REVIEW: Voyage of Time

11 12 2016

voyage-of-time“As you watch these passing scenes, how does it seem to you?” This epigraph aptly sets the tone for the experience of letting Terrence Malick’s “Voyage of Time” wash over you. It’s clear that our cinematic philosopher has clear ideas about what each image means and how camera movement, shot duration and musical accompaniment can enhance that visualization. But there’s a place for us in this film. Our observations and feelings count because humans, albeit for an exceedingly brief time, are a part of this story.

Malick does not merely explain or demonstrate the journey of the universe from Big Bang to apocalyptic death. He thematizes it, expanding on the creation sequences from his 2011 film “The Tree of Life” (some images look quite familiar) but reduces them to pure form. This elemental treatment of the material frees his aesthetic from narrative, which then allows it to function something like Godfrey Reggio’s “Koyaanisqatsi” – a cinematic symphony playing in a heavenly chord.

Fans of Malick’s Texan opus will no doubt pick up on the director’s favored dialectic between the ways of nature and grace. Various stages depicted in “Voyage of Time” resemble the violence of the former and the gentleness of the latter. When humans make their appearance late in the film, his convenient gendering of the duality even resumes. Primitive early men are focused on hunting and killing, while women provide a nurturing alternative.

It’s easy to get caught up in the grandeur of the firmament as ethereally envisioned by Malick and a battalion of special effects gurus. Yet he and cinematographer Paul Atkins place as much value on the slowly batting eyelashes of a small child as they do on the vast expansion of the universe. How does it seem to me? It seems as if we are not to lose sight of the importance of our own role in the voyage of time.

And the recurring motif of a child running around the low grass in undeveloped land behind a suburban office park only serves to further reinforce this notion. As she traipses about, weeds break up through old concrete slabs long since forgotten by the people who laid them. We are given but a small chance to leave our mark on this story – are we to treat the gift of our earth with violence or gentleness? B+3stars

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REVIEW: To the Wonder

8 02 2015

To the Wonder” is probably the most Malickian (is that the right word – or would it be Malicky?) film that Terrence Malick has directed to date.  And that is not necessarily a good thing.

Like Quentin Tarantino or Wes Anderson, Malick’s stylistic hallmarks have transcended merely serving their story.  They are a recognizable brand.  Malick is so avant-garde and experimental, however, that his brand lacks a lot of commercial appeal.  (Though plenty of young filmmakers shamelessly try to imitate him.)

“To the Wonder” plays like a guide to make a Malick movie, rote and rather passionless.  It boils down what makes him distinct as a director into a series of clichés.  The film documents scenes from a love triangle (as portrayed by Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, and Rachel McAdams) as well as a few from a Catholic priest (Javier Bardem) that crosses their path at some point.  As usual with Malick, the engine moving everything forward is the philosophical and existential musings spewed by multiple narrators rather than a traditional “plot.”

Having voiceover from more than one person is not a problem, but “To the Wonder” stumbles by not firmly deciding on a main character or protagonist.  The film does not just feel unfocused; it feels remarkably undisciplined.  By not providing an entry point to the proceedings, Malick leaves his audience in a position on the outside looking in.

Granted, simply observing the film could be worse since “To the Wonder” is shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, the cinematographer behind iconoclastic films ranging from “The Tree of Life” to “Gravity” and “Birdman.”  While Lubezki hardly breaks boundaries or explores bold new territory here, even watching him on autopilot proves fascinating.  His technical proficiency combined with Malick’s eye for the beauty of nature makes for quite the dynamic duo.  They could even make a Sonic drive-in look magical – and in “To the Wonder,” they do just that.  C+2stars





LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2013

2 01 2013

I’ll still be stuck in 2012 at least until the Oscars are handed out and until then will be filling in with reviews of some of the movies I missed from the year.  But it’s time to move forward and look ahead to 2013, which could be a great year for cinema.  Several of my favorite filmmakers have projects due this year, which is what I will have to remind myself as I have to slog through a year that reportedly will give us 31 sequels and 17 reboots!

I had originally prepared a top 10 list for my most anticipated of 2013, but then I realized that since so many were TBD, there’s a chance we won’t see some of these movies until 2014.  So I added three movies at the beginning of the list that premiered on the 2012 fall festival circuit but will hit theaters for paying audiences in 2013.

Without further ado…

To The Wonder

#13
“To The Wonder” (April)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, and Olga Kurylenko

A year ago, Terrence Malick was critical darling with his “The Tree of Life.”  Yet when “To the Wonder” arrived at Toronto and Venice, you’d have thought they were reviewing a Michael Bay movie.  How someone goes from hero to zero that meteorically is curious.  If nothing else, “To the Wonder” could be the most anticipated disaster of the year.

Frances Ha

#12
“Frances Ha” (May 17)
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig
Starring Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, and Adam Driver

Upon its many festival stops in 2012, it was called a mixture of French New Wave with early Woody Allen.  Combine that with the fact that it’s written and directed by Noah Baumbach, whose “The Squid and the Whale” knocked me off my feet, “Frances Ha” sounds like a movie custom-made for me.

The Place Beyond the Pines

#11
“The Place Beyond the Pines” (March 29)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Written by Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder
Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes

They called it a sprawling, multigenerational epic when it played Toronto.  And from the trailer for Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to the harrowing “Blue Valentine,” it looks ambitious.  And honestly, I may be looking forward to this far more than several of the movies that made the ten.

Nebraska

#10
“Nebraska” (TBD)
Directed by Alexander Payne
Written by Bob Nelson
Starring Devin Ratray, Bruce Dern, and Bob Odenkirk

Alexander Payne’s “Election” alone makes anything from the director worth anticipating.  After a second writing Oscar back from a seven-year hiatus for “The Descendants,” he shortens his gap with a new movie within two years.  I’m a little skeptical, though, since the cast lacks some of the pop of Payne’s previous films, and he also didn’t write this one.

Inside Llewyn Davis

#9
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (TBD)
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, and Justin Timberlake

The Coens have gone from 1960s Jewish suburbia in “A Serious Man” to the 1880s Wild West in “True Grit.”  And now … back to the 1960s for the folk music scene of Greenwich Village?  They sure like to keep us on our feet.

The Wolf of Wall Street

#8
“The Wolf of Wall Street” (TBD)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Terence Winter
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Matthew McConaughey

Scorsese.  Enough said.  I suspect this will be the role that wins DiCaprio his Oscar, provided he doesn’t take Best Supporting Actor for “Django Unchained” this year.  With “The Great Gatsby” (see below) moving back to 2013, it assures us yet another fantastic one-two punch within the same year from DiCaprio.  “Gangs of New York” and “Catch Me If You Can.”  “The Departed” and “Blood Diamond.”  “Shutter Island” and “Inception.”  Boom, Leo comin’ at ya!

Catching Fire

#7
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (November 22)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth

I enjoyed “The Hunger Games” this year, though I do see room for improvement in sequels.  Hopefully the writer of “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours” as well as the writer of “Toy Story 3” can elevate it because I’m certainly not expecting much from the director of the middling “Water for Elephants.”  And I just kind of need something to fill the void left from “Harry Potter.”

Elysium

#6
“Elysium” (August 9)
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley

Anything shrouded in secrecy is enough to get me interested; that’s why “Prometheus” was at the top of this list for me in 2012 (that list was just mental).  And I think “District 9” could be merely scratching the surface of what Neill Blomkamp is capable of.  With Matt Damon and Jodie Foster headlining a sci-fi class warfare pic, this could be other-worldly levels of awesome.

Gravity

#5
“Gravity” (TBD)
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Written by Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron, and Rodrigo Garcia
Starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock

Speaking of other-worldly levels of awesome, let’s talk Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.”  He hasn’t released a film for 7 years, but his last three films were the incredible stretch of “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” and “Children of Men.”  His “Gravity” has been described as “if ‘Avatar’ had been released in 1927 a week after ‘The Jazz Singer.'”  What.  Warner Bros. pushed it back from 2012 for what I imagine was fine-tuning, which just has me all the more on pins and needles.

Labor Day

#4
“Labor Day” (TBD)
Written and directed by Jason Reitman
Starring Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, and Tobey Maguire

Jason Reitman, on a subjective and personal level, is probably my favorite director.  He’s had a flawless 4-for-4 stretch of films in his career, and though “Young Adult” might have been a step down from “Up in the Air,” that’s because the latter was basically perfect.  I’m fascinated to see what he can do with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin.

Twelve Years a Slave

#3
“Twelve Years a Slave” (TBD)
Directed by Steve McQueen
Written by Steve McQueen and John Ridley
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, and Michael Fassbender

Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” was pretty good, but his “Shame” was an absolutely ingenious triumph.  I can only imagine how he plans to top it in “Twelve Years a Slave,” the story of a New York man kidnapped and sold into slavery.  It’s got one heck of a cast, from Michael Fassbender to Brad Pitt to Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry’s first roles post-“Beasts of the Southern Wild.”  Is it too soon to cry Oscar?

Star Trek

#2
“Star Trek Into Darkness” (May 17)
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Written by Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Abrams did one heck of a job turning around the “Star Trek” franchise in 2009.  And from the superb trailer, it looks like he plans to boldly go into Christopher Nolan territory with a beautifully lensed and incredibly emotional follow-up.  I can’t wait.

Gatsby

#1
“The Great Gatsby” (May 10)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, and Tobey Maguire

I heard today that Jay-Z is going to be scoring Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of “The Great Gatsby.”  My first reaction was to rethink my placement of the movie as my most anticipated of 2013.  Then, I thought about it and realized that it might be a stroke of inspired brilliance that makes the movie even better.  Luhrmann is unparalleled in his ability to take old texts and make them feel alive, modern, and relevant.  Just look at how he took Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” and made it relevant for a post-MTV audience.  And think about how he seamlessly integrated pop songs into “Moulin Rouge,” set in 1900!  Luhrmann’s flair for the theatrical and opulent borders on gaudy on several occasions  but I think he’s the perfect match for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of the rich and the glamorous.  I have no doubt his use of 3D will serve the movie well too.  All in all, his “The Great Gatsby” will most definitely be for and by our times … and could wind up being the movie that defines 2013.





(Kinda Belated) Weekend Update – August 21, 2011

21 08 2011

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now.

You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets.

Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life.”

– George Clooney as Ryan Bingham in 2009’s “Up in the Air

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

– Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In case you missed it…

It was a pretty slow week as I was incredibly preoccupied running last second errands before leaving for college on Wednesday.  Hopefully I won’t fall off the map too precipitously, but things might be running slow for a while – especially in terms of reviewing new releases.

I took this as an opportunity to run reviews for some older movies that tied into other releases this week.  With Jessica Alba headlining the new “Spy Kids” movie, I reviewed her “Machete” and “Little Fockers” from 2010.  James McAvoy’s “The Conspirator” hit video this week, so I took the opportunity to review “Gnomeo & Juliet,” the animated Shakespearean tale to which he lent his voice.

I also took a look at the September crop of releases, which has a few gems shining amidst the trash heap.  Kris Tapley of “In Contention” just updated his Oscar predictions to include “Moneyball” as a probable nominee for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor.  More reason to get excited.  Click on the picture below to see the September preview post.

And the end of the week saw a lot of emphasis on Anne Hathaway as “One Day” opened in theaters.  On Friday, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” was “Rachel Getting Married,” Oscar-nominated because of her performance.  On Saturday, I reviewed “One Day” and for the most part liked what I saw.  Click the picture below to read the review.

Recommended Reading

Save a tree, read a blog. Unless you want to print out a review … in which case, you aren’t saving trees.

And Vulture asks the question we are all pondering: Why Do Studios Think There’s So Much Value in Old Titles?  After the flop of “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night,” here was their best conclusion.

“‘Studios remake these movies because they often already own the title,’ says Ammer. But it’s more than that. After all, it wouldn’t cost a studio any more money to hire a writer to write an original screenplay than it would to have him or her write one based on an older film. The real appeal of an old title is more superstitious: The studios use them, says Ammer, because ‘they know it’s worked in the past.’ Even though it’s an entirely different movie made by different people for a different generation, the idea is, hey, the title worked before, why not give it another shot? For all of Hollywood’s supposed liberalism, studios, like their audiences, are quite conservative. Genre is the most predictive aspect of a film’s future results, and then title, so why not double down? A remake of a successful genre film allows a studio the greatest possible risk reduction.”

The Tree of Death

/Film said it best when they broke the story: Even Sean Penn did not care for Sean Penn in “The Tree of Life.”  However, I’ll give credit to where I saw this first, Guy Lodge of “In Contention.”

Sean Penn moping about in my hometown.

In an interview with the French magazine Le Figaro, Sean Penn had this to say about Terrence Malick’s enigmatic film:

“I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”

I’ll go ahead and add this disclaimer to those that love the movie or the fact-checking Gestapo that yes, I realize that’s not the full quote.  But for the sake of this post, it’s easier to just analyze this part.

Where to begin?  The fact that a two-time Academy Award winner would bash his own movie would be shocking even if it was a total sellout, but even I as a non-impressed watcher see “The Tree of Life” as anything but a sellout.  It’s high art, just not the kind of art that was to my taste.  He doesn’t exactly mince his words there, pretty openly stating his distaste for how his role in the movie turned out.

This is nothing new, of course.  Adrien Brody complained when he was largely cut out of Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” – while I don’t like when whiners get their way, he certainly got it with Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” in 2002.  But Penn’s statement goes far beyond just a diva fit, although I do think it dabbles in a sort of self-centered sensibility.  He questions the very way that the movie was made!  Keep in mind that Sean Penn has stepped behind the camera before, even turning out an all-time favorite of mine with “Into the Wild.”

Penn gets to the core of my issues with the movie.  I’m even a little bit more flexible – I’d be fine without a conventional narrative.  But Penn points out that the movie was incredibly disjointed.  I’m sure that the movie was beautiful in Terence Malick’s head, just as Penn says it was beautiful on the page.  Interestingly enough, I’ve heard from industry insiders that Malick shot the script with the dialogue, even allowing Jessica Chastain to speak.  Then he would cut, walk over, and tell her to emote all of the dialogue just with her eyes.  An interesting philosophy that produced an interesting end product.

Still moping...

Yet when everyone on set is not working in sync with the same vision towards a final product, the movie inevitably suffers.  If an actor doesn’t understand his purpose on screen, how can he do a decent job?  Moreover, how can he contribute anything to the movie?  If a director can’t even articulate his vision to the people he entrusts to help him create art, how can he articulate it to an audience?  I’ll inevitably be hit with the “it’s subjective” argument, but give it up here.  You can’t honestly argue that Malick is such a visionary that he can’t even be on the same page with his fellow artists.

Even those that I’ve talked to who LOVE the film can at least admit that the Sean Penn segments were the weakest parts of the film, and the actor’s statements shed some light on why that is.  An actor just existing on screen because a character exists on the page doesn’t make for compelling cinema if he doesn’t understand the basic objectives and motivations.  It’s just … boring.

I guess my biggest question here is why didn’t Penn make a bigger fuss on the set?  It seems kind of cowardly to whip out these harsh words now, potentially even in “too little, too late” territory for those who feel they’ve wasted their life watching the movie.  I get the whole mindset that Malick is a genius and you don’t question him, but for such primal acting concerns as these, why wouldn’t you demand more from the master during production?  If he was really that dissatisfied, why not walk off the movie?  These problems Penn has should have been settled a long time ago, and by just bringing them up now, he’s either searching for attention or absolution for being the worst part of the movie.

Penn did close with this statement about the movie, something that I’d say I basically espouse:

“But it’s a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It’s up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved.”

 





REVIEW: The Tree of Life

30 06 2011

I saw “The Tree of Life” almost three weeks before publishing this review, and ever since, I’ve been so conflicted as to how I would approach reviewing it.  While I definitely wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie (more on that later), I didn’t want to insult those who loved it – and there were many of those, including the majority of critics.  As an amateur blogger, I’m straddling a delicate line between critic and average moviegoer, and I’m usually seen as standing on one side or the other.  But speaking as both, I recognize that writer/director Terrence Malick endowed his latest movie with a lot of meaning: for me, however, that meaning was hollow and ultimately didn’t parallel the amount of ambition on display.

I don’t care who you hear talking about how much they understand “The Tree of Life” or how much they realize every moment of the movie – unless they have a Ph.D. and have seen the movie multiple times, there is simply no way they can.  The movie is too overwhelming in scope for anyone to fully digest, much less comprehend.  Every frame is deliberate in its own right, and every image (except mopey Sean Penn) is endowed with an undeniable beauty by its creator, Terrence Malick.

But where I separate with the general critical consensus is that while I see the rapture of each shot, I don’t see them as contributing to the work as a whole.  To borrow an expression, the whole was less than the sum of its parts.  I have no doubt that in Terrence Malick’s head, this is an absolutely sublime movie, a thoughtful meditation on some of the biggest questions of humanity and religion.  Yet somewhere between his mind and what my eyes saw on the screen, there was a great disconnect.

Read the rest of this entry »





F.I.L.M. of the Week (June 17, 2011)

17 06 2011

In preparation for “The Tree of Life,” I made my way through the entire Terrence Malick filmography (which, by the way, isn’t hard since he has made all of four films in 37 years) for the first time.  I had heard so much praise for the director’s movies, yet the only one I thought was unequivocally worthy of it was “The Thin Red Line,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  Malick’s distinct style and imagery seem uniquely fitted for a movie like this, where men with killing machines are juxtaposed with the beauty of nature and the people who live in harmony with it.

Set in 1942 during the American offensive on Guadalcanal, Malick’s nearly three-hour film has the ambition and grandeur of an epic poem, and it certainly feels like one.  The beauty and the savagery Malick captures with the lens tells another story all on its own, and together with a script that plumbs for perspectives on the most primal questions of human existence, the movie’s visceral intensity can make for sensory overload.  In my opinion, it’s the only one of his films where I felt truly moved by the imagery and rambling philosophical narrations (both trademarks of his work).

Of course, I’m not going to pretend like I have a deep understanding of the movie, only that at surface level with some shallow analysis, it’s a satisfying watch.  It certainly doesn’t feel as esoteric or obscure as his other films.  I will say that I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the only one of his movies I really liked was his only adapted script.

The characters, although I’m sure still twisted for Malick’s own purposes, come from the novel of the same name by James Jones.  The men in the movie – with the exception of the now extremely famous – all look alike, so it gets a little confusing at times to separate the individual storylines of C Company.  However, as long as you are willing to accept “The Thin Red Line” as a movie of ideas and images instead of a movie of events, then you will be swept off your feet by Malick’s fim that doesn’t fall anywhere on the typical pro-war/anti-war spectrum.  It celebrates life in the most threatening settings known to mankind.