Total Film asks stars if they want to be in the new Star Wars
2013, Terrence Malick
You’ve just created a film, widely considered to be your magnum opus, encompassing a scope as epic as depicting the literal creation of the universe and the afterlife. So, what do you do next? If you’re Terrence Malick, you take things in a more intimate direction with a domestic psychodrama detailing the coming together and falling apart of an American man and French woman. Played by Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko, with support from Rachel McAdams as a former flame and Javier Bardem as a troubled priest, the drama at the core of To the Wonder is semi-autobiographical for the filmmaker and yet it’s ultimately just a metaphor for his more universal themes of faith and love. Played without a traditional narrative structure and mostly told in whispered voiceover inserted atop handheld footage of the lovers in the throws of emotion, To the Wonder could easily be the director’s most polarizing work to date, but for this viewer it worked like a charm.
Marking only the sixth feature in his 40-year career, Malick’s infamous habit of taking many years to produce his films has taken a sharp turn, as To the Wonder’s release comes only two years after his previous effort, The Tree of Life. One couldn’t be blamed for having worry that his quick turnaround would result in something less inspired or comprehensive, but to my surprise I found To the Wonder to be his most emotionally potent work to date. Watching it, you get the feeling that this is a cinematic journey Malick had been sitting on for a long time and after he got the epic saga of The Tree of Life out of his system he was finally able to tell it. Of course, this being Malick, things were never going to be told by way of conventional narrative and at this point in his career the plots of his films have become practically inconsequential, serving as only the most basic of platforms for the cinematic poetry that he lays out on top of it all.
Frankly speaking, this either works for you or it doesn’t and at this point in the director’s career, you know what you’re getting when going into a Malick film. With the minimal dialogue, frequent use of voiceover, breathtaking cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (who worked with the director on Tree of Life) and swelling classical score, To the Wonder doesn’t mark anything new for the director and there’s nothing unexpected here but this is where his reclusive nature becomes a benefit to his canon. In recent years he has become much more prolific and right now he has at least two more films that we are apparently going to be seeing within the next few years, and I do worry that soon his incredibly unique way of filmmaking will start to feel tired and repetitive but for now each of his films remain a breath of fresh air. To the Wonder doesn’t see him go in any new direction, but rather continues him on the path that he has always been on, as with each film he becomes less concerned with traditional filmmaking and much more focused on eliciting emotional response and conveying thematic depth through a sensory approach.
I’m sure one can interpret To the Wonder in many different ways and some viewers have left perplexed as to what it all means, but for me it was rather straightforward. As he did with The Tree of Life, Malick uses a domestic drama as a metaphor to enhance a throughline of universal themes. Those themes are delivered primarily through Bardem’s priest character, who spends his time wandering directionless and ruminating on whether god has left us or if he’s waiting to be found. Presenting that question on the absence of god unfolds a greater depth to the dismantling of the relationship between Affleck and Kurylenko’s characters, perhaps positing that with his absence also comes the absence of love. To the Wonder marks Malick’s first film to take place entirely in the modern day, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that it’s this modern setting that provides the environment for their romantic unraveling.
As the film begins, the two lovebirds are as free as can be, frolicking as pure and innocent as children through wide open nature. They play in the sand and waves on the beach (not coincidentally the setting for Malick’s afterlife in his previous effort, perhaps foreshadowing the eventual outcome of their romance) and it’s when they return to the modern suburbia that things start to come apart. Malick has always been an artist who has clashed with the modern nature of man, and To the Wonder is another representation of that, as one could leave with the feeling that he thinks there is no more room for that kind of pure love and freedom in this modern world. It’s a rather harsh perspective, but Malick depicts it in a way that still manages to capture and illuminate the beauty that is out there within our grasp if we can only take the time to embrace it. It’s free in the open air, ready for us all, if only we can break from the cages that our modern world has locked us in.
Along with his years in the editing room putting together his films, another aspect of Malick’s filmmaking that has become infamous is his refusal to allow the status of his stars to get in the way of his storytelling. Malick won’t ever let his actors take precedence over his thematic journey, and as a result many of the biggest names in the industry have found themselves working on his films only to see their parts end up on the cutting room floor. To the Wonder is no different, as notable actors Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, Barry Pepper and Jessica Chastain all shot footage that is nowhere to be seen in the finished product. However, this is ultimately a blessing, as Wonder is such an intimate tale that is focused on a quartet of figures played out very well by his talented cast. Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem all turn in solid performances, but it’s Olga Kurylenko who really stands out here as one of the strongest performances to emerge from the director’s work to date.
Through Affleck’s commanding physical presence, Malick keeps the film grounded to the earth but it’s with Kurylenko that he takes it to a more effervescent place and she really soars with his guidance. An actress who has mostly spent her career so far going the traditional post-model route of starring as eye candy in action films, Kurylenko gives a performance here that shows she has so much more to offer the world than what she’s been allowed to give. A stunning collaboration of artist and muse, there is a purity to Kurylenko’s portrayal that is frankly undefinable but captures an utterly enchanting beauty that brings the audience with her on a wide emotional spectrum. When she’s free as a bird, enraptured in the the throes of love and the wonder of life, your heart soars along with her and I found myself stuck with a wide smile on my face. Yet when the romance turns and she’s locked inside her domestic cage, broken and stripped of that love, your heart breaks along with hers and there’s a brutal tragedy that overwhelms the emotional palette. It’s an absolutely stunning performance that magnificently captures and compliments the poetic, ethereal quality of Malick’s filmmaking approach.
I have absolutely no empathy for camels. I didn’t care for being abused in the Middle East by those horrible, horrible, horrible creatures. They don’t like people. It’s not at all like the relationship between horses and humans.
Happy 43rd Birthday Rachel Weisz!
The Bourne Legacy: Re-watch
An interesting, frustrating experience. At first I was just bored, which I figured I would be. Then, around the time Renner and Weisz’s characters come together, I suddenly got pretty interested. For a while I was actually enjoying it all. Then the last 10 minutes happened and I remembered why I disliked it so much the first time.
There’s no point to this movie. Aaron Cross has nothing to do with anything, even in the context of just this movie. Everything with him feels a world away from the stuff with the government and Norton’s character, and it all just further goes to prove that this movie was made solely to keep the name brand relevant while waiting for Damon to hopefully return to the franchise. Renner is a very capable leading action star, but he’s given such a bland and uninteresting character, one that no one could have made work.
I did enjoy the action sequences more this time around strangely, though the big Manilla climax goes on way too long and the way it’s brought on is such a hilariously forced display of the makers feeling like they needed to include a big dramatic chase just because the series is known for its chase scenes. There was like a 45 minute period in the middle where I was tricking myself into thinking I was actually going to end up liking this more than I did the first time, but nope.
2012, Terence Davies
Sometimes a director can nail what they are going for on a film, and it can still not work for you at all. I believe that’s the case with me and The Deep Blue Sea. I don’t think that director Terence Davies missed the mark on his approach, it’s just that his mark ended up not being something that engaged me in the slightest. Adapting from Terence Rattigan’s play, he creates a drama that is cold, stagey and very old-fashioned, but it left me playing with my thumbs for the large majority.
With characters who start off at full extremes and unlikability, I never had a chance to get invested in them and I think the artifice in the writing prevents us from ever being able to understand who they are. The way that it’s developed creates a film that goes through long stretches of tedium, broken up by periodic moments of borderline comical melodrama, not aided in the least thanks to a rather ridiculous performance by Tom Hiddleston (which isn’t really his fault, as he’s buried under his absurdly written character).
The one true bright spot here is Rachel Weisz, who turns in a performance that manages to be loaded with depth in a film that practically has none elsewhere. Splitting her time between two lovers, we get to see many facets of this character and Weisz pulls them all off with a believable versatility. When she’s with her dull and gutless husband, played by Simon Russell Beale, she is cold, stern and unforgiving. Then she comes around Hiddleston’s character and on a dime she switches to doting, manic and tragically vulnerable.
Stuck in a world without true, honest love, she flirts an edge on the brink of sanity and there’s a remarkably touching scene where she finally sees that kind of love she’s never been able to experience for herself. The wide spectrum of the character is a difficult one to pull off, but Weisz makes it work, largely thanks to the periods where she’s alone and we see this character in the middle of these two extremes, where her most primitive self can come to light. It’s an excellent performance, I just wish that the film around it had been more engaging.
2012, Tony Gilroy
When The Bourne Legacy was first announced, my gut reaction was one of disappointment and frustration. Continuing this story without Jason Bourne in the lead seemed like a cash grab and a major mistake. As I learned more about what they were going to do with the new entry though, how they were going to use the repercussions of Bourne’s actions in Ultimatum to open up more of this universe and show different perspectives, I became more hopeful. By the time the exciting trailers rolled around, I thought Legacy had a lot of promise to live up to the quality that the series had established up to this point. Unfortunately, Tony Gilroy’s film doesn’t meet that potential by any means.
That new “dimension” that they open up is lazily introduced at jarring times in the midst of an uninteresting story of a new protagonist, Aaron Cross who is played by Jeremy Renner. Renner is believable in the role and I think he has great presence as an actor, but Cross isn’t a remotely interesting character to lead a film with. Whereas Bourne had so much emotionally gripping motivation that Matt Damon was able to bring plenty of dimension to, Renner is left with nothing to do with such a thin character. Bourne had three films to discover who he was, why he was made into the killing machine that he became and ultimately get revenge and bring down the corporation that wronged him. Aaron Cross, on the other hand, is motivated by…needing meds? Wow, talk about some lazy writing.
There’s nothing overly wrong with Bourne Legacy, there just isn’t anything particularly good about it either. Cross is given an annoying love interest in the form of Rachel Weisz and while the two have solid physical chemistry, the writing again doesn’t give them a lot to work with. Edward Norton is introduced as the new antagonist (I think? I never even understood what motivated this guy or what he was thinking) and the character feels completely irrelevant throughout the whole thing. Bourne Legacy gathers together a fine ensemble of actors and gives them nothing to work with.
Gilroy’s directing leaves so much to be desired, as he is clearly striving for the kind of kinetic energy that Paul Greengrass was able to achieve but isn’t skilled enough to bring that to form here. By the time it came out I really wanted to believe that this was going to be a worthwhile addition to the franchise, and I’m very disappointed that it turned out to be anything but. Everything about it reeks of being a lazy attempt to keep the brand name relevant to a financially-profitable audience while they wait for Damon to come back around to the series.
Just finished the actress roundtable, I love when the interviewers try to act like they don’t ask the women different questions than they ask the men, when obviously they do. I really liked this a lot more than the actors and writers roundtables; I’m always fascinated in how women react to the industry because it is so much different and harder for them than it is for men, and I like that this was a room of women with strong opinions and different experiences who weren’t afraid to go into those.
The writers and actors roundtables felt like a lot of sidestepping and avoiding the tougher questions, Haneke aside, but here there wasn’t so much of that. All of the stuff about how hard they’ve had to fight for their roles was so interesting to me. Field really dominated a lot of the conversation, but I think that makes sense since her experience has been a lot different than the other ladies there.
Even the women who I’m not particularly a fan of as an actress (Adams) had me interested in the things they were saying; Cotillard was really awkward though — does anyone know what movie she was talking about with her worst experience? I also really liked how clearly they admired one another, like Adams with Watts, Hunt with Field or Hathaway with Weisz. That’s always nice to see.
I have to say also that I’m really starting to turn around on Hathaway, very much to my surprise. I think (obviously just assuming) that back with Rachel Getting Married when she first did these kind of things it was all really sudden for her being on that level and she was uncomfortable with the attention and accommodated for it by trying too hard, but now she’s had more time to adjust and she seems so much more relaxed and self-assured.
Also, Helen Hunt would be a terrible Lady Macbeth I think — and yes, Naomi Watts, you should do another comedy! Love that Weisz was quick to jump on bringing up Huckabees, one of my favorite Watts’ performances. And I’d love to see Weisz do Shakespeare.
Hollywood Reporter’s Oscar Roundtable - “The Actresses” with Amy Adams, Marion Cotillard, Sally Field, Anne Hathaway, Helen Hunt, Naomi Watts and Rachel Weisz.
NEW full trailer for Oz: The Great and Powerful.
Allocine (via The Film Stage) reveals that Rachel Weisz has joined Robert Pattinson and the now-confirmed Viggo Mortensen in the upcoming film. Penned by Bruce Wagner, Cronenberg previously explained: ”You could say it’s a Hollywood film because the characters are agents, actors and managers, but it is not a satire like ‘The Player.’ Hollywood is a world that is seductive and repellent at the same time, and it is the combination of the two that makes it so potent. I won’t fall back on some clichés or simplistic sloganeering, because the culture and what it reveals about Western culture and the rest of the world is very complex.”