Saturday, November 25, 2006

Deep Water in a Shallow "Fountain"

* * * Warning!! * * *

The following review doesn't even try to avoid spoilers. There's no way to talk about this film without revealing entirely too much. And I'm not even going to try. I recommend not reading any farther until you've seen the movie The Fountain.

I will say that it's worth seeing at least once, but not necessarily at full price, and definitely not if you're a single guy. For the average guy, this is a movie to take a girl to - preferably a girl who enjoys having long philosophical talks about the meaning of what you've just seen. If both of you watch Nascar and reruns of Beverly Hillbillies or the Munsters, just move on now.

Go. This is not the movie for you. Borat is playing at the other end of the Cineplex. Just go there. Trust me. You'll be much happier.

We have now stopped making "safe" comments about The Fountain. You have been warned.

Yesterday, we went to see The Fountain, a new film staring Wolverine and that lady from the Mummy movies. This is one of the few times I wished that I smoked pot - I suspect that the best way to see this movie is to be stoned out of your mind.

The ads say that it's "a love story that spans 3,000 years!" That may or may not be true. From my vantage point, though, what we had were two stories and a symbolic metaphor, all twisted together into an hour-and-a-half-long rope.

There's no real coherent, linear story line here, nor is there a standard "happy ending." I suppose that some people might leave the theater feeling that this was a life-changing movie. Those same people probably also get more out of the works of Deepak Chopra than I do.

It was a beautiful movie, a giant, throbbing romance novel of a movie. The modern-day love story between the dying woman and the research scientist is a real heart-render. Some people might even think that this movie was deep and meaningful. However, if you've already come to terms with the fact that everybody dies, you aren't likely to find your view of the universe altered by The Fountain - it's shallow, in the same way that a model earnestly explaining a self-help concept she'd read about: easy to watch, but in the end, you come away slightly confused by some of the concepts that had been washing over you.

Hugh Jackman was given the opportunity to emote like a champ. His character goes through the entire range of human emotion, and he did it with style. He might very well garner an Academy Award nomination for his work in this film. I'll be surprised if Ms. Weisz does the same, though.

Between The Fountain and his stints in the various X-Men movies (and the upcoming Wolverine, for that matter), did you notice that Hugh Jackman is apparently making a career out of potentially immortal characters?

It all ties together pretty well. In the future, the bald Wolverine is shepherding an ancient tree toward a nebula called Sebulba, he talks to the tree as if it were a dead lover, and he keeps seeing the present-day Mrs. Mummy as a hallucination. In the present, the dying Mummy-lady shows Dr. Wolverine the nebula Sebulba through her telescope, he's trying to cure cancer with the bark of a newly-discovered old-growth tree from Central America, and she has written a book about the Conquistador Wolverine. In the past (or in her book, or maybe both), Conquistador Wolverine (or would that be Carcay├║?) is on a quest through the Mayan empire trying to find the Tree of Life.

I'm really not clear whether the last scene of the Conquistador storyline, where he flowers to death, was the abrupt end of a relatively abrupt man, or a hallucination caused by the Tree Sap of Life ripping through his body. I can go either way on that question. (My wife, by the way, leaned over at that point and whispered, "See? That's why you shouldn't swallow apple seeds.") Although the fact that Conquistador Wolverine turned into a shrub, and Bald Wolverine was pushing a tree through space in a snow-globe is an interesting coincidence. And Dr. Wolverine planted a seed on top of her grave when she died, which means that the tree he's trucking through the stars might just be the tree that she grew into from... oh, Christ, forget it. It's not worth the headache.

There were a number of recurring themes in The Fountain. A vaguely Moorish lattice-work, golden light, the cross, and (obviously) the Tree of Life all recur frequently. Interestingly, so do small hairs and gummy saliva.

In this film, we had an Australian man and a British woman starring in the main roles of a film shot in New York and Canada. Throughout the modern and futuristic portions of the film, they sounded generically Midwest-American. However, in the early part of the film (when they're both playing Spaniards), they used vaguely British accents.

Some hard-core Christians are going to be upset about the way this movie intertwines Christian, Buddhist and pagan imagery, and even a touch of Mayan and Muslim, if you look hard enough. But they'd have a hard time with the central concept of this movie: that this man either lived forever, or kept getting reincarnated, or was a symbol for eternal life.

I think that my son Luke had the best summation of the movie. He thought that the target demographic for this movie was potheads and people who don't understand movie trailers. Which seems close enough, but I think he left out New Agey types and people who read romance novels.

Having seen The Fountain, I have to say that I don't think it will make a great deal of money in the theaters. But I also won't be surprised if the first run of DVDs sells out within days.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Who was the Walrus again?

It was forty years ago today, when... OK, forty years ago yesterday... I've been busy, OK? Anyway, it was November 8, 1966, when Paul McCartney died in a car crash. At least, that's what some people believed in 1969, and some of them possibly still believe today. While most of the world has accepted that Paul McCartney survived to see his 64th birthday this year, there are always people who will continue to believe something else, against all evidence.

Wikipedia summarized the legend of Paul's death like this:
The most common belief is that late in the evening on Tuesday, November 8, 1966 (a "stupid, bloody Tuesday"), McCartney, while working on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, stormed out of a recording session after an argument with the other Beatles, and rode off in his Austin-Healey. "He didn't notice that the lights had changed" ("A Day in the Life") because he was busy watching the pretty girl on the sidewalk ("Lovely Rita") after narrowly missing her dressed in blue (she's the blur on the back of Abbey Road) jaywalking ("Blue Jay Way"). He then crashed into a light pole (a car crash sound is heard in "Revolution 9") and, dying from massive head injuries, his hair and face burned (having "lost (his) hair" according to "Don't Pass Me By"). He was pronounced dead on a "Wednesday morning at 5 o'clock as the day begins" (the day and time mentioned in "She's Leaving Home"). A funeral procession was held days later (as implied in the Abbey Road album cover), with John presiding over the service and gravedigger George burying the body.
According to believers, McCartney had been replaced with the winner of a McCartney look-alike contest. The name of this look-alike has been recorded as William Shears Campbell, Billy Shears (the name of the fictitious leader of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - a role actually played by Ringo Starr), William Sheppard (based on the inspiration for the Beatle song "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill"), or some combination of the names. According to legend purists, William Shears was given plastic surgery, but they failed to repair a scar on his lip (or it was a result of the surgery), and that's how you can tell the difference between the two Pauls. According to some students of the bass guitar, the style of his playing changed after Sergeant Pepper.

Having died during post-production on Sergeant Pepper, the most clues to his death are said to be found there.

The reality is harder to pin down - was it a publicity stunt by the Beatles or their record company? Overzealous fans with both too much imagination and too much time on their hands? Or did Paul actually die, and these clues point to one of the greatest conspiracies in rock music?

A Detroit disc jockey named Russ Gibb was the first known kickstart of the rumor on a major-market outlet. Several books have been written on the subject (both on Paul's death, and on the hoax about Paul's death), and radio and TV shows have examined the controversy from both sides.

Overall, this can be considered to be one of the major conspiracy theories of the twentieth century. Perhaps without the world-changing implications of the death of, say, a world leader, but a self-propelled behemoth of urban mythology nonetheless.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Should You Vote Democrat Tomorrow?

A woman from Athens, Georgia, wanted to express herself earlier this year. To tell the world her opinions, she did what a lot of people do — she used a bumper sticker. Denise Grier, 47, was given a $100 ticket last March after a DeKalb County police officer spotted the profane, anti-Bush bumper sticker. In this case, her sticker read "I'm Tired of All the BUSH*T."

Even though the courts threw out the ticket in April — the state's "lewd decal" law was declared unconstitutional in 1990 — Grier has now filed a lawsuit in federal court against the county and its officials. Working with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, she is not only seeking damages from DeKalb County for emotional distress, but also a declaration in federal court that her bumper sticker is considered constitutionally protected speech. According to the lawsuit, Grier says she is "uncertain and insecure regarding her right to display her bumper sticker in DeKalb County."

It has been noted previously that the Republican-controlled government has been gradually restricting American's right to Freedom of Speech for several years. Even politely telling the Vice President that you disagree with him can lead to the possibility of arrest (yes, he politely disagreed with the Vice President - while the word "reprehensible" is possibly impolite, he didn't yell, or even raise his voice). While expression of free speech can occasionally lead to consequences, it is a dangerous precedent for government officials to be allowed to stifle rights guaranteed in the Constitution.

Grier's bumper sticker ticket is not the first time that law enforcement in Georgia have overreacted to anti-Republican vehicle adornments. As it has been over a decade and a half since Georgia had a "lewd decal" law, it seems odd that the police officer would try to ticket her on that basis.

And this isn't the first time these proto-fascists have tried this kind of thing. There's only one solution. We need to vote them out. If you vote for a single Republican tomorrow, you're just voting for more of the same. More people trying to prevent you from expressing your opinion.

Even the New York Times is breaking with their usual tradition, and refusing to support even a single Republican candidate. And yes, despite what you hear on Fox News, the New York Times is not a "bastion of liberal thinking." They're normally bipartisan. Except for this election.

So vote tomorrow. Think about it, and vote smart. Because there's only one thing we can expect from a government opposed to Freedom of Speech.