Reviews, profiles and news about movies in Chicago

Time Regained: The Undertow of Terrence Malick’s “Knight of Cups”

Drama, Recommended, Romance No Comments »

"Knight of Cups"

By Ray Pride

Guilt as gossamer, memory as wraith, woman as other, love as labor lost: Terrence Malick’s seventh released feature, “Knight of Cups,” years in the shaping, is dense yet featherlight, elusive yet specific, a wonderment comprising one once-worldly man’s memories, the tide of a single life pummeled by remorseless undertow.

Malick’s murmurous, susurrant, sea and tear-soaked night dream by flat Los Angeles daylight glides alongside Rick (Christian Bale), a man steeped in loss, needful in love, aswirl in lissome seraphim, the lost souls of his longing. A man in crisis. Rick is a sought-after comedy screenwriter who hasn’t a laugh to his name, even as he trails after joy (women he’s known) or diversions in clubs and parties, blissed-out without bliss, in zone after zone of emptiness. Is he drugged, spent, abandoned, abandoning? Itching-scratching-tickling-howling beneath the surface? “Knight of Cups” is as sure and swift a depiction of unbidden memory you could hope to find: gentle, ever in motion, all-wounding. Read the rest of this entry »

Daze of Heaven: The Warm, Wet Wonder of Terrence Malick

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Redbud_Day33 (342 of 238).CR2By Ray Pride

“To The Wonder” is immediately and insistently recognizable as a Terrence Malick film, and unrecognizable as any familiar fashion of storytelling. Its romance, between a cold man and two beautiful women, is told through implication and indirection, balletic camerawork, distinctive, layering pattering and rich images bursting with elemental pictorial beauty. Throughout, the camera not so much glides as it slides, puppy-dogs behind and beside the action. It’s 116 minutes of epic languor, with each individual shot charged with some sort of sharp shock. Malick works again with multiple narrations; one of the more memorably scraps of mutter is “an avalanche of tenderness.” More common are phrases that recall “The Tree of Life,” such as “I in you, you in me.” “To The Wonder” is a further distillation of Malick’s hope to convey emotion through implication, sensations, with thoughts as ululations of desire. Hushed and murmurous, “To The Wonder” dispenses largely with traditional story. While apparently steeped in autobiographical resonance for the suddenly prolific filmmaker—he reputedly has as many as five films in stages of editing as of this writing—some may disdain the film as a succession of bits of B-roll impressionism. Seeing the film a second time (in 35mm rather than DCP digital), it seemed as hard and sharp and precise as a diamond held lightly in a fist. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to Farrago: Blinded by the Light of “Samsara”

Documentary, Experimental No Comments »

By Ray Pride

The Sanskrit word, “Samsara,” in my laptop’s dictionary, is defined as “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.” I like “Farrago” better, defined as “a confused mixture.”

In Ron Fricke’s follow-up to his 1992 picture-fest “Baraka” (or, “blessing”), we’re treated to a free-associative montage, or flow, of the beauty of nature and the bad, bad, bad, bad, bad things that man does to the planet and to each other. It’s grating, grandiloquent work: it’s also bad, bad, bad, rising to the level of a gratuitously good-looking, promiscuously photographed tract rather than the feat of filmmaking it aims toward. It’s as pretty as a succession of postcards: having a great time, wish you were coherent. Or, you’re having a great time, wish I were stoned. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: General Orders No. 9

Documentary, Recommended No Comments »


Robert Persons’ “General Orders No. 9” is a lyrical essay film at least partly about the urbanization of rural Georgia, an elegy of haunted mood reminiscent of Patrick Keiller’s lovingly dyspeptic but visually striking “London” and “Robinson in Space” or Terence Davies’ brooding memory musical “Distant Voices, Still Lives.” It’s more in those schools than Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” the convenient reference point for reviewers upon its overlapping New York week-long run this summer. (The free-floating character of the narration doesn’t distill itself to the many voices of so-similar inchoate spiritual yearning in the Malick film.) Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rise Of The Planet of the Apes

Drama, Recommended No Comments »


Holy apeshit! One of the terrible dangers writing a deadline review about a wildly satisfying entertainment like “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is inadvertently revealing the goods in simple synopsis that ought to be superb surprises. (You begin to appreciate a pair of thumbs, even opposed ones, in a case like this: thumbs up, dude. Thumbs up.) The terrific thing is the fact that there are even surprises, inspired surprises, working off a story everyone thinks they know already. There’s a freedom in that aspect for storytellers, as with “Titanic”: the boat sinks. Now let’s get down and get tragic. “Apes”? Somewhere in the unseen future, Charlton Heston catches sight of an iconic landmark poking from the sand by the sea.  Mankind, somehow, some way, ruined itself and power passed back to primates. Read the rest of this entry »

Silent Light: The Whispers of “The Tree Of Life”

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By Ray Pride

What was the name of the movie again? “Badlands”? “Days of Heaven”? “The New World”? They equally suit the newest Terrence Malick movie. “The Tree of Life” is an unheard prayer, one we, or, no one hears: to a dead brother, from one voice; to a silent god, from another; hopeful, uplifted whispers by several others toward the grace of the universe and the most everyday of everyday events. Malick, in his fifth feature, atomizes his narrative. There are footfalls and footholds, but you’re on your own, with your sense of experience and memory and your own set of cultural references to apply to the pointillist-like approach to amassing shots and sequences as largely discrete fragments of narrative. Part of the running time uses special effects to recreate the birth of the universe, a sustained shebang of a Big Bang, but the largest chunk of memory is given over to family life in a small Texas town in the 1950s, where father Brad Pitt and mother Jessica Chastain raise three small boys.

In 138 minutes, scenes shot over the course of years—mostly a couple of years ago, but which he began almost four decades ago—have been woven together in different lengths for the past two years. Brad Pitt described its elasticity this way: “I’ve seen the film in its four-hour incarnation, then three-and-a-half, two-forty-five, back to three-thirty, and now at two-and-a-quarter. In essence, it’s the same.” But it’s not, that’s hardly possible with the vast amounts of footage Malick shoots. Three versions of “The New World” have been released, and each is substantially different from the others. And if you work with a camera that is autonomous and distracted, as Malick does, with promiscuous principal photography that works from inspiration and not text, and the meaning gets layered in selection, the decisive moment is then in the edit, or more correctly, the multiple edits in the edit bay, not in shooting. Plus, not only has Malick agonized for years, this is he and his family’s fall from the Edenic into the worldly, as captured in natural light by camera great Emmanuel Lubezki and Steadicam dance captain Jorg Widmer. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Delta

Drama, Recommended, World Cinema No Comments »


Adrift on atmosphere and sublime visual beauty, “Delta,” (2008) Kornél Mundruczó’s contemporary Hungarian fable about a brother, a sister and a house goes for the eyes and the gut. (The eyes win.) In a village along the Danube, a shaggy-bearded prodigal son (Félix Lajko)returns to his home village to find his lovely, grown sister (Orsolya Tóth) and mother working in a pub alongside her violent second husband. He’s inspired to build a dock and log house on an island that had belonged to his late father, and his sister joins him in the construction. Quiet moments lead to tragic circumstances: consider the ancient Greeks to have warned the pair. The story moves as implacably as a stream, sometimes maddeningly so. Magyar countryman Béla Tarr is listed as a script consultant in the opening credits; Terrence Malick’s nature-sensitive work needs no credit. Winner of the International Critics Prize at Cannes. With Lajkó , Lili Monori, Sándor Gáspár, Lajos Bertók, Mari Kiss. 92m. (Ray Pride)

“Delta” opens Friday at Facets. A trailer is below. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sweetgrass

Documentary, Recommended, Western No Comments »


Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Ilisa Barbash’s austere “Sweetgrass” follows a team of modern-day Montana cowboys as they shepherd their flock 200 miles into the Beartooth Mountains for summer pasture. Patient, tactile and rapturously beautiful, you can almost smell the chlorophyll, the air, the manure, the lamb rejected at birth by its mother. The film is so cannily descriptive, it’s difficult to describe without falling into forced epiphany or staccato poetry. So the temptation to note parallel filmmaking: Castaing-Taylor’s gorgeous cinematography suggests Terrence Malick, while the long takes of staring, chewing, shearing, the undulation of flocks, suggests the patient Hungarians, Béla Tarr and Miklós Janscó. The unblinking gaze suggests Nikolaus Geyrhalter (“Our Daily Bread,” 2005) and his way of observing agricultural process. There is an allusion in title and form to one predecessor: in 1925, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack made “Grass,” a documentary about Persian sheepherders. “Sweetgrass” is observational, after the Frederick Wiseman school of direct cinema, but mostly it is a feat of attaining sensation, on a ranch that has since been sold.  Sound matters: wind, the jounce of bells, the crisp crunch of chewing, chewing, chewing the cowboys’ spirited profanity. It’s dreamy. It’s also over. “Sweetgrass” was shot in 2001-2003, and this would turn out to be the last drive.  The filmmakers are married Harvard anthropologists: you wouldn’t expect this movie at all, let alone that it is such a superbly edited feat of contemplation.  105m.  (Ray Pride)

“Sweetgrass” opens Friday at the Music Box.

Review: Princess Kaiulani

Biopic, Drama, Reviews No Comments »

American Girl goes archipelago. Writer-director Marc Forby (one of six executive producers of “Prom Night”) fashions a scenic after-school biopic about Princess Kaiulani (1875–1899). The title royal with a fifteen-century bloodline is the niece of Queen Liliuokalani, overthrown in 1893. Q’orianka Kilcher—Pocahantas in “The New World”—plays another princess who sails to Britain and back. Unfortunately, Kilcher shows none of what Colin Farrell saw in his young co-star while shooting Terrence Malick’s 2005 film: “She’s such an insane mix of lightness and darkness of spirit. But she has a smile that could light up both hemispheres at the same time, and she has a depth of darkness which would make the world stand still.” Kaiulani is a proud teen who takes her destiny to heart. In the end, Forby frames her as self-sacrificial, a figurehead for a monarchy doomed to annexation as a U.S. territory and later statehood. I wish I could have learned more about the complex frictions between missionaries, landowners and the descendants of islanders who sacrificed Captain Cook. Forby even omits the tale of this half-Scottish princess introducing surfing to Brighton. “Princess Kaiulani” overly valorizes a multicultural role model from Obama’s birthplace. Her offscreen politics include driving “a hydrogen fuel cell zero-emissions vehicle.” Her publicists testify: “She has never pumped a single gallon of gasoline.” Kaiulani and Kilcher deserve a more vexed and voluptuous remake by the likes of Werner Herzog or Claire Denis. With Barry Pepper, Shaun Evans, Will Patton, Jimmy Yuill. 100m. (Bill Stamets)

At Zeroes End: Best Films, 2000-2009

The State of Cinema No Comments »

By Ray Prideinthemoodforlove-2jpg

1. “In the Mood for Love,” Wong Kar-Wai, 2000
Repetition, proximity, music, exchange of glances. Looks of desire, clouds, rain. Unconsummated romance = cinema.

2. “Yi Yi,” Edward Yang, 2000
Perfection. It’s taken for granted because it seems so simple, so easy, so natural. Family as lovingly detailed soap opera; at just under three hours, the late Taiwanese master made a multigenerational epic worthy of a novel. And, strangely befitting his background in computer science, he knew precisely where to place the camera for the most dynamic effect.

3. “Before Sunset,” Richard Linklater, 2004
Linklater knows there’s grandeur in the smallest of shared, skittery moments. This couple that never was, with dreamy memories of their one-night stand, are different people now, older, oft-disappointed, yet despite underlying melancholy, still straining for a moment of genuine contact. Read the rest of this entry »