Tag Archives: Terrence Malick

Top 100 Films #39 – Days of Heaven (1978)


20130619-083335#39. Days of Heaven (1978)
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, Linda Manz

Days of Heaven is the film that truly launched the career of mysterious filmmaker Terrence Malick, who continues to turn out some of the most beautiful, philosophical films of our time.  Despite its success critically and on the awards circuit, Malick took a twenty year hiatus after its release, coming back in 1998 with The Thin Red Line. Days of Heaven tells the story of siblings Bill (Richard Gere) and Linda (Linda Manz) on the run after Bill accidentally kills his boss during a dispute at work.  Bill’s girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) joins the two in the Texas Panhandle, where the three work for a quiet farmer (Sam Shepard).  The Farmer, who learns he is dying,  eventually falls in love with Abby, who is encouraged by Bill to marry him so they can inherit his money upon his death.  Unfortunately for all three involved, the once false love triangle quickly becomes very real, and things become far more complicated than they ever expected.  Days of Heaven is a quiet, meditative tale of love and betrayal, and features all of the elements that Terrence Malick would eventually become famous for.  The film, shot by acclaimed cinematographers Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler, is breathtakingly beautiful in every frame.  Malick’s eye for sweeping landscapes, horizons, and the mundane beauty of nature is unparalleled, especially in combination with the use of natural lighting during the famous “golden hour”.  The visuals featured in Days of Heaven are some of my favorite in film history, and I truly feel that its beauty is undeniable. Cinematographer Nestor Almendros picked up a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his efforts – famously making him the only man to win for photography on a Terrence Malick picture. Another highlight of the film comes in the form of its beautiful score by the master Ennio Morricone and guitarist Leo Kottke, which serves to push the film’s atmospheric naturalistic feel even further.  Though Days of Heaven is perhaps best known for its stylistic elements, Malick’s screenplay is another of its crowning achievements – featuring his usual philosophic ruminations on man’s relationship with nature, death, and innocence, but in a much more conventional narrative fashion than his later films.  Malick uses narration by Linda Manz’s young character Linda to push the story forward, using her naivety and innocence to compliment the film’s themes. We’re left with a quiet, beautiful, meditative story featuring a strong love triangle element that constantly leaves us wanting more and questioning what will happen next.  The film’s shining moment comes in the form of a locust swarm descending upon the farm, with the farmers being forced to burn their crops in order to ward off the invading insects.  These scenes are filmed with natural light, and use impressive film reversal techniques to give the illusion that the locusts are invading from all angles.  Days of Heaven is a triumph of 1970’s cinema, and my absolute favorite Terrence Malick film – they truly don’t get much more beautiful than this.  

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Spring Breakers (2013)

spring-breakers-poster-1Spring Breakers (2013)

Director: Harmony Korine

Writer: Harmony Korine

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco

Runtime: 94 minutes

Rating: 65% Fresh

Views: 1st Viewing (June 30, 2013)

Spring Breakers is Harmony Korine’s incredible controversial and divisive follow-up to his 2009 horror experiment Trash Humpers.  Spring Breakers follows young college students Faith (Selena Gomez), Brittany (Ashley Benson), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of director Harmony) as they travel to Florida to take part in yearly spring break activities. Before they set out on their trip however, they need to somehow earn money for the trip, so the four girls brutally rob a fast food restaurant.  After being arrested at a party in Florida, the mysterious rapper Alien (James Franco) bails the young girls out of jail, and the five head back to the home of eccentric and charismatic, but rather cowardly, Alien.  After the group slowly begins to drift apart, Alien and the remaining girls plan a raid on Alien’s rival drug-dealer, Big Arch (played by rapper Gucci Mane).

Spring Breakers certainly isn’t a film for most audiences.  It’s incredibly raw and alive, bringing the viewer into its world of crime and debauchery, but the film never manages to feel shallow or excessive.  Korine’s wonderful direction and cinematography perfectly brings to life the glossy, warm, and grimy worldspring_breakers_a_h of Florida’s spring break celebrations, making it one of the greatest elements of the film.  Harmony Korine’s pacing and direction throughout the film make this a truly unique viewing experience.  The film is comparable to something like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, but on ecstasy.  It’s a world that is easy to immerse yourself in, and one that may even hypnotize the viewer in a lot of ways.  Korine manages to say a little and a lot at the same time with his wonderful screenplay, never outright criticizing or praising its subjects.  The film serves as both a subtle celebration and criticism of our youth, and its sometime morbid fascination with wild parties, experimenting with drugs and crime.  Despite the subject matter at hand, Spring Breakers does present some hope throughout the film.  Selena Gomez’s aptly named Faith serves as our “innocent” character, as does Rachel Korine’s Cotty in a smaller way.  Spring Breakers features one of the most interesting and widely-debated screenplays of the year, and for good reason.

Aside from Korine’s wonderful direction, cinematography and screenplay, Spring Breakers features multiple incredible performances from its principal cast.  Director Harmony Korine wisely casted former Disney screen-queens spring-breakers-james-francoSelena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and young actress Ashley Benson in incredibly brave roles.  Gomez does a competent job as Faith, and Hudgens’ performance was one of my favorite things about the entire film.  Hudgens has the unique skill of being able to play both completely innocent characters, and wild, party-going ones too.  Her range is really displayed throughout the film.  The highlight for critics and audiences worldwide is James Franco’s performance as Alien, the drug-dealing gangster rapper.  Franco’s appearance and mannerisms are completely transformed for the role, and he puts in one of the greatest supporting performances of the decade.  If James Franco isn’t at least considered for a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the end of the year, it will go down as one of the categories greatest snubs of all-time.

Spring Breakers is a hypnotizing, divisive film that not everybody will love or even understand.  This isn’t a film that completely celebrates the live-for-the-weekend mentality or exploits its subjects.  It’s a film of great complexity, and will likely be looked back as one of the most hotly-debated films of 2013.  For my money, the best film of the year thus far.  Spring break forever.  9.5/10.


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