fragile eden: Kilcher and friends in The New World.
by Terrence Malick
New World, the first film from Terrence Malick since The
Thin Red Line six years ago, is his most sublime film
since Days of Heaven in 1978. Based on the intertwined
destinies of Captain John Smith and princess Pocahontas, The
New World is not a biography, but a reinterpretation that
condenses, shuffles, and reverses the facts to achieve a multilayered
story that expands on their extraordinary lives with breathtaking
assurance and symmetry.
Before his voyage to Jamestown in 1607, John Smith was a talented
soldier who escaped from captivity during his sojourn as a
mercenary in Europe. Pocahontas was the favorite (out of a
hundred or so children) of King Powhatan, a powerful tyrant
over a confederation of conquered tribes. According to Smith’s
writings, his relationship with Pocahontas was a flirtatious
but abiding friendship. If their circumstances had been less
star-crossed, Pocahontas undoubtedly would have wanted to
marry Smith, and he most likely would have declined: His only
passion was the new land of America (he never married).
In The New World, Smith (Colin Farrell) and Pocahontas
(newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher) are portrayed as both their true-life
selves and as representatives of an ideal: Smith, a courageous
and visionary leader, is seen through her eyes as a strange
and virile god from across the sea. Smith sees her as the
embodiment of his dream of a new world, peaceable, beautiful
and abundant in virtue. Whether or not they are lovers is
seductively left to the imagination, as is Smith’s initiation
ceremony into the Powhatans (Is he being adopted or held hostage?).
The film’s dual reality is ravishingly created through the
cinematography (with Malick’s characteristic use of natural
light), score (by James Horner), and especially, Malick’s
spare and poetic writing, which alternates between dialogue
and narration. The founding of Jamestown is portrayed as an
impressionistic culture clash that begins with the image of
iron helmets and velvet chapeaus bobbing jarringly in an endless
field of tall grass. Both native and English settlements are
exaggerated to hallucinatory degrees, while the battle sequences
are surreal in their barbarity.
Smith’s idyll with Pocahontas is thwarted not only by warfare,
but by Smith’s realization that the new world is not quite
the utopia that he first saw it as, and that the colony he
is struggling to establish will eventually be the destruction
of her people. “Don’t trust me,” he says after Pocahontas
risks her father’s ire by bringing food to the starving outpost.
While Smith is in constant conflict with the other colonists
and captains, Pocahontas moves serenely through her destiny,
praying often to her mother, a dual deity of her deceased
mother and Mother Earth.
Most of The New World is told through the use of the
natural world—benevolent Captain Newport (Christopher Plummer)
refers to the natives as “the naturals”—and, as such, it may
the most beautiful film ever made. The river, the trees, and
cornfields all take on a life force of their own. After Smith’s
departure, Pocahontas meets John Rolf (Christian Bale), a
kindly farmer who understands the land and thus becomes a
successful tobacco planter. In the film’s most moving analogy,
Pocahontas sees Rolf as a tree whose shade she can rest in.
Farrell and Bale do some of their most subtle work here, and
the eloquence of Kilcher’s physicality is a continual astonishment,
even after she is converted to English ways and confined to
English gardens. Kilcher’s radiance is the key to the film’s
haunting final sequence: Beginning with the conflicts of many
men, The New World ends with the fulfillment of one
by Woody Allen
A mere change of scenery does not an original concept make,
as viewers of Woody Allen’s latest film, Match Point,
will no doubt discover. Forsaking Manhattan’s intelligentsia
and ritzy milieu for London’s trendy Belgravia, Allen provides
the same crew of obnoxious, neurotic characters with upper-crusty
English accents. He does nothing to breathe new life into
what is essentially a reworking of the themes of both the
director’s Crimes and Misdemeanors and Dostoyevsky’s
Crime and Punishment.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers plays Irish tennis pro Chris Wilton,
who parlays natural talent, good looks, and an ingratiating
manner to gain entry into the wealthy family of his newfound
best friend Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode). Chris utterly charms
Mr. and Mrs. Hewett (Brian Cox and Penelope Wilton), who find
him a nondescript job at their unspecified company—a position
that provides him a car, driver, expense account, and the
opportunity to say things like “right-o, first thing tomorrow”
on the telephone. And, almost as an aside, he enchants Tom’s
naïve, imbecilic sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer doing an impression
of nails on a chalkboard). But into every life, even one as
charmed as Chris’, a little rain must fall, which must be
Allen’s rationale in writing the character of Nola Rice (Scarlett
Johansson), a would-be actress and Tom’s fiancée. One look
at her blonde insouciance has Chris all hot and bothered to
bed her, although we’re not quite sure if it’s truly lust
or just one-upmanship on his friend.
Trouble is, the entirety of Match Point meanders on
without giving us a clear idea of what Chris’ end objective
is. Is he an out-and-out scammer, or merely the beneficiary
of extraordinary good luck? Does he genuinely like the Hewett
family, or are they merely stepping-stones? Is Chris’ adultery
with Nola about two outsiders finding orgasmic peace within
each other, or are they both out to settle some hidden score?
Moreover, should we even care?
As is too often the case with Allen’s films, the answer is
an unequivocal no. Nearly 80 percent of the movie labors on
with Chris and Chloe visiting trendy art galleries, or Chloe
bewailing her inability to get pregnant. Tom, possibly the
only character approaching likeability, is barely seen after
providing Chris with the proper introductions, but even he
has to suffer through Allen’s approximations of what a proper
young Londoner would say (think something along the lines
of “Dude, we’ve got some serious cocktailing to do” spoken
in the dulcet tones of Windsor). Nola is a complete enigma.
This could have as much to do with Johansson’s opaque reading
of the character as the script, in which Nola’s only transformation
makes one wonder just how far the director’s psyche, in terms
of male-female relationships, has come in the wake of the
whole Mia Farrow/Soon-Yi Previn disaster.
By the time the film introduces characters who make us sit
up and take notice—detectives with real Birmingham or Scottish
accents and something approaching brains and normalcy—the
movie’s nearly over. The symbolism of tennis balls hovering
over a net is repeated ad nauseum, culminating in a final
twist. While that twist is something of a grim surprise, it’s
too little, too late.
Family Saga With Teeth
by Len Wiseman
The sequel to Underworld continues the epic “battle
of the Balkans” between two tainted family bloodlines: vampires
and werewolves. The last saga ended with, apparently, a lot
of dead werewolves and vampires. (I didn’t see it.) It also
ended with the vampire heroine Selene (Kate Beckinsale) going
off with her new boyfriend, werewolf-vampire hybrid Michael
You don’t need to have seen the first film to get this one.
Most of the plot of the first film was based on a lie revealed
at its climax; that left the filmmakers to go back and tell
the “real” story in installment number two.
In other words, it’s not like The Matrix or Star
Filmmakers never tire of vampires and werewolves, and why
should they? The blood-sucking undead and the interior-beast
unleashed always make fun. The vamps are traditional; it’s
the werewolves (“lycans”) who are really cool. The rabid monsters
are truly from the id.
The story revolves around attempts to free the long-imprisoned
First Werewolf, and the equally strenuous effort to prevent
this. The action is relentless, a mix of 21st-century explosions
and 19th-century monster lore. If it’s a not-quite-perfect
match, things go by quickly enough so it doesn’t matter.
As a romantic action figure, WB- network hatchling Speedman—he
was Felicity’s boy toy—is as compelling as a damp rag.
The filmmakers grasp this, and avoid giving him good lines,
or many scenes that aren’t digitally enhanced. This also hurts
the sex scene between Selene and Michael: They’re supposed
to be superhuman animals, not pretty models rolling about
in soft focus.
The other actors, all Brits, have stringy hair, snarl a lot
and are interchangeable. The two exceptions are the reliable
Derek Jacobi, who brings the requisite “Sir” gravitas to the
father of the two diseased family lines, and Bill Nighy. Though
Nighy’s ultra-evil character was sliced and diced in the first
film, he returns in a pleasingly bloody flashback.
Thus the dramatic weight of the film rests on Beckinsale’s
latex-sheathed shoulders. She’s up to the task, with the swagger
and intensity needed to register as a convincing action hero.
She doesn’t really have much to work with, but Beckinsale
makes Selene interesting anyway; this proves, again, that’s
it’s better to hire a decent actor who happens to be a babe,
rather than hire a “babe” and hope they can fake the acting.