RIORI Vol 3, Installment 78: Francis Lawrence’s “Constantine” (2005)



The Players

Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LeBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare, with Max Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vince and Gavin Rossdale (yeah, that guy from Bush).


The Story…

In a world ruled largely by what is and what’s not, an eccentric, troubled private detective with a taste for the supernatural finds himself on his latest paranormal-tinged case: an investigation of a murdered suicide victim.

Say what now?


The Rant…

I’m a lapsed Christian. Been so for quite some time, at least since dinner.

It’s not like if I fell out of love with the church (but she’s never returned my calls, so there), just away. I was raised Episcopalian, which is the American version of Anglicism, the church of England. Very similar practices, but with less heavy accents. Either way this branch of Protestantism is pretty straightforward: study and try to follow the teachings of Jesus, apply them towards peace and understanding to friends and enemies alike and attend mass every Sunday to compare hats. It’s a social affair as much it is a spiritual one. Enlightenment and handshakes all around. Amen.

As nice a sentiment as that is, over time I tired of church, but not tired of the above things. Definitely not the hats; coonskin goes a long way. Don’t misunderstand me here; nowadays I’m pretty much an atheist. It’s not the whole, “If there is a God then how come there is so much suffering yadda yadda yadda you’ve heard it…” Shut it. Bad sh*t happens because people, not some omnipotent deity make it rain on other people. This a simple construct as well as popular one for the ago non- or no-longer believer. It sure is trite. Call that mindset your typical “gateway drug” into questioning faith. It’s the Busch Light version of Martin Luther and his hammer. Still, that precept in all its iterations is a good question as to why some folks leave faith behind. Or pull a 180. Why is the world so topsy-turvy when most of us seek spiritual enlightenment? The whole peace, love and understanding matters of unity. What’s so funny about that?

*wink*

Even me being a lapsed Christian, to this day (and call it judgmental; JC would waggle a finger at me for this one) I’m a pretty good armchair/inflatable pulpit kinda rainmaker when it may why push comes to shove between faith up against the often ugly reality about living on Earth. The other plane can wait for now.

Although I’m not a believer in God, I am quite the fan of his son. Whenever I’ve read the Bible, the Four Gospels always appealed to me. Jesus’ best buds Matthew, Mark, Luke and John waxing poetic about their times hanging with the big man. Taken as a whole, the Gospels play out like a G-rated Tarantino flick. In so saying, John says, “I remember the time Jesus and me did…” Then Matt says, “Waitaminnit, that’s not how I remember it.” Then Luke raises his hand, “Uh, guys…?” And Thomas grouses, “You guys are full of sh*t.”

JC’s times with his apostle wingmen are a big road trip, with essential Christian lessons learned along the way. And with every good road trip you gotta have the guy that takes the wheel. In this light—as one of several—the New Testament is like a Hallmark card given at the right time. The Old Testament may be a series of cautionary traffic cones, but the next chapter is the open road, full of possibilities. I like that with Jesus as the wheelman. A guiding force for good without the messianic complex, so to speak. This I can get behind, with or without proper worship.

Then there’s that 180. The collective who takes the Bible’s stories beyond way too serious. I think it was Voltaire that said, “One does not read the Bible for its text.” Namely, read between the lines you dweebs. You know the crap I cited above about hats? Yeah. I figured out that there are two types of Christians. On one hand we have the believers that congregate to engage in both worship and social congress, trying to understand one another’s differences and find some common ground. On the other we have folks who’ve gone through the Book of Revelation with a highlighter. Yeah, I think I’d rather hang around the coffee urns post-sermon. We got enough issues already to waste time planning for Armageddon, and again you don’t need church to try and reconcile with all that sh*t. War, disease, fake news, GMOs, being actually concerned about Miley Cyrus’ career path. We all got our spiritual bags full of cracked eggs.

All that’s out there, and was another nail in the cross—again, so to speak—of me quitting the church. The whole “if there is a loving God” schpiel eventually found me as a cop-out. All that bad sh*t above happens in this world is caused by people, not crafted from some prankster on High. I figured if that one attends church to learn the straight and narrow, that’s a waste of time. You learn that path by wandering through the world, taking in the sights, sizing up what you see and hear. If you found the right path then you’d find your way to a house of worship. If you need to understand how to get along with people and two hours every Sunday fits the bill, you are a far more enlightened person than me or anyone that reads this blog.

Yeah, so the whole “making excuses” factor soured me. That and Thomas’ potty mouth. I didn’t believe I had to attend church to understand the basal concept of good versus evil, or how to try and get along with different people, or not burn anyone at a stake. Attending church boiled down to the whole hat thing again. I read the Bible on my own, most of which I dug. Understood JC was a cool guy, a philosopher and an agitator to the rather unbalanced status quo of the Roman Empire. No one needs to attend church to get all that. At the end of the day, I figured out church as that hat thing. Old hat.

One final significance that turned me off to church: the routine. Scolding sin and looking for the highest tree to lasso. When I was a wee one sitting in the pew (quit giggling), trying to soak up so much ballyhoo I could’ve sworn I was getting the stinkeye from the prominent gatekeepers attendant by the altar, not to mention the prelate himself at the lectern delivering tales of hellfire and brimstone to a quivering congregation. Needless to say, I didn’t feel right welcome. Not JC territory for me, even at the age of nine.

So what does all my mucky muck have to do with lapse in faith? Well, it’s not a lapse in faith per se. Despite all the nastiness on the planet and my cynical worldview, I still have faith in humanity. There’s still compassion out there, practiced by decent, caring people, Christian or no. Be it St Jude’s Hospital, Habitat For Humanity, Greenpeace or Black Lives Matter, caring folks with the need to communicate a message of trust and understanding to everyone is out there. Kinda like what our wheelman might do.

No. I lost faith in the church, an entity that was once open but is now insular, in bed with the state and casting out when they should be opening up. Not all churches are like that, but I’ve driven by many monolithic edifices dedicated to worship (most with Wi-Fi) and couldn’t help but wonder where all that money came from to build those fortresses on such prime real estate and where it could’ve been spent otherwise? Tax free?

Slow down there. Before I crawl any further up thine own arse about this whole struggle with belief, I’ll sort of wrap up with the following warm fuzzy. And it has nothing to do with my keeping Super Mario Bros on my NES on indefinite pause for the duration of one Sunday’s eucharist cuz I finally made it to world 8. That kind of sounds like religious fervor. Not a prayer circle or nothing, but what the hell, I was 12.

It’s about retirement, both literal and spiritual. Too much of everything, yet still committing self to spirit. Possibly a metaphor for bailing on the need for turtleneck sweaters between 9 and 11 in the morning on any given Sunday. We’ll even let go of the suspect prime real estate for now.

Recall overly stern minister I rambled about? After he retired I learned on the sly that there was a sort of witch hunt upon his flock. I knew I felt uncomfortable during service, and what was told spoke millions as well as calmed me. I was f*cking 9, yet in the swim of the hat checking that was floating around the congregation.

Turned out the senior members of the congregation didn’t want kids in worship; too much of a potential ruckus. Ban ’em, down to Seventh Level with ya little booger-eaters. Even as a kid I knew that was dopey. How are you gonna replenish the crop without fresh seeds? Not a direct quote there, but really? Segregation at church? Isn’t that a part of both what the Apostles and the Founding Fathers fought against (and if you can’t trust GW and JC then who can you)? So the proverbial seed of doubt was sown, and I was merely nine. Church ain’t the place to be. The physical building at any rate.

Fortunately the edict was short lived. As a kid—ignoring the witch hunt—I kinda found church comfy, albeit boring. We all went through the motions, sure, hearing about sin and redemption and WWJD? No joke here, but hanging close with all the parishioners felt good, like family Thanksgiving. It was probably herd mentality all the way, but I received some succor from the rhetoric. For a time. What I learned about the minister and his elite guard, church wasn’t the nest it was supposed to be. It was a crucible.

*insert dramatic tympani bellows here*

The game changer was the old codger’s replacement. He was a soft-spoken man, Southerner with a lilting accent and a bit of a hangdog. He wasn’t the aggressive peddler in sin and strife like his precursor, all self-righteous with St Peter on speed dial. No. The new guy was gentle, reserved and gave the finest sermons I ever heard. I was still a kid and at that time an acolyte who lit the candles and fidgeting before the altar during service (what with that massive reminding crucifix hanging over my head. Another good reason to dodge church: the possibility of being smitten), but had a keen enough ear toward a good story when I heard it. Brimstone or thankfully no.

Our Southern gentleman preacher’s sermons were the kind of thing I could get around, loaded with questioning and light on the sinning. Sure, he’d always start his schpiel with some Biblical references, but we were in church so it felt superfluous. Guess he was filling some sort of Episcopalian counting coup quota. But the bulk of his sermons were steeped in social commentary. A lot of it political, which flew in the face of proper sermonizing. Separation of blah and blah, right? Stuff like our leaders’ civil intentions towards their constituency, and were they walking along the path of the Savior. Or educators’ rolls teaching faith without “teaching faith.” Or the one sermon that really stuck with me (despite me being whelp cowing under the cross, literally and figuratively) was about divorce as sin. Was it? That covenant between man and woman under the watchful eye of God, broken? Don’t ask why some snot-nosed young snot like me paid attention, but that might’ve been our genteel preacher presented his sermon like some closing argument in trial court. He weighed the evidence, tempered it with just enough emotion to make it go down smooth and delivered his answer:

“Is divorce bad? Yes. Is it a sin? No.”

This frankness was a lot more assuring than me bound for the lake of fire for playing doctor with that cute girl down the lane. Kidding. I didn’t live on a lane. It was a drive.

It’s that kind of story, that kind of meditation on life, love and leaving that was mostly absent in my family’s church. I know now that I don’t need to attend mass to get my fill of Jesus’ many road trips, nor do I need mismatched worship against hidden secular agendum. I don’t need the teachings of the Bible as an excuse for humans’ deplorable behavior. And I don’t need some omnipresent overlord with His magnifying glass to ensure we all keep in line. That’s all bullsh*t. We’re in charge of our own destinies without churches, hopefully going forward with decency and common sense. That’s me.

To conclude, and in respect to this week’s wad of dough, there was that 180 I spoke of. I don’t really need to expound on those “true believers” motives, or motivations for that matter. I can’t exactly pin it down, but I’m sure I heard it somewhere, maybe in high school history class: Our puritanical Puritans who we asked to leave England and set up shop here had a very dire version of practicing their baleful version of Christianity. Their sermons consisted of hellfire and brimstone, to be sure. But to have to listen to passages of how much God hates you, you willful sinner. How you are a mere insect hanging by a thread over the Inferno, and the Man Upstairs cannot wait to cut the cord and only eternal prayer may—may—save your eternal soul, well that kind of mindset JC might argue against.

Good faith and good PR. Might be a better weapon against Satan and his mighty, tempestuous hordes of demons at his beck and call. Y’know, personal faith to thwart evil. Integrity over temptation. Righteousness over sloth. Belief against the inevitable.

Prayer against…


The trouble with knowing you’re wrong is that you’re often right.

John Constantine (Reeves) is damned. Damned if he does and damned if he does. He’s a detective. A very unique detective. He doesn’t specialize in theft, infidelity or even murder. No, not outright. He specializes in weird crimes that no one else can handle. Mostly because they involve the supernatural, the occult and slapping demons in the puss.

You see, John has the ability (maybe curse) to see what the normal world can’t. Or won’t. Demons, angels and everything in between are naked to him, as are the crimes on this plane they commit. He takes on the odd cases involving exorcism, magic, ley lines out of whack and nasty imps from the underworld hell-bent of corrupting mortal beings. It can get messy.

And not just in the ectoplasmic sense. Detective Rachel Dodson (Weisz) seeks out John’s unique talents.  Turns out her sister Isabel (also Weisz) after being committed to an asylum takes a swan dive into the facility’s pool. From ten floors up. Rachel refuses to believe this was a suicide, them both being devout Catholics. Isabel would never take her own life, no matter of disturbed she may have been.

Rachel suspects some otherworldly force drove Isabel to jumping. At first, John is skeptical. Sound like a traditional suicide to him. But over the week since, and weird demonic crimes popping up at an inexplicable rate, there might be something…unnatural attached to Isabel’s death.

Maybe supernatural might be a better term.

So John lights up and also lights up…


We never talked about the occult or the paranormal, beyond the devil’s antics and the seven deadly sins in church. Which is kinda odd. There are plenty of opportunities to teach the mortal plane about storm and strife with the addition of demonic activity to drive the point home.

Sure, there are significant tales from the chapters of the Good Book that highlight spectral incursions. The temptation of Christ courtesy of a jealous Satan. The temping snake in Eden. Even the donkey Uber telling Joe and Mary the way to Bethlehem. Lots of weird sh*t in the Bible as head-scratchers, courtesy of the paranormal.

Not much was delved into when I was a church-goer. Too bad, for if this element was examined further I might be still attendant. Why? Consider the nightly news. A diluted version of sin and strife to be sure, but also as entertainment. JC feeding Satan his hydra-like c*ck of his own ass? What leaves more of an impression? Probably more than the potential financial turnouts on NBR. Go invest elsewhere.

This week, I invested in Francis Lawrence’s Constantine for a fix of demonic incursion and intrigue. That and a little police procedural thrown in. I’ll admit, I was a tad bamboozled. Based on my viewing of Lawrence’s take on I Am Legend, I expected a weird amalgam of sci-fi, Lovrecraftian sensibilities and human drama.

Instead, and within 12 minutes there was a stink of cheeze.

At the outset, Constantine felt deliberately comic-bookyI don’t care if this film was lifted from DC’s mature Vertigo imprint, where those titles aim beyond the PG-13 crowd. Any hack can warp a serious comic into drivel if they don’t understand the nature of the medium. Fortunately, a great many filmmakers did get it (eg: Watchman, From Hell, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, etc), and were fearless in their execution.

Constantine has the stale scent of holding back met with fumbling fingers. Like clumsily unhooking a bra after prom.

Now to be fair, Constantine was cut during the fallow days when comic book movies were just beginning to come into vogue and most directors didn’t know what they’d gotten their hands on. Sure, some guys like Bryan Singer got it with his take on the X-Men and some guys like Bryan Singer didn’t with his take on Superman Returns. We’re talking uneven stories at best back then (if not now, come to think of it). There wasn’t a proper template established yet. From what I’ve observed most early comic book movies couldn’t—or outright wouldn’t—stray far from the “comic book” aspect of the movies’ source. The bombast, the action, the bing boom splat. The subtlety of Adam West.

I’m not claiming that director Lawrence wrote it in, but there was an air of Constantine playing it safe by delivering the straight line. What’s worse the film appears to be trying real hard to rise above the underpinnings that Batman And Robin staked down almost a decade prior. Barring any neon upchuck, Constantine overplays the action and undermines a lot of the human drama that makes comic book movies tick (as well as actual comic books). The first Spider Man flick illustrates this tenet. This lack (or at least, rather weak feeling) of organic drama and character development makes the movie feel strained,  compensating with lots and lots of F/X and speed while muddling the razor thin plot. It’s forced atmosphere of urgency. Simply put, Constantine is the first boring exciting movie about demons I’ve ever seen. Sure, I don’t have much of a reference point, but ride with me already.

And the ride through Constantine was a bumpy one. A lot of stalled pacing, like when a car slips out of gear and you have to turn the engine over again (my ride’s stick; best analogy I could think of). Like I said, forced urgency. Funny considering the balance of power between angels and demons existing on our plane with their tips and tricks. Figured those stakes would ramp up something. I said the film was trying too hard to be suspenseful and mysterious, but on the flipside I also felt director Lawrence was holding back. He was shackled to the preconceived notions of what—at the time—a comic book movie should be. Lawrence is a stylish director, but his work has a fair amount of substance only accented with style. I repeat, his take on the umpteenth iteration of I Am Legend was chockful of style balanced well with human drama substance. Seeing that film was a dire character study with only Will Smith and a loyal German shepherd as the primary cast for most of the movie, the guy knows the balance of the human factor against the, well, inhuman factor. Looks like with Constantine the human part got gobbled up by the inhuman splash and dash. But again, Legend was released after Constantine, so it stands to reason that the man might’ve learned a thing or three after this pastiche.

In retrospect, that’s kind of a shame. Again I profess that comic book trappings of the time undid a lot of this movie. Lawrence is too sharp a director to let things get out of hand, but again that comic book prejudice. Blame may be placed at the feet of test audience (I’ll have something to say about that Neilsen nightmare some other time), who may have wanted Exorcist lite, but with more boomy things. And that might be where Lawrence met some middle ground between “Slow down there” and “Get on with it.” I appreciated the restrained use of the slam-bang CGI action. Constantine’s descents into the underworld were swift and sharp. Plot points and not just some phantasmagoria to tantalize us with wanton pixels. I liked that aspect; it felt like evidence of how the action would play out in I Am Legend. Sparse and essential to captivate and maintain interest in the story. Worked for me.

Some more strained positivity: truth be told, okay. It takes a while; slow burn. Maybe too slow, but the intrigue eventually rises. Even if only halfway through the second act. I didn’t get where the flick was going. It felt aimless, lacked oomph. Where the hell are we going with this (so to speak)? Eventually got an inkling that Constantine was trying to be an action movie, not really. Forgetting comic book bias for a minute, the movie was in actuality a murder mystery, gussied up with Peter Stormare as REDACTED and minus a spine. It took a while to come to this conclusion, but I got. Then I tried to keep on to that. That was the tricky part.

Reeves seems a bit too slick to pull off gumshoe, paranormal or no. He’s been in the shadow of Neo’s leather coat a bit too long. Constantine is supposed to be gritty; guy’s like a paranormal MacGuyver. But he’s too smooth, regardless of how used to he is with dealing with the occult, demons, angels and maintaining a balance between plains. Reeve’s Constantine is irritated, not wizened by a lifetime of battling endless evil. And all he has to show for it is a hopeless addiction to cigarettes and their REDACTED. Guy should’ve been more pissy. Just saying.

Weisz doesn’t fare much better. She comes across as too willowy to be taken seriously as a grizzled cop, and eventually descends into reactive, damsel-in-distress territory. Sure, she’s easy on the eyes but her on screen time just grates. Despite her matter is the movie’s maguffin she sure seems overly passive in solving her sister’s “murder.” She’s a tag-along, made worse by her gaping over the supernatural stuff that is Constantine’s (stale) bread and butter. Too bad there.

But like I said with the supporting cast, ah, therein lies some rub.

I really dug Swinton as the reluctant angel, the oracle. Here’s a good (if not the only) example of mystery that the movie was ostensibly pushing. Her screen time was brief, but crucial. I’ve always enjoyed Swinton’s air of nervous dignity, codified by her later performance in Michael Clayton (check it out. I’ll wait). Sometimes less is more, especially in an overwrought comic book movie like this one.

Hounsou as Papa Midnite was a trick, the Huggy Bear of the underworld underworld. Sharp, flinty and has seen too much. Barely tolerating every aspect of his being. Sure, he’s the man with the plan, but the plan’s been leased out to “forces” beyond his command. Papa can see the horizon, but not the dawn, and makes no bones about that to our pretty hero with something on his shoulders. That and Hounsou is something our lead is sorely lacking: he’s tough.

What really surprised me was Gavin “Everything Zen” Rossdale as the schemin’ demon Balthazar. His show was quite affecting. I am as shocked as you may be that Mr Stefani could pull off such a scuzzy, intriguing performance. Rossdale’s Balthazar reminded me of a riverboat gambler: all about the stakes before the prize. His motivation was like that quote, “some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail.” Might sound high-minded about a Brit grunge also-ran’s acting debut, but he played his sh*t to the hilt and the rest of the cast should’ve taken notice. F*ck Razorblade Suitcase BTW. Don’t care what the critics said. Neither did they.

Erm, I’m gonna leave Shia as Spanky, er, Chas the cabbie alone. Can’t win ’em all.

Stormare was a trip. He’s always bleakly funny. From Grey in Fargo to the cosmonaut in Armageddon, his lot is humor, and always necessarily left of center. Sinister humor here. Even though his presence is made known in the third act, it was worth the wait, at least for this blogger who was biting his nails not out of suspense but of desperation (at least I was feeling something). Stormare was perfectly cast for his role, and played it to the hilt as well as teetered on cheesy. But good cheesy, his stock in trade. These supporting characters (even the annoying Max Baker) almost, almost redeemed this whole paranormal rigamarole. Can’t cross the Mississippi in three small steps and all. Splash.

Despite the sick supporting cast trying to hold it all together, Constatntie’s final act eventually devolved into murky/busy. Too many ends to tie up. It was as if Lawrence threw down his bullhorn, threw up his hands and just threw up. There was too much to wrap up in a few scenes, like a Buzzcocks song with too many lyrics and not enough notes. A tempest of sluggish, fast and harried. Yeah, we got our resolution but what the hell happened? Without giving anything away I felt all bamboozled. Not to mention cheated. Constantine felt muted at times, subdued, retrained. Then we flipped the coin and got jagged, unhinged action, not necessarily fun or coherent. Not sure in the grand scheme if this was the redeeming factor in an uneven paranormal crime procedural, or just illustrating the studio wasn’t exactly sure how to open this Pandorum. Truth be told I would’ve preferred more key restraint, namely with our cast. Like it seems with pleasantly schlocky flicks like this the leads grate while the supporting cast is cast in a more flattering light. Too bad even that appeal was so incongruent. Gave me a headache.

I know, I know. I’ve been real cagey with this installment; giving you mostly bones with very little meat. That word “incongruent” best describes Constantine. But it ain’t all a snarky labyrinth; my screed might be read as a passive way to suggest you all seeing Constantine without a lot of personal investment. Take it that way. Don’t misunderstand me (any more than you already have), this movie is subpar as both an action movie as well as a comic book adaptation. It does retain a certain charm, however; consider Constantine as an acid test for how far comic book movies have come over the past decade-plus. Sure, it’s heavy on the bombast and light on the human—and/or inhuman—factor, but there’s that charm thing hanging in the ether. Watching Constantine is akin to a one night stand: sure, it’s fun while it lasts, as long as you abandon all thoughts of commitment the next morning.

Don’t forget to leave cab fare on the pillow, fer Christ’s sake.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Cast this demon out. Sorry, Neo.


Stray Observations…

  • “You goin’ down?” “Not if I can help it.”
  • Always wondered what do non-smoking actors smoke when they smoke in the movie?
  • “I need to eat.”
  • Cow tipping (rimshot)!
  • “Two hundred dollar shirt, by the way.”
  • Okay. The tub scene was disturbing.
  • “Not bad, kid.”
  • “It’s called pain. Get used to it.”

Next Installment…

Once upon a time, there was an Irish vacuum cleaner repair man that met a florist who loved to play piano…

That sounds promising.


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 74: Adam Brooks’ “Definitely, Maybe” (2008)


 


The Players…

Ryan Reynolds, Abigail Breslin, Elizabeth Banks, Isla Fisher, Rachel Weisz and Kevin Kline, with Derek Luke, Adam Ferrara and Bill Clinton (by proxy).


The Story…

Young Maya is seriously curious about how her parents—currently hurtling into divorce—met. Naturally, she sweats her dad, Will, for the straight dope.

With a sigh and a need to get some sleep, Will recounts his romantic past (in a PG kinda way) with three different but still special women, Emily, April and Summer. All seemed to have a lasting impression on Maya’s beleaguered father, leaving her to a game of connect-the-dots as to guess which one is really Mom.

Some little birdy tells Maya that Match.com had precious little to do with her existence.


The Rant…

This may come as no surprise, but I’ve never been much for rom-coms. In fact, I should’ve dropped that decree back when establishing the Standard.

Nope. Never much cared for ham-fisted jokes about dealing with the opposite sex. Ditto the proto-softcore sexual dalliances of well-shorn, upwardly mobile, late-20s white people. The cute and winking social commentary. Jennifer Aniston. The whole wad.

But I won’t deny that I’ve found a few entertaining. Maybe even approaching good (shiver). Still ain’t made of stone here, and despite my typical frothing foment here, there’s always room for exceptions, be it at a vegan buffet or the occasional Taylor Swift single (I like “Shake It Off,” okay? Ten billion 17-year old mallrats can’t all be wrong).

Of course there are a lot of classic rom-coms out there. Often high water marks that every Kate Hudson vehicle aspire to be and of course fall flat because Goldie’s kid can’t act. Classics like the lovely (but bowdlerized Capote adaptation) Breakfast At Tiffany’s starring the winsome Audrey Hepburn and the dreamy George “Hannibal” Peppard. Reluctant lovers that find each other alone in the crowd that is early-60s NYC. There was the cynical Jerry Maguire featuring both bromance and wooing cutie-pie Renee Zellweger. Sydney Pollack’s Tootsie; unconventional, yes, but Hoffman was trying to get into Lange’s panties (that counts I say). Hepburn and Grant stepping on the tiger’s tail in Bringing Up Baby. And of course Annie Hall, the only rom-com to ever win Best Pic, although it didn’t have to. Woody Allen would agree.

Beyond my short list, there are indeed nice, non-drippy romantic comedies around. Few and far between, to be sure, since a great scorched earth swath of these beasties have been following a tried-and-true formula (read: one that sells the tix to gullible Americans) toward the end of time. Kinda like the Book Of Revelation, seeing St John was such a fan of pixie dream girls.

The aforementioned formula is as such, with or without Kate Hudson and especially with Ms Aniston. I base it on the Patton Oswalt bit about what all rom-coms are all about: our characters trying to f*ck. That’s the endgame, right? Crisis averted. Tab A, slot B, Holy mana chunky peanut butter. Sad but true, even though not many money shots get beyond a transaction with the teller. Need I remind you of the ticket taker and all right, got it.

But that’s true, even if actually see anything or not! Sure, we can get kisses and hugs at Chuck E Cheese any day of the month, but it’s the burnt pizza smell we want to a hang over us like a satisfying romantic caper should. Plots with fleshed-out, ribald characters. Basic—but not sodden—plots with room to breathe, letting in some quick “Hey there” now and again. An actual interest, if not concern, that our lovers find their way towards lasting commitment. The occasional side-boob shot. Whatever works in favor of the story.

I think a lot of rom-coms fall dead in their tracks not so much as to derivative…everything, but to trying to pander to our wizened expectations. Okay, you and I aren’t jaded like that. Okay, I mean you aren’t jaded like that. I mean…

*sigh*

*blogger drinks milk straight from the jug, passes it around*

Our jaded exceptions. Why do we watch such pap? Mostly like it might have to do with the wishes of our significant others, always with that box o’ Kleenex and pint of Haagen-Dasz at the ready (read: your girlfriend, regardless of gender). Maybe we just want a dumb chuckle attached to pretty people behaving pretty stupidly around the potential object(s) of their potential affection. Hell, maybe we just want to look at said pretty people. Unsure on all fronts here, but what can’t be denied is that no matter how hardened to reality we claim to be we all need a li’l giggle-and-snuggle now and again. Like I said: not made of stone. Neither are you. Admit it, at the time “you complete me” made you warm and the eyes watered, if only for a flash.

Let’s face it, folks, despite how diehard cynical we are, watching a decent rom-com takes our edge of for a short time so we can ransack the peasant village with a clear conscious tomorrow. We enjoy love, hope to find it someday, and may unfortunately face the wreck and ruin when your crush spurns you or you find the bed empty next morning. I guess we watch such drivel because, hey, romance is hard. We want easy answers. Matters resolved in 90 minutes. Ain’t that true of all movies? Patience pays, too. I took half of forever for Travis to whack Sport, and Taxi Driver—though well made—was a sh*t-tastic romantic comedy. I blame Cybil Shepard.

Anyway, I think the reason that most rom-coms are maligned is that they fail to transcend the tropes. We know what to expect. We still pray for a successful tab A slot B…again. We get clever and winking instead of earnest and “Hey there.” Yeah, they make good cheddar, maybe based on the Oswalt theory on the Aniston x-factor. Can’t say for sure, but if we’re talking about the bottom line, regardless of genre, the fluffy flick must have something to rise above the cheeze.

There’s often a pillowful of fluff associated with rom-coms. It’s almost the stock in trade. What made the above goodies, well, above is a good plot, sharp acting and a keen directorial eye, like with all good movies. Takes a sharp director and scenarist to throw the correct spanner in the sticky, sentimental works and maybe, maybe a smart rom-com will emerge. Maybe it happened here with Definitely, Maybe.

But maybe not. The thing does star Ryan “Deadpool” Reynolds here…


Will Hayes (Reynolds) is a modestly successful ad exec. Not his dream job, but it pays the bills. Bills like alimony and child support.

Poor Will is going through a divorce, to his college sweetheart “Emily” (Banks) no less, and is learning how to make the most of his time (read: visitations) with his young daughter Maya (Breslin). Like most doomed divorcees he asks himself how did it end up like this? Not just his dissolving marriage and the ensuing limited Daddy time, but how the hell did he lose some integrity and make his way in the cold, hard world schilling cereal punch-up to afford his apartment? And the impending alimony? And the impending child forget that.

One day Will scoops Maya up from school on his designated day. The school is awash in chaos. Parents screaming, kids howling. Is it a fire? Lone gunman? Cafeteria ran out of chicken fingers (again)? Nope. Sex ed. In an elementary school? Will asks no one, “Aren’t they a little young?”

Maya finds her Dad amidst the crowd. “We need to talk,” comes her plaintive demand. Yep, too young.

With her stern quip, Maya sweats Will as to how Mom and him came around to make the good sense to have her. Select day or no, Maya refuses to bunk down that night unless Dad explains who Mom was. She means really was. How did they meet? When did they fall in love? Was she really the one? It ain’t the most conventional bedtime story, but Will acquiesces and fields Maya’s interrogation, if only to shut her up.

Well, kid, there was your mom. Then there was your mother


Like I said, in order for your usual, drippy rom-com to come to life there has to be a modest degree of smarts attached to the story. I say that and also a blurred focus on the whole Kate Hudson angle. Namely, pay no mind to the couple canoodling behind the curtain.

What’s funny (and I don’t mean ha-ha) about Maybe is that said canoodling is well wrapped in the curtain. Almost non-existant. Wait, that’s not quite accurate. The curtain action is virtually an afterthought. While watching Maybe I formed the impression that regardless of all the textures and trappings it wasn’t trying to be a rom-com. The whole deal with Dad recounting possible mom against another possible mom to Maya was more of a coming-of-age tale rather than the Oswalt context.

Maybe was dry. Both in humor and delivery. A good thing, couched against my strident dictum regarding what often goes wrong with the usual rom-com. Namely, cotton candy and no cone to hold. And without my trademark snark, a lot of things can and have gone wrong with this maligned sub-genre. I won’t mention Aniston again, at least in this paragraph. This one.

Maybe was indeed dry. Like sober. No-nonsense, or at least very little. Sure, there was a share of being fluffy, but at the end of the day Maybe had some low-key dire consequences, namely regarding Breslin’s prying open Reynold’s shell (and she is so precocious in the best way possible. Think Olive). That invites the whole raison d’être with Maybe: it pries. It’s intrusive. It’s what drives the plot. It’s what my kid might call “cringy.” I didn’t laugh much over Maybe. I did cringe a bit, but for the better. Blame the arid atmosphere almost revolting against the typical star-crossed love interest factor. And let’s face facts, Romeo and what’s-her-tits has become hackneyed. Claiming that, one could blame the Bard for Aniston’s movie career (and no, I will not stop beating on her like a rusty cymbal).

The whole air of Maybe was drenched in shame and schadenfreude. Almost solely laid at the feet of Reynolds. Kinda odd saying that considering Reynolds here is uncharacteristically likable. I know, I’m just as surprised as you. His signature smarm is at bay, and plays the innocent here for a change (maybe the first time). Most flicks like Maybe come at you from a female angle. Not here, yet the movie shrewdly takes cues from above (eg: the diary scene). Will is not the most proactive “ladies man” you’d see in your standard whatsit. For that very fact, Maybe comes across more like that aforementioned “coming of age” story rather than a polite tale of chasing tail. It’s in reverse, besides the flashback sequences. It might be a film about finding oneself, except that our protag works the exploration angle reflected off of three females. Four if you count Breslin. I do. It was different.

Which may be why I didn’t roll my eyes (much) watching it. Wasn’t as much a chore like I anticipated (oh, how one suffers for their art). Like all rom-coms, Maybe is totally character driven with wobbly undercurrents driving the principals. What makes Maybe unique is a matter of arrested development. Past Will is only a fleeting distant from Present Will. All the naivete of youth never got lost with “maturity” regarding our chump. As an “adult” Will is still chewing over what his chosen path has led to, and with the wayback machine in full force thanks to Maya’s prodding, he’s made to examine his unexamined life so far. “Exorcise” is probably a better term.

And Will’s past demons—I mean women—do a pretty good job of defining where Will went. Their characters ain’t nothing to write home (or anywhere) about. Banks, Fisher and Weisz fall into the traditional female rom-com archetypes. Banks was the college sweetheart, left behind. Fisher was the wild one, perched in the cosmo mess that Will was virginal to. Weisz the free spirit, all artsy-fartsy possessing an allure far from Minnesota. All temptresses to Will. What made these stereotypes worked—barely—was how Will responded to their potential offerings. Most male rom-com leads have a definite quarry, whom are not only the requisite object of their affection but the Maguffin that makes the plot extant, be it Hudson or Keaton. Not here with Maybe. There is a real uncertainty (like with Maya’s questioning) as to who Will eventually hooked up—and stayed—with. Uncertainty since Will is still the wide-eyed, post-grad Clinton booster now schilling kids’ cereal. Don’t let the clothes fool you. Maybe is a rather earthy rom-com. Like Reynolds as modest, maybe a first.

I could go into the ups and downs of our female cast, but I won’t. For two reasons. One, theirs were where the sickly sweet smell of all rom-coms dwell. Their characters, gamely played mind you, were simply gamely played. Two, despite their relatively unique personalities, this was Will’s tale all the way. The ladies were both merely bookends as well as reflections of Will’s growth as an individual. How you like them apples? An existential rom-com, populated with three weird sisters, all named Inez.

Sorry. Philosophy minor. Moving on.

And moving on is all about Will. The guy apparently can’t (or won’t) get his emotional sh*t together. Small wonder due to the impending divorce. Smaller wonder why Maya’s all over her history like Rosie O’Donnell on a Big Mac. This push-and-pull between emotional security and emotional need drives Maybe, and rather than the coven’s influences crowding the scene, it’s Will’s shrugging that moves our tale along. From Ryan Reynolds! Far cry from Green Lantern, eh? And I still liked that trifle. Sue me.

All right. It’s that time. Let’s talk tech. We can only wring our fists so long over the Patton theory. Cute chicks and their wicked plans only go so far (which can lead out to Toledo regardless of your zip code). I gotta give props to the notable props employed here, side-boob shots or no (less on the no part, one hopes).

Of course there were a few tips and tricks I nabbed that made the film a little smarter that your average Aniston—

*squished beer cans go clang*

Sorry. That hurt. You’re welcome. Where’s the potato chips?

I saw some keen camera work here. Namely, precious few close-ups. Maybe is an open film, probably reflecting the “room for interpretation” theme of the story. That and its opposite, wide frames and open space, doubtless a reflection of Will’s chosen, uncertain and virtually never-ending stroll through life, love and leaving. I’ve often felt in my travels that technique—such as it may be—in most rom-coms feature a lot of face time dappled with dewey eyes and wide open expanses. Again, not here with Maybe. Even the most open shots are tight, almost claustrophobic. This is a character study, right? Will is always under the lens; why not make him solid front and center? It’s almost relentless, which also adds to the sense that Maybe ain’t yer average romantic comedy. I began to suspect that over the relentless 2 hours. Might not’ve been a bad thing. Trying to absorb that.

Also, there’s a lot of passive 90’s pop culture noted in Maybe. Might’ve been nostalgia speaking to me; I remember all the Clinton/grunge/nascent World Wide Web stirrings back then stabbing my squishy adolescent skull. Like a sharp orchestra with well-waxed bows, such tones hit the ears to the properly receptive. I know this was all a setup to have a destination for Maya’s interrogating Daddy Will about when and where, but we didn’t get swamped with the likes of touchstones MTV Unplugged, Pepsi Crystal and/or affordable Discmans. Instead we passed through Will’s doors, snapped at but never snagging our coats. There’s a lot to say for subtlety so beneath that one barely remembers to zip up before bounding reluctantly out into the rain. Did I leave something behind? Maybe. Must’ve been Maya’s questions. Bless her.

There was a lot of purposeful cheekiness here, too. Granted not really a technical aspect of a movie, but for this kind of movie—again, this genre—sour cutesy can work wonders, especially here. A lot of knowing, narrow winking is the expected death knell of any credibility a rom-com tries to attain, which ain’t much (I dislike the genre, all right? Quit reading then). Maybe‘s cheekiness is a disguise for being self-effacing. There is an uncertainty about the “right woman” threading through the film. A lot of “okay, now what?” It’s the “hey there” factor here. Play cute, implode later. Shakespeare played that card a lot, and it worked so well “Taming Of The Shrew” is still de riguer in every high school English class. Trust me, I know. I used to be a respectable member of society and not reeking of salami, beer and beer. Them errant cans be my underlings now. Tremble before me.

*belch*

Wrapping this whole gob up, I’m still not a rom-com fan. As a whole—let’s call it—they’re usually too damned schmaltzy. Maybe managed to avoid this. Don’t misunderstand me: this stuff is decidedly not my thing. But I kinda liked it. Kinda. Maybe still had the hallmarks federally mandated to address. Pretty white people in amour (okay, to be fair we also had a pretty black guy, but he was unattached). Struggles regarding communication and self-doubt. Running a little too long (not feeling, running. We were pushing 2 hours here). The whole deal. However Maybe quietly strained against the boilerplate. A fan of the genre, I still ain’t, seeing for a clever director/scenarist trying hard to steer clear of said genre’s trappings and generate a flick I’ll watch, three stars and a bouquet.

Even though I never plan to watch Deadpool woo Wyldstyle ever again. I’m a guy.

Place your bets?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Another mild rent it. I’m just as surprised as you might, might be. Blame or thank Maybe‘s not obvious unconventional execution. I blame Ryan Reynolds as not smelling of Van Wilder. I should thank just being a guy here with some…er, very little patience. That and I think Isla Fisher’s hot. As well as Breslin. Today! Breslin today! Jeez.


Stray Observations…

  • “And then what happened?”
  • Early 90s = Arrested Development. ‘Nuff said.
  • “Probably…not.”
  • I love the opening montage (the Sly song goes a long way, too).
  • Is Rachel pretty? My vote’s not in yet.
  • “You should get on your horse.”
  • Ever play the game/see the movie Clue? Wanna wager Brooks did?
  • “I make a living.” Couldn’t resist either.
  • Strangest pop culture study of Bill Clinton I’ve ever seen.
  • “You.”

Next Installment…

It appears that Viggo Mortenson has A History Of Violence he was ignorant about. “Luckily” he found the best, worst refresher course. Coffee anyone?


 

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?

*cough*

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.

*burp*

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…