To the Wonder:
My least favorite Malick film. At first, I would have said it's the only Malick film I actively dislike. But 24 hours after viewing, I'm in favor of it.
It's still Malick. He constantly shows rather than tells. It's what makes his movies resonate while also driving people insane.
I just don't think I care this time?
Badlands had likable characters, a plot, and startling use of music (when they're in the forest!!! one of my favorite moments in cinema).
Days of Heaven had conflict and character dynamics and one hell of an incendiary conclusion.
Thin Red Line had poetry amidst murder, humanity face to face with war.
New World captured the feel of being in a strange land, one barely believed, barely discovered, with people unknown, a culture unknown, and the impact this has on the natives, how they view these newcomers. It's probably my favorite Malick.
Tree of LIfe is ambition manifest. Comparing the formation of the universe and of Earth to the formation of a family...and how disaster changes the evolution of things, wounding, changing the status quo...How do we recover from that? How do we move on from the things that ruin our innocence and change us forever? That's what we see with Jack's arc. Going from innocence and wonder, to a career businessman who is listless and haunted. Is the movie for everyone? No. Is it tremendous? Yes.
To the Wonder is dealing with Christianity. With religion and faith. Affleck and Olga K play interesting roles. We can view each as a polar interpretation of God and each as a polar interpretation of people in regard to religion. As God, Affleck represents the distant God, the one that isn't always there, that doesn't always respond, that doesn't give you the reassurance you need to feel like your faith and effort is worthwhile. This is what we see with Olga, who LOVES Affleck. She's as devout to him as she is in her religion. But we see the strain of a distant God, how it makes her question her faith, how she runs from God, comes back to God, ultimatums God and doesn't get the response she wants. She leaves and we get the voice over of "I would have stayed if you had asked me" (not verbatim), except God doesn't ask you to stay. That's not how it works.
On the flip side, you have Affleck as the one who is skeptical of God, with Olga being the version of God who is in your face. If you believe God created the world, how can you not look at the natural beauty around you and think "My goodness, God is great"? There Olga is, supporting Affleck, loving Affleck, dancing and delightful, smiling. But Affleck won't commit to her. He won't believe in her love. He won't return her love. And Affleck is what? Left alone to long.
Bardem's Priest plays into this. He attempts to support Olga and to enlighten Affleck. Except he is also suffering a crisis of faith brought on by not being able to see God, by loneliness, by throwing himself into the realm of people who are impoverished and crippled. He leads a draining life. But he is committed. And he, more than any other character in the movie, is, at the end, left with feelings of validation and support.
He is also the only character not looking to another human being for support. Affleck wants someone, Olga wants someone, McAdams wanted someone. None of them could be happy alone. Not the way Bardem learns to be. Except Bardem believes he isn't alone because he has Christ in front of him, behind him, above him, beneath him, inside of him, to his right, to his left. We can translate this to all the shots of the natural world.
You notice that whenever Olga, Affleck and McAdams are happiest they are interacting with nature? They are in the grass, or watching animals, or on a beach. The lowest point of the movie is Olga going to the motel with that weird dude with the washboard abs. The motel is the least natural thing in the movie. All concrete. It's dirty. And here a huge sin is committed: infidelity.
The last shot is of Mont Saint-Michel near the water. This is what was described, early on, as "the wonder". There's this fusion of human effort (Mont) and nature (the coast). And it's the spot the movie decides to show us last. In a radiant display. The light on the water, the castle on the hill and bathed in luminescence. I would say this is Malick's ultimate ideal: humanity fusing its work with the work of God. In this case, nature. We see how important nature is throughout every single one of Malick's movies. This is just the first time he's "explained" why.
I respect what Malick goes for. There are still some great shots and great juxtapositions (when we see Olga and Affleck and then cut to Olga staring at an amusement park ride...suggesting that she's on a ride, just like those people). But the narrative doesn't matter much to me. I don't care about these people questioning their faith and God, or even if they're together or happy or sad. As a narrative, I think this is Malick's weakest effort (he doesn't make me care, not the way he made me care for his other characters and what their concerns were...for instance how young Pocahontas was crazy about John Smith and he left and here comes John Rolfe and we understand why she's nervous and shy, why she's skeptical, and we can invest in the fact that he will treat her well, that he really does love her, and will commit to her instead of running from her, we will be happy for her because we have seen her suffer and we see how dedicated he is. Malick created a situation in which we could root for her happiness. He doesn't do that here).
Stylistically, I think it's his least innovative work. The camera movement and music and voiceovers similar to Tree. The American setting visually similar, at times, to Heaven. The romance-at-odds similar to World.
It's also Malick's shortest movie since Days of Heaven. Badlands and Heaven were both low 90s. World had 150 min, 135 min and 17s min releases. Thin is 171 and Tree 138. Wonder is 113. It could easily have been 30 min longer and been a better, more resonant film. Or all the Rachel McAdams scenes shorter and been a better film.
Really, I get the point of Rachel's scenes. We're supposed to really see Affleck's fear of commitment. How easy it can be to love someone else (contrasted by how difficult it is for everyone to remain loving God (see Bardem's character's arc)). I just think there is a better way of doing this. The fact she appears when needed and disappears when needed is flimsy and weak. I've seen Damon Lindelof write better stories than this.*
*I'm lying for effect
I had no idea this was a Don Bluth film. I saw it twice in theaters. For some reason it just...has always fascinated me. Even though I think the main character's mouth looks weird and that Matt Damon does a very strange job? Besides those two things...I think I have a better understand of my secret crush on this movie.
1. Don Bluth
2. Outer space
Bluth created one of the best dinosaurs movies in existence: The Land Before Time. And another movie I love: An American Tail. Except I always liked Fivel Goes West better, for some reason? There's something about Bluth's animation, though. It astounds me every time I watch Land Before Time, which I still do, about once a year.
With Titan A.E., Blouth has so many interesting details. It's how the characters move. The people in the background. The supporting characters. The movie holds me in some strange rapture. Especially with all the shots of outer space. I talk about scope of shot selection, often. And I think movies like The Lord of the Rings fail to maximize the opportunities of their story. Jackson incorporates New Zealand here and there, but we have far more close-ups than we do visuals of the world. Sure, there are establishing shots, but those are establishing shots. Once we switch to nothing but close-ups...we lose scope. Titan has such scope. Even when we're in interiors, there's a plethora of detail to look at. The same thing is true with Akira. God, I love Akira. Titan isn't as important a film as Akira, but I think it's underrated. Insanely underrated.
I would like someone to argue with me why Wall-E is a better movie than Titan A.E.
The thing I always admired and respected about Bluth is how murky his narratives were. He treated kids with respect.
The thing I will never understand about Bluth is the arc of his content. He goes from a killer tetra of: Secret of NIHM, to Land Before Time, to An American Tail, to All Dogs Go to Heaven. To the odd choices of: Rock a Doodle, Thumbelina, A Troll in Central Park, The Pebble and the Penguin, Anastasia, and Bartok the Magnificent. Then Titan A.E.
To be fair, I haven't watched Rock, Thumb, Troll, Pebble, Ana or Bartok. I know Anastasia is supposed to be goo. But looking at the covers of the other movies...they just don't look interesting. In the same way you can look at Disney's Dinosaur and know it will suck (it sucks). And now I just read about them and, from the evidence, it seems they do indeed suck. Or are at least not the same quality as the rest of Bluth's films. I don't know what changed. Why he went in the direction he did? But I think Titan A.E. is a great final film. I just wish it hadn't been a last film and had been, rather, a springboard to a new universe for Bluth's work.
Hemlock Grove Season 1:
Holy shit, where do I start.
I love this show.
The show reminds me of Lost. We have a lot of characters: 7 Godfreys, 4 Rumancek, 6 classmates, 2 werewolf hunters, 1 cop, 1 super-strong Asian scientist, 1 shady corporation. Almost all of these characters interact. The waitress at the golf club interacts with Olivia Godfrey, Shelly and Roman. Then she's interacting with high schoolers Christina and Alexa and Alyssa. We see how Shelly interacts with Olivia, with Roman, with Letha, with Norman, with Dr. Pryce. Each of these characters have a history we sort of learn about. There's flashback woven throughout the show. There are whispers ala The Others. There are powers. There's even talk about strong electro-magnetic fields. A lot like Lost.
Except, unlike Lost, we do get answers. At least in some respects. There's plenty setup for season 2.
The end of season 1 is one of the most tragic things I've ever witnessed. EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER has suffered some sort of emotional trauma. At least SIX characters are dead. 7 if you count someone else. 8 if you believe someone else is dead. Oh shit, maybe 9. NINE. That's a lot.
This is where the spoilers start.
Let's look at the top 3 tragedies.
3. The Cop. He's lost both of his daughters, his wife (before the show's plot), then his daughters' best friend. Then he retires from being a cop. So what's he left with? No family and feeling as though he failed in his duties as a father and as a protector. He is salvaged, somewhat, by being a "hero" for shooting another teenage girl who was actually the real hero. That's a terrible way to become a hero.
2. Norman. Dude has spent years in love with Olivia. Torn because Olivia was married to his brother and the affair Norman and Olivia had might have been partially what led to the brother's suicide. How could he be with her with that hanging over his head? Also: when Norman was okay with the guilt, was ready to leave his wife and marry Olivia, he had a daughter. So he stayed with his wife for 18 years. Then his daughter dies in childbirth. That sucks. Compound that with this: Norman finally leaves his wife to be with Olivia. FINALLY. FINALLY. FINALLY. After 20 years. The two can be together. What happens the same night? Roman kills Olivia. Poor Norman.
1. Roman. This is what gets me. And what elevates the show to "HOLY SHIT THIS IS AWESOME" status. Roman believes he is a warrior. He spends the entire show wanting to battle, to prove himself, to feel as though he can make a difference. It's the entire point of his catabasis. He journeys inward to figure out how to rid himself of his weaknesses. He emerges with a better understanding of himself. He's less of an asshole, a way better person. Except he still hasn't found the answer to his problem. There's still something he has to do. With Shelly gone, he tries to find her, he thinks he hears her whispering "Steel your heart". He can't figure what this means. When Olivia wants him to kill Letha's baby, the baby he unknowingly fathered, Roman runs to the mirror and uses his hypnosis on himself. He tells himself to "Steel your heart, steel your heart, steel your heart". It works. He commits suicide. Thinking this was what was necessary. And, in a way, it was. He emerges a vampire. It's exactly what his mom wanted him to do. Except his heart is still steel. He murders Olivia. He descends the stairs. He's not an "Adult". And he's rid himself of his shadow, his fulfilled the mission he learned of in his catabasis. We don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing yet, it's definitely a sad thing. Throughout the show, we see how decent of a human being Roman can be. He can be nice to his mother. He's always adoring and caring and protective of Shelly and Letha. With them, he is the most human. Even with Peter. We see how much Roman cares. For him to "Steel his heart" means he is eradicating that caring side. How can one care, how can one protect, how can one FEEL, when one's heart is steel? This is sort of tragic, but the real tragedy comes when we hear Shelly whisper "Still your heart." Remember, Roman said he had a vague shape of Shelly, he couldn't make out what she was saying. It sounded like "Steel your heart". In the final episode, before Letha gives birth, Destiny tells Roman "Still. To be the still point in a turning world is a warrior's greatest feat." At the time, we don't get what it is referring to. But then when we hear Roman hypnotize himself...we know. He's saying the wrong thing. He shouldn't be steeling his heart. He should be stilling it. Instead of accomplishing the warrrior's greatest feat...Roman has made himself, quite literally, into a monster. That's the ultimate tragedy. It's one of the saddest things I've ever seen in a plot.
The structure of the show is interesting. It all builds up to Roman's turn not into a vampire but into a heartless creature. We see in the episodes preceding "Catabasis" that Roman is half good, half bad. Post-coma, Roman is reaches a point where he is in control. The entire purpose of the show, then, is to lead him to a moment of crisis where he could say the right thing or say the wrong thing. Everything preceding is to characterize and setup this tragic moment. The murder mystery doesn't matter. That was there for the viewer. The show needed a central plot to build around. But that plot wasn't the purpose. The purpose was to shatter the humanity of Roman Godfrey. It's horrible but incredibly handled. Bravo.
Also, Famke Janssen deserves some sort of award for this. She's fabulous.
And, lastly, the opening shot is the most ludicrous opening shot of anything I've ever watched.
Saying this is a ridiculous movie is probably an understatement. It reminded me of an Asian version of Dodgeball. The choice of movie references also stunned me.
2. Jurassic Park
3. Lion King
Lion King? Did they really use the "King of Pride Rock" music from Lion King? Find out for yourself. The "Lion King" portion of the Shaolin Soccer song starts at 3 min in. If you google "Shaolin Soccer Lion King Music", you get results. Some people say it's not a reference to The Lion King. I would disagree. It's the "winning" situation and too hilarious not to be a reference.
I don't think the movie is as good as Kung Fu Hustle. Though I saw HFH in early 2010, so maybe I'm forgetting? I remember the characters being more interesting, the situation being more interesting, the fights being more interesting, and the whole "appreciation of kung fu" to be better done. I do think this wins points for being about soccer.
Not a lot of character development either. It would have been cool to get to know each brother more and have them win something back in each game. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I hate this movie. It could have done so much more and been more interesting, more dynamic. I enjoy what it is, but hate the fact it isn't what it could be. Sigh. Like...it could have been Kung Fu Hustle meets The Wizard of Oz, with kung fu style antics and the "quest for an item" story.
Now You See Me:
Oh man, what the fuck was going on with this one? The first thirty minutes had me hooked! The opening shot of Eisenberg staring into the camera and discussing his trick was fantastic. I really thought this would be some sort of meta magic trick for the audience.
Well...in a way...IT WAS. But not in a good way.
That is to say: nothing in this movie makes fucking sense. "Some things just don't have to be explained," Melanie Laurent more or less says to Mark Ruffalo, but she's dead wrong. You don't have to explain the tricks, the quirks, the card fighting (yup), or even the goddamn fact that every cathartic line can somehow be traced to MAGIC (I seriously think the writer of In Time was a major influence for this film). But you do have to explain...
How the fuck Mark Ruffalo is the secret magician? The one orchestrating the entire ordeal?
"I did not see that coming!" Eisenberg says. YEAH NO SHIT. Nobody fucking did. Because it makes no sense. Wasn't he shooting at these goofy motherfuckers just a few hours earlier? Didn't he beat the shit out of James Franco's brother? Wasn't he risking his life for that goddamn dummy in a car fire?
And I can honestly get around these enormous plot holes (yes Internet, these are plot holes)...if they weren't sacrificing the already transparent characters in the process. So, explain this to me: Morgan Freeman warns Mark Ruffalo that Melanie Laurent might be the secret bad guy...now, Mark Ruffalo knows he's "the bad guy" (unless he's so into this giant magic trick that he's bullshitting himself), so there's no reason to question Melanie Laurent, right? Why would he do that? With nobody around to question his actions? The only person this would fool would be Morgan Freeman...BUT HE'S NOT FUCKING THERE!!! So why do this?
To fool the audience, of course! Now this is where the argument gets interesting...oh sorry, not the movie. The movie itself is painfully bland and unambitious. But I like this idea that Now You See Me is the first meta magic film that attempts to convince the audience that anyone can be a magician: you can try to piece this movie together, connect the logic, and create legitimate theories that would erase those gaping plot holes. But at the end of the day, it's just an illusion. All you have to do is present enough bullshit and padding material and say, "Voilà!" at the end of your trick...and you've got yourself a goddamn movie.
5/26 - 6/1:
Missing a movie diary week means there are over a dozen movies to fit in here BEFORE the week even started. So instead of filling up this page with extended thoughts on both Before Sunrise and The Wicker Man, I've written a poem:
"Movies, movies, movies!" I shout
They're all I ever think about
Forgot to feed my dog Ray
Forgot it was garbage day
Too busy catching De Palma's inspiration for Blow Out
Antonioni's Blowup was incredible
But The Virgin Suicides was unedible
Movie sandwiches are delicious
But this one was suspicious
Coppola's debut was nestled aside Femme Fatale
De Palma can seemingly do no trouble
From optimistic Fatale to 80s-drenched Body Double
I watched both in one week
The latter much more bleak
And more fun to watch than Justin Lin's pile of rubble
Fast and Furious 6 is enjoyable in its own right
Hell, not one minute passes without another fight
But Fast Five was a goofy depot
And Furious 6 has an ego
As aggravating as John Singleton's latest plight
Not to suggest Abduction is a better watch
Because as an action director Singleton is a botch
Goofy as shit
But doesn't know when to quit
As opposed to the endlessly ludicrous Devil's Advocate
Both The Wicker Man and The Devil's Advocate
Were a Memorial Day tribute to movies I love to hate
Hated for their gaffe
But loved for making me laugh
Next to Before Sunrise, it becomes pointless to collate
I don't care for Richard Linklater
But I'm also not a hater
But this time balancing
Bland dialogue with scenic beauty much greater
Crank 2 was silly but academic with its intentions
Jack Reacher was the epitome of pretentious
One aware of its place
The other attemping to erase
The fact that it pretends to be a film that's contentious
For really it's just a run-of-the-mill outing
While Crank 2 is capable of touting
An ADD-riddled persona
Waking up from a coma
And allowing Statham to go crazy without flouting
The Last Stand and Blue Steel are the final two movies
Both performing their directors' prominent duties
Never sacrificing maturity
With all the absurdity
The best action films are steeped in thematic beauty
I'll defend The Last Stand until the day I die
People scoff at Kim Jee-woon, and I continue to sigh
For in regards to Arnold
My infatuation remains carnal
From John Kimble to John Wayne in the blink of an eye
Weekly Viewing Diary 7: To the Wonder; Now You See Me; Titan A.E.; The Last Stand; Fast & Furious 6; Before Sunrise; Hemlock Grove Season 1; Shaolin Soccer