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Knight of Cups

Knight of Cups (2016)

March. 04,2016
| Fantasy Drama Romance

Rick is a screenwriter living in Los Angeles. While successful in his career, his life feels empty. Haunted and confused, he finds temporary solace in the decadent Hollywood excess that defines his existence. Women provide a distraction to his daily pain, and every encounter brings him closer to finding his place in the world.


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Shaken after surviving a massive earthquake, a Hollywood screenwriter reflects on his life and faded memories blur with the present in this ambitious anti-narrative project from Terrence Malick. The film is littered with beautiful shots from unusual camera angles and lenses and mobile camera-work that follows the protagonist around and there is a lot to like in Malick's attempts to paint his thought processes on screen. Solid as Christian Bale is in the lead though, he does not have a particularly well developed character, which makes it hard to get emotionally invested in his meanderings. Brian Dennehy provides a very strong performance as his grief-stricken father and there are hints of past tragedy in their family and possibly a failed marriage, but these all ultimately remain hints with Dennehy and Wes Bentley (as Bale's brother) receiving very limited screen time. That said, some of Bale's alone moments are his best and in the film's strongest scene, his apartment is robbed by intruders who scoff at how little cash he has, his lack of credit cards and very few valuables at home; this scene more than any other marks him realising just how empty his life is. More scenes like this may have rendered 'Knights of Cups' a quiet masterpiece. As it is, it is undeniably interesting as something offbeat and very, very different, but it is hardly the most satisfying film out there.


Some random thoughts while watching this pretentious stinker: Film students correctly screen and study the works of Fellini and Antonioni and so did Malick, but ripping them off is inadvisable.I saw "Badlands" at its NYFF world preem in 1973 and was a big fan of TM through his next one "Days of Heaven", but....he ended up a hack as witness here.Compare careers to Conrad Rooks -as fiercely independent minded if not more so with 2 interesting features to his credit "Chappaqua", plus Herman Hesse's "Siddhartha". No idiot Malick Kool Aid drinking producers to back further follies for him, however.Key ripoff: the great Scandi filmmaker Peter Watkins who invented the "You are There" first-person camera filmmaking technique for fictional, historical subject matter - wildly overdone by Malick with wide angle distortion added.Ultimate indie pioneer John Cassavetes used improvisation for rehearsals and prep to invent a unique filming style; Malick uses improvisation as a lazy self-indulgence.Film Festival-itis: making movies to be "consumed" on the antiquated, dating back to the '30s and '40s of Venice and Cannnes, international film festival as exhibition venue circuit, pandering to the gatekeepers of same: selection committees and junket-style critics, as witness the empty "eroticism" (not) thrown in as chief fetish of a "festival junkie".Brain-dead stars: many a big name attracted to this no-script, no- nothing project in order to boast "I worked with Terrence Malick" and then spout gibberish in the inevitable BTS bonus interviews on DVD.Film School Error 101: The Shot: when I first became a film buff over 5 decades ago I was fascinated with the "striking shot", a Bertolucci or for that matter Antonioni composition or moving camera that stuck out - the opposite of crafting a real, functioning feature film where both camera-work and editing (and SPFX especially) are ideally invisible once a filmmaker has matured. It's not the shot (battle) that counts, it's the film (war).Antonioni, not Clapton or Kilroy, is God syndrome: not just the ending but the endless expanses of emptiness, as mentioned by loyal production designer Jack Fisk, not symbolic but merely undigested Antonioni imitation, see: "La Notte".Elephantiasis: in the '60s I watched hundreds if not thousands of experimental film short subjects, screened at Midnight every Saturday and Sunday night at the local art theaters back in Cleveland, drawn from Ann Arbor and other regional festivals. Very educational and formative for a young film buff, with Stan Brakhage, George Kuchar and Ed Emshwiller raised to a pedestal for me. I'm sure Malick did too, but his big-budget feature-length imitations of same are embarrassing and a slap in the face of the many progenitors of the "underground movement" ranging from Maya Deren to even the '60s future pornographers -the Findlays. But he gets away with it, as current viewers and critics have no grounding in film history.The Fellini scenes: TM couldn't resist "throwing a party" just like Fellini, but the maestro's parties have life and invention, while here we see clichéd Hollywood types milling about, over-wrangled by some anonymous assistant director, completely artificial in their groupings and movements.Lastly, Bale as empty as the project. He gives new meaning to the derisive term "walk-through". And this is after, like the other hapless cast members, being given free rein by an absentee "director".


Did I just watch a two hour perfume commercial from Malick? For a perfume that I cannot afford...and perhaps no man can, lest he loseth his soul?I dunno...A completely improvised film where the main character never speaks is going to require a lot on your the viewer. So check your mood before watching this perhaps, I'd recommend a long and peaceful day of sensory overloading at the beach perhaps.The film often has characters born of water. Either at private beaches or at the swimming pools of exclusive mansions. As per the title, there are tarot cards and a reading (in Russian, or something Slavic-ally chic?)Lots of music through-out as emotional inducer, and the main theme was it a riff on Ravel? Is this film a "Ten" for the art-house set? And instead of one Bo Derek, you get a full set of gorgeous muses. Collect 'em all.Actually the full main theme has some pretty amazing vocal parts 19+ min that I don't recall hearing in the film. Nice to see Brian Dennehy, and was there some Oedipus aire mixed in the concoction? Was the tragedy in the family spurred by Daddy Dennehy's indiscretions, and does our hero the Knight then have that same wanderlust, granted cut by a mysterious ennui. Mom was only scene walking away I think?Bale is fine in what might have been a challenging role. Although playing tag with leading ladies leaning over ledges is that much of a challenge? IS this a primer for young men before diving into Tinder. Say less, act disinterested and be insanely wealthy. Even then, no love lasts.Wish I'd seen it on a big screen, especially in sensurround for that earthquake (what was that about?) Angry gods in helicopters attacking?When the perfume evaporates, what is left? For most of us, it's the alarm clock the next day and off to work. For the fortunate few, apparently philandering and the life of a philosopher king.

Amy Adler

Rick (Christian Bale) begins this tale by relating a story his father (Brian Dennehy) told him long ago. A prince was sent to look for a pearl in Egypt, but when he got there, the royal son was given a drink which made him forget what his purpose was. Every so often, he is sent hidden reminders, which he may not see. Thus, the Prince's life was thrown off course and has little meaning but to seek pleasure. This is exactly what has happened to Rick. A successful Hollywood screenwriter (although you NEVER see him working on a film), his life is an endless search for meaning. This is especially true of his love life, as he has one night stands and, sometimes, a longer term relationship. Among his women are his ex- wife (Cate Blanchett), a married woman (Natalie Portman), a stunning model (Frieda Pinto), a stripper (Teresa Palmer), a zany Brit (Imogen Poot) and so on. Each serious romance gives promise of a fulfilling commitment but, alas, ends badly. Meanwhile, Rick's brother Barry (Wes Bentley) is a confused and sad gentlemen who lives on the poor side of town where Rick seeks him out, at times. Hanging over the both of them is the death of their brother and their own father's immense grief. Will Rick find happiness? This very unusual film has an approach that might baffle and bore some movie goers. Basically, Rick is ALWAYS on the move, virtually walking through the entire film. Yes, the scenes behind him change yet he continues his stroll. Then, too, there are many water motifs, perhaps connecting the search for the pearl; one notices waterfalls, ponds, fountains, and the Pacific ocean. The cast is quite grand and marvelous. Bale, especially, is an understated joy and because of his stellar good looks, one never tires of his walk through almost every frame. Costumes and sets are equally stunning, as is the unique camera angles and motion. As a fan of one of the top films of the ages, the director's Days of Heaven, this viewer does choose to seek out every movie Malick makes. Although this one again does not eclipse DOF, as that would be infinitely difficult, it is sure to please his fans and all those who wish for a one-of-a-kind film happening.