Friday, 30 March 2012

The Fountain (2006)

Darren Aronofsky. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He created some very emotional films in his career, among them last year’s Oscar-winning Black Swan with Natalie Portman. After watching that film, I had a nostalgia-ridden flashback to earlier years, watching Requiem For a Dream and feeling terribly depressed by it. For years, I’ve heard that Aronofsky’s 2006 sci-fi/romance The Fountain was a so-so film, and put it on the back-burner for that reason. Well, I finally got around to watching it.

The Fountain follows three stories, each containing a protagonist played by Hugh Jackman (famous in my circles as Wolverine of X-Men fame). In the framing story, Jackman is a neuroscientist named Tommy, desperately seeking to cure a malignant tumor growing in his wife’s brain. This story intermingles with the stories of a Spanish conquistador named Tomas, searching for the Fountain of Youth, and an astronaut named Tom, slowing moving through space toward a golden nebula.

Much of the film revolves around the protagonists attempting to “cure” death. The underlying theme of The Fountain seems to be “coming to terms with death.” In each scenario, Jackman interacts with a version of Rachel Weisz. She portrays the love interest for each protagonist and represents the theme of death in different stages. Weisz does a magnificent job of steeling herself through the five stages of grief, although Jackman’s characters do not fare as well.

It’s a meditation on death that focuses more on those left behind than those who have passed on. Whether it is accepting that someone cannot be saved, or choosing not to fall into depression, or moving on and refusing to dwell on the past, the protagonists each come to terms one way or another, for better or worse. What ties the storylines together is each protagonist’s fierce love for Weisz, and his journey to fight for a cure that seems to always be just out of reach.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the paths we choose in life, as I’ve chosen to leave Japan and return to America. I don’t want this to sound depressing, but I really cannot articulate it any better: we all have the freedom to make decisions and mold our lives, but there is only ever one ending, and that is when we die. We all end up in the same place eventually, no matter what, and The Fountain’s rumination on this concept has given me plenty of food for thought. I think each and every one of us will have to come to terms with our own mortality some day, and if cinema can help guide me along, I’m happy to accept a helping hand.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Hugo (2011)

I had wanted to review The King’s Speech, but I’d rather not discuss biopic after biopic, even if the contents are different. Today, I’m discussing Hugo, the most recent work of famed director Martin Scorsese. I would be surprised if you don’t know this director’s name. Among his best works are Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Casino, Goodfellas, and Cape Fear (I may be slightly infatuated with Robert de Niro). Hugo is somewhat of a departure from Scorsese’s more serious films, an adventure-drama about a boy who lives in a train station and secretly maintains all of the clocks there.

What really interested me about this film was the core of the story, which deals with the creation of the moving picture. Much of the plot is based in reality. To elaborate: the first major public display of movie magic was by the Lumière Brothers in 1895. Stage magician Georges Méliès was so captivated by their work that he also began to make films. You may know his most famous work, A Trip To The Moon (1902) from pop culture references. In short, these three men were instrumental in the evolution of cinema from a sideshow attraction to the granduer it elicits today.

The story of Hugo’s titular protagonist is a grand mystery that takes him from the bowels of the train station into the winter streets of Paris. With the help of a young girl, he searches for the means to make his father’s dream come true. I hope I have made the movie sound inspiring enough. It offers a sort of dream-like atmosphere that is filled with unique and humorous characters. Among those actors fortunate enough to work with Scorsese: Sir Ben Kingsly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, and Jude Law. While each actor gives the audience a fair turn, Sir Ben Kingsly especially delivers an excellent performance.

Although at 128 minutes the film can seem slightly drawn out, it’s worth watching to see what Scorsese is capable of when his characters aren’t trying to murder one another in gang wars. Hugo is a family-friendly film that offers something for every member of the family, even if its historical roots may be a little too lofty for children.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Machine Gun Preacher (2011)

The recent controversy surrounding the Kony 2012 online video produced by Invisible Children, Inc, has once again brought Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) into the public eye. In order to better understand the controversy, I selected the movie Machine Gun Preacher, a 2011 biopic starring Gerard Butler. The film follows the life of ex-con Sam Childers, who becomes a born-again Christian and travels to Uganda and Sudan to build an orphanage.

Although I am deeply interested in the LRA and the atrocities occuring in northern Uganda and South Sudan, I was hesitant to take any film with Gerard Butler at its word. Although I like him as an actor, his films have never struck me on a personal level. Movies like Gamer, 300, and Law Abiding Citizen are all flights of fancy with no basis in reality. I had to trust that he would give a down-to-earth performance.

I was happily surprised. Although any big-budget picture is susceptible to common cinematic tropes, I found the plot to be engaging and, I daresay, moving on an emotional level. It is hard not to cringe at violence in this film. I found I could relate to the story of Sam Childers, although not on the same level.

Marc Forster is responsible for many films I’ve enjoyed, such as Stranger Than Fiction, Finding Neverland, and Quantum of Solace. I remember blubbering like a baby at the end of Finding Neverland, and I was nearly driven to tears throughout this movie as well. Marc Forster seems to know what chords to strike when aiming for his audience’s heartstrings.

I was surprised to learn the movie has been panned on Rotten Tomatoes, with only a 29% rating from critics. However, audiences have ranked it closer to 62%, with 6.8 stars on IMDb. I wonder how much of this criticism comes from Butler’s involvement, though. In my opinion, it was one of the best performances he has ever given onscreen. Critics also sometimes disparage films that contain social commentary or tackle real-world problems.

Unfortunately, the movie bombed at the box office, recouping less than 3 million of its 30 million dollar budget. I was invested in the rise and fall of Butler’s character, and hoped the movie would have done better. Regardless, I encourage those interested in the events surrounding the LRA to watch this film or seek out concrete resources on the internet.