I've just spent two weeks in London and Edinburgh. I did a little revolution profiteering, and did a couple of events at the festival in exchange for a plane ticket back to the land of unlimited pub choice. And I was keen on
It's always nice to be back in the land of unlimited pub choice, but I was particularly excited about going to the cinema. After watching Super 8 at the Renaissance Nile City I haven't been able to get back in there.
First on the list was The Tree of Life. It's been a long time since I was so excited about a new film. The New World had a profound effect on the way I think about cinema, I wrote my university dissertation on Badlands and Days of Heaven and I listen to Hans Zimmer's soundtrack to The Thin Red Line with almost alarming regularity. I spend a lot of time with Terrence Malick's films.
With The Tree of Life, though, I'm sad to say, he doesn't push hard enough. I wont go in to an in depth dissection but, in short, the film fails because it's not as experimental as it should have been. Instead of having the confidence to really jump between the Genesis, Texas and Sean Penn sequences the film's movements arrive in blocks. The story is engaging in Texas but the space-desert-beach section really feels ludicrous, while the dinosaurs are little more than an invitation for derision. A bolder use of montage could have pushed the film's ideas alongside the voiceover, which was cruelly overworked. For the first time in a Malick film I felt the cheese factor rise through the hushed interiority of the characters. Where the characters in The New World spoke to each others most private selves of their suffering, and the soldiers of The Thin Red Line whispered accusations at the divine in the face of death, the family in Texas seem only to be talking to the film's stated ideas of each other. It felt like a device to mask lazy characterisation and simplified philosophy. I don't like writing that, because I think Malick is a genius, but whatever he was trying to pull off here isn't catching. At least on my first viewing. I thought it was going to be as pacy and chopped up as the ad, with big ideas being conveyed through cuts between different times and places.
On hindsight, that's a pretty stupid thing to think, seeing as ads are in the business of making things pacy and chopped up however possible.
Meanwhile, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is ser fantastiche, go see it. Cowboys vs Aliens is the worst film I've ever seen. I had planned to spend the day hopping between screens in an Odeon multiplex with a friend, but was so physically wracked by its vapid pointlessness and venally insulting $163m budget, that as soon as the credits rolled I had to go straight home and go to bed. Finally, The Skin I Live In is a pointless exercise in style that could have been engaging were Antonio Banderas able to turn his acting up anywhere past 7. And Batman Begins remains a great way to pass a Sunday afternoon after a wedding.
The important thing, from a Cinerevolution point of view, to take away from Malick's success is how clear it is that actors want to be challenged. Brad Pitt, having only played Brad Pitt from 2000 to 2006, woke from his narcissistic slumber and decided to remind the world he can actually act. And he turned in a masterful performance in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which he also produced (and ultimately quite controlled the edit too, apparently. Says the director: "He's powerful and he's not afraid to use it. He can be the best friend you have, but when we fought it was bloody"). Big actors will work with young directors if they've got ideas, if they can show them something new. So, young directors, don't water your time trying to make a bullshit action short, or some lightweight ehtnoromance, or a gritty tale of drug abuse that you have no experience of. Cinema is attracted to new ideas, even if they fail.
Look at the new directors who have come through over the past couple of years. Masses of them started on small independent films that had enough energy and good ideas. They were all flawed, but they had a spark. Nicholas Winding Refn arrived in the mainstream with Drive this year, having made the Pusher trilogy in Denmark before crossing over to the UK independent scene with the deeply average Bronson. But Bronson launched Tom Hardy and, within its averageness it had a couple of neat ideas (the pantomime conceit). Or Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank fell apart in the final act, but used space and structure with a style I've not seen since Antonioni), Steve McQueen (Hunger drags in parts, but its ballsy three act structure made you pay attention), Cary Fukinaga (Sin Nombre gets lost in cliche at the end, but starts with some really nice characterisation and camerawork. His Levi's ad is great).
Anyway, the point of all this is that I need to stop rambling on on this blog (this post was started as a distraction from the charming three-meat platter Egyptair served for breakfast) and get back to working on my script.