Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Joe Johnston
viewed: 07/23/2011 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

Born of WWII, when propaganda bore no irony, Captain America is in many ways an odd figure for the 21st century, an odd tent-pole action movie aimed at launching next year’s much-hyped and promoted The Avengers film, which got its first teaser trailer at the end of this film.  There is no dearth of irony, however, in Captain America: The First Avenger, in fact there is a very knowing self-awareness and self-deprecation regarding both his name and his uniform.  The realities for Marvel Comics/Films is that to market an uber-American product around the world is not as easy as they would like.  For a number of foreign releases, the film is going by its subtitle “The First Avenger”, with little or no mention of “Captain America”.

In the film, Steve Rogers, the 90 pound weakling who is transformed into the “super solider” by crazy scientific means, even chagrins at his costume and character name because in this version of the story, they are both concoctions of a marketing team.  When his first act as hunk is to track down an assassin in dramatic fashion through the streets of Queens, the military rejects him and he’s turned into a spokesmodel for the military, dressed in gaudy spandex with an ill-fitting mask, which he dons onstage with a bunch of showgirls to raise money for military bonds.  When he goes overseas, the troops laugh at him, and when he finally takes up the heroics, he manages to keep aspects of the marketing costume in a more rough-and-ready, less silly-looking (sort-of) version of the outfit.  And he keeps the stage name Captain America just because he likes it.

Most of the film takes place in the period of the comic book hero’s birth, and the story of the wimp’s transformation into super-hunk is told along traditional lines.  And of course, his original and traditional arch-villains are the Nazis and the Red Skull.  The Nazis are one group where it’s still unironic to show patriotism and American might.

The story is actually quite compelling in its way.  Chris Evans, who bulked up to super-human proportions for this film, is digitally altered through the film’s beginning in which his Steve Rogers is a little, asthmatic guy who would fight til the end of time and never win.  The digital effects, in this case subtle but convincing, allow for Evans to develop his empathetic hero when he’s not yet a Greek god, and so his transformation and is story arc gain weight (along with him).   The film is actually quite a bit better than I had heard and expected on most counts.

Hugo Weaving plays the Red Mask, who also goes through an alteration.  Of course, his makes his head look like a red skull, but it’s very effectively designed and rendered.  He’s a better villain than in a lot of these comic book adaptations.

I asked the kids what they thought and they both liked it.  They were a little confused about the opening sequence and the way that the film ends up in the present, so I had to explain that to them.  Compared to our other superhero movies of the summer of 2011, Felix (and I agree) placed it above Green Lantern (2011) and both Felix and Clara said it was a pretty close match to X-Men: First Class (2011), which they both liked.  We didn’t manage to see Thor (2011) in the theater.

Still, it does make you wonder what the present holds for a “Captain America”, an image that once cast American heroism and righteousness, which would likely not be appreciated in much of the world.  Good-hearted, uncomplicated, plain-speaking American ideals were something of the earlier part of the 20th century and stood well in contrast to Nazi-ism and the other evils of WWII.  But in a more complicated present, where even within America there is no clear sense of self and ideals, and in a broader world which has even more mixed senses of the US of A, it’s a real question of what this character can be, much less how he can be marketed.

Project Nim

Project Nim (2011) movie poster

(2011) director James Marsh
viewed: 07/21/2011 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA

Project Nim, a documentary about a celebrated and abused chimpanzee who was taught to use sign language, is a cautionary tale of bad science and animal cruelty.  The chimp, who was named Nim Chimpsky as a jibe at Noam Chomsky, was taken from his mother in cold and brutal fashion at 2 weeks of age from a facility in Oklahoma.  A professor at Columbia University, Herbert S. Terrace, “borrowed” Nim and somewhat randomly handed him over to a maternal, free love hippy mom who already had a large mixed family to raise, and asked her to bring him up as if he were a human and to teach him sign language.

The goal, if there really was a stated one, was to see if Chimps could actually learn “to speak”, created sentences.

The woman to whom he was given had no knowledge of sign language nor chimpanzees.  From what the story tells, hardly anyone involved in the program knew one iota about animal biology, care, or their natures and needs.

The story starts out with the cute baby Nim frolicking with the woman and her children, bonding with her, and showing early signs at male rivalry, a natural competition for dominance in the wild.  Their unstructured life led to little development of signs, and after two years as living as “one of the family”, Terrace abruptly removes Nim and places her in the hands of another graduate student with no experience, but who is more dedicated to structure and teaching.  And Nim, after being removed from his “second mother”, does indeed begin to learn.

Terrace seems to have chosen his female assistants by their attractiveness and it seems particularly dubious that he seems to have had sexual relationships with them all as well.  Terrace is noted by many of the assistants interviewed that he never had that much direct interaction during the “study”, only showing up for photo-ops.  The story made headlines (I vaguely recall it from my own childhood, the “teaching of sign language to chimpanzees”.  It’s little wonder that this study hasn’t carried on after seeing what the study really consisted of.)

Of course, Nim is a chimpanzee and chimpanzees grow to be big and strong and aggressive creatures, potentially very dangerous to humans, stated to be 5-6 times stronger than a man.  This led to attacks, increasingly brutal, behavior more and more hard to manage, and Terrace eventually has Nim shipped back off to the facility from which he came, a comparative prison to his experience in life and his first experience of other chimps.

It’s the kind of life that could cause great psychological damage to a human, and it’s doubtless that the chimpanzees have a great amount of awareness and emotion.  In his new home, a young hippie researcher befriend him and bonds with him, taking him out for walks and smoking dope and drinking with him.  There are lots of kinds of animal abuse in the film, but it only gets worse.

With the facility in financial dire straits, many of the chimps, including Nim, are sold to a medical testing laboratory which is something right out of a horror film.  They are tested with hepatitis vaccines and other treatments, locked in tiny cages, and operated on, drugged and worse.

I don’t know why I am retelling the whole story here.  Maybe it’s because it is a long, convoluted journey, a multitude of cruelties, mistakes, mostly in the name of science, occasionally in the name of intended kindness.

What’s really shocking is the lack of oversight to this “experiment” and how utterly unscientific this whole thing was.  Terrace, after the fact, renounced his original findings that they had succeeded in teaching Nim language, saying that the data didn’t show consistency in crafting a sentence.  When the scientific data is mathematically measured, they come up with nothing.  But the truth is that Nim did learn a great deal of words to sign and could express his wants to people.  So the data may be true but that seems not the utter measure of the experience.  Considering how unscientific the study to begin with, taking in no consideration of this creature’s own being and experience.

I took Felix and Clara to this film, their second documentary feature that I’ve taken them to this month.  I was a little concerned about the content being upsetting and also because the film is PG-13.  Our usual PG-13 films are more intense or scary, the ones we’ve seen.   I wasn’t sure what this one would have in store for them exactly.  They weren’t as upset as I’d worried about.  They actually liked the film quite well, and I’ve been really impressed with how much of the narrative stuck with them.

Directed by James Marsh (Man on Wire (2008), it’s a competent documentary, a compelling story, a thought-provoking and disturbing consideration of the epic mistreatment of a sensitive, sophisticated creature.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011) movie poster

(2011) director David Yates
viewed: 07/16/2011 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

By now, most everyone has seen it, even though it only opened a few days ago.  It’s breaking box office records.  And Felix and Clara and I saw it on Saturday along with an energetic, avid house of movie-goers.

The finale to the film series pumps up the drama and action, reaching for the epic.  And it does it well.

We finished reading the book a few months ago, so the only surprises were any narrative changes that they added in (of which there are a few, mostly for concision’s sake).  At 130 minutes, it’s the shortest of the film series (so I’ve read), and what with the first half of the book’s story told in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), this film has what none of the others have had, more room to just be a movie.  All of the other films have had to pack as much as they could of the bloated novels, quirks, details, asides, whole side plots.   But Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 only has to finish up everything, and even in that, they’ve made some shrewd decisions to keep the clutter at bay.

David Yates directed the final four films of the series and got a little better at it with each go.

More than anything, this series of 8 films, spanning 10 years in production, keeping all of the key cast members, and literally watching them grow, has been the production’s greatest triumph.  Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint have all grown as humans as well as actors.  Digital animation has also improved notably in those 10 years too.  And the fandom of the series?  It’s massive.

The audience was waiting on pins and needles with bated breath by the time the opening credits rolled.   They cheered the characters as they appeared and cheered loudest when certain villains met their ends.  And the cheers and enthusiasm was fun to be a part of.

It’s hard to consider this film on its own, really, because by no means is it a film on its own.  It’s part 2, quite literally, of a single novel’s worth of narrative, though it contains the crescendo and finale of the entire series.  The epic quality isn’t just in the storyline, but in the production, an entire decade, watching these primary characters grow from children into adults (and how oddly appropriate, the final sequence, shooting into the future showing them aged yet another decade or so).  The accomplishment is the series itself, but this is a satisfying, well-handled ending to the whole.

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun (1987) movie poster

(1987) director Steven Spielberg
viewed: 07/15/2011

I had never seen Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, but only recently I had finally gotten around to reading J.G. Ballard’s novel from which this film was adapted.  The novel was excellent, and I’d always heard that the film was good.  I thought that it would be interesting to watch the movie with the kids, as the story follows that on an 11 year old boy on a four year odyssey in Shanghai, separated from his parents during the Japanese Army’s occupation during World War II.

The film stars a young Christian Bale (in his breakout role) as Jim, the English boy whose privileged life in the Shanghai International Settlement is shattered after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the invasion of the Japanese.  In the chaos, he is separated from his parents and struggles on his own in occupied Shanghai for several months.  His adventures and education of survival are powerfully influenced in meeting an American lowly opportunist named Basie (played by a young John Malkovich).  He moves first to a hospital camp where people are brought largely to die, then manages to finagle his way to Lunghua prison camp where the author Ballard actually was imprisoned himself as a child.   The book is fiction but inspired by his own real world experiences.

The film has a richness to it.  Spielberg is a capable auteur, no matter what you think of his films.  And the young Bale is very compelling as the strange boy Jim, who idealizes the bravery of the Japanese and the coolness of the Americans, while considering the British weak and prim.  He’s politically mixed up, apolitical, in a sense.  As in the book, he’s a strange kid, who learns to work whatever systems and relationships to keep himself alive.  And the journey is epic.  The film was originally to be directed by David Lean, and Spielberg moves this film as if it was one of Lean’s own epics.

But the problem for me, having read the book, was two-fold.  There is so much story, so much to pack in, rich and vivid, that the film flies by.  The kids kept asking me questions about what was happening, which I felt that I only really knew because I’d read the book.  The novel was adapted by Tom Stoppard, and the script isn’t necessarily at fault.  But the other problem is more annoying, if not surprising.   In the novel, there is no truly touchy-feely goodness in the world.  Basie is only as good as his next opportunity and abandons Jim numerous times.  Mrs. Victor (played by Miranda Richardson), the British mother who Jim shares a room with at the prison, has no love or kindness for Jim.  The whole world is utterly indifferent, with rare moments of kindness.  And the final deaths of a number of the characters never plays out in the film.

It’s silly, because that’s Hollywood, right?  And beyond Hollywood, it’s Spielberg, whose films feature characters with true blue humanity.  So Basie and Mrs. Victor are ultimately ennobled here.  Part of the novel that was so interesting was Jim’s detachment from humanity, despite his reliance on it.  And the indifference of humanity to the life of this lost English boy in war-torn China.  The one character who does work to be kind to Jim, Dr. Rawlins, who does indeed try to teach Jim and help him, Jim is utterly indifferent to as well, British as he is, Jim sees him as weak.

All told, though, the film is quite good, definitely part of the Spielberg WWII subset of films (of which there are quite a lot).  The film’s best scene, as the Americans begin bombing the airfield and the prison, as Jim makes eye-contact with the pilots (whom Jim completely idolizes), Jim wails like a madman atop the tallest wreck of a building, perhaps a little glimpse of the uber-intense madmen that the adult Bale would go on to play.  The kids enjoyed the film pretty well, though it didn’t connect with them as much as I had imagined it could.

I definitely recommend the novel.  The film is good, but the novel is very good.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) movie poster

(2010) director Werner Herzog
viewed: 07/10/2011 at Century San Francisco Centre 9 and XD, SF, CA

I am nothing if not adventurous in the films that I show to my kids.  Yet Werner Herzog’s 3-D documentary about the Chauvet cave in southern France and its archeological riches was one that felt even riskier.  Herzog’s slow-moving, metaphysical, reverent tone poem falls somewhere between documentary in the most literal sense (these images document cave paintings and bones of long-extinct animals exist in a cave that none of us will probably ever enter) and Herzog’s idiosyncratic approach to documentary that is deeply personal, spiritual, and over-arching in his German-accented narration.

Clara needed more convincing than Felix.  She being 7, fixated on Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb, this was a steeper jump than her soon-to-be 10 year old brother, who is quite interested in history and archeology.  The amazing thing was that they both liked it.  It was certainly slow for them.  Felix yawned often throughout.  Clara flopped around a lot, disappointed with the 3-D for lack of effect.  But toward the end, she oohed and aahed at the marvelous artwork and eventual, loosely related albino crocodile that Herzog settles upon in his parting comment about the ever-changing nature of the landscape.

The Chauvet cave, discovered in 1994, contains the oldest known cave paintings ever found.  Not only are they the oldest, but due to their isolation (the cliff face collapsed at some point, sealing the cave) has kept them preserved in a pristine state, giving them a vibrance of having only been recently etched, scratched, drawn on the walls.  Beyond that, they are works of great, stunning beauty.  Images of cave bears, horses, rhinos, lions, and numerous other long extinct creatures are presented with fluidity and style, drawn onto the surfaces, using the spaces to offer flickering essences of motion, using the spaces to create dimension.  It’s little wonder that a cinema man like Herzog sees proto-cinema in the art.

There are also a number of positive hand prints, made by a distinctly disfigured individual (his pinkie finger is uniquely wonky, thus allowing scientists to recognize his “sign” throughout the cave.  But the cave itself is not just from one period but some of the drawings, overlapping like graffiti tags, were actually rendered many millennia apart.  The essence of the cave, the first artifacts of human culture, resonates deeply, not just for Herzog, but for all of us.  It’s the ultimate time capsule.

The artifacts are not all art, but many, many bones and skulls of creatures, namely cave bears, which indicate to scientists that man probably never dwelled in this cave (though the bears seemingly did), but that it was used primarily for this artistic purpose, which was likely much more than art but some significant spiritual purpose, which scientists can only speculate upon.  Some of the most amazing images are of the calcified skulls, the multitude of stalactites and stalagmites that have grown over the cave in the thousands of years since any kind of human entered the cave.

The cave is sealed and only scientists with top clearance are allowed down there.  They seek to continue to preserve everything in the cave so that it does not suffer like many of the most famous cave painting sites have, from erosion of human interaction.  There is indeed something mystical and magic about Chauvet, and Herzog’s team does the literal work of documenting via film, these things that none of us will ever experience in the flesh.

The 3-D, however, is very weak throughout the film because through the bulk of it, the cameras that Herzog is allowed to take down are not high-quality ones and his team must use hand-held, battery-powered lights, while staying on the narrow walkway to film the sights within.  Only toward the end, on their final plunge into the cave, are higher-quality cameras employed.  And so the final 15-20 minutes of the film does give a richer view of the paintings, the interior, and the space.  This was about where Clara perked up and became more interested.

I asked the kids how many of their friends from school would have gone to see this film this summer and they laughingly replied, “None.”  But even afterward, considering the film, the process of documenting, even Herzog’s somewhat charming, oddball narrative mysticism, the film struck them.  It’s a remarkable place.

I do want to add that the cost of going to the film at theCentury San Francisco Centre 9 and XD was exorbitant.  We’d last paid through the nose for Tangled (2010) here, and while the seats are very comfortable and the picture quality was very good, it was ridiculous to pay a $3.50 surcharge for the 3-D glasses, bringing the total cost of this film for the 3 of us on an afternoon to over $30.  When I say, “Not again,” I mean it.  Unless something incredibly compelling comes along.

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven (1960) movie poster

(1960) director John Sturges
viewed: 07/09/2011

Eight years ago (this film diary denotes literal perspective and history by its own existence), I saw The Magnificent Seven (1960) for the first time in my life.  I was utterly taken with it, classic that it is, and felt utter reinforced in the realization that a lot of the “greats” of cinema are greats of cinema for a reason.  It was a lot of goddamn fun.

When my mother passed away five years ago, in going through her belongings, I found a DVD copy of this film that I had so enjoyed and took it home to my small DVD library.  But I hadn’t watched it again in that time, despite having it on my shelf.  But then when the kids and I were due to watch Empire of the Sun (1987) and the DVD came cracked from Netflix, I was pushed to look to my small collection of movies on disc that I could watch with the kids.  Considering how many animation collections I have, there were only 3 movies I deemed possibilities.  And this film became, somewhat by accident, their introduction to the American Western.

I have to say, in some extremely haphazard way, my programming for Felix and Clara is possibly my projection of my fantasy of curating my own art house cinema, with some aspect of education and breadth.

The Magnificent Seven is indeed magnificent, but it’s power on the big screen was much more large and potent for me.  And I would imagine it so for anyone.  This is the thing about the big screen, right?  To be overpowered by the sight and sound, by the narrative and imagery.  And for a film like this, it’s easy to recall how rapt I was in seeing it thus.  It’s still terrific on my not-so-large screen television.  And it still has power, as films do, even diminished in their projection and experience.  But it struck me how overwhelming and pleasurable it is to have Yul Brynner looming above you.

In the time since I last saw The Magnificent Seven, I also finally saw the Seven Samurai (1954), the magnificent Akira Kurasawa film that “inspired” it.  I also managed to see director John Sturges’ other populist classic, The Great Escape (1964), which is also charming (and perhaps equally so on the big screen).  I have also, in those eight years hence, seen any number of Samurai films and Westerns and come to have somewhat a better context for appreciating the film.

For me, this viewing was nowhere as rapt, but was still struck by the pure charm of Brynner and Steven McQueen, by the great supporting roles of Eli Wallach, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Charles Bronson.  I was also struck again by the so frequent references and asides to it and its predecessor, such as Pixar’s A Bug’s Life (1998).  And the amazing score by Elmer Bernstein, which I would definitely place among the most iconic in cinema.

The kids really liked it in the end too.  Felix mentioned to me before it ended that “the next movie that he was going to make” would be a “cowboy movie”.  Given that this was his first, I’m very eager to initiate him further into the genre.  Clara also said she liked it a lot, which surprised me a bit, since she was more wriggly during the early parts of the film.  But towards the end she settled and got into the final shoot-out.

The Western is a great genre.  The Magnificent Seven is a great Western.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Martin Campbell
viewed: 07/03/2011 at Sierra Vista Cinema 16, Clovis, CA

First off, let me say that of all the popular comic book superheroes that have existed through time, the Green Lantern was not one that I ever knew much of anything about.  I say this because I have had friends that have rated him as a favorite character in impassioned ways.  So, unlike those folks, I wasn’t coming to see the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern with either much enthusiasm or with great requirements that an avid comic book fanbase typically require.  In fact, I wasn’t even planning on seeing it on the big screen.

The weekend it opened, I asked the kids if they wanted to go see it, and they really couldn’t seem to care less.  But on a blazingly hot Central Valley afternoon, when my sister and niece and daughter wanted to see Super 8 (2011), my son balked and said that he’d rather see something that we haven’t seen.  So, with his cousin Sam in tow, the boys went to Green Lantern and the girls went to Super 8.

I can’t say from my own knowledge how “true to the comic” that the film is.  Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, a hot shot test pilot but otherwise hunky human flake.  So, when a member of the Green Lantern Corps crashes to Earth in his dying effort to pass along the magic Lantern and ring to a noble spirit, Jordan doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice.  When he gets yanked up into space to the planet of Oa to find out about the whole Green Lantern thing, the intergalactic protectors of the Universe, he first quits.  But we all know that he’s going to come around and be a hero.

Actually, there is a lot of narrative packed into this film.  It moves quickly and I’m a little loath to try to recall all of it.  There is also a scientist/friend, played by Peter Sarsgaard, a sad sack who looks like a young John Malkovich with long stringy hair.  He’s a good guy who gets infected with this yellow Fear poison, which is ultimately emanating from Parallax, the giant Fear-eating, Fear-powered entity that killed the original Lantern and is heading to Earth to destroy everyone there too.

Now the Green Lantern’s powers, the power of “Will” (as opposed to “Fear”) allows him to materialize anything he can imagine, which turns out to be swords, machine guns, airplanes, all kinds of stuff, which he can use in any number of ways.  And he can fly.  He seems pretty all-powerful, really.  I don’t know.

He’s the kind of superhero that could never feasibly have been rendered without digital effects.  It’s all too fantastic that it would be too expensive even if they could figure it out.  But this pulls in the problem with the reliance on digital effects, making things that look and feel “real”.  I’ve noted this several times before, but now that “anything” can be rendered with efficacy (now we can have a whole planet of wildly different Green Lanterns, for instance), a it can lead to the whole thing taking on the vibe of a video game.  Realism to an extent, sure.  But the potency of the imagery doesn’t manage to carry the weight of believability.

This film got pretty negative reviews largely, but I have to say that it was entertaining enough.  It passed the couple of hours in the icily air-conditioned darkness.  Sarsgaard’s character manages to evoke sympathy somehow, through all the rest of the flying and fighting and exploding.  I’ve got a feeling that I’ll have a hard time recalling much about this movie in a year or two.

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life (2011) movie poster

(2011) director Terrence Malick
viewed: 07/01/2011 at CineArts @ the Empire Theatre, SF, CA

Though it won the Palme D’or earlier this year at Cannes, Terrence Malick’s newest film, The Tree of Life, split audiences at the French film festival and throughout the movie-going world since its recent release.  Some avid fans of more challenging and avant-garde films extol its virtues while many a seasoned film-goer has rejected it whole-heartedly, with many reports of attendees demanding their money back.  Incidentally, I’ve heard both impassioned appreciation and cross disdain.

And me, I’m not entirely sure where I fall.

For Terrence Malick, whose filmography has been amazingly brief, though spanning decades, and largely amazing, this film is by far his most strange and avant-garde.  At one point, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978) alone had earned him his reputation.  And for the next 20 years, he didn’t release a single feature.  Then in 1998, he released The Thin Red Line, an adaptation of James Jones’ novel about the battle for Guadalcanal and it seemed as if his strange mastery of the medium was still at its heights.  Then in 2005. his film The New World, a historical re-telling of the Pocahontas/John Smith love affair came out, an earnest but perhaps less successful effort.

His films have all been historical, period films, and his obsessions with images of nature and the many hues of the sun have pervaded his varying stories of human life, foibles, adventures, love and humanity.  So, setting The Tree of Life ostensibly in the present day is novel enough.  But the adult son (played by Sean Penn) who reminisces about his childhood in Waco, Texas in the 1950’s shifts not just back through a semi-present present to a historical past, but shifts further back to the creation of the Universe, first life on Earth, and a brief segment that features dinosaurs.

Malick has always employed voice-over narration in his films.  His early films featured a single narrator, a naive teenager in Badlands and a young, similarly uneducated, but spiritually wise girl in Days of Heaven.  In The Thin Red Line, he shifted among the soldiers for a variety of voice-overs, and then in The New World shifted between the three main characters.  In The Tree of Life, the shifting is incessant, constant, and communal almost.

And the shifting, flickering back to a pulsing, ever-changing undefined image, transitions the story between the “present”, the past, and the pre-historic.  The main story of this Texas family, with Brad Pitt as the loving, but harsh patriarch who both adores and repulses his children while fighting for his beliefs in the success in life in the acquisition of wealth and trying to teach his boys how to be tough.

No doubt it’s the more science fictional, visual effect-laden, non-narrative tropes that push this movie from beyond a stream of multiple consciousnesses, non-linear as it is, into something far more astounding, hard-to-swallow, and far out.  You know if a common reference point for this film is 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and yet the film is set in the largely naturalistic world of 1950’s Texas, you’ve got some rather large jumps to make in entrusting Malick with the story, your time, and your comprehension.

And when the film moved into the Creation sequence, perhaps I was more on the side of those who were more dumbstruck than nonplussed by this wild stretch.  In fact, I kept thinking to myself that this psychedelic head-trip about the meaning of life was really a little too far out and that I was disappointed that it wasn’t more coherent.

But as the story, for its lack of narrative clarity in itself, somehow won me back over.  After floating in space and watching the dinosaurs, I doubted my ability to re-connect with a story that had hardly gotten underway.  But there is a compelling quality to this act of remembrance and acceptance and forgiveness, these Christian values which the film’s narrative show to be key to the lives of the family during the film, are the same forces and qualities that brings about the surreal, emotional finale of the film.  The film is clearly situated in the science of Evolution in its perspective, but as well adheres to much of the quality of the teaching of religion, too.  And is also tapped into some Modernist consciousness, something perhaps psychological, perhaps spiritual, beyond either of those dicta.

Halfway through, I was sure I was going to come out saying that it was a failure, but by the end, I was not so sure.  Was it a masterpiece?  Pure genius?  One of those films that hardcore scholars and cineastes will glom onto and cherish for time immemorial?  While others, equally astute and educated, along with average film-goers will hate and never “get”?

I find myself thinking about the film quite a bit since I saw it.  I know by no means will just anyone perhaps enjoy it, but I know that there will be those who will find it astonishing, perhaps.  It’s certainly the most radical film playing at the cineplex this summer.  And if rumors hold true it will not be Malick’s last.  He has another on the way.  Whatever the ones who will despise it will think (and that included a split audience reaction as Cannes), it did win the top prize there.  Most critics seem to have bought in.

I’m not passing a judgment on it here.  I’m still contemplating it.  I’m still not entirely sure how I feel.