Blog TIFF 12

TO THE WONDER (dir. Terrence Malick)


I fear Terrence Malick is descending into self-parody. His latest film To the Wonder is a long, vacant stare of a movie, so interested in the human spirit yet devoid of ordinary human behaviour.

Two lovers, whose names you’ll only learn from the credits are Neil (Ben Affleck), American, and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), French, fall in love in Europe and plan to live together in Neil’s hometown. Beneath their bond we sense a vague unhappiness, brought on I suppose by his fear of commitment. I say ‘suppose’ because anything I think I learned about these characters is barely evident. They rarely speak. When they do, it is either incidental or half-heard beneath voice-over.

The director’s visual instincts remain strong. To the Wonder is his first film set entirely in the present day, and he films locations you might call ordinary – gas stations, supermarkets, field after endless field – with the same reverence as historical landmarks and places of worship. He’s either asking us to see our own backyards in a new way, or losing his sense of what is or is not interesting to look at.

At best viewing this movie is like watching someone else pray – we can appreciate what is happening without ever feeling transcendence of our own. Malick’s career-long tendency to eliminate character details – names, histories, personalities – and dialogue in favour of poetic narration is taken to an extreme. In a way that’s bold and challenging, but it’s also unfair; he knows who the characters are and their motivations, presumably having written something resembling a script, so shifts in relationships and bits of story happen anyway sans context. As was The Tree of Life (2011), this appears to be a fairly conventional movie re-edited into incoherence. For all its splendor To the Wonder could have used one complete conversation. 2.5/5

(dir. Lenny Abrahamson)


Richard (Jack Reynor) is a star athlete and a nice guy, character traits that don’t often meet in movies. He’s a leader, and a protector. To the junior players on his rugby team he is not cruel, but warm and inclusive. Because of the film’s title and serious tone we suspect something bad will happen, but what Richard eventually does still comes as a shock.

Unlike most guys Richard has no problem getting girls, but like most of us he’s deeply insecure when the attachment is made. His new girlfriend is close with a teammate, and when that teammate innocently comes between them during a drunken argument Richard’s jealousy explodes into violence.

In the sober light of morning, he panics. Those who know what happened promise to keep quiet. A police investigation finds nothing. But Richard, a boy with a soul, doesn’t need any help feeling guilty. He confesses the truth to his father (Lars Mikkelsen), who doesn’t judge him – in another avoidance of cliché, they have a strong and healthy relationship.

Most of the dramatic tension in What Richard Did is unspoken. Richard’s moral nightmare takes place mostly in his head. But despites its restraint this is a bold, compelling drama, and a great introduction to young Reynor. He’s got a real future, with one unforgettable role already down. 4.5/5

THE ABCS OF DEATH (dirs. Various)


The ABCs of Death is a great idea: 26 horror shorts in two hours, drawn from a wide range of international filmmakers. In practice it’s intermittently successful. Given roughly four minutes each, many directors use brevity to their advantage, trading excessive dialogue for visual panache. Some entries (“D is for Dogfight,” “X is for XXL”) are among the best horror films of the year, period.  Styles include animation, film, digital and something akin to a live-action Tex Avery cartoon. You’ll get what I mean.

But without time to create tension an unfortunate number fall back on gross-out humour ("F", is you were wondering, is for fart.) Bizarrely, both fully animated segments involve deadly confrontation with a toilet. Only a few (“I is for Ingrown,” the eerie “G is for Gravity”) are completely serious.

ABCs of Death is a very thorough summary of modern horror. It’s a little dismaying to see how the genre has been taken over by excessive gore and shock tactics – Ti West, a director who knows how to use violence sparingly and effectively, flops with his inexplicably ugly contribution – but there is enough variety here to make fans optimistic. 3.5/5

0 Comments | Add a Comment
*Your Name:
*Enter code:
* Comment: