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February 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Press conferences at film festivals can sometimes seem like the gatherings of adoring fans. Directors and stars enter the conference room to the applause and even the cheers of the assembled reporters and critics. And rarely is a disapproving tone evident in any of their subsequent questions. Then they retreat to the press rooms and often bang out scathing reviews. Such has been the case at the current Berlin Film Festival, where critics are expressing disappointment with even the most anticipated entries in this year’s competition. A couple of cases in point: Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert: starring Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, the explorer/historian/diplomat known as the female Lawrence of Arabia. Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s Guardian awarded the movie two stars and called it “a bit of a plod.” Those were comparatively kind words considering some of the other reviews. Geofrey Macnab in Britain’s Independent said that he often felt that he was “watching an overcooked TV miniseries-style melodrama.” David Rooney in the Hollywood Reporter called it a “pedestrian retelling of an extraordinary life, more often starchy than stirring.” Similarly the BBC’s Matthew Anderson regarded it as “a disappointingly ordinary film from a director whose work is usually so wonderfully strange.” And Neil Young at slapped the film with a D- grade and minced no words. The film, he wrote, was an outright “catastrophe” — a “stunning misfire” — a film that Bell herself would “surely have despised.” Then there was Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, starring Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, which premiered on Sunday at the Berlinale. Now ordinarily Malick commands almost worshipful respect from festival critics (even though the director himself never makes an appearance). But not this time around. “At times, the director’s approach is utterly ridiculous,” commented the Independent‘s Macnab. Tim Robey, in London’s Daily Telegraph remarked that the film “shows a director running on empty.” But Andreas Borcholte of Germany’s Der Spiegel suggested that it was inevitable that Malick would receive mixed reviews for his film. “For some he is the last great poet of the New Hollywood, for others an esoteric spinner whose movies are more and more unbearable,” he wrote.