DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of “What the Bleep Do We Know?”, Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, Youth Without Youth, A Sidewalk Astronomer

 

Title:  What the Bleep Do We Know?

Release Date:  2004

Nationality and Language: English. USA/Canada/South Africa

Running time: 115 min

MPAA Rating:  PG

Distributor and Production Company:  Samuel Goldwyn

Director; Writer: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente

Producer:

Cast: Marlee Matlin, Barry Newman, Elaine Hendrix, Armin Shimerman, Robert Bailey, Jr., John Ross Bowie, Josh Santos; Scientists: William Tiller, Ph. D., Amit Goswami, John Hagelin, Ph. D., Fred Alan Wolf, Ph. D., Dr. David Albert; MD’s: Masuru Emoto, Stuart Emeroff, Jeffrey Satinover, Andrew B. Newberg, Daniel Monti, Joseph Dispensa; Candace Pert; Mystics: Ramtha, Miceal Ledwith  

Technical: HDCAM

Relevance to HPPUB site:  religious philosophy, epistemology

Review:

 

Back in the 1970s when I attended a New Age group while living in New York, I remember that we had a session about witch-craft, which was said to be nothing more than creating your own reality.

 

This documentary explores the basis of the things we know, relating back to relativity and quantum theory. All matter is, at some level, information. But the most interesting part deals with neurons, synapses, and how they direct cells to adjust receptors over a lifetime. The hypothalamus makes chemicals that correspond to emotions, and we become addicted to certain emotions at the level of our cellular receptors the way we can become addicted to alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. So destructive emotions can accelerate the aging process.

 

Sexual addictions or habits can be formed this way. Some people learn the emotions associated with family commitment (and tying to sexuality), where as others might take a more narcissistic course and tie sexuality not so much to physical pleasure but more to notions of youth, power, and beauty, leading to station in life. Although this is my interpretation, this would suggest that sexual orientation might be partly learned my priming these cellular receptors. The filling of these receptors may gradually cause people to become “different” or “special” and present issues tying social justice to personal accountability.

 

The film is filled with cute images and effects, but most of the on-location shooting was done in Portland, Oregon.

 

PI

Protozoan Films, 1998, 90 minutes.;MPAA Rating: R; directed by Darren Aronofsky

This is an old-fashioned black-and-white movie, the kind I've missed from the first version of Sabrina. And grainy, too, although the digital sound track is effectively unnerving.

The pretext is interesting. A subjective feminine man, late 30's and very much a loner, thinks he has found some transcendental law of the universe in number theory. Among other things, it would explain the stock market. He shares his ideas with a Jewish friend and an older mentor who is very much a fan of the royal game of Go. He becomes ever more paranoid, finally shaving and disfiguring his own head. And his paranoia has good reason - the fibbies are after him, as are religious clerics. Everybody gives him credit for seeking the keys to the universe, an accolade his unbalanced personality so dearly craves.

(Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter - 3.14159… an irrational number).

In 2000, Darren Aronofsky directed Requiem for a Dream. The distributor, Artisan Entertainment, decided not to submit it for review. So presumably it’s NC-17 (in the days of Midnight Cowboy they called this “X”). In fact, there’s only one scene with “full” nudity, but extremely unsettling for younger minors (to say the least) would be  the simulated drug trips of the protagonist (played by a wiry Jared Leto, who is every bit as fit as the runner in Prefontaine), and his mother (Ellen Burstyn), living out a fantasy life (to get on a TV motivation show—“red meat” and “sugar” are the evils of civilization) on prescription diet drugs, and far beyond the help of a Betty Ford-style rehab center. The likable Leto character dreams about becoming rich the “easy way,” as he sinks into a life of dealing and shooting up, until he finally gets flesh-eating bacteria in his arm (“necrotizing fasculitis”) and they “cut it off,” on camera, with a circular saw, HIV+ blood splattering on his face. The mother winds up on electro-shock therapy from the 50’s.  The message of the film is Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No to Drugs!”  Good idea. (But that doesn’t mean using them should be a crime!)

The film is jarring and graphic. The weirdness is not quite as convincing as, say, in a David Lynch film; the split screen shots get in the way, especially in the intimate scenes.  But when the film gets graphic, I mean, it is graphic.  It’s difficult to watch the physical self-destruction, the tube feeding, vomiting, amputations.  Well, this is a bit like Trainspotting

 

The Fountain (2006, Warner Bros./Regency/Protozoan, dir. Darren Aronofsky, USA/UK/Quebec/Spain, 96 min, PG-13) has the director graduated to the big leagues, with a story that seems like a miniature 2001. In three parts 500 years apart, with the scenes going back and forth, the concept reminds one of "A Canticle for Leibowitz." Around 1500 AD, a conquistador Tomas (Hugh Jackman) is exploring the Mayan country, is attacked by the descendants of Apocalypto, and finds the Fountain of Life. Queen Isabella, back in Spain, is interested. The mention the dichotomy in Genesis between the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, while heretics are being executed (hung from upside down) -- in an exercise of religious fundamentalism as described often by Andrew Sullivan. (I've always thought that one could make a movie called "The Fundamentalist.") In 2005 or so, Tom is a veterinary surgeon (or maybe a real

neurosurgeon like Everwood's Andy Brown) doing brain operations on apes, and interested in experimenting with this mystery serum from the Tree, probably to use the brew on his wife (Rachel Weisz) is dying of metastasized malignancies. We find this out as they walk in the snow outside their upstate New York home, when her feet go numb and she doesn't even feel the cold walking in the snow. In her more well moments, she has been writing a book about the philosophies and discoveries of the Maya (her writing is the "referential" bridge between centuries). I wondered first if she has advanced complications of diabetes, before thinking about the cancer itself. He somehow can't quite save her, but then 500 years later again, they are living inside a Christmas snow ball (she is some kind of ghost or astral representation), floating in outer space, watching a supernova getting ready to explode. The capsule has the tree, and some organic mulch and seeds around, and everything they need to live forever. His wife is back. Is this heaven, or is it Mormon eternal marriage?  The capsule descends into what looks like the cloud tops of a gas giant (maybe Saturn), or maybe this is the upper atmosphere of Titan, with thiolin snow falling around. The brownish-yellow sepia colors supports the Titan theory (maybe it's my "69 Minutes to Titan", which I would really like to get made).

 

Hugh Jackman really pays his dues as a movie star in this one. In the capsule (which can beget smaller capsules), his head, chest and arms are all shaved, with his arms tatooed, and he looks like a Mayan. In the very opening scene in Guatemala, the native Americans should have opened up his tunic on camera, because when he finds the Fountain of Life, we find him shaved, so that his body can grow a plant garden. (How is that for 1950s style "Science Fiction Theater"?) (I wonder if Aronofsky knew about Shainberg's film Fur about Diane Arbus) In the present day segment, where he is a surgeon (who scrubs in one scene, and would have to worry about nosocomial infection control), there could have been the opportunity to develop that aesthetic point further, in relation to infection control.

 

The film is shot flat (without fullest widescreen) so that it seems a bit constricted and smallish, despite the ambition level of the concept.  We don't have a lot to look forward to 500 years from now, in the world of this film. Of course, I proposed winding up living in a scaled-back model railroad world in my own Project Greenlight screenplay contest entry "Baltimore Is Missing."

 

Jackman and Weisz themselves told NBC Today that this is the ultimate "couple's film." Is love itself immortal? Certainly it is pro-marriage, even pro eternal marriage.  

 

Youth Without Youth (2007, Sony Pictures Classics / American Zoetrope, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, novella by Mircea Eliade, 124 min, R, Romania / USA) is a bit like Oscar Wilde's "Picture of Dorian Gray" as a concept. Here, the man (Dominic, played by Tim Roth) grows younger from 1938 (when he is struck by lightning) to the 1950s, while his beloved Veronica/Laura (Alexandra Maria Lara) ages out of child-bearing years to menopause. It's a pretty good case of karma. Of course, there can be the question whether the events "happen" at all. But the ride is fascinating. Dominic, already 70, wakes up covered in bandages and needing total care (as if "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") but soon he finds out that, as his teeth come out, a new adult set is coming in. His face is getting younger, the hair on his legs comes back just as on is chest it melts away. He looks better, in fact, without his scruffy, previously gray beard. He develops intellectual powers and begins his personal quest back to the dawn of human languages (although we know now to look at dolphins and orcas, and maybe even cats, for signs of language). In that quest he connects to Laura, and goes on an odyssey to the caves in northern India, and eventually to Malta. For a while, he attracts the attention of the Nazis, who think he is their archetype ubermensch, free from the constraints of ordinary people. But newspaper headlines flash and eventually we are in the 50s Cold War. The film is visually striking (in Cinemascope). with lots of reds, and some have compared it to "Vertigo" but it doesn't have the forward motion story telling of Hitchcock. The film comes to "The End" without closing credits. In one crucial sequence, the E Major slow movement of Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, to great effect. I wish I could get into a time machine and become 40 years younger and attract the people that I want. But that would be cheating time. Nature protects itself from this with general relativity. Matt Damon makes a cameo appearance.

 

A Sidewalk Astronomer  (2005, Telescope Pictures/Jacobs Entertainment, dir. Jeffrey Jacobs, G, 80 min) introduces us to 89-year-old John Dobson, who educates people on the sidewalks of San Francisco about the heavens with his Dobsonian telescope. The film branches out to the solar system, other stars, and galaxies. (There are great shots of Mars, like the “Grand Canyon” and the 80000-ft volcano Olympus Mons, from a few hundred miles up. I would have liked to see him talk about Titan and Europa.)  There are plenty of videos of the moonwalks, that look stark black-and-white with rovers kicking up dust that falls down because there is no wind to pick it up.  He finally gives a simple explanation of general relativity: the speed of light is the ratio of space to time.  

 

 

 

 

Related reviews:  Chandler Burr: A Separate Creation   The Planets-Epoch 2000  Proof   Fur  The Year Zero

 

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