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Knight Of Cups (Blu-ray Review)

knight of cups coverThis Hollywood-based effort from writer/director Terrence Malick seemed to only leave a small impact in the year of its release, but Knight of Cups certainly feels like the director continuing to challenge himself. At the risk of repeating himself to the point of self-parody, one of the most elusive auteur directors made a Los Angeles odyssey that could easily be rated ‘O’ for obscure. It almost defies reason to label the film as good or bad, but depending on one’s appreciation of Malick’s style as of late, there will be varying levels of tolerance for what this film has to offer. Perhaps this home video release will allow others a chance to figure things out for themselves.

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Film:

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Malick’s The New World co-star Christian Bale takes the lead this time around as LA screenwriter Rick. We will never know how good of a screenwriter he is, but he has been successful enough to wander in and out of the LA party scene and have just enough presence to form several relationships. Think of Rick’s life as the arthouse version of Entourage and you’ll know exactly what to expect.

To his credit, Malick does little to blur the lines of his narrative. Rick is awfully stoic and distant throughout this film, but there are handy chapter titles to give you a sense of what is going on. This may or may not work for those who feel Malick delivered his magnum opus with The Tree of Life, but you can at least be thrilled by the decision to provide a sense of order to this often ponderous film.

It helps to see many talented performers doing their best to shake up the lost soul that is Bale’s character. Wes Bentley and Brian Dennehy serve as Rick’s younger brother and father, while Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Freida Pinto and Teresa Palmer all factor in as relationships Rick was effected by. Do any of them stand out? Not particularly, but with the use of whispered narration and lots of sauntering, Knight of Cups does not allow for the showiest of performances.

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I often found myself comparing this film to the Sean Penn scenes in Tree of Life, but there is fortunately more at play here. We get to watch Rick turn new corners in a way that is far more intriguing than the various rock formations Penn’s character came across, with a better handle on why each segment of the film has some sort of importance. Even if the overall takeaway did not bend my mind in any way I found worth losing sleep over, I can say there was a serene feeling throughout my viewing experience.

That is largely due to 3-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, who returns to film another shine his camera on another Malick-inspired world. Knight of Cups takes you on what is easily one of the most beautiful trips through LA you will have ever gone on. Instead of distracting from the remnants of a story being told, we are illuminated to the idea of wanting to pay more attention, given how good Bale’s surroundings constantly look.

An accomplishment like no other, Malick could be one of cinema’s greatest practical jokers if his films did not seem so sincere in what they are trying to deliver. While some may have grown to find Malick’s style insufferable, I am far more willing to give credit to the ambition of breaking away from tradition to fuel one’s own idea of how to best realize the desired story to tell. Of course, as a fan of the Malick films considered more traditional (Badlands) and his more recent abstract ventures (Tree of Life), I do still have to weigh what this film has to offer overall.

Knight of Cups may lack the majesty of what I personally find most affecting in the other works of Malick, but I still found it interesting. Not a film that everyone will be inclined to embrace, but there is plenty put on display to make you wonder why this exists in the first place. An odd line of thinking, but this film isn’t exactly ‘normal’.

Video:

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail: With Chivo behind the lens, it is not surprising to see a great looking film like this continue to look great on Blu-ray, thanks to a commitment providing a great release. Crystal clear imagery is present throughout this film, whether in the dark or in the light. There is a rich level of detail found in all the richly composed and improvised shots. It’s an obscure film, but a splendid-looking one.

Depth: Movements are smooth and always play well with the background and foreground elements.

Black Levels: Black levels are rich, deep and inky.

Color Reproduction: Given the setting, the color spectrum is all over the place and we get all the richness you would hope. The water, environments, buildings and costumes all pop here.

Flesh Tones: The facial textures are wonderful, especially given all the intense close-ups we receive.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Spanish DTS Digital Surround 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish

Dynamics: The lossless 5.1 audio track is perfectly complimentary to the film. You get to take in all the different levels of sound design that go along with this intriguing film. The alluring score, scattered dialogue and more all make their way through your speakers and nothing ever feels off.

Low Frequency Extension: There is a lot of whispered dialogue, but every now and then some moments shine through on the LFE channel, such as the sounds of an earthquake early on.

Surround Sound Presentation: There is a great use of all the channels to properly immerse you in the world created by this film.

Dialogue Reproduction: Of the dialogue there is, whether it is whispered or heard amidst a crowd of others, you always get a sense of what is being said and in the right way.

 

Extras:

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Given that I’m still waiting for a Criterion Collection release for The Tree of Life, it is not all that surprising to see a fairly barebones release for Knight of Cups. It only offers a brief making-of and nothing else to garner much insight.

Features Include:

  • The Making of Knight of Cups (HD, 16:02) – As expected, no sign of Malick, but Bale and much of the rest of the cast all make an appearance to talk about the nature of making a movie like this. It’s decent, but far too brief.
  • Previews (HD)

Summary:

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Knight of Cups certainly has plenty of cinematic flair on display, as Malick essentially let his actors and crew run wild with deliberately elaborate shots and a loose handle on the script/dialogue. The result is a film that doesn’t feel jumbled, but will make some viewers search extra hard for its meaning. The Blu-ray at least does proper justice to the audio and video departments, as this film looks and sounds great. Too bad about the lack of extras though. If you’re into Malick or obscure films, this is one to check out.

 

Order Your Copy Here:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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