Tag Archives: Terrence Malick

Deadhead Miles (1972, Vernon Zimmerman)

Deadhead Miles is a piece of great seventies filmmaking. It’s not a great film, but a great piece of filmmaking. The distinction’s important.

Most of the film is about a peculiar truck driver, played by Alan Arkin, and his adventures after picking up a hitchhiker, played by Paul Benedict. Arkin’s truck driver is not particularly likable or at all sympathetic. He’s a dense, know it all jerk. Writer Terrence Malick opens the film trying the viewer’s patience with Arkin’s character, though he eventually becomes amusing enough. Miles becomes about waiting to see what he’s going to do next. It also reveals the culture of long haul truck driving and Arkin’s odd acceptance of it.

Benedict’s mostly along to ground the viewer, to give them some connection to their expectations of familiar reality.

Of course, it eventually turns out there should not be any expectation of familiar reality and Arkin maybe isn’t so crazy.

Well, okay, he’s always going to be a little crazy.

Malick doesn’t mess around explaining Arkin and Miles might be a great character study if Zimmerman wasn’t playing it as a comedy. The script could go either way.

It’s very short and might even do better shorter. There’s this out of place prologue before Arkin meets up with Benedict and it’s dead weight, wholly unnecessary either to narrative or artistic impulse.

Zimmerman’s direction is quite good, particularly how he handles the long driving sequences and the relationship between Arkin and Benedict.

It’s a singular, mildly rewarding film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Vernon Zimmerman; written by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Ralph Woolsey; edited by Eve Newman and George Hively; music by Dave Dudley and Jimmie Haskell; produced by Tony Bill and Zimmerman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Alan Arkin (Cooper), Paul Benedict (Hitchhiker), Hector Elizondo (Duke), Oliver Clark (Durazno), Charles Durning (Truck Driver in Cafe), Lawrence Wolf (Pineapple), Barnard Hughes (Old Man), William Duell (Auto Parts Salesman), Madison Arnold (Hostler), Loretta Swit (Woman with Glass Eye), and Bruce Bennett (Johnny Mesquitero), with special appearances by George Raft and Ida Lupino.


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The New World (2005, Terrence Malick), the extended cut

Historical fact, or even the attempt at paying lip service to it, is so inconvenient. If there’s a better example than The New World, I’m not familiar with it.

Malick struggles to make it all fit together and he can’t quite make it sync. He has to move from Colin Farrell being the protagonist to Christine Bale. Q’orianka Kilcher gets some focus too, but barely any once Bale arrives.

After Farrell and Kilcher’s romance, it’d be difficult for anyone to properly follow it up. While Malick does get Bale’s best performance from him, the casting is a misstep. Much like James Horner’s score, there’s something off with the casting. Lots of the “name” casting works—obviously, Farrell is excellent, but so are David Thewlis and Wes Studi. Third billed Christopher Plummer is barely in it enough to make an impression.

Much of The New World does not “wow.” It feels like a disjointed period piece from early on—and Horner’s music is an immediate liability—and it actually becomes more interesting in the last act, as Kilcher and Bale head back to 17th century England. Here, Malick starts using Caspar David Friedrich’s Woman before the Rising Sun as a direct influence for how he portrays Kilcher.

A lot of what he does is interesting—none of the Native Americans (including Kilcher’s Pocahontas) are ever referred to by name in dialogue—and the pacing is exquisite.

Malick nearly recovers at the end, but again, tragically, kowtows to the “non-fiction” imperative.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Richard Chew, Hank Corwin, Saar Klein and Mark Yoshikawa; music by James Horner; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Sarah Green; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Colin Farrell (Captain John Smith), Q’orianka Kilcher (Pocahontas), Christian Bale (John Rolfe), Christopher Plummer (Captain Christopher Newport), August Schellenberg (Chief Powhatan), Wes Studi (Opechancanough), David Thewlis (Edward Wingfield), Yorick van Wageningen (Captain Samuel Argall), Raoul Trujillo (Tomocomo), Janine Duvitski (Mary), Michael Greyeyes (Rupwew), Irene Bedard (Pocahontas’s Mother), Kalani Queypo (Parahunt), Ben Mendelsohn (Ben), Noah Taylor (Selway), Ben Chaplin (Robinson), Eddie Marsan (Eddie), John Savage (Savage), Billy Merasty (Kiskiak) and Jonathan Pryce (King James I).


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The Tree of Life (2011, Terrence Malick)

Malick shot The Tree of Life in a variety of formats, but it displays at 1.85:1. It’s his first 1.85:1 since the seventies and, somehow, it feels like the film would be more intimate wider.

Somewhere in Tree of Life, there’s a great film. Not the best film Malick’s ever made or anything along those lines, but there’s a great film. But he adds a lot; most awkward is his rumination on God. Most of it comes from Jessica Chastain’s character (wife to Brad Pitt, mother to Hunter McCracken, who’s played by Sean Penn in the present day scenes). But Chastain isn’t the lead in the great film somewhere in Tree of Life. The great film is about Pitt and McCracken.

Penn’s presence—and the modern day stuff—is useless (except to spot Joanna Going, who’s been gone too long from cinema). Malick’s got a birth of the universe sequence, he’s got a bunch of dinosaurs (while the scenes are lovely, the CG isn’t)… but it’s Penn who’s out of place. It undermines what Malick does in the film’s best moments.

Some of the photographic effects are wondrous and Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography is great. Alexandre Desplat’s music is excellent as well.

Malick gets a great performance from Pitt and from McCracken and the cast in general.

When the film fails, it’s nice to see it fail because of Malick’s reaching and failing to grasp something, not because of casting or historical accuracy. It’s an honest, sometimes wonderful disappointment.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber and Mark Yoshikawa; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Grant Hill; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Starring Hunter McCracken (Jack), Brad Pitt (Mr. O’Brien), Jessica Chastain (Mrs. O’Brien), Laramie Eppler (R.L.), Tye Sheridan (Steve) and Sean Penn (Adult Jack).


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Days of Heaven (1978, Terrence Malick)

According to John Travolta (who was originally cast and probably wasn’t just making it up–as it was pre-Battlefield Earth and he was still somewhat legitimate), when ABC wouldn’t let him out of his “Welcome Back, Kotter” contract, Malick was forced to cast Richard Gere and shredded the majority of Days of Heaven‘s screenplay, instead going with a far more lyrical approach. It’s so lyrical–and here’s why I believe Travolta–Malick frequently mutes out Gere’s dialogue. Given how terrible Gere’s performance–there aren’t any good performances from the film’s principals–it’s a blessing. But Gere still doesn’t act well on mute.

Days of Heaven is a complete mess. It’s a gorgeous film, but it feels like watching a movie on late night television, falling asleep for some of it, waking up, some of the dialogue getting incorporated into the catnap dreams. I haven’t seen it in ten years, but I’m really glad I didn’t go out and buy the new Criterion release, because there’s hardly anything to see here.

It’s clear–from the opening titles no less–Malick made this film in the editing room. There’s some obviously ad-libbed material, which tends to be poor–the film’s final scene, with Jackie Shultis visibly grasping for something, breaks the camel’s back. Malick gets a good performance out of Robert J. Wilke, but he’s about it. The rest seem like they’re being put in front of the camera without knowing what do to–and they didn’t. Malick shot “miles of film,” intending to figure out what to do with it in post-production. He didn’t hire actors capable of working in such a manner–Gere’s a joke in this film, it’s impossible to imagine, seeing Days of Heaven, he’d ever turn in reasonable work. Brooke Adams is better, but doesn’t seem aware her character is a bad person. Days of Heaven‘s strange in Malick’s approach to morality–whereas Badlands recognized it, challenged the viewer to interact with the film while considering it, Heaven‘s oblivious. No one in the film is particularly likable and none of them are worth spending ninety minutes with. Sam Shepard’s a little better, but he’s not any good. Malick obviously cast Linda Manz because of her voice, which is distinctive. She can’t deliver lines well with it, but whatever.

If there’s a solid, artistic impetus to Days of Heaven, it’s not visible in the film. It’s such a beautiful film–until the end, which lacks any personality–it’s impossible not to appreciate Malick’s talent. Billy Weber’s editing is astounding, the photography from Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler is amazing. Ennio Morricone’s music is a disaster, as it clearly tries to imply a different film.

Malick shifts the film’s focus towards the end, turning it on its head. He insinuates a lot of metaphor but it’s all baseless and the last twenty minutes of the film play terrible. The film’s exhausting, never feeling like Malick did anything but put something–anything–out in order to fulfill his contract. What’s worst about Days of Heaven is Manz’s narration. After Malick did that brilliant, innovative, singular narration work in Badlands, he uses utterly standard expository narration here.

It’s an incredible disappointment.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Terrence Malick; director of photography, Néstor Almendros and Haskell Wexler; edited by Billy Weber; music by Ennio Morricone; produced by Bert Schneider and Harold Schneider; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Richard Gere (Bill), Brooke Adams (Abby), Sam Shepard (The Farmer), Linda Manz (Linda), Robert J. Wilke (The Farm Foreman), Jackie Shultis (Linda’s Friend), Stuart Margolin (Mill Foreman), Timothy Scott (Harvest Hand), Gene Bell (Dancer), Doug Kershaw (Fiddler), Richard Libertini (Vaudeville Leader), Frenchie Lemond (Vaudeville Wrestler) and Sahbra Markus (Vaudeville Dancer).


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