I don’t know much about Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life. Okay, I know a couple things. I know that I’ve faintly disliked the title from the get-go because it sounds too pat and cliched. I know the film is coming out in the late fall through Apparition, the new distribution company. And that it’s about an anxious and disturbed middle-aged guy named Jack (Sean Penn) trying to get past a long-simmering resentment of his father (Brad Pitt). And that one way or another Malick’s narrative takes a detour into a dinosaur realm of some kind.
My understanding is that Brad Pitt plays Sean Penn’s dad in Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.
I was talking about the dino aspect with a journalist friend a couple of weeks ago, and we were both shaking our heads and acknowledging what a bizarre mind-fuck it sounds like. On paper at least. And it’s not like I’m blowing the dino thing out of proportion because there’s some kind of Tree of Life-related IMAX dinosaur movie due in early 2010 that will augment or expand on some theme that’s expressed within the parameters of the Penn-Pitt story. Right? I’m just trying to sound like I have a clue.
All I know is that it’s one hell of a transition to go from a story of angry, frustrated people in the 1950s as well as the present and then to somehow disengage the spacecraft and travel into another realm entirely (like Keir Dullea did in 2001: A Space Odyssey when he soared through Jupiter space), and somehow float into a world that is pre-historical and pre-human, and have this time-trip somehow add to our understanding and feeling for the sad/angry/bitter people in the Pitt-Penn realm.
And I just think it’s time for a little taste. A little marketing hors d’eouvre. Some kind of meet-and-see immersion. You can’t just open a movie like this and go, “Okay, guys…. Penn, Pitt, angst, dinosaurs! Line forms to the right.” You have to set things up and prepare people, get them in the mood, warm up the sauce pan, put out a trailer or a short reel…something.
I mean, if someone like me is scratching his head and going “what the fuck…?” over the unusualness of a ’50s domestic drama mixed with footage of prehistoric beasts, imagine what Joe Popcorn is going to think or say. Don’t even talk about the Eloi. Tree of Life is going to be out in.,..what, three and a half months? Four? Time for a little hubba-hubba.
There are only four leap-out portions in David Segal‘s 8.15 N.Y. Times piece about the convulsive goings-on at the Weinstein Co. (“Weinsteins Struggle to Regain Their Golden Touch”).
The first is a vague hint that Segal may have seen Nine or Nowhere Boy or Youth in Revolt…maybe. But that’s all she wrote because he cops out and doesn’t identify which of the six completed Weinstein Co. films he was shown, which strikes me as a very candy-assed, needlessly covert way to go. Not even hints, for Chrissake.
Harvey and Bob Weinstein “were downright generous with me when it came to screening their coming movies,” he writes. “In fact, they shared as much of their slate as was ready — six movies in all, as well as ads, DVDs and rough cuts of unfinished products.”
Think of it…a major August 2009 piece about the Weinsteins and not even a slight intimation about whether or not Nine has that schwing? No backstage gossip of any kind? No discussion about how it might play for Joe and Sheila Popcorn in Jacksonville? No acknowledgement or argument that this ambitious Rob Marshall Oscar-bait musical is or isn’t the big make-or-breaker?
The second is Harvey telling Segal that “the ship’s riding on the slate” and that “if by February, when we release Hoodwinked 2” — he playfully thumps a hand on the table, dramatizing the sound of failure — “I’ll be driving you, or making cheap hamburgers, or selling trailers or refrigerators or something. If the slate works, we’re right back to plan.” Any time a big-wheel talks about flipping burgers…well, draw your own conclusions.
The third stand-out is a little tingle-hint about Youth in Revolt, which will show at the Toronto Film Festival. Segal begins by talking about how he “got a hint of [Bob Weinstein‘s] attention to detail at a recent test screening of Youth in Revolt, a teenage comedy in the vein of Juno. The director, Miguel Arteta, said that for weeks he and Bob had lengthy back-and-forths over seemingly minor decisions, like this one: Does the last scene of the film need a voice-over?
“Bob said yes. Mr. Arteta said no. Bob’s version screened on this particular night in an East Village theater in New York, and afterward, a focus group of 20 audience members were peppered with questions. Among them: How many of you liked the voice-over in the last scene? Every hand but one went up.
“Unbeknownst to the attendees, Mr. Arteta sat two rows away, and after that vote, he turned to Bob, who sat at the rear of the theater, offering him a grateful, smiling shrug that said, ‘You were right.'”
What does this tell us? It tells me that Youth in Revolt may have issues. Any film that needs a line or two of narration….well, you know what they say. It’s not just Segal’s article telling me this. It’s also Michael Cera, the most inert and unassertive one-trick-pony in the film business right now, being the star.
The fourth stand-out is a quote from longtime Weinstein Co. lover/supporter (and my former boss) Kevin Smith. “They had impeccable taste when they were hungry,” Smith tells Segal. “The problem is that they’re not really hungry anymore. They’re starving and desperate.” Yikes.
That said, I’m very keen on seeing the Weinstein slate and can’t wait, especially, to see The Road and Nowhere Boy and, yes, Nine.
One of the below images is the word APPARITION converted to Russian cyrillic letters; the other is the new logo of Bob Berney and Bill Pohlad‘s Apparition, a just-announced distribution company that will bring out The Young Victoria and Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life. Which is the Russian version and which is the logo? And what’s the reason for the Russian/KGB/Alexander Nevsky ‘tude in the first place?
I’m about to describe another scene in Inglourious Basterds (Weinstein Co., 8.21) that rubbed me the wrong way after I saw it last week for the second time. I actually found it infuriating. Movie-experience purists and spoiler whiners are again advised to steer clear, although this scene has already been described many times.
More an extended POV shot than a complete scene, it shows young Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent) running like hell from a small French farmhouse seconds after her family has been killed by German soldiers under the command of Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a.k.a. “the Jew Hunter.” The shot uses Landa’s farmhouse perspective. The camera looks out on a sprawling green field with the edge of a thick forest located slightly to the left, and maybe 150 yards off. And yet Shosanna avoids this shelter, staying wide open and fully exposed until the scene ends.
Now, any two-legged or four-legged living thing knows that the best way to escape a predator is to run for the trees. Especially if the predator has a pistol. Obviously. So the idea that Shosanna might choose to ignore the safety of the forest and run across the open field instead is really — no other term for it — ludicrous. The dumbest animal in the grip of the worst kind of blind idiot panic would head for the shade. The reason Shosanna doesn’t, of course, is because Tarantino wants to prolong his shot of her running across the field so Waltz has time to peer out, aim his pistol at her, change his mind, shrug, smile wistfully and say “Au revoir, Shosanna! Until we meet again!”
My blood runs cold when a director ignores basic animal-instinct reality in order to flaunt his/her moves. The interesting thing is that Tarantino’s description of this scene (Part 1, page 16) makes repeated references to Soshanna running for “the cover of the woods” and “the safety of the trees.” So he used common sense writing the scene but ignored it when he shot it. Brilliant.
The other dopey aspects of this portion of the film are so lame you have to laugh at them, or at least shrug. They’re used as components of the film’s arch absurdity, I suppose. You’re supposed to hoot, etc. But at the same time you’re supposed to absorb what’s happening with a certain solemnity.
When Col. Landa interrogates the French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) inside the farmhouse he asks if they might speak English since Landa’s French has been exhausted and he’s heard that Padite speaks it fluently. A silly idea, of course. Fluent English-speaking Parisians were a relative rarity in the 1940s, and even today French salt-of-the-earth rurals speak little if any English.
Landa then asks about the names of the absent Dreyfuss family, and Lapadite says that the son’s name is “Bob.” QT is paying hommage, I suspect, to Jean-Pierre Melville‘s Bob Le Flambeur. This despite the fact that no rural French family would have named a son Bob in the 1940s, i.e., before widespread Coca-Colanization of France began to take hold in the mid-to-late ’50s.
This scene also ties into a stupid math error. A title card says the farmhouse scene is happening in 1941, and the next time we see Shosanna she’s changing the letters on the marquee of a Parisian movie theatre, and a title card informs that it’s now “1944 — four years after Shosanna’s escape” (or words to that effect). Uhm, no…that would be three years after. The Landa visit happens in warm weather, or in the spring or summer or early fall of ’41. The 1944 portion of the film happens before D-Day invasion which began on 6.6.44, so the latest calendar mark would be the late spring/early summer. So there’s really no wiggling out of this. The Inglourious Basterds post-production team either ignored or never mastered basic math, or they did and QT wouldn’t allow them to fix it due to whatever.
My choices for the best newly-released stills from Werner Herzog‘s My Son What Have Ye Done? and Neil Jordan‘s Ondine. Obviously Michael Shannon and Chloe Sevigny in the Herzog (top); Colin Farrell and Stephen Rea in Jordan’s dramatic fantasy (bottom). Both headed for the Toronto Film Festival.
Why is it that the best films (according to one definition) are always ones you admire more and feel a lot better about after watching them than during the actual sit-and-contemplate? It’s true. I’m not being facetious. The movies that seem to finally matter are the ones that…okay, are clearly delivering a profound or thoughtful undercurrent as you watch them, but which don’t kick in big-time until a day, a week or a month later. These are the films you want to write home to grandma about.
Scene from Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon (Sony Classics, 12.25).
“I have sibling rivalry with Orson Welles. I don’t think he’s that good…all right? I have sibling rivalry with him and Stanley Kubrick” — Inglourious Basterds director Quentin Tarantino to Charles Osgood on CBS Sunday Morning, as reported by “Page Six.” (Is there a YouTube clip? I looked, failed, gave up. Then I found this excellent 14-year-old clip of QT flipping off and spitting on Chris Connelly.)
Three-plus weeks ago Examiner.com’s Bryan Young asked Steve Sansweet, Lucasfilm’s Fan Relations chief, about plans for a Blu-ray Star Wars box set. Sansweet said “the best time” such a set might be timed to the fact “that there’s going to be a new live action [Star Wars] TV series.” He then said that “at some point in the next several years there will be a complete set of Star Wars movies and lots of extras and deleted footage and anything anyone could want.” Then he re-phrased: “In the next few years there will be an ultimate box set and certainly a Blu-ray set.”
So he’s saying that a Blu-ray of The Empire Strikes Back — the only Star Wars movie I care about — will be released sometime before the end of Barack Obama‘s second term but almost certainly not before the 2012 election? Spoken like a true flunkie for Satan Incarnate. Isn’t there a generally understood difference between the terms” few” and “several”? Few usually means more than two but less than five…right? And several tends to mean five or more.
“There’s a back story to the town meeting protests,” writes Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in an 8.14 Huff-post. “The health care industry in America is doing everything it can to stop reform. Incredibly, it has spent $130 million just in the last quarter trying to influence Congress. The Washington Post has reported that $1.4 million a day is being spent by well-paid lobbyists to do everything they can do to stop health care reform. There is a reason, naturally, for that intense opposition.
“Private insurance companies in America are reaping huge profits. Drug companies in America are charging the American people, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Of course, they don’t want health care reform. Of course, they’ll do everything to try to stop us.
“If what you want is a real debate, let’s have it. Let’s ask why countries around the world have better health care outcomes than we do at half the cost. Let’s ask why we are the only nation in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care program guaranteeing health care for all of their people. Let’s ask why some 60 million Americans, including many with health insurance, do not have access to a physician on a regular basis. Let’s ask why private insurance companies, which pay their CEOs outrageous compensation packages, deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions or refuse to extend their policies when they need it most. Those are the kinds of questions that we ought to be discussing.”