Tag Archives: terrence malick

Song To Song

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually seen this movie. It was the opening night gala film at SXSW and despite a near 2-hour wait in line, the theatre reached capacity only half a dozen people too early for me to get in. However, I did spend the rest of the festival hearing about the movie from people who were there – 100% of whom regretted it.

songtosong2To be fair, Terrence Malick is practically a hometown boy, and a huge local crowd turned out to see his latest film, which happens to be set in that very same town – Austin, Texas. The film is set against a backdrop of Austin’s vibrant music scene and SXSW is at the forefront of that music scene. Those factors attracted many people who’d never otherwise flock to a Malick film. Sean and I don’t consistently like them either (who does?) but at least we had a better idea of what we were getting into (we saw a Terrence Malick documentary narrated by Brad Pitt at TIFF this year).

What were some of the issues with the movie?

  1. Although Song To Song is a love letter to Austin, it’s mostly a love letter to Austin’s 1%. The McMansions that feature strongly in the film are not exactly the norm for the city. The whole thing has a much more slick and jet-set feel than laid-back Austin does in reality.
  2. SXSW in particular and Austin in general has an impressive music scene and is a real champion of indie acts. Abounding with local talent and featuring really cool guests from all over, Malick instead went with much more main-stream acts, including Patti Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Iggy Pop, and while no one has qualms with these guys, they don’t exactly scream Austin.
  3. Females as objects: that’s kind of a biggie. Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara co-star in this flick about not one but two love triangles, but basically the women exist only to serve the men in the film, one way or another.
  4. It’s insanely white. I didn’t really think of Texas as particularly diverse, but having visited Austin, it is. It’s young and it’s alive but Terrence Malick’s Austin is very monochromatic.

 

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South By SouthWest

The SXSW Conference and Festivals is celebrating its 31st year – 24th year of film, which is our specialty of course – but South By Southwest also has really great music, comedy acts, art exhibits, speakers, and a whole lot more: it’s just a bunch of people who love the arts and want to celebrate them. For ten days (2017 dates: March 10-19), SXSW loads Austin, Texas with the coolest shit imaginable, and you can bend your brain out of shape trying to jam-pack the most into your schedule because YOU’LL WANT TO SEE EVERYTHING.

Check out their schedule for all the details, but here’s just a taste:

  • Joe Biden’s in the house! On Sunday March 12, he’ll be at the Austin Convention Center to talk about the Biden Cancer Initiative. SXSW’s social conscience is taking on cancer in a bid to make it history; they’re amassing entrepreneurs, innovators, industry executives, venture capitalists, celebrities, philanthropists and us regular folk to get together and make sense of this thing. If you can’t make it to the VP’s talk, SXSW will be generously posting it to their website at a later date.
  • Speaking of Veeps, the cast of Veep will be on hand. If you prefer your Vice Presidents to be fictional and funny as fuck, Selina Meyer has a thing or two to say about what happens when the real president out-buffoons the people meant to be satirizing him. The panel will look towards their 6th season, and feature writer/executive producer David Mandel, executive producer/star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and cast members Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Gary Cole, Tim Simons and Sam Richardson. Catch them on March 13.
  • Ramblin’ Freak, a documentary by an Austin film maker, will make its SXSW debut and challenge your notions of grieving, film making, and navel-gazing. A man sets out cross country to meet “the man whose arms exploded” and ends up making a completely different movie altogether. It’s raw and authentic. Its world premiere is March 13th at the Alamo Ritz with additional screenings March 16 & 18 at the Alamo Lamar.
  • Comedian Wyatt Cenac is hosting Night Train at Esther’s Follies on March 11, and will be joined by stand-up comedy greats like Tim Dillon, John Hodgman, Dulce Sloan, Joel Kim Booster, and Janeane Garofalo.
  • Austin-born Terrence Malick is opening the festival with his new film Song to Song on March 10.  The film is inspired by Austin’s awesome music scene and stars Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, and Michael Fassbender. Malick is pretty press-shy but we know Fassbender will be in town; he’s also promoting Alien: Covenant with a screening of Alien (1979) later that night, with Ridley Scott and Danny McBride.
  • Cindy Wilson (formerly of the B52s) is performing her new (and very different!) material at The Sidewinder March 13.
  • SXSW has a ‘Virtual Cinema’ with an impressive lineup of innovative, virtual-reality movies that run throughout the festival.
  • Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, is giving a talk and will likely cover topics ranging from #OscarsSoWhite to this year’s #EnvelopeGate.
  • Buzz Aldrin, NASA’s first astronaut with a doctorate, and constant advocate for human space exploration, will be in conversation with Time Magazine’s Jeff Kluger at the Austin Convention Center on March 14.
  • A visually stunning documentary called Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film mixes politics and art by following Native American artists as they put up an art installation along Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between USA & Mexico that instead seeks to unite the two countries and cultures. It screens at the Rollins Theatre March 11, and then again on March 13 & 17 at Alamo Lamar.
  • Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz is discussing the music of La La Land at a cocktail reception at Cedar St Courtyard on March 12.

Sean and I spent literally hours combing through the bountiful schedule and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. SXSW includes networking meetings, mentoring programs, and 263 films from new and emerging talent, including lots of female directors. We’re particularly excited to check out Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Free Fire, and so many indie movies our hearts will explode (if the delicious BBQ doesn’t get us first).

Texas here we come!

The Seventh Fire

Rob Brown takes a moment to consider his beloved Ojibwe community, and pronounces its new tradition: booze and bingo. Director  Jack Pettibone Riccobono gives us plenty of cut-away shots of the things that used to feature strongly in the aboriginal culture: water, trees, and sky, but those days are gone. Today Brown’s remote Minnesotan reserve is in the business of methamphetamine, and the meat of The Seventh Fire is in following gang leader Brown and the path of destruction he’s hewn within his own tribe.

jack%20pettibone%20riccobono%20the%20seventh%20fireBrown’s teenaged protégé Kevin is already a drug user and a drug pusher, well on his way to the life of crime exemplified by his idol. Brown is pretty blasé about his recent unlaw-abiding behavior until he’s confronted with his 5th stint in prison, a 58 month stretch that has him sweating but not quite with regret.

Riccobono and his crew are given startling access to this community, and it’s unreal how unconcerned his subjects are with being filmed at their worst. In fact, as time goes by,  you realize how mundane the drug culture has become. Fathers manufacture drugs at the kitchen table, very young children are snorting openly, kids use their culture’s very sacred tradition of pow-wow to score drugs or to sell them.

Though the word is never spoken aloud, Riccobono gives us a real sense of hopelessness from the community. Parents dejectedly feel it’s too late for their kids, not yet of legal age but already parents themselves, sixteen and sadly indifferent about their own childhoods borne in violence and addictions, and about their own kids doomed to repeat the cycle.

Rob Brown has a mea culpa while in prison, words that sound right and true, but come a little too easily when one is behind bars and untested. Whether or not he owns up to his responsibility on the outside is a matter to be seen – although if one were to judged based on footage over the past hour of the documentary, it’s not a promising picture.

The documentary manages neither to judge nor to excuse, but provides an unflinching eye toward a people who seem lost and forgotten. The Seventh Fire is a heartbreaking work about loss: loss of culture, of identity, and ultimately, of freedom.

 

This review first appeared at Cinema Axis.

 

 

 

TIFF: Voyage of Time

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is the 45 minute version of Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, written and directed by Terrence Fucking Malick; a 30 year labour of love.

We watched the shorter version in the IMAX theatre where Sean watched Spider-Man 2 with a girl named Tall, Stupid Rebecca. Did you guys know Sean dated other women before me? How rude. But he did, apparently, when he used to live in the fine city of Toronto (and voyage-of-time-copertinaby the way, I also lived here at the time, and yet: Rebecca BitchFace. I’m sure she’s a lovely girl.) Where was  I? Oh yes.

It takes a special brand of masochism to attempt a Terrence Malick flick as your fourth film of the day, and yet there we were, sitting in the same seats where Sean once fumbled an “accidental” boob graze of another woman’s tit. I KNOW YOUR MOVES, SEAN. Ahem. I digress.

Voyage of Time is billed as an examination of “the origins of the universe, the birth of stars and galaxies, the beginning of life on Earth and the evolution of diverse species” but that’s COMPLETE HORSESHIT. Calling it a documentary at all feels like a stretch. Or, you know, a flat out lie. But it is the movie Terrence Malick was born to make. His feature films tend to be languorous, dreamy imagery interspersed with the vaguest tendrils of plot. Voyage of Time is all the imagery and none of the plot. It’s loaded up with his signature “sun flares through a leafy tree” but these alternate between CGI renderings of what Terrence Malick thinks the beginnings of life might have looked like. Terrence Malick is many things, but: astrophysicist? Nope. He’s definitely got some scientific advisers on tumblr_o9l8rnmwj61r5ixiao2_540board but the result isn’t science at all. It’s conceptual; more contemplative than comprehensive. No science teacher will ever show this in class – but a yoga teacher might. Getting the gist? It’s a thing of beauty, often thoughtful, but far from educational.

Brad Pitt narrates, often in such a way that you can hear the italics in his voice. It’s like he’s reciting poetry with his eyes closed (Cate Blanchett narrates the longer version, for some reason). I tried very hard not to snort because the director of photography was sitting directly behind me, and that’s a lot of pressure. I felt sometimes that I should sigh appreciatively just so that he didn’t get a complex. Or lean back for a high five every time there was a sun-dappled field or rays of sunshine peaking from between limbs of a majestic tree.

It’s obvious even from Malick’s narrative films that he has a thing for nature and philosophy and theology, for lack of a better word. The pace of the movie is soulful, at the rate of about 1 fact per 1-2 minutes of silent reflection.

Did I enjoy it? Well, fuck. It is an experience. Plus, making it to the end of any Malick movie is an accomplishment, almost equal with having climbed Everest. It’s definitely CV-able. And he did raise a question I’ll be chewing over for days to come. Most documentaries in the vicinity address life – what, where, when, why. But Terrence asked about death – when did death first appear? And you know what? Not only do I not know the answer, I didn’t even know to ask the question. We think of life and death as inseparable, but who’s to say?  Life’s first ambition is to go on living, and maybe that’s exactly what it did. Until. Until what? I don’t know. Neither does Malick, but at least he’s asking, and you know he’s asking in the most magical way he knows.

 

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.

To The Wonder

Oh, they’re in love. Terribly, terribly in love. They’re that gross couple you roll your eyes at because they think they’re the first ones to be so over the moon with each other. Ugh.

To-the-WonderThe movie opens with obligatory montage of just how very happy Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck) are. It reminds me a bit of a french, pretentious (redundant?) version of how Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind begins, which immediately makes me feel like this won’t end well. Marina and her daughter move from Paris to Oklahoma and for some reason nobody suspects that this will be a jarring downgrade. I visited both within 2 months ago and yeah, not comparable no matter how much Affleck peen you’re getting. The only thing worse than her syrupy narration is his whispery one. Careful you don’t strain your eyes from rolling them deep backward into the dark recesses of your brain.

And then she burns the dinner! Oh, should I have said: spoiler aleart! Spoiler alert, the reality of every day life together starts to cool their ardour a bit. And the further apart they drift, the more she turns toward fellow exile and Catholic priest (Javier Bardem) and he gravitates toward an old flame (Rachel McAdams).

Is now a good time to mention that this is a Terrence Malick film? It was released just a year after Tree of Life (only his 6th feature in 40 years) and is also semi-autobiographical, the first of his films to be set entirely in modern day. There was no script, just pages and pages of thoughts. The actors were simply told to play the emotions without speaking and while there’s plenty of voice over, there is hardly any dialogue.

What can I say about Terrence Malick other than he’s a polarizing film maker. He’s certainly a visionary but critics can’t seem to agree if he’s  a genius or a bit of a dullard. When it played at the Venice Film Festival, it was met with both boos and cheers.

Malick must commit tonnes of footage to film. In post-production he creates and hacks in equal measure, sometimes losing entire characters (Kurylenko made him promise that Marina would remail in the film, but supporting roles featuring Rachel Weisz, Jessica Chastain, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Michael Shannon all ended up on the editing room floor). His imagery is beautiful, and this particular cake is frosted with generous dollops of religion. He’s exploring love in different ways and settings. This isn’t a narrative, it isn’t a story, it’s more a philosophical treatise on love. If you know Malick, then you’re used to the stylistic montages, though this one feels more fragmentary than most.

tothewonder22Just between you and me, I think Malick’s movies are getting increasingly masturbatory as we go along. He loves his long, meandering shots, and who cares whether they’re actually pertinent to the “plot”? Plot? Hahaha. Plot. Is this meditation or pretension? There’s a lot here that can be only experienced intuitively, which makes it quite demanding of its viewer.

This was the very last movie review that Roger Ebert submitted before his death; it was published posthumously 2 days later. Ebert was in his last days and must have known it (have you seen Life Itself?). His reading of the film is a rather spiritual one:

“A more conventional film would have assigned a plot to these characters and made their motivations more clear. Malick, who is surely one of the most romantic and spiritual of filmmakers, appears almost naked here before his audience, a man not able to conceal the depth of his vision.

“Well,” I asked myself, “why not?” Why must a film explain everything? Why must every motivation be spelled out? Aren’t many films fundamentally the same film, with only the specifics changed? Aren’t many of them telling the same story? Seeking perfection, we see what our dreams and hopes might look like. We realize they come as a gift through no power of our own, and if we lose them, isn’t that almost worse than never having had them in the first place?

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.”