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The Fountain

Somewhere in the world of cinema there may be a director who can film a bald hero in the lotus position floating across the screen in a glowing bubble without having it feel like a crock of portentous horseshit. Darren Aronofsky is not that filmmaker, and The Fountain is not that film. Aronofsky dazzled viewers with his first two features, the amazingly assured Pi and its hamfistedly intense followup Requiem for a Dream. He’s had seven years to create his third film, which was clearly more than enough time to take his initial idea and torture it out into this overwrought, indecipherable mess. His theme is the role of death in life, and he spins it out through the journey of a single protagonist (Hugh Jackman) in three incarnations: a 16th-century conquistador searching Mexico for the Fountain of Youth; a 21st-century scientist looking for a cure to prevent the imminent death of his wife (Rachel Weisz) from cancer; and a 26th-century astronaut who may have found the secret of eternal life in a distant galaxy. At least that’s how the press notes describe it: I certainly didn’t get that from watching the film, which interlinks and repeats parts of these stories ad infinitum. (The futuristic segments seem inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, a model of lucidity compared to this.) The Fountain coasts for its first half simply on spectacle and novelty—Aronofsky seems to know what he’s up to here, and even if it isn’t clear to us we’re willing to stay onboard and see where he’s going. But while students of mythology may be intrigued by his uses of various creation myths throughout the film, mainstream audiences are likely to be as irritated as the viewers who walked away grumbling from the screening I attended. Hollywood history of the past three decades is filled with bloated flops made by young directors who were given unlimited studio budgets on the basis of having made an independent hit: It would be a shame if, as so often happens, this failure puts a premature end to Aronofsky’s career.

Le Petit Lieutenant

It’s hard not to be reminded of Jane Tennison, the character Helen Mirren played on the much-lauded British series Prime Suspect (you may have seen its final episode last weekend) while watching French star Natalie Baye in Le Petit Lieutenant. Her chief inspector in the Paris police has a drinking problem, is without a man, and worries about whether she’s getting old and weary and should pack it in. She even looks a little similar to Tennison. And I thought the French only copied American movies! In fact, Xavier Beauvois’ police melodrama is in some measure an updated throwback to naturalist-style post-war American police dramas like Jules Dassin’s The Naked City. Le Petit Lieutenant is more graphically violent, and clinically detailed about crime’s consequences. Despite a Gallic overlay of tragic sentiment, it’s Anglo-American origins are clear. The small lieutenant of the title is actually a strapping young officer named Antoine (Jalil Lespert), newly minted at the national policy academy. A rural native of Le Havre, he opts for a job in Paris because of the greater opportunities for crime fighting. He’s assigned to the general crime unit headed by Baye’s character, and soon he’s involved in an investigation of a series of robberies and murders that seem linked. The first half of the movie is concerned with recording the routine operations of the police as they pursue their duties, and in observing Antoine’s acclimation to the work and his colleague’s ways. It also follows him as he tries to resolve a problem with his pretty young wife who doesn’t want to move from Le Harve. Gradually, attention shifts to Baye’s lovely, haunted inspector. The veteran star ably embodies the movie’s underlying romantically melancholic spirit. But at heart Le Petit Lieutenant is a slick, methodical, swift-moving procedural—so quick, indeed, that some of the details of the cops’ efforts to break the case may get away from those who fix only on the movie’s interesting look at the human element in police work.

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny

A little Jack Black goes a long way, and what you get in Tenacious D is a lot of Jack. Coming in a year that has already provided a Black overload in the form of Nacho Libre, that may be more than the average moviegoer really requires. But then, this is a movie with a built-in audience. Tenacious D is a two-man rock group comprised of Black, who sings in the pseudo-operatic style of the young Meat Loaf and plays guitar, and Kyle Gass, who looks like Divine’s mild-mannered younger brother and who also plays guitar (quite well, too). The two met at comedy workshops, and the extent to which their performances are a put-on or a celebration is open to debate. (I would say that they’re entirely a put-on, but having spent an unusually inert evening watching three hours of a VH1 special on the history of metal music, I am more than ever persuaded that metal fans don’t actually have much of a sense of humor, at least not about themselves.) The D, as they like to be known (avoiding the question of what the rest of their name means) sing almost exclusively about the majesty of Rock, which is not to be confused with mere rock and certainly not rock and roll. They vary from such cinematic predecessors as Bill, Ted, Wayne, Garth, Beavis or Butt-head less in the size of their IQs (probably under three digits collectively) than in the size of their guts. The duo they most resemble is Jake and Elwood Blues, who in John Landis’ The Blues Brothers set themselves on a literally religio-mystical quest in the name of music. (Given Black’s position as the apparent reincarnation of John Belushi, that may not be an accidental comparison.) If you feel that the mine of rock’s—excuse me, Rock’s—penchant for self-mythologizing has already been exhausted, you’ll probably have no need for this creation story, which retreads (albeit energetically) jokes on the subject so insistently that I left the screening after an hour. But if you’re already a fan of the D—well, then you’re probably not even reading this in the first place.

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