Tag Archives: John Travolta

Knight of Cups

Yes, Terrence Malick fans. Knight of Cups is finally here.

For those unfamiliar with the legendary though anything  but prolific filmmaker, his work isn’t easy to describe. When talking about his style, it’s just as easy to sound uncultured when trying not to sound pretentious as it is to sound pompous when trying not to sound uncivilized. So for now I’ll just say that his fans can recognize his presence behind the camera from his distinctive style as easily as they can identify Morgan Freeman by his voice or John Travolta by his chin. I can only name a couple (Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson) of American directors that working today with such a distinctive voice.

As strange as the comparison between Tarantino and Malick may seem, True Romance (Quentin’s first screenplay) was clearly and deliberately influenced by Badlands (Terrence’s first feature). Malick, who also wrote an uncredited draft of Dirty Harry, changed his approach to storytelling significantly after his directorial debut, a (relatively) straightforward story of young lovers on a crime spree. The director has only made six films since including Knight of Cups but all of them are notoriously light on dialogue, heavy on introspective voiceover, and generous with beautiful yet sometimes abstract imagery.

Because he has directed only six films in 43 years, you may have guessed that they knight of cups 2take forever to make. Both The New World (2005) and The Tree of Life (2011) were based on scripts that he started back in the 70s. They also take forever to edit. He reportedly shot over a million feet of film for The New World, which of course had to be edited down to a concise 135 minutes. Knight of Cups, shot during the summer of 2012, spent nearly four years in post-production. Both Christian Bale and Natalie Portman have said that they spent more time recording their voiceovers than they did in front of the camera.

Here’s where I really risk sounding like an asshole. Malick’s films have very little in the way of conventional plot and a whole lot in the way of atmosphere and feeling. They exist to be experienced, not understood. They’re not for everyone. I’m not even sure that they’re for me. To compare Knight of Cups to any of the director’s post-Badlands works, you’d have to be a much more devoted fan than I am.

"Knight of Cups"

I will say that Cups offers even less dialogue than The Tree of Life and yet its “plot”, about a screenwriter (Bale) who experiences some existential angst after seeming to have forgotten his sense of purpose, is somehow easier to follow. The director brings his unique vision to dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, vision of modern Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It’s a significant change of scenery for a filmmaker who usually makes period pieces. The cast is filled with recognizable faces, including Bale, Portman, and Cate Blanchett but to judge the performances would be to miss the point. Even Fabio can act in a Terrence Malick movie. That’s not a joke. He actually has a small part in this.

Knight of Cups probably won’t convert those who found Malick’s other films dull or inaccessible but, if you’ve never seen one, it’s worth a watch even if only for an experience that no one else in Hollywood can give you.

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The Forger

The Forger

For those who like a little Kids with Cancer with their heist movies, John Travolta’s latest may be for you.

Travolta plays Raymond Cutter, a skilled art forger who, upon learning that his teenage son is terminally ill, begs his old crime boss to pull some strings to get him released from prison with only months left to go on his sentence. Of course, nothing’s free in these kinds of movies and his boos wants something in return: forge me a Monet and steal me the real one. Not an easy task under the best of times but even harder when you’re trying to bond with your estranged sick son and your estranged Dad at the same time.

I had a short conversation with Khalid from The Blazing Reel last week about Travolta’s many questionable choices but I was amazed when watching The Forger how bad things really have gotten for him. I’m amazed that this wasn’t a straight-to DVD release. As I implied in my opening paragraph, the pairing of the sick kid family drama and caper picture feels awkward and a little crass. Travolta, as well as Christopher Plummer and Tye Sheridan (who play Travolta’s father and son), really seem to be trying but the family drama really doesn’t give them much to work with. Cutter spends most of his bonding time with his son by taking him to see a prostitute and teaching him to forge paintings. The father-son story takes up so much of the film’s running time that little time is left over for the planning and execution of the heist itself, which is pretty much rushed through at the end.

Still, I can’t claim indifference. I found myself wanting things to work out for these three characters. Knowing that Travolta himself has lost a son made it impossible for me to write off the story as completely trite. Unfortunately, there’s just not a single new twist or idea to be found in this movie that tries to be two movies without delivering on either one.