Monthly Archives: November 2012

WYSHW: The Fountain

Sometime between Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan,  Darren Aronofksy made a gorgeous sci-fi epic entitled The Fountain, a film which I notice isn’t talked about often.  Why is that?  I feel that The Fountain is a beautiful romance of Mayan mythology and multi-verse story telling that is very much overlooked.  So I guess I’ll just break it all down for you – sorry but spoilers are ahead.

It was the space monk tree bubble, wasn’t it? That’s why no one wanted any part of this. Space monk tree bubble.

A Story Within a Story

By the way, the music in this film is fantastic.

Our film begins in the year 2005, where we learn about a neuroscientist named Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman), and his ill wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz).  Izzy has been diagnosed with some sort of unnamed brain illness, to which there is no cure.  Izzi has accepted her fate, but Tommy becomes obsessed with the idea that death is a disease, and will stop at nothing until he finds a cure.  After she dies, Tommy finally reads a book she had previously begged him to finish – a book she wrote about love during the Spanish Inquisition.

Cut to 16th Century Spain, Queen Isabella (Rachel Weisz) is under siege by the grand inquisitor and begs her betrothed, a conquistador named Tomàs (Hugh Jackman), to search for the Biblical Tree of Life in South America.  After battling with countless Mayan protectors (and one with a kickass flaming sword), he finds the tree, and desperately start drinking the sap only to become one with the earth.

Then we have the year 2500 with Tommy as Tom, an astral monk soaring through the cosmos in a biosphere containing a tree – a tree that was planted on Izzi’s grave.  Tom is on a mission to find Xibalba, the Mayan spirit world, said to be where souls are reunited.  He has survived this journey because of his desire to be with Izzi once again, if not for eternity.

The Road to Awe

This all sounds quite crazy, doesn’t it?  Some people would venture as far to say ridiculous.  I don’t really understand why people have such a hard time suspending their disbelief, especially when it comes to science fiction.  If you just go with it, the overall piece is just so beautiful, it’s really quite indescribable.

First off, if you haven’t guessed, the visuals are astounding.  One of the coolest things about this film is that there were barely any CGI effects used – space was filmed with trick photography and shooting light through petri dishes.  With such stunning visuals partnered with a powerful, driving score, really what you’ve got here is a fantastic setting for something splendid – in this case an epic romance.

I really believed they loved each other.

What’s different about The Fountain is that it’s a romance that only deals with the relationship between Izzi and Tommy.  By placing the focus on these two characters, and only these two characters, you get this wonderful dynamic between the two of them, which just lets you believe in love and destiny and sacrifice and all that mushy crap.

Tommy’s obsession is another interesting element of the plot, because I’ll be honest here, the plot really doesn’t move much.  You’re there suffering with him, and you know there’s no point in finding a cure – that was the idea all along – Izzi knew that, and that’s all she was trying to say but he wouldn’t listen.  Sometimes you just need to let go.

Death is Not the End

Trivia: Tom’s distressed persona was inspired by a certain famous character from a song.

I think one of the most important aspects of The Fountain was how it portrayed death.  By adding the relationship element, it’s like witnessing the seven stages of grief, but told through three different stories with the same ending: acceptance.  At one point in the film, Izzi tells Tommy about when she went to South America and her guide told her about how his father died and they planted a tree on his grave.  The tree grew and blossomed, and birds came and carried his father away with them – “death was his road to awe.”  After she tells him this, she says that she is not afraid anymore.

This is probably one of the most beautiful metaphors for death I have ever witnessed in a film.  Filled with comfort and wonder, you want Tommy to find that it’s okay to move on, death is not the end – that’s all Izzi wanted to tell him all along, that’s why she wrote Tomàs’ death.  Sure that moment was confusing, ridiculous and a little frightening, but hey, we can’t always choose how we go.  That’s just part of the process.   I don’t know, maybe deep down I’m more of a romantic than I’d like to admit, but I’d rather go with a transgressive astral monk over a Nicholas Sparks piece any day.  Gotta admit, it’s pretty groovy.

Next time on What You Should Have Watched, a modern film noir that isn’t Brick.

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Cloud Atlas

It is terribly difficult to begin to describe such a movie, so I apologize if I appear to be rambling more than usual.  Sometimes the best thoughts are spurt through a jet of consciousness so here we go.  Cloud Atlas depicts a tale of six separate time lines: the South Pacific in 1849, Cambridge and Edinburgh in 1936, San Fransisco in 1973, the United Kingdom in 2012, Neo Seoul in 2144, and finally the Hawaiian Islands in presumably 2321.  We meet a set of characters intertwined with each other in their adventures,  awakening past lives and shaping new futures, and experiencing the best and worst parts of humanity.

That old man? That’s Halle Berry. I’m serious.

Cloud Atlas is nearly three hours long and it’s impossible to look away (a total feat in itself).  If this were simply six different movies, I really doubt it would be nearly as effective.  Even though I feel as if the idea of a web-of-life do-good-feel-good movie has been completely exhausted by now, I honestly hesitate to just write this off as an overdone piece of work.  Each of the stories start out so differently and take on such different genres, but when they come together there’s this overwhelming sense of faith in humanity, as if people are able to do the right thing when they choose to – also a feeling of love and hope, and all that mushy stuff too.  The concept is fairly predictable, but as I said, it’s presented in such a manner that it is unique in itself.

As alluded above, Cloud Atlas hides each of the actors into the timelines, which involves an incredible amount of makeup work – and it is remarkable.  I personally enjoyed playing a little game called Where’s Hugh Grant?, but that’s besides the point.  By creating this illusion of a shared soul, throughout time, it is interesting to see how these actors made up different characters who share similar principles that are molded by personal experience – and the performances are fantastic.  However, the most bizarre and fascinating character transformation I think was Hugo Weaving – at least, his was most unsettling:

Can you tell who’s the bad guy in this movie?

Yes he play’s a Nurse Ratched type and it’s hilarious.  Other than that, check out Korean Weaving – he looks like Spock.  When it came to making European actors Korean, I’m not sure if I’m impressed or weirded out.  It’s just something about the pronounced brow application that makes them look so alienish, especially on James D’Arcy – or maybe it’s just me, I don’t know.  And then there’s Old Georgie.

No more Mr. Nice Guy.

If there’s any bone I had to pick with this movie, it would be with the 2321 era.  I’m as much of a fan of post-apocalyptic tribesfolk as the next gal, but with their dialect it was really hard to take seriously.  Granted, I understand that the English language is steadily going downhill, but when you have a guy threatening a friend’s life and speaking like a child from Alabama, it’s really hard to feel for any of the characters.

The main character of this era, Zachry (Tom Hanks) is haunted by visions of someone named Old Georgie, who’d be Jiminy Cricket if he was vomited out of Nick Cave and a devout Alice Cooper fan.  Given the context of this story, Old Georgie is just painfully out of place and hard not to laugh at – I think it’s the top hat.  From what I’ve come to understand, Old Georgie is Zachry’s people’s perception of the devil – if that’s the case, why is he dressed that way?  There aren’t any examples of old literature around to compare to, so how did this happen?  I’m sure the Prescients  (the last technologically-advanced community of this time) might have had something to do with this, but there’s no real connection so it’s all very jarring.  Huh, now that I think of it, he looks a lot a certain Mighty Boosh character.  Weird.

Despite my feelings for Georgie and the 2321 crew (that sounds like a techno boy band), Cloud Atlas is truly a stunning film.  It’s a gorgeous and satisfying work that is touching and heartfelt and sure to give you warm fuzzies in the end.  I wouldn’t go as far as calling it profound, but it is definitely worth the watch.

Final Grade: A

That Movie People Don’t Like To Think About

Oh how cryptic, what could it possibly be?  Deadgirl? Antichrist?  Perhaps another time.  Today I’m going to bring to light probably one of the most intriguingly disturbing films to ever grace my eyeballs,  A Serbian Film.  I’m serious.  If you know of/seen this movie you’ll know what I’m talking about – if not, well, this isn’t the sort of movie you recommend to people, hence why I made this a Kool-aid feature (because I honestly believe this movie could hit cult standards with a little time, effort and therapy) instead of a What You Should Have Watched.  I’ll probably lose some readers over this, but I’m over it.  This movie is fantastic.

Taboos, Taboos, Taboos!

Let me get you folks up to speed here: A Serbian Film is well, a Serbian horror film from 2010 directed by Srđan Spasojević (no, I have no idea how to pronounce that).  The film stars a semi-retired porn star named Miloš, a man who has settled with a wife and child but has issues keeping food on the table.  One day Miloš is approached by an old co-star who has a proposition for him: meet with a mysterious director and he will be paid copious amounts of money for a project.

Be thankful her face is out of view.

Intrigued, Miloš travels with her to meet this director, an “artist” named Vukmir.  Vukmir offers Miloš a contract, but the catch is he cannot know what the project is or what it requires, lest it ruin his performance.  Miloš begrudgingly agrees, but immediately regrets his decision when he discovers a project of unimaginable consequences to which he has no escape.

This movie has absolutely every taboo imaginable: pornography, violence, child abuse, rape, necrophilia – the list goes on and on.  To say this film is “pretty graphic” is like saying Hitler was “kinda grumpy.”  Within the first five minutes, you’re already subjected to some pretty crazy stuff – and then without apology this movie quickly snowballs to capture some of the most heinous actions imaginable.  Some so despicably disgusting, there are reaction videos on YouTube.  (Here’s a hint, it involves an infant.)  This is the kind of movie that proves there’s no God and then rubs salt in your paper cuts while murdering your parents.  Too much?

“The Victim”

To film atrocity for attention’s sake is just obnoxious – not to mention, completely uncalled for.  I would not waste your time if this was indeed the case.   When Miloš learns the truth about this production, he immediately asks Vukmir why him, why a porn star?

Not pornography, but life itself! That’s life of a victim. Love, art, blood… flesh and soul of a victim. Transmitted live to the world who has lost all that and now is paying to watch that from the comfort of an armchair. … Victim sells, Miloš. Victim is the priciest sell in this world. The victim feels the most and suffers the best. We are a victim, Miloš. You, me, this whole nation is a victim.

If you haven’t taken a peek at the wiki entry yet, you’ll learn that Spasojević’s main concept behind this film was a parody and critique Serbian film culture, being that it is ran by means of foreign funds and is now a comical shadow of its foreign self.  Thus Spasojević decided to focus on the extremes…extreme extremes.  I’m paraphrasing of course, but that’s what the hyperlink’s for.  Personally, I found the quote far more interesting than the political stuff.

This image is cropped for your sanity’s sake.

It seems that these days the victim is the new hero.  What makes the hero so relatable most of the time is that they are victimized in some way or form, and from this victimization comes passion for justice (this occurs on various scales, the “revenge-flick” being the most obvious).  Then immediately after Vukmir says this, he tells Miloš that he is the only one in the film who is not a victim.  This presents an interesting argument:

Vukmir presents the idea of an inborn need to see people get revenge – usually this is the reflection of the political/economic times (in Serbia’s case, capitalizing on suffering by destroying the film industry with run-of-the-mill fluff) – but Vukmir’s film has no revenge in it whatsoever, it is merely Miloš doing the victimizing.  Now from a meta standpoint, we want Miloš to get out of this because we can sympathize – he has a family and just needed some extra money, and he didn’t know what he was bargaining with.  At the same time, Miloš did sign a contract and has an obligation to uphold (not that we as viewers want him to, but these guys have atrocious methods of persuasion – you do not want to piss them off).  Such a glorious paradox, ironically presented in a pornographic snuff film.

Sweet dreams.

A Serbian Film is absolutely wretched but you cannot look away, mostly because you can’t believe what’s going on.  It’s also hard to gauge which is worse: the fact that this was filmed or the fact that it was greenlit.  I’d be lying if I said this didn’t disturb me, but man this film is just so darn interesting!  This is why it’s impossible to recommend because you don’t want to look like an absolute monster, but the conversation that can occur and the analysis – it just tickles my brain just thinking about it.  Or I could just be a perverted psychopath, you never know.