To the Wonder

May 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Rachel McAdams
Directed by: Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life”)
Written by: Terrence Malick (“Tree of Life”)

In the quickest follow-up to a film in his 30 year career, director/writer Terrence Malick delivers “To the Wonder,” a drama so polarizing it earned a series of boos and cheers when it debuted at the Venice Film Festival last September. “To the Wonder” comes after Malick’s Oscar-nominated – albeit still as dividing – “Tree of Life” starring Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain. While it might be considered a companion piece to “Tree,” “Wonder” is less experimental and far less emotionally gratifying than its predecessor. In fact, of the six films Malick has directed since 1973’s “Badlands,” it’s the only one I cannot recommend.

As with every Malick film, viewers can insert their own personal meaning behind the thinly-plotted “Wonder.” Ben Affleck stars as Neil, a man who falls in love with single mother Marina (Olga Kurylenko) in France and brings her and her daughter back to Oklahoma to start a new life together. When things don’t work out (it’s not evident why they don’t since all Affleck does is stare into the distance for most of the film), Marina moves back to France and Neil rekindles a romance with Jane (Rachel McAdams), a childhood friend who is now a rancher. When that relationship ends, Marina comes back. Plotted sloppily between the love triangle is a secondary storyline about a priest (Javier Bardem) who has lost his faith. In perfect Malick form, he walks around aimlessly trying to find it.

For a majority of the film’s 112-minute run time (a short film for Malick’s standards), not much happens. Affleck has tickle-fights with Kurylenko and McAdams on beautiful backdrops as Wagner, Hayden and Rachmaninoff music blend with sparse, meaningless dialogue. There is also verbose narration in French and Spanish that tries hard to be poetic, but proves ineffective. Malick shoots Kurylenko and McAdams like a father who is chasing his twirling toddlers with a video camera he just got for Christmas. It was probably great footage in his mind, but no one else is going to want to see it.

Of course, you can’t dismiss the beauty of “Wonder” with Mexican cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (“Tree of Life,” “The New World”) at the helm again. Here, he makes a field of grain and a parking lot at a Sonic Drive-Thru restaurant look immaculate. Still, “Wonder” is exactly why Malick detractors don’t give him a fair shake. And this time they’re right. The imagery is incredible, but it’s a pretentious mess. With three more projects already in the canon for the next two years (“Knight of Cups,” “Voyage of Time,” and an untitled piece), here’s to hoping Malick’s sudden craving for rapid filmmaking isn’t his downfall.

Oblivion

April 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski (“TRON: Legacy”)
Written by: Joseph Kosinski (debut), Karl Gajdusek (“Trespass”), Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”)

Just like in his last film, the CGI-rich albeit hollow-to-the-core sequel “TRON: Legacy,” filmmaker Joseph Kosinski captures an exciting setting in his second movie “Oblivion.” In this Tom Cruise-vehicle, Kosinski’s idea of a futuristic, post-war Earth is vast and dreary. High-tech drones blaze through the sky with purpose. The planet is lifeless, but Kosinski’s vision isn’t. It’s not until characters actually speak and a plot is brought to the forefront when “Oblivion” becomes just another dull sci-fi genre flash in the pan.

Cruise, who is no stranger to substantial science fiction like “Minority Report” and “War of the Worlds,” tries his best to keep the drama high as the director maintains the fascinating world around him. He stars as Jack Harper, a security expert whose mission is to monitor drones on Earth. Along with his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), the duo is only two weeks away from clocking out and joining their fellow humans who have been transported to another planet after a nuclear war ravaged the world uninhabitable. Hanging out in the shadows of Earth are aliens called “scavs” who are hellbent on attacking machines built to harvest the Earth’s remaining ocean water.

If that read like a jumbled up narrative, that’s because it is. In fact, we haven’t even started to explain why Jack is seeing a mysterious woman (Olga Kurylenko) in his dreams or why an annoyingly southern-accented Melissa Leo is giving him the runaround via video transmission or why the heck Morgan Freeman shows up wearing shades and smoking a cigar. Besides not wanting to ruin some of the surprises “Oblivion” has in store, we also don’t want to dilute the synopsis as much as screenwriters here do with the script. “Oblivion” is a sprawling mess filled with big, muddy ideas. It’s a perfect example of a sci-fi movie that over-thinks its mythology and ends up forcing the viewer right out of the story.

It’s also not very mindful of other recent sci-fi movies that share some of its major twists. Sure, there are plenty of movies out there that cover the same themes and a few of the scenarios seen in “Oblivion,” but it boggles the mind to understand how a couple of them didn’t set off the copycat alarms. And no, we’re not talking about Cruise reliving his fighter-pilot days in “Top Gun.” Here he’s impressive behind the controls of a high-speed spacecraft. Too bad the year is 2077 and not 1986.

Off his Oscar win for the gorgeously shot “Life of Pi,” the work of cinematographer Claudio Miranda is easily the film’s forte. From a shootout inside an abandoned library to the eye-melting landscapes and skyscapes, the images in “Oblivion” coincide with its $120-million price tag. Producers should’ve skimped on a few CGI drones, however, and transferred some of those funds to someone who could’ve tightened up the screenplay with a vise.

Quantum of Solace

November 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Olga Kurylenko, Mathieu Almaric
Directed by: Marc Forster (“The Kite Runner”)
Written by: Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade (“Casino Royale”)

While Daniel Craig’s more intense James Bond character was an improvement when it replaced Pierce Brosnan’s pretty-boy image for the first time in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” there’s not much any 007 can do when a screenplay is as interesting as a watered-down martini. Craig is still the man who should be trekking the globe and seducing the ladies, but the franchise has hit a sizable speed bump in “Quantum of Solace.”

With a story that centers on Bolivian oil pipelines and water, the trio of screenwriters who penned “Royale” – Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade – seem less creative for their follow-up film. In “Solace,” Bond is on a new mission to find information on a secret organization not even British intelligence knows about. With femme fatale/Bond girl in hand (Olga Kurylenko), Bond may or may not be seeking revenge for the death of Vesper in the last film, but who’s really keeping a body count at this point?

Craig is all muscle while other Bonds have been all charm, which is a great revision, but in “Solace,” it feels like the writers have checked off a grocery list to make sure they’ve gotten all the secret-agent clichés in order. Foot chase? Check. Car chase? Check. Boat chase? Check. Plane chase? You’re kidding, right? Check. Unless you really had your heart set on an action sequence on horseback, even the most devoted Bond fans should know when something has run its course.