Sunday, January 29, 2017

Let the Drums Speak!

Unlike many who were around when Bernard Purdie first laid down his sticks, I discovered the man's identity on a record's liner notes, under "Personnel".  Purdie's 2014 (auto?) biography Let the Drums Speak! repeatedly verifies that it was difficult to know who the musicians were back in the day.  His drumming can be heard on a litany of artists' recordings.  Check this list, not even close to being comprehensive:

Count Basie
George Benson
Cannonball Adderly
Wilson Pickett
Al Green
Steely Dan
Stevie Wonder
The Jackson 5
Aretha Franklin
Alison Kraus
The Staple Singers
The Beatles
Frank Sinatra
Nina Simone

And on and on. Purdie was considered the cream of the crop of session players in the '60s and '70s.  His time keeping and ability to play across several genres put him in great demand. His reputation for his skills with reading a chart cold and his knack for helping to create certified hit records became legend in New York, Los Angeles, and pretty much anywhere artists performed and breathed. Purdie even had signs made up that read things like ANOTHER HIT BEING MADE, which he would place by his drum kits at sessions.  Confident guy.

But there was also a fiery brio, a monstrous ego to match, one that sometimes earned him a deserved dressing down.  Herb Lovelle, a hotshot drummer in his own right, is remembered by the author as one who observed a young Purdie treat others with disrespect, and summarily set the boy straight.   In the documentary about the making of Steely Dan's Aja album, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker reminisce of Purdie's extreme confidence, and the drummer is seen confirming this with his own recollections of the recording.  He managed to convince the notoriously picky duo to allow his patented "Purdie shuffle" a backbeat style that can be heard on "Home At Last" quite clearly.  Also on the later "Babylon Sisters" from SD's 1980 album Gaucho. 

The large personality started early in Purdie's life,  as he grew up as an enterprising but dirt poor kid in Elkton, Maryland in the '40s and '50s.  We get a decent sketch of his (large)family life, often in very cramped quarters. Purdie's ability was obvious from the earliest days, and Let the Drums Speak! spends its early pages on Bernard's (then known as "Bugsy") association with a stern drum teacher who initially only let the boy listen in from the stoop outside.  Much later, when Purdie finally made it to NYC, he spent much energy trying (and once failing spectacularly) to impress Harlem bandleader King Curtis.  Their relationship provides the most satisfying portion of this rather frustrating book.

That's the thing.  For a portrait of such a gifted artist, you'd think someone blessed with the ability to write would've been given the task to document what must have been a highly colorful life.  Purdie himself is credited, yet the book is written entirely in the third person.  I just don't get it.  It creates an odd effect, like someone trying to be cute or weird, never referring to themselves as "I".  I would've accepted this if the writing wasn't so clipped and just, bad. No flow, no real effort at transitions or segues. Even incorrect dates and at least one incomplete sentence!! Let the Drums Speak! reads like a pile of notes that need to be fashioned into a coherent, smooth whole.

Even though Steely Dan get an entire chapter, the near non-information is maddening.  Was Purdie trying to be polite? He does pay them respect, but at least a few anecdotes would've been nice. There have to be some good tales.  Maybe Fagen and Becker (who did contribute some in the Aja video) can elaborate someday. And the acknowledgment of the Ringo Starr controversy? The one that alleges that Purdie overdubbed some of the Beatles' drumming? Another disappointing chapter.

All sad to report.  Even sadder, as I have a signed copy of this book.  A family member met Purdie in a restaurant one night in New Jersey.  I was expecting something as expert as the man's licks.  Unless you're just burning with curiosity, I think skipping the printed word and just listening to the music will tell you far more.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


2016's SILENCE is one of the most (quietly) bold films to come out of Hollywood in some time.  Master director Martin Scorsese oversees this lengthy, sometimes difficult to watch adaption of Shusaku Endo's 1966 novel which details the journey of two young Jesuit priests.  Upon receiving a letter describing the apostasy (renouncing of faith) of their mentor in Japan, Fathers Garupe and Rodrigues travel from Portugal to Nagaski in the 17th century to find him.

The film was a decades long passion for Scorsese, who grew up Catholic and had once sought the priesthood.  Catholicism has played a role in (arguably) every major Scorcese picture, most obviously in RAGING BULL, MEAN STREETS, and the ultra controversial LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST, which had moments that imagined how Jesus would act if he were human.   But I see such imagery even in lesser regarded works like BRINGING OUT THE DEAD and WHO'S THAT KNOCKING ON MY DOOR? too.  Its protagonists seeking redemption at every turn, their sometime bloodletting (and being bled upon) a sort of stigmata.

SILENCE spends its 2 and 1/2 plus hours slowly, painfully examining the cost of clinging to one's faith.  Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, quite good under such a weighty role) and Garupe (Adama Driver, good but perhaps underused) travel the unfamiliar terrain, a source of comfort and peace to Christian villagers who welcome the sacraments.  The priests hold underground churches at night and feel blessed to be fulfilling what they believe is God's Will, to spread the gospel into a very foreign land.

Inevitably, inquisitors and dissenters (one bearing more than a likeness to Judas) will bring the missionaries' identities out of the shadows.  The Buddhist samarai know that martyring the priests only serves to inspire the faithful, so they (slowly) torture and kill the followers in their place.  Each soul is able to spare such a fate by denying their religion, by placing their feet on a crudely carved image of Christ on a plate.  Most cannot.  Horrible, gruesomely creative tortures await.  All the while, Rodrigues, later separated from Garupe, watches helplessly as he is imprisoned and repeatedly betrayed.  He is driven by unwavering devotion, and occasional appearances of an El Greco portrait of Christ.  Perhaps also by religious pride?

"Helplessly"?  The governor and his court calmly remind Rodrigues that all of the suffering can end with a simple act,  a "formality" - stepping on the fumi-e.  It's almost a non-Christian correlate of the simplicity of asking Jesus into one's heart, to accept Christ.   Rodrigues agonizes, then agonizes some more. Is he clinging to Catholic ritual? Is he trying to become Jesus?  He sees be-headings and other grisly acts, desperately calling out to God.   He is not inspired or encouraged when he at last finds Father Cristovao (Liam Neeson).

Will the voice of God finally answer Rodrigues as he watches another ghastly bit of punishment doled out to steadfast Christians?  If the voice does come, is it really Divine, or just the priest's desperation?

SILENCE has been controversial among many Believers who feel that the film endorses, or at least tolerates the act of denying one's faith to save the lives of others.   The lives of others to which one friend of mine referred as mere "bodies".  To die is gain! What is there to be gained in a life that requires one to spit upon a crucifix? To tread on a holy image? To renounce faith publicly, even as the Bible instructs to confess Him before men? Even if one secretly holds Christ in his heart?

But what about faith being made perfect in weakness? Can Rodrigues be seen as humbling himself, casting away that aforementioned pride?  Many Christians won't see it that way.

Scorcese and co-writer Jay Cocks give patient viewers much to ponder (with Thelma Schoonmaker's measured editing, this is almost factored in).  Were those who are tortured worshipping Christ, or merely the padres who proclaim His name and take confessions? How would these followers define their faith? Would they have learned about Jesus and His salvation in their described "swamp" had the padres never arrived? That question could fuel a debate of the very idea of missions itself, how invading a land with a message that does not jive with the culture (and its long history) is inappropriate, disrespectful, even dangerous. Is the "Good News" just that? Were Cristovao and Rodrigues ultimately more like Jesus as they resigned to their fates, or just sell outs?

P.S.  The Academy has all but shut out SILENCE, with only a nomination for cinematography.   I've never been one to readily accept that there is a conspiracy against Christians (and Christian films, although most are complete dreck) in Hollywood, but for such an amazing, Scorcese directed film to be ignored certainly makes the case. 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Alex in Wonderland

Alex wanders around what is likely to be his future home, calculating how much he'll eventually pay in interest.  Wondering what is life will be like in thirty years, the length of the mortgage.  He'll be 66. Will he still be directing movies?  It is all so unknowable, especially for a guy who constantly questions everything. Philosophical inquiries are as natural for him as breathing.  He asks nearly every character in the film what three foods would they select if they were stuck on a desert island forever.

Alex (Donald Sutherland) has finished his first movie.  The buzz is favorable. Screenings go well.  Probably will be a hit.  He wonders if he's already peaked.  No where to go but down.  He's already worried about selling out.  Of course he wants to make meaningful, important, socially conscious films. Lots of scripts come his way.  He has a few ideas of his own.  But what will he decide to do next?

1970's ALEX IN WONDERLAND was the "next" film for director Paul Mazursky after his break out hit and  counter cultural benchmark BOB & TED & CAROL & ALICE.  It seems like a cop out to have your sophomore effort be about a guy in his shoes.  I'm not saying it's easy to concoct, no, but it's awfully precious.   The "woe is me" artist dirge often comes off embarrassingly.  While I can sympathize with the plight of an artist who struggles with the sort of career and legacy he'd like to leave, I also lose patience.

Sutherland does the morose bit quite well, enough so that I wanted to feed him enough hallucinogens to shut him up at times.  I felt sorry for his wife, Beth (Ellen Burstyn, in an underdeveloped role), who breaks down late in the film, unsure of how to have a relationship with such a self-absorbed boar.  With all these kvetches, I wonder if Mazursky in fact succeeded in his goals for this movie.   That does not make it fun to watch, necessarily.  Maybe a short film would've sufficiently made the point?

Of course, ALEX IN WONDERLAND is a big hat tip to Fellini's 8 1/2, which would certainly be time better spent.   In case you didn't catch that, Fellini has a cameo, playing himself, shown editing his telefilm THE CLOWNS.  Also, Alex tells his daughter about that famous movie in one of those types of explanation scenes that I find gratuitous.  Did Mazursky - who hilariously portrays a producer trying to interest Alex in commercial projects - not trust his audience?   He very effectively captures the zeitgeist of hippie culture throughout the film but even that just becomes exhaustingly self-conscious.  Alex's dreams/fantasies that meld ideas for a new movie and his troubled life range from cute (a musical number with Jeanne Moreau) to clever (a war on Hollywood Blvd.) to ridiculous (a group of buck naked natives dance on a beach).

There have been many self-examinations in cinema since ALEX IN WONDERLAND, including the eye opening ALL THAT JAZZ.  Whether you find them insightful into the creative mind and the eventual process of the creation of art or simply hipster posturing depends on your own sensibilities.  I really did like that last scene, though, as Alex surveys that house and perhaps sees a future that may be more enriching than anything he may commit to celluloid.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip

Watching 1982's RICHARD PRYOR LIVE ON THE SUNSET STRIP, a more self-explanatory title for a movie I can't recall, has always been a bit of an eerie experience for me.  My first encounter with it was when I was fourteen.  It ran on HBO but at the time we only had pay TV competitor Showtime. But - if you had one of those black converter boxes, you would get a scrambled picture, with sound intact.  I cassette tape recorded several HBO comedy specials with Robin Williams and George Carlin.  When Pryor's film came on I was very excited, by then familiar with his comedy albums which I had to listen to on the sly due to their, ahem, rather profane content.  So while the image of SUNSET STRIP had that jumpy line down the middle, I heard every word of the comedian's riotous but chilling monologue.

Eerie.  I laughed a lot, yes, but there was something very uncomfortable about this one.  Not the kind of discomfort when a comic is bombing.  After a slightly nervous start, Pryor was on to the finish, as trenchant as ever.  But he was never merely a guy telling jokes.  He was a natural storyteller, whether relaying childhood tales or doing his Mudbone routine (happily continued in this movie).  He always set out to make his audience twitch, and think.  To confront them.  I imagined many in his audience came to laugh at the outrageous sexual humor, the plethora of obscenities.  To howl at Pryor's ribbing of his own race.  Richard would trap them steadily, then release a torrent of anger, though not always so obviously.   He was not a side show act, a caricature; he was there to convict those who'd use the word "nigger" casually or as a weapon, no matter what color their skin was.  Pryor used the word so much that maybe for some the shock and power of it had long faded.  That was the idea?

SUNSET STRIP is eerie because Pryor should not have been alive to do it.  A few years earlier, after the massive success of his first theatrical concert film, he had nearly burned himself alive while freebasing cocaine.  A miracle.  Apparently God didn't want him yet.  It would've been quite a way to go, an audacious death for an audacious life.   But there he is, clad in red jacket, recounting the events that almost took him to the other side.  It's like hearing/watching a ghost talk about How It Happened.  Or having front room seats to the afterlife and hearing the tale.

I could hear it in his voice.  When I actually saw the movie a few years later, I could see it in a few uncertain moves around the stage.  As mentioned, the confidence was not quite there at first, until he got rolling with his material, covering sex, mobsters, and his eye-opening trip to Africa ("That mother-- looked just like Joe Frazier!").  His delivery eventually found its rhythm, and his act was as engrossing as ever.  But there was still a detectable undercurrent of fear, or sadness. Though if you look hard enough, it bubbles under the surface of most stand-ups' shows.

Pryor was more wounded than many of his contemporaries, and did little to hide this during the SUNSET STRIP show.  That is one of the reasons I find it so fascinating.  Richard Pryor was grateful to have a second chance, to still be around, to make folks double over and feel the sting of recognition of his unmatched examination of race and gender relations in America..  Director Joe Layton thankfully does not utilize intrusive methods in his document, though he commits a common sin in concert films: using audience cutaways that are not in real time with what's happening on stage.  It's a cheat, and the audience here is always shown in hysterics, but it does not detract.  It's a night of comedy, but the darkness is not merely in the shadows this time.  How interesting that Pryor performed this material where he did, a place littered with celebrity tragedy.  But he lived to tell the tale.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Office Space

"Man was not meant to sit in a cubicle" states Peter, our hero in 1999's OFFICE SPACE.  But I'll bet many of you, invisible audience, have been there.  Maybe you're reading this from one right now.  Maybe my blog is a respite from the soullessness of the fluorescent light drenched hell in which you toil.  A place where falsetto voiced secretaries answer endlessly ringing telephones and cuff linked managers saunter around ensuring that their slaves follow protocols.  Some of which involve the most minute details about say, cover sheets. Or how icons line up on your desktop monitor.

Peter (Ron Livingston) is a computer programmer at Initech, who is greatly depressed by the sights and sounds around him but feels powerless to change anything.  He lives in a drab apartment complex comprised of hundreds of identical units.  Lunch is usually at the T.G.I Friday's type chain restaurant that serves things like fried jalapenos drenched in a condiment partially made of some alcoholic beverage. But one night Peter attends a hypnotherapy session.  He leaves with a newfound sense of ...extreme apathy.  A real peace and confidence he's never known before.

He begins skipping work. And loving it.  When he does show up, he cavalierly brushes past his smarmy boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole), previously the bane of his existence.  His co-worker buds, including a guy named Michael Bolton ("It used to be a cool name, before that no talent ass clown became famous"), think he's lost his mind.  Maybe he has, and all the better!  He seems unconcerned with potential consequences, including a lack of money.  But when some corporate types are brought in to downsize the office, they  observe his casual attitude and blatant honesty as an asset, as "upper management material".   It's as if Peter is a sort of Chauncey Gardiner in their eyes.

And I wish writer/director Mike Judge, best known for Beavis & Butthead, had traveled that idea further. Taken this amusing notion to some conclusion.  A minor classic could've been made out of these ideas, but instead they dead end into a tired plot involving penny shaving, or diverting fractions of pennies that will eventually accumulate into large amounts.  Initech won't notice the small increments on a daily basis, it is decided.  "You know, like in SUPERMAN III", the guys reason.

Too bad. OFFICE SPACE might've truly been the anti-establishment classic it's reputed to be.  And even though there are many great Dilbert-like gags that anyone who's ever worked in an office will appreciate, the film falls flat too often.  Jennifer Aniston is also just so-so as the waitress forever frustrated by all the silly buttons, or "flair" she has to sport at a place called Chotchkie's, clearly modeled after Friday's.  She eventually becomes Peter's girlfriend but their chemistry is practically nil.

No one will ever mistake Judge for a master satirist.  He's clearly a very intelligent and insightful guy but his movies (including IDIOCRACY) too often willingly take the low road to make salient points.  He wants to have it both ways - easy crude humor along with more lofty barbs at corporate structure.  OFFICE SPACE is still worth seeing, if only for the plight of poor Milton and the GOODFELLAS homage involving a doomed printer.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Cholo Soy Cocina

My movie saturated mind reeled when I learned that this amazing new taco joint in West Palm Beach is called "Cholo Soy Cocina".   Fans of John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 may recall that the gang laying siege to the police station dropped a banner that read "Cholo".  It was explained by a character a bit later in the film that the word means "to the death."

I've since learned that "cholo" is also South American slang for "ghetto" or "mixed".  Owner/chef Clay Carnes, a self described "food savant" and former Cutthroat Kitchen winner on the Food Network, likes the term as he feels it accurately describes a mix of Peruvian, Bolivian, and Ecuadoran cuisines.  I can tell you that the tacos are the best I've had in quite awhile.  Carnes creates handmade white corn tortillas filled with very high quality meats.  I'm working my way through the menu.  I've had the steak, pollo, and chancho (pork), all fabulous.  Creative, too, with adornments of purple cabbage slaw and pickled pineapple peppers (how's that for alliteration?).  All the vegetables are locally grown.

The menu also includes ceviche, potato cakes, and an egg dish. There are ever changing craft beers on draft. Check this place out, perfectly located on Antique Row.  Only a few tables inside, with a few more out back.  There is some amusing artwork on the walls outside (including Speedy Gonzales). 

Cholo Soy Cocina
3715 South Dixie Highway
West Palm Beach, FL  33405
(561) 619-7018

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Neil Young: Heart of Gold

Was he planning only for believers
Or for those who just have faith?
Did he envision all the wars
That were fought in his name?
Did he say there was only one way
To be close to him?

When God made me
When God made me

Neil Young often appears haggard and pissed when we see him interviewed, or maybe he's just weary.   He's certainly been around.  He suffered a brain aneurysm, which thankfully was successfully managed with surgery.  This occurred around the time he recorded the Prairie Wind album in 2005.  It would be a return to acoustic guitar, to a sound beloved on earlier efforts like Harvest Moon and his classics of old.

In 2006's filmed record of two Nashville shows, NEIL YOUNG: HEART OF GOLD, the singer/songwriter appears grateful.  Content.  He's not on fire during this show, not in a politically or socially charged activist sort of way.  And this is no blistering electric set.  Young strums the Martin D-28 that Hank Williams once played in that very same hall, the Ryman Auditorium. He plays a banjo as he sings about a beloved dog, "Old King".  Emmylou Harris, looking more beautiful than ever,  is there to accompany him at times, as are The Memphis Horns and the Fisk University Jubilee Singers.

The selected tunes are mostly optimistic but often elegiac.  The first half of director Jonathan Demme's movie features songs from Prairie Wind - songs about Young's childhood, the ukulele his father gave him, God, and his college bound daughter in "Here For You" which he jokes belongs in the "empty nest genre" and that perhaps a new radio format can be created for such music. The second half of the film was recorded at a different show, with long time faves such as "Needle and the Damage Done" and "Old Man", which has an interesting story as to its inception.  Young dedicates the song  "Comes a Time" to his late friend and colleague Nicolette Larson, who scored a big hit in the late '70s with Young's "Lotta Love".

Demme, of course well known for the amazing Talking Heads concert film STOP MAKING SENSE, again frames musicians on a stage in unobtrusive yet always visually intriguing ways.  His camera people artfully capture everything without fuss, without spectacle.  And it all plays so fluidly, edited by Andy Keir with surety.  My being extremely familiar with every single shot of STOP MAKING SENSE had me (thinking I was?) seeing some similar shot compositions and cuts in HEART OF GOLD, but unlike the earlier movie it begins and ends with a whimper, pained observance.  Neil Young sits in a chair playing "The Old Laughing Lady" to an empty theater during the credits.  It's a perfect sendoff.

Friday, January 6, 2017

La La Land

Writer/director Damien Chazelle's LA LA LAND from this current Oscar season is a well meaning, ambitious attempt at recreating big yesteryear Hollywood movie musicals.  It tries, really tries hard.  But within seconds of its opening, I knew that this movie would be an also-ran, a misfire, despite the considerable talents of its cast and crew.   I really wanted to love this movie.

LA LA LAND begins with gridlock on a freeway, frustrated drivers mouthing the words of one of many forgettable songs by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Hall.  Eventually, they jump on the hoods of their cars, springing across other vehicles, arms skyward.  The back of a truck opens to reveal an entire band.  There's energy and infectiousness, but it somehow doesn't play.  The rhythm is off.  The dancing is, well, amateurish.  The vocals, completely uninspired.  When the scene concluded, people in my audience applauded.   Incredulous to me. 

Then there's the cinematography by Linus Sandgren.  Hugely disappointing.  Yes, there are some vivid uses of primary colors, but it overall looks very drab, like a worn 35mm print run through a projector with a bulb of improper wattage.  Can I blame this on my theater's projectionist? How about the "blur" when the camera does wild 180s? Intentional? I appreciate the efforts to preserve the wide shots (and widescreen) of a film in which Fred Astaire might've graced, but when the subjects come off as pale imitators, maybe unsure of their choreography, well...

That's a mild shot at lead actors Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, who play Sebastian and Mia, two young hopefuls who pay their dues in the City of Angels, he as a piano man in restaurants and she as a barrista on the Warner Brothers lot.  He is a serious jazz musician who loves Coltrane and wants to open his own nightclub.  She endures humiliating auditions while dreaming of being a famous actress, and also a writer.  They meet and it's hardly love at first sight.  They clash verbally, but there are undeniable sparks.  She appreciates his fire, his drive.  They fall in love and sing and dance their way among familiar L.A. landmarks like the Griffith Observatory.  The actors are very appealing, but their song and dance, eh...

Maybe that was the point.  Chazelle wanted to create L.A. as a dreamy yet harsh place with traffic jams and dumpy walk-ups and regular joes amongst them.  But things are at odds here.  The Los Angeles of this film is more of a surrealist's musing than a real place, especially as more and more of its history is bulldozed.  Granted, the city is pretty surreal anyway, but Chazelle creates a fairy tale version to suit its broken-heart-for-every-light storyline.  That would be OK, if its cast had the chops to pull off the steps.  I'm sorry, but if you aim for the glory of MGM Cinemascope extravaganzas, you have to have the right players.

And as dedicated as Chazelle is, I'm not sure he was the right director for LA LA LAND.  All of his ideas are in the ballpark and his script is not to be faulted.  He succeeds far more with his statements on the costs of achieving excellence in your craft (and associated fame as well), the trade-offs.  The notion of love goes beyond merely being side by side forever after.  Some of those ideas were expressed in WHIPLASH, Chazelle's previous.  LA LA LAND is his third movie, and all of them have jazz as central to the plot.  Maybe he should've just done a mid century tale of beaten down sax players and drummers?

Or maybe the writer/director should've (re?)screened Woody Allen's clumsy musical EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, which also had awkward choreography and less than stellar vocals, but somehow worked.  Its big stars struggling with the stage business charming in some odd way. 

But I must mention that Gosling and Stone have some chemistry.  I bought their romance in the later passages, and the climax, a daydream of What Could've Been, actually made me a little misty.  It was unabashedly romantic, and it worked for me.  I wish the entire movie had.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Knight of Cups

Some say that Terrence Malick has been adrift in some cinematic neverland the past several years.  Lost in a series of gorgeous yet deeply philosophical coffee table books masquerading as films.  I say that while Malick has (for the most part) remained terrestrial he always had his head in the clouds, or at least pointed skyward.  All the way back to BADLANDS in 1973, his debut as director.  The narration/inner dialogue by Sissy Spacek ("Holly") in that film may have been more complete and informative than the whispers we hear in 2016's KNIGHT OF CUPS and some of the other recent films.  But the same ethereal voice was there.  The recognizance of the supernatural.  At least to this viewer.

Malick is quite transparent in his use of Christian imagery, even having passages of Pilgrim's Progress quoted by a narrator in KNIGHT OF CUPS.  This time, a man named Rick (Christian Bale) wanders Los Angeles in what appears to alternate between stupor and regret.  Desultory meetings with crude Hollywood executives.  He's apparently a screenwriter whose done well enough to afford trendy apartments and several women, each of whom we meet after screen titles (inspired by Tarot cards) like JUDGMENTTHE HIGH PRIESTESS, and DEATH appear, leading us through more and more scenes of Rick walking away from (or being walked away from) an ex-wife (Cate Blanchett), a stripper (Teresa Palmer), and a young woman who already has a husband (Natalie Portman), among others.  There are many shots of people standing far apart from each other, great divides between them.

It is through a guy named Tonio (Antonio Banderas), a unapologetic lothario, that perhaps we get a surface take on Rick and his many women - "You like raspberry for awhile, than you get tired of it and want, strawberry."  Rick waltzes with them all in a series of quick edits, much like Ben Affleck did in TO THE WONDER.  There are scenes of kissing, hugging, play, and inevitably, discord.  In a snippet of images we get a summary of the wine to vinegar progression.  The woman will withdraw, appear sad.  Say things like "You don't want love, you want a love experience."  The ex-wife, a physician who follows her groom to L.A., is glimpsed among the fakery of a Hollywood backlot, asking Rick if he regrets bringing her here. Here. Where?  Interesting location choice, Mr. Malick.

Then the women are gone.  Rick walks through empty apartments. One time he gets robbed.   His father Joseph (Brian Dennehy) and brother Barry (Wes Bentley) are seen here and there, still around to remind Rick of the deceased brother and son they lost.  Joseph and Rick grieve not only for the dead, but for Barry, wracked by addictions.  Among the whispers we hear Joseph wonder how his sons became so self-centered, so wayward.  I sacrificed for my children, that's how I was raised.  But we also hear his offers of unfailing love and acceptance.  Always ready to receive them with open arms.

There are moments where others ask why Rick never had children.  Would they offer salvation? Or at least a way to take focus off of self? What does it mean when Rick gives a sideways smirk at a baby carriage?

Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography is necessarily stunning, as beautiful as Malick's......screenplay? Can we even call it that?  Bale reports that the director had no shooting script on location, among those swaying palms and impossibly blue swimming pools and skies.  Many returns to the ocean, but also the desert.  I like to believe that Malick orchestrated every single lovingly designed shot beforehand, or maybe they revealed themselves to him.  This movie will do the same.

Oh, you can criticize the listlessness, the arguable excess of the parade of naked young women, that Bale's character may be little different than Hugh Grant's character in ABOUT A BOY or a thousand others. But KNIGHT OF CUPS will offer the patient more than just pretty images.  It will connect in mind and soul long after the viewing and with several more.  Like with any other Malick.