Vroom, Vroom… edited

 …I believe that’s the distant sound of a lone Harley Davidson that I hear, revving its engine somewhere in preparation for the long ride ahead.


…or maybe it was the publicity machine finally roaring to life. Sunday, July 24, was just sixty days ahead of the September 23rd release for Marc Forster’s Machine Gun Preacher, and it would seem we got our first little tickle from the team at Relativity and/or Virgin Produced.

A short little blurb of an interview was posted in USAToday and online at their website, featuring a few words from Gerard Butler who stars as Rev. Sam Childers and it was picked up by movie sites and blogs all over the web. I think I personally got news alerts from about ten different sources. This is fantastic!

What is disturbing however, is how many of them are using the release of this film not to discuss the good works of an actual living, breathing human being, who travels to the most dangerous parts of war ravaged Africa: The Sudan and now the new country of The Republic of South Sudan, in order to try to affect change in the lives of the people that live there one child at a time, but rather that this is another in a historical line of films/books that feature the white man coming to the rescue of the downtrodden "other".

I have to say I don’t understand the argument, or rather, what it has to do with this film. We’re not talking about a white colonial Bwana sitting on his porch and sipping gin & tonics at his coffee plantation who thinks he’s benevolent because he taught the child fanning him with palmetto leaves to read. This is a man who gets his hands dirty and risks his own life, who does what other people are afraid to even think about. Does it even matter why he’s doing it? 

And don’t get me started on those that are already complaining that the title is deceptive and that there won’t be nearly enough machine guns and far too much preaching for their tastes, all of which is based on one blurb and one set photo…

However, having said all of that, I am very aware that there is no such thing as bad publicity and if it gets people talking about the film at all, so be it. I will now step down off of my soapbox to do the fabled *demented poodle dance* of joy that the games have officially begun! Woot!

This will, of course, not be by any means, my final word on this subject

****Machine Gun Preacher and Coriolanus will both screen at the Toronto International Film Festival. This demented poodle is very happy indeed!

My Daily Moment of Torridly Martial Zen

 I really don’t think words are necessary here…

I think my enthusiasm for, and anticipation of, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus is well documented by now. Every new still, every new tidbit of news hones my appetite the way Tullus Aufidius is honing that big knife…*shudder* it’s been years since I have so eagerly looked forward to the release of a film. (Three years to be exact.) When December 2nd finally arrives, (I have no doubt I will too…many many times)

…yer killin’ me Harvey!

Tom Hardy is Giving Michael Fassbender a Run For His Money!‏

…as the hardest working man in showbiz.

Tom Hardy may not have been on anyone else’s, especially not Hollywood’s, radar before his scene-stealing turn as Eames in Inception, but he’s been on mine since 2008’s RocknRolla.  Now it appears he’s not only on the map, he’s about to become the dread word, ‘ubiquitous’.  Oh no! *slaps cheeks like Kevin McCallister* (I’ve already seen Michael Fassbender referred to that way, as well as Gerard Butler. Some people are never happy.)

"Vulture", the side arm of New York Magazine for all things entertainment and culture related, has reported a few casting tidbits from Warner Brothers. Included among them is the news that Tom Hardy is attached to a new Al Capone pic from director David Yates, titled Cicero (after the Chicago suburb where Capone based his criminal empire, not the Roman philosopher.)

Cicero was originally written as a TV pilot by Walon Green, the writer of Sam Peckinpah’s, The Wild Bunch, back in the 70’s, but has been adapted for at least one film, possibly more. There are rumors that the script will be augmented and that the first film will be an origins story and only concern Capone until he reaches the top of Chicago’s infamous underworld; once he gets there and his subsequent downfall would be chronicled in later films.

It’s unclear when filming would take place. Both Hardy and Yates are extremely in demand these days. Yates, director of the last four Harry Potter movies also has another possible multi-film franchise going with a big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s "The Stand" (which has already been filmed for television, twice.) Apparently it’s Warner Brothers that is pushing for it to be made into more than one film as they’re looking for a franchise to fill Harry Potter’s shoes. (Although they do have the next Batman – The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and the Superman reboot, which will all stretch well into the middle of the decade.) Yates isn’t fully committed yet, but needs to decide quickly.

As for Tom Hardy, he’s also got Warrior with Joel Edgerton coming out in September, one of the most hotly anticipated films of the year, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy in November. He just wrapped The Wettest County in the World with the next featherweight champ of the world Shia LeBeuf, which will be released in December, a rom-com of all things, with Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine, This Means War, which will be out February 2012, and is currently filming The Dark Knight Rises for a July 2012 release. He’s scheduled to begin filming the long gestating Mad Max: Fury Road next spring. So considering all of the above films will need to be promoted, which takes a lot of schedule finagaling, if he’s going to be able to do Cicero  alot of maneuvering by Warner Bros. will have to take place behind the scenes. Yates, apparetnly is looking to film Cicero before Hardy leaves for Australia to film Fury Road. If that’s the case, it’ll be happening pretty damn quick so is probably already in pre-production, despite the fact that this is the first "we" have heard of it.

Encore Networks has just announced that they will be entering into the ‘series television’ business. One of their first efforts will be a four part mini from Britain’s Sky 1, called "The Take". It’s a ‘family drama’ set in the criminal underworld that spans 10 years: Beginning in 1984 at the height of Thatcherism to the birth of New Labour. Hardy played Freddie, a man who’s just been released from prison after four years for bank robbery. It aired in 2009 in the UK and will bow in the US in early 2012. (Bit of trivia, this is also where he met his fiance, Charlotte Riley, who played Maggie.) From the series’ official website: "{It’s} a powerful human drama about love, power, violence and betrayal" Ooo, those are some heavy trigger words! Can’t wait!

Frankly, the idea of Tom Hardy playing another gangster (I include university educated drug dealers, fledgling crooks, getaway drivers and bootleggers: Layer Cake, Thick as Thieves, RocknRolla, The Wettest County in the World) makes me want to roll around on the sidewalk and twitch.* I’m not sure I could handle him as one of the most famous of them all, Al Capone. I may need to be sedated.

This seems like a good excuse to post some pics:

As Freddie in "The Take"

*a wink to Holly

Writer’s Block: Subtitles please

There are many foreign films among my favorite movies. I guess my current favorite is The Lives of Others

If after a generation, an American film maker discovers a foreign film and thinks he/she can add something by remaking it, that’s one thing, but I don’t think a foreign film should be remade simply because Americans are too lazy to read subtitles, as with Let Me In/Let the Right One In and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Let Me In was a very good movie, arguably great, but it was diminished for me by having seen the original so shortly before seeing the Americanized version. I anticipate the same will be true of Fincher’s TGWTDT remake. (I’ve said all of this before)

My Daily Moment of Award Winning Zen

 I did two serious movie posts in a row (in two days no less!) I deserve a treat. 

Tonight, Monday July 11,  Gerard Butler received the Actor of the Year Award from the 9th Annual Ischia Global Film & Music Fest during the Casamicciola Gala Dinner and Award Ceremony. Why this year, I have no idea. In 2004, G was given Ischia’s ‘Special Fashion Award’, which is roughly the equivalent of ‘Best New Actor’, for the big screen version of Phantom of the Opera, and it hadn’t even been released yet. These Italians must be prescient lot. Maybe they’re anticipating the success of Machine Gun Preacher and Coriolanus! Yeah! That’s it!

It might also have something to do with the fact that the "host country" this year is the United Kingdom and will include the participation of actors, musicians and assorted industry types from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I have no idea what exactly they mean by "host" since obviously it’s taking place in ITALY, but apparently India, China, Russia, Germany, Brazil, Japan, South Africa and Mexico were "hosts" in the previous eight incarnations of the festival. Good excuse for a party, in any case!

The poor thing. Must be hell to have to travel all the way to attend some boring festival* set on a sun soaked island in the Tyrrhenian Sea and wait for them to hand you an award and say nice things about you; nothing to do but hang around lolling on yachts, yakking to other celebrities, maybe take the occasional dip in the ocean or the pool at your luxury hotel while a parade of bikini clad beauties saunters by like a moveable feast… sucks to be you G.

In any case, I offer my heartfelt congratulations.

Oh and one more thing, I know they must have a gift shop or Quickie Mart or something on that island so next time you’re out for a pack of smokes, pick up some damn SUNSCREEN! *shakes fist*

*actually it must be a blast if my bff, Ryan Kavanaugh is spending his honeymoon there. Damn, who did I piss off in my previous life?

I Have a Lot To Talk About, pt 2

Before I get to the next film, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which JMHO, was very good, very funny, very clever, very vintage Woody Allen, I want to say a few words on what it took just for me to see the damn thing.

On the Friday that it opened here in Boston, I got to the theater to find that the movie was playing in one of the smaller auditoriums of my local megaplex. That’s okay, I expected that. So, as I’m sitting there in my preferred front row center seat, before the film began, as I had been advised to do by Ty Burr of the Boston Globe,* I looked up at the projector at the back of the auditorium and I see two lights (which means they are using the 3D projector for a 2D film,) and I’m about to go say something to the manager when the previews start. The screen did its automatic resizing thing and I noticed that the previews were cut off top and bottom. Okay that happens, I’ve seen it before. Then the movie starts and the movie is cut off top and bottom, and some of the lights are still on in the auditorium! I was about to get up again, but someone else beat me to it and they fixed that. We all continued to watch the movie, (which seemed very dim to me, but I gave them the benefit of that doubt) and then just at the end (last 5 min.), the "film" or whatever broke. The screen went black.

Just as suddenly the movie started up again, but playing over it was all of the pre-movie crap they show you before the previews, including soundtrack. So even though we all knew what was going to happen and we could see it underneath the other stuff, we didn’t get any of the dialogue. So we all left en masse like an angry mob. (I say all, there were probably 25 of us on a Friday afternoon.) An employee was waiting for us outside the auditorium and told us to meet him downstairs, where we all waited in line and got refunds. I actually ended up getting three passes good for any movie, any time, so that was a score.  I was planning to ask the manager giving us the refunds whether or not she realized that ‘that theater’ was at the heart of an internet "controversy" involving the lighting used when screening (there are 19 screens in that theater, one of which is outfitted for IMAX and several – hell maybe all – are 3D capable. I doubt very much they know which bulbs are being used in each auditorium since the pinheads they employ are barely capable of doling out popcorn), and how coupled with incidents like that one, it wasn’t exactly conducive to getting people into the theater. I would have if not for the clamoring rabble behind me. Apparently there was another problem in another auditorium and those people wanted their money back as well.

The second attempt to see Midnight in Paris went much better (especially since the ticket was on AMC), although I swear to god, there was still part of the picture below the screen! (It wasn’t so much as to be distracting, but I wrote a letter to AMC. I wasn’t going to waste my time going to the manager of the theater.) About 2/3 of the way through the film, some woman and her young son (like 9 or 10 yrs old tops) came in and sat behind me in the 2nd row and proceeded to unwrap their snacks and TALK! I don’t mean hushed whispering either. I mean normal voices. I ‘shushed’ them a couple of times then I turned around and said "stfu or I’m having you thrown out". (This did serve to make them be quiet. I suspect that they didn’t have ticket stubs if you know what I mean.) Who the hell brings a kid to a Woody Allen movie? The kid had no interest in it and could not possibly have gotten the references (unless he were some sort of savant and if he were, he’d have shut up and watched from the outset.)

Now, part of that serves me right for not having gone to the “adult” theater in Cambridge to begin with, but I opted for convenience, and I know I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the whole theater experience in general. I want it to be "perfect" and it so frequently is not, but given what I do put up with, think about how many people just will not. THIS is why box office receipts are down. I’ve said all this before, but these problems started with VHS, even before things like HBO. There are now two whole generations that grew up not knowing a world without movies in your living room and they cannot separate the two when they go out to the theater. And that’s BEFORE you get into the problems associated with the light bulbs and inept theater employees. This is the shit that keeps a lot of adults out of the cinema and why we get crap like Zookeeper and Transformers XII because of who they’re getting in. It is my quest to do something about it! *shakes fist* Rant over, let’s get to the movie.

JMHO, but Midnight in Paris is like a bon bon, a confection of a movie that wants nothing more than to be witty and charming, like the perfect dinner guest. Owen Wilson, whom I’ve found increasingly annoying of late, was actually the best Woody Allen doppleganger in a long time. There were times when his speech patterns were so dead on it was uncanny.

His character, Gil Pender, is a successful screenwriter disillusioned with Hollywood and longing to become a ‘real writer’ by finishing his stalled novel. He envisions himself living in a Paris atelier like the “lost generation” of the 20’s that he romanticizes. His bourgeois fiancé and her parents have us easily rooting for him to break free and do just that.

Rachel McAdam’s Inez, could be considered the villain of the piece. McAdams is usually saddled with being sweet and perky, (I say ‘usually’ because one notable exception is The Lucky Ones in which she played a wounded vet returning home from Iraq.) Here she played against type with impressive results. Inez is a shallow, materialistic Daddy’s girl too attached to her wealthy and indulgent parents, who already hen pecks her fiancé and who says things like “You always take the side of the help. That’s why Daddy says you’re a communist.” She also had the guts to let Woody make her ass look enormous.

Aside from the fact that she was eating in nearly every scene, at one point in the film McAdams and Mimi Kennedy (who played her mother) were walking down the street while the camera followed from behind, exaggerating their “assets”. The point being that they "matched". JMHO, it was an illustration of the idea that Inez, like all women, would become her mother. The first time I saw the film I wasn’t sure if that’s what was going on in that scene or not and I didn’t want to mention it if it was just her normal ass. I think she’s always been bottom heavy, relatively speaking in the stick figure world she inhabits, but this was really noticeable. Upon my second viewing, I decided that it was, in fact, a sight gag. Woody’s subtle like that.

The centerpiece of the film, what starts as an excuse for Gil to get away from Inez and the “pedantic” Paul (Michael Sheen, brilliant as always) and his sycophantic wife Carol, walking the streets of Paris late at night, becomes a trip back in time. Gil finds himself invited to swell parties where Cole Porter plays the piano and he gets to meet his idols like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. It is to his credit that Allen does not spend any time explaining “how” this happens, it just does and all he asks is that you take the trip along with Gil.

Woody Allen, love him or hate him, does give his audience some credit for having not only intelligence, but some intellectual curiosity. Taking that assumption as its jumping off point, the film doesn’t waste time explaining all of the characters that populate Gil’s fantastic perception of Paris in the 20’s. One of the things I loved best about Midnight in Paris is that it assumes viewers know the details of the luminous lives that Gil comes across in his travels. If a movie watcher does not know the work of Surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel or that Man Ray was not photographer William Wegman’s dog nor Spongebob’s nemesis, but one of the most influential painters/sculpters/photographers of the 20th century, there is a marvelous invention called Google that I hope he or she would turn to and find out who they were. Gil’s reactions are not merely stilted exposition, they are those of a man who does know who they are and what their accomplishments are. His appreciation is also filtered through the intervening years.

Marion Cotillard is exquisite as a woman Gil meets at a swanky party given by the Fitzgeralds. Not one of the “real” people he encounters, she’s a type. A coquette who has come to Paris from the French countryside to experience the “modern” age (although in a neat twist she spends her time fantasizing about another era gone by, La Belle Epoque – Paris at the turn of the 20th century). When Gil meets her, she is the lover of a young Picasso, having already been with Braque and Modigliani. Gil is enchanted.

The actors playing these famous people were, JMHO, all fantastic, especially Alison Pill as inebriated (perhaps psychotic) party girl Zelda Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll as Hemingway in his prime, already showing signs of his famous hatred of Zelda for ruining his friend Scott and rhapsodizing about courage and honesty and always looking for a fight, Kathy Bates as pragmatic author and patron of the arts Gertrude Stein and most especially, Adrien Brody as a delightfully off-the-wall Salvador Dali. Brody had one scene and he was PERFECT, absolutely inspired. He even managed to arrange his facial features to look like Dali’s. Most of his one scene consisted of repeating the word “rhinoceros”, singular and plural, with various inflections and it is intentionally hilarious. If Judi Dench can win an Oscar for her one scene as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, then Brody should at least be nominated for this.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I have been an Adrien Brody fan since Summer of Sam

(Yes, I’m going to digress a little.) What I continue to admire is how he handles his career. He was the youngest actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor and is still the only American to have ever won a Cesar, the French equivalent. While his role in The Pianist, can be said to have been ‘the role of a lifetime’ and indeed it was a singular performance in a singular role, he’s got much more in him and he hasn’t rested on his laurels by any stretch. He obviously marches to the beat of his own drummer and makes the movies he wants to make (including the Predator reboot. Love it or hate it, he wanted to do it and fought hard to get the part and put himself through a grueling regimen to bulk up for the film once he got it- remind you of anyone?) Take a look at his CV on imdb. His list of credits is long and riddled with brilliant performances, even the smallest of supporting parts, in movies you’ve probably forgotten about. His Noah Percy is the best thing about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, despite a star-making debut by Bryce Dallas Howard and the presence of an all-star cast.

Most of the films he makes are small independents that don’t see the light of day until dvd or even cable. That does not mean, however, they aren’t worthy of your time. It means they don’t have a budget for promotion. (Thank God for VOD – I can’t wait to see Tony Kaye’s Detachment, a hit at the Tribeca Film Festival that doesn’t look like it’s getting a theatrical release.) Brody certainly isn’t doing them for the money.

Well, maybe he made King Kong for the money. Or he might have done it for the opportunity to work with Peter Jackson. Or perhaps it was the opportunity to play a romantic lead. (I’m of the opinion that Adrien Brody is not only handsome, perhaps not in the conventional way, but sexy as hell.)

Oh yeah, she hated it

Speaking of romantic leads, I recently caught Manolete, a film made in 2008 which was just released in the US on dvd (directed by Menno Meyjes, a Dutch filmmaker who wrote the upcoming Black Gold with Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong that I am very much looking forward to) in which Brody played a famous Spanish bullfighter in his last days as he engages in a passionate, destructive affair with actress Lupe Sino. (It’s been retitled for dvd, as A Matador’s Mistress, which puts the emphasis on Penelope Cruz’s character. I don’t get it. I can only assume it has something to do with Cruz’s higher profile of late.) An imperfect film to be sure but worth watching for Brody’s physical and spiritual embodiment of a classic matador. His chemistry with Cruz is incendiary.

Another title you’ve probably never heard of is Wrecked. Brody is practically alone for the entire length of the film, with almost no dialogue as he wakes up after a car crash at the bottom of a ravine with no memory of how he got there, who the dead bodies are surrounding him or even who he is. Bits of the story are revealed inch by inch through his hallucinations and as he struggles (literally crawls) to get up the ravine and to get help. It was mesmerizing. Basically you’re watching everything (fear, anguish, determination) play out on Brody’s face and in his eyes. You can’t look away.

Okay, I’ve stopped gushing. So back to Midnight in Paris. I haven’t talked about the ending because it’s almost incidental. It becomes obvious where the movie will end up, it’s all about how we get there and that we are going where the film has convinced us that we want to go. Bottom line, was it worth the effort involved? Yes, all things considered, for me, it was. Will it lose anything in translation if you wait for dvd? Nah, not really. The main question here is, is it an enjoyable two hours? Absolutely. JHMO, but it’s worth a look just for the witty pastiche of 20’s personalities, particularly Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali.


*Boston Globe 22 May 2011 articles.boston.com/2011-05-22/ae/29571831_1_digital-projectors-movie-exhibition-business-screens

I Have a Lot To Talk About, pt 1

Once again, I’ve been neglecting this blog. It’s not from a lack of desire to write. I’ve just been writing other places and spreading myself thin. I took this week as vacation with the goal that I would rectify this situation. It’s Saturday and I’m just sitting down to do this. Okay, enough…I have a lot to get to. It’s been some time since I did an honest to goodness movie post, and I’ve seen quite a few films since that I, of course, have some thoughts on.

Let’s start with The Green Lantern. What can I say that hasn’t already been said by now? While I do feel that, for the most part, it was a lot of fun, I also think it was so much less than it could have been.

The Green Lantern, who has been around since the 1940’s in one form or another, could still actually be considered a second tier superhero. He doesn’t have the same brand recognition as a Superman or a Batman, except to a loyal core of comic book geeks. The wide world of web engulfed the making of this film in so much hype from the outset. As with other recent web phenomena like Scott Pilgrim vs The World, if you only read web movie sites, you’d think ot was in the bag and the movie would have been a huge hit from day one. But JMHO, the Scott Pilgrim example proves just how small and insular the film community on the web actually is. That film struggled to find an audience and had the promoters backtracking with statements like, "we knew it was a cult film all along." The challenge was always for Warner Bros. and DC comics to expand the movie’s appeal beyond just the fanboys who were salivating for it. The publicity machine went into overdrive to do just that. Millions were spent on promoting it with tv spots, trailers and product tie-ins.

The problem is, the movie they were throwing all of that promo power behind was weak. Critics almost universally panned the film. JMHO, it was more often than not just ticking boxes for variations of a set-list from other denizens of the Marvel and DC worlds. The best thing about it, is that there is enough humor to make us believe they aren’t taking themselves too seriously, something their star Ryan Reynolds is famous for. He always looks as if it’s taking a lot out of him to keep from winking at the camera. But basically, the movie is just more of the same in terms of the genre it represents.
The special effects should have been, in a word, special. Even more so since the filmmakers, while on the publicity tour, all pointed out that the technology had to catch up to be able to bring The Green Lantern to the screen. His exploits most often take place in outer space as opposed to the earthly pursuits of Batman or Spiderman, for example. There had been reports of  ‘techno’ troubles in post-production for months, probably stemming from the fact that the film was retro-fitted for 3D and not filmed that way. The funny thing about that, is that reportedly most filmgoers preferred to see it in 2D.

Back to Reynolds. He wasn’t ‘bad’. He was as believable a superhero as anyone else has ever been, I suppose. And he did look good in his CGI suit. It will probably surprise no one that the performance I had the most trouble with was Blake Lively’s as Carol Ferris. Yeah, she’s pretty. Big deal. I still don’t see how she keeps getting major film roles. Her role in The Town probably got her this gig and my thoughts on that performance are on record. I just never believe a thing that comes out of her mouth. Although in this film, she does get the best line of the movie, “You think I don’t recognize you because I can’t see your cheekbones?” This is the film’s best self-deprecating moment and a definite poke in the ribs to Superman et al. Lois doesn’t know Clark is Supe because he wears glasses? Really? I’ve never understood that.

Peter Sarsgaard must have had a mortgage payment or something. Don’t get me wrong, he was very amusing as nerdy scientist Hector Hammond. I’m just always mystified by what motivates an actor to take a role. My usual rationale is that what they read in the script, get excited about and sign on for is very often not what we see on screen. This film was full of really good actors in teeny, tiny parts, like Tim Robbins and Jon Tenney (What? Yeah, I know. Blink and you’ll miss him.) Temeura Morrison is a good actor, not only that, but he has a distinctive look and voice. I don’t understand why actors with such traits are hired for roles that require them to be completely unrecognizable. The same could be said of Clancy Brown’s Parallax, although I guess the case could be made for them as well as the inclusion of Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan, which I have less of a problem with, that they’re all just voicing cartoons. But seriously, wtf was up with Angela Bassett’s David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust hair? Having never read the comics I don’t know, but does that scientist really run around in sky-high Louboutins?

Of course, Mark Strong’s Sinestro was the best part. Much has been made of the fact that Sinestro gets little screen time and Mark Strong is underutilized (which is said of just about every film he appears in. There’s never enough. I’m still incensed over The Eagle), but even I, as a big MS fan, realize that they are missing the point. This Green Lantern is an origins story and it spends a great deal of time on exposition. Its purpose was to get the ball rolling for what is to come and it sets up Sinestro for the next film. We now know who and what he is and where’s he’s “been” so we know where he’s going.

If the next film gets made, and from recent reports Warner Brothers is going ahead with it despite softer than anticipated box office receipts (although I suspect it will make piles via the home market), Sinestro will have a much bigger role. So much will have already been established that the film will be able to focus on the tug-of-war between Hal Jordan and Sinestro as he goes to the dark side (or yellow side as it were.)

Okay, that was far more space than I intended to devote to this subject, but as per usual, once I get rolling…all bets are off. Bottom line: I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. It was a good excuse to sit in the dark and eat popcorn and that is very often the only barometer I need (provided I’ve only paid for a matinee.) That and I don’t immediately wish for those two hours of my life back. So overall, this was a win.

Swinging wildly in another direction is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. I’m not even sure where to begin to discuss this one. I can’t recall a film that has those who’ve seen it so firmly entrenched in one of two camps. They either love it, thinking it’s one of the best films ever made, certainly of this year, or they hate it as a contrived, two and a half hour piece of self-conscious claptrap that belongs on a year-end “worst” list. This film was both loudly ‘booed’ at it’s first screening, and then ultimately awarded the highest honor, the Palme d’Or, at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. I think it all depends on what you’re looking for.

Having said all that, I lean toward the former camp, but I’m not a zealot. The film is incredibly ambitious, but then that’s pretty much Malick’s stock in trade. He’s a filmmaker for whom the word meticulous was invented. Between 1973 and 2011, he’s directed five films. Five. All of them have inspired strong opinions if not outright controversy. Tree of Life is probably the most extreme example.  Visually it’s absolutely stunning and if you are going to see it, then I highly recommend that you do so at the cinema. Unless you’ve got one of those massive home theater setups with 14 speakers and an 82” screen, this will definitely lose something in the translation to dvd. For me, while I was watching the exquisitely beautiful images of natural phenomena, all gorgeously captured by Academy Award nominated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubeski (I think he can safely expect a fifth nomination for Tree of Life), my mind kept turning to Koyaanisqatsi, a 1982 film (that I saw in college and I cannot guarantee that I was not without chemical enhancement of some kind when I did) that is really just a series of images set to the haunting music of Phillip Glass . While there is, by design, no plot in the traditional sense, there is a definite scenario about all life on this planet. The film’s title means ‘life out of balance’. The meaning of the images is meant to be interpreted by the viewer.

I think to some extent, this is what Malick intended here. Bookended by the choreographed images of natural events like volcanoes and rock formations or a fertilized egg slowly traveling to embed itself in the wall of the womb, which are set to one of the most transcendent scores I have ever heard, (Alexandre Desplat utilizing Bach, Berlioz, Couperin, Mozart, Mahler, Smetana, Gorecki, Respighi, and Holst among others,) there is little in the way of straightforward narrative, but it’s very heavy on philosophy and whispered appeals to a higher power. At its core however, the film is a personal reflection by Malick on the relationships of fathers and sons that then expands to include the larger questions of the nature of man’s existence.

With reference to the ‘story’, I can tell you there is very little dialogue. It concerns a family: Father, Mother and three sons. We see them from the birth of the oldest until he is about twelve or thirteen, focusing primarily on the last summer spent in the house (in 1950’s Waco, Texas) that he was born into. The tone is set with the voice over by young Jack (the oldest of the 3 and played beautifully by Hunter McCracken as a boy and in what amounts to a cameo, by Sean Penn as a middle aged man) who tells us that there are "two ways through life, the way of nature and the way of grace," the former represented by Father, the latter by Mother. "Nature is willful, it only wants to please itself, to have its own way." Grace, on the other hand, "is smiling through all things," instilling in us the idea that "the only way to be happy is to love." Yin and Yang reduced to its most basic message. The actors are essentially asked to react to and interact almost silently with the world around them. There are a lot of close-ups of fingertips as they feel blades of tall grass rustling in the breeze of a late afternoon or cool water splashing over bare feet in a yard. I think very deliberately Malick is asking a viewer to “feel” in a far more visceral way than one would by listening to dialogue. I had never seen Jessica Chastain on screen before, but she is one of the reasons I wanted to see this film. She is, in a word, luminous. This is a word I have long associated with Vanessa Redgrave and I cannot wait to see them together in Coriolanus. I can only imagine, if she brings that same quality to that film, how incandescent the two of them could be.

There’s not a doubt in my mind that Brad Pitt has never been better. Even the New York Times described his performance as “graceful”, but this part of the film belongs to Hunter McCracken. None of it ‘works’ in the traditional sense unless we’re able to see the world through his eyes and in his skin.

The narrative concludes with a final mournful voiceover, "Father, mother, always you wrestle inside me. Always you will" before showing us all of the loved ones of a person’s life, in this case Jack, gathered on a beach with what I can only assume are angels. Cut to black.

JMHO, but this is not a film that can be easily digested with one viewing. Basically I just sat there in awe and let the movie swirl around me.

So since once again I have gotten rather long winded, this is

 to be continued…