The Fountain 2006 ****

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Sometimes, a film is worth some second thoughts; first viewers of Darren Aronofky’s sci-fi epic The Fountain were quick to point out that this was not a commercial proposition; for sure, watching one of the main characters becoming a tree during the finale didn’t suggest the public would be champing at the bit. So it’s probably for the best from the POV of Warner Brothers that Aronofsky’s original $70 million version starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett didn’t happen, but this discount $35 million version has much to comment it. Three stories are intercut, one involving Conquistadors, one involving a scientist who, tending to his dying wife, resolves to cure death itself, and one involving a space traveller. Hugh Jackman does what he can with various characters which are little more than ciphers, while Rachel Weisz has even less to play with as the object of his love. This is not the sci-fi universe of lazer-guns and action, but more of a Last Year in Marienbad-style mind-zonker, and judged within the latter terms, The Fountain works really well, with unique micro-photographed visuals and a Clint Mansel score. When discussing the film after the Venice Film Festival premiere, Aronofsky and Weisz seems to be not quite on the same page when discussing the film’s meaning, and critics were in the same boat; seen at a decade’s distance, The Fountain is a highly original if compromised artwork that should be retuned and revised. For those interested in spirituality, and re-incarnation in particular, a single viewing is not enough for this strange, mind-boggling epic, one of the greatest, grandest follies of recent cinema.

The Favourite 2019 ****

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There’s a micro-genre of films which are about royalty/aristocrats, but are not biopics. Like Dangerous Liaisons/Cruel Intentions, or Ridicule, they’re about the wit and cruelty of the extreme upper classes, and The Favourite is a prime example. Not many know much about the reign of Queen Anne, so there’s lots of fun in this story about how favourite Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) fights for her place in the pecking order when Abigail (Emma Stone ) joins the royal household. Indulgence and decadence is very much the order of the day, with duck races and general harlotry going on, but the key to the corruption is Queen Anne herself (the wonderful Olivia Coleman) who is suffering from all kinds of physical maladies and easily influenced by those around her. Sarah and Abigail are in an All About Eve festival of bitchiness, and there’s a very fresh and witty script to keep things moving ; ‘Did you come here to rape me or seduce me? Abigail asks an aspiring seducer who arrives in her bedroom. ‘I am a gentleman!’ he replies . “So, rape it is, then.,,,’ is her caustic reply. This isn’t your prestige history lesson, but a smart, bawdy comedy, with lots of nasty behavior and three great female performances. Director Yorgos Lanthimos returns to the black comedy of The Lobster with real success here, and this was an awards front-runner for a reason.

Runaway Jury 2003 ***

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One of the better John Grisham novels to make it to the screen, Runaway Jury is slightly compromised by a crucial switch; while the book dealt with Big Tobacco, the film moves the area under investigation to the gun lobby to avoid comparisons with Michael Mann’s The Insider. The intrigue sits less comfortably, but Grisham’s detailed knowledge of the court system fills in the gaps. John Cusack is Nicolas Easter, a professional jury infiltrator who worms his way into the decision making process and then holds it to ransom to the highest bidder. Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman get a rare opportunity to share the screen, and Rachel Weisz adds glamour as the woman seeking to control Easter from the outside. Runaway Jury is glossy, undemanding courtroom fare, with the twists and turns of a good Law and Order, even if it doesn’t quite deliver the social analysis that it promises.