The 67th Venice Film Festival, where I'm currently on jury duty (although not on the jury headed by Quentin Tarantino) opened majorly pop with Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky's warmly received and borderline risible follow-up to his 2008 Golden Lion winner The Wrestler. Although a generic horror film (The Red Shoes remade as homage to Dario Argento or Brian De Palma), Black Swan is also recognizably Aronofskyian: This epic actualization myth parallels The Wrestler's blood-soaked, self-mutilating histrionics so closely that it could be described as "Mickey Rourke in a tutu." Black Swan is also an acting vehicle, but rather than fueling Rourke's comeback it's fueled by Natalie Portman's near-excruciating anxiety in the role of a dogged, delusional little prima ballerina.
Miral, Julian Schnabel's well-intentioned, if terminally ham-fisted contribution to peace in the Middle East, is less Pop Art than Pop Front. Sofia Coppola's autobiographical, or at least daddy-graphical, Somewhere is yet to screen--as are John Woo's wuxhia-extravaganza Reign of Assassins (co-directed with Su Chao-Pin), Catherine Breillat's take on Sleeping Beauty, and the Pang brothers' 3-D thriller Child's Eye. For the moment, the festival's unexpected genre triumph is Robert Rodriguez's chop-socky Chicano neo-spaghetti western revenge fantasy Machete--co-directed with Ethan Maniquis and already slashing up America's multiplexes.
Although the cartoon violence and overheated rhetoric are hardly subtle, Machete's political analysis rivals the mayhem for zing. Danny Trejo stars as the eponymous hulking crater-faced long-haired blade-wielding action hero and the rest of the cast is rife with subtext: Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez play rival action hotties, Robert De Niro appears as a xenophobic pol, Steven Seagal impersonates an evil Mexican drug lord, Cheech Marin camps it up as a martyred padre, and a suitably degenerate Lindsay Lohan frolics doped and topless with an actress who strongly resembles her actual mother, then dons a nun's habit for the final, cataclysmic attack of the low-riders.