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Ben Chaplin (#110 of 3)

The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: Alps, The Day He Arrives, The Sheik and I, Twixt, & More

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The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: <em>Alps</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Sheik and I</em>, <em>Twixt</em>, & More
The San Francisco International Film Festival 2012: <em>Alps</em>, <em>The Day He Arrives</em>, <em>The Sheik and I</em>, <em>Twixt</em>, & More

Rounding out its 55th year, the generally celebratory San Francisco International Film Festival seemed to open on a melancholy note, with the deaths of two illustrious film-culture stalwarts still fresh in the memories of local cinephiles: Graham Leggat, who had since 2005 been the San Francisco Film Society’s executive director, succumbed to cancer last year; and Bingham Ray, a veteran force in the indie circuit who’d agreed to take over the position, passed away in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Just as Nietzsche envisioned art as “the redeeming, healing enchantress” that could confront despair, it was up to cinema then to alleviate the event’s potentially mournful mood. Indeed, the titles chosen to pay tribute to the two men—Benoit Jacquot’s unusual Versailles-set drama Farewell, My Queen, which opened the festival in dedication to Leggat, and Carol Reed’s sardonic 1949 masterpiece The Third Man, reportedly Ray’s all-time favorite film—served as reminders not only of SFIFF’s characteristically eclectic selection, but also of its dedication to acknowledging the medium’s past while steadfastly gazing ahead for discoveries.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: Twixt, The Cat Vanishes, & Love and Bruises

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twixt</em>, <em>The Cat Vanishes</em>, & <em>Love and Bruises</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>Twixt</em>, <em>The Cat Vanishes</em>, & <em>Love and Bruises</em>

With the quasi-comic horror trifle Twixt, Francis Ford Coppola joins the long list of narrative-conjurers to (mis)appropriate Edgar Allan Poe as a sober maestro of spook. A pallid, somber fictionalization of the author, played by Ben Chaplin, becomes Virgil to the Dante of Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer, looking likeably portly), a bargain-basement witch novelist who gets fittingly embroiled in a small-town murder mystery. Poe counsels Baltimore in the crisp, ghostly digital dream world he plummets into whenever slumbering or getting knocked out, reciting passages from “The Philosophy of Composition” with a syrupy colonial accent, and seeming perpetually ready to stare down an owl. We read this off-kilter avuncular-ness, which is so at odds with Poe’s legacy (would the man who wrote “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” be so devoid of humor?) as a nod to Coppola’s own mentor, Roger Corman. And extrapolating on Corman’s own fondness for Poe’s thin macabre, we might understand Twixt as an awkward paean to hackwork, from “The Raven” to Spy Kids 3-D Game Over. (The film’s own 3D segment, to which we’re alerted by a monstrous pair of CGI glasses that non-diagetically enter the frame, is an easily collapsible parody).

The Conversations: Terrence Malick Part I

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The Conversations: Terrence Malick Part I
The Conversations: Terrence Malick Part I

“Think of a tree, how it grows round its roots. If a branch breaks off, it don’t stop but keeps reaching toward the light.”

Jason Bellamy: Terrence Malick’s next film, due soon in theaters, is called The Tree of Life, and coincidentally or not it is set up by the final shot of Malick’s previous film, The New World. In both the theatrical and extended cuts of that 2005 film, Malick closes with a shot at the base of a tree: gazing up the side of its mighty trunk as it stretches heavenward. It’s a quintessentially Malickian shot, both in terms of the camera’s intimacy to its subject and in the way that it presents nature with a spiritual awe, as if the tree’s branches are the flying buttresses of a grand cathedral. But the reason I mention that shot is so I can begin this discussion by acknowledging its roots. We’ve been regular contributors to The House Next Door for almost two-and-a-half years now, and, as loyal House readers know, Terrence Malick’s The New World is the seed from which this blog sprouted. What began in Janurary 2006 as Matt Zoller Seitz’s attempt to find enough cyber real estate in which to freely explore his passion for The New World—a rather Malickian quest, if you think about it—became something much bigger, until now here we are: writing about the filmmaker without whom this blog and thus this series might not exist.

I make that acknowledgement en route to this one: By the very nature of its origins, The House Next Door has always been something of an unofficial Terrence Malick fan club—nay, house of worship. Many of us first gathered at this site because of this subject matter. (Any immediate kinship many of us felt with Matt was inspired by a shared religious experience with The New World, not to mention the holy awakening of seeing serious criticism posted to the Web by amateur means.) I make this observation in the interest of full disclosure—less an acknowledgement of the House’s origins, which so many of its readers know already, than an indication of my awareness of it—in the hopes that by doing so I can convince the Malick nonbelievers that they are welcome here. Because, see, Malick is one of those filmmakers who seems to inspire two reactions: genuflecting reverence and head-scratching ennui. Is there room between the two? Or are total immersion and deference to Malick’s filmmaking elemental to its effect? In Part I of this discussion, we will look at Malick’s first four films, Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998) and The New World (the theatrical cut), and what I hope we begin to uncover is why Malick’s filmmaking inspires such divergent reactions.

I am, admittedly, a singer in Malick’s choir. His films don’t move me equally, but when they do move me I’m profoundly affected. You come into this conversation having just watched most of Malick’s films for the first time. So let me ask a question that will cause the Malick agnostics to roll their eyes and the Malick believers to raise their hands to the sky like Pocahontas in The New World: Did Malick’s filmmaking inspire you with a unique sense of awe, or do you feel like you’re on the outside looking in, or something else?