To The Wonder

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Move along, no wonder to see here...

Move along, no wonder to see here…

Terrence Malick is a wonderful film maker. I have loved and/or admired each of his films I have seen (the only one I haven’t is Days of Heaven and I may get to correct that this weekend). He is a visual poet and philosopher and incredibly engaging filmmaker, and there is no one else quite like him operating in the mainstream film industry today.

All of which leads me to believe that To The Wonder was directed by Terence Mallyck. It feels like a student trying to make a Malick film and it is painful to watch at times. It’s filled with shots of people standing in cornfields starring in opposite directions, or someone walking out of a room as someone walks in, neither seeing each other. The faux-philosophical narration fails to enlighten, instead sounding like a student’s idea of what life should teach us.

As Malick’s career has progressed he has strayed further and further from a true narrative, never more so than here. The ‘story’ concerns two relationships Ben Affleck has, one with Olga Kurylenko, which bookends the films, and the other with an old flame played by Rachel McAdams. We see Affleck spent time with these women, but never see what draws them to him. He is an empty presence, barely muttering a word throughout the film. The relationships ignite and breakdown though we are never really shown the reasons behind this, merely the facts that they have. At one point, Kurylenko explodes at Affleck, supposedly for the way he has treated her in the relationship but we are never shown anything to back up her point of view.

There is another story played out, that of a priest played by Javier Bardem, which is so loosely connected to the main story as to feel wildly out of place. I say this is a story, but it really isn’t, merely a collection of scenes as he visits prisoners and the elderly. Is he having a crisis of faith? Who knows? It’s tough to care.

The home Affleck builds in the non-descript town in (I guess) the mid-west never seems properly furnished. It contains a bed, a chair, a table, but often belongings are seen still in boxes. The house feels empty, it is doing an impression of a home. The same could be said of the film. It contains the elements but it never unpacks them, never allows us the emotional gateway that would turn these ‘relationships’ into Relationships. It remains empty.

Likewise, aside from an opening (and briefly closing) sequence at Mont St Michel in northern France, there is none of the beauty in the photography here that we’ve come to expect from Malick. He fails to find anything of interest to say about middle America, the houses, streets, concrete driveways and freshly erected fences are as starkly tedious as everything else here.

I don’t say any of this out of malice, merely disappointment. Malick is an incredibly talented filmmaker who is famed for taking a long time over his films, with gaps of a decade or more in many cases. To The Wonder comes out around 2 years after The Tree of Life and maybe he should have spent closer to 8 years on it.


The Sessions

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So another swift(er) review. The Wreck-It Ralph one ran to 500 words in the end anyway. Blimey. Let’s see if we can do this a little quicker. I’ve wasted 27 already. That’s four more….

The Sessions might sound a bit of a tough ask on paper. It’s based on the real life story of Mark O’Brien, a writer and a poet who is also a polio survivor who has to spend around 20 hours a day in an iron lung in order to stay alive. He has no muscular control below the neck. Despite all of this, Mark (John Hawkes) is a charmer and a wit. Because of the results of his illness, Mark requires help with everything, and employs a number of carers to perform those roles. His life changes when he employs a new carer and falls in love with her. Unfortunately she doesn’t reciprocate, but it spurs Mark on to a journey of sexual discovery –something that may have been in the back of his mind but he never imagined he could dream of following through on. Eventually Mark employs a sexual surrogate, Cheryl (Helen Hunt, nominated for an Oscar for the role) to help him reach his desire of not dying a virgin.

The film. written and directed by polio survivor Ben Lewin (who is merely crutch-bound), is nigh on perfect. It’s life-affirming where it could have been mawkish. It’s laced with self-deprecating humour and charm where it could have been self-pitying. It’s paced beautifully and always leaves you wondering what direction it might go next. There’s no template for how this story might play out (and that’s not because it’s a true-life story – biopics have plenty of conventions and this doesn’t play up to them) which makes it all the more enthralling.

It hinges on three wonderful central performances – William H Macy as the priest who is asked plenty of awkward questions by Mark being the third – and I find it difficult to understand why John Hawkes has been overlooked at the Oscars when he puts in such a wonderfully nuanced, sympathetic (though not pathetic) and enriching performance. That said, I also find it difficult to understand why the film has been overlooked elsewhere. Granted the direction and editing do nothing flashy, but it’s not a story that demands that – what they do is allow the actors the chance to come alive on screen, to breathe and to exist – but it’s the writing that perhaps demands the greatest recognition.

Anyway, this is a great start to 2013, clocking in as better than anything in 2012 in my book. Track it down if you can, otherwise get the DVD when it comes out. Essential viewing.

10/10 (4 stars)

(I don’t think the trailer does a great job of selling the film, if only because the music is completely wrong for it – I hadn’t seen the trailer before I saw the film, and I think you would be wise to follow the same course, but, if you have to, the trailer is below)