Tag Archives: Paste Magazine

Knight of Cups

8 Mar

MOVIES  |  REVIEWS

<i>Knight of Cups</i>

The haunting, transcendent etherealness of Terrence Malick that we take for granted these days is something we nearly never got to know. Back in 1973 Malick’s true-crime debut Bad Lands , while stunning to behold and brilliantly composed, lacked the dreamy voiceovers and the lingering meditations on nature we’ve come to expect from the famously reclusive director. It wasn’t until Days of Heaven in 1978 that Malick started to experiment and fully express these now signature filaments of filmmaking. Then, as Malick laid out his next few projects (one calledQ that concerned origins of the universe and man’s place in it and would ultimately become The Tree of Life), he ran into varying degrees of conflict with the studio and retreated into a self-imposed 20-year hiatus (in Paris), before returning to the screen with The Thin Red Line, the auteur’s contemplation on man and war based on James Jones’s account of the U.S. campaign in the South Pacific during the Second World War.

Since then, Malick has released four movies, all artfully imbued with discovery and revelation. The first two, The New World and arguably his magnum opus, The Tree of Life, take place in unique temporal settings and deal with larger cultural and philosophical themes. Comparably, his latest, and 2012’s To the Wonder, are rooted in the material inward now. As a result, neither resonate with quite the provocative soulfulness of the director’s prior works. Malick’s newest,Knight of Cups, begins with Ben Kingsley reciting The Pilgrim’s Progress as we get heavenly imagery of the aurora borealis from a celestial high before we settle in on a distant-looking Christian Bale rooted in the glitzy concrete jungle of Los Angeles as the venerable Brian Dennehy voices over the titular tale of a knight, who on a quest, succumbs to a sleep potion. This makes sense as Bale’s Rick is a screenwriter on the cusp of his biggest payday, though he’s in a creative funk and spends most of his days dallying with one lithesome body (or bodies) after the next. The title, too, is a reference to the tarot card, which when right side up connotes the bringer of ideas (hey, that must be the screenwriter) but when upside down (as the movie’s poster shows Bale) implies false promises and chicanery—but who is fooling whom?

With so much at his feet, Rick’s not a settled man. He’s searching, for what we don’t exactly know as he descends into strip clubs and casinos to work it out. It’s a pretty thin and decadent existence, though in flashback we learn that Rick was married to a smart, unpretentious doctor (Cate Blanchett) who tends to hardship cases from the inner city. (Their marriage is doomed just by the topography of their clientele alone.) We then bump into Rick’s brother (Wes Bentley, who never seems to age) full of spit and their dad (Dennehy) pushing the blame back and forth for the demise of a third brother. This is about as close as the film gets to registering a palpable human heart. There’s also the dilemma with a married woman (Natalie Portman) who becomes pregnant and unsure as to whom the father is. Occasionally, one get a sincere sense of yearning and a glimmer of happiness, but it’s so brief and ephemeral, it’s gone before the viewer can really engage with the emotional complexity of it all. Continue reading

Advertisements

Rolling Papers

24 Feb

<i>Rolling Papers</i>

Back in 2014, weed-wanting residents of Colorado were able to fire up the bong and feel the burn legally when the state became one of the first in the Union to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. As reefer madness swept the Rockies, the rest of the nation sat and watched pensively. It wasn’t the second coming of same-sex marriage in terms of divisiveness, but there was controversy and bilious outrage—just check out some of Nancy Grace’s shrill prophecies of lawless mayhem. Rolling Papers, Mitch Dickman’s somber, oft snarky documentary, doesn’t quite deal with the cornerstone legalization so much as the Denver Post’s decision to appoint a marijuana editor to provide journalistic coverage of the budding industry and culture emerging from the shadows of the black market.

The film’s focuses on Ricardo Baca, the newly minted editor of the “Cannabist” column (which later becomes a break out magazine section-cum-website), who registers as a relatively somber and reflective soul given the high nature of his subject. Pontifications about what to write about when penning pot-life pieces abound. Ultimately, the format boils down to reviews of the various strains and blends—think of it like a film or food review about getting baked—and lifestyle exposés of the different kinds of users and the ways that legal weed now melds into their lives. One such staff blogger, Brittany Driver, is a mom with a toddler, which doesn’t sit well with a fellow Post editor who covers child abuse and likens the prospect to parenting on a six-pack of beer.

Dickman’s film is a bit like its subject—smoky, comfortable and unfocused. While the narrative adheres tightly to Baca and the debut of the column, it also ventures a bit further afield, touching on broader issues like the erosion of journalism. Unfortunately, it does so without providing much additional context or insight. Another germane yet under-explored topic includes the use of medical marijuana and the positive effects it’s had (replete with a few testimonials), but then the film jumps to a sextet of charismatic brothers who hit it big in the medicinal sector, tersely branding them opportunistic charlatans, before jumping back to Baca and his staff. It’s a disjointed head scratcher that at times makes you feel like you need to be sampling the goods to be in on the game.

The film’s most fired up when Ry Prichard, the cannabis nerd (a term he was awarded in the pages of Rolling Stone) brought in to backfill for Driver’s inexperience, is clicking away close ups of bodacious buds and giving them the taste test. His sharp comic wit and voracious love for all things green and oily, becomes a necessary offset to the other, more dour personas who grace the screen.

Ultimately,, the biggest reason Rolling Papers fails to fully ignite lays in its inherent lack of conflict. Baca’s well backed by the paper’s brass, so we know “The Cannabist” isn’t going anywhere. Much of the tension comes through Driver’s anxiety over job security, an investigative piece that busts a regulated seller for shilling weak shit (near nonexistent levels of THC) and the disappointment of having Whoopi Goldberg signed on to pen a column, only to have her change her mind. If you check out the website, you’ll get a smattering of weed reviews and a lot of pictures sent in from happy partakers. It’s a fun, yet thin footprint, one that Dickman the filmmaker doesn’t bother to go outside the lines to explore. High times in high altitudes doesn’t necessarily spark an interest for those not at the party.

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

19 Jan

<i>13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi</i>

Much will be made about the political ramifications of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, but the reality is Hilary Clinton is never mentioned once. The movie does, however, cast an unflattering light upon the nameless U.S. officials monitoring the situation from afar via drone while boots on the ground take fire from teeming insurgents and face insurmountable odds. Politics in this landscape are unavoidable, yet at the core, 13 Hours is a tale of grit, courage under fire and the Semper Fi brotherhood forged between a half-dozen men who draw paychecks from the CIA to keep their unappreciative Ivy-League-educated wonks safe in the middle of a terrorist hotbed within revolution-flipped Libya on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11.

Memories of the 2012 siege of the U.S. Embassy and the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens remain fresh, but the film, adapted from Mitchell Zuckoff’s similarly titled book by Chuck Hogan (The Town), casts a bigger net than merely regurgitating what was shown in news clips and spun politically at the time.

To get there, we sit on the shoulder of Jack Silva (John Krasinski), a former Navy SEAL saying goodbye to his family and heading overseas for the inevitable shitshow. The opening flash points blasted onto the screen “digital dossier style” informs us that, of the United States’ 292 diplomatic outposts in the world, 12 of them are in perilous areas, and two of those are in Libya. Right after Silva is picked up by his Global Response Staff (GRS) lead, Tyrone “Rone” Woods (James Badge Dale), there’s an immediate showdown with some heavily armed unfriendlies in a crowded alleyway. Bravado and bluster gets them through, but these buff, bearded lads can back it up. Continue reading

Concussion

4 Jan
By Tom Meek  |  December 23, 2015  |  12:11pm
<i>Concussion</i>

I’ll grant this about Concussion, the docudrama exposing the deadly ills of repetitive blows to the head in the NFL—it’s not didactic or even self righteous, as one might suspect and be put off by. Instead, it’s reasonably smart, balanced and, despite a matter-of-fact approach, deeply human. It also brings a fresh and informative perspective to the medical issue, describing how the deteriorating downstream physiological effects of head banging were discovered and the NFL’s efforts to suppress those findings. And nestled deep inside all the corporate wrangling lies a compelling immigrant success story to boot.

We begin shortly after the new millennium with “Iron” Mike Webster (David Morse, excellent as the tortured lineman), a four-time Super Bowl Champion now disfigured, hearing voices and practically homeless living in his pickup truck. Even though he’s an adored legend of the city of Pittsburgh, no one seems to notice or care until he commits suicide and is rolled in on a gurney for an autopsy. The pathologist on duty, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), happens to be from Nigeria, doesn’t have U.S. citizenship and by default is immune to the commercially spoon-fed love of America’s most watched sport and the machinery surrounding it. Against minor protests around the morgue (don’t defile our hero), Omalu gets down to his clinical task and initially finds Webster’s brain normal but his curiosity piqued by evidence of Webster’s deranged habits (pulling out his teeth and glueing them back in), he keeps digging, spending several thousands of of his own dollars for outside tests to arrive at the CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) diagnosis we’re all now too acutely aware of.

Continue reading

Pawn Sacrifice

3 Oct

MOVIES  |  REVIEWS

<i>Pawn Sacrifice</i>

The name Bobby Fischer might trigger a Google search for some of the internet age who haven’t at least dabbled in chess. For those who recollect the epic clashes of the ’70s—Ali vs. Frazier, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. ensconced in the heat of the Cold War—Fischer was likewise a prominent player on the international stage of conflict. His arena, while smaller and with less prospect of bloodshed, was no less tumultuous. In the bigger scheme, it plastered the chess prodigy across as many magazine covers as the two well-matched pugilists, and more so, had a profound impact on the cultural and ideological sparring between Uncle Sam and the Kremlin.

For those hoping for more than a Wikipedia regurgitation of the facts, even-keeled director Ed Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai) goes beyond a dull history refresher, putting the volatile genius’ contribution to the game and global politics, as well as his struggle with mental illness, in context. It’s by the latter facet that Pawn Sacrifice gains our hearts. Fischer grew up a poor Jewish kid from Brooklyn, but he was on the national stage by the time he was a preteen. Even at that young age, when his talent was glaringly obvious, he was an arrogant prick already displaying the clinical signs of delusions. As the movie has it in one early scene, he demands his mother banish her boyfriend because the soft coos from their infrequent sex disrupts his practice in their small apartment.  Continue reading

Air

28 Aug

By Tom Meek in Paste Magazine

<i>Air</i>

Sometime in the near future, due to nuclear fallout, the object of this film’s title becomes a rare and precious commodity, one even more valuable and life essential than the scarce petrol in the first three Mad Max films. From TV news clips we get the current state of affairs: Riots and chaos break out as the breathable life force runs out and the world slides into an apocalyptic purge. Those who survive (the educated and the well-off, as everyone else is told to hold tight) get put into stasis in subterranean facilities (ironically, old missile silos) where engineers (Norman Reedus and Djimon Hounsou) breathe the last kernels of air and keep a watchful eye over the remainder of humanity.

The dark ant-tunnel sets erected by director Christian Cantamessa and his crew call to mind the camped confines of the salvage ship in Alien, as does the theme of man being vulnerable and at the mercy of a computer-controlled environ. It’s also a place where authority is nonexistent and order is a tenuous concept from across time and space, open to interpretation.  Continue reading

Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot

24 Jul
<i>Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot</i>

As a hagiographic ode, Sebastian Dehnhardt’s documentary covers the life and career of Dallas Maverick’s all-world superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, from gangly kid in Würzburg, Germany, where he was often told he was “too small to play,” to NBA top gun. For such a rah-rah career-capping fist bump, The Perfect Shot offers enough surprises, insights and revelations to be more than just a Sports Center highlight reel.

Part of that comes in the fact that Dehnhardt is German too and has deep personal knowledge of Nowitzki’s roots and the history of basketball in their homeland, which was brought there in the ’30s, by an obsessive who went to America to encamp with the game’s founder, James Naismith. We catch up with Nowitzki, now in his mid-thirties, heading toward retirement and the Hall of Fame, at the doctor where we learn that most of his joints have severe ailments from the stress of the game. One teammate remarks that it’s amazing that Nowitzki is so stiff and gimpy yet can take the court and “drop in thirty or forty points, and [make] it look easy.”

One reason for that is Nowitzki’s longtime partnership with Holger Geschwinder, who’s been a mentor to Nowitzki since he was a teen and now serves as part of the Mavericks’ coaching staff. Their workout sessions are long, grueling ordeals during which Geschwinder—who teammate Vince Carter refers to as “the mad scientist”—is always looking for a new physiological or scientific (he has a physics background) means to give Nowitzki the edge. Geschwinder, Mavs’ coach Rick Carlisle and rival Kobe Bryant all weigh in on conditioning, endless practice and execution. In his down time, Geschwinder seeks the object of the film’s title—a shot that’s not blockable and able to drop through the hoop without possibility of hitting and bouncing off the rim (which he calculates to require an arc of sixty degrees).  Continue reading