Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Recently Seen

The Fountain

Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” should’ve moved me a lot more than it did. Instead, by its fragmented hop between 3 seperate centuries featuring the same 2 people, it almost becomes a joke... subtitled the movie where Hugh Jackman cries- a lot. Even though I buy the film’s 3 plotlines (although only 1 of the three are intended to be representative of an actual plot, while the other 2 are figments of the character’s imaginations), there’s still something very cold about the film. A heartbreaking score from composer Clint Mansell aside, “The Fountain” never gels even though it presents Hugh Jackman and the luminous Rachel Weisz in a moving relationship that bears resemblance to the worst type of sitcom predicament. When the film does get around to maintaining some worthwhile images in the final minutes, it’s too little too late. Not only do the scenes from 500 and 2500 take away from the emotional immediacy of the story, but they add an abstract frame of reference that plays up the ‘trippy’ idea of the story and flattens any chance of development between Izzi (Weisz) and her conquistador husband, Tom (Jackman).

Fast Food Nation

Richard Linklater’s “Fast Food Nation” is my choice for his most accomplished film to date (although I haven’t seen “A Scanner Darkly” just yet). Bristling with sharp characterizations and an abundance of ideas, Linklater focuses on a dozen or so people whose lives revolve around the manufacturing, producing and selling of red meat on a daily basis in rural Colorado. It all has a rather jaundiced tone, of course, but what sets “Fast Food Nation” apart from other films that aim to condemn mass consumerism is the attention Linklater and script writer Eric Schlossier give to mundane details- the scene involving a group of border-hopping Hispanic workers given their orientation via an English video that none of them seem to understand… the crass body language and verbal tone of a Human Resources manager giving Sylvia(Catalina Sandino Moreno) news about her husband’s involvement in a plant accident and then tells her the “bad news” of his termination- all the superfluous things that usually get in the way of more self-aggrandizing films that feature an ‘us vs. them’ mentality are given equal measure to the grand dialogue setpieces of Kris Kristofferson and Bruce Willis. In any other film, the ratio of big moments to small ones highly outweigh each other, but in “Fast Food Nation”, Linklater weaves a balancing act that cascades from the ‘very poor’ to the ‘very used’ with compassion and intelligence. He’s still naturally drawn to scenes of hanging out- such as the cameo of Ethan Hawke who infuses the film with ample doses of left wing radicalism and Avril Lavigne as an environmental activist who sparks the passion of fast food check out girl Amber (Ashley Johnson)- which have been his independent calling card since day one, but “Fast Food Nation” also clearly understands the importance of keeping the ideas flowing. And in the final moments, when Sylvia (and us) are finally given glimpses of the killing floor where our fast food originates, I couldn’t imagine a more poignant, fitting emotion to end the carnage on. Like the rest of the film before it, it’s a mundane and intelligent reaction in a landscape littered with corporate logos and mass murder on several levels.

Deja Vu

And what better way to wash off the serious overtones of one film by immensely enjoying the overblown ideas and logic of Tony Scott’s “Déjà vu”. Ok. Internet friends know my adoration for Scott (hell I think I’m the only person in the universe who included “Domino” in his favorite films of 2005) and “Déjà vu” is no exception. It ranks pretty high up there with “True Romance”. With his latest, Scott has toned down the MTV visuals a few notches and allows the story and strong leading performance of Denzel Washington to carry the brunt. Through all the macho posturing and glib statements about terrorism, “Déjà vu” hits some pretty high emotional arches; just watch the chemistry between Washington and Claire (Paula Patton) when he’s watching her past reel before his eyes or the natural interaction of the computer geeks as they work their magic inside the whatever-the-hell-it-is-machine. And that’s what a lot of people miss in the films of Tony Scott. Flashback to last year in "Domino". I'm sure alot of its detractors will find it hard to place any blame of the film's shortcomings on Keira Knightley, who gives a sensitive and sexy performance. The same happens in "Deja Vu". Scott always wants to make more than a Bruckheimer financed action film, and he often carves out sublime little moments between his characters, giving his films an extra dose of personality. Plus, he’s a director who understands the nuances of charismatic lead performances, presenting Denzel with what feels like his most loose and vivid performance in a few years. This is the most fun I've had at the movies in a while, and it features one helluva car chase that has implications for 2 different dimensions!


Emilio Estevez’s “Bobby” also suffers from some of the same glib and sketchy characterizations as Aronofsky’s film, and it too features a powerful condensation of images and ideas in the last few minutes, but the parade of high profile mugs on display feels like an insider’s pat on the back rather than a cohesive story. In the remembrance of Robert Altman, I wondered what he would’ve done with this material (or for that matter, maybe he already did with “Nashville”). There’s not a cliché unturned or a plot device left unchecked in "Bobby"- even the use of music (Donovan and Cream for a scene featuring drugs!) is uninspired. It’s clear that Estevez’s intentions are good, but something is lost in translation. It’s all surface. The best examples of truth in “Bobby” radiate from relatively little-seen actors, such as Nick Cannon's turn as an African American campaigner or the performance of Freddy Rodriguez as a kitchen cook who gives up his seats to a Dodger game to play an integral part in history. The beautiful faces that routinely pop up in "Bobby" detract from the more serious affair of creating a realistic and authentic portrayal of a dramatic political event. Estevez is certainly no Altman.


Anonymous said...

Great reviews. I'm still not sure what to make of The Fountain. I didn't hate it, and I know I don't dislike it. I'mm somewhere in between, I guess. Maybe I need to see it again. Call me crazy, but I honestly think someday it might be remembered as a classic, like 2001: Space Odyssey.

Joe Baker said...

Eric, thanks for the reply. Perhaps repeat viewings of "The Fountain" will warm me up to it as I'm a huge Aronofsky fan. On first viewing, its alot to take in.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's the past and future sequences that hinder the development of the central relationship, more that the film just isn't long enough. It comes in at well under two hours, and if you're going to do an ambitious, arty sci-fi tone poem, you may as well take some extra time to develop things.

I liked it overall, though it's hard for me to develop my thoughts on it.

Anonymous said...

I think the film's length was just fine. I don't see how much farther Aronofsky could have gone. It's a very philosophical/Buddhist story, and I think the movie is more about the "big idea" than the romance, though Aronofsky was clearly in love with his two main characters. I'm going to buy the one on DVD even though I still don't know how exactly I feel about I guess it did have some sort of profound affect on me.