The Fountain

As Dr. Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman, "The Prestige") races to find a cure for the brain tumor that is killing his wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz, "The Constant Gardener"), she is writing a book about a Spanish conquistador's quest to save his queen from the Inquisition by locating the Tree of Life in the Mayan Jungles. Izzi has titled her book "The Fountain."

Laura's Review: A-

Writer/director Darren Aronofsky ("Pi," "Requiem for a Dream") has suffered for his art with "The Fountain," a movie originally slated to star Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett with a budget more than twice its present size. The pain has paid off. This magical, mystical and moving film is stunning to look at and Hugh Jackman's performance is one of the best of the year. Although the film has been described as a man trying to save a woman in three different centuries, that man is actually the same man in one story. We first meet the fictionalized Tomas in 16th century South America as the lone and greatly outnumbered conquistador about to charge a menacing group of spear hefting Mayans. Once he is battling within their midst, they fall upon him and lift him up, depositing him at the base of the temple steps. This sequence is dark and the steep ascent towards the temple is breathtakingly visualized. Aronofsky and his editor Jay Rabinowitz ("Requiem for a Dream," "Broken Flowers") flit among their five-hundred year separated story strands, repeating dialogue ('finish it') and filling in detail building to a glorious crescendo. Tommy floats in a bubble-like spacecraft towards Xibalba, the golden nebula wrapped around a dying star that Izzi had shown him in wonder at the Mayans' ability to pick a dying star as the source of rebirth. With Tommy is a tree - the tree of life that holds Izzi's spirit and which both nourishes him on his voyage and provides the ink for him to write. Five hundred years earlier his wife had asked him to complete her novel, a metaphor for their relationship and her loving attempt to make her husband understand that death is the beginning of life ('the road to awe is death'). Even the Grand Inquisitor Silecio (Stephen McHattie, "A History of Violence") who threatens her story's Queen Isabella remarks that 'the body is the prison of the soul.' Rachel Weisz, the director's fiancee, has never looked lovelier and she projects an aura of calm grace. While her character is more symbolic than Jackman's, Weisz projects many different emotions in quiet facial closeup. Izzi is Tommy's spiritual muse. Jackman has never been better on film than he is here, playing an obsessed scientist, so frantic to save his wife he fails to address her current needs. He conveys her 16th century imagining of him with a fierce and loyal determination rooted in the brutality of the time and in his 21st century incarnation there is a Zen-like quality (Jackman floats in the lotus position), more a quest for enlightenment than a frenzied race to beat death (and his own grief). Clearly inspired by "Solaris" and "2001," Aronofsky's great love story is a more organic pondering of the meaning of life, rooted in the past and present as much as the future. The film is beautifully realized (production design by James Chinlund, "Requiem for a Dream," "The 25th Hour"), although its limited budget is reflected in a series of dark, narrow corridors which lead to splendid vistas (the temple, a castle, a modern surgery, the queen's thrown). Darkness is associated with Jackman's character, brightness with Weisz's, whose Izzi is always seen in an off white cap in a snowy landscape and whose queen has any facial flaw washed away by a flood of light (cinematography by Matthew Libatique, "Requiem for a Dream," "Inside Man"). The fountain of youth is interchangeable here with the tree of life which is reflected in the Jacobean patterns seen in the scrollwork of Isabella's court. Tom's wedding ring, which he loses in pre-op and tattoos back on, his self-inflicted pain mirroring the Inquisitor's self-flagellation, encircles not only his finger, but continues up his entire arm, like the rings of that tree or Xibalba's gas clouds. Those images exist in the earrings Izzi wears right before her collapse (costume Design by Renée April, "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind") and the circles of a Mayan dagger that act as a map to both earth and the heavens. Original Music by Clint Mansell ("Requiem for a Dream," "Trust the Man") sets a plaintive but peaceful mood in a string piece performed by Kronos Quartet. "The Fountain" climaxes with an amazing array of images in all three centuries, like a warp speed trip towards the cosmos. Flowers burst forth from a man's body and a ship is consumed by a dying star, but in the end a decision reversed pleads life's pleasures in something as simple as a walk in the snow.

Robin's Review: B+

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), in the early 1950s, was a milk shake mixer salesman struggling to make a living in the mid-west. After a dearth of sales, he gets an order for six multi-mixers from a restaurant in San Bernardino, California owned by the McDonald brothers, Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch). Intrigued by the possibility of opportunity, Ray travels across the country to pay the brothers a visit. Ray, a frequenter in his sales travels to many restaurants, is used to waiting a long time for his order and having it, frequently, wrong. He is stunned to find an operation where an order is filled in 30 seconds, instead of 30 minutes, and as you want it. The ambitious believer in Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, sees the enormous potential in giving the customer their food fast and correct. The idea of “franchise” will play big in Kroc’s grand plan. The story, by Robert D. Siegel, is directed by John Lee Hancock, and gives straightforward treatment to the Ray Kroc legend. But, Ray was not, as presented in the film (and other outlets), a compassionate man. In fact, as shown, Kroc was both ruthless and unscrupulous, famously bilking the McDonald brothers of millions of dollars by reneging on a hand-shake deal. Ray Kroc’s self-centered methods and Peale-esque drive do not make for a sympathetic character. Michael Keaton does not sugarcoat Ray or make his dealings any more acceptable to the viewer. This negative view of Ray, very well played by Keaton, does not make for a feel good movie, but it is an interesting look into the history of what became the largest food conveyor in the world.