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Knight of Cups Blu-ray Review

Knight of Cups (2016) movie poster Knight of Cups

Theatrical Release: March 4, 2016 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Terrence Malick

Cast: Christian Bale (Rick), Cate Blanchett (Nancy), Natalie Portman (Elizabeth), Brian Dennehy (Joseph), Antonio Banderas (Tonio), Freida Pinto (Helen), Wes Bentley (Barry), Isabel Lucas (Isabel), Teresa Palmer (Karen), Imogen Poots (Della), Peter Matthiessen (Christopher), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Fr. Zeitlinger), Cherry Jones (Ruth), Patrick Whitesell (Agent #1), Rick Hess (Agent #2)

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Not long ago, the films of notoriously reclusive and camera-shy writer-director Terrence Malick were infrequent and unusual enough to earn them event status. After earning attention and acclaim for Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978),
Malick let twenty years pass before making another movie in The Thin Red Line, 1998's Oscar-nominated World War II film. Without as long a wait or as much anticipation, 2005's The New World kind of slipped by with minimal attention and recognition, but 2011's esteemed yet divisive The Tree of Life restored the luster to Malick's reputation as a visionary art filmmaker.

Since that film drew three Oscar nominations and won a host of critics' awards, Malick has been uncharacteristically productive, but to diminished returns. In 2013, To the Wonder earned him the first mixed reviews of his career and did nothing at the box office in limited release. Then, earlier this year, Knight of Cups, filled to the brim with acting talent and four years in the making, struck out with critics and moviegoers alike in another paltry double-digit theater engagement.

Knight of Cups is unmistakably a Malick film. The thin narrative centers on Rick (Christian Bale), a wealthy Hollywood screenwriter (some imagination, huh?) who wanders in and out of relationships with a variety of beautiful women. They include a young free spirit (Imogen Poots), a doctor (Cate Blanchett), a model (Frieda Pinto), an open-minded exotic dancer from Australia (Teresa Palmer), and a married woman (Natalie Portman). Rick has a destitute brother (Wes Bentley) and an aging father (Brian Dennehy) and that's about all we know about him.

Christian Bale wanders among pleasing scenery in Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups."

As you expect given the director, the film is unorthodox. It is narrated like a Biblical epic or perhaps a nature documentary. It is also shot like the latter, specifically an IMAX documentary whose photography is its main attraction. Malick again treats film like a form of visual poetry, telling this story not with dialogue or action but with striking visuals and voiceover. Though Malick takes writing credit, there is essentially no script. The film is comprised of moments and pieces of exchanges that are either largely unplanned or flat out improvised.

That ensures that Knight of Cups is not just another movie like the one you saw before it and the one you'll see after it. It is an experience that stands out from the pack in the way that too few films do. On the other hand, the novelty of Malick's approach wears off, especially if you've seen it put to better use on his other recent films, like Tree of Life and even To the Wonder.

Beautifully filmed by Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick's only DP since New World and winner of the last three Best Cinematography Oscars for Gravity, Birdman, and The Revenant, plenty evocative, and frequently haunting, Knight of Cups is also inaccessible to an extreme and to a fault. Unfolding primarily with wandering and frolicking, the film is sure to leave many a viewer confused, disappointed, and angry. Malick has never made films for the masses, but until recently, he has always commanded respect from critics and the industry.

A married woman named Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) ranks among Rick's (Christian Bale) more serious loves.

Even if there are plenty of instances of actors being mostly or entirely cut from his films, few would say no to Malick and that much is evident from the talented cast he assembles here. Bale is wasted as leading man. In fact, just about everyone is here, but only he has the screentime with which he could make serious impact. The film is chockfull of familiar actors, several of whom seem unlikely picks for a singular artist such as Malick (e.g. Thomas Lennon and Joe Lo Truglio of MTV's "The State" and "Reno 911!"), even in brief and peripheral appearances. Some actors (like Jason Clarke, Antonio Banderas, and Nick Kroll) you could literally miss by blinking and others (Nick Offerman, Joel Kinnaman) you could still miss even while holding your eyes open throughout.

As always, the stargazing in Malick's films isn't about the movie stars you may or may not spot. It's about contemplating the meaning of life, your place in the universe, the nature of relationships, and so on.
There's no room for such big ideas in most movies, so you appreciate that Malick is willing to consider them. At the same time, he opens himself up to accusations of pretentiousness that even his most ardent of supporters could not dispute. There are titles taken from tarot cards (e.g. "The Moon", "The High Priestess"), for crying out loud.

Per tradition, Malick seems to have found this film in editing, but in a way that makes sense to him more than the viewer. It's very abstract and free-form, with Rick rarely talking or doing anything more than walking and driving with a wandering eye. Even his facial hair doesn't seem to change as he moves from one inexplicably passionate relationship to another, suggesting they are all short-lived and presented practically in real time.

Despite its modest box office performance, Broad Green Pictures still gladly deems this latest Malick film worthy of a Blu-ray edition, which is reviewed here and is available in stores today.

Knight of Cups Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 5.1 DTS (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extra Subtitled
Release Date: June 21, 2016
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Retail Price: $29.99
Blue Keepcase
Also available on DVD ($26.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Picture and sound are such critical elements of the Terrence Malick film experience, so I'm happy to report that Knight of Cups boasts terrific video and audio quality on Blu-ray from Broad Green, a studio that often doesn't bother with Blu-ray. The 2.35:1 visuals are sharp, vibrant, and free of imperfection. The film employs a variety of techniques and styles, some of it clearly guerilla. The compelling 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack envelops and overlaps elements exactly as it should. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered, as is a Spanish dub.

Imogen Poots reveals that Terrence Malick has a thing for fist pumps in "The Making of 'Knight of Cups.'" Cate Blanchett makes an appearance on the "Knight of Cups" Blu-ray menu montage.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's only real bonus feature is "The Making of Knight of Cups" (16:02, HD). This featurette naturally keeps Malick out of sight while supplying B-roll from filming
and letting cast members -- even those barely seen in the final product -- speak to the joys of his unusual improvisation-driven creative process and chip away only slightly at the mystery which shrouds the man himself (he appreciates fist pumps!). Malick's behind-the-camera collaborators are also discussed, interviewed, and celebrated.

"Also from Broad Green" serves up full HD trailers for Song of Lahore, Samba, Eden, 10,000 KM, Break Point, A Walk in the Woods, Learning to Drive, in addition to the four trailers with which the disc automatically opens for Last Days in the Desert, The Dark Horse, 99 Homes, and I Smile Back. With even a welcome "Play All" option, the only thing missing is Knight of Cups' own trailer.

The menu loops a montage of scored imagery, which is expectedly both tasteful and fitting.

No inserts or slipcover accompany the plain blue disc inside the standard blue keepcase.

Terrence Malick briefly opts for a Nicholas Winding Refn aesthetic, as Rick (Christian Bale) takes a liking to Karen (Teresa Palmer), a free-spirited stripper from Australia.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Big on beauty, short on story, and unconventionally cobbled together, Knight of Cups is wholly and unabashedly a Terrence Malick film. That is quite different from the work of all the other contemporary filmmakers
and it might seem pretty spectacular if Malick hadn't made a better (and slightly more cohesive) version of this kind of film in The Tree of Life. Knight lacks the substance to prop up the style and leaves you feeling less than you should, even if you could find something beautiful in any randomly selected minute of this film.

Broad Green's Blu-ray complements a perfect feature presentation with a fine making-of featurette. Unless you're a Malick completist, one viewing should suffice, but I do recommend one open-minded viewing, particularly for those acclimated with and appreciative of Malick's unique brand of art cinema.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Terrence Malick: The Tree of Life The Thin Red Line Badlands
Christian Bale: The Big Short American Hustle The Fighter Newsies The Dark Knight Rises
Cate Blanchett: Carol Blue Jasmine | Natalie Portman: Jane Got a Gun | Teresa Palmer: Warm Bodies
Imogen Poots: Greetings from Tim Buckley Jimi: All Is By My Side | Freida Pinto: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger Miral
New to Disc: Midnight Special The Player Anomalisa 45 Years Hail, Caesar! Zootopia
The Darjeeling Limited The Great Beauty My Dinner with Andre Nine

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Reviewed June 21, 2016.



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