Spotlight on The Independent Arts: The Better Angels

Better Angels 3

A. J. Edwards, a student and artistic son of Terrence Malick, opens his debut film with cold, haunting shots of the Lincoln Memorial.  A crackling Malickian voice-over of a backwoods fella talkin’ bout being Lincoln’s cousin and having lived with him for a spell when he was just a boy in Indiana begins to shape the story as the image moves to a rambling creak.  Water is transporting us back in time, back into a dream, and we’re suddenly there watching young Abe make his way in the world.  The film ends just a brief 90 minutes later with a chilling bookend…a nicely appointed cabin in Illinois (a clear step-up from the backwoods cabins of his father) where that same warbling cousin waxes about the moment Lincoln’s beloved stepmother (Diane Kruger) learns of his passing.  It’s the grand beautiful stuff of myth.

Watching The Better Angels and comparing it to the work of Malick is akin to comparing painters from the same family.  One can’t help but think of the generations of Wyeths or Renoirs.  Edwards does something Malick never did – he films in black and white – but the movements and framing and pacing and focus are eerily the same.  A low shot panning up to an open gate…or door…or window.  The actors and actresses moving about as if in interpretative dance.  Beautiful music.  Ethereal cinematography of nature.  There’s one shot of Lincoln’s mother (Brit Marling) on her death-bed where Edwards actually photographs her last breath…you see it hang in the air after her exhale, and its captured in a perfect light.  Dust and smoke and light…the black and white photography does wonders for all that Edwards and Malick love to capture.

Continue reading

Life in the Key of Malick in To the Wonder

To the Wonder 1

I could’ve done without the “the” in Terrence Malick’s latest cinematic symphony To the Wonder.

To wonder…

…that is what Malick’s life as an artist has been all about. To wonder…what it’s like to kill for the heck of it (Badlands)…to love when life is like a shaft of wheat blowing in the wind (Days of Heaven)….to wonder what it’s like to kill someone and mean it, to live
and love in war (The Thin Red Line)…to wonder what it was like to discover a new land, a new love, a new way of life (The New World)…to wonder about the beginning and end of time and the loss of a loved one (The Tree of Life).

To the Wonder is a meditation on loneliness.

Continue reading

Serena, Honest Abe, Rising Knights, Multiple Malicks and The Master On Tap

Quite an unusual docket is shaping up for 2012, 2013 and beyond.  Despite the usual shit Hollywood shovels, there are some upcoming films worth talking about.

First up on the horizon is the new news around the film adaptation of Ron Rash’s Serena, which ranks as one of my favorite novels of this century and I instantly imagined as a There Will Be Blood meets Macbeth in the Carolina Highlands film epic.  Originally, and promising though preditable, Darren Aronofsky had been on tap to direct with Angelina Jolie in the lead role.  But now the tides have shifted, and Oscar winner Susanne Bier is taking the helm.  It’s definitely out of Bier’s comfort zone, but if handled right, it could be a breakthrough for the Danish director and she definitely has the chops to put on an interesting spin – but it could also be a disaster. 

Can Jennifer Lawrence transform into the menacing Serena Pemberton?

Even more inspired is the choice of Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role.  She seems way too young, but as Winter’s Bone showed, she’s capable of being a true chameleon while getting down and dirty, and along with Bier, she has the opportunity to really turn heads here.  Less inspired and downright troubling is the casting of no-talent ass-clown Bradley Cooper, a smug comedic actor who lacks the gravitas needed for playing George Pemberton.  Maybe the idea is to cast someone like him so that Lawrence can really shine – but it’s a gamble – and it will be interesting to see if it pays off. Continue reading

The Mirror of Film

The Tree of Life - Submerging memories through film.

Still awash in fresh memories of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, I watched for the first time Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 film The Mirror.  The problem I’ve had with Tarkovsky films in the past (especially Stalker, which I found tedious and nearly impenetrable though certain moments and images have stubbornly stuck with me) is that I feel like you need an advanced degree in Russian history to understand the context and symbolism.  With Malick’s film, however, illuminating the way, I found Tarkovsky’s The Mirror to be deeply rewarding on multiple levels, and it emerged as an unforgettable cinematic experience deserving of repeated views.

The two films are strikingly similar: deeply personal, semi-autobiographical, supplemented by other art forms (classical music is used exquisitely in both, while The Mirror also drew upon original poetry) and constructed in a stream-of-consciousness style made to evoke dreams and memories.  Both films are deeply rooted in the childhoods of their makers. Continue reading

Memory and Magic in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

Like an Andrew Wyeth painting come to life, Malick's obsession with open doors and windows conjures myth and memories.

Nature is a cruel and unforgiving mistress.
 
Over time, man has conjured God to tame her and give reason and order to the random chaos.
 
In present day, a man named Jack (Sean Penn) wanders listlessly through a cold, sterile metropolis where success is measured by wealth and excess.  On the anniversary of his brother’s death, a call to his father triggers an ocean of memories to come rushing over him.  Distracted, he daydreams and wonders about the meaning of life and why his brother had to be taken from him.  Was it because of the bad things he did as a child?  Was it a failure on the part of his parents?  Is it because his God is a mysterious and unknowable power that snuffs out life as easily as it gives it away?  Is this why he has become so misguided and empty today?  Jack imagines his childhood bookended by the beginning and end of time, where writer/director Terrence Malick’s meta-narrative provides a linear mirror image to Weerasethakul’s cosmic cycling from Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.  Memories and dreams fuel both films, but The Tree of Life cuts through time like a knife. Continue reading

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Recently over at Wonders in the Dark, Sam Juliano posted an engaging piece where film buffs were invited to name their favorite movie scores of all time.

Even I had been so bold as to name the greatest film composers not so long ago here at The Schleicher Spin.

And while it’s true, many of the greatest films are also imbued with beautiful original musical scores where the moving images flow in perfect harmony with the composers’ notes…it made me wonder…

What of the artists who take a well-known existing piece of music and create moving images that become married to the music’s rhythm?

It’s been so parodied over the years…but can anyone deny the jaw-droppingly imaginative conceit of Stanley Kubrick using Richard Strauss’ “The Spoke Zarathustra” for the opening to his greatest cinematic achievement (hell, THE GREATEST CINEMATIC ACHIEVEMENT) 2001: A Space OdysseyContinue reading

Revisiting There Will Be Blood – The Best Film of the 2000’s

Most film bloggers and critics raced against time and each other to get in their “Best Films of the Decade” lists after the clock struck midnight and we were suddenly thrust into Arthur C. Clarke’s…dun dun dun…TWO THOUSAND AND TEN.  With the past decade so fresh on our minds, so many films yet to be seen or uncovered, so many to re-watch and re-examine, and the world-famous polling for this decade not to start until April over at Wonders in the Dark…it seems like there is still so much left to say about the 2000’s, or the Noughties as people like to call them now.

Yet all I can think of is one word.

DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAINAGE!

Drainage, my boy!!!!!!!!!!

Looking back, the 2000’s were to my generation what the 1970’s were to my father’s.  It seemed the dawn of a new golden age.  Gone were the nostalgia tinted frames of the 1980’s and 1990’s and here was the first decade to exist completely within the context of my adulthood…under the harsh scrutiny of my ever-evolving critical eye.  This was a decade where film reflected the big ideas, big dreams and previously unimaginable nightmares of the post-millennial, post 9/11 generation.  Continue reading

When the Good Movies Are

Max decides to take a nap and dream of wild things until his movie comes out in October.

Max decides to take a nap and dream of many wild things until his movie comes out in October.

 

With last week’s unnecessary X-Men sequel? prequel? reboot? oh who cares?—and this week’s Star Trek hullabaloo, someone like me is left to wonder when will it be safe to venture back into the darkness of the movie theaters?  Thankfully the summer movie season has become a refuge for some decent counter-programming ignored by most feasting on Hollywood’s fatty products, but even better, it’s a good time to start checking out the early trailers and buzz for the gilded autumnal slate of films reeking of prestige.

Here’s my list of the most anticipated films for Summer 2009 and beyond ordered chronologically by alleged release date.  No sequels or franchises allowed beyond this point!

Drag Me to Hell:  (5/29/09)  This is that horror flick from guru Sam Raimi for those who enjoyed The Evil Dead trilogy over his Spiderman trilogy.  It looks kinda goofy, kinda ghouly and kinda fun with a smoking hot Alison Lohman playing a mortgage broker who gets damned to hell after turning down a little old lady’s application for an extension–how timely!  My only concerns are why this thing isn’t rated R and where the heck is Bruce Campbell?  Check out the trailer or go to hell. 

 

 alt=

Alison Lohman can drag me to hell anytime. But I don't think she'll ever approve me for a mortgage.

 

If this one cops-out on the gore, be sure to check out the Norwegian zombie Nazi romp Dead Snow due to infect art-houses in June.

Away We Go: (6/5/09, limited)  After giving us one of the most depressing films of recent memory with Revolutionary Road, Sam Mendes goes all quirky dramedy on us with this one featuring a surprisingly likable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as an expecting couple re-examining their life together.  Let’s hope this doesn’t suffer the same unfair fate of Sunshine Cleaning, which was mostly ignored by mainstream audiences due to a bad marketing campaign that endlessly compared it to other (and lesser) quirky dramedies.  Novelist/memoirist du-jour Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay.   Check out the trailer or go away.

Public Enemies:  (7/1/09)  This is an A-lister all the way and promises to be the thinking person’s summer event flick.  Michael Mann, who has proven that both filming in digital doesn’t mean things have to be shaky and grainy and that Depression era films need not be saturated in sepia tones, has crafted what looks to be a crackling period gangster flick inspired by true events featuring a swaggering Johnny Depp, an always brooding Christian Bale and a seductively demure Marion Cotillard.  This thing looks like a real brick that is about to be thrown through everyone’s window.  Check out the trailer or go to jail.  I reckon I won’t be all alone when I take that ride come July.

District 9:  (8/14/09)  It’s so rare these days to see a non-franchised non-comic book based sci-fi flick come out during the summer.  It’s even cooler when that sci-fi film is presented by Peter Jackson, has been kept mostly under wraps, and is just now releasing the early stages of an ultra-clever viral marketing campaign.  The trailer for this one is wickedly deceptive (it looks like some political documentary) and reveals just enough of the “alien…shall we say, invasion?” plotline to tantalize viewers.  This one has some major potential for social commentary, satire and some kick-ass alien action as it blends elements from V,  Alien Nation and Starship Troopers.  Check out the humorous mock-site Maths from Outer Space, or better yet, check out the hella-cool trailer.

Antichrist:  (Unknown)  The only thing more interesting to watch than an established director attempting to go back to his roots (see Sam Raimi above) is watching a controversial auteur go off the deep end with something he’s never attempted before.  Here, Great Dane Lars Von Trier (last seen directing people acting on minimalist chalk-lined stages in Dogville and Manderlay) goes the psychological horror route with this tale of an emotionally crippled couple seeking refuge at their cabin in the woods and perhaps coming in contact with…Satan?  Guaranteed to be his most stylistic film since Zentropa (aka Europa), Antichrist‘s reception at this month’s Cannes Film Festival will go a long way in determining its potential success in the States.  Look for a limited Fall release and prepared to be disturbed.

Shutter Island:  (10/2/09)  Leonardo DiCaprio stars in a Martin Scrosese adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel.  Need I say more?  Added bonus for me:  my favorite underrated actress Emily Mortimer co-stars.  I was in line for this before I even knew it was being made.

 

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

Emily Mortimer contemplates a vacation to Shutter Island this fall.

 

Where the Wild Things Are:  (10/19/09)  Any doubts about this Malkovich-less Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book should be wiped away by what is hands down one of the most infectiously appealing trailers ever crafted.  The versatile Eggers appears again as co-scripter.  Go ahead, get wild and check it out.

Amelia:  (10/23/09)  Will Indian born Mira Nair finally achieve a massive cross-over hit with this bio-pic of Amelia Earhart, or will this be another well intentioned and glossy miscalculation like Vanity Fair?  If Nair can inject the emotional connection she so effortlessly achieved with Salaam Bombay, Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake into the still unsolved mystery surrounding the famed female pilot, then we should be in for something special, and watch out for Hilary Swank in the lead role to nab her third Oscar nod.

Tree of Life:  (Unknown, potentially 2010)  Having once allowed two decades to pass between films, legendary auteur Terrence Malick has now adopted a more Kubrickian five to ten year span between projects.  Given his notoriously long post-production process, this one might not find its way into theaters until the end of 2010 even though principle photography has been completed for some time.  Though this Brad Pitt/Sean Penn drama has been kept tightly under wraps, the advanced buzz surrounding a potential IMAX companion piece and a special effects team working on the “dino shots” make it clear this will be more than just some dreamily poetic coming-of-age mood piece.  For the first time, we might witness Malick go whole-hog.  As such, film purists should be waiting with baited breath.

Other potential films of interest include Quentin Tarantino’s spelling and good-taste-be-damned WWII flick Inglourious Basterds (to be released in August) and James Cameron’s uber-secretive sci-fi epic Avatar (to be released around Christmas) that will either be the biggest bomb or hit of the holiday season.

What films are you most looking forward to?  Leave your top pics in the comment form!

Written by David H. Schleicher

A Review of Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy”

Orphans of the Storm

In Toni Morrison’s A Mercy we see life through the eyes of people physically and emotionally abandoned, orphans with names like Lina, Florens, Jacob, Rebekkah and Sorrow.  The storm is the clashing of cultures in pre-Revolutionary War America where the laws are not yet defined, everyone and everything is for sale, and all are threatened with annihilation by God, the environment or each other.  Europeans looking for a promised land of unending wealth or escape, Natives living through an apocalypse, indentured servants and slaves from Europe and Africa bound to barbaric institutions are all brought to a slow, simmering boil in the torrid fog rolling in over Mary-Land and Virginia…colonies ironically named for women but that are unmerciful and cruel to those females who come to their shores. Continue reading