Saturday, June 11, 2011

Artsy Fartsy

Some fathers take their sons hunting and fishing. I take my son to the movies. And finding ourselves sweltering in the middle of a record NYC heat wave, a couple of hours of air conditioning in a dark room seemed like a good idea...

Many well regarded films never make it to Phoenix; these are usually documentaries, small independent or foreign films. The ones that do generally have a brief run on 1 screen and then they're gone. Of course there's always the DVD, but if you love movies, there is no substitute for the real thing on the big screen.

So, even though Terrence Malick's latest, "The Tree of Life", which won the grand prize at Cannes, will probably get to Arizona eventually, the chance to see it right away was too good to pass up. Plus the A/C...

Well, how was it? To be brief, Mr. Malick is an artist with a capital "A". But he isn't much of a story teller. What you get is two and a half hours of pretty pictures and a story that, were it fleshed out a little more, might make a good 90 minute movie.

There's a lot of whispered narration, gorgeous music of a cosmic and/or religious nature, and a series of stunning images. It would make a great coffee table book/CD combo pak, but as entertainment, not so much.

Malick's "big idea", as far as I can tell, is that "we have to love one another or life is pointless." And here I thought John Lennon had gotten that across once and for all in a three and a half minute song 44 years ago.

All of the important themes are present: life, death, nature, the cosmos, and the Big Man Upstairs. We get pain, we get suffering, we get love and we get hate. There's anger and resentment, bitterness and just a hint of what looked to me like lust. In other words, it's just like your high school reunion after everybody's had a few drinks.

The movie also makes the point that children possess attributes from both parents and these attributes are often in conflict. Ah hah! How's that for insight? So we get the angry, rebellious son who is more like his father, and the peaceful, loving son who is more like his mother. There's one more son who doesn't get enough screen time to be like anyone, but that's beside the point...Of course the peaceful son shares the father's musical ability and the rebellious son comes to embrace his mother's saintlike compassion, so it's not as simplistic as I'm making it sound. But almost.

Still, for the true cineaste, there's lots and lots of exquisite camera work, beautifully composed tableaux, and Sean Penn wandering around looking tortured by memories of the past. What more could you ask for?

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