March 19, 2016

knight of cups Greetings again from the darkness. Some are calling this the third segment of a Terrence Malick trilogy – in conjunction with The Tree of Life (2011) and To The Wonder (2012). While the first of these three movies is considered an artful thought-inducing commentary on parenting and growing up, the third might just prove director Malick is the ultimate prankster … or maybe this is his grand social experiment to see just how far he can push his viewers.

Let’s start with the positive elements, as that won’t take long. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is an eight time Oscar nominee and three time winner (The Revenant, Birdman, Gravity), and has been the Director of Photography on these three Malick movies. He is a master with the camera, and truly creates art whether he is shooting nature, an isolated figure, or even the convoluted party scene in this latest. All three films are beautiful to look at … which doesn’t necessarily translate to being a pleasure to watch. OK, that’s the end of the good stuff.

The movie title, as well as the chapter titles flashed during the film, originates from Tarot cards. Unfortunately, the in-film titles seem to have little (or no) connection to the scenes that follow, nor those that precede. My guess is that Malick was playing truth or dare, and his opponent dared him to include Tarot cards in his next film … a worthy challenge for any director.

If you are looking for a story or anything approaching coherency or character development, Mr. Malick would have you believe that the trite tradition of beginning/middle/end is dead, and its replacement is a mosaic of barely related fragments with no need for such frivolity as conversation. Sure, the characters move their lips, but mostly what’s heard is whispered narration and mood music.

If somehow you aren’t yet excited to rush out to the theatre, perhaps you may be enticed by the random stream of empty or nearly empty buildings, odd angles of Los Angeles architecture, Christian Bale roaming the rocky desert, Las Vegas (just because), lots of fancy swimming pools, and family members apparently arguing (without us hearing most of their words, of course).

Here is what we know. Christian Bale plays a screenwriter apparently experiencing some type of writer’s block. While blocked, he reflects on his life and the six women with whom he had relationships (Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Frieda Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots, Isabel Lucas). We know nothing of his character’s writing ability, but it’s obvious he has been successful in attracting beautiful women to his bed – and then, like most guys, screwing things up beyond repair. Bale’s character also has an angry (and perhaps ill) brother (Wes Bentley) and an angry (and perhaps ill) father (Brian Dennehy). At times, they are all angry together and angry at each other, and it’s apparently over the suicide of the youngest brother/son … though we are never clear on who blames who, or if they all blame each other and themselves.

To be sure, Terrence Malick is the only director making movies like this. His films attract the best actors working … even though no script exists. He may be the painter who paints like no other painter, and thereby appeals to the smallest possible audience. What I do know is that I counted 32 fellow movie goers walk out of the theatre during the movie, not to return. It’s possible the popcorn was somehow tainted, but more likely they value their time on Earth.

It’s certainly possible that my mental capacity falls substantially short of what’s required to comprehend the metaphysical Malick message. Or perhaps the project is as pretentious as it seems. Or perhaps I’m just not in on the joke. There is one line from the film that does make a point, “To suffer binds you to something higher than yourself”. Perhaps Malick is providing a service to those of us who suffer through this movie … if only we knew to what we were being bound.

Oh, and what’s with the helicopters?

watch the trailer … try muting the sound and closing your eyes for the full experience.



November 21, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Paul Haggis, Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson?? COUNT ME IN! Oh wait, you mean there is more to making a quality movie than just gathering together a bunch of talented people? Well if you need proof …

Maybe my expectations were too high. Paul Haggis has proved himself to be a remarkable writer (Crash, Million Dollar Baby) and an excellent director (Crash, In the Valley of Elah). Russell Crowe is one of the finest actors working. Elizabeth Banks is a stunning talent – both highly comedic and full of range. Liam Neeson adds a touch of class to every film he is in (this one’s no exception). The film is watchable, but an unnecessary stretch from the real world.

The best part of the film is the scene with Crowe and Neeson. Neeson’s character has escaped from SEVEN prisons and Crowe needs some tips so he can bust out his wife (Banks) who has been wrongly (maybe, maybe not) convicted of murder. The scene plays awfully close to an infomercial on “How to Break out of Prison” hosted by Liam Neeson. OK, I didn’t say the scene was believable, just the best in the film. Try not to wonder how a guy that breaks out of prison SEVEN times (and finally surrenders because he is tired of looking over his shoulder) is actually a free man able to meet Crowe for coffee.

What I am most disappointed in is the manner in which Crowe’s college professor frump of a man transforms into an action figure after meeting with Neeson and getting his rear-end kicked trying to buy fake ID’s. Suddenly he is out-gunning drug dealers and driving the world’s fastest Prius in reverse down a dark alley … and then going head to head with strategy against some near-clairvoyant detectives. Wow.

Certainly not going to tell you if Crowe’s plan actually works or if somehow he masters the art of flexibility while on the run. Whatever happens, I would have preferred him to remain true to his character early in the film. Every viewer could relate to his frustration with the system and his desperation to free his wife – just not the quick transformation to modern day Gladiator.  A movie pet peeve I have is when a movie purposefully misleads the viewer in an effort to have the story come across as more complex than it really is.  The black & white “flashbacks” in this one are a prime example.  Don’t misinterpret … I live for the complex plot twists that challenge me as a viewer.  But outright fraud from the filmmaker ruffles my feathers no end.

The supporting cast in the film is given very little to do. Olivia Wilde (Thirteen from “House”) is wasted as the mother of a friend to Crowe’s kid. Daniel Stern has one scene as Banks’ attorney. RZA plays an unscrupulous drug dealer (redundant?). And while it’s great to see Brian Dennehy on screen as Crowe’s father, it is unfortunate he is reduced to being near silent and all-knowing.

The movie would make a fine diversion on one of those sleepless nights once it hits cable, but right now, I am just annoyed at the waste of talent and the lack of effort to make a better film.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you need a quick “how to” on breaking a loved one out of prison

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you think dropping your kid off at a birthday party two hours early is acceptable behavior – especially if the reason is to break your spouse out of prison