Thursday, February 25, 2016

FIRST LOOK @ Terrence Malick's Voyage Of Time

I recently wrote about Terrence Malick's most intriguing project, more specifically on 02.22.16

"Documentary/ficition mix about the beginning of time, narrated by Brad Pitt no less. Its been rumored completed for the last 5 years now. Every year when the Cannes lineup gets revealed we cross our fingers it's there, maybe this year?"

We had some progressing news this morning when three new movie stills were revealed and they're absolutely stunning:

Voyage Of Time
Voyage Of Time
Voyage Of Time

If this looks like Lubezki well it isn't, pretty close though. Paul Atkins, who was Lubezki's right hand man as second unit cinemtographer on The Revenant, will take the stage as main photographer for this one.

We also learned today that two versions will be released, one a 40 minute IMAX extravaganza narrated by Cate Blanchett, the other a feature length film shot on 35mm an narrated by Brad Pitt. Suffice to say the latter intrigues us way more. Hopefully they can get this baby out by Cannes, which, if all goes as planned, I will be attending this coming May.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

John Hilllcoat's Triple 9

This will be me rummaging about director John Hillcoat and his by-the-numbers -but nevertheless thrilling in some parts- new film Triple 9. Hilllcoat really made his mark with The Proposition, which was an Australian western that took place in the Outback, now why the hell would that not work out as a film? It did and Hillcoat really turned heads with that one and despite my reservations for a few plot contrivances I did like its style quite a bit. Then came his big break, which could have been an even bigger deal, but alas it never materialized, an adaptation of Cormac Mccarthy's seminal novel The Road. Now this was broodingly morose material, right up Hillcoat's alley and I did think it was a good film, but that's the problem. The Road is supposed to make a GREAT film and he didn't add that extra something to make it an Awards contender, He followed it up with another GOOD film Lawless, which had an incredible cast including Jessica Chastain and Tom Hardy, another sort of Western-influenced take on the 1930's bootlegging scene and I really dug it, especially on second viewing where some of the finer details of the picture really stood out.

Now we come to Triple 9 which is probably the most conventional film h's made so far in his career, the cast is insanely A-list: Kate Winselt, Woody Harrelson, Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Great cast, but this film's release feels seriously dated, This is the kind of movie that Michael Mann invented in 1995 with Heat, there haven't been many better since then. A heist, police procedural with both the good and bad guys sitting on that moral dilemma fence, yeah it's all good I'm a sucker for these kind of pictures and I dug quite a bit of Triple 9, which is by the way the term used for an officer down in case you wanted to know. Winslet, who is badly miscast here, still manages to, well, be Kate Winslet and bring out another great performance. The whole cast is genuinely great and the direction by Hillcoat is as expected pretty solid, standard stuff/ He seems to really dig making brutally violent movies with moral dilemmas at the core of his characters. There are some action scenes here that I will truly grip you to your seat. Too bad, then, that the screenplay by Matt Cook doesn't push any boundaries and go beyond run of the mill characterizations and plot twists. Hillcoat deserved better, the cast deserved better and we deserved better. What we're left with is an entertaining action movie, but there's a reason why the studio decided to throw this one at us the last week of February.

Where film criticism is about to go

The ubiquitous #Oscarssowhite controversy might bring more to the cinematic table than just Chris Rock taking a few jabs at the Academy come next Sunday's Oscar telecast. No, I am also referring to the cinematic spectrum switching gears and celebrating films for political reasons more than cinematic. I don't think people realize just how big this movement really is. It will stretch out and change the way many people perceive films, for the wrong reasons of course. We saw it just last month at Sundance when Nate Parker's "The Birth of a Nation," a mediocre film that was unjustly clebrated by critics, bloggers and audiences alike, stormed out of the gate and became a surefire Oscar contender for 2017. Why am I saying it is a surefire contender if I just said it is mediocre? Because it is a movie that feels needed more for political gain than for actual cinematic qualities. It is a movie that can turn the most knowledgable of film critics blind to its flaws just for the sake of celebrating a film that perfectly fits the current political agenda. What the rave reviews for "The Birth of a Nation" have taught us is that there's a storm coming and it won't let up. The Academy has to atone for its "sins" and critics feel just as guilty for the blame. We are headed towards a direction I have long feared for film criticism, that of blurring the lines between your political and societal beliefs than, you know, focusing on the actual merits of a movie. I would be shocked if 2017 did not produce a few more overpraised films like Parker's and I wouldn't be surprised either if one or all of them underservedly got critics praising them like the second coming for all the wrong reasons.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Knight Of Cups and Malick's demise

I don'y know why I kept hesitating and delaying my viewing of Terrence Malick's latest, I had heard about the advanced buzz and I already didn't like his last film To The Wonder, which felt like a rehash and half assed imitation of his prior, more creatively inspiring work. Suffice to say that I did end up watching Knight Of Cups recently and it wasn't very good. I really hate to ask this question, but has he lost it? After The Tree Of life it seemed like nothing he would make after that would ever touch that incredible masterwork. It is the movie of his career and , so far at least, the movie of the decade.

Knight of Cups is, as mentioned, a pale imitation of the Malickian vibe that worked so well in The Thin Red Line and, for the most part, The New World. It is a movie that never really finds its footing and is stale for the most of its running time. A crying shame if you ask me, this comes to us from an auteur that took a lifetime to follow up his 1978 film Days Of Heaven, more precisely twenty years. Yikes, and now he's release 4 films in the past ten years - has his iconic status diminished because of the productivity and the fact that now we don't really see him as this perfect director anymore? I don't think so, but if this continues it'll be very disappointing.

Knight Of Cups premiered a year ago at the Berlinale to very mixed reviews, which delayed it for what seemed like forever. A lukewarmly met Terrence Malick film is a producers nightmare. His films are already not big box office draws, but when you add terrible reviews to the mix how the hell will you get people to show up and watch?

He has two projects still in development, both look like they might be completed soon. He's currently filming Weightless and also has that very intriguing TOF companion piece, a documentary/ficition mix about the beginning of time, narrated by Brad Pitt no less. Its been rumored completed for the last 5 years now. Every year when the Cannes lineup gets revealed we cross our fingers it's there, maybe this year? There's Terrence Malick for you in a nutshell: Unpredictable.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Revenant vs. The Big Short Vs. Spotlight

The title says it all. This has been a hell of a race, maybe the mostg entertainingly unpredictable since 2000 when it was Gladiator Vs. Traffi Vs. Courching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Vs. Erin Brokovich. What we have here is basically a three way race between the three titular aforementioned titles, The Revenant seems to eb the favorite at the moment, even though it failed to win the Producers Guild Award or the Screen Actors Guild. If it does end up winning Best Picture it would be a first since the preferential ballot that a film has won the top prize without winning the PGA. What has made people lean towards The Revenant is that it won the Director's Guild Award and is running very high off the momentum that this could be a two straighter for Inarritu in terms of winning Best Picture and Best Director, a feat very hard to achieve and more rare than winning two straight Super Bowls.

My own personal opinion of the three films is this: The Revenant is my type of film, ambitious and no-holds barred, it doesn't really fit into a particular category, which is always a good thing, I espied the flashbacks of Leo's deceased wife in the film and, really, the whole spiritual aspect of the screenplay (was there even a screenplay except for grunting and crying?), but the artistry was second to none and, as it stands, it is the most astonishing achievement of the three films battling.

Spotlight is fantastic, but suffers in terms of the flashiness that the Academy usually seeks in awarding their top prize, if that weren't the case they would have given the Best Picture Oscar to All The President's Men in 1976. Instead they opted to go with the more exuberant Rocky.Nevertheless, Tom Mccarthy's Boston Catholic church sex scandal picture is built to last. It's subtle direction by McCarthy is magnificently restrained and the performances are all so perfect and professional. His previous three great features, we're not counting the misbegotten Sandler bomb The Cobbler, found a way to sneak up on us even months, years later after their release. I recently revisited The Visitor and it holds up admirably well, a film with a universal theme that is built to last, ditto The Station Agent.

The Big Short will be the biggest contender for The Revenant. It is a film that has built a loyal and solid fanbase since its first presss screenings at the AFI Film Fest back in very late November. It is my least favorite of the three, but stands a good chance at winning the top prize because of its PGA win. Adam McKay, known for directing Will Ferrell comedies, helms the movie and does a surprisingly decent job at conveying the frustration that came with the economy downfall. As mentioned it has its fans and the cast is uniformly perfect, especially Christian Bale as a numbers guy that predicted the collapse way before it actually happened. Hollywood loves smartly executed, not to mention flashily directed, movies about money and this could be the big reason why it'll make it all the way.

Prediction: The Revenant will just squeak by.

What should win? 2015's two masterpieces: Mad Max: Fury Road, a miracle of a movie that will be remembered more than any other 2015 film in 30 years. Carol, Todd Haynes' beautiful lesbian drama, was stupidly not nominated, another reason to take all these awards with a grain of salt.

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