Review: Song To Song

SongToSong

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.

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Trailer: A Ghost Story

Despite the title, this is no ghost story, but rather a Malick-ian meditation on time, place, legacy, the stories we make and the stories we tell. Either this kind of thing is your cup of tea, or it isn’t. But Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara look like they are doing their damn best to equal out the didactic aspects the dialogue and leaven the Sundance-earnestness of the films concept.

Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife, only to find that in his spectral state he has become unstuck in time, forced to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life’s ineffable questions and the enormity of existence.

A24 is releasing A Ghost Story, so you know it will be worth a look. David Lowrey (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) directs, and if you are a fan of Kelly Reichardt’s films, you will have noticed that Will Oldham (Old Joy) makes an appearance here.

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.

Review: Her

Her

Bad design causes stress and discomfort; whether it is typography in a document, or unfettered suburban sprawl or too many buttons on a mobile phone. Life and relationships, which invariably happen in a haphazard fashion by their nature are bad design, and even the happiest of marriages, or most well adjusted of families and such are nevertheless full of tensions and misunderstandings, but virtue of design being non-controlled, that we learn to live with and accept, or we move on. Storytelling, autobiography, blogging and other personal narratives are an attempt to put some good design on something as chaotic as ‘a life.’ Technology, from ink and paper, to the printing press and eventually the internet have enabled our capacity to do this on an individual level. The landscape of modern social media platforms and the specialized subset of dating websites, while far (very far) from perfect, are a significant step to projecting some ‘design’ onto how we present ourselves to the world. Ultimately, though we have to find a way to be comfortable in our own skin and headspace, while alone in a room, and this includes whether or not another person or persons are present. Comfort and confidence can be driven by good design, but finding some truth and understanding in the messiness is essential.

Spike Jonze has been surveying and navigating these strange lagoons and very often uninviting rocky places with his music videos, short films and of course, his accomplished trio of feature films, Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Where the Wild Things Are. In collaboration with an eclectic gathering of intuitive but articulate ‘philosophers,’ Charlie Kaufman, David Eggars and Maurice Sendak, Jonze sets out on his own to great effect writing and directing his fourth feature.

Her, serves up a beautifully designed world. It is perhaps the best film on design outside of the more literal-minded “Design Trilogy” documentaries by Gary Hustwit. Here a near-future Los Angeles (or erstwhile Shanghai) is rendered skyward with clean glass towers, minimal advertising, and plenty of wide vistas and inviting space. In terms of cinematic depictions of America’s richest and most forward-thinking domain (California in itself the world’s 12th largest economy), we have come a long way from Ridley Scott’s septic, tactile and dizzying dystopic Blade Runner full of belching flames, corporate ziggurats and effluent pedestrian clutter. Architecture and aesthetics aside, there is more than a little common ground as a science fiction conceit; the questions being considered are somewhat in alignment: Can we love something ‘artificial’ if that thing can and will evolve to be more human than human? How do we interact with pervasive and ubiquitous ‘technology?’ Despite this concept being explored in may ways even in the infancy of this new millennium (From Soderbergh’s Solaris to Niccol’s S1mOne), this is the first true cinematic Pygmalion of the information age.

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Trailer #2: Her

“You’re dating an OS! What’s that like?”

While I feel it has been a drip-drip-drip flow of quality releases this fall/Oscar season, easily one of the most anticipated films (along with the new Coen Brothers and new David O. Russell) is Spike Jonze’s near-science fiction romance, Her. The images here are extraordinary, along with the emotion, earnestness and above all, very timely ideas. This trailer showcases also what appears to be a very committed cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara all look great here. In particular though, it is Pheonix who is playing very much against type, and yet he is so naturally engaging here that you’d never, ever know that he did any other type of role. In a word, this whole thing looks marvelous.

Trailer: Spike Jonze’s Her

The silky, inflected tones of Scarlett Johansson as a Siri-ish Operating System allow her owner, nebbish Joaquin Phoenix in a moustache, to fall in love and proceed from there. This is the premise, one brilliantly executed in the trailer (below) for the film which is simply titled Her and directed by Spike Jonze. The director has always done these offbeat films on the ‘human condition,’ (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) and has made a few short films about robots recently, it looks to culminate in his first feature since the deeply empathetic Where The Wild Things Are. Amy Adams (her second recent pairing with Phoenix, here playing his sister), Rooney Mara and Olivia Wilde round out the cast.

Expect this film to make some waves when it gets released in November. For now, watch this trailer a half a dozen times and fall in love.

Quick Thoughts: SIDE EFFECTS

 

 

Soderbergh just keeps the magic coming. Side Effects is a wonderful little thriller with little red herrings and complicated character inter-workings that all mesh together to keep the audience engaged and on their toes. Sure there are some minor believability strains and a couple of plot devices that one must just accept for the sake of a fun movie, but for the most part Soderbergh has put together a smart little thriller that reminds a little bit of Allen’s Match Point.

There’s a good deal of setup and routine before the axe is brought down and brought down hard. The audience is toyed with again and again. Particularly if you’re a Soderbergh aficionado, your head might be spinning even more so; trying to figure where exactly he’s going with all this. Character motivation, depth and intrigue is layered onto the plot weavings for an even more complex tale of deception.

While there are not really any real standout lead performances (although Jude Law does sparkle per usual), look for Ann Dowd as unquestionably the best performance in the film in a very supporting role. A nice follow-up to her Oscar nominated performance in Compliance.

While probably not going to win any awards next year and very likely isn’t going to land on a lot of top ten lists, Side Effects is a solid, “Hitchcockian” thriller that might seem a little conventional and even transparent at the outset, I think you’ll find a lot to love if you just go with the flow. Allow the dreamlike quality of the atmosphere and the score to lull you into a false sense of knowing security. If you do that, you (and the movie) will be wrapped up in no time and you’ll realize you just spent 110 minutes having a really good time.

  

Second Trailer for Soderbergh’s “Side Effects”

The last trailer released for the latest Soderbergh deal made very little sense but was pretty intriguing. I have to say, this second trailer gives only a hint more about the plot of this thing; but I’m still fairly in the dark. Which is a good thing as I like to go into my movies clean. Though I have to say I’m less excited this time around for some reason.

Anyway, here’s the vid. Take a look and tell us what you think…

 

Friday One Sheet: Soderbergh’s Prescription [Side Effects]

You’ve got to give credit for such an obvious, yet elegantly simple design of this poster. Fashioned as a prescription form with a very crisp, anxious looking, red tinted photo of Rooney Mara with a blurry Jude Law in the background. It’s almost so simple a design that movie patrons may confuse it with some sort of PSA advertisement, which might be bad marketing, but is actually great thematic design.

Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

“Lie Still. I’ve never done this before. There will be blood.”

An eyebrow raising line of dialogue delivered in a no-nonsense, staccato fashion, by the titualar Girl to a man who hates women. If this statement is taken as a comment on David Fincher doing an American adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s insanely popular novel, it is kind of a lie on both counts. Lisbeth Salander has indeed done this before (in print of course, and also on celluloid in Swedish), and between Seven and Zodiac, and The Social Network so has David Fincher – and as the latter goes, much better. Having recently watched both Chinatown and Vertigo, any hope for a richly textured and nuanced modern noir, a building of something more than plotting and franchise building, was dashed after the end credits pop up. Expectations are a bitch.

With the MGM Lion mutely roaring and a swanky abstract credit sequence (think H.P. Lovecraft bathed in liquid crude) you might be tempted to think of the Hollywood production of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo as some sort of grim James Bond in purgatory. Daniel Craig in the lead, sporting the finest in European apparel only underscores this; at this point in human history, a smart phone and a macbook petty much make us all super-spies. Hell, that credit sequence probably cost more than the entire Swedish film trilogy. Given the money and thin subject material, David Fincher (who, let’s face it, can do this stuff in his sleep at this point) serves a mighty exercise in craft that amounts to little in the way of depth, rather serving as one-for-them-one-for-me stylistic experimentation. A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That is not to say that Dragon Tattoo is Fincher’s Oceans 12, but it is at least his Solaris.

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