TF Review Of The Half-Year 2011

Best Movies

The King’s Speech
The Film:
Oscar-clutching history lesson starring Colin Firth as stuttering monarch King George VI.
TF Says: “The dialogue’s lightness of touch pervades the whole film, turning what could easily have been a stuffy slog of a period piece into well-oiled entertainment. Neither does it feel like a TV movie, thanks in no small part to high-class production values, from Danny Cohen’s lush cinematography to the suitably precise sound design.”

Black Swan
The Film:
Demented ballet horror movie following Natalie Portman’s increasingly hysterical dancer.
TF Says: “Set in a cloistered world full of pitter-patter feet and stomping egos, Darren Aronofsky’s fifth feature starts off hysterical and raises the barre from there, fusing genres (psychodrama, horror, backstage musical) and masterpieces (The Red Shoes, All About Eve, Suspiria, pretty much all of Polanski’s early work) with spirited, nay, reckless aplomb.”

Blue Valentine
The Film:
Emotionally-draining drama about the dissolution of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling’s on-screen marriage.
TF Says: “Gosling may get to be the devoted romantic while Williams can appear distant and cold. But Blue Valentine doesn’t play the blame game: love and its loss are never rational. You might feel like averting your gaze at times, but don’t – performances this penetrating are a sight to see.”

Animal Kingdom
The Film:
Crafty and cool Australian crime thriller.
TF Says: “With his anthropological eye recalling early Scorsese, Michôd synchs the simmer of dread to character and setting, a suburban jungle of parched interiors and colourdrained exteriors where the strong prey in packs on the weak.”

True Grit
The Film:
Coen Brothers remake introducing newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as a young girl searching for the man who killed her father.
TF Says: “In the plum role of Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges can’t totally resist the temptation to ham it up a bit (though a lot less than Wayne did). But given such a richly larger-than-life character, who could blame him? Bridges lends the Marshal a deep, throaty, mellowed-in-whiskey voice that gives full weight to his hard-bitten pronouncements.”

Natalie Portman – "Wow, they’re not just trying to hot me up!"

“Real, grounded, a down to earth kind of woman.” Add the words brainy, svelte and enchanting to Natalie Portman’s description of Jane Foster, comic adap Thor’s bright spark, and you’ve got yourself a pretty accurate portrait the 28-year-old performer herself.

Meeting Total Film during the San Diego cyclone that is Comic-Con 2010, where she’s promoting said hammer-hoofer, Portman is ever-so-slightly timid and, yes, breath-catchingly beautiful. Not that you’d know from Thor. “It was a rare opportunity to be the girl in one of these movies who’s a woman and who has a career,” articulates the elfin one. “I remember after the hair and make-up test, before we started shooting, they said, ‘No, no, no it’s too much make-up, tone it down.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, they’re not just trying to hot me up!’”

Though, really, it doesn’t take much. Attired today in a perfect marriage of smart and casual, pairing (very short) flesh-coloured shorts with a breezy pale-pink blouse, she’s effortlessly dazzling. Small wonder that the gossip rags report Portman had both Demi Moore and Angelina Jolie flustered when their respective partners co-starred with her in up-and-comers Friends With Benefits and Artifacts. (Brad Pitt declaring Portman “cute as a button” can’t have helped.)

Perhaps they suspect what we already know: intellect is incredibly sexy. And Portman has grey matter in spades. A Harvard psych grad with her own Erdős–Bacon number (think six degrees of Kevin Bacon for nerds), the Jerusalem-born actress is the spiritual love child of Albert Einstein and Audrey Hepburn. Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis surmises: “Nat is like every guy’s dream. She’s a nerd’s idea of heaven.”

Clearly Portman’s in demand, with countless projects clamouring for her attention. A spot of spring-cleaning, then… The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake? “Nope. I really like the books, but I’ve not been approached at all. Any of that is pure rumour.” Directing? “I directed two shorts a couple years ago, and I hope to be doing more. It was a really great experience.” How about raunchy clinches in racy ballet flick Black Swan? “It’s not raunchy – it’s extreme!”

Whew, we’ll get back to the latter in a bit. But yes, near everybody loves Natalie Portman, and it’s not hard to see why. Briefly contemplating every question we put to her, she springs back with considered, expressive responses (sample dialogue: “Jane is a well-loved character, but also one who is really open to finding new colours”). And the multi-lingual lovely has established herself as more than just a brain with boobs. She’s one of the few actresses whose appeal is unrestricted by genre, engaging equally with fanboys (V For Vendetta), ladies (Brothers), and bog standard movie-lovers (Garden State).

Which brings us to the genre-baffling Thor, a theatrical mash of comic book flamboyance and Shakespearean melodrama. Her second foray into the Technicolor whirlpool of comic movie adaptations, Portman credits her involvement entirely to one man: Kenneth Branagh.

“It was sort of actually not something I was dying to do,” she explains, “not Thor in particular, but a big movie. When I heard Ken was doing it, I said, ‘Wow that is a daring and interesting idea.’ Then I met Ken and he was someone I was extremely interested to get to spend three months with. It was probably the first, or one of the first times, that my expectations were actually exceeded.”

Anybody with a doctorate in subtext might read the name ‘George Lucas’ into that, though Portman is far too polite to elaborate. But it’s telling that, despite her Star Wars run-ins with the dreaded blue screen, it was Brit director Branagh’s pull that had Portman itching for a second pop.

“Working with blue screen and that whole universe is something that is a skill and something that you really need to learn and practice,” the actress muses. “If acting schools were created today, that would be a technique that you would learn. And getting to experience that with Ken’s guidance – who’s the master of attacking text and character from every angle – was a new way to approach blue screen acting. It was an exciting challenge to go at again.”

That challenge also extended to her character, a scientist exploring the theory of inter-dimensional space. Portman seems genuinely elated that the role, which could easily have suffered the saucy love interest kiss of death, didn’t involve “you know, the sort of sexy cleavage, glasses kind of thing”. In fact, she’d be happy to return should Thor merit sequels – just don’t expect to see her pitch up in hero mash-up The Avengers: “I’m not in The Avengers, but I am in the future Thor films if and when they happen.”

Before Thor, Portman’s pirouetting in Black Swan is guaranteed to spin heads. Opening this month at the Venice Film Festival, it’s directed by Darren Aronofksy and has been steaming away on the backburner since 2000. “The fact that I had spent so much time with the idea allowed it to marinate a little before we shot,” the actress says. “[My character] Nina is someone who’s trying to find her own artistic voice, and she has to lose everything to gain that vision and that sense of self. It’s very hard to describe.”

Not only has the thriller – about two competing ballet dancers performing in Swan Lake – bred buzz thanks to Portman’s lesbian love scene with co-snog Kunis, it’s also the first time she’ll be appearing in the buff. No biggy, though. “Previously I was figuring out my own sexual identity, likes and dislikes and all that stuff,” she says, shrugging off her former reservations, “and it’s weird to be doing stuff on film as you’re figuring it out. Also, being a sexual object when you’re a kid is really uncomfortable.”

Flesh of another sort will be flashed in the actress’ next project, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (“we just got a new script from David O. Russell; we’re hoping to make it this coming year, which is really exciting”), while Portman will also be mixing things up with a little medieval comedy (Your Highness) and a producing credit on Spencer Susser’s indie hit Hesher.

With that irresistible combination of glam and geeky, Portman is out to conquer the globe. But she’ll always have a place in her heart for comics. “I think they have such classic epic themes,” she says. “V For Vendetta was an amazing experience. Like Thor, I think you could make a small independent film with the same themes and it would be really interesting. This is just on a larger scale. It’s a total thrill.”

Via Total Film

Mila Kunis – "It’s a fucking movie, it’s not like I’m saving the world"

“There’s stuff. I just don’t know if I can talk about it. Yes, there’s stuff.” Mila Kunis is discussing Denzel Washington. We want to know if she witnessed any of the acting goliath’s behind-the-scenes ticks or tricks while shooting apoco-flick Book of Eli. Kunis is having none of it. “That’s something you should ask him. I’m not in a position to answer. It’s kind of brilliant; the beauty of watching people work is that everyone’s different. Everybody’s different.”

Damn. Like most industry bods who have been in the game a while, Kunis knows that privacy has a currency. Something hard earned and much valued. Curled up in a swish Los Angeles hotel on a relatively mild December morning, the 26-year-old is every bit as vivacious and sharp as any one of her on-screen personas might have implied. She’s tiny (just 5ft 4), smart in black, skinny but fit – her newly-toned physique the result of months spent training hard as a ballerina for the currently-shooting Black Swan.

“I just skipped about 10 years of ballerina training and started [learning] as if I’m a professional,” the actress laughs. “Every day I tore the ligaments in my calves and I would think, ‘What am I doing to myself?’”

Tough, then, too. Most recognisable as bratty Jackie from timewarp TV comedy That ‘70s Show, for which she served a mighty eight seasons’ worth of duty, Kunis is already big business Stateside, adored by the TV-loving teen gen (nominations and wins of various Teen Choice Awards prove it). Her first notable post-sitcom role revealed her as the best thing in 2008’s hit-and-misfire video game adap Max Payne, for which she underwent rigorous gun training, rough and tumbling with the best of them. But Kunis remains relatively unheard of on British shores.

Those tides are set to change in 2010, though, as three hefty flicks – the aforementioned Eli and Black Swan, and Tina Fey vehicle Date Night – look primed to send Kunis’ stock soaring into the stratosphere.

Which perhaps accounts for the actress’ tight-lipped privacy lockdown. Rumours abound that Kunis, a native of Russia, learnt English from watching game show The New Price is Right (not true), is engaged to Macaulay Culkin (half true, they’re not engaged, but they’ve been dating since 2002), and has different-coloured eyes (true; one blue, the other green). Meanwhile, the industry is very much sitting up and taking note of the dark beauty. Darren Aronofksy heaps praise on her for “making the screen sizzle”, while Jason Segal credits Kunis for ensuring he “look like a good writer” with her small yet pivotal role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

So who is the real Mila? Born Milena Markivna Kunis in Chernivtsi, Ukraine, she is the only daughter to a mechanic father and a teacher mother, and sister to a scientist brother. Fluent in the Russian tongue, she counts it as her first language, which perhaps explains her rapid-fire speech pattern. “This is actually me slow,” she goads during our chat.

It wasn’t until she was seven that the Kunis clan uprooted to sunny Los Angeles (“I was told we were moving down the street. We didn’t move down the street. I don’t remember much”), escaping a constrictive Russia that abhorred their Jewish leanings.

Hold up. A Jewish girl starring in the very biblical, blockbusting Book of Eli? “That’s a question I’m going to get a lot, isn’t it?” the actress laughs. A bleached, post-apocalyptic fable, Eli pitches Denzel Washington’s titular crusader against a world turned upside down and then some. “I attempted to read the bible for this movie. I didn’t get very far into it,” shrugs Kunis. “It has amazing stories and I think that the beauty of it is that it’s all actually just about right and wrong.”

Playing Solara, a rape victim awed by Eli’s lone crusader, Kunis explains: “This girl’s not necessarily tough. She’s perseverant and she’s driven, but she’s not tough. She’s not wearing leather pants and shooting machine guns. She’s just a woman with a purpose.” She also gets to sport some pretty nifty shades. Not that Kunis considers herself much of a fashionista. “I’m learning,” she says. “I’m being forced to be a fashionista, because apparently wearing sweat pants to do press junkets is not appropriate. I really do love fashion. I personally haven’t figured all of it out yet.”

Fashion aside, did Kunis find the harrowing material – in particular the rape angle – difficult to handle? “Please don’t quote me as saying, ‘Rape is fun’, I beg of you,” the actress begins. “But it was just one of those days where it was great. It’s fun because it’s safe; I’m surrounded by a hundred person crew.”

Still tough, then. It obviously takes a lot to phase the young performer. Quick to laugh, she’s an adaptable spirit – a Russian princess who left for warmer climes and undeniably made good. She got into acting aged nine because “it was truly just fun”, nabbed her role on That ‘70s Show by lying about her age (she was 14, they needed her to be 18), missed her prom thanks to scheduling conflicts, and can’t believe her luck at landing a gig like Family Guy, for which she voices bitter teen Meg (“It’s easier. Whatever you think it is, it’s easier. Absolutely. It’s silly how easy it is”).

Frankly, we should hate her. But Kunis is impossible to deride. An unapologetic cyber-geek, she’s a giant World of Warcraft fan, loves Aerosmith, and cites Dirty Dancing as her favourite movie – just like any other twenty-something chica in the Western hemisphere.

Ah, dancing. How about Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan? Details are tightly under wrap (“I feel like such a douche because I can’t talk about it. It’s not even that big of a deal. It’s a fucking movie. It’s not like I’m saving the world”), but we know it’s a New York-set psych-thriller in which Kunis plays ballet dancer Lilly, rival to Natalie Portman’s Nina. Ever-more whispers imply the two share – gasp! – a lesbian smooch.

Kunis is unimpressed. “Sure, it’s two girls making out, and guys have a thing for that,” she yawns. “And Nat is like every guy’s dream. She’s a nerd’s idea of heaven. The whole thing is silly, but I can see why people care.”

So, 2010, the Year of Mila. But what next? More movies? College? “I will one day. One day. I wanted to. It’s just, what was I going to do: college or have a career? I chose a career from an early age. Who’s to say I made the right decision. I don’t know. Time will tell.”

Via Total Film