Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Tree of Life is the latest film from Terence Malick, director of Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World. This being his fifth film since 1973, Malick is a very sporadic director, if artistic – his films have been said to be about a search for identity and spiritual presence.

This statement is heavily reflected in The Tree of Life, especially in the characters of a couple played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain as they deal with the grief following the death of one of their three sons. The film also features Sean Penn as one of the other sons, Jack, grown up and an architect in a contemporary cityscape. Jack stands around moodily reminiscing to his childhood. This childhood takes up the largest portion of the film, with young Jack (Hunter McCracken) struggling between two contrasting methods of parenting – his father (Pitt) is strict and controlling while his mother (Chastain) is more liberal and empathetic – the consequences of which are reflected in Penn’s discontent with the world.

All the leads, including Pitt and particularly Penn, give excellent performances. With the dialogue sparse, the bulk of the acting is in the non-verbal expressions, which they all manage in a brilliantly nuanced manner.

Even child actor Hunter McCracken is good – but with a name like that, I wouldn’t expect him to be in arty films like The Tree of Life. I hope to see this when he’s old enough to be an action hero.

But this family’s story is not all, of course. The narrative leaps around a lot, showing the Big Bang, the formation of planets and even dinosaurs. There’s an injured dinosaur and then another dinosaur comes along and nearly kills it but then doesn’t, which may or may not represent something along the lines of the birth of human kindness in the universe. It’s all linked together by the themes of life and spirituality and is all visually poetic, beautifully shot and deep, with meaning behind everything. I did really like the spacey universe sections. The dinosaur section, on the other hand, I felt was entirely pointless and didn’t add enough to the film, having no narrative connection to the main story of the family.

While a lot of the film is excellent, I did feel that it’s too long overall and at times becomes overindulgent and, dare I say it, boring. (Don’t give me any of that “Ooh, you just don’t get it, you uncultured swine” business – Le Quattro Volte was one of my favourite films of the year so far, and that was about the everyday lives of a goat and a tree. So there.)

There’s also a bit near the end where Penn’s Jack goes to what is probably meant to represent Heaven (though I find it funnier to interpret it as “Sean Penn’s acid trip”) and all the characters, dead and alive, are happily reunited and prance around hugging for what must be at least ten minutes. I wasn’t sure whether to throw up or have a nap.

The Tree of Life will be loved by some and hated by some. I’m in the middle, more inclined towards the loving side. It’s definitely not for Jurassic Park fans who’ve heard that it has dinosaurs in, but if you’re interested in the artistic side of film, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Review in video format for lazy illiterates:

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

My last video review was immensely popular and at least two people have asked for more, so I shall give the people what they demand. If you don't want to hear my voice, I've done a more in-depth written version on The Film Pilgrim - my first review for the site, as part of a pair of two reviews with my fellow critic who had the opposite opinion. I'll make sure to disagree with people more often in the future. The video was actually recorded before writing this time, so it's not as scripted and wooden.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently acquired, at excellent value, a box set of seven Coen brothers films. Perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that I hadn't actually seen five of these. I do, however, very much like the Coens' distinct style and these five were on (or have retrospectively been added to) my "films to watch" list. The first I watched was The Big Lebowski.

In this classic Coen comedy with a considerable cult following, Jeff Bridges plays Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, an umemployed slacker who spends his spare time doing the usual - bowling, driving around, the occasional acid flashback. El Duderino (if you're not into the whole brevity thing), initially mistaken for a millionaire who shares his name and angered when mysterious thugs urinate on his favourite rug, is drawn into a Chandler-esque mystery when "The Big Lebowski" employs him to courier the money for his kidnapped wife's ransom.

Placing this slacker character into the detective role for such a plot structure, with His Dudeness solving the mystery though rarely putting in any effort, lends the film a wonderfully unique sense of humour with a plethora of quotable lines (hey, half of this review is made up of quotes), mixed with a light-hearted criticism of American values. This is exemplified by the supporting characters, most notably John Goodman's Walter, a Vietnam vet who specialises in reminding people that he is a Vietnam vet. John Goodman has the perfect face for playing an aggressive, racist Vietnam vet, don't you think? It's the large squareness.It's evident that the Coens wrote all the roles well with the particular actors in mind, even for seemingly minor characters: Steve Buscemi's dim Donny, John Turturros's sex offender bowling supremo Jesus and Phillip Seymour Hoffman's sycophantic butler Brandt are all iconic and memorable. As for Sam Elliott's stranger - his voice adds a unique cool to the narration. Whoever he is.

With the Coen brothers' typical combination of rich visuals with wry, ironic humour, The Big Lebowski is a cool and fun yet surprisingly meaningful comedy. I could write many pages about how it portrays the idea of what it means to be a hero and criticises American society.

Fuck it, let's go bowling.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

On 9.7.11 by KieronMoore in , , ,    No comments
As I mentioned two posts ago, I have a list of books and films to work through over the summer. I recently crossed Heat off the film section of the list, which, as I mentioned one post ago, I quite liked. See, there is an order to all this! Or, as Lyotard would call it, a metanarrative. Damn, I need to be more postmodern. Maybe I should go off on more tangents about complex theoretical concepts. Or I could be self-referential and reference the fact that I'm writing a blog in my blog.

Anyway, in order to accelerate my motion through this list, I recently went shopping. I bought several books and, accidentally (brain said "no thanks", mouth said "yes"), a HMV reward card. I also saw a Coen Brothers seven-film box set for £12, but didn't buy it for reasons I couldn't comprehend. Later, I regretted the madness of turning down such great value. Tormented over many sleepless nights by my own failure to carpe diem, I wondered whether the same box set was available on eBay. It was, for £11.24.
My mind is now at rest.

Out of my new collection of books, the first I read was 1984, George Orwell's famous dystopian vision of the future (which is now the past, but was the future in the more distant past) which serves as a stark warning against the dangers of a totalitarian government. My verdict: doubleplusgood.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

On 6.7.11 by KieronMoore in , , , ,    1 comment
I’ve just watched Michael Mann's 1995 crime thriller Heat. Why have I not watched Michael Mann's 1995 crime thriller Heat before? It's excellent.

Al Pacino plays Vincent Hanna, an LA cop on the trail of a gang of thieves led by Robert De Niro’s Neil McCauley. But Hanna’s not without his own troubles, as his devotion to his work stretches his third marriage to breaking point, while his stepdaughter, who would grow up to be the Natalie Portman we know and love, is depressed due to being neglected by her real father. Meanwhile, McCauley falls for a woman he meets in a bar and is betrayed by a money launderer, one of his gang has a marriage as troubled as Hanna’s, another develops a taste for murdering prostitutes, and a man goes to work in a café (or should that be diner?) but his boss is strict. Yes, it’s detailed, but it’s long, and is one of those films that deserves to be long, as every subplot has depth and excitement, with them all coming together to create a masterful piece of storytelling.

Heat features two great actors at their best (anyone who’s had to sit through a Fockers film should watch this to be reminded what De Niro’s capable of). The chemistry between the two leads is marvellous in the few scenes they share, including the famous café scene where they share their troubles and loneliness with each other. The follow-up to this in the final scene, which I won’t spoil, is meaningful and touching. There really is more to these characters than cops and robbers.

This is by far director Michael Mann’s best film and Dante Spinotti’s cinematography is amazing, from the exciting action scenes to the simple beauty of the best scene of a car driving down an LA highway that can possibly ever exist.

Michael Mann's 1995 crime thriller Heat is now one of my favourite films ever.

(The best thing about running one's own blog is that one doesn't get in trouble for filing a review sixteen years late.)