Knight of Cups (2015)

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For optimal sound reproduction the producers of this film recommend that you play it loud. Screenwriter Rick (Christian Bale) tries to make sense of life in Hollywood. We follow him on an odyssey through Los Angeles and Las Vegas as he undertakes a series of adventures with colorful figures, identified by eight tarot cards, with Rick as the Knight of Cups who sleeps with a half dozen women, leaves his own wife and impregnates another man’s…  Or as I like to call it, another episode in an occasional series known as When Good Auteurs Go Bad. See also:  Phantom Thread. Terrence Malick disappeared up his own fundament a while back:  if anyone thought To the Wonder was anything other than nonsense then they never saw real art house films.  This latest version of Hollywood Eats Itself functions as allegory:  of what, we don’t know, because it’s unnecessary.  All those years of living the life of someone I didn’t even know These movies have been around almost as long as Hollywood itself – but this is the experimental version. Cate Blanchett is Judgment, Natalie Portman is Death, Antonio Banderas is the Hermit, Brian Dennehy is the Hanged Man, and oh, for goodness’ sake, it looks wonderful. There are situations that almost approach coherence, particularly in the (only developed?) scenes with Portman;  an excursion to that simulacrum of plasticity in the desert, Vegas, in the company of a stripper; and the apartment burglary when the thieves bemoan Rick’s lack of possessions. Rick is haunted by the death of his brother Barry (Wes Bentley) who brings him on a tour of LA’s homeless. There are some insights amid the dissociative witterings and fragmentary musings and overheard bites of conversation inspired by The Pilgrim’s Progess but for the most part you won’t believe your ears as Christian’s character thinks he’s Christ wandering through his midlife crisis. Pity the actors, who had no script. Peter Mathiessen tells Rick that a man living in a cave eating nettles doesn’t concern himself with this sort of thing. Those desert monks had a point. This was in an edit suite for two years. After a cold compress go watch Sunset Blvd. Or 8 1/2. Whatever happened to visionary filmmaker Terrence Malick? We are too media-savvy not to understand the metaphors. We know that not all narratives are ordered or complete. But it’s a filmmaker’s job to get us at least some of the way there. And why squander the talents of these marvellous actors?  Presumably their best work wound up on the cutting room floor, as is Malick’s wont. Just to, you know, show them. As Forster would counsel, Only connect.  Woulda coulda shoulda. Begin

 

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The Two Jakes (1990)

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We’re approaching Jack Nicholson’s landmark 80th birthday and he’s not very far from our minds anyhow, is he? Nobody dislikes this guy, a Seventies superstar whose offscreen life never threatened his essential abilities to act better than most anyone else. Two Jakes is the continuing story of Jake Gittes whom Nicholson inhabited so memorably in the classic Chinatown, a mythos of Los Angeles created by Robert Towne as part homage, part interrogation of that great city and its wobbly foundations. Now it’s post-WW2 and Gittes is hired by another Jake, Berman (Harvey Keitel) to do a routine matrimonial job. Gittes leads Berman to his wife’s lover, whom he murders. He’s Berman’s business partner. We return to the world of deceit and conspiracy that characterises film noir, albeit we are in living colour with a fabulously feline Madeleine Stowe as a very fatale femme.  It isn’t always a success and while the voiceover narration is true to the style it’s not always satisfying in a plot which might have been tightened a tad had screenwriter Robert Towne been around to finish it, an issue that caused trouble for Nicholson, who directed this outing. However there’s a lot to savour – it looks amazing and there’s a flavoursome soundtrack by Van Dyke Parks. It makes me wish we could finally have the last part of Towne’s projected LA trilogy. For more on this see my book about Robert Towne:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/ChinaTowne-Elaine-Lennon-ebook/dp/B01KCL3YXQ/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1492610518&sr=1-2&keywords=elaine+lennon

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001)

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Time has been kind to this. Or perhaps it’s the fading November light and my depleted brain cells, damaged from an excess of Halloween Pringles and pumpkin soup. I admit I could not make it through the novel by Louis de Bernieres – I’m a quick reader but after two weeks and 13 pages I threw it over. I found it unreadable. The fact that the film was ‘trailed’ by Julia Roberts at the end of Notting Hill, a Working Title film I despised at the time, did not help. Nor did I like this film particularly when it was released. It’s the story of a musical Italian, Antonio (Nicolas Cage) who along with his battery of fellow soldiers (who have never fired a shot) disrupts life for the locals on the Greek island of Cephalonia during WW2 particularly that of Pelagia  (Penelope Cruz) daughter of the local doctor Iannis (John Hurt) and engaged to an illiterate fisherman turned resistance fighter Mandras (Christian Bale). Antonio tries to woo her while training his men to sing as a choir. Then the German pact with Italy falls apart, Mandras returns briefly but disappears to the hills and the Nazis arrive and the most apparently civilised of them, Captain Gunther Webber (Steven Morrissey) tries to befriend his opposite number and date a local girl. That’s before orders come from above … Shawn Slovo adapted the novel with some major episodes softened for cinematic tastes and John Madden directed and it has improved for me over time, even with residual misgivings about casting and accents. No quarrel with the great Irene Papas as Mandras’ mother though. The cinematography by John Toll is exquisite. This is really an epic tale of endurance and a tribute to all those thousands of Italians murdered by the Nazis in September 1943 for the hell of it. And people wonder why the Brits voted for Brexit?! The spectre of an island being overrun by murderous reasonable Germans is just too, too much. Nobody’s memory is that short. People can only take so much totalitarian fascism, nicht wahr?!