I lose track of who’s supposed to be dead at the end of the previous movies, but Loki is alive all through this one, Odin (Anthony Hopkins with an eyepatch) dies here, unleashing Thor’s evil sister Cate Blanchett from interdimensional prison, she’s presumably dead at the end of this since she gets her power from the planet and it’s destroyed by Ragnarok, and Thor is ok at the end, with a new hammer, now wearing an eyepatch like his dad, but they also said his power comes from the planet so I dunno if that’ll be important in later movies. Almost everyone on Asgard dies, including the warrior who becomes a lackey for Cate (Karl Urban: Bones in the new Star Treks), but Idris Elba and some refugees make it onto a spaceship.

So, Thor gets stranded hammer-less on a planet run by game-show-master Jeff Goldblum, teams up with a reluctant Tessa Thompson (the last Valkyrie) and a reluctant Loki, and a very reluctant Hulk, who somehow also ended up here, to steal a ship, fleeing an army led by Rachel House (social services in Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and return to Asgard to fight the rogue sister.

Other highlights: Bruce Banner wanders around confused in a Duran Duran t-shirt, the director plays a hilarious rock monster, Hopkins is entertained by a royal play starring Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon and Sam Neill as Thor/Loki/Odin, the fun bright colors, the makeup and headgear and some mythic shots that are composed like religious paintings. Mostly we came for Guardians-style entertainment, and this totally delivered – seems like the most rewatchable of the Avengers movies.

Sam Neill as Anthony Hopkins:

I knew this was a new feature edit of a multi-screen installation piece in which various Cate Blanchetts recite historical manifestos, but didn’t realize it would have such terrific photography and production design, or be entertaining and engaging enough to captivate a huge, packed theater at 10:00 AM. Cate solemnly recites the dada manifesto at a funeral, prays one at the dinner table, spits and curses one as a bearded homeless man, performs one as a puppeteer, sneers one as a backstage rock star, bounces one between a pair of newscasters (with a twist artifice-revealing ending) and teaches a few I recognized (Brakhage, Herzog, Von Trier) to schoolchildren.

Ideas about conceptual art, realistic art, the meaning or need for art, the future of art, freedom and dreams, reality and unconscious, truth and imitation and authenticity (thanks to Katy for taking notes) all complement and contradict each other from Cate to Cate. It’s not a 90-minute speech, either – there are moments of silent wonder like this one:

Right in between the fade-out of Cannes Month into my Crime & Punishment Marathon, and the kicking-off of Criterion Month, a bunch of last year’s acclaimed auteur art masterpieces became available, so I watched the new Malick, Cosmos, Francofonia and Anomalisa all in the same week. It’s a lot to take in, so I’m thinking it would be wise to watch all four of them again, but I’m probably not gonna do that right now.

Very mixed reviews from my regular critics. It’s telling that the most positive (3.5 stars) review on Letterboxd comes from David Ehrlich comparing it to the Entourage movie. Mixed reviews from me as well. Especially for the first hour, the minute-to-minute thrill of watching a Malick movie is all there, the expressive camerawork and experimental editing. But in the past we’ve had stories to hang these effects upon, and Malick is getting less narrative with every movie. I wasn’t sure that a soul-searching screenwriter played by an expressionless Christian Bale would be the greatest Malick avatar, and I was right. And I had to watch the ending a second time a week later just to make sure I’d even seen it the first time, thinking maybe I’d fallen asleep, but no, it’s just that it doesn’t feel like an end. After Bale is done talking with his father Brian Dennehy he flashes again on his lost loves Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman (even less fleshed-out than the lost loves of To The Wonder), says “begin,” then two shots of cars rushing down highways. Either you just need to be receptive enough to mood and character to properly feel the thing, or I need a long, enthusiastic, well-researched article explaining what I was supposed to get out of it.

Cate at the beach:

Natalie at the beach:

These feel more like symbols, or apparitions, than characters. But then again, so does Rick: As Bale plays him, he alternates between hedonistic abandon and forlorn wandering; we get little insight into his specific needs or worries.

B. Ebiri’s article is helpful, pointing out connections and influences but ultimately saying the surface-level dreamlike seduction of the thing is the whole point. “You don’t reason your way through a film like this.”

Premiered in Berlin over a year ago, with a bunch of interesting looking movies that never played here but are beginning to come out on video, like Queen of the Desert, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, The Club, Victoria, Endless Night and The Pearl Button.

I knew this was based on a Patricia Highsmith story, but when I saw the opening scene I thought “oh no, is this a remake of Brief Encounter?” Fortunately it goes in a different direction pretty quickly, and while Brief Encounter may have a perfect ending for the 1940’s, Carol has the perfect ending for right now.

Carol (Cate Blanchett) is the interesting rich lady who makes eyes at young department store cashier Therese (Rooney Mara) one Christmas shopping season, and eventually they’re in love, vacationing across the country, not realizing they’re being pursued by private investigators hired by Carol’s husband Kyle Chandler. Not much to say about the movie, plot-wise, since it’s all about perfectly chosen moments and a beautiful visual atmosphere.

F. Zaman in Reverse Shot:

It doesn’t engage with questions of why or how its protagonists are gay, or create simplistic dynamics between homophobic villains and damaged queer heroes. It lets the characters just be, as they are, a defiant act of passive resistance against the assumption that queerness needs to be justified – and that it is the primary quality of the queer person. Just as Haynes is reinvigorating the melodrama genre in films like Carol, Far from Heaven, and even Velvet Goldmine, he is also reframing history to include others — people of color, counterculture figures, queers — in a meaningful way. Carol is also full of visceral pleasures, capturing subjective but universal experiences, like the way the world seems to blur when that certain someone touches your wrist for first time.

Part of Disney’s ongoing live-action-remake series. This one adds nothing to the Cinderella story, fails to update or improve it in any way, has no seeming artistic reason to exist. But gee, it’s pretty.

From the director of Thor and writer of Antz, starring cousin Rose from Downton, with Daisy as one wicked stepsister, Cate Blanchett the wicked stepmother, Derek Jacobi (The King’s Speech) the king, Helena Bonham Carter the fairy godmother, Rob Brydon as a painter and a voice actor from the Castlevania games as the prince.

Ouch from Dissolve:

The film just touts, with sparkly but plodding repetition, the outsized, eventual rewards for being a sweet, brave dishrag that causes no trouble and makes no waves. … Asked why she stays on in such a horrible household, she explains that she’s doing it to respect her parents’ memory. By intepreting “be kind” as “be passive,” she teaches herself to be happy with physical and emotional abuse, to accept it as the norm, as the price of respecting her dead family. It’s a grotesque message, presented with perverse cheer, through a character who’s more idealized martyr than relatable hero.

Opened with a short called Frozen Fever, in which all your favorite Frozen characters smile almost nonstop, sing a song, catch a cold and celebrate a birthday. Didn’t hold a candle to Partysaurus Rex.

Saoirse Ronan is raised by her rogue-spy dad (Eric “Hulk” Bana) in the woods with emphasis on survivalism and attack skills – specifically the skills to attack Cate Blanchett, who killed Ronan’s mom. Was she Ronan’s mom, or was Ronan genetically engineered to be a supersoldier in a lab somewhere? Not important. What’s important is Joe Wright has remade himself as a slick-ass music video director and filled the movie with pumping Chemical Brothers music to distract our minds from the implausibility of the story. Even the implausibility of each individual scene – for example, the one where Hanna is in a manhole, army trucks are driving over her without slowing down then suddenly she’s hanging from one Cape Fear-style, when it seems like the move required to get her into that position in a split second would’ve ripped her arms off. Oh, and she’s never seen electricity before, but sits right down at a computer and within 15 seconds she’s reading up on her mom’s death from google news. In many respects, Attack the Block was the more realistic movie.

Rushmore‘s Olivia Williams plays the hippie mom of Jessica Barden, who steals the show for a while as Hanna’s first friend. But apparently Hanna’s superspy dad never emphasized secrecy, because Hanna tells the kids where she’s supposed to meet her dad, ultimately getting him killed. The movie is just as violent as PG-13 will allow, so he’s killed offscreen, and we never see what happens to the Olivia Williams Family after their interrogation by rogue spies.

Katy didn’t watch the whole thing but rightly points out that the more interesting movie would’ve been about what happens after Hanna has killed Cate Blanchett. A girl with no friends or family, few social graces, no sense of empathy and mad fighting skills who is probably still being hunted by the government – what now?

AV Club: “The script comes from Eric Roth, who would probably by accused of borrowing too liberally from Forrest Gump if he hadn’t written that too.” Wow, dude also wrote that Eric Bana gambler love story I was just mocking yesterday, and my favorite film to hate, The Postman. No wonder writing seemed to be the weakness in this would-be-spectacular movie. Huge issues (hello, racism) were ignored, episodes (hello, Tilda Swinton) weren’t well integrated with the rest of the film, and Button ended up seeming like an unambitious blank who doesn’t do much with his so-called remarkable life.

Katy suggested the unambitious-blank part and some Forrest Gump comparisons, but I wonder if that wasn’t the point, to show a regular guy with parental issues who meets a girl, goes to war, has a kid, rambles around and never quite finds his place in the world, the whole aging-backwards thing being the only remarkable thing about him. That and the movie’s obsession with mortality make it a meaningful story about life and how to live it. Maybe we unrealistically expected Button to be some kinda sci-fi superhero, while the movie was trying to speak to us about life and death, love and loss, or maybe on Christmas day we weren’t in the mood for an extended monologue about mortality, but this came out feeling like a pretty alright movie, a tearjerker to be sure but maybe not the acclaimed masterpiece to which we’d been looking forward.

Pretty nice music by Alexandre Desplat was loud and fuckin’ clear, since 45 minutes before the end of the film our dialogue track almost entirely cut out leaving us with whispered words under a huge score… thanks heaps, Regal. At least we could still hear when we tried hard, since most of the audience was either heavily concentrating or fast asleep by then. Shot NOT by Fincher’s Zodiac guy, and boy am I relieved, cuz in the parking lot I was bemoaning the lack of surprise or interest in the camera setups (figuring the CG effects left no room for surprise), comparing it negatively to the immaculately-shot Milk, which we’d snuck into before our feature started… forgetting that the Zodiac guy actually shot Milk, and some nobody (the D.P. of the last M. McConaughey romance flick) shot The Ben Buttons, thus preserving my aesthetic intuitions.

So right, Ben kills his mom being born in New Orleans on the day WWI ends, is abandoned Penguin-style by his dad, discovered and raised by Queenie and (boyfriend?) Tizzy in an old folks’ home, where unsurprisingly, people die from time to time. Ben meets a girl who is not yet Cate Blanchett but one day will be. Ben, BTW, is incredibly old, confined to a wheelchair, then learns to walk with canes as he grows ever younger. He gets a job on a tugboat, has regular sex with married Tilda Swinton in a hotel, and helps in the WWII effort while Cate becomes a dancer with hip bohemian friends & spontaneous lovers. The time is not right for those two to get together, but one day after Cate’s career-destroying car accident the time is right and they do and are very happy and have a kid. Ben finds out that his real dad is Mr. Buttons, who dies and leaves Ben the button factory he ran. Also dying: war friends, Tizzy then Queenie. Ben is afraid when he grows too young he’ll be a burden (he is) so he leaves Cate and bums around the world instead. Interesting how as his brain becomes less developed and he gets smaller, it’s effectively alzheimer’s disease – he forgets more and reverts to childish behavior living in his childhood home. Cate’s daughter grows up, her “dad” dies, and while caring for her dying mom (still played by Cate, unrecognizably) the day before Hurricane Katrina hits, she learns the whole story in a huge framing device.

Brad Pitt, after a brief spell of manic energy in Burn After Reading, is back to his brooding-as-acting style, which should work just fine in next year’s Terence Malick picture with appropriate wistful voiceover. Cate is wonderful as fucking always – the acting highlight of the movie, she can do no wrong. Brad’s Coen-costar Tilda Swinton is fine with the tiny role she gets.

People I Thought I Should Have Recognized But Actually Shouldn’t Have include TV’s M. Etc. Ali as Tizzy, an otherwise uncredited actor as the African fella who takes young Ben to a brothel, Cap’n Mike: Jared Harris (Lady in the Water), and adoptive mom Taraji Henson (Talk To Me). People I Recognized But Didn’t Know From Where include Guy Ritchie action star Jason Flemyng as Mr. Button. People I Did Not Recognize At All include framing-story secret Button daughter Julia Ormond (Inland Empire), and People I Should Have Recognized But Somehow Missed include Elias Koteas as the blind clockmaker who kicks off the story.

December 2008:
Watched again on video, and it only gets better. Five (five!) commentary tracks to go, and two discs full of extras, wooo!

Peter Jackson as Father Christmas:
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Marsha from Spaced:
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March 2007:
The trailer set it up right – supercop Simon Pegg is making the department look bad in comparison, so he’s shipped to the safest small town in England and paired up with lazy son-of-the-chief Nick Frost. All is well until the town elders turn out to be involved in a Wicker-Man-like conspiracy to beautify their town by any means possible (usually murder). Very suddenly it turns into an all-out war, with the police dept. (minus the evil chief) and Simon and Nick (or Shaun and Ed, as I still think of them) against the neighborhood watch.

Extremely funny and a great action flick. Nothing much or bad to say about it. The crowd gave big response to particularly gruesome killings, the jump kick to an old woman’s head, and Bill Nighy. Edgar says they were happy to be working with an ex James Bond (Timothy Dalton) and three oscar winners in this one (Cate Blanchett, Peter Jackson and Jim Broadbent, the former two uncredited). Such a very fun movie, this and Grindhouse have put me in the mood to watch less serious-minded movies, hence the appearance of Saw 3 on this page.

The latest bit of historical bio-pic entertainment from Kapur (dir. of Bandit Queen, ugh). And it’s not great. One huge weakness is the writing. The writer of the original was here joined (very unsurprisingly) by the writer of Gladiator, so we’ve got very fakey-Hollywood-period-pic dialogue. Katy says this movie defeats the ending of part one, which showed Elizabeth’s transformation into the powerful virgin queen, by having her act all girlish and weak and man-crazy over the (admittedly dreamy) Clive Owen. Owen plays Sir Walter Raleigh, and Abbie Cornish (Stop-Loss) is a lady of the court who ends up with Owen after being practically thrown towards him by the Queen who wants to vicariously experience love, but the queen flies into a rage when Raleigh and the court girl marry. Most of the movie is concerned with this love triangle, but Spain also forms their Armada and attempts to conquer England before being singlehandedly defeated by Clive Owen. We also get a miniature version of the Mary Queen of Scots story (first filmed in 1895, updated in ’71 with Vanessa Redgrave, soon to be updated again by Phillip Noyce & Scarlett Johansson), played here by the great Samantha Morton.

So yeah, we’ve got Clive Owen, but all he does is look dreamy and act cool, even during battle scenes. We’ve got generic loud symphonic music, some bad CG effects and some confusing storytelling. But there are also very good performances (Blanchett, Morton) and some plain-good ones (Geoffrey Rush, Spanish ambassador William Houston), awesome (oscar-winning) costumes, great set design, but nothing tying it all together. Katy didn’t like it either, so I’m free to complain all I like.

Apparently the same love-triangle story was previously filmed as 1955’s The Virgin Queen with Bette Davis and Joan Collins.