself a party. A script is exciting again! Which is why I’m so happy “Wichita” came around when it did.
June is a company woman plugging away. She’s the one who gets to the office before anyone else and has coffee ready for each and every co-worker (ahem – talk about making your character likable). But June is unfortunately under the same deceitful impression the rest of us are, which is that all this work we’re doing somehow means something. Of course, it doesn’t mean anything. It just means that the company gets to exist tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. But what is it she (we’re) actually doing with our lives? After her free-spirit mother goes off on another ridiculously expensive spontaneous vacation, June finally realizes the truth: She’s lonely. She isn’t very fun. And the only thing all this work has done is prevent her from finding her soul mate. It is through this revelation that she decides to step out of her comfort zone and try the dreaded internet dating.
At first the experiment couldn’t be any more of a disaster. She’s the pretty woman all dolled up in the middle of the restaurant who’s clearly waiting for someone we all know is never going to show up. The reality of the moment hits her like a ton of bricks and her already fragile state leads to her bawling right then and there. It’s at this moment we cut outside to see the impeccably dressed and saintly suave Milner, a man who seems to be in quite a hurry, and is constantly looking over his shoulder. Could someone be following him maybe? Milner spots the crying June in the restaurant, gets an idea, slides in and falsely poses as June’s blind date. As the deftly mannered Milner jokes with the waiter in another language, June believes that maybe, just maybe, her luck is turning around. But oh how her luck is soooo not turning around.
Whoever’s chasing Milner forces him to slip out discreetly, leaving June to absorb a second blow on an already devastating night. She drives home, sobbing about her luck, only to randomly HIT SOMEONE with her car! Oh shit! She gets out to check who it is. It’s Milner! He jumps in, tells her to drive, and lets her in on why he had to leave so suddenly. The man he’s being chased by, Ackerman, used to be a partner of his. The two have created a battery that will never die. The perfect energy source! Of course, an unlimited energy source means the end of some of the biggest companies in the world – who for obvious reasons aren’t too keen on the batteries hitting the market. Which means they’ll do anything in their power to kill Milner and destroy his damn battery. Luckily Milner is a secret agent in one of the most secret agencies in the world. In fact it’s so secret, nobody’s ever heard of it! Needless to say, he’s well-equipped to deal with any one or any thing pursuing him. Oh, and there’s one more thing about Milner: HE’S FUCKING CRAZY. He’s like a new-school clean-cut version of Riggs from Lethal Weapon. Neither we nor June ever know if he’s lying or telling the truth! Which means this whole battery thing is probably a big lie. Which leads to the obvious question: Who is Milner and what the hell is he running from?
June wants no part in these shenanigans but that’s not an option anymore. Now that she’s been spotted with Milner, they’ll want to kill her too. They’re in this together. Milner will occasionally drug June when she’s getting in the way of fighting the bad guys and wake up in the most random places when she comes to: a deserted island or the city of Rome for example. It seems like Milner has a hiding place everywhere. But the bad guys (we actually find out in Wichita that there are bad guys and then there are “worse guys”) are never far behind. They occasionally catch June and try to get her to double-cross Milner but Milner’s already fifty steps ahead. He knows the game and the people who play in it are always his pawns. But something about June ruffles him. Does he actually…like this woman? Because Milner’s such an expert liar, even going so far as to lie to himself, we’re never sure.
There are so many great moments in Wichita. For example after a big car chase, June is through and demands Milner let her go. He stops the car and actually says ‘fine, go ahead.’ Then out of nowhere a helicopter appears so he yanks her back inside and calmly offers: “Okay, listen to me very carefully and do exactly what I say. Here, I need you to take this gun and start shooting at the helicopter. Just keep shooting until it falls out of the sky or explodes.” Lines like this are why I couldn’t stop laughing.
I know I made a point in my Bel Ami review to single out that most dialogue doesn’t impress me. I only notice it if it’s atrocious or over-the-top. But I definitely need to amend that statement after Wichita. The dialogue here is top-notch from beginning to end. It’s funny, it’s fresh, it’s snappy, it’s unexpected. I was so caught up in it, in fact, I didn’t even realize it was moving the story forward. Usually it’s easy to pick up on when characters are pausing to offer the audience a plot point. Here, it’s seamless.
Best way to sum up Wichita? Pure fun. :)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you can get your hands on this script (and I know someone posted it on my Facebook Page a few days ago – all the more reason to join), please do so. Scott Frank is a master of economy in his writing. He only writes what he has to, and he keeps most of the dialogue uninterrupted, which makes for a quickest of quick reads. I can’t stress how much readers love this.