(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)


A bloody Nicolas Cage snorts a mountain of cocaine, tosses aside the battle axe he himself forged, and picks up a chainsaw to swordfight his enemy, who wields an even bigger chainsaw. I have seen the face of God.

I don't know that this needed to be as long as it did—some of the first act, while frequently ethereal and beautiful, also drags a bit—but as soon as it shifts into revenge mode it hits the gas HARD, like an Evil Dead film run through a fever dream. Cage delivers his best performance in years, going from understated and tender to sheer raging id. Not perfect, but a whole lot of fun. Very glad I got the chance to catch it in the theatre.

Also, post-credits the theatre livestreamed a Q&A with Cage, Panos Cosmatos, and Linus Roache moderated by Kevin Smith. I'll leave you with this excerpt:

Smith: What's a role you've always wanted to play?

Cage: Well, you know, my first love was the ocean. Even before I loved my parents, I loved the ocean.


Yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. (Start with the theatrical, for sure.)

Also, as much as I loved ToL as my first Malick film, if you're leery about his style it's not the worst idea to go chronological with him (Badlands - Days of Heaven - The Thin Red Line - The New World (extended cut on that one is my preference) - Tree of Life). Badlands is much more straightforward stylistically than his subsequent stuff and helps ease you into things. Plus it's young, hot President Bartlet and Carrie on a murder spree in the 50s, what's not to like?

Following isn't really a review, just some brief reflection on one of the most essential, and IMO one of the most misunderstood, aspects of this wonderful, wonderful film: its deep understanding of its characters.



In the last 72 hours, I've rewatched Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life twice. The first rewatch was my fifth viewing of the theatrical cut. The second was my first viewing of the just-released extended cut, which adds nearly an hour of footage and forms what Malick has called not an expanded film but a new film.

One of my favorite moments of the theatrical cut (one that was, unfortunately and in my mind inexplicably, altered for the extended cut) comes when twelve-year-old Jack is knelt at his bedside, reciting his prayers. The words he speaks are monotone, droning, and rote. But midway through the ritual, his spoken voice fades out, overlapped by eager internal whispers:

"Help me not to answer my dad . . . Help me not to get dogs in fights . . . Help me to be thankful for everything I've got . . ." Where do you live? "Help me not to tell lies . . ." Are you watching me? I want to know what you are. I want to see what you see.

It's a moment that encapsulates, for me, all that is great about the film—its elliptical, snapshot feel, its narrative economy, its operation on planes both physical and spiritual. And, most important, its deep insight into its characters.

The Tree of Life is often maligned by a select group for what they perceive as a ponderous, over-earnest tone and an overreliance on archetypes and banal voiceover to mask the fact that it has no story. In my mind, these complaints are a complete misreading of the film. Indeed, something that impresses me more and more each time I revisit it is how subtle and dextrous Malick's narrative economy is, and how he is able to take characters that on their surface could very well have been one-dimensional archetypes and render them wondrously, painfully real through the smallest of touches.

The elliptical editing of the theatrical cut of the film evokes the fragmentary nature of memories. Continuity is thrown to the wind—characters change clothes within a scene from one shot to the next, or start on one side of a room and end up on the other. The image can never stay still—DP Emmanuel Lubezki's camera is constantly on the move, and even when we land on a relatively restrained close-up, the film will often jump-cut to another take to maintain a sense of momentum. Much of the movie can't be classified into "scenes" as such—in between interludes of sustained narrative, it's near-constant montage, the camera catching the bare essentials of one image or interaction before blinking and taking the viewer on to the next impression.

When a story is told in this fashion, every single bit of footage has to count. What a more sedate film could say in a monologue has to be said in the space of a single sentence. Five minutes of footage have to be summed up in a single shot. Backstory has to be reduced to a look.

And those sorts of tiny information conveyers are everywhere in The Tree of Life. The aforementioned moment with Jack kneeling by his bed, through the simple act of layering three lines of voiceover over four lines of dialogue, sums up exactly what it's like for a child to struggle between the rote legalism of organized religion and the innocent wonder that lies at the heart of their conception of God. Another perfect encapsulation of something that a different filmmaker could have taken pages and pages to say comes after Jack, who's grown increasingly aggressive and confused over the course of the film, takes advantage of his younger brother's trust and shoots him with a BB gun. Later, as they both sit in their room, he hands the brother a piece of wood and simply says, "You can hit me if you want." It's as pure an apology as I've ever seen.

Jessica Chastian's nurturing mother, who Jack perceives as the embodiment of grace, could easily have been reduced to a one-note allegory for maternal womanhood, but she, too, is given interiority through the briefest of gestures. Her wordless, faceless memory of riding a biplane through the sky as a graduation present. The way the camera swoops up and away from her as she reads a telegram carrying the news of her middle child's death, putting us inside her vertigo with one yawning pull. The bare, despairing accusation in her voice as her words play over a montage of the birth and death of the universe: Was I false to you? Who are we to you?

The place where these little moments hit hardest for me, though, is in the relationship between Jack and his dictatorial patriarch of a father, played by Brad Pitt in the best performance of his career. There are so many heartbreaking snippets of missed communication and unexpressed desire that pass between the two of them in single shots or exchanges throughout the film.

There's the moment when Pitt is lecturing Jack for the umpteenth time on the way he's done the yardwork. Without warning, Jack turns and clutches onto his father in a silent, desperate hug. Pitt simply stands there, then puts his arm around the boy, and for a second you think things will be all right. But then he says, "You're cropping those too close," and walks away.

Or the moment when Pitt's second-eldest son starts accompanying his piano-playing with his guitar practice, and Pitt stares in wonder and deep, deep love—all while Jack looks on from the background of the shot, taking it in and hating both of them.

And then there's the culmination of their arc. Toward the end of the film, Pitt has been fired from his job at the plant, and has to pull up roots and move the family elsewhere. As the family prepares for the move, he and Jack have an exchange that seems to represent the conclusion of their journey toward an understanding. "Maybe I've been tough on you," Pitt says. "I'm not proud of that . . . you boys are about all I've done in life, other than that I've drawn zilch. You're all I have, you're all I wanna have. My sweet boy." They embrace, and shake hands, and you feel yourself warm up a little.

In the next scene, the boys are saying their silent, mournful goodbyes to the old house. Jack stands there, holding a suitcase. Pitt brushes by and says dismissively, without looking at him, "You just gonna stand there like a bump on a log?"

It's his last line in the film.

In a single sentence, every bit of understanding that father and son seem to have worked toward comes crashing down. It breaks my heart every time I see it.

I picked a handful of the moments that burrowed deepest into my mind to spotlight here, but I could have chosen any number of others. After all, the movie plays out like a sudden stream of memories and associations, Sean Penn's adult Jack traveling through his entire life in the blink of a Proustian eye. In some ways, that's one of the film's many theses—that these snapshot moments, hazy images and composite characters and youthful revisions of memory, are more powerful and enduring than any sustained narrative.

Watching the extended cut of the movie is what made the the theatrical cut's narrative economy truly hit home for me. Strangely enough, this 180-minute version, which Malick assembled at the tail end of his most experimental period to date (the divisive three-picture run of To the Wonder, Knight of Cups, and Song to Song), plays much more like a "conventional" film than the theatrical cut does. Entire conversations are far more frequent; scenes and setpieces last for lengthy periods of time before moving on to the next. And while a lot of the new material is a joy to watch and contains a host of interesting details, I was struck by how unnecessary so much of it was. Malick had already communicated the essence of these characters and their relationships in the theatrical cut, with almost no direct exposition beyond bits and pieces of voiceover. He'd stripped things down to the barest, rawest essentials, and they were arguably more powerful for their fleeting quality than they would be if he'd shaped them into a traditional story.

The film's detractors may complain that it devolves into images for images' sake, that Malick is more interested in capturing light and plants than people, but in the theatrical cut he's been documenting these characters, painstakingly laying out what makes them tick, all along. He's just so good at it that we take it for granted.


(14 replies, posted in Creations)

"Do you know what your favorite picture in this thread is, Writhyn?"

"Aw hell, I'm a fan of all four. But right now, I'm gonna have to go with Wrath."


(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)


I guess McTiernan really took a level in badass somewhere in between directing Predator and directing Die Hard/The Hunt for Red October, because this was . . . not good. (Except Arnold's roar at one point, that stirred some primitive urge within.) Ugly as hell, paper-thin on characterization, and flat-out obnoxious in its depiction of the titular creature's POV (those sound effects, that smeary thermal imaging . . . yeesh).


(415 replies, posted in Off Topic)

Holy shit it's here. And it looks great.

That said, I've been wanting to post about Netflix in the "Things You're Non-Fatalistically, Deeply Worn Out By" thread for a while now. Of all the distributors for Orson Welles' hitherto-unfinished final film, it had to be . . . Netflix? If anything deserves to be shown on as many theatre screens as possible, it's this.

I'm probably gonna end up flying out to NY or LA to see it on one of the few theatre screens they do show it on, because what am I gonna do, not?


(40 replies, posted in Off Topic)

Judging from how useful their responses to his requests for help with bugs have been, I think it's safe to say Adobe HQ burned down 20 years ago.


(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)



(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)

I'm trying to carve through some more Scorsese this year, Casino is definitely near the top of the list of things to get to. Right now my ranking of what I've seen is

1) Bringing Out the Dead
2) Goodfellas
3) Silence
4) Taxi Driver
5) The Wolf of Wall Street
6) Hugo

The Age of Innocence and The Last Temptation of Christ are the ones I'm most looking forward to getting to.

So far, Bringing Out the Dead is the only one I've genuinely loved. I have the same weird thing with most Scorsese that I do with Del Toro—I appreciate the hell out of the guy and recognize that his movies are good–great from a filmmaking perspective, but so often I just feel . . . nothing. Even with Silence, which is a really good adaptation of a book that I love. Not sure where the disconnect is, but so far Bringing is the only one of his movies to break through it.


(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)

@couture, Bringing Out the Dead is probably my favorite Scorsese. It's weird to me that you say it's too dour—the unhinged mania laced throughout it generates a massive adrenaline rush in me (and Cage is perfect for that), and it's ultimately incredibly uplifting IMO.

EDIT: Changed "funny" to "weird," still sounds kinda accusatory. Not meant that way!

So, posted about finding these in the "Show Off Your New Shit" thread and Teague and BDA both asked me to share some scans, which I'm more than happy to do—found some old issues of American Cinematographer for sale at my local microcinema, and they're chockfull of awesome making-of stuff written in the 70s and 80s.

Starting off with the issue on Raiders of the Lost Ark, as it's the most manageably sized—the issues on Jaws and Star Wars are both oversize so I'll have to find something to scan them with besides my home printer.

Anyway, for now, enjoy 49 pages on the making of Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981! (No, seriously, that's not the whole magazine, that's just the stuff on Raiders. These things are goddamned tomes.)


(96 replies, posted in Off Topic)

I'll happily do so! They're a treasure trove, can't believe the original owner just gave them away.


(96 replies, posted in Off Topic)

Picked these up at my local revival theatre for $3 each. Had never seen that awesome variant poster they used for the Raiders issue, need to find out who drew/painted it.



(415 replies, posted in Off Topic)

Love James Baldwin, love Moonlight, love Annapurna, so this is an opening-nighter for me. I'm a film-grain guy, but the rich color Jenkins and Laxton bring to their digital photography is just gorgeous.


(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)


I suffered so much secondhand embarrassment during this (very good) movie that I quite literally chewed through the lacquer on my glasses. Middle school has always been bad but in the age of social media it's basically a straight-up dystopia.


(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)

Teague wrote:

No shit, huh?



(2,159 replies, posted in Off Topic)


I have passed through the refining fire that is Tom Cruise's elemental insanity and come forth a new being.

Every single movie in the series has been a test run for this one. Absolutely unfathomably bonkers, and without a doubt the classiest-looking of the lot. Joins with Fury Road and John Wick Chapter 2 to complete the holy action trinity of the decade.

See it in IMAX while you can. Go in blind as possible. Jesus.


(174 replies, posted in Episodes)

That's honestly the thing that bugs me most about the Special Editions outside of stuff like the new Vader NOOOOOOO and such. It really doesn't feel like George even gave a shit by the end. The color timing is a fucking eyesore—everything is shaded blue and orange and magenta. It can't be a thing where he's trying to bring them closer in line with the prequels, either, because those still had a natural sense of light and color.


(46 replies, posted in Off Topic)

Yikes, I remember you talking about that all the way back on the Noah commentary in 2014. 0____o


(46 replies, posted in Off Topic)


Robert Alter has spent the last 20 years slowly translating the Hebrew Bible into English. I've been worried for the last several of those years that he'd die before he finished the damn thing—guy's in his 80s at this point. So imagine my delight when Norton announced the whole thing is arriving this December!

For anyone, religious or otherwise, who's interested in the textual history of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, I can't recommend Alter's stuff enough. His renditions of the texts are the polar opposite of the literal translation-by-committee that's the norm for Bible translations, which reduces the majesty of the text to mass-marketed cardboard. There's a fire and poetry he brings to the work that is unmatched, along with a painstaking fidelity to the original Hebrew. But beyond that, his notes and commentary are invaluable. You get detail after detail on authorship, linguistics, how the current versions of the texts came to be (interpolations and redactions by scribes, etc.), similarities between Hebrew literature and the literature of neighboring cultures, etc. Not study-Bible stuff either—he's a thoroughly secular scholar, so he's coming at it from a purely historical and literary perspective, not a faith one.

The huge three-volume set (which you can preorder here) is obviously a little big to start with, so I'd suggest going for one of the smaller volumes he's already published. The Five Books of Moses and The Wisdom Books are excellent starting points; the former is pretty much what it says on the tin, Genesis through Deuteronomy; the latter is Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Job and Ecclesiastes are my two faves, so I'd lean slightly toward The Wisdom Books, but as I'm a filthy atheist I'm biased and Genesis is obviously the more natural starting point. tongue


(415 replies, posted in Off Topic)

I'm with Chrystie. Christoph Waltz is never bad, though.


(227 replies, posted in Off Topic)


I need to just curl up in a ball now.

Doing these back to back was probably a bad idea in terms of just how shitty they made me feel, but an excellent idea because of how the two reinforce each other.

The Half Has Never Been Told examines how the popular image of the antebellum South as some languorous, preindustrial society is completely wrongheaded, and how in fact slavery was a heavily industrial system that would only have kept expanding rather than collapsing in on itself had the Civil War never occurred. It was tied into basically every single underpinning of the American economic empire—which is why the case for reparations is still such an urgent one over a century later.

Slavery by Another Name is the one I'd recommend if you're looking for more of a pageturning read—the former book is certainly readable and well-written, but this one just blazes by because of how horrified you are. Gives a rundown of the full-on dystopia that was the post-Reconstruction South, which would trump up vagrancy charges against overwhelmingly huge numbers of black men and turn them over to white businesses for what was essentially life enslavement. The practice is one I was aware of before, but I had no idea just how vast it was. The parts of the book detailing the fates of those re-enslaved are soul-crushing, and the parts that deal with the valiant if doomed legal efforts to eradicate the practice double as gripping courtroom theater.

Doing as ordered!

Well, you guys covered most of 'em on the DiF. The final act stretches on too long, especially once the Joker has been defeated. The rest of the film is more deliberately paced than a lot of superhero stuff but still has a constant momentum, whereas everything after the hospital just sort of meanders. It doesn't help that so much is predicated on the sonar system, which along with the magic bullet reconstuctor is a smidge too far into the cartoonish tonally. I get it, it's a Batman movie, but it's still a Batman movie that has two very distinct tones that don't always mesh. And that's aggravated by the fact that, while power and responsibility and the limits of superhero jurisdiction have been themes of the movie up to this point, the sonar device really does just come out of nowhere as soon as it's needed.

Related to the above, the Harvey arc starts to feel tacked on toward the end. On the one hand, I get it. Nolan wasn't planning on a sequel to this movie, so if he was gonna feature Dent he had to make him Two-Face by the end. But he really does just slide from saint to monster without much in between. All of his scenes post-explosion are still really effective—Eckhart sells the hell out of it and that final scene with Gordon's kid is terrific. But the connective tissue just isn't there.

I think my biggest problem that isn't touched on in your commentary is that the entire resolution of the ferry scenario feels totally cheap. I posted this excerpt from Elizabeth Sandifer's analysis of the movie a while back and still agree with it:

I don’t want to go too far towards “the Joker was right” here, although I’ll admit that’s more because of the historic lameness of that argument than out of any particularly substantive objection. The reasons he’s wrong mostly come down to the distortions necessary to transmute anarchism into straightforward villainy. He’s a sadist who blows up civilians for no reason other than the fun of it. But what interests me is how terrible a job Nolan does selling the apparently straightforward case that he’s wrong. His final comeuppance - the stunt with the two boats - may well be the single worst sequence Christopher Nolan has ever committed to film.

To recap, the Joker has taken two boats - one a prison transport ship, the other full of civilians - and put bombs on each one, with the detonators given to the people on the other boat. The point is, as he puts it, a “social experiment” to see who blows who up first. Its resolution is that neither boat blows up the other because, in one case, a bussinessman is unable to bring himself to do it while in the other what the script describes as a “huge, tattooed prisoner” (played, of course, by a suitably intimidating looking black actor) demands to be given the detonator so that he can make the hard decision, only to heroically chuck it out a window. It is gobsmackingly schmaltzy, and completely lacking in any conviction - a hopelessly contrived affirmation of the basic goodness of human nature that literally nothing else anywhere in Nolan’s trilogy backs up. It’s as though the film recognizes the suppressed possibility that the Joker might not be as self-evidently awful as it desperately wants him to be and goes to ostentatious lengths to deny a possibility that it can’t even acknowledge in the first place.

And no wonder. In marked contrast to R’as al Ghul, whose sense of Gotham’s decadence seemed utterly contradictory given his own methodology and whose solution was simply to eliminate the entire city, the Joker clearly wants the city to survive in what he views as a better form, and is thoroughly coherent in diagnosing its problems. Consider his monologue about how “nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gangbanger will get shot or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics. because it's all part of the plan,” which is, notably, a more coherent response to R’as al Ghul’s whole “we tried to destroy Gotham with economics” thing than literally anything Batman says over the entirety of Batman Begins.

Every single time humanity is presented with a chance to be good (in the saintly sense of the ferry solution, anyway) in the rest of the movie, it fails to take it. Batman tortures mobsters and surveils the city of Gotham. Ordinary citizens try to kill Coleman Reese when the Joker says he'll blow up a hospital otherwise. Corrupt financiers make deals with the mob. The mob makes a deal with a terrorist. The police are laced with corruption. And Nolan has set up the Joker as this leftist boogeyman but has no idea what to do with him because of how compelling his pessimism is, so his solution is to have the populace behave completely differently than they do for the rest of the film for no reason. If anything, the citizens have even less reason to be noble than they did before—the Joker reigns, Batman has failed several times, Harvey Dent has vanished, the police are overwhelmed. And yet, when things look darkest, they choose to start being selfless for . . . reasons.

It would totally fit the world of, say, Spider-Man 2, which takes as read the fundamental goodness of ordinary people. In this one? Doesn't wash.

The flaws of this one are more evident with every rewatch for me, but so are its strengths—it's so goddamned refreshing to watch a superhero movie where the biggest stakes are a hospital getting blown up, and that actually looks like, y'know, a movie, not wet concrete.

And it'll never stop having a special place in my heart, because twelve-year-old me was obsessed with it—it was the first "dark/gritty/'adult' " movie I had ever seen, and thus an important part of my filmwatching development (for better or worse).


(4 replies, posted in Movie Stuff)

Kibouchi wrote:

Haven't played the 4th one, but it's on my list of games to get to eventually. I love the 2nd and 3rd ones. And I loooooove Last of Us. Last of Us is probably one of my favorite games of all time along with BioShock Infinite (I'm talking from a story/character perspective).

You're in for a massive treat—it's easily the best of the franchise, and probably the most gorgeous game ever made (though The Last of Us Part II looks set to take that away).

Can't say I agree on Infinite—posted a rant about it in one of the Off-Topic gaming threads earlier this year—but that first half hour is just *chef's kiss*. Wish the whole game were just a walking simulator of Columbia.