RIORI Vol 3, Installment 69: Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain” (2006)

The Players…

Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, with Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Stephen McHattie, Cliff Curtis and Sean Patrick Thomas.

The Story…

Across a millennium, a simple man searches for an eternal life. From a 16th Century Spanish conquistador serving to save his queen to a 21st Century forensic oncologist seeking a cure for his wife’s cancer to across the Universe as a 26th-century wanderer of the cosmos.

In quaint terms, he’s on an odyssey. But for this well beyond space and time.

It’s for love.

How far would you go?

The Rant…

I think about mortality a lot. I’m human. It’s what I do.

Our days are numbered. If you take a breath and think about it: what did I do today? Was it worthwhile, meaningful? Was another punch in the timeclock any closer to finding fulfillment? Was that smoke break really worth the ten minutes? Five minutes?


Not really. Not at all. The days are numbered, and what went down today went down permanently. We’re all gonna go one day. How we get there is courtesy of time, nature and self-destructive tendencies. We’d all like to die in our sleep. Most of us seek out a metaphorical car crash. It’s all only a matter of time, and time always, always catches up with the lot of us.

Okay, all right. I know I touched upon this downbeat feeling back with the Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World installment. Yeah, bummer. Best way to earn more subscribers, like introducing to an unwitting crowd the Wii U, New Coke or Gary Cherone fronting Van Halen (Christ, that dates me). Y’all don’t need anymore reminding that we’re all just a-passin’ through. Life’s short, as it goes, so you better take advantage of all the cool sh*t life has to offer you, like chocolate, thumbs and the Switch. Have fun while it lasts.

That being said, I’m now gonna twist that sentiment around in the spirit of this week’s film. The opposite. The age-old fantasy: immortality. To live forever.

Imagine the possibilities, Highlander. Never dying, being an everlasting witness to history. Wander the world, explore, experience all—and I mean all—of life’s comedies and tragedies. And never growing older, either. All the BBQ you could stomach. Playing Gears Of War 5437 in your head. I mean literally in your head thanks to that cybernetic uplink. Visit the Mars Colony for the ultimate tanning bed. And watch that bank account mature there, boy-o.

Of course, no one really contemplates the downside of immortality. For one, after you’ve travelled the Seven Seas seven hundred times over, the novelty wears thin (probably after the hundredth time over). Boredom sets in, and you with all the time in the universe. It’s akin to some blurb I caught from some no-name movie (surprise). A kid supposes that if some comic book super-villian did conquer the world, then what? Set up some real estate agency?

Same with the whole immortality deal. Great. Eternal life. Time enough at last and throw the glasses to the sidewalk. Now what? The travel thing would indeed get dull after a while. So would all that reading, movies, YouTube and tweets. You can only look at so many kooky kitty videos before you start hacking up bezoars yerself. And a lost library book would destroy your credit history forever. Noodle that one.

Another thing: relationships. Friends. Sure, you’re here on Earth until the sun goes nova, but everyone you’ve ever met will be long gone by then. You grow lonely in a massive crowd, feeling like an Edward Hopper painting. There was clever movie released a while back called The Man From Earth based on sci-fi great Jerome Bixby’s story (he’s the guy that penned the mirror universe ep of the original Star Trek where we all learned goateed Vulcans are logically evil). It highlights another unique dilemma for being immortal: not leaving a trail. In the flick our protagonist, one Prof Oldman (get it?) purports to be thousands of years old to his closest friends. You get around across millennia you’re bound to leave some footprints. There’s only so many places you can “hide” (even across the Seven Seas). Someone’s gonna get wise to something like, “Hey, how come our good buddy the professor still looks thirty-five twenty years after his fortieth birthday?” Or something like that. Being immortal must get hella lonesome, especially when it means you gotta haul up stakes pretty often to avoid the prying eyes of the men in white coats (who may either be nosy scientists or the guys with the thorazine). Being a fugitive is no fun. Ask Dr Kimble.

And romance? Love? Forget it. For all its delicious campy cheesiness the original Highlander made a good point of rejecting love if you’re immortal (or maybe it was just Connery delivering the lines) because it’ll just shatter you in the end. Your love’s end. Consider all your beloved relationships—family and friends alike—as a constant reminder in the back of your head that your eternal time on this plane is just a series of funerals waiting to happen. You go on, they don’t. Even harder as I said when it concerns a romantic interest. For most finding the right partner is both a virtue and birthright to all thinking people. Hell, even the ones that don’t think and would’ve voted for Trump anyway (zing!).

Truth be told, I don’t think living forever is worth the trouble. Especially if it means never fully creating a solid link with anyone. Like I said, they go and you go on. And on. And on and on and on.

What you need is that special one, if such an individual exists. That special someone who makes you live. Truly live. Who’ll go on and on with you. Not necessarily immortal, but the feelings that stir your lonely soul keep you going on and on. The seas are in the doldrums. You’ve encountered too many curious people. You’re without a country. But that special other? Ah, that is something to really live for. And screw the bank account.

All it takes, you learn, is to find the right place to search…

The Kingdom of Spain in under siege. Not by some invading army, but insurrection. The Inquisition is bent on weeding out any suspected heretics from desecrating the Church and all it stands for. At all costs.

Tomás (Jackman) and his fellow conquistadors have been tasked by Queen Isabella (Weisz) on a perilous quest at her behest. She has taken hiding within a spiritual stronghold, a monastery, plotting a dire, yet benevolent scheme to free Spain from the Inquisition’s wrath. She has learned of a legend in far off New Spain. A story of a fabled Tree Of Life, which any who would taste the mystic sap would live forever. A demonstration of such wonder would show her chained subjects that there is no such thing as Death. Only endless Rebirth, like the true Good Book promises.

Tomás and his colleagues travel to points West in search of the Tree. But the native Maya are hostile and very reluctant to have Outlanders dare suckle at this divine fountainhead. Tomás is wounded in battle, and now the Tree is his only hope of both survival and rescuing his beloved Queen and country…

Tommy (Jackman) is a brilliant and maverick oncologist. He’s onto a theory of applying holistic medicine in destroying cancer cells with chimps as his test subjects. At first his scientific endeavors are regarded as both flights of fancy and terribly unconventional, not to mention motivated beyond medical understanding.

The naysayers would be correct. Tommy’s wife Izzi (Weisz) is dying of brain cancer. If Tommy could peg the proper mixture, perhaps he could save her. He tries a sample of some unique resin from a rare tree that only grows in one part of South America on a fresh chimp. Within days, its cancer is in immediate regression. Better! After a follow-up examination, the primate’s cancer is completely gone! Izzi may now have a chance…

Lonesome cosmic traveller Tom-Creo (Jackman) has been put to task under his own mission to ensure the Tree Of Life has safe passage to the legendary nebula where creation and extinction converge. If they arrive, his lost love Iz-Creo (Weisz) may be born anew. However it will take an incredible amount of spiritual stamina and never forgetting to ensure the Tree makes it home. Again…

The Kingdom of Spain in under siege. Not by some invading army, but insurrection. The Inquisition is bent on weeding out any suspected heretics from desecrating the Church and all it stands for. At all costs.

Tomás (Jackman) and his fellow conquistadors have been tasked by Queen Isabella (Weisz) on a perilous quest…

Believe it or don’t, The Fountain is director Aronofsky’s most accessible picture. Pi was a critically darling mindwarp, and Requiem For A Dream was so f*cking harrowing (but good) that I’d never want to watch it again. Maybe not even Cubby, either. His viewing might’ve been the culprit in his demise. Damned evil carnivorous fridge.

Against his other two disgustingly esoteric, abstract films Fountain has a precious thing the other two lack: beauty. And in spite of all the time hopping, that and its very non-linear storytelling Fountain ultimately makes…sense, if only resulting in a groundswell of human emotions. Most of them positive, warm and fuzzy. Sure, Requiem made sense (e.g.: don’t do drugs), but was delivered in such a belt-sander-to-your-testicles way you’d never want to make sense of it again. Ever. Damned evil carnivorous fridge.

But yes, beauty. Alluded above Aronofsky’s films are angular and not warm. They hatefully challenge you, with often well reward. Fountain had a similar vein but with a warm, gooey center. Not saccharine, mind you, but unlike his first two films Fountain is inviting, not coercive. Sure, it’s still trademarked angular, and the non-linear plot may screw with perception, but there is a frickin’ warmth here that was sorely lacking in his other films. Probably because movies revolving around mathematics and drug abuse don’t really invite warmth. Been there, seen that.

Something to consider with viewing The Fountain is this: the (very) non-linear storyline. I’ve read somewhere that the old saw is that folks who don’t appreciate abstract art won’t like non-linear stories. I feel non-linear movie storytelling is, at its core, and educated risk. It requires a director’s faith in a curious, patient audience (which are damned hard to come by these days). I claim “educated” in reference to a healthy ego of a daring—if not left-of-center—filmmaker that if they cut it, and cut it just right, the proper audience will be in attendance. This usually guarantees lousy ticket sales, but that was never really the goal. The point was assuming a calculated risk of sharing an idea, a vision on the proper people whose heads wouldn’t hurt much by being entertained in such a fashion.


That was deep. Then again, so was The Fountain. But not in some Sartre-esque, existential quarry down the rabbit hole kind of way. Okay, a bit. But not really. Non-linear, remember?

The only linear, unwavering theme of the movie was the sense of dedication. Commitment. Sure, the love thing was there, easily relatable. However over the course of the film’s millennium the one true, direct motivation for Jackman’s and Weisz’ relationship to revolve around—the axis—was an undying commitment to maintain their relationship. Look, you don’t have to be “in love” to keep your loved ones close. You just wanna be there for them when A) you very much care about their well-being, and/or: B) you just want to make sure they’re safe from harm. Come to think of it, that might be the reason for the NRA’s being. Shudder and moving on.

Thanks to the clean, unpretentious acting from the Wolverine and Dr Evelyn Carnarvon it was obvious to understand such. This was cool. Here in the States, our Aussie and Brit are best known for roles in action films (I know, I know. Weisz was merely introduced to us Yanks cleanly with 1999’s The Mummy, but it was a decent hello all the same. Led to her starring in films like this one). Both have some charm here. Yes, there are harrowing, marrowing bones thrown about to keep the Aronofsky edge there, if only on the fringe. But I also smelled an intellectual bent; some sort of “open your mind, Quaid” feeling. Also, something told me that Aronofsky’s cast gave themselves wholly and completely to his direction. Come, take my hand.

Jackman gets to shine here, even without song and dance. Another despite: despite Jackman being familiar to millions as an action guy in the States, he’s best know Down Under as literally a song and dance man. Musical theatre. I think I caught a glimpse of his dancing talent as Conan’s guest. Guy could kick. You’d never figure him for a guy with adamantium claws and a hair trigger. Nor would you here. There’s that intensity he’s known for, but with Fountain the better term is driven. It’s this drive to save Izzi that…well, drives the story. We get that this is a love story, no matter how esoteric that thing is, but the motivation behind it here is delivered so well by Jackman in his multiple roles. He’s always determined, always honest and always knows he’s against the clock. His multi-Tom role is dappled with ego, fragility, grief and that all-important determination. And not in just saving Izzi, but saving himself as well. From what? Dealing with loss, which we all eventually in varying points of “success.” Jackman’s shining, squinty eyes speak volumes, as well as the crack-ups off screen, so to speak.

I think I figured out what the key theme of Fountain was thanks to Jackman: that commitment thing. Right, love’s easier to digest, despite how abstract a concept that can be. It’s more than who gets to hold the remote. Commitment is underrated against love in the abstract, and Aronofsky chose to give his spin. If you care about somebody, and they need your help, you do your best to try. Perhaps against all odds, but you’ll take the time to try and maybe succeed. Not as sexy as love, but perhaps more endearing than a peck on the cheek or scattered sheets to tuck back in the next morning.

In the end run, however, I think we all want to tuck those sheets back in with hopes they’ll be unfurled again tomorrow night. It might go on. It will go on. Like Tom and Izzi are deemed to go on and on and on throughout the film. Such a view is terribly engaging. Commitment leads to hope, and hope may lead to commitment. The odd cycle of events in Fountain kinda reflects that, I think. But what do I know? The divorce papers haven’t been served yet and I’ve never been to South America.

It’s all really engaging here, especially since Aronofsky isn’t trying to beat our heads in over his latest project. By the by, was Fountain his attempt at a summer blockbuster? Sure, it dropped in late November, but had all the hallmarks due for a Memorial Day release. I think I got this impression based on how BIG the world(s) of Fountain was. We had elements of proto-swashbuckling, Crichton-esque science not-ready-to-but-may-run-amok and celestial exploration. Such sh*t screams for popcorn in a multiplex in a 90 degree-plus soaked July Saturday afternoon. Why this was no the case was an idyll I scribbled down in my notes: “This movie placed me into a philosophical mood.” Such twaddle is DOA at the box office around the Fabulous 4th, yet somehow is welcome towards the end of the cinematic year.

What’s up with that? The Fountain was not any semblance of shoo-in for the Oscars. Sure, it had symbolism aplenty gone wonderfully awry, which is kittens lapping at the saucer for the Academy. It was what I dubbed “automatically stylish,” which such an idea should on the flip side inform the palsied Academy, “Hey, check this out…” It was well-crafted, intriguing and deep in the best sense without pretense. Best of all: no damned evil carnivorous fridges.

It was lovely. Beautiful. And thanks to the script and acting, accessible. An adverb and two adjectives I’ll bet Aronofsky never considered prior to this film. We may have squirmed with praise about a number that has no end and witnessing meatball surgery on Jared Leto, but with Fountain we should squirm with delight and awe.

Good work here. And I reiterate, one of my fave paintings is Dali’s The Temptation Of Saint Anthony. Kinda abstract.

Believe it or don’t, The Fountain is director Aronofsky’s most accessible picture…

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s great, if you make the commitment. And the time. Get it? The time? I’m so clever and obnoxious.

Stray Observations…

  • “I just need to dig a little.”
  • A bald Jackman does a Kain make. Get it? “Cain?” Oh, whaddya know from witty?
  • Hwoo… Is he dead?”
  • It’s amazing how a sense of relief cascades.
  • Couldn’t help but feel that Jackman’s portrayal of a conquistador was spot on, if only by Hollywood standards. Hugh’s was of good standard.
  • Aronofksy crammed a lot into a mere 90 minutes. It felt miles long. This is a good thing.
  • “There’s time. We have time.”
  • Mark Margolis was a character actor I’ve adored without never learning his name. Until now. Thanks, Darren.
  • Aronofsky’s pulling a Shyamalan here. In a good way, don’t sweat.
  • “I’m here…for her.”
  • I penned this scribe with my left hand in a brace. How’s the penmanship? I’m a righty, BTW.

Next Installment…

If LiLo has to abide by another, obnoxious Georgia Rule she’s gonna lose her sh*t. And her career. And her sobriety. And…

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 57: James Mangold’s “The Wolverine” (2013)

The Wolverine

The Players…

Hugh Jackman, Rila Fukushima, Tao Okamoto, Hiroyuki Sanada, Svetlana Kohchenkova, Will Yin Lee, Brian Tee and Famke Janssen.

The Story…

The nigh-invulnerable X-Man travels to timeless Japan to pay a debt. One personal and one very personal. Finding himself vulnerable for the first time and pushed to his limits, our man Logan confronts lethal ninja against his inner struggle with his own death just beyond reach.

Just another day at the office for our fave Aussie-cum-Canucknucklehead.


The Rant…

This is something I haven’t done in a while. For the unaware, please refer to the Young Adult installment. And also please be patient. We’ll have a weenie roast come sunset.

First Intro (1.1)…

Aren’t you sick of R-rated movies sweetened into PG-13 ones for the sake of profit over art? Me too. Or maybe you’re vaguely aware of it. Or perhaps you just want the humble blogger to shut up and get to watching your Jennifer Aniston binge marathon (gotta wince through The Break-Up one more time, y’know).

Hold up. I wasn’t talking being aware of the dumbing down of high-end, straight off the assembly line, Ah-nuld in his prime, Paul Verhoven/Brian de Palma grunt fests with lots of action, profanity, violence, the occasional tittie shot and lots of action. Well, perhaps a smidge. What I listed were (and very rarely still are) hallmarks of movies that would garner an R rating. Stuff aimed at grown-ups, mostly mature and sometimes partially educated. Violence, sex, profanity, heady drama, crude jokes and things that are just, well, above kids’ levels of comprehension (save your doltish blogger who watched the original Die Hard every summer afternoon before he started high school. Yippi-ki-yay). Movie entertainment made for grown-ups, plain and simple. Let the kiddies under 17 f*ck around with G to PG-13 flicks. Mom and Dad need to watch The Godfather trilogy again. Well, maybe not third one.

Now, two things first. That aforementioned word “sweetening.” Ever hear of it, beyond Willy Wonka’s factory? It’s a term from the Golden Age of TV. Sweetening was using a grab bag of gifts and gizmos to spruce up an otherwise ordinary program. Laugh tracks were popular, and used well into the 80s. It was also called “canned,” either for being pre-packaged chuckles made in a recording studio acres away from the sound studio of Night Court (and I adored Night Court), or just sounded fake (like on every episode of MASH. Christ). The pre-digital Auto-Tune/Photoshop. Other tricks included tightening up the soundtrack, make it looser or harder as the scene demanded (or simply needed) or just exaggerating sound effects. Law & Order‘s signature “duh-dun” sound bite is a prime sweet example, and has become inextricable from TV audiences minds as the cue towards deeper, mysterious intrigue. It makes me pine for the days of Briscoe and Logan, but Jerry Orbach is gone so no-one can put Baby in a corner ever again. Duh-dun.

In any event, sweetening enhanced TV programming in a myriad, but subtle ways. Almost subliminal if you think about it. In hindsight, TV sweetening might have conned audiences at home into believing they were watching a better program than they actually were. Maybe.

Something tells me though that over the past decade, Hollywood got hip to this old school gag of sweetening movies that would otherwise be regarded as flat, derivative and frankly couldn’t cough up the cheddar. But instead of adding malign Easter eggs they threw ’em in a basket and hoped moviegoers wouldn’t notice.

Most didn’t. Don’t. But more on that later…

Second Intro…

When I was a youth I guess you could’ve called me a Nipponophile. That was a term I cooked up to describe myself as an amateur student of Japanese culture, both pop and ancient. Morphed from the term “Anglophile” and all those obsessed with cricket and crumpets and all things UK to suit my own needs. Nippon was the old skool, ignorant European name for Japan. So clever was I co-opting that.

My first introduction to Japanese culture was waaaay back in the third grade. School project. Solo. World culture. Pull a number out of a hat and—boom—get on to becoming an expert on Cuba in three days. Here’s a mug of coffee.

I got the Land of the Rising Sun. So as any third grader chained to a history project off I went to the school library (sometimes even the big people library. Ooooo) to do my research. Thirty years on I don’t remember much of the assignment. The fact that I remember even doing it at all surprises me. Must’ve been the coffee.

I figure it stuck in my craw was what I uncovered how so fundamentally different the Japanese were compared to us Americans. Our cultures share a lot of similarities, sure. Especially when it comes to blatant capitalism and alcohol abuse. But overall I learned that East doesn’t necessarily ever meet West. It’s a good thing.

I’m not gonna slag American culture here, no matter how much of a orchard we have of low hanging fruit. Thinking people already know what’s cool and what stinks about these our United States. But let us consider for a moment the fundamentals that make up our often petulant culture against what little I properly know about Japan’s.

This has a point, I assure you. Be patient and remember how I sat beside with you post-op after that cyst was excised from your moving right along.

Here’s a basic one: religion. In America it’s one of the key matters that made the founding fathers to tell the Church of England to get bent. Don’t tell us how to worship, you punters. Even as secular the Union has become (and if you’ve been paying attention to the Trump campaign trail), a lotta Americans take Jesus and his Dad’s teachings quite seriously. Sometimes too seriously.

*insert inflammatory, heathen one-liner here*

Despite whichever side of the line you fall behind, America is a myriad of faiths. We make room for Christians, Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians, Trekkies, you name it. How we worship and deem a higher power as so is still a big deal in America. Despite all our technological advances and avarice warping our moral judgment, JC is still OK. And that’s nice.

In Japan we have a different story. That and only about 3% of the Japanese are Christian, yet almost everyone celebrates Christmas there, not unlike in the US: presents, trees and booze. Seems fitting, after all Jesus liked his wine, spreading gifts of learning and compassion and getting hung up on a wooden moving right along again.

Spiritualism in Japan is a dodgy subject. They have their Buddhist and scant Christians, with their their delineated practices and ritualism, but the Japanese have their own more or less homespun “religion” that most adherents don’t outright commit to.

Now keep in mind again, third grade. I have no fact checking department. I am the fact checking department, so sh*t often gets muddled. However since this a social metaphor I’m working on here, go with it and shut up.

Shintoism is a rather eclecticbelief that most Westerns cannot wrap their heads around. From what I’ve learned about Shinto, seems most practitioners are themselves constantly rectifying the spiritual against the secular. When asked what Shinto is, most adherents discuss nature and spirits and reverence to both and that’s it. There’s no one real dogma and the best way to explain a holy spirit is to acknowledge something as just that, solid and/or ephemeral. Acknowledgement of holy places or objects are either specified by a strategically erected torii gate to announce the presence of a kama or draping a talisman called an ema around a figure of spiritual significance.


Right. Like I said, me no Shinto scholar. But it all sounds so very alien to American ears. Probably just as much as Christianity sounds to your average fishmonger from Kyoto. Left from right, this cross-cultural boondoggle.

Faith ain’t the only thing that separates them from us. Of course entertainment, particularly (duh, which blog is this again?) movies. Keeping it quick after my gospel according to RIORI, we Americans want a sci-fi fix? Call the Wachowski brothers, nab Channing Tatum, drum up a budget along the lines of the GDP of the Gambia and get that location director to Jupiter, stat! And cross your fingers.

In Japan, hand it over to Miyazaki-san, and Ghibli Animation always scores. Nary a stuntman to be found. And anime is aimed at everyone, not just the kiddies. Don’t get me started on how the salariman pore over manga on the train to Shibuya each morning.

(BTW, I kept the last bit short because we’ll be mincing movies down the line. That and I was too lazy to expound on it any further. My rules, neener neener.)

One final (and very potent) difference in American versus Japanese culture is how each society regards age. In America, growing older is anathema and most go to great—sometimes stupid—lengths to keep the Grim Reaper at bay for as long as the botox treatments hold. Plastic surgery, lifetime gym memberships, kale and denial are prime examples of battling the march of time here in the USA. Youth is the stuff of potential and social awareness, the open road of opportunity, oysters and such. We Americans are big on doing stuff with our lives (as questionable as some of that sh*t may be. Can we say playing Pokemon Go as career?), and ever advancing age reminds us that sadly potential can escape us all too soon. Sad but true. I might recommend a tonic to that by quit reading this blog and run out an adopt one of Jolie’s kids. Might.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific…

The Japanese, like many Far East cultures, venerating age and wisdom across a lifetime rather than spend years accruing FaceBook friends is unquestioned. Oh, BTW, most of those friends aren’t. If you were older and wiser you’d know that by now. Now go adopt one of Jolie’s kids.

But seriously, there is a quote I recall that is akin to the Japanese respect for their elders. It goes something like when an old man dies, a library is lost. Something like that; wish I could remember the source. No matter. Knowledge is power they say, and real knowledge (if you’re lucky and cagey enough with yours) takes years to gather, not to mention being smart enough how to dispense it at the proper time to the proper audience. Takes patience, I suppose. Patience most gaijin don’t have, nor is encouraged.

So what’s the point of this dissection of differences between cultures and how does it relate to this week’s film? Well picture this, me amigos, it’s happened before, it’ll happen again, it’s happening right now. Culture clash. What happens, really happens upstairs when a Westerner (perhaps a Canuck with unusual talents in the area of claws, healing and hairiness) gets plunked—perhaps exiled even—in an alien, Eastern culture? A person who has no issues with aging, who has seen several lifetimes of experiences drip off the blade and who can’t see an end in sight. Shintoism as ancient reverence for nature. Entertainment as fleeting yet deeply, deeply entrenched in the basal needs of a people; to see themselves as who they truly are (or may be). All such hoodoo almost lost on such a person, but still wise enough to make the connection somehow. Must get dizzy.

Didn’t learn all that in third grade. Learned a lot of it from reading manga.

Er, X-Men comics. Sorry to get muddled…

Third Intro…

Back in 2ooo I caught the first X-Men movie. I dragged my buddies to see it despite them not being well-versed in the canon. Or comic books in general, for that matter. Still, we all struck out for the multiplex to get acquainted with song and dance man Hugh Jackman unsheathe some claws and battle Sabretooth. Good times were had overall, and Rebecca Romijn well you know.

Again, this was 2000. Marvel’s year one into the foray of film. Well, I should say year two, since Wesley Snipes slew vampires in Blade two years prior (still a go-to movie when I feel like a movie but don’t care what), but who’s counting? Anyway, Blade was the acid test to see if comic book movies were a viable option bringing the medium to the unwashed masses. Since two sequels followed one could argue this as an affirmative.

So two years later—boom—Capt Picard as Prof X. The prototype passed, and mass productioned beckoned. For good and for ill. Pretty soon we had Tobey Maguire as Spidey for three flicks. Michael Chiklis as the Fantastic Four’s Thing (a brilliant bit of casting if you ask me). Ron Perlman in all his chili-drenched glory as Hellboy. Chris Nolan coaxed Batman back from the brink. Superman showed up again, spitcurl in tact. We hunted Jack The Ripper in From Hell. Christ, even Watchmen (Watchmen!) made it to the silver screen. Same with 300 and (ugh) The Spirit. The floodgates had opened, and there was no way to close the valve.

One could assume that comic book fans delighted in seeing their heroes up there on the big screen. I did, for a time. But sooner or later everything reaches a saturation point. Mine bubbled up with (no surprise here) with Ben Affleck as Daredevil. Sour and silly film, but Michael Clarke Duncan was a stitch as Kingpin, I give him that. A bit later we had Green Lantern. Fun film, but kinda dopey and cursed by Ryan Reynolds. And the aforementioned return of Superman was lame and disappointing. Spidey 3 was a dizzy headache (and the all too soon reboot felt like a band-aid. The new Fantastic Four felt like gauze). A few bright spots shone through (e.g.: the first Iron Man film, the first Avengers film, um, Avatar?), but for the past few years we’ve haphazardly been sifting through many haystacks.

I think we reached the tipping point with the Ant-Man film. Now truth be told I never saw the thing. By that point I gave up on comic book movies. I ain’t ragging on the thing. Can’t. Didn’t see it. But I did think that casting wiseass Paul Rudd as wiseass O’Grady was spot on, as was Michael Douglas as Dr Pym. But still, Ant-Man? The Hulk had two movies (both were tepid), but the green guy’s been mostly a supporting character for the better part of his comic book/film career (spare Greg Pak’s fairly recent “Planet Hulk” story arc). Ant-Man has been so secondary (in all his iterations), if not tertiary that for Marvel Studios to have the chutzpah to make a film about his misadventures can only scream to me “show us the money!”

Ticket sales. Box office cash, that is.

The heavy hitters had their time in the sun. Like the street thug peddling uppers: take two, they’re small. Then addiction sets in. Going to check out comic movies may not be addictive (then again who knows), but so much input can become habit, and the gentry seem to watch comic book movies this way if the box office sales say anything.

In a previous installment I spoke of when I worked at a comic shop around the time Spider-Man 3 dropped. In hopes of using the buzz to push product, I set up a display of old skool Spideys from the 80s when the web-slinger was sporting the black-and-white costume just like in the new movie. Didn’t sell a single ish, despite reasonable pricing (20 bucks for a 75 cent very fine condition comic is a good deal, believe me). But we did sell out of the action figures. This said something, but even today I’m not exactly sure what.

Yeah, I do. I’m not venerating the medium per se, but I feel most folks who are either casual or dedicated viewers of comic book films are more in them for the cinematic pleasure of super powered heroes thrashing super powered villains. They’re not into the same stuff on the printed page. Too many words I guess. We offered classic books. They opted for plastic made in China. Cheap thrills are fine, but they’re still cheap.

So now we can guarantee nowadays that month into month we’ll be barraged by comic book films so often you could set your watch by it. And by way of the websites I scour for this blog that delineate movie profits—both domestic and foreign—most audiences don’t seem particularly discerning when it comes to story, drama and characterization. They want the boom. And the more the merrier. Happy New Year.

We’ve reached a tipping point. A saturation point really. What was once a momentous thing (at least for comic book heads) has become routine. The forthcoming Dr Strange movie (of which I am curious about, but still) is penultimate for non-comic fans to take in the boom and maybe scoop up some drama et al. If they’ll have it. And let’s face facts, paraphrasing Thomas Jefferson, most people get pretty much the movies they deserve.

So when a rare nugget of mature, deep, well-developed comic book movie gets released? Hm. Well. According to what I said about myriad websites and their collective data, they tank.

I blame reading the books. Don’t do that. Just keep drizzling that butter flavoring onto your head…

First Intro (1.2)

Okay, now second thing second.

The following is about dumbing sh*t down, but not in the conventional way. It’s an extension of the first part of this intro (hence the title).  You remember, the whole sweetening thing? Welcome back.

Dumbing down is a popular—lately very popular—method from Hollywood to make would-be tentpole movies more palatable for mainstream audiences. One may remark R material into easy to digest, profitable PG-13 has to have just enough trimmed from a harder-edged script to ensure more folks (e.g.: teens) queue up for a ticket. That’s a judgment call, but I’m making it.

Here. Let’s take a look at the criteria that warrants an R rating in a movie. Violence, for one. Hard to argue that one. Don’t want to give the kiddies any ideas what to do with a corkscrew and a chloroform-soaked hankie on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Coarse language is another factor. I don’t take issue with talking sh*t, but I don’t want my daughter to mouth off at school and then mom and me be called in for a dreaded parent/teacher conference. F*ck that sh*t.

Sex is good one. The only reason I can think of is having to answer a lot of weird questions from the junior set, which responses would only baffle them further. Baffles adults too, for that matter. And I still don’t get our whole irrelevant, Puritanical unease with sex. Makes no sense to me when sex on film is pushed against violence on film and violence is more acceptable (you can see violence in a PG-13 flick. Sex? Not so much). The late George Carlin put it best when he said he’d rather have his kid watch two people making love than watching two people trying to kill each other. That seems sensible. Except when it comes to sub-R rated movies it seems.

There are other factors that garner a movie an R rating. Content either too dense, abstract, odd or just plain unappealing to kids. I have a hard time believing that any third grader is champing at the bit to catch a screening of The Imitation GameMy Dinner With Andre or Rashomon (I know the last one was released before the MPAA set up their arbitrary rules. I do not care). Let’s face facts: there’s enough Despicable Me installments out there to keep the kids busy while mom and dad take in the next John Woo or Lars von Trier epic. Here’s where I feel an R rating is justified, mostly based on when my teenaged stepdaughter (was forced) to take a seat and watch American Hustle with mom, who adores that film. Barring the REDACTED scene, she simply didn’t get it. She didn’t have to. Wasn’t kid friendly. Story was an R.

So what’s all this have to do with Hollywood’s anti-sweetening? Simple: profit. You can rake in a sh*t-ton more cash if you open your product to a wider market. That’s how capitalism works. You’d have to be a moron to expect to sell anything aimed solely at a single demographic, like for Speedo banana hammocks or durian fruit. Movieland has been stripping R rated films from the market so nakedly that virtually any movie barely toeing the line gets tweaked just enough to drop below the R line and therefore open up the gates. Regardless how soggy the product ends up being.

No matter how superfluous the content that brands a film rated R, such junk is often key, key in making a film for a mature audience, well, mature. And I don’t mean just the so-called controversial stuff that separates the little kids’ from the big kids’ viewing needs. I mean the essential smarts attached to more adult films (save most porn and anything from Eli Roth) gets diluted when PG-13 is applied. It also affects the timbre of certain, would-be grown up films by lessening any visceral impact one would usually get in an R movie when diminished for a larger audience. In sum, certain PG-13 movies feel…off. Stilted in dialogue, acting, the whole wad in the name of bigger ticket sales. Like with the overabundance of comic book movies, the numbers don’t lie.

So that’s more or less my say-so when I comes to Hollywood’s anti-sweetening. It’s not a new thing, BTW. Some past films had been deliberately rated down to cast a broader net, often with questionable results. And I ain’t talking ’bout no film called Pearl Harborwhich being based on a gruesome day of infamy surely needed an R rating. But it was a Micahel Bay flick, so there you go—or some of The Expendables movies, or a pastiche known as Poltergeist (and that little doozy was rated PG. In know PG-13 didn’t exist back then. Shut up, I’m rolling). Heck, even The Dark Knight was questionable with Heath Ledger’s joking histrionics.

No. I’m talking about a favorite, key movie that should have indeed been rated R: the original Jaws. We had two hours of severed limbs, drowned bodies and Robert Shaw being bitten in half. PG. Crunch. Sometimes the MPAA can really screw the pooch, but I doubt back then (barring any Bay schlock) these misfires were just that and not some scheming to empty peoples’ wallets. I hope.

R movies are very few and far between things on the movie landscape for the past decade now. There have been more sightings of Elvis. Does that rating warrant a healthy dose of mucking sh*t up for the crowds? Not necessarily, not even maybe. Does the compulsion for Hollywood to keep shaving away at scripts in order to line their pockets motivate this anti-sweetening?

Dunno. Go watch Insidious again. You tell me…

Whew. That was a lot of bullsh*t. Sorry about the stink. But all of it was relevant to this week’s grouchfest. The Wolverine has all three of the above devices. We got the culture clash. We got the irrepressible assembly line of comic book movies baiting us. We got some dumbing down when it was not needed (nor acceptable, really). Took a long time to get down here. Just wanted y’all to be properly prepared.

Now (drum roll), take it away, Logan…!

Forever is a long time coming.

The X-Man known as Logan (Jackman)—better known to the world as the infamous claw-wielding mutant Wolverine—has been carrying around that nagging belief for a long time. A very long time. Feels like forever. And he’s had to live with that, all the while churning with the inner turmoil that is his existence. Such as it’s become.

Logan’s a man of two worlds. Actually more like one. The first is his present. Self-exiled after the final battle with Magneto and his Brotherhood. Prof Xavier’s children triumphed, but at the cost of Logan killing his beloved Jean (Janssen). He’s quit the X-Men, leading a nomadic life, avoiding human contact whenever possible, controlling his temper and trying to rectify his difference between being a noble, principled man and an animalistic killer ready to strike at any moment.

The second world is the world of endless memories he’s been carrying around for time immemorial.  His past. Thanks (or curses) to his unique rapid-healing abilities, Logan may be virtually immortal. Imagine that. Sure, we’d all like to live forever, so long as we can forget the past and continuously move on, ever changing.

Logan doesn’t see it that way. He’s seen too much, learned too much and wished he could put a lot of it behind him. That gets difficult when “behind” never seems to get far enough away.

That’s a lot to ponder, and Wolvie has all the time in world.

But the present always has a way of tearing our wayward hero back to reality, a reality that never seems to stop. Despite trying to keep those claws sheathed and rage contained—if only to honor Jean’s memory—you just can’t keep a good killer down. In his (former) line of work, Logan built up quite the rep as Wolverine as gun for hire. He’s had more than enough time to so, and sure enough that kind of past has caught up to him. Again.

He’s located by Yukio (Fukushima), another mutant who can see the future. She scoops up Logan and informs him that an old friend (and one-time benefactor), Yashida Singen (Sadana) wishes to see him, one last time. Logan rescued Shingen back in WW2, saving his life and putting him forever in Logan’s debt. Well forever is relative, and Shingen is dying of cancer and his final wish is to repay that debt.

Shingen has built up quite a powerful tech empire over his lifetime. But no tech on earth can keep his aggressive cancer from killing him, not by itself. He figures he needs the aid of an old friend’s…unique abilities. Despite his age, Shingen still has a lot to live for, and he understands that Logan has had too much. Why not make a trade? With Shingen’s access to unlimited resources, he may have found a way to save his life and end Logan’s.

That’s a favor?

Logan mutant healing gene could be removed from his DNA and transplanted into Shingen. The cancer will be destroyed and Logan will eventually find rest. An end to the pain. Death. Nirvana.

This sounds all well and good to Logan. Crazy perhaps, but the idea of not wandering the world forever carrying around all this guilt, anger and sh*t seems worth a try. He’s gotta sleep on it though. Besides he’s also discovered he’s a guest of honor at Shingen’s granddaughter Mariko’s (Okamoto) wedding tomorrow. Didn’t see that coming.

Still contemplating Shingen’s offer the following day, Logan reluctantly attends Mariko’s nuptials. Feeling all the more an outsider grants him a certain station. He understands Shingen’s offer, and also knows that him being the lord of a massive industrial empire warrants some rivals. Rivals like the yakuza who crash the wedding and try to kidnap Mariko. Sorry Jean, but this will not stand. There’s obviously more going on here than a mere debt being fulfilled. It’s plain to see it all now, but with his endless life experience, could Logan have seen all this coming?

Hell, did Yukio see all this coming…?

I promise you now that the review part of this installment will be blissfully shorter than the above rant upon rant. Upon rant. You’re welcome. Now where are those hot dogs?

But really, tying all that aforementioned crap into how I dug the film does have some relevance now. Really. But I ain’t gonna gush, ramble, skewer and/or preach the gospel according to Logan here. Just touch upon prior convictions. It’ll all make some sense, somehow.

How? Funny you should ask. First off, The Wolverine is the first truly mature comic book movie I ever had the pleasure of viewing. When I say mature, I don’t mean for R rated content outright. There is a lot of that here (violence, cussing, kinda goofy aidoru come to life, etc), but the package it’s couched in is a tad more heavy that, say, X-Men 3. Then again after that abortion anything minus a blue Frasier Crane would only be an improvement to the franchise.

The R rated-ness (or potential R rated-ness) in Wolverine stems from the drama present in the film. And boy, we get heavy on the drama here. Sure, other X-Men flicks had drama in drips and drabs, but mostly it was used as bookends against thwarting Magneto’s nefarious schemes, then snikt!

Not here. In fact the action serves more like bookends in favor of creating a deeper portrait of Logan the lonely, tortured immortal. Wolverine isn’t about Logan champing at the bit to let the claws/animal free and let the Sentinel scrap fall where it may. This film’s the diametric opposite. Most of the film is Wolvie struggling to keep his claws (and ire and pain) sheathed. For those yahoos looking for collateral damage, pick up a Schwarzenegger flick circa 1987. We got some existentialism going on here, thank you very much.

This is decidedly not your usual X-Men movie. There’s precious little of the trademark splash and dash one expects to see with a mutant movie. In fact, there is precious little of anything that resembles a Marvel movie. Even with more “adult” flavored Marvel pics (e.g.: The PunisherBlade, hell, even Daredevil) there’s a taste of humor, verve and optimism. Not here. Wolverine is overall grim, heavy and ponderous. There’s a lot of existentialist musings, meditations on mortality and the duality of man (or in this case, hirsute mutant). Not the flavor in Columbus, Jubilee.

This all is a good thing. A very good thing. It’s refreshing to watch a Marvel movie for once that doesn’t play to the family. Wolverine, like the titular character, plays to itself, isolation and alienation intact. Hey mom, dad: don’t let the PG-13 tag fool ya. Just because the blue language and serious violence is scant (but strategic), this movie is tough on the mind, especially your conscience. It’s thrilling to the frontal lobes first and the brain stem second.

But Wolverine isn’t all about navel-gazing. I mean, would you want to watch a flick about Logan without an external rampage? Duh. This is still a comic book movie, and naturally with an anti-hero like Wolvie on the prowl there’s gotta be some collateral damage. The opening act sets the stage, or more accurately baits the audience. It’s intense, and a good hook to draw you into the forthcoming intrigue. C’mon, the bombing of Nagasaki while Logan is imprisoned in a pit? That’s some set-up there. It also sets everything up, domino-like, for the hard adventure our tortured killer finds himself in.

Virtually every scene of action—which are few and far between, for good reason—is tempered by reflection, and not with some silly reverie. Jackman exudes such reluctance and resentment for how his endless life has resulted in a lot of hurt, within and without, that every time Logan is forced to go snikt, his desire for redemption grows ever deeper. He may view his invulnerability as a curse, but it’s what he’s done with it that hurts the most. In sum, Jackman’s performance of his signature character this time out is less looking for action and more like looking for solace. Walking conflict that, and it makes for an all too juicy character study. With ninjas, of course.

As for the action scenes (which are breathtakingly cool), I gotta give props to director Mangold’s shrewdness. You make another Marvel movie about superheroes in a seemingly never-ending queue of Marvel movies about superheroes the audience has a lot of preconceived expectations. Biff, bam, boom, splat and spot Stan. Not the go-to for Wolverine. Like I said, the serious action is parsed out over two hours, instead making more room for mystery and drama. The action here is smart, not in your face and smeared all over the place like a cream pie to the puss. The action here is also particularly smart by having key scenes injected at strategic parts to not only enthrall the audience (like with the awesome bullet train sequence) but actually move the story along. To me it says a lot about an action director to know when to apply action and to what end and not go overboard with a lot of sharp, superfluous visuals. Granted Wolverine has a lot of great, sharp visuals, but X-Men 2 this ain’t. Hell, Stan didn’t even make a cameo. Then again he didn’t create Wolverine. Sorry.

After extolling Wolverine for the past few ages, I would only be prudent if I pointed out the film’s downfalls. Now there were no overt issues I took with the flick. The action was great, the story was engaging and the characters (especially our hero, which I’ve never seen so fleshed out before with the franchise) were truly three dimensional. In a sense, despite the passed years, Wolverine held true to the spirit—if not the execution—of Frank Miller and Chris Claremont’s mini-series back in the 80s which ostensibly the movie was based. The tricky part there is with adapting any book to screen is some concessions have to be made. Miller is known to be very exacting in his writing (and you’d need to know your feudal Japanese history for this one), but a lot can change in styling between 1983 and 2013. Mangold and crew had to tamper with the original script to make the movie palatable to modern audiences. A necessary evil, I know. Still I think it would’ve been cool if the movie retained the funky stylizing of the original comic. A personal thing, take that or leave it.

The only other issue I took with Wolverine is the final act. Here the film becomes your traditional superhero conflict: good guy thwarting bad guy. Don’t misunderstand me, the final fight still retained all the smart action goodness up until that part, but I got the impression that Mangold was throwing a sop to a dyed-in-wool, very patient comic book film audience. Running over 2 hours, the typical fan with the attention span of a gnat on crack you better be patient for a big payoff. I have an attention span—maybe that of a fruit fly—but I could’ve done without the pat battle sequence. I was no less exciting than what came before it, but I’d’ve rather had something less “safe.” The movie was already rich and edgy enough without having Logan tear it up with REDACTED in a sort-of bread and circus maneuver. On the flipside, the final scene either paid homage to a traditional Japanese drama, or did just that. Not a bad cap, really, but still safe.

A final thing (finally). Although technically Wolverine did not tank at the box office—it paid for its budget four times over, therefore warranting a sequel. Be on the look out for Logan in 2017. You’ve been warned—that doesn’t mean it was beyond my scrutiny. Most of its reviews were positive, albeit mixed. Ah, this is where The Standard rears its persnickety schnozz. I think I know why the film got a few raised eyebrows. It required patience, and a need to put aside all your were familiar with regarding comic book movie tropes. I say again, this ain’t yer daddy’s X-Men film. Then again with film’s skirting an R rating, existentialism and ultimately heavy on the drama over non-stop thrashing (which I repeat was the key to the great action sequences), Wolverine being not your metaphorical father’s comic book movie made it all the better. A palate cleanser to crazy costumes, cheap one-liners and over the top clownishness. All that jazz is welcome in a comic book film, but sometimes you gotta tuck away the cape. Maturity makes childhood seem all the sweeter in hindsight, after all.

So here’s for maturity in comic book films. Am I saying we need more of this with the onslaught of comic book films barreling down the boulevard? Once in a while. At least once in a while to wipe away the scales and reboot yourself for Ant-Man. Or Doctor Strange. Or Logan. Or Blade On Ice.

Um, that last one was a joke, people. Step away from Fandango or you get the claws.

One more time: snikt!

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Awesome. Finally a mature comic book movie that means mature, namely in construct and not a Deadpool-esque scatological audience baiting. If you have the patience and quit tweeting for a microsecond. There’s ninjas, BTW.

Stray Observations…

  • “Funny you should ask…”
  • On the scene where Yukio picks up Logan: that a nod to the first movie when Logan picks up a wayward Rogue after a bar brawl? Perhaps, then againI tend to look too deeply into things.
  • “Hip replacement!”
  • Like the pin bed.
  • I’ve always wondered how Wolvie bends his elbows and/or wrists when his claws are sheathed. Surely there are a million fanboys out there with reams of theories as to why or why not. Get a girl already.
  • “Where is the security?”
  • The still standing torii after the Nagasaki attack says a lot beyond this film’s context.
  • Hiro Sanada, the Japanese Edward James Olmos.
  • “Go f*ck yourself, pretty boy.” Hell. Yeah.
  • Almost R rated. Almost.
  • “Uh-oh.”

Next Installment…

Woody Allen sends a postcard To Rome, With Love. Aw.

RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 14: Domenic Sena’s “Swordfish” (2001)


The Players…

John Travolta, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle with Sam Shepard and Vinnie Jones.

The Story…

Either Gabriel Shear is a brilliant revolutionary or some nut who’s read one too many Ayn Rand novels. He’s determined to get his mitts on $9 billion in a secret DEA account so he can use it to fight terrorism, or so he claims. He may lack the hacking skills, but is exceptional in the HR department. So he recruits—read: blackmails—encryption expert (and supposedly reformed felon) Stanley Jobson to digitally crack the government mainframe. Okay, maybe Gabe’s read Snow Crash too often, rather.

The Rant…

It’s been a week.

I understand a lot of blogs delve into the personal. Almost all do. RIORI was decidedly not to be one of those kinds, outside of personal takes (and attacks) on questionable cinematic efforts. But I am not made of stone, and personal things happen. First and foremost, blogs are, quite simply, designed for venting. So, three things:

First, my wife is ill.

Second, Tommy Ramone died.

Third, you ever have a movie you wanted to like based on, say, vague reputation alone? I mean a movie that had repute for being…somewhat off kilter. Views of it were so divisive you told yourself, “Hell, I gotta check that out!” So contrarian you just had to make up your own mind, regardless of eventual irrefutable proof that the movie was indeed a bucket of doggie-doo? Ha! A challenge!

No? The hell you say.

A few months back I tackled a film that fell under that criteria. It was Lady In The Water courtesy of M Night Shyalaman (stop groaning). There was a film with such a wonky premise, it just had to be either misunderstood or just plain quirky, designed with the MST3K crowd in mind. You just wanted to like it, and like a clean wipe after battling it out with Taco Bell, it just did not come through. You’re welcome for the visual by the way.

Before I get even more obvious in my opinion about Swordfish, here’s what happens…

Stan Jobson (Jackman) is washed up. And in need of a wash, appropriately enough. Living low on the totem pole does not suit him, but it suits him better than lockdown in federal prison. Stan used to be one of the most feared computer hackers in Christendom, but as in cybercrime is wont to happen, you get sloppy, you get busted. Stan was sent away to Leavenworth for a stint. In the interim, he lost everything, home, life, freedom and family. Now he churns out a meager existence as a grease monkey for oil rigs. No glamour there, and a far cry from cyberspace to which he is permanently banned, lest he end up back in the clink.

One day, a curious stranger comes calling at his beater trailer home. A sultry woman named Ginger (Berry) with really great legs offers our downtrodden former cracker an offer. You want your life back, as well as your estranged daughter? Pay a call to her boss. He’s a man in need of Stan’s unique talents.

Gabe Shear (Travolta) is kind of a techrat. Better known as a cyberterrorist. An info broker of the blackest level. He’s got a not so hidden agenda of upending America’s data flow for the better of society, as far as he’s defined it. Stan’s the man to crack code faster than a jackrabbit on Mountain Dew. If Stan can bust into the US Treasury, the DoD, hell, the US airspace grid with nary a fart, then cracking for the “greater good” should pose no challenge. Under Gabe’s promises and afforded clout, maybe Stan can get his record expunged, his daughter back and perhaps a slice of the pie he could get under the aegis of the Bill of Rights rather than Honor Among Thieves that has done so well for him.

Sounds like Easy Street, right? But as with Gabe’s agenda, there are hitches, catches and bugs to unwire. As Stan jacks back into the matrix, he fast becomes a pawn in a greater game of chess that tosses zeroes and ones faster than the lives of average Americans or a madcap version of Pong. All in the name of the 21st Century balances of power…

Christ, this movie was stupid. I heard of its ill repute years ago. Perfect for Standard material.

Director Sena’s oeuvre has never been mired with the trappings of “smart cinema.” Mostly it’s been in defiance of it. And a lot of the time, his sh*t’s a good thing. Pure popcorn, lots of excess, just-don’t-think-too-hard-and-you’ll-have-fun kinda movies. It’s odd he never got slated to direct one of those endless Fast And Furious movies. But truth be told, I really liked his remake of Gone In 60 Seconds. Heck, the star of that flick wasn’t Nic Cage but the Shelby Cobra I’d give my left nut to own. However while 60 was an exercise in silly fun, Swordfish was just an exercise in silly.

There’s a very on-the-nose Matrix feel here. Like computers and their hacking are now still things of the proto-future. Look, I can jack into dozens of online sites, cleanly or otherwise. I’ve expanded my music collection a hundredfold simply by dropping twenty-five bucks. Once. Five years ago. If I’m gonna get busted by the FCC for claiming this (and I really can’t since I paid at the outset to do so, as well as sharing data I also pay into), I’m already at the end of a very, very long line of Internet abusers who can operate faster than the glacial pace of our government’s overseers who are still using pencils to rewind cassettes back into obedience for their Walkmans.


In other words, Swordfish’s idealization as future in motion was already outmoded by 2001. Hey, remember Napster? So it doesn’t hold up well with the Skype generation. And yes, I have a Skype account but never use it. Turns out I’m too ugly, even for cyberspace (probably because I still use the term “cyberspace”).


Swordfish has a forced sense of urgency. Tension in a story should be organic. The forces on the outside should nudge the protag into action naturally, not shove him into the head of the line like, say, in a movie queue. From the opening scene, as well as it’s executed (and it’s done very well, I must say), there should be no need for kick-in-the-balls action as Swordfish clumsily does, again and again. It folds out that all of the scenes of drama are bent over the railing with awkward action, like as if Sena suspected we needed a kick to follow the story (the cat-and-mouse tagging in the interrogation room scene being an ugly example) with splash that insults subtlety. It makes for a headache after a while.

Not to say that there aren’t some nice touches throughout the movie. For one, the pacing bounds along effoertlessly with very little hiccups. Another bit is that there is a plethora of post-millennial touchstones present, as if to deliberately set the stage (to become dated, though). Plus Vinnie Jones is a good actor on presence alone. It’s the thematic things that work well here. It’s called world-building, and essential to movies like this. Despite it’s now dated trappings, Swordfish uses a classic sci-fi device for a non-s/f movie: the world within a world. Better examples of this are The Matrix, Tron and to a quite lesser degree, Innerspace. Although Swordfish isn’t science-fiction, the sub-world of hacking and the black Internet and the culture that pervades it has a nice analog to folks who’d usually turn down a free ticket for, say, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. But future shock can only go so far to grab the audience’s attention.

By 2001, the Internet was as pervasive as athlete’s foot in a locker room, almost inescapable. Sena does provide a nice air of post-techno modernism, which does accent the paranoia and pleasure of computers reigning most of all of our lives. One scene I dug but don’t quite know why is Stan assaulting Gabe’s flashy banks of monitors and computers trying to hack code and gain access to where he should not be going. Jackman takes turns talking to himself, chain smoking and hitting liquor in a manic fashion reflecting the speed at which computer tech takes us. Then again, I might be looking to hard for smart in a film designed to be anything but.

Swordfish’s number one crime, despite wooden characters and really cheesy acting is the dialogue. The dialogue sucks. It’s laughable and clichéd and sounds first draft from the intern’s typewriter (yes, typewriter. That’s how low it gets). Save Travolta, and only very little, all the characters stumble over their lines like wading through a minefield with their laces tied together. This is especially bad on behalf of Jackman, whose US accent, by the way, fools no one. At least his was proto-Canadian in X-Men. Here he has no accentuation at all, just flatness. Cheadle runs a close second with his manic special agent jargon and tough guy posturing. I don’t even think Cheadle was having any fun chewing the scenery, and he’s usually a damn fine actor, eloquent, especially with delivering his lines.

And we’re not gonna stop whipping this horse. The whole damn story is derivative and stale. Ruined hero, chance for redemption, get life back, blah blah blah, clever rogue offering an offer that can’t be refused blah. It’s all been done before, and in much better ways. Sena thought that gussying up this trope with technobabble might make it seem hip. Listen, Hollywood gets in a few snippets of “cutting edge” tech speak and thinks they wrote the bible. Like tech, storylines can and will become obsolete—read: irrelevant—quite fast. Sena’d like to think he’s clever. He’s not.

Yep. Swordfish deserved The Standard treatment. Everything I had either heard or was implied turned out to be true. If you wanna rent this movie be prepared for a unique experience: a very trying high-octane action film that has plodding action tripped up by dumb acting and dumber dialogue. Yet it has good pacing. Go fig.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. This film is stupid. Mildly entertaining, but still stupid.

Stray Observations…

  • For the record, I did not co-opt Travolta’s opening monologue as the foundation of RIORI. Just a happy coincidence. Great minds and all, but I’m not crediting Travolta’s.
  • “You’re f*cking up my chi.” The perfect bumper sticker for the 00’s.
  • A lifetime ago the film to see about proto-hacking into the “information superhighway” was 1992’s Sneakers. Good movie, but now unfortunately dated. Swordfish plays out a lot like Sneakers in spirit, except here pro hacking garners a lot more T&A.
  • Halle Berry’s tits. There ya go. Yer welcome. By the way, there’s a film going on. Strap up. Also, what was the book’s title?
  • “I can’t drive this thing!” “Learn.”
  • Did Dell bankroll this movie? Doesn’t it simply illustrate how frangible their products are?
  • The title Swordfish borrows from a Marx Brothers bit from the movie Horse Feathers. It pertains to the password in order to get into an exclusive club. Trivia!

Next Installment…

Witness Lindsay Lohan’s career plummet even deeper into The Canyons.