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The Fountain (2006)
neat visuals, but an over-ambitious plot and a LOT of over-acting
It's good to see a filmmaker really reaching - but I'm finding more and more that, for my taste, Darren Aronofsky had better results when he had more limitations. I'm referring to Pi, of course, definitely my favorite of his films so far, and I'd go so far as to call it a classic of independent film-making.
I like Requiem for the most part, but The Fountain, to me, just leans a bit too far on the side of film histrionics too many times.
Hugh Jackman's performance is obviously a committed one, but Aronofsky seemed to direct Jackman to just 'act' the crap out of their roles, as well as the other actors - there's very little subtlety in their performances - which is certainly not to say that they aren't capable of it, and haven't achieved it in the past. Virtually all the way through the movie, the principles have these actions and reactions which are, for lack of a better term, over-the-top most of the time. One moment towards the end involving Jackman's character, without giving it away, prompted laughter from some in the audience I was in - and laughter clearly wasn't the intention of that moment.
Visually, Aronofsky certainly doesn't disappoint. The look of both the realistic and less-realistic scenes is pretty at worst, and thrilling at best. Again, though, too many times, it feels to me like there's no enough root in the story for some of the visuals to be justified. Great visuals are good - but great visuals can only be truly grant in a movie with deeply motivated reason to be there - by the story and the plot, in my opinion.
The story and plot certainly are interesting, and worth at least trying to track with - I was actually most engaged by the present-time story. I'm all for stories and plot that deviate from the standard formula - but I'm of the mind that it has to add up in some fundamental way for the viewer SOMEhow. Clearly it has for many - but it didn't for me or for anyone else I heard from at the screening I attended.
This is NOT a bad film - you can do much worse at either the theaters currently or Blockbuster. A lot of people clearly love the film, which is why I was excited about seeing it. I wouldn't say I was let down. While the story is rather refreshing in spite of what I consider to be its problems, and the visuals were nice, I expected more.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
he's done better
I might have more regard for the movie if I didn't think Tarantino accomplished more, and was just simply deeper, in his other films.
Tarantino the artist, in my opinion, was just a better overall communicator and creator in each of his other films. I really don't think "Kill Bill" succeeds on any level as much as the others, and I'm very surprised to see so many critics that are so seduced by Tarantino's technical skill in the film (which, indisputably, is substantial) that they simply fail to see it.
In other words, it plays to me like one of your less-liked episodes from your favorite TV show. Just not as strong.
For example, to me, the 'funny' moments weren't funny in Kill Bill, except for when the main character 'emerges' and heads across the street in Vol. 2 (I don't want to give anything away). I thought that was brilliantly funny...
But the guy who won't get the tea, the 'want some coffee?' thing, other moments meant to be funny just didn't work; certainly not in the way that they did in "Reservoir Dogs": 'You're gonna be okaaaaaay!', "Pulp Fiction": 'Royale with cheese! ha ha'', or "Jackie Brown": 'Killer had a 45. THEY want a 45.' From a TECHNICAL standpoint, many of the action sequences are fast and well-crafted and etc. There's much more that has to make ANY artistic creation resonate and work, though.
There are so many things that happen in the movie that aren't realistic from a character or plot standpoint. And, no, I'm not even talking about the violence. I don't want to give away details for people who haven't seen the movies, but there are so many times when characters showed NO REACTION to something quite surprising happening in the story. They just fought out their well-choreographed, well-shot, well-edited fight scene that was scheduled for that day, and it feels like it.
I wouldn't have a problem with the violence if it didn't feel like it just came form someone who likes to see violence in movies. If more of it had true, dramatic motivation for being in there (like, say, HIS OTHER MOVIES), I'd be more understanding. But, so much of the time, this just isn't the case.
The example that comes most readily to mind is when Thurman's trying to will her toes to move and her flashback somehow comes around to the Anime sections involving the heartbreakingly disgusting and tragic murders of Lucy Liu's characters' parents. From a character standpoint, his is a MAJOR cheat. Thurman's character is in no position to know this. Obviously, she DOESN'T know it, but it was a convenient place to put in background about Lucy Liu's character. The scene itself, to me, doesn't play with any AUTHENTIC dramatic weight. It's just "Hey, major anime bloodbath! Awesome! Let's just make it as horrendous as possible" stuff.
It feels like, much of the time, Tarantino ratcheted up the "Shock-O-Meter" which is much easier, and less respectable, than reaching for deeper and more artistically valuable details and plot developments.
Some people enjoy this kind of thing. For someone who likes movies for their storytelling, creative and dramatic potentials, it's nothing short of revolting and upsetting.
I thought Thurman was amazing, and I thought the Crazy 88s demise and the aftermath was pretty funny.
I thought the very opening was The No. 1 Most Gripping Introduction I'd ever seen in a film. Ever.
But I don't think the rest of the film lives up to it.
Secret Honor (1984)
Pretty good, though fairly cliché, with a whopper of an ending
I recently 'took a flier' on this movie when I saw the new Criterion DVD on the store shelf. I remembered really wanting to see it, as I am a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan (this film is where he saw Philip Baker Hall and decided he was the best actor in America), as well as a fan of Hall's performance in "Hard Eight", PTA's debut.
"Secret Honor", a film adaptation of the play, which also starred Hall, is certainly a worthwhile viewing, though I'm not exactly carried away with praises as some critics seem to be.
Hall certainly has more than a few exciting and inspired moments as former President Richard M. Nixon in this fictitious work that places him in his study for 90 minutes one night with alcohol, TV monitors, his mother's old piano, and various other elements that come into play.
But, for me, the piece just doesn't have much realism for a play/film that has a premise which is certainly plausible. Hall sputters and rages his way through what is clearly a very difficult role (Hall says in an engrossing interview on the disc that when he was originally offered the role, he turned it down, as he didn't think the role was possible for any human actor, let alone desirable), but the specter of Nixon does not seem to be evoked in much of an authentic way here for me. In this sense, I prefer Anthony Hopkins' Nixon (which ALSO has a whopper of an ending), because I feel the former President's dark, brooding core is masterfully portrayed by the Welsh actor.
Hall's bravado cannot be dismissed, however. I believe any real weakness from the piece comes from the original script itself, which places Nixon in a context I just don't feel he belongs. Why would Nixon take one night, years after the fact, to race through all of his misgivings about his fate, career, and life, in a rather traditionally theatrical way? That's just something that doesn't ring true for me, though some obviously disagree. I can't see Nixon doing many of the things that the script calls for. Truly taking on the awkward tag of "Political Myth" that it has may be of some benefit to viewers, though it's unclear what the term really means.
Altman has some very nice moves here, topped off with a stunning conclusion, which makes certainly makes this picture worth a look. At the end of the day, I'm happy to have it in my collection.