THE TREE OF LIFE

June 23, 2011

Terence Malick’s films are often about images and ideas, and sometimes this makes them hard to discuss.

Malick, who wrote and directed this work, has made only five feature films in the last 40 years:  Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World, and now The Tree of Life.

The Tree of Life is gorgeous to look at and deals with important emotional themes, but because it covers the period from the big bang to contemporary America, it’s hard for viewers to navigate so much time and space to explore one man’s personal emotional issues, which are revealed by focusing mainly on his childhood.

The film is both huge and very, very particular, and it’s the particulars that I find most important because there is an authenticity to these moments and vignettes from his youth that reveal so much about who this man is, things I’m sure he could not explain even if he tried.  The two sequences with the Noah’s Ark toy serve as an illustration.

One central idea explored here is that his father represents nature (all about himself and exercising his will) while his mother represents grace (subsumed into the will of others), which is compelling but abstract and absolute in ways that real people are not.

How does our main character resolve what these two dominant figures teach him?  As we see in snippets from his adult life, he does not integrate the ways of being very well.  But, the thing we know, of course, is that there are other ways of being separate from the universe of this film.

Aren’t most of us somewhere between the poles revealed here as nature and grace?  What makes the idea so compelling on screen (and it is beautifully rendered) is the purity of the idea, the absoluteness of it, but this is only one model for explaining our identities and how we become who we are.

This is not a film for a wide, mainstream audience.  Don’t go to the theater expecting a story in the conventional way we think about narrative.  This is much more poetic than that, which is a pleasant but challenging break from commercial Hollywood film.

I admire and respect The Tree of Life as a very ambitious work, and the film gives me a lot to think about, though it does not touch me as deeply as some of Malick’s earlier films on first viewing.

 

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A Lot to Think About

June 22, 2011

Just saw The Tree of Life…I have a lot to think about and will report back!


GREEN LANTERN

June 20, 2011

Well…Peter Saarsgard is terrific as Hector Hammond, and the green necklace Hal Jordan gives Carol Ferris would look nice around my neck, but the best thing to recommend Green Lantern is that there’s a lot of chartreuse involved (my favorite color).

Hey, I thought it was better than The Green Hornet


13 ASSASSINS

June 19, 2011

The tag line tells you almost all you need to know about the story:  “A group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord.”  It doesn’t tell you how good the film is, and it doesn’t tell you that these guys are Samurai warriors.

Beautifully photographed and well executed directorially (oooooh…I guess that is a bit of a bad pun, though not intended that way), I was drawn into the story early on and stayed involved with the characters and invested in killing the bad guy until the very end (he’s a REALLY, REALLY BAD guy by the way).

Funny, though, what I consider most when I think of 13 Assassins are the colors, mainly rich shades of green and muted shades of gray, and a curiously intense love story that is a slight part of the narrative but as indelible to me as the whisper of a true love’s name across time and space.

If the truncated love story is not appealing to you, perhaps the gory fight sequences will be.  Plenty of heads are going to roll, and some may even be kicked before the outcome is revealed.  Lots of action here…and a teeny bit of love.


SUPER 8

June 17, 2011

J.J. Abrams is probably best known for TV shows like Lost and Alias, and he has directed films like Mission Impossible III and the 2009 Star Trek, but this time around Abrams writes, directs, and produces in a style that reminds us intentionally of films of the late 70s and the 80s, especially some of the Spielberg films.  (By the way, Steven Spielberg is one of the producers on Super 8.)

The film is set in 1979 and follows a group of young teenagers as they make a zombie movie on super 8 mm, the home movie format that preceded home video.  While they’re shooting late one night, there is a mysterious train wreck, and things really get weird when the military comes in and takes over the town.  It’s basically a monster movie.

The production design evokes the time period perfectly, but it’s the production techniques, especially the use of the camera, that really makes this film look like films of the era it represents.

This is what makes Super 8 fun – it definitely evokes iconic films like ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind – but I don’t think it’s a special movie except that I do like the performances of the young leads, Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, and I enjoy Kyle Chandler and Ron Eldard as their dads.  The film is good, it’s likely to be a cut above many if not most of the other summer films, but it’s not particularly special.

You might say Super 8 is slightly less than the sum of its parts.

 

 


MIDNIGHT IN PARIS

June 15, 2011

I prefer Luke Wilson to Owen Wilson…and I prefer older Woody Allen films like Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Hannah and Her Sisters to Allen’s more recent films.

But, as Owen Wilson films go, this is one of his better efforts, and as recent Woody Allen films go, this one is…pleasant.

If that sounds like faint praise, sometimes pleasant is good enough.

Midnight in Paris is the story of a screenwriter named Gil, played by Wilson, who has written a novel and longs to be part of the colony of artists that inhabited Paris in the 20s.  He would like to move to Paris, but his fiancée (played by Rachel McAdams) likes the Southern California lifestyle and all that it implies for Allen (think back to Annie Hall if you need a refresher on this).

One night while rambling, Gil meets up with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and later with Ernest Hemingway and other nights he encounters Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein – who encourages his work! – Luis Bunuel and others.

Don’t let the time travel aspect of the film throw you off.  Woody Allen takes a metaphysical tack in some of his films – I don’t especially like many of those except Zelig – but Midnight in Paris is better than some of Allen’s films in this category so long as you get the references.

The basic idea is that no one sees the artistry of the age he or she inhabits.  I won’t spoil the plot twists that bring Gil to this realization, but he comes to understand that everything seems rather mundane as it is happening because only with time comes context.

If you know something about the writers and artists and musicians and something about their lives, then you get the jokes and Midnight in Paris is moderately entertaining, but it is a modest film.

In this regard, it reminds me of the 2008 movie Me and Orson Welles.  If you know about Welles’ work in radio with the Mercury Theater and his stage work and the films that are coming soon after the period covered in this movie, then it’s a lot of fun to watch.

If a viewer lacks that context, however, the film doesn’t stand on its own very well.

 

 

 


CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS and THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD

June 2, 2011

Summer is doc friendly (in theaters on on TV — more on that later), and I have seen two very good ones recently.

Werner Herzog’s latest Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a 3-D film that takes viewers inside the Chauvet caves in Southern France where the oldest known drawings by humans have been discovered.

This film really captivated me, and I think 3-D is an asset here (though usually it’s just a gimmick insufficient to save lackluster, big budget extravaganzas).   In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, the effect gives viewers a sense of what it would be like to see the actual drawing.  Given the strictly controlled access to the caves to preserve the site, we’re unlikely to see them in any other context.

This film is a perfect blending of science and the humanities, and it both touched me profoundly and sparked deep creative impulses along with a desire to embark on some great adventure.

I loved Morgan Spurlock’s new film, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.  Spurlock, who burst on the scene in 2004 with Supersize Me, has created a polished, mature, and very important film that looks at the role product placement plays in the entertainment business.

This is a funny but very smart film that deserves to be widely seen.  You won’t regret searching it out!