Terrence Malick has been my favourite filmmaker since Days of Heaven in 78. Malick wrote and directed only twelve features since 1973, the classic era of four films from Badlands to The Tree of Life. From 2012, Malick started churning them out – six films in five years. Malick’s classic films are jewels, set in nature, alive with vivid human emotion, empowered by spare dialogue and shot under a certain set of self-imposed artistic rules; they were transcendent. The “new” films take place in an unchanging universe of modernity and icy remove and little character to hold onto. Malick’s latest, Song to Song, set in the Austin music world follows the new drill – stark modern interiors, lots of floating fabric, breathy philosophizing and hardness. It’s a floppy story about love with stars Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchet and Holly Hunter waving in and out of an arts community and each other, feeling the wallpaper, self-consciously wrapping up in curtain, looking at bugs or clowning around. Impressive but ultimately bittersweet cameos by Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, John Lydon, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and dozens more personalities, including Trevante Rhodes, are distraction from the overall emptiness but I don’t go to Malick films for that, I go for transcendent cinematic experiences. To me this is a jeans ad. The complex relationships can’t be absorbed or appreciated as the characters are empty because we know little about them. Malick’s’ longtime art director Jack Fisk’s cold glass structures contrast poorly with Malick’s nature scapes and the overuse of tight close-ups is claustrophobic. Old Terry please come back.
A wonderful young actress called McKenna Grace who is just 11 but has 41 film and TV credits plays a math prodigy in the fact-based story Gifted. She lives happily just at the poverty line in a trailer park with her uncle played by Captain America himself, Chris Evans. He was born to intellectuals and was a prodigy and knows the hard truth that the isolated life of a child academic is no life. In essence he is hiding her from his steely estranged mother (Lindsay Duncan) who seeks custody of the child for her own ambitious academic agenda, to remove her from his trailer park and send her to genius friendly school and force her to focus on math. That’s what she did with her own daughter, the girl’s mother, who took her life. Byzantine legal ramifications and memorable characters add to its interest. The ubiquitous Octavia Spencer stars as the friendly trailer park boss who understands the girl.
The Devout written and directed by Connor Gaston concerns a four year old girl dying of brain cancer who tells her father she was an astronaut on the Apollo 1 mission to the Moon, that her name was Commander Jones and that an engine fire caused the rocket to explode. Her father checks her story and her details match what actually happened in 1960s. He finds films of children discussing past and future lives as she does, then hires a scientist in hopes of proving reincarnation exists so he can be with his daughter again in heaven. They live in a religious community that surrounds him praying for the family but when he ventures into ESP territory, there is major blowback especially from his devout wife. He lays everything on the line, his marriage, his family and more, driven by desperation not to lose his child. It’s an intriguing and quietly powerful film, starring Charlie Carrick, Ali Liebert and Olivia Martin as the little girl.
François Ozon’s elegant historical mystery Frantz is masterfully made and uses certain cinematic techniques that help further the story, like switching back and forth from colour to black and white, using mirrors and mirror images to underline the connection between Germans and the French following WWI. A German woman (Paula Beer) goes to France to visit the grave of her fiancée who died in battle with the French, to find a strange man (Pierre Niney) placing flowers with tenderness. They begin a romance that outrages her father who calls the French man his son’s murderer. but their union gradually blossoms. The screen turns to colour, only to come crashing down again to black and white in a dramatic and poignant plot twist. Ozon’s adaptation of the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch drama Broken Lullaby looks beautiful, the performances are top notch, but there is an unnerving coldness and an uneasy vibe left us unconnected.
Feud, Episodes 6 and 7 on FX – Uh oh. Hen-pecked director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) is ordered to reunite Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) in the gothic slasher move that was eventually called Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte following the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Did the studio think there would be a different outcome? There wasn’t, it was nothing but trouble from the get-go. The women keep sabotaging one another and the production to win this operatic war between them. Also, a stag film Joan may have made as a teen may have turned up, as “Hag Horrors” continue to “kill” at the box office. Joan did the Hag Horrors to pay off blackmailers but that’s all I’m going to say.
Also on FX and very soon is Season three of FARGO, starring Ewan McGregor in a dual role. McGregor is mid-Western real estate mogul and his younger, loser brother, fighting for possession of a “vintage” postage stamp. Ray believes the stamp is his birthright; Emmit just wants him to leave so he can get back to his first love – business. And that’s where it starts. Well not really. Episode one opens in Cold War East Berlin as a man is being interrogated about a dead woman. On the wall is a photograph of snowy Minnesota (shot in Calgary) and I’m not sure how, but this will all collide with events that occurred in the first two season of the show. I am so in. April 19th, folks!
David Lynch: The Art Life is the third instalment of a series of documentaries about David Lynch by director/producer Jon Nguyen, which includes 2007’s Lynch, a film that followed the filmmaker while he completed his last feature film, Inland Empire, 10 years ago. We join Lynch, aging but mentally on fire, in his handmade LA home. Lynch is known for building his own furniture when not making movies and television, but we see in this intimate doc that his passion to create extends far beyond that. Art was his first career and apparently his overriding life’s passion. His imagery is rooted in horror, shock, trauma and blood. Lynch describes his “super happy” childhood with such nostalgic longing that belies these nightmare obsessions. He mentions something nightmarish he saw as a teen that recurs in many of his projects. As you know Twin Peaks Round Two begins soon, decades after the first ground breaking series.
SNATCH is the latest Original program from CRAVE TV a rollicking and exhilarating dark comedy about a group of young London hustlers up to their ears in trouble. They discover a truck loaded with gold and take it, unwittingly robbing organized gangs. You’ll never guess who stars! Harry Potter’s little Rupert Grint! All grown up with a beard and everything! It’s a 10-episode, hour long drama streaming now. SNATCH is inspired by a real-life heist in London and the 2000 Guy Ritchie film starring Brad Pitt and Jason Statham.
Searching for Vimy’s Lost Soldiers is a shocking new documentary on the missing allied soldiers of the First and Second World Wars, on this the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Norm Christie, one of the world’s leading experts in identifying missing allied soldiers spent months locating the bodies of 44 missing Canadian soldiers. The bodies were thought to be buried in a French cemetery but the graves were empty. It turns out they were buried in a mass unmarked grave in a German mine (known as Crater CA40) now marked for industrial development. The search for the bodies meant treading on land hiding unexploded mines, chemical weapons and geographic instability. Descendants of the missing soldiers are horrified to hear what happened to their men, their heroes who volunteered for service and were in mass graves. Was it a clerical mistake? The doc claims the Canadian government doesn’t want to get involved. It airs Sunday night on History.
Ovum is the poignant true story of writer/star Sonja O’Hara playing Calpurnia Dylan, a struggling New York actress who will do anything for a role. When method-acting exercises lead her to egg donation clinics and an arrangement to donate to an aging movie star she begins to wonder what the value is of a human egg. During Ovum’s production, O’Hara became a repeat egg donor “risking everything for art”. It’s how the film was financed. It’s comic, dark and definitely a little strange. Ovum Available April 11, Digital (iTunes), DVD and Video-on-Demand (VOD) Random.
by Anne Brodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI