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Archive for the ‘DIRECTED BY TERRENCE MALICK’ Category

Song To Song

27 Mar

Song To Song – directed by Terrence Malick. Romance. 129 minutes Color 2017.
★★★
The Story: Boy meets boy, boy meets boy’s girl, boy steals boy’s girl, girl leaves boy for girl, girl goes back to boy and boy, and then just boy.
~
Roony Mara is the Cleopatra of this fable, which feels like a personal story from the director’s life. Roony Mara? Age cannot wither nor custom stale her infinite monotony. She is the least mysterious, alluring, fatale of female creatures. Why any director casts this sphinx without a secret in major roles of sexual attention by everyone in the cast is not visible to the practiced eye. Or does lackluster have a luster all its own? She orphans everything she plays. A want of fire illuminates her.

She drifts as drift others through multiple and shifting plate-glass palaces and lowly cottages. Their interior furnishings are as empty as their interior lives. These settings wander as characters wander, with no fixed motive, no fixed affiliation, and no fixed income. How the hell are these people earning a living?

At the top of the heap stands a creepy billionaire record producer played by Michael Fassbender. He promises people careers in show-bizness, but he gives them the bizness. And he never unzips his fly for sex, so you know how dissolute he is.

A song-writer of ordinary talent is played by Ryan Gosling, Fassbender’s new best friend and first betrayed (The music business may be a stand-in for Hollywood.) Natalie Portman turns up as a gorgeous waitress also promised a rock-star role. And, in fact, there is Val Kilmer who once played a rock star again playing a rock star, this one in his stout fifties. Cate Blanchette plays Gosling’s rebound. Bérénice Marlohe plays the juicy lesbian. And somewhere lost in all of this is the great Holly Hunter.

Two things might be noticed about Malick’s method.

The first is that his is essentially a silent film method. You have to use an ear phone to hear what little dialogue there is, whereas, in silent film, lots of title cards tell you what it’s about. Here title cards take the form of voice-over.

Malick fell into the voice-over habit with his first film Days Of Heaven, when the little Bronx girl was coaxed into making the story clear by voice-overing it. Voice-over derives from the false notion that film is predominately not a spoken medium. With Song To Song, what you see is not a talkie.

Here we have “The Meaning Of It All” voiced-over, and it’s flaccid and tepid and vapid and vacant. However, unlike silent film, Malick’s words are devoid of humor. And in Song To Song there are no songs.

The second thing is that the acting is improvised. And this is always a mistake. When you make actors improvise a play, you make the actors write a play. Therefore, in an attempt to make things look natural, they look unnatural. In fact, they look hammy.

It’s a hamminess that is the reverse of over-acting. It is the hamminess of under-acting. Desultoriness and inertia emerge on the one hand, and on the other the actors’ choices look actorish. The actors’ choices look not what humans would do or what characters would do, but what actors would do.

Better leave them to act. Particularly with a director at once so icily controlling and lackadaisical as Malick. Indeed, at one dull spot, I noticed an actor listening intently while another actor spoke, and I realized it was Holly Hunter just doing her job.

Despite Malick’s elaborate narrative, Song To Song is rudely simple. He does get her in the end.

 

The New World

06 Jul

The New World. Written and directed by Terrence Malick. Historical drama.  A native Indian princess is wooed by two suitors in 1607. Pocahontas. 135 minutes Color 2005.

* * * * *

Colin Farrell and Christian Bale are the suitors for the hand of Pocahontas, but neither of the men is the focal character of the story. That falls to Q’Orianka Kilcher who plays the Indian maiden and plays her with great delicacy and meaning. It is probably not possible to imagine another actor to do it so well. There is that in her which carries the film’s 2 1/2 hours, and everything human in the film depends upon her performance, which grows and grows on one, just as it should do. The film recounts the miserable beginnings of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, its various early difficulties and resolutions. But the story itself is a grand romance, simple, and extended, for it unfolds, dignified and stately, as it probably did from the time Pocahontas threw herself across the body of John Smith to save him from death, to her subsequent history with John Rolfe. The story is very old- fashioned, for both men keep their hands off the maiden, whom both of them love, to be sure. Farrell woes her with his big brown eyes full of pain and fear; Bale woes her with his little brown eyes full of patience and doubt. But then Romance, by definition, depends upon separation. Lovers must be kept apart for Romance to work. Smith, it would seem, is her true mate, but is marriage-shy. But I say no more about the story, for there is so little to tell, that I would give away the entire plot in a sentence if I spoke more. The colony built on site at Jamestown certainly rings true, and so do the Indian villages. Unfortunately the crowd scenes are very badly directed and quite silly and unconvincing. No one is bloodthirsty; everyone is out to perform an honest tourist demonstration; it just won’t do. But the picture itself is beautifully filmed, of course, as are all Malick’s pictures, and abetted by music written one and two and three hundred years later, which Malick knows perfectly well, and which I found charming and right. A fine family film and most satisfying.

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The Tree Of Life

11 Jun

The Tree Of Life – Directed and written by Terrence Malick. Family Drama. The death of a younger brother triggers a growth many years later between the older older brother’s spiritual life and his experience of their father. 2 hours and 18 minutes. Color. 2011.

* * * * *

One goes to the movies of Terrence Malick as one goes to the dentist, not because one wants to but because one has to. And there one sits back and endures the same monotonous drill. Fortunately Terrence Malick makes one film every ten years, so one’s visits are not frequent. One must at the start make such a facetious crack, because Malick is devoid of a sense of humor. But that does not mean he is devoid of a sense of humans. For that is what is interesting about him. Here his color scheme is glacial, It is as if he wanted to keep us at a distance from the material and the people and what they endure: you may look but do not touch or be touched by it. I think that’s rather an easy out. For he has the actors sufficient to the substance rather than the scheme of drama. The story is essentially about three boys, 9, 11, and 12 I should say, and Malick captures their ways and means fully, and I believe his treatment is made from fear of making them piteous. He certainly does not need to do it to achieve memory, for his period is the later 40s and early 50s, and that is registered fully and accurately. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are master actors, and one goes to see how they will operate in this milieu, and they do just fine. Brad Pitt as the father has sold out and failed in the bargain he struck, giving up music for security as an engineer; then looking for a better bargain still, he works on inventions, also a failure. And, fifty years later, Sean Penn, as his architect oldest son, has also sold out. His home is as barren as the skyscrapers he constructs, so that his one-night-stand has to bring in a dead branch from the garden to give some natural life to it. Pitt’s relations especially to his elder son, who will grow up to be Sean Penn, are of ministerial authoritarianism as though in displacement of his own self castigation. He is devoid of play; even when he plays the piano he does not play, and the music associated with his burdensome personality is well upholstered classical. But he also physically loves his sons, and presents a parent who is both not the doormat-mother and is male. The movie ends with the vision of a bridge between natural life and grace. I have to say this out loud because it registers in the film as a bafflement. But if it had registered in the film it would have been as a feeble vulgarity. So – why does one go? One goes because Malik is a serious artist of film. Paul Thomas Anderson is another. There are precious few. One goes simply to be in the company of such temperaments.

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