Skip to main content

We're not leading the lives we are meant for... we're meant for something else.

Knight of Cups
(2015)

(SPOILERS) Even a Terrence Malick apologist has to draw a line somewhere, and it seems the director has finally succumbed to inglorious self-parody. The warning signs were there with To the Wonder, but it’s the repetition of the same brush strokes and signatures to the point of banality that sadly seals the deal in Knight of Cups.


It doesn’t help that Christian Bale is an essentially unsympathetic protagonist. He’s a natural for a meaty part, but emphatically not favoured by wistful contemplation and half-murmured regrets. Malick’s fractured constructions are ever-intentional, but they reach breaking point here, as Bale’s Hollywood writer Rick charts a course of reflection based on a misspent life of profligate relationships.


There’s a loose structure based on a tarot reading (Rick’s significator is the Knight of Cups), but seemingly little actual rigour to the passage through titled sequences based on The Hanged Man, The Hermit, Judgement etc. So too, his array of Hollywood lovelies (Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Frieda Pinto, Teresa Palmer, Imogen Poots) pass by with little impact. We meet Rick’s brother (Wes Bentley) and father (Brian Dennehy; suggestive of the daddy issues in The Tree of Life), but here likewise the whole is so lightweight, so set on the meditative feathery pillow, that it blows away.


Maybe that’s Malick’s intent, but it translates as pure parody. Knowing that there was no script only adds to this; you can virtually see the director telling Bale “Emote against that tree, will you, Christian, and we’ll add some vague musing on the voiceover later”. Stir and repeat. Whatever Malick’s grand designs (Ben Kingsley’s narrator introduces the film, quoting Pilgrim’s Progress, and telling of the prince who forgot who he was; Rick spent “all those years, living the life of someone I didn’t even know”), unfurling protracted tone poems of the restless soul, the wilful lack of form fails to pass muster this time, in what becomes a two-hour slog. It isn’t transportive, merely laboured.


The snatches of pseud-poetic rambling are hit-and-miss (“Because I stumble down this road like a drunk, that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong one”; “You think when you reach a certain age, things will start to make sense. Then you find you’re just as lost as you were before”; “I suppose that’s what damnation is. The pieces of your life never come together”; “So much love inside us, that never gets out”), cumulatively leaving one convinced that, if you attempt to wax lyrical long enough, something vaguely coherent will come out amid the dross.


There are a few high points, however. The use of Wojciech Kilar’s Exodus as the main theme very nearly forgives the picture its profuse transgressions, lending the internal fumblings occasional weight and emotional substance they otherwise lack; mournful melancholy at a wasted life.


The imagery, courtesy of the masterful Emmanuel Lubezki (three Oscars on the trot can’t be wrong, can they?), is extraordinarily beautiful, if you can get past Malick’s penchant for low angle, handheld, fish-eyed haziness. At one point there’s even a glimmer of something enticing as writer Peter Matthiessen (At Play in the Fields of the Lord) offers some nuggets of zen (“If you’re in a cave eating nettles, it’s not so difficult to keep your life simple”); it struck me that spending 90 minutes with this guy, rather than 90 seconds, and whatever he had to say, would be far more rewarding than anything Malick could come up with, something that might tend towards My Dinner with Andre levels of inspired rumination.


As ever, throngs of performers line up to appear in a Malick joint, most of whom barely register. Antonio Banderas comes on like the compere of a Fellini movie, introducing Rick to a party full of young beauties (“There are no principles, just circumstances”) and you may spy the likes of Jason Clarke, Joel Kinnaman, Dane DeHaan, Ryan O’Neal, Joe Manganiello, and Michael Wincott. Or you may not.


Fellini’s an appropriate reference point, as more than once I was put in mind of Peter Sellers’ parody of the director in After the Fox: “What are we running from?” asks Victor Mature’s Tony Powell. Sellers’ master criminal the Fox, masquerading as a movie director, replies ‘From yourselves. Uh, you get the symbolic meaning? Aah! No matter how fast you run, you can never run away from yourselves!’ ‘Aah! Beautiful!’ exclaims buffoonish Tony. Doubtless Bale made similar exclamations regarding the weight and wisdom of Malick during the course of Knight of Cups (and their next, Weightless, a title just itching for brickbats).



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.