WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/27/2016

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (WIDE RELEASE):

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016): Alice returns to the magical land of Underland [sic] in another Disney adventure based on the beloved classic characters created by Linda Woolverton. Alfred Eaker is sworn to review this. Alice Through the Looking Glass official site.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Blue Velvet (1986): Read the Certified Weird entry! Did we mention that Blue Velvet is being re-released to commemorate its 30th anniversary? Because Blue Velvet is being re-released to commemorate its 30th anniversary. The NYC screening at the Film Forum is passed, but Los Angelinos can catch it at Cinefamily all this week. There will be more screenings as surely as the robins return in spring, but the only one we are currently aware of is June 4-6 at the Hollywood Theater in Portland, Oregon. No official re-release site. Blue Velvet at Cinefamily.

SCREENINGS – (Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York City, May 27 & 28):

Fellini’s Roma (1972): Read Alfred Eaker’s review. A rare screening of one of ‘s wildest films, which includes a Papal fashion show of epically tasteless proportions. Fellini’s Roma at Lincoln Center.

SCREENINGS – (Videology Bar & Cinema, New York City, May 27 at midnight):

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970): Read the Certified Weird entry. OK, now we’re sure the programmers at Videology are cruising this site for midnight movie ideas, since this daringly surreal Czech New Wave puberty allegory marks the fourth weekend in a row they’ve chosen a Certified Weird movie to play at their saloon during the witching hour. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders at Videology Bar & Cinema.

IN DEVELOPMENT (announced):

What Have You Done to Solange?: At Cannes, announced plans to produce (not direct) remakes of three sleeper genre films: the 1972 giallo What Have You Done to Solange?, William Lustig’s 1988 sorta-cult film Maniac Cop, and ‘s classic historical horror Witchfinder General (which, unlike the other two, seems like it would be hard to improve upon). Not sure how we feel about any of these, or whether they might end up being weird, but there is potential there. Deadline breaks the news.

IN DEVELOPMENT (pre-production):

Insects (est. 2018): has turned to crowdfunding to complete his latest feature, Insects, an expansion of a 1970 short about an amateur acting troupe putting on a play about insects. The sad, if understandable, news is that the 82-year-old Svankmajer has announced that he intends for this to be his final film. So far over $74,000 of the $150,000 flexible-funding goal has been reached, with a month renaming. Some of the incentive rewards are intriguing, including downloads of five Svankmajer films (in addition to Insects) for $50 ($150 gets you five new limited-edition Blu-rays).  Insects at Indiegogo.

NEW ON DVD:

“Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection, 1917-1923”: 32 remastered silent shorts from clown , including several we’ve written about here: the manic “The Play House,” “Frozen North,” and “One Week.” Kino spreads the presentation across five discs, with a supplemental booklet and rare footage (including a never-before-released alternate version of “The Blacksmith”) among the extra features. Buy “Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917-1923”.

The Chase (1946): It starts as a film noir about a chauffeur who takes his wife’s boss to Cuba, and then is accused of her murder; the third act takes it in a fantastic, surreal direction. If that synopsis alone isn’t enough to convince you to pick up this disc, then how about the fact that the film is championed by none other than 366 saint , who provides the audio commentary track? Buy The Chase.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

“Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection, 1917-1923”: See description in DVD above. Same features, same number of discs. Buy “Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection, 1917-1923” [Blu-ray].

The Chase (1946): See description in DVD above. Buy The Chase [Blu-ray].

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

Millennium Actress (2001): ‘s animated drama revolves around the memories of a dying actress. Thanks to Paramount Vault for making this available.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

THE ACID EATERS (1968)

Plot-spoiler police beware!

The Acid Eaters (1968)…

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock…

up the pyramid of white blotter.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock, Tick Tock goes the white clock and…

a man climbs down a tree and then climbs up another tree.

Tick Tock… telephone operators at work, Tick Tock…man stamps checks, Tick Tock… man paints pictures, Tick Tock…man pours booze for shaking, hungry awaiting hands, Tick Tock…

Whistle blows… man eats sandwich with mouth open, Whistle blows…toilet flushes…woman eats McFries with mouth open, toilet flushes, 60s chicks do … well, something, toilet flushes…Whistle blows…  TickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTockTickTockTickTockTickTockTickTock

Lather, rinse, repeat.

the_acid_eaters_1Peopledowalk. Carsdodrive. Therebeawhitepyramidofacid…People dowalk. Carsdodrive…Therebeawhitepyramidofacid…People dowalk. Carsdodrive… boomchickaboom, boomchickaboom, boomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchickaboomboomchicksintightminiskirtshuggingbuttsboomchickaboomguysintightjeanshuggingbuttsboomchickaboomboomchickaboom…wahwahwah…rusty trumpet….wahwahwah…dudes and chicks on harleys…adoo ado dodo… sniffle, sniffle…awah…dowah…do d…d…rahdowah…acid eaters skinny dip…

“Mumblemumble…I’m ready for another crash drive.”

“Take a deep breath Ally baby, I got 4 packets full!!!”

“You ready to fly?”

“Let’s crash drive once more.”

“SAVE IT FOR LATER SAILOR.”

Splishsplashboobsa’flashin’.

“Have I got the colors ! I’ll make a masterpiece. What’s your pleasure, treasure?”

“reD, RedHot.”

W…wwwwwwahwwwwah

runredpaintdownflabbyside… Wwwwwahhh. Gasp.

Chinkachongtototototototwahboomsplashsplishsplashtakinabathwahwahawahahramatamtam…

Plane flies.

GO LSD. See your travel agent.

splishsplash.

Still from The Acid Eaters (1968)Primary colors. Smokin’ ceegarettes  before da Lawd invents boob jobs.

Vince Guaraldi’s white blotter pyramid.

Theblondebabedoeshaveboobs. Yellowstripe. Bluecircle. Continue reading THE ACID EATERS (1968)

CAPSULE: PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948)

Where I come from
Nobody knows
And where I am going
Everyone goes.
– Young Jennie (Jennifer Jones)

DIRECTED BY: William Dieterle

FEATURING: , , Ethel Barrymore,

PLOT: A struggling painter has an artistic breakthrough when he meets a precocious girl whose very presence seems supernatural.

Still from Portrait of Jennie (1948)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Jennie has unusually fantastic subject matter for its time, and uses novel visual techniques to set a mood. However, the supernatural twist is an end to itself, the tone is reverential to the point of pretentiousness, and ultimately its gimmicks are not enough to shake off the slow pace and lack of real heat.

COMMENTS: Many a romance has been driven by the efforts of a pair of lovers to overcome some major obstacle to their destined love. There’s a subset of said films where the obstacle is time itself, a group large enough to be recognized as its own subgenre. Portrait of Jennie is an early iteration of these tales, a story of an artist whose muse (and love interest) comes to him from across the boundaries of time.

Audiences today are well-versed in this kind of fantasy premise. Clearly, this was not the case in 1948, as the film carefully walks its protagonist through a full investigation into the mystery of Jennie, a young girl who magically appears one evening in Central Park to inspire the artist and returns several times, significantly older on each occasion. The script— five separate screenwriters were tasked with wrestling the story into cinematic form—takes great pains to explain how the charming young lady we meet could actually have come from decades in the past. (The movie is less concerned with why Jennie is making these occasional skips forward; it’s just simply where she’s supposed to be).

Portrait of Jennie’s flirtation with weirdness takes two forms. The first is in style, with director William Dieterle and cinematographer Joseph August employing a number of tricks to create an unsettled, fantastic atmosphere. Establishing shots are often treated with a filter to create the impression of a painted canvas, alluding to both the hero’s profession and to the way in which art traps a moment in time. Jennie herself is frequently filmed emerging from or disappearing into bright light, accentuating her role as an angel from beyond. Most noteworthy are the filmmakers’ experiments with color. While mostly monochromatic, Jennie plays with tinting deep into the third act, bathing the screen in the angry green of a cataclysmic storm and a warm amber sepia for its aftermath. And of course, the final shot revealing the painter’s masterwork is presented in vibrant three-strip Technicolor.

But to what end? Seeing the portrait in full color puts an exclamation Continue reading CAPSULE: PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948)

CAPSULE: THE FEAR OF DARKNESS (2014)

DIRECTED BY: Christopher Fitchett

FEATURING: Penelope Mitchell, Maeve Dermody, Aaron Pederson

PLOT: A young psychologist treats the suspect in a bizarre murder case and confronts a dark supernatural force in the girl’s unconscious.

Still from The Fear of Darkness (2014)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The only weird aspect of this horror film is the supernatural force of darkness. Otherwise this follows the naturalist form of the crime psychological thriller.

COMMENTS: If you believe in string theory, then in some parallel universe this film got all of its elements right and rose above the mediocre offering here. It probably even won an Oscar. First off, the alternate universe screenwriters would have researched the particulars of psychology rather than the Googled armchair-shrink efforts on display here—especially the vague experimental practices employed by Dr. Sarah Faithful to elicit trauma and screaming from murder suspect Skye Williams. Faithful’s Dr./cop friend defends these practices to unnerved observers with a dismissive “I trust her, she knows what she’s doing”.

Secondly, the producers would’ve hired a competent director who doesn’t pander to the hackneyed jump-scares that we’ve all seen a million times before, and who has a vision for the film beyond perfunctory soap opera camera set-ups and dark corners where special effects lurk. The kind of director who would have lifted the performances of seemingly credible actors, and who doesn’t make a genuine talent like Aaron Pederson look like he’s a year out of acting school. Again, screenwriters who deliver non-perfunctory dialogue would have assisted everyone in this department.

Through this combination of clever screenwriting and solid direction, tension would have been built and the audience would care about either Faithful or William’s fates, so that the M. Night Shyamalan-like twist ending of invented identity would hit home and register as deeply in the minds of the audience as the darkness is said to exist in Skye’s mind. Sadly we have no way of viewing that phenomenal parallel universe version of The Fear of Darkness, we only have the sad, wholly unremarkable version that exists in ours. Save yourself from the theoretical angst of “what could have been” and seek genuine scares in films like The Exorcist or The Haunting in Connecticut, films that succeed on their own terms rather than relying on the necessity of an infinite multiverse.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…as sinister and surreal concepts earn increasingly frequent mentions, reminding audiences that all is not as it appears, the film relishes its foreseeable twists as much as it does its formulaic conventions.”–Sarah Ward, ArtsHub (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: THE ICE PIRATES (1984)

DIRECTED BY: Stewart Raffill

FEATURING: Robert Urich, Mary Crosby, Michael D. Roberts, , Bruce Vilanch

PLOT: In a galaxy far far away, where water is in short supply, a band of pirates team up with a princess to investigate her father’s disappearance.

Still from The Ice Pirates (1984)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: I think the operative term to describe The Ice Pirates is not “weird,” but rather “goofy.”

COMMENTS: I’m not completely sure Ice Pirates was always meant to be a comedy. The scattershot humor, the jokes inserted in random spots during action sequences, makes me imagine that it started life as a swashbuckling space opera a la Star Wars, then was retooled as a spoof when it was deemed too cookie-cutter even by Hollywood standards. Or maybe it was adapted for space from a sword-and-sorcery Conan the Barbarian ripoff script, since the villains (“Templars”) all wield longswords and wear chainmail. Whatever the case, Ice Pirates takes itself too seriously to be a laugh riot like Spaceballs, but not seriously enough that you actually get involved in the saga or swept up in the cosmic spectacle. The tone is close to a Barbarella: straight faced, but ridiculous. Unfortunately, it’s neither as sexy nor as weird as Jane Fonda’s psychedelic space classic.

Here’s what you do get: defecating aliens, “Space Invaders” battle monitors, a politically-incorrect jive-talking cyborg pimp, an alien infestation of “space herpes” (singular: “space herpey”), robots mingling with farm animals, Amazons riding on attack unicorns, a water-wasting sex scene in a virtual thunderstorm, a time warp battle shot partially in fast-forward, and lots of pirates, but almost no ice. The cast is large but forgettable. Robert Urich is no Harrison Ford, Mary Crosby is no Carrie Fisher (though she is easy on the eyes), Michael D. Roberts is a sidekick without a character hook, Anjelica Huston is supposed to be sexy but looks embarrassed, the robots’ comic relief routines need reprogramming, and the villains are toothless. Also look for a pre-fame and a post-fame John Carradine (who is literally wheeled-in to deliver his lines) in smaller parts. The cast’s lone standout is Bruce Vilanch as a King Herod type who loses his own head, but continues making wisecracks.

The Ice Pirates was made cheaply, and looks it. It wasn’t funny or spectacular enough to be a mainstream hit, and doesn’t go far enough in its absurdity to garner more than a small cult following, but it is busy enough to make it watchable. Fans of 80s camp will want to add it to their bucket list—just not to the top of the list.

Warner Archive put out an extras-free Bu-ray of Ice Pirates in early 2016.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a busy, bewildering, exceedingly jokey science-fiction film that looks like a ‘Star Wars’ spinoff made in an underdeveloped galaxy.”–Vincent Canby, The New York Times (contemporaneous)

WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

Next week we’ll take care of a few items that have been on our back-burner, like finally reviewing 1984’s camp-fest The Ice Pirates (it’s like an unsexy Barbarella). Also, Australian correspondent Bryan Pike shines some light on his homeland’s recent psychological thriller The Fear of DarknessShane Wilson goes into the reader-suggested review queue to look at the Hollywood fantasy Portrait of Jennie, and 1968’s The Acid Eaters makes Alfred Eaker like, totally freak out, man.

Speaking of things that make us freak out—it’s time for that weird weekly feature that we like to call “Weirdest Search Terms of the Week.” It was a highly ethnic week for odd search terms, beginning with the search for “black sex films of strange stories lists.” There was also “movie in which chinese girl sees her boobs with the help of mirror” (why “with the help of mirror” rather than simply “in a mirror”?) The strangest of this subset of searches, however, was “mixecan tan flixs” (a drunkenly misspelled “Mexican tan flicks,” WTF?!) But our official Weirdest Search Term of the Week knows no ethnicity: “where can pass in a 2 by 1 bore under 80 panel and movies.” Not only does it know no ethnicity, it knows no sense, logic, or reason.

Here’s how the ridiculously-long reader-suggested review queue now stands: Portrait of Jennie (next week!); Candy; Angelus; Wicked City (1992 live action); Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom; The Atrocity Continue reading WHAT’S IN THE PIPELINE

WEIRD HORIZON FOR THE WEEK OF 5/20/2016

Our weekly look at what’s weird in theaters, on hot-off-the-presses DVDs, and on more distant horizons…

Trailers of new release movies are generally available at the official site links.

IN THEATERS (LIMITED RELEASE):

Cranium Intel (2016): The President orders a man killed after he discovers that the St. Louis Arch is a gateway to “the real Planet >X<” [sic]. From Aeneas Middleton, the director of experimental shorts with titles like “VINVELLA -The Secret Daughter of Louis XV” and “Defusion 4: Bio-Cell System”; he’s already announced two sequels (!) to this, his first feature. Cranium Intel official site.

Welcome to Happiness (2015): A man moves into an apartment with a small door through which people seeking happiness go to find redemption, but he’s not allowed to enter it himself. Looks like a spiritually upbeat indie version of Being John MalkovichWelcome to Happiness official site.

SCREENINGS – (Videology Bar & Cinema, New York City, Sat., May 21 @ Midnight):

Don’t Look Now (1973): Read the Certified Weird entry! The programmers at Videology sure have 366 tastes, screening Certified Weird films week after week. Nicolas Roeg‘s psychological horror about parental grief is this week’s entry. Don’t Look Now at Videology Bar & Cinema.

SCREENINGS – (Cinefamily, Los Angeles, Sun., May 22):

Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1922): Read the Certified Weird review! One of the coolest trends in modern moviegoing is seeing silent movies projected with new live scores. We’re not familiar with the L.A. band “White Magic,” but if they dig Haxan they’re cool with us. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages at Cinefamily.

IN DEVELOPMENT (pre-production, est. Oct 2016):

“Polia and Blastema, a metaphysical fable”: Begotten‘s returns to film after being out of commission for nearly a decade due to health issues. This new short film is a hypnotic myth with abstract visuals about two aliens who unite to form a utopian city.  A 4-minute version is completed, but Mehrige wants to expand it to 25 minutes. The Kickstarter campaign is fully funded at $15,000, but a note explains that “Elias is now exploring the creative possibilities that lie above the $15,000 goal; every dollar goes into the production of the film!” $19 gets you a download of the four minute version and a screening link for the finished film. Thanks to Morgan Hoyle-Combs for bringing this one to our attention! “Polia and Blastema” Kickstarter page.

IN DEVELOPMENT (pre-production):

“Lullaby”: Cult writer Chuck Palahniuk (“Fight Club”) wants to adapt his very personal (it’s inspired by the trial of his father’s murderer) novel “Lullaby” into a short film. The plot revolves around the publication of a children’s song that has the power to kill, and the producers promise “necrophilia, gender-bending, and no-way-would-this-make-it-to-comfortable-TV satire.” At this writing the project has earned over $96,000 of its $250,000 goal, with 27 days to go. “Lullaby” Kickstarter page.

NEW ON DVD:

Candy (1968): A beautiful, naive blonde (yummy Swede Ewa Aulin) has escapades with a series of strange men (among them as a Mexican gardener and Marlon Brando as a guru) in this softcore version of “Candide.” This all-star adaptation of Terry Southern’s scandalous satirical porn novel had been out-of-print for years; Kino Lorber brings it back with a new interviews with screenwriter Buck Henry and film critic Kim Morgan as extras. Buy Candy.

“Cop Rock” (1990): “Hill Street Blues” goes Broadway in this notorious flop TV series with singing and dancing cops. In today’s more irony-minded pop culture landscape this might have been a hit; no one who saw the pilot live will ever forget the jaw-dropping climax where the jury panel turns into a gospel choir to render their verdict: “He’s Guilty!” Buy “Cop Rock”.

NEW ON BLU-RAY:

Candy (1968): See description in DVD above. Buy Candy [Blu-ray].

Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? (1971): Dustin Hoffman stars as a singer-songwriter undergoing an existential crisis, complete with hallucinations and paranoia about a mysterious public detractor. Impressionistic rather than realistic: as Hoffman says in to his psychiatrist in the film, “Why should I come back to reality? What’s it ever done for me?” Buy Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? [Blu-ray].

FREE (LEGITIMATE RELEASE) MOVIES ON YOUTUBE:

Frankie in Blunderland (2011): Read El Rob Hubbard’s “List Candidate” review. Loser Frankie drifts through a surreal, low-budget LA looking for his missing wife. This underground feature is still technically a List Candidate, so if you watch it, please tell us what you think. Recommended for adults only due to full-frontal fairy nudity. Watch Frankie in Blunderland free on YouTube.

What are you looking forward to? If you have any weird movie leads that I have overlooked, feel free to leave them in the COMMENTS section.

POP MEETS THE VOID (2015, WILLIAM CUSICK)

‘s Pop Meets The Void (2015) is what independent film should be: an alternative to mainstream cinema, as opposed to a low budget imitation of Hollywood fare.

Cusick sees the artist as in revolt against common sense and repressive conventions of the social order. The musician protagonist of Pop Meets the Void encounters the fingernails-down-chalkboard inquisition that almost every artist endures from bourgeoisie muggles: “Are you a real artist or do you just wanna be?” Fill in the appropriate follow-up blank: “Are you famous? Are you rich? Do you have a recording contract with a big label? Have you published a book? Have you acted in a real movie, like the ones from Hollywood? Have you sold a painting for a million dollars yet?” Followed by “So, what’s the point?”

German Expressionist painter Franz Marc astutely addressed the artist’s encounter with the bourgeoisie in an entry from the famous “Blue Rider Almanac”: “It is strange that people should value spiritual treasures so differently than material ones. If someone conquers a new colony for his country, the whole country rejoices for him and does not hesitate to take possession of that colony. Technological achievements are met with the same rejoicing. On the other hand, if someone should think of giving his country a spiritual treasure, it is almost always rejected with anger and irritation; his gift arouses suspicion and people to try and do away with it. Why new paintings and why new ideas? What can we buy with them? We already have too many old ones.”

Painter Paul Gauguin advised young artists to worry less about the finished work and locate sacrament in the artistic process. This is Cusick’s spirit. He retreats and takes the role of artist as hermit, keeping his music attic-bound. As a hermit, his worldview encompasses the artist as misfit prophet.

Still from Pop Meets the Void (2015)The narrative of artist as contrarian to the world has been around as long as there has been artists, and will continue until the artist goes the way of the dinosaur. If Cusick had merely followed an orthodox route, his film would be dishonest and pedestrian. Cusick knows such a retreat must inspire a genre-rejecting, authentic composition, and Pop Meets The Void‘s fantasia qualities make it a startling work that validates the narrative as both immortal and relevant. History does not exist. Rather, the artistic expression is fluid. Marc sees continuity as opposed to an historical valve which shuts on and off: “Cezanne and El Greco are spiritual brothers, despite the centuries that separate them.” We can, of course, subscribe to the maxim there is nothing new under the sun, but Cusick stubbornly refuses to be fence-bound, charismatically imprinting his own process.

Criticizing the historical development of cinema, wrote: “Moving pictures merely repeat what we have been told for centuries by novels and plays. Thus, a marvelous instrument for the expression of poetry and dreams (the subconscious world) is reduced to the role of simple REPEATER of stories expressed by other art forms.” Cusick utilizes the liberty of dreams to convey boundless paradoxes presiding in the asphyxiating mirage of adulation and celebrity.

Smarter still, Cusick forgoes the aloofness which often permeates and hinders the surreal aesthetic. In ambitiously attempting to construct something akin to a Mahlerian universe, Cusick does not shy away from bathos. If it is all-encompassing, then his work must be imbued with all facets of the mortal experience. Pop Meets The Void is coarse and sleek, opaque and diaphanous, textured and emotional, a visual work about music. As the late composer Pierre Boulez advised: “We must be cultural omnivores and raid all the art forms to enhance our own medium.” Cusick’s impetuously earnest effort does just that, and is a List contender.

LIST CANDIDATE: THE FOUNTAIN (2006)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ellen Burstyn

PLOT: In the present day, a scientist searches for a cure for his wife’s brain tumor; two other stories are interspersed, one about a conquistador’s search for the Fountain of Youth in the 1500s and another about a tree-tending bald guru in a space bubble floating towards a nebula.

Still from The Fountain (2006)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: A spiritual allegory told in three different timelines, one of which is set almost entirely in a traveling golden space bubble, The Fountain is far out by Hollywood standards. The final ten or fifteen minutes, when Aronofsky goes all 2001-y, may push the film onto the List. I expect to see lots of readers stumping for this; it feels like a burgeoning cult movie, one whose momentum is still building.

COMMENTS: The Fountain has an extraordinarily tight script, with reflections of each of its three different stories showing up in the others. Rings, trees, and immortality are just a few of the recurring symbols. Some viewers—even a few critics who should be better equipped to parse unconventional narratives—found the story baffling. I didn’t think it was especially confusing (except, perhaps, for the very end), nor do I think that anyone who’s seen a weird movie or two will find The Fountain too challenging to follow. I won’t spoil the plot—uncoiling it is the movie’s greatest pleasure—but I’ll give a single hint if you get stuck. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all three stories are of equal weight; one of them clearly has what we might call a higher degree of reality than the other two.

As hinted, that script is tight up until the ending, where the movie stretches its weird credentials in a pan-religious finale that crashes a spaceship of Buddhist philosophy into a temple of Mayan mysticism to unlock a door to Judeo-Christian symbolism. The lotus position is assumed, conquistadors get stabbed, and trees bleed spermlike sap as a golden nebula explodes. Not bad for a trip sequence, but the visual fireworks play more like a substitute for a conclusion than as a culmination of the movie’s philosophical themes. Back on planet earth, I think a key element of allegory is missing. The movie’s message of acceptance does not seem profound enough to justify the preceding bombast, and it all leads to an abrupt, none-to-satisfying final scene.

Although the glory of the movie’s visuals can’t be denied—the fantasy scenes look like embossed gold foil is running through the projector—emotionally, The Fountain does not always achieve its aims. Weisz is too mannered and inhuman in her scenes as the Queen, and too much on the sidelines in her present day role. Her dying-of-a-tragic-disease-that-leaves-her-weak-but-still-pretty character never seems like a real, independent person; she’s just a motivation for Jackman’s obsession. We sense how amazing she is only by her effect on her husband, by the lengths to which she drives him to travel to the ends of the earth, the limits of medical knowledge, and the ends of the universe. For Jackman’s part, he certainly acts his heart out, gnashing his teeth and steeling his brow as he buckles down for another bout of uncompromising, denial-based medical research, but the performance is nothing transcendent. Emotionally, the film feels a little hollow, taking its theme of eternal love too much as a stock situation rather than something to be demonstrated onscreen. These complaints only take a little away from the beauty of the film’s construction; the movie was inches away from being a great one. I can see what The Fountain‘s partisans see in it, but I don’t feel what they feel.

Critics were about evenly divided between admiring the film for its audacity and calling it out for its pretensions. But if nothing else, Darren Aronofsky is one of the few directors working today who can actually convince a Hollywood studio to bankroll a weird movie.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…pic’s hippy trippy space odyssey-meets-contempo-weepie-meets-conquistador caper starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz suffers from a turgid script and bears all the signs of edit-suite triage to produce a still-incoherent 95 minutes.”–Leslie Felperin, Variety (festival screening)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Tim,” who [somewhat misleadingly, in my view] synopsized it as “about a guy [looking a lot like Kwai Chang Caine] who is floating through space in a bubble, with a tree, thinking back on his life as a Conquistador and pharmaceutical researcher.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

Celebrating the cinematically surreal, bizarre, cult, oddball, fantastique, strange, psychedelic, and the just plain WEIRD!