May 15th, 2017

The one blessing about being away from work is that there is much more time to be viewing films and revisiting some old friends.  I had been promised at the end of March that a job was forthcoming, and yet I have not seen the confirmed start date.  It is frustrating.  But there is always a silver lining and here they are:

Silence:  The Martin Scorsese film about the Jesuit priests in the 1600s in Japan trying to spread the word of God, or at least their version of it.  There is Liam Neeson being shown priests with him tortured unmercifully.  Then there is word back to Portgual that Neeson who is a priest himself renouncing his faith.  Two young Jesuits hear this and want to seek him out.  They are Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield.   This is a dark story, with some interesting philosophical perspectives, like the Jesuits who believe that they are spreading “the Truth”.  And the Truth does not have a perspective, it just is.  The Japanese and Buddhists would disagree with this.  There are then put forth interesting questions about faith and what is the underlying purpose, and who does it serve.  Beliefs are challenged and decisions are made.  Garfield had a very productive year with this and Hacksaw Ridge.   He is showing his acting chops beyond just Spiderman.  Driver has less screen time but is effective too.  This is not Raging Bull or Good Fellas but a good film.
Knight of Cups:  another Terrence Malick film in the same look and feel of previous films like Tree of Life and To The Wonder.  There is little structure and much of the film moves with the voiceover.  Then there are the images.  Malick engulfs his viewers with sights and sounds and images that are still-picture worthy in all of his films.  The young are not the audience here again, and they would get frustrated and annoyed by it.  I don’t wish to be a pretentious film goer who professes a deep understanding of his films, but I will say that I like them.   I take something from each of them.  His films require the viewer to bring their own filter and take their own interpretation of the images.  For this trilogy I like Tree of Life and then this one before lastly To The Wonder.   Here an impressive cast includes Christian Bale as the man looking back upon his life through his past relationships and piecing together what it means and what he has done.  Past loves include Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Freida Pinto and Teresa Palmer.  The extras are good to watch as well as you learn there is no script to a Malick film.  Actors are given rough ideas about what the director seeks and then they are free to improvise.  This one was not critically acclaimed but nevertheless a film that I sought out from the cast and the director.
Insurgent and Divergent:  I picked these up from the library, as I hadn’t ever recalled seeing the follow ups to the original (which I saw and just as quickly forgot).   I did not read the books.  But this was a follow up to The Hunger Games and it’s cash grab.   Shailene Woodley was the attraction here initially from her performance in The Descendants.  For me this and Maze Runner and Hunger Games are the same formula where the dystopian world is to be saved by a bunch of teenagers who have a special gifts (of various sorts) just doesn’t hold my attention.   The adults are almost all uniformly evil or stupid.  They have wrecked the existing world and the teens will set it straight.  Go ahead.  The good news is that practically this can never happen as the teenage generation won’t be able to stay away from their phones long enough to do any of this.  Having finished the third installment I shuddered at the thought of yet another movie.  This was to be released in June 2017.   It was cancelled.  Sounds like they are looking to make a TV movie out of it, and start a TV series.  Can’t imagine Woodley will be interested in that.   But we will see.  Quite honestly I don’t need to see another one of these again.
Some old friends I re-watched over the weekend were A Fish Called Wanda (written by John Cleese) which I thoroughly enjoy on each viewing and also My Left Foot with a tour de force from Daniel Day-Lewis.  The internet helped with finishing off the Christie Brown story where the film stopped.   His post-movie life, and married life to Mary was not so grand.   She brought him to England away from his family and then apparently slept around, abused drugs and neglected him.  He died at the age of 49 choking at dinner.  So not a Hollywood ending from a man who overcame so much to live a full life.  Brenda Fricker’s performance was also outstanding here and she won an Oscar for it.   In 1989, it didn’t win Best Picture, Driving Miss Daisy did.

Well I re-watched Tree of Life yesterday just to refresh my memory and yet again I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Moreso than both To The Wonder and Knight of Cups.  In thinking about why, I think it’s because there is that Malick style, but there is a little bit more structure about it.  There is a thread that runs through it, all the way through it about the Texas family and the boy who becomes the man reflecting back.  Man (played by Sean Penn) looks back at his life with Dad, Mom and brothers.  The young Jack is played very well, and you see different moments in time with him, especially with the one brother (crucial scenes where the younger brother says “I trust you” while having his body put in perilous positions).  Life has moments, life has regrets, every one has done stupid things especially when they were younger where they wish they had a “do over”.   And there are the moments with the family and the coming of age scenes too.  All of it paints a picture of this man and his time.  So there is a wide chasm of just how much better Tree of Life is than the others.    I searched again for Roger Ebert’s Top 10 lists of all time and found (apparently) his last list before his death and Tree of Life was on it.   He raved about this film and it’s genius and ambition.  You added it to your list, and it is in mine.   Sadly the other two films did not get there, or were they made as well.

Jessica Chastain in it, too was masterful as the hand of forgiveness and strength with her three boys.
I have booked my seats and tickets for Alien Covenant on Thursday.   Looking forward to it.
The other film that I had forgotten to pass along was Elle, with Oscar nominated and Golden Globe winning Isabelle Hubert.   This film was summed up in the advertisements about a woman who is raped and then seeks revenge.  This just scratches the surface on this film.
Here is an accomplished actress playing a very complex character masterfully.  There is much said with her eyes and actions and body language.  Her personal circumstance evolves as you see her interact with various others.   Hubert finds a way to personalize this person who has her own agenda and reasons for doing everything, where not all are readily apparent.   So if you can find this check it out.

Wednesday February 8th, 2012

I am beginning the annual catch up on the Oscar nominated films.  Ideally I get to watch ALL of the Best Picture nominees but with now up to 10 films it’s not always that easy.  This year I am done with three and now four.  I have seen The Descendants (mostly), War Horse, Hugo and now The Tree of Life.

Tree of Life:  This was a film that I had relatively no expectations.  I had read the glowing Ebert review as he reminisced about how closely this movie pulled him in with the images of the time (50s middle America).  He has written a couple interesting articles on this and it intrigued me.  The movie is not about plot and a straight lined arc in the lives of its characters.  It makes both macro and micro observations about life and life on earth in general.  Many of the connections you have to make yourself (or not).  Two heavy hitters with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are acting here, but they are really not the focal point.   On the micro level you deal with life on a planet in the universe after the big bang.  There are stunning visuals and images that are totally new to me.   You have life coming out of the seas and then other forms of life.  What I came away with the macro story is just how BIG it all is, and just how little (in comparison) that we all are.  There is also a theological discussion that takes place and questions for God.   Much of this stems from the micro level life of an ordinary family in middle America (in this case Texas) but it really could be anywhere.
Here the family starts at the more recent time and then deals with images backwards.  There has been a death in the family and there is questioning as to why.  Then the flashbacks to the times with this family.  I take away from this that life, as we experience it, is really a sum of little images and moments.  The unexpected hug from a child, the kiss goodnight, the images as perceived of a child with his parents, and how their relationship impacts them.  The family has three boys.  Pitt plays the father.  Penn plays the eldest boy Jack all grown up.   You care about these people.  You see the journey that they take but it isn’t along a straight path.  Life is a bunch of moments strung together.  And so it is.  Struggles, challenges, understanding where one fits and the place that they have.  All a part of this, as macro meets micro along the way.
This cannot win Best Picture.  Why?  Because it is just too high minded I think.  The average movie goer (the film was virtually ignored in the theaters) simply won’t “get it”.  It can be slow.  It raises as many questions as it answers, simply because it doesn’t answer that many.  It observes.  And let’s the viewer figure out the meaning.  I also think that this is a film for older and more mature viewers.  This is not a 17yo date movie.  That older crowd that watched Iron Lady would enjoy this and connect with this.  I did.  Having children, thinking about the structure that we as parents provides, makes you think about where this fits in the grand scheme.  It shows too how attitudes and actions in front of children have an impact.  What the child remembers.
I would see it again.  I would catch more and pay more attention to the beginning.  In the end, time well spent last night, where after the movie I decided to watch the Extras as well on the DVD.   The director here is painting with a broad brush and giving some real insight into human beings.  I am really glad that I saw this.