The Last Hot Vanishing Fountain

As I begin to write this out, it is December 5. I’ve managed to winnow The List down to 12 movies that I have 26 days to watch. Gosh, this is sort of exciting. Next year remind me to start this nonsense in January instead of March or April or whenever I began it this year.

So I bumped a few:

last_king_of_scotland_ver3The biggest problem I have with watching The Last King of Scotland is reminding myself that what I am watching is not a docudrama, it was never meant to be a docudrama, it is supposed to be a thriller that just happens to feature one of the most infamous dictators of our time, Idi Amin. I’m going to blame Crapfest for this and the fact that for some reason we’ve watched Amin – The Rise and Fall twice and there are even people talking about a third go-round (to which I usually respond “Well then, we’ll have to watch Astrology Songs again, too.”).

In any case, Last King involves a fictitious young doctor (James MacAvoy) who comes to Uganda to help in a rural hospital, and who, through somewhat bizarre circumstance, becomes Amin (Forest Whitaker)’s personal physician and close adviser. Which all seems rather peachy until the man starts getting increasingly unstable and MacAvoy finds out about the massacres and people vanishing. By that time it’s too late, and he’s trapped.

Last King isn’t as tabloid-driven as The Rise and Fall, but there’s plenty of sensationalism to go around, much of it having the ring of truth. Things get very messy toward the end, though, both in terms of violence and plotting, such that it’s a relief when the end credits roll. Love or hate the subject matter, though, it is undeniably a marvelous showcase for Forest Whitaker’s considerable talent, rightfully earning him the 2007 Best Actor Oscar.

And hey, besides his love for Scotland, Amin was a big Man Called Horse fan! Who knew?

vanishing_pointIt’s small wonder that very same evening I followed up with Vanishing Point, a movie I have been assured for decades that I would love, and yet I had never seen. Well, now I have, and they were right. I could easily lavish 1000 words and more on this movie alone.

Famously, this movie stars Barry Newman as Kowalski, a man who drives cars to their destination for a delivery service. Picking up a white Dodge Challenger in Denver, he makes a bet that he can get it to San Francisco in 15 hours. Police don’t like muscle cars breaking all sorts of speed limits, so there is an effort across three states to stop him, even though the authorities admit that the only reason they’re trying to stop him is to ask him why he’s going so fast. And as the attempts to stop Kowalski escalate, he becomes a counterculture phenomenon, “The Last American Hero.”

The video box proclaims this to be “The Ultimate Car Chase Movie”, but Vanishing Point is as far removed from something like Eat My Dust as Seven Samurai is from Sgt. Kabukiman. It’s an existential mind trip, as you should guess when, at the movie’s beginning (which sets up just a few minutes from the movie’s end), Kowalski races past himself, which leads us into the beginning of the movie. Director Richard Sarafian says he wanted to construct the movie like a Möbius strip (and hoo boy, you can’t get much more of a 1971 sentiment than that).

1000_the-vanishing-point06As Kowalski travels across the desert, ripped on speed, he meets interesting characters, and we are given brief snippets of his past: a Viet Nam vet, decorated for bravery, a disgraced cop, busted for beating up his partner when he tried to rape a hippie girl. Motorcycle racer, car racer, a life full of wrecks. He forms an odd rapport with a blind radio DJ, Super Soul (Cleavon Little), who tries to pass important information to Kowalski, and pays the price for it.

If you have the blu-ray, I recommend the UK version. It has a scene, approximately five minutes long, where Kowalski picks up a hitchhiker – considering it’s Charlotte Rampling, cripes, who wouldn’t? – and tokes up with her. Considering he’s been offered marijuana several times in the course of the movie, this is pretty extraordinary. He also pulls off the road when he starts getting stoned. Rampling has an odd conversation with him, wherein she says “I’ve always waited for you, Every time, Every where. Patiently.” They kiss. Kowalski sleeps, probably for the first time in weeks, and when he wakes… she’s vanished.

It actually sets up the end very well, instead of hitting you between the eyes with it.

Other reactions: “This is a counterculture movie, where the hell is Severn Darden? Oh, wait, there he is.”

Also, the Naked Motorcycle Rider (Gilda Texter) was entirely justified artistically.

I should mention that it is now December 6, and the number of movies is down to 11. I feel like I’m racing toward some vanishing point myself.

the-fountainThe Fountain, on the other hand, is not an existential movie. It’s very layered, and I think it wants to think itself more profound than it actually is.

Hugh Jackman plays three roles, though two are actually the same man. You see, he plays a doctor who is desperately searching for a cure for brain tumors, in particular the type his wife (Rachel Weisz) is dying from, and on the way he accidentally discovers the Fountain of Youth in the form of an old growth tree in Central America. (The third character is a Conquistador searching for that very tree in a novel his wife is writing) Jackman literally finds out his treatment is actually causing tumors in experimental animals to shrink the moment his wife goes into her final seizure and dies.

Most of this is revealed in flashback while the now ageless Jackman travels through space in one of those bubbles that must be science so far advanced as to be magic. His only companion is that same Tree of Life, ancient and dying. Jackman intends to bathe it in the dying sun at the heart of the Orion Nebula, which his wife identified as the Mayan underworld, Xibalba; through what mystic avenues we may not know, he feels this will revive the Tree.

The story switches between these three narratives, which is a device that forces you to be involved or you’re going to get lost. That involvement invests you in the story, though the fact that Jackman and Weisz are both great actors also helps. The movie is gorgeous; director Darren Aronofsky eschewed CGI for the space sequences and used, quote, “micro-photography of chemical reactions on tiny petri dishes” resulting in a totally unique visual palette, which he stitches together with golden light in the other two storylines. It is a gorgeous movie, wonderful to behold; I’m just not sure who its audience might be.

When it was over, my wife said, “That was not a chick flick.” To which my only response could be, “Well, it certainly wasn’t a guy flick either.” I don’t regret watching it, I just have to go, Hm. Art. and let it wash over me.

hot-fuzz-poster-1One of the reasons I came up with The List was to force me to watch some movies I’d had around forever, or at least most of a decade or so. Now one of my favorite movies of the last year or so was Scott Pilgrim vs The World, and over the years I had picked up Edgar Wright’s last two movies, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzzyet had not watched them. The List has put an end to such nonsense, eh?

So Simon Pegg is Nick Angel, a London cop who is so good at his job that he’s promoted sideways to a peaceful little village so he’ll stop making all the other cops look bad. The usual fish-out-of-water hijinks follow, except for a series of gruesome deaths that only Angel can perceive are murders. Nick Frost is along again as the larger, slightly slower-witted PC Danny, who loves movies like Point Break and Bad Boys II and is ecstatic to find himself serving with a genuine badass.

If there is a problem with Hot Fuzz, it’s that it takes a little too long to get itself moving, and even when it does, there is still a lot to get through until the third act – but by God you feel like you’ve earned that third act, which is spectacular and has one of the best twists I’ve seen. Edgar Wright is a master of the complete mood swing in the third act.

Wright seems to be making one of every genre movie he wants to, and with results like this and his other movies, I’m not about to complain.

There. Now to see if I can get the outstanding movies down to 10 before The Show eats my weekend.

Crap. You know what I watched and never wrote up? Eyes Wide Shut.