Review: Song To Song


And so the prostitute says, “Create the Illusion, but don’t believe it.”

I am not sure if that is Terrence Malick’s thesis with Song To Song, an elliptical fairy tale of despondency, but the film does feature Val Kilmer wielding a chainsaw on stage at the SXSW music festival, so there is that.

It also embeds clips from Eric Von Stroheim’s Greed, offers heartbreaking relationship advice from punk rock goddess Patti Smith, cheerfully cuts off Iggy Pop in mid-sentence and makes a little time for Natalie Portman to wait tables and attend church services kitted out in Erin Brockovich inspired push-up bras.

Song to Song is Malick’s fifth film in six years, not including his forthcoming Europe-set WWII epic, to be released later in 2017. Apparently, The film has been in production in one way or another for seven years; long enough to recast Christian Bale (or re-purpose his footage into Knight of Cups) and lose Arcade Fire completely in the editing room. This means that the overall process overlaps all the way back with Tree of Life, the touchstone for his current mode of cinema.

The ongoing price to pay for scrapping conventional storytelling (and, you know, actual scripts) has yielded his work some superb benefits … for those keen to tune into his wavelength. Of course, this is not for everyone, and do not be surprised when many film-goers drawn in by the marquee actors and musician cameos flee the experience in frustration. Like it or not, Malick has, for some time now, been in the business of capturing elusive, immersive, Steadicam dreams of time and place that he subtly bends into narrative in the editing room.

Here he films in the in-between spaces of Texas, be it backstage casual at South By Southwest, the concrete and glass boxes of the wealthy, or windswept desert pools in the wilderness. You would not recognize this as the same Austin in the front half of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof or the sprawling walkabouts of so many a Richard Linkater joint. And though the film features an impressively programmed and multifarious playlist, the soundtrack is less the music, and more the palpable ennui of gorgeous white young things trying to find themselves in a confusing world of indulgence.

Would you like to know more…?

Prologue: Alien Covenant

Is this the first 5 minutes of the new Alien movie, or merely a web-released bit of glossy fan-service? (Or do you remember that TED Talk issued prior to Prometheus?)

Nevertheless, if you want a look at the crew of the Covenant, a colony ship with its human inhabitants (and another version of Michael Fassbender’s android, David) bound for a humanities first reachable Class-M planet on the far side of the galaxy, Fox has put a solid introduction online. With some quite serendipitous timing, in light of the recent NASA discovery of host of possible Class-M’s only 40 light years away.

I hold out hope that Alien: Covenant will continue the weird ‘quest for god’ angle in Prometheus, rather than simply rehashing Scott’s 1979 film. But I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t point out that I find it a little weird that cowboy hat sporting Danny McBride and ghoulish kill-joy James Franco are humanities idea of future world builders. Katherine Waterston, Amy Seimetz and Billy Crudup among others make up the principle cast in this chapter, and the IMDb indicates that Noomi Rapace will return.

But for now: props to David’s 22nd century improvement on the Heimlich Maneuver.

Trailer: Terrence Malick’s Song To Song

After the magnificent Knight of Cups and the egregious Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey in 2016, Terrence Malick is back (so soon) with a rock and roll sour romance (Mike Nichol’s Closer with guitars and keyboards?) featuring some of the best A-list actors working today: Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara and Natalie Portman. Not featured in the trailer are the host of other actors, Cate Blanchette, Clifton Collins Jr., Christian Bale, Benicio Del Toro, Holly Hunter, Angela Bettis, Val Kilmer, and Halley Bennett. Nor do you see the various musicians: Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Johnny Lydon or Arcade Fire.

Shot with his signature style (lots of voice over, wide angle lenses, and pretty much zero emphasis on narrative) with his usual cinematographer, Emmanual Lubezki, if you wanted to know what an indie-rock tale would look like from the elegiac master of cinema, well, the trailer is tucked below.

Song to Song opens on March 17th.

Trailer: Trespass Against Us

Despite a turn for intensity at the end of this trailer, do not be fooled, Trespass Against Us is kind of Sundancey-cute for all of its big themes of sins of the father, academia-vs-‘school-of-life’ and the United Kingdom’s social isolation of gypsies. It’s a glossy package perfectly suited for middle-brow consumption.

The very high profile cast including Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson and Sean Harris (going full retard in this one, and defying the old Robert Downy Jr. commentary on this – he is excellent here, but not featured at all in the trailer. First time director (he is normally a documentary guy) Adam Smith goes for smaller moments, but cannot resist a ‘big finish’ that the movie seems to completely earn, but is nevertheless (kind of) pulled off by the sheer magnetism of Fassbender’s presence. At this point, by my editorializing, you can guess I caught this at TIFF where it debuted to kind of muted satisfaction afterwards. Trespass Against Us passes the time, but hardly leaves much of an impression. Considering all the car chases in the film, your mileage may vary.

Trailer: X-Men Apocalypse

It is big and loud, as I suppose an apocalypse should be. The latest X-Men feature will breeze into cinemas after the left-field success of Fox’s Deadpool movie. If this is Fassbender & Lawerence’s last kick at this particular can, the third of the ‘period-piece’ reboot of the franchise, it looks like they are going to go out with a lot of action and a lot of characters. Brian Singer returns to direct, and here is hoping that among all the chaos of this particular chapter, there is more than a little time for some character building and social allegory that the franchise has been so good at under his watch.

Contained in this new trailer is a chance to see Sophie Turner as a young Jean Grey, Tye Sheridan as a young Cyclops, and Oscar Isaac caked in CGI and make-up as the seriously-full-of-himself heavy. (When they asked him if he was a god, he said, “yes.”)

Trailer: The Light Between Oceans

Derek Cianfrance has quite a number of fans in these parts, particularly for his break-out arthouse hit, Blue Valentine and his more complex, if flawed, followup, The Place Beyond the Pines. His films aim for a kind of heightened misery at the cause of circumstance, and how his characters tackle these emotional challenges.

In adapting M.L. Steadman’s book, The Light Between Oceans he looks to continue in this vein. The story of a couple, played by Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, who find a baby girl washed up to their lighthouse home, only to discover many years down the road, the mother of the child, played here by Rachel Weisz continuing her phase of crying a lot on screen (see also, The Lobster and Youth, shows up and forces a dilemma on the non-biological parents who have raised the child for 4 years or more.

The gorgeous cinematography and camerawork here (see trailer below) by Adam Arkapaw (True Detective, Macbeth, Animal Kingdom) looks very much in the style of Emmanuel Lubezki, that I hereby will be referring this film henceforth to, The Tree of Strife.

The film comes out in September 2016.

Review: MacBeth

With its meticulous framing, bold editing and sparsely sumptuous cinematography, Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of the most straightforward of Shakespeare’s plays has as its closest cinema-analogue, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising. Indeed, Macbeth is bold in its visuals, opaque in its emotional spaces, brutal in its violence, and the chilly Isle of Skye locations evoke medieval eras where the halls of men were dwarfed by endless open spaces. It was, quite frankly, surprising just how much it made HBO’s Game of Thrones, which films in Ireland, a quick hop south and west, look small and visually unambitious. In the golden age of television, the convergence of directors, actors, and production design between TV and Feature Films, there is clearly a domain of one: complex plots and characters, novelistic storytelling, and the other: pure, overwhelming audiovisual power.

You perhaps know the story well. A noble warrior in Scotland is convinced by his wife to murder his king to speed up succession. The guilt drives him mad, and more murders are called for to sustain power, before the consequences are fully reaped. And there are witches who coin the term ‘hurly-burly’ to describe the whole sordid affair. One thing that is either in the Bard’s text, and I have somehow missed it in the past, or it is freshly integrated by Kurzel and his screenwriters (one of latter is High Fidelity actor, Love Liza director Todd Louiso), is that of coldhearted ambitions being driven by the loss of children, or the lack-there-of. The film opens with the death of one the Macbeth’s children, a baby girl, to an unexplained illness, and quickly follows up with the loss of the other child to war. It is never made unequivocal that either of these are in fact the offspring of the pair, but the framing of the opening funeral in one scene, and later, the way MacBeth applies war paint to the boy-soldier, firm but delicate, laced with unspoken pride, seems to imply such. The boy’s death recalls the silent horrors of Russian masterpiece Come And See. Is Macbeth’s hunger for power and nation building driven by the loss of his own? A corrupt lust or desire for stronger leadership to prevent further civil wars? Either way, it underscores the tragedies to follow. On a somewhat unrelated note, there is also the addition of a small girl to the trio of Witches making them either a fearsome-foursome or a family. Combine that with a children’s choir performance piece in the middle the film, and one can see the emphasis of ‘the future’ in this telling of the play.

Michael Fassbender brings the type of raw, implacable energy that he does for director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame), and is equally handy with a soliloquy or a sword. Sometimes he does both simultaneously. His slow loss of sanity in the back half gloriously subverts his charming smile, making it a mockery of the actors effortless charisma. Marion Cotillard’s Lady MacBeth is played, at times, more tragic than Machiavellian, at times her lonely stares into the camera threaten to conjure Maria Falconetti. It makes the character either complex or poorly written and realized, I couldn’t tell. The iambic pentameter and original text of the play are intact and when on screen instead of on stage, tend to mute the emotional components of the characters, which is handily made up for by the sheer visual portentousness (and yes, occasional glorious splendour too!) Want to get an idea as to how the final battle between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker should have been shot? Look no further than the ‘forest is on fire and ash is in the air’ battle of broadswords between MacBeth and MacDuff late into this film. It is epic, intimate, and unholy in its cinematic brawn.

It is the supporting cast however, that elevate Macbeth in terms of emotional engagement. David Thewlis as the trusting, no-nonsense King Duncan; clad in leather and cloth over velvet and gold. Paddy Considine brings pathos and modesty to Banquo, a father is betrayed by his Thane in the worst possible, his only crime being loyalty to the crown and his son. And then there is Sean Harris, he who plays the craziest, deadliest type of villains, from the Harry Brown and A Lonely Place To Die to Mission Impossible 5, playing strongly against type as the noble MacDuff who loses his family to MacBeth’s ever increasing paranoia (shades of Lord Stannis/Sir Davos thread in the most recent chapter in Westeros.)

In short, while I was not emotionally caught up in this 2015 incarnation of Macbeth, I was nevertheless deeply engaged in sheer visual power of the thing that Shakespeare himself called, ‘this bloody business.’