'The Fountain,' 'Bobby,' and Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny'
dir. Darren Aronofsky
It's difficult for movies to be found objects anymore, what with the internet and advance screenings and all. Ergo, anyone who's logged some IMDb time over the past few years likely knows well the tortuous, convoluted backstory behind director Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain: indie filmmaker gets handed the reins to a megahuge sci-fi epic starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, only to see said dream project scuttled late in preproduction when a skeptical Pitt bails. The Fountain lies dormant until being reconceived with a significantly lower budget, and then proceeds to be booed off the screen by festivalgoers in Venice and Toronto. The backstory would likely make a compelling flick, but how's the actual movie?
To be honest, I'm still working that part out. Aronofsky's ambitious, confounding take on the Fountain of Youth is the damnedest thing: an intimate, eon-spanning love story (now starring an extremely game Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz) where profound and profoundly silly are never separated by more than a subliminal thread.
On a technical level, at least, it's all just about perfect. The director's frenetic trip-hoppy tendencies, so pronounced in Requiem for a Dream, have been toned down here, in favor of a more subdued, eyes-skyward lyricism. Combined with the stellar work of composer Clint Mansell and cinematographer Matthew Libatique, the result is a movie that is nearly as lovely to look at as it is frustratingly mind-croggling to ponder. I'm still not entirely sure where I stand on the ultimate resolution of Aronofsky's trippy vision quest, but know this: Whether Laughable Folly or Fool's Errand or (Possible) Head-Scratching, Noggin-Expanding Masterwork, there's never a moment where it's anything less than sincere. That should count for something, right? Right? ANDREW WRIGHT
dir. Emilio Estevez
After winning California's 1968 presidential primary, Robert F. Kennedy left the ballroom stage with the famous words, "Now, it's on to Chicago." He then cut through the kitchen of L.A.'s regal Ambassador Hotel, greeting the working-class kitchen staff on his way, and was gunned down at point-blank range by assassin Sirhan Sirhan. This infamous moment in American history (there's no way Nixon would have beaten him) was preserved in a black-and-white still of Kennedy elegantly sprawled on the kitchen floor as an equally elegant kitchen staffer (an angelic Hispanic teenager in formal kitchen whites) crouched down to comfort him.
Rewind 20 hours. Writer-director Emilio Estevez (seriously!) imagines the life of this teenage kitchen worker (he had tickets to the Dodgers game, but had to work a double shift that day) and conjures 20 or so other commonplace dramas that, Robert Altman–style, revolve around the Ambassador Hotel on that fateful June 4. Eventually, each seemingly banal story—the hotel manager's affair with a hotel switchboard operator; the alcoholic lounge singer and her emasculated husband; an angry Malcolm X–wannabe Latino kitchen worker and his racist boss; the moneyed couple coming to terms with their alienation—concludes in the ballroom that evening. Through Kennedy's assassination, the characters are quietly distilled and elevated.
A few of the storylines—like those involving the racial dynamics of the kitchen staff and the one about the aging doorman—are engaging. But most are lackluster. And a few (like the nerdy campaign workers who ditch their GOTV assignments to buy some pot, but—guffaw—end up on LSD) border on annoying.
Bobby is an unabashed piece of hagiography that casts RFK (only viewed in newsreel footage) as that rare politician who wasn't about politics, but about people. Had Estevez left it there, Bobby—despite the hit-or-miss jumble of stories—would have been a worthwhile innovation on (and timely tribute to) Altman's model. Unfortunately, in an overwrought epilogue, Estevez tacks on a voiceover of RFK eloquently speaking out against violence. It's a gorgeous speech, but has little to do with a movie that's already said its piece. JOSH FEIT
Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny'
dir. Liam Lynch
You've heard the songs. You've seen the videos. You know Tenacious D are really two chubby dudes with guitars singing hilarious joke songs that rip off every rock band in the world, and you already know if you love it or hate it. For the record, I usually pretty much love it. The Pick of Destiny, though—well, I just liked it.
It starts off with a little backstory of how Tenacious D, the demonic hard-rock duo of JB (Jack Black) and KG (Kyle Gass), came to be. JB is a roly-poly little boy who turns to the Dio posters in his room to see him through difficult times; KG is a mama's boy who went bald at the age of 8. Hilarious. Adulthood, as you'd guess, made them just as rich with loserdom, only JB didn't get the memo that he's totally whack. So with huge dreams of becoming the next Angus Young, JB convinces KG to be in his band and take over the world with their rock.
Except, as you'd guess, they totally don't rock. They need the magic of the "Pick of Destiny," a guitar pick allegedly responsible for many of rock's successful careers. JB and KG go off to find this Pick of Destiny, and things supposedly get hilarious.
Surprisingly, the movie's most enjoyable moments don't come from Black, or even Gass. It's the all-star roster of hilarious friends playing all the strange characters that stand out: Tim Robbins, Ben Stiller, Fred Armisen, and my girl-crush Amy Poehler.
I mean, overall, it is pretty funny. I have a feeling it'd be fucking hilarious, though, if I had first eaten some of those "trashed potatoes" from page 22.
Being straight-edge ruins everything. MEGAN SELING