Thursday, September 14, 2006

TIFF review: the fountain
dir. Darren Aronofsky, 2006

starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, & Ethan Suplee (the guy from My Name is Earl)

I really didn't think I'd be back this soon, but just as one Toronto International Film Festival screening prompted me to sing my highest praises, another was so bad that I can't resist the urge to sling a handful of poop in its general direction. If memory serves, I seem to recall rumours (a few years back) that director Darren Aronofsky was in the running to helm a live-action Batman Beyond picture. Well, that film never surfaced, but The Fountain, Aronofsky's labour of love-- the project's inception dates back to 2001/02-- marks his first release since Requiem for a Dream, some six years ago.

Requiem was released at an exciting time, when filmmakers like Steven Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan, and David Fincher were experimenting with (somewhat) unconventional cinematic techniques that serve to remind us that film is, primarily, a visual medium, and that even a familiar story can seem fresh when it is approached with attention to style. For a moment, it seemed as if Aronofsky would join their ranks; in retrospect, however, Requiem feels trite. The performances are strong, but the subject of drug addiction has been handled with such graphic realism in other films that, upon multiple viewings, Aronofsky's efforts start to reek of style over substance. He has a talent for aesthetics, no doubt, but his sensibility seems to be more suited to music videos than to feature films.

The Fountain only emphasizes this sentiment. It is an ugly film, but I can imagine that any band with a penchant for teenage angst might benifit from Aronofsky's style. Neil Gaiman fans will also be impressed with the kind of pseudo-mythology this director vomits up ... Strike that. I like some of Gaiman's work. Gaiman is literate in his exploitation of mythology, while Aronofsky simply repeats the names "Adam & Eve," as if his vision of creation-via-love-via-death-via-special effects is somehow deep.

In reality, The Fountain plays as an unintentional comedy. Sperm pours from a tree into Hugh Jackman's mouth, and instead of receiving everlasting life, flowers sprout from his every oraface. Good golly. And the outrageously emotional performances-- many of which take place between man and tree-- are over the top, even within this fantastical story-world. This is only a minor concern, given the fact that the story-world looks an awful lot like a sound stage.

This is a film that will have a significantly wide release ... After bemoaning the fact that Ober won't, I can't help but feel that the injustice is palpable. All I can do is to urge the Aronofsky fan-boys and fan-girls not to defend a substandard film, simply because you admire the filmmaker ... That's how we got Star Wars episodes I through III.

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