Viewed: 9:35 pm 11/18/06
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Warner Brothers - Official Site of the Movie
Don’t over think it. It’s not that complicated.
If I could give one bit of advice to nervous moviegoers about the highly anticipated and highly feared new Darren Aronofsky film The Fountain, it would be not to go in expecting it to be over your head. The movie, a trippy adventure through time, benefited from some early buzz that implied it’s epic scale and unique vision could make it the 2001 of the new millennium. But as the release date approached negative reviews painted a picture of ambitious confusion remind us all that… 2001 might be considered a classic, but it’s still pretty fucking crazy.
I walked in with hope of greatness from a cast I adore and a director that has successfully forced his distinctive vision on me in the past (Requiem for a Dream), but in the back of my mind I was preparing myself for a highbrow, self-masturbatory collection of pretty images with either a thin plot stitching them together, or no substance behind it at all. Preparing yourself for the worst isn’t the most ideal way to walk into a theater but I can’t argue with results. From the second Hugh Jackman steps on screen doing his best Ponce de Leon impression, I was completely charmed and enthralled by The Fountain. Not just the stunning visuals but also the sweet and simple story of love and obsession that pushes it along.
That’s right. Simple. Honestly people, there’s nothing too complicated going on in this movie which is why I’m so surprised people are freaking out about it. When the film concludes there are many things left undefined or open to interpretation, but isn’t that the case with every great movie you’ve ever seen? I mean besides Terminator 2 which was just balls out awesome. You want a movie that’s going to make you think about it for days. One that will spur debate and inspire actual thought. Believe me, I see enough movies that barely inspire me to wake up in the morning, so when a movie like The Fountain comes along and it’s just confusing enough to enjoy but still open up the floor for debate, I find reasons to roll out of bed and get my movie shoes on.
Unfortunately no one is going to see this thing so I’ve been debating it with myself for the past few days. A futile effort as I’m a complete stubborn jackass. There’s no living with me.
The Fountain opens with a quote from the Bible, from Genesis specifically. With all the bizarre happenings in this movie it was this one thing that got the tiniest of eye rolls out of me. Not that quoting the bible is a bad thing, there’s a lot of quality stuff going on there, but quoting Genesis is practically amateur hour. Everyone knows Genesis. It’s the first chapter! Even people that have no interest in religion, that mistakenly stumble upon the book thinking it’s a prequel to Chronicles of Narnia are going to get to at least Deuteronomy before they put one and one together or just get tired of being told what to do.
The quote felt forced and unnecessary, especially when Rachel Weisz’s character recites it about 20 minutes into the film. Coming from an educated woman who’s studying the tree, alongside quotes and beliefs about the tree from other cultures, the snippet from the bible had a more comfortable fit. It’s a quote about the tree of life, something everyone is familiar with, at least in concept right? Even those of us that didn’t go to catholic school, didn’t have catholic friends, or weren’t enthusiastic about pre-Narnia literature all know the historical account off Ponce de Leon’s raping of Florida in search of the tree. Find the tree – live forever.
I’m actually surprised there isn’t a modern day film about Ponce de Leon. It’s one of those well-known stories and timeless quests that you’d think Disney would have pounced on years ago. That story is less about the tree itself and more about the journey to find the tree, and The Fountain covers that, but treats it almost like a footnote as it shifts focus and launches us through time.
The Fountain takes place in three periods of time with Jackman and Weisz playing (presumably) different versions of the same characters. The main story is focused in the present day where Jackman’s Tommy works obsessively to find a cure for cancer in order to save his dying wife, Weisz’s Izzi. Tommy is brooding and almost insensitively compulsive with finding the answer as Izzi smiles and glows (sometimes literally) trying to treasure what little time is left. In the past Izzi is Isabele, a Spanish Queen persecuted for her search for immortality. A quest she bestows upon Tomas, a loyal and brave conquistador that is promised to be Adam to Isabele’s Eve in Eden once the tree is found.
The future is less defined as Tom flies through space with the Tree of Life in a giant bubble. An image visually inventive enough to turn off as many people as it turns on. To go into the details of what Tom is up to and where he and his precious plant are headed would delve into the realm of spoilers, which is something I normally prefer to avoid. Especially since the spoilers relate not just to this future scenario but the present and past ones as well. You see, the story is told non-linearly jumping back and forth through time revealing little clues slowly. Logically, we should know if Tomas finds the tree and if Tommy is able to save Izzi, long before we ever see Tom and his space bubble. But both of those reveals are part of the final act. Shuffling the order of things was a risky move considering the story itself is ripe for misinterpretation, but I think Aronofsky pulled it off and that the story benefits in the long run.
What benefited me in enjoying this movie was actually a couple of spoilers. Because I feel so strongly that they affected my movie experience in a positive way I’m going to share them with you now. Don’t worry, it’s the sort of thing you already know if you watch Ebert and Roeper or read Premier Magazine, just a couple of very mild spoilers that helped me absorb the film better. If you want to avoid them though, just skip over this centered section:
Ok first, the story in the past with Isabela and Tomas is told as a book being written by Izzi in the present. Is it a story being told about the life she once lived centuries ago? Is it real? Or is it just a story? I’ll leave that up to you, but knowing this little bit of information helped me separate the storylines in my mind and focus on the right questions to be asking myself.
Second is that the Tree is Izzi. Literally or figuratively? I’m not saying, but keep that in mind as Tom interacts and speaks with the Tree throughout his journey. It helped me appreciate so much more the true meaning of what was being said.
See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Seriously, knowing these two little things helped me gain a grasp on the film early on and really help me get the most out of it.
The Fountain has been described as self-important snobbery and artsy fartsy crap, but even though the movie is ambiguous, and presents its ambiguity with a lot of style and flair, The Fountain is less ostentatious than it’s being made out to be. Some creativity with storytelling and imagery shouldn’t be confused with pretension. Compare it to a film like Garden State which was much more heavy handed with it’s imagery, but is for some reason acceptable because it’s grounded in reality. The Fountain may require you to use your brain in a nonrepresentational way with its ideas, but the same could be said for any sci-fi movie. Just because the Tree of Life isn’t piloted by Chewbacca doesn’t mean it’s not a cool idea.
The movie has a lot to say on Life and Death, and Love vs. Obsession, far too much for me to really get into in this already hefty review. And While it would be great to sit here and talk about it forever, none of us are going to live that long.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
The themes of the movie are pretty basic even if it’s presented in a complex way, but just try to go in not expecting it to mind boggle you. It’s not nearly the aimless mess it’s being made out to be.
This is a film I don’t see myself watching regularly but a commentary or featurrette on the process is something I’d enjoy enough to make it worth renting. However, in defense of it being “purchase worthy”: The Fountain has developed a strong cult following which suggests the possibility that the DVD will be overflowing with extras. At the same time, the movie was a commercial disappointment at the box office it’s opening weekend indicating that it’ll be under 10 bucks within a month of it’s release on DVD. Tons of extras at the cost of what’s probably in my pants right now? Sold!
Recommendation: Kate and Leopold
The Fountain isn’t easily compared to many other movies (got any ideas, let’s hear them.) so I crumbled under the pressure and chose Jackman’s other time traveling romp, Kate and Leopold
. A delightful, heartwarming adventure about a man out of time who travels to the future to find true love. (Meg Ryan
just at the end of her tailspin into anonymity.) It’s campy and weird, a little sappy with just a touch of unaddressed incest, but also (and it pains me to say this) it’s a lot of fun. It’s become one of my guilty pleasures that friends openly tease me about (along with Josie and the Pussycats
and Battlefield Earth
) but I can’t help it. I’m charmed by the unlikely combination of romance and wormholes in the space-time continuum.
Trailer Hitch: Rocky Balboa
I’m excited about the new film Rocky Balboa
for the wrong reasons. Even though there are many justifiable reasons to get excited about Sylvester Stallone’s
return to the character that made him famous, including all the buzz saying the actor has saved the character that Rocky V
supposedly buried. Other buzz whispers that Stallone is too old (in his 60’s now) and that the character can’t be reintroduced to this new generation some 30 years after he was first seen on screen. But we only have to look as far back as last month with Casino Royale
to see that even the oldest and most played-out franchises can still be reborn bigger and better. I think Balboa has the same opportunity to capture the old world class and modern style creating a movie that will appeal to the original fans that built up the franchise as well as the younger generation that is need to keep it alive.
That’s all well and good, but I’m not really a Rocky fan. For no particular reason, the movies were just never around me when I was growing up, which is kind of weird since I was raised in South Jersey near Philadelphia (the city where all 6 Rocky films take place).
The real draw for this movie for me is two of its stars. Stallone is the man. I’m a sucker for his crappy action movies like Tango and Cash and Demolition Man, which were stronger staples in my childhood than the Rocky films ever were. As a writer I think his 2001 film Driven was mercilessly underrated and that he should be spending as much time behind the typewriter as he is punching people in the face. He’s an underrated filmmaker that has been shut out in later years by some unfortunate typecasting. Rocky and Rambo were too successful and he’s been living in the shadow of those Icons since and, in part, prevented him from aging gracefully into a more mature career. Films like Cop Land hinted that Stallone could be the next Clint Eastwood, but Dirty Harry never would have done Spy kids 3-D
Stallone alone is enough for me to go see Balboa, but when I saw who was playing his son, I freaked. Rocky Jr. is played by Milo Ventimiglia who I’m a huge fan of. Ventimiglia is quickly collecting new fans every Monday night as Pete on the show Heroes but I’ve been a fan of his ever since he stole young Rory Gilmore’s heart on Gilmore Girls. Yes I’m a Gilmore fan, something the wife got me hooked on years ago, and I know it’s girly, but it’s good. Seeing Ventimiglia was a great thrill and I can’t wait to see him finally find some success on the big screen. He’s previous film work includes playing a gay werewolf attack victim in Wes Craven’s Cursed and a cocky bread-humper in the delightful, yet direct to video, film Dirty Work.
Fandom aside, Ventimiglia is actually a great choice for the part. He looks like a young Stallone that hit the library instead of the gym. It’s a good match. As long as the pacing is brisk, the story is sharp, and the action is raw, Rocky Balboa could actually live up to the hype.
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Joe – The creator of the strip who has embraced giving crappy movies the chance they deserve. Like the majority of the cast he’s obsessed with boobs.
First Appearance - The Introduction
Yeo – Yeo is Joe’s wife and often the voice of reason in the strip. Having her act rational allows the rest of the cast to embrace being in a comic strip which primarily involves randomly punching people, interacting with fictional characters and talking about boobs. Yeo is smart, beautiful and way too good for Joe. Don’t tip her off.
First Appearance - Fever Pitch
Irv – Joe’s movie-going sidekick who’s always down for watching Jason Statham crescent moon kick some thug through a plate glass window and getting some drinks before after and during a Vin Diesel movie. Like the majority of the cast he’s obsessed with boobs.
First Appearance - Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior
Agent 337 George Jones – A government Agent that took over for Joe after he was bad-mouthing President Bush in the V for Vendetta strip. George ran the show for over a month bring a much needed sense of patriotism and justice to both the strips and reviews. He eventually got too attached to his work, empathizing with Joe’s plight to give crappy movies a fair shake. In a way he came to love crappy movies as well and was pushed out of the position. He spiraled out of control and ended up in prison. His adventures will be told in the limited series JLCM Presents: 337 Locked Up which is set to début Christmas of 09.
First Appearance - V for Vendetta
Other Notable Appearances: Stay Alive, Ice age 2, Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Slither, Here Comes Guest week, Let’s Go To Prison
Leonidas – The former king of Sparta who has traveled into the future and is having trouble coping with the modern times. Yelling loudly and kicking people into giant holes doesn’t really work the same way it did in the olden days. As time as gone by he’s adjusted but it’s a safe bet that he’s always one bad message away from throwing a spear through someone.
First Appearance - 300
Other Notable Appearances: Four Brothers, Strip# 300, The Golden Compass, Rambo, Untraceable, The Ladies of Max Paybe
Palpatine – Former Senator, Emperor of the Galactic Empire, Sith Lord... He shows up in the Joe Loves Crappy movies galaxy on occasion to let people know that they’re being stupid. No one’s really sure how he shows up in this universe but chances are it breaks all kinds of copywrite laws.
First Appearance - Episode III: The Dark Side
Other Notable Appearances: Four Brothers, Night Watch, Saw 3, Are We Done Yet
Slow Billy – Billy is a sweet kid but he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. If you’re watching him for the day be prepared to explain to him the plot of the movie or how popcorn works or, not so much where babies come from, but what babies are. He’s a complete moron.
First Appearance - Four Brothers
Other Notable Appearances: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Da Vinci Code, Vantage Point, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Kyle the Movie Snob – Be careful what fun facts about movies you tell your friends at a friendly gathering or in line for the latest blockbuster, because if you’re even slightly wrong, Kyle will be more than happy to let you know. He usually gets what’s coming to him though. Poor guy has cracked three ribs since joining the JLCM cast.
First Appearance - Ultraviolet
Other Notable Appearances: 16 Blocks, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Transformers, Journey to the Center of the Earth
Jean-Luc Picard – Another lawsuit waiting to happen is Jean Luc Picard who, towards the end of the strip’s first year, became the go-to background character. If there was ever a seat to fill or a random person to place wandering around in the background, nine times out of ten it was Picard. While Picard has crossed paths with Irv he and Joe have never met. Perhaps they will some day but for now just can an eye on the background.
First Appearance - The Producers
Other Notable Appearances: I’m not telling you, that’s no fun. It’ like Where’s Waldo – go find him!
Ice Cream Sandwich – Delicious and… deadly? Usually when you see someone eating an Ice Cream sandwich, someone else is experiencing a substantial amount of pain. Still, how nice is an ice cream sandwich on a hot summer day?
First Appearance - Saw IV
Other Notable Appearances: Bee Movie, Run Fatboy Run, Saw V