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Knight of Cups (2015)

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I don't find all (or even most) of the moments/images Malick discovers through his process are compelling, and I'm rarely satisfied with the way in which he stitches discrete moments together into a feature film.

That said, I wouldn't say that those issues stem from an "absence of resources," per se.

 

Yeah, I can definitely understand why not everyone may be enthusiastic about his films. I understand what you meant by "improvisation" and how it applies to TM's approach to film making; I'm just not sure that certain connotations of that word fit what he's doing.

Edited by Nick Olson

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So he's pretty much just making the same movie over and over now, right?

 

I'm fine with that, although sometimes I likes 'em, and sometimes I don't.

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I think he's exploring a world, the same world, through the eyes and experiences of different characters. You and I live in the same world, but ride around in our heads for a while, tap into our interior monologues, and you'll have very different stories. Very different thing than making the same movie over and over. To the Wonder seemed to exist in the same world as The Tree of Life, but what a different experience.

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What's more, The Tree of Life and Knight of Cups capture different periods. So, there's that.

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I mentioned this on Facebook, but I gotta say: whatever the lens they use on many (most?) of those shots is called, it gets kind of oppressive after a while. Can't fathom watching an entire movie made up of that kind of imagery.

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Premiering at Berlin, apparently.

 

Your first year attending, right?

 

As to the repetition, making a film at this scale seems so hard that if you find a set of production variables that work - one would be inclined to stick with them. In Malick's case, the past few films have had very similar camerawork, both in narrative and establishing shots. The voiceover and sound design are identical. Lighting is the same. The pacing and thematic use of location are the same.

 

So there is a formula present, for sure. But I will go out of my way to see more work by an artist like Joseph Cornell even though his work doesn't really vary. At some point I have become sensitive to the little alterations and changes in rhythm or narrative texture that he plays with in different pieces.

Edited by M. Leary

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It is a tarot card (as you note above) that I gather does have connections in "gnosticism" to non-canonical readings of Mary Magdelene, the chalice, etc... But "gnosticism" is such a diffuse label these conversations tend to loose historical credibility in a hurry. FWIW, here is the site of the self-described "tarot advisor" for the film.

 

The tarot card and the Hymn of the Pearl are an interesting intertext for sure. Malick has alluded to similar blends of Christian theology/history and other religions before - such as his shots of the unicorn tapestries in To the Wonder.

Edited by M. Leary

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M. Leary wrote:
: The tarot card and the Hymn of the Pearl are an interesting intertext for sure.

 

FWIW, I haven't read through the Hymn of the Pearl all that closely yet, but I searched for the word "cup" in the portions quoted at Wikipedia and couldn't find anything. In the "hymn", it is *food* rather than drink that makes the prince forget where he came from -- but in the film's synopsis, it's a *cup* that does this. I don't know if Malick made the change to fit the tarot card, or if that variation comes from somewhere else.

 

: FWIW, here is the site of the self-described "tarot advisor" for the film.

 

Well golly, she looks kind of like Jessica Chastain!

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Here is what I can tell:

 

1. The Knight of Cups tarot card lent the film its title and overall vibe, as I guess each tarot card is associated with a narrative and/or set of behaviors or characteristics. Bale's character fits those characteristics.

2. A summary of The Hymn of the Pearl has been offered as a description of the film.

3. The character in the Hymn and the Knight of Cups tarot card resemble each other sufficiently that there is, in typical Malick fashion, a syncretistic synergy happening in the film's religious allusions and references.

4. The transposition from "food" to "cup" in the flm's synopsis may be an intentional blending of the two sources? Tarot and Thomas?

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M. Leary wrote:

: FWIW, here is the site of the self-described "tarot advisor" for the film.

 

Well golly, she looks kind of like Jessica Chastain!

Yeah, first thing I thought was, "twirl!"

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Antonio Banderas:

 

 

“I arrived to the set and basically what [Malick] said to me, ‘Antonio, we didn’t send you a script because we don’t have a script and so this monologue that I gave you,’ which literally didn’t make sense whatsoever, ‘I’m gonna shoot it in nine different locations and I’m gonna just improvise with you, and I’m gonna send you something that I call torpedoes.’ And these torpedoes, they were people that came in the middle of the monologue and started improvising with me. He sent me a beautiful woman, he sent me an old lady, he sent me a bunch of three guys that are rappers. I ended up in a pool with three ladies with my tuxedo.”

 

Asked whether he read the monologues as himself or the character Banderas said, “I don’t know, actually. I don’t know. But I am very curious to see what this genius of movies did.”

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From the Berlinale online program guide:

Rick is a slave to the Hollywood system. He is addicted to success but simultaneously despairs at the emptiness of his life. He is at home in a world of illusions but seeks real life. Like the tarot card of the title, Rick is easily bored and needs outside stimulation. But the Knight of Cups is also an artist, a romantic and an adventurer.
In Terrence Malick's seventh film a gliding camera once again accompanies a tormented hero on his search for meaning. Once again a voiceover is laid over images which also seek their own authenticity. And once again Malick seems to put the world out of joint. His symphonic flow of images contrasts cold, functional architecture with the ageless beauty of nature. Rick's internal monologue coalesces with the voices of the women who cross his path, women who represent different principles in life: while one lives in the real world, the other embodies beauty and sensuality. Which path will Rick choose? In the city of angels and the desert that surrounds it, will he find his own way?

 

Looks the film will show five times as the festival.

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It screened at Berlinale today.
 
And... well... (sigh) ... that sinking feeling that I had when I wrote my first-impression review of The Tree of Life, it looks like it was right on. 

 

It may look like I'm only posting the nay-sayers here, but I am posting reviews chronologically as I find them. Chang's is actually rather positive. (Okay, I've found a positive review at Little White Lies.)
 
 
Slant (Fujishima)
 

With Knight of Cups, Terrence Malick achieves the sense of stylistic ossification that many accused his last feature, To the Wonder, of embodying. The difference is that the earlier film was still, in its own rather elemental ways, tied to actual flesh-and-blood characters on screen. In Knights of Cups, by contrast, Malick seems to have finally decided to do away with humans altogether. In some ways, this is the filmmaker's 8 ½: a feature-length riff on his own creative frustration, with Christian Bale as his directionless stand-in, a screenwriter suffering from spiritual ennui. But then, of course he's bored and frustrated: He lives in Hollywood, after all, and if works like The Day of the Locust and The Player have shown us anything over the years, what else is Hollywood but a cesspool of decadence and empty hedonism?

 
Variety (Chang)
 

Malick remains concerned almost entirely with interior states; with the spiritual connections that are forged and ruptured between individuals; and with the grim consequences of a life lived in continual exposure to the world and its most corrupt elements. (In that respect, one movie it clearly recalls is Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere,” another example of an auteur employing a highly specific, image-driven cinematic language to explore celebrity ennui.) It’s a moralistic stance that may in and of itself cause certain viewers to recoil, particularly when Dennehy’s earnest, prayerful father figure and Armin Mueller-Stahl as a grave-looking priest are on hand to nudge Rick back toward the straight and narrow.
...
Despite the strong emotional undercurrents in these scenes, the feeling persists that these excellent actors — particularly Blanchett, her striking features and natural expressiveness fascinatingly at odds with the prevailing aesthetic — are being confined by their fundamentally archetypal roles. At this point, too, there is something inevitably reductive about Malick’s primary conception of women as love interests passing through the revolving door of Rick’s life, a problem that would grate more if the man himself were less of a cipher. Even allowing for the director’s way of treating actors as vessels for his themes and ideas, and his gift for using blocking and body language to convey meaning, it’s hard not to notice the degree to which Bale’s magnetism has been drained away here.
...
 
Those tarot references aside, Malick’s view remains a deeply and unapologetically Christian one; Rick’s story may echo that of the lost knight, but it also has obvious roots in the parable of the prodigal son, and throughout “Knight of Cups” you can just about make out the voice of a father patiently, insistently calling his wayward child home. It’s that instinctive compassion that keeps the film from turning crushingly didactic, along with the myriad aesthetic pleasures afforded by the Malick’s typically dense layering of image, sound and music.

 
 
indieWire (Jessica Klang)
 

Those of us who had hoped that "Knight of Cups" might see Malick changing tack a bit after the progressive steps toward a far-off horizon that were "The Tree of Life" (which, if you're wondering, I loved) and "To The Wonder" (which I did not) are bound for disappointment, as his new film finds him more abstruse than ever, and more involved with existential questions which are beautiful, vital, universal, and also completely unanswerable. ... 
 
There will be arguments about "Knight of Cups" similar to those there were over "To The Wonder," and probably even more pointless. Because in this brimful film, provided you haven't rejected it outright as overly pretentious and self-indulgent, you can find an image, or a line of voiceover to suit any thesis you care to make.

 
 
Movie Mezzanine (Michael Pattison)
 

With vacant eyes and mouth agape, man continues his seemingly irrevocable fall from innocence, in Terrence Malick’s eternally juvenile seventh feature Knight of Cups. 
...
Indeed, Malick takes the kind of dramatic displacement that he so dangerously let free in To the Wonder to another level entirely here, dragging what scant storyline there is by the scruff of its reluctant neck, capturing some startling images along the way as he allows platonic ideals to stand in for the real thing. Beautiful women on balconies and on beaches; a self-suffering protagonist; declining marriages and tension-fuelled familial relationships. As one character claims late on in this folly, “no one cares about reality anymore.” The obvious refrain to which, of course, is “speak for yourself.”


indieWire (Eric Kohn)

 

Still, there's something inspiring about the take-no-prisoners approach of Malick's cosmic vision, which follows its own path. In the context of a story about the restrictions of commercially-mandated filmmaking, it may be the closest we get to a mission statement in the elusive director's career.

 

But even if one goes with the flow and embraces its underlying thematic focus, "Knight of Cups" falls short of sustaining a coherent stance. While its formalism resembles "To the Wonder" and "The Tree of Life," it lacks their singular focus. By distilling his appeal to its most rudimentary elements, Malick regularly lingers on the cusp of self-parody. Rick's struggle has its moments of magical splendor, but just as frequently feels as hazy as the diminished memory of that fabled knight.

 

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw)

 

With his latest film Knight of Cups, however, Malick has frankly declined. There are moments of visual brilliance here, moments of reverence and even grandeur. He is always distinctive, and anything he does must be of interest. But his style is stagnating into mannerism, cliche and self-parody. Where once he used his transcendant visual language to evoke heartland America, these tropes are now exposed in being applied to tiresome tinseltown LA, where a screenwriter played by Christian Bale undergoes what has to be the least interesting spiritual crisis in history.

 

Little White Lies (Sophie Monks Kaufman)

 

 

Knight of Cups is glistening pearl from Terrence Malick is a blissful, transcendent and desolate treatise on love.

The most anticipated film of Berlinale 2015 looks set to be the best one. It’s hard to imagine equivalent notes of grace and meaning being struck in this competition or indeed in this world. Grace and meaning are not new adjectives for describing the work of writer/director Terrence Malick but, gratifyingly, this time his distinctive poetic cinema encases a simple and coherent narrative. Existentialism from a rich playboy makes it tonally comparable to Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty but this also an absorbing study of the stresses of being a womaniser. Really.

...

Malick doesn’t judge his lead man for his elegantly wasted lifestyle. The whispered voice-over that – to the amusement of detractors and scintillation of devotees – has become Malick’s failsafe way of evoking higher consciousness has never been more exquisite, repeatedly finding the barest way to communicate the anguish and complexities of the human spirit.

 

Edited by Overstreet

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David Hudson doesn't review films often, but when he does he's always generous and cool-headed, so this dashes whatever slim hopes I had:

 

The wispiness and the whispered voiceover (ranging again from snippets of dialogue to prayer-like calls out into the cosmos; my favorite: “Ah, life.”), but most of all, the sheer repetition become, all too soon for this viewer, overbearing. When the credits rolled, all I could think was, “Thank God it’s over.”

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And now for something almost completely different...

 

RogerEbert.com (Neil Young)

A soul, indeed. With “Knight of Cups”, his most satisfying film since “The Thin Red Line” (1999), Terrence Malick joins the lineage of artists who have sought to depict—and transcend—the treacherously complex surfaces of California, Los Angeles and Hollywood. 

...

(Presumably) completing his spiritual-quest trilogy which began with the cosmogonic, bewilderingly diffuse Palme d’Or winner “The Tree of Life” (2011) and continued with the more overtly (and detrimentally) evangelical “To The Wonder” (2012), Malick has delivered an exasperating, exhilarating magnum opus, a film with unapologetic, vaulting ambition that is to be prized, even cherished.

That said, those who found “Tree” and “Wonder” too elliptical, too whispery, too grandiose, too “Malicky” will want to steer well clear of this elliptical, whispery, grandiose enterprise, which conjures sharp shards of narrative and assembles them not into a coherent, conventional narrative, rather a glittering kaleido-mosaic.

 

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Well, here's a really positive dual review/conversation from Daniel Kasman and Adam Cook:  https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/berlinale-2015-dialogues-terrence-malicks-knight-of-cups

 

 

I must admit it's a bit difficult to begin speaking of this overwhelming film so immediately after seeing it, and especially in the atmosphere here in Berlin of almost immediate derision. I remember the boos that instantly followed the final shot of The Tree of Life's in Cannes and here I'd swear I felt that negative energy going into the giant Berlinale Palast, the anticipation of yet more Malick. Whatever that means. Few still describe well his method as a filmmaker, and whatever you may think of his last film, To the Wonder, it certainly revealed more about how Terrence Malick, a very unique filmmaker, thinks about cinema as a language, and how his cinema "works"—moves, creates meaning. The shock of that film, as well as brief moments inThe Tree of Life, was how this director so known for his sagas of history told as flowing visions through a technique one might associate with the flowing sensualism of impressionism, memories, nostalgia, dreams and so on; the shock was how this director sees the present, our banal spaces seemingly uncharged by history. This new film, Knight of Cups is absolutely about now, it looks like it was shot yesterday, a direct vision of a sunny, frighteningly inhuman Los Angeles.

 

I, for one, am still very much looking forward to this movie, and whatever else Malick has cooking.

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"how this director so known for his sagas of history told as flowing visions through a technique one might associate with the flowing sensualism of impressionism, memories, nostalgia, dreams and so on; the shock was how this director sees the present"

 

I made that argument for his last film with the caveat that I prefer the historian Malick.

 

I like Malick's language. I prefer it. It has shaped the way I watch all other cinema. But I have already heard him "talk" about the present enough. This is primarily what makes me nervous about this one. Here's hoping for Project V.

Edited by M. Leary

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