Allied

Allied. Second viewing (the first). The seams showed a bit more and the pastiche was more apparent and I liked it more because of it, I think. The too-clean appearance heightens the fairy tale, like memory tends to soften things. Noticed a few fun edits, like the lightning shifting to the lantern on the landing strip, and the beats of the final gunshots at the tank crew matched by the curtains being drawn open. I also liked the parallels with two big decisions happening in cars – once during the sandstorm, again in the rain at the airstrip.

Allied

Allied. Oh man. I fell in love with it within a few minutes. I wish we had more movies like this. Old-fashioned glamorous romance, melodrama. Sweeping but intimate. The stakes are high because the relationships matter.

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly. A steady chain of transactions – literal and figurative distancing from violence – with a constant undertow of economic collapse/politicking in the background. Very heavy-handed, thematically, but it works. Crummy neighborhoods, bare infrastructure, sweat and damp. The scene with Liotta reduced to tears was more disturbing than any movie violence in recent memory. Odd visuals with the shallow focus and vignetting. I love that hyper-experiential scene with the guy getting hight and his fitful conversation – zooms, speed changes, audio shifts, etc. Too bad the packaging was off. This was much more thoughtful and strange than they sold it.

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave. Not sure how to talk about this one. Hard to watch. At times it is very, very on-the-nose. If you’ve seen Steve McQueen’s Shame and Hunger, this will be no surprise. But it’s strange that it doesn’t feel… dramatic. It is focused. It is facts. It also makes you feel some of the same unease (the score is a huge contributor here). The movie is all in the protagonist’s perspective, which unfortunately means everyone else can seem a little flat (despite the cast being awesome), or merely functional. But it also puts you in the center, witnessing the moral bargains and compromises, comparing and contrasting how each person manages an impossible situation, and perhaps suggesting the futility of passing judgment on how each copes. A couple more things to note. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but you don’t get the sense of time passing, though it’s ostensibly twelve years we see. Could definitely be by design – the monotony and sameness by design – I’m just not sure. And I gotta say, I’m not thrilled with Brad Pitt’s late appearance. He’s got too much star power to show up so late, in such a role, for so short a period. I couldn’t quite get used to him. It’s not his fault, though. Anyway, good movie. The contrast with Django Unchained could not be more stark.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life. Well, it’s beautiful. And huge bonus points to Malick for ridiculous ambition and the credibility to do it at scale with big names. But in the same way that I wouldn’t necessarily recommend movies like Solaris or 2001 or Once Upon a Time in the West or Koyaanisqatsi or something, I don’t recommend this one if you’re not willing to sit through some wanky, gorgeous, exhausting, melodramatic sequences. I felt really, really skeptical when I saw the trailers, skeptical when I started, rolled my eyes a few times when I was watching… and yet I’m warming to the idea of watching it again. In the moments where there’s actually acting, the performers are excellent. Sometimes it takes you one viewing to figure out the rules and another to participate/surrender like you need to. My current Terrence Malick rankings:

  1. Days of Heaven (with a probably insurmountable lead)
  2. The New World
  3. Badlands
  4. The Tree of Life (or tied for third?)

With this one out of the way, it’s on to The Thin Red Line.