The Tree of Life

What is Movie News After Dark? It’s your nightly dose of what’s hip and happening in the world of entertainment. It’s also the friend who brings top shelf beer to the party, rather than a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s not that hip. In anticipation of a new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man to be released this Thursday, iTunes has put up a few new images that show the hoodlum known as Peter Parker in action. He’s in a lab. He’s getting arrested. The kid is always in some sort of trouble. He probably could go more subtle with the outfit.

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Picture

The Best Picture Academy Award is really what explains film as a collaborative effort. The Best Picture is what the Academy has found to be the best combination of every aspect that film has, whether thematically or structurally. The producers of the winner take home the Oscar, because, well, they footed the bill. They were also the decision-makers. We know its more of a gray area than that, but the classic Academy likes to think like classic movie-making. It doesn’t stop the Best Picture winners from being some of the greatest pieces of work in the artform. One film this Sunday will be written in along with films like It Happened One Night, On The Waterfront, The Godfather parts 1 & 2, and No Country For Old Men. That’s a list of 83 movies that will be or already are considered essentials when it comes to film history. We don’t look down on the nominees who didn’t win. What are they called? Oh, yeah. Losers. But, seriously, they are all films of value in some form or another, films that were still able to make their mark on some part of this history. But it’s that big boy. That one who gets its name yelled out at the end of the night, who hears the orchestra play their music for the climax of the show, that’s the one that’ll make headlines come Monday morning. Which one is it gonna be? The odds seem better for some, but here’s the breakdown […]

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Oscar 2012 Predictions: Best Director

Film directors are responsible for every single aspect of their movie. That doesn’t mean they actually do each and every task on set, but it’s their job (and prerogative) to get each element just right. It’s a lot of responsibility, and judging by the nominees for this year’s Best Director, it’s clearly too much for a woman to handle. Sorry, Kelly Reichardt, Lynn Ramsay, and Sarah Polley…maybe you can bake something nice for the boys who were nominated? For the record, the director who should walk away with the Oscar this year isn’t even nominated. Nicolas Winding Refn deserved (at least) a nomination for Drive as he was able to craft something of raw beauty from some seemingly disparate parts. The film’s look and style, its exquisitely jarring shifts from calm to explosive, and its unexpectedly affecting score and soundtrack all make for a unique cinematic experience. The nominees are listed below with my prediction for the winner in red…

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Culture Warrior

The Oscar montage reel is a genre on its own. It’s transparently demonstrative of the overall function of the Academy Awards. These montage reels summarize and make explicit what the annual ceremony attempts to accomplish writ large: to create and solidify a canon of important American films, along with a delimited understanding of their importance. Yes, the Oscars have occasionally given a voice to the indie underdog and rush through their obligatory movies-with-subtitles category, but besides the occasional screenplay nomination for a truly innovative film and the rare foreign language film that broaches through the marginal categories, the Oscars are by and large a celebration of American cinema, specifically Hollywood cinema. During the 2006 ceremony, a moment occurred that has been seared into my memory. I haven’t been able to find a clip of it online since it aired six years ago, so I hope this isn’t wishful or inaccurate. The 2006 ceremony consisted of a spate of overtly political films, as Crash, Brokeback Mountain, Munich, Good Night and Good Luck competed for top honors, and Syriana was in the running for other awards. In likely hopes of gaining cultural capital from celebrating mainstream cinema’s rarely explored but ever-present political function, the Academy aired a self-congratulatory reel of past Oscar-nominated films that have addressed other topical social problems, from In the Heat of the Night to Philadelphia. When the lights came back and the audience applauded with anticipated decorum, host Jon Stewart then graced the stage and stated, in a […]

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The Reject Report - Large

Not to be confused with Reject Report, The White, which is what happens after we do battle with the Balrog. Reject Report, The White is never NEVER wrong. But in our current form we have to take into account things like star power and demographics and mass appeal, the kinds of aspects that go into making a film financially successful. This week sees three new movies wanting that success and one Oscar contender expanding to wide release. Liam Neeson fights wolves, Sam Worthington faces a ledge, and Katherine Heigl takes on…money, I guess. I’m not really sure. Only one of these movies can be the victor while the other two scrounge for scraps to make up $10-15m. Not even worth the effort really. It’s the Reject Report, and you shall not pass. Okay, now you can pass. Go ahead.

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It’s been a year filled with silent screen stars seeking redemption, the 1920s coming alive in Paris, a young boy searching for the first great director, sex addicts in New York City, horses going to war, maids of dishonor, and skulls getting crushed in elevators. Now it’s time to celebrate all of those things and more with the 84th annual Academy Awards. They’ve come a long way since the Hotel Roosevelt in 1929 (although sex addicts have almost always been a fixture). Get to ready to smile, ball your fists with snubbed rage, or be generally unsurprised. Here they are. The 2012 Oscar nominees:

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When I was given the opportunity to interview French composer Alexandre Desplat, the question wasn’t what I would ask him, it was how many questions I would be able to get in. One of the busiest composers in the business, just this year alone Desplat has created the scores for The Tree of Life, A Better Life, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Ides of March, Carnage, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and is already on deck to compose next year’s Moonrise Kingdom. Desplat first caught my attention a few years ago when I realized he was the composer behind both the quirky score for Fantastic Mr. Fox and the epic score for Twilight Saga: New Moon – two very different films with two very different musical tones. Having won Film Composer of the Year at the World Soundtrack Awards, it is clear that the rest of the world is starting to take notice as well. As this year comes to a close, I spoke with Desplat about what inspires him, his composing process, the differences between working on American and French films, and how he balances his various projects while keeping his passion for composing fresh with each go around.

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The 21st Gotham Independent Film Awards kicked off awards season with their ceremony this evening, doling out a limited number of awards to some of the strongest independent voices and films of the year. The Gothams cover just seven categories, but they often signal big trends and name up-and-comers, what with awards named things like Breakthrough Director and Actor or Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You. The final jury is made up of “distinguished filmmakers,” though you’d be hard-pressed to find a list of just who is on that jury this year. The Gothams turned in some real surprises tonight (big enough that, even as the first award show of the year, they are still considered shocks, that’s something), with the two biggest nomination-getters, The Descendants and Martha Marcy May Marlene, coming away without a thing. Martha Marcy May Marlene missing out on awards is certainly bizarre enough, but what may well be the biggest upset from that shut-out is lead actress Elizabeth Olsen losing out on Breakthrough Actor to Felicity Jones. Both ladies starred in Sundance hits (MMMM and Like Crazy, respectively), but back in January, I cannot imagine that anyone would have placed Jones’ performance above Olsen’s (including myself, and I quite liked both films and both performances). Other jaw-droppers? Mike Mills‘ Beginners taking home Best Feature – along with Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life, as the two productions tied for the honor. If this is a hint as to how unpredictable the coming season […]

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This Week in DVD

Comedy is probably the most subjective genre of all, and what makes one person shoot milk from their nose in laughter may make another person yawn. To that end I’m happy to point out that two of the year’s funniest movies are hitting DVD today. They’re both perfectly cast and filled with plenty of laugh out loud moments, and that’s a guarantee. Whether or not you respond appropriately to them is your business… but I recommend soy milk as the nasal spurting liquid of choice. As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Erik the Viking (UK) Erik (Tim Robbins) is a really nice guy, but he’s a pretty shitty viking. Weary of looting and pillaging, and having never really discovered a taste for rape, Erik convinces his fellow vikings to head to sea in search of the legendary Rainbow Bridge. In addition to featuring the funniest “rape” scene ever filmed, Terry Jones’ mash-up of ridiculous comedy and adventure is a lot of fun. It sits comfortably somewhere between Jabberwocky and Time Bandits, and fans of the Monty Python boys should give it a chance if they haven’t yet. Arrow Video’s new (re)release includes both the original theatrical cut and a much faster moving director’s son’s cut plus tons of extras. **NOTE – This is a region2 DVD which requires either a region-free player or the willingness to watch on your PC.**

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Labor Day marks the end of summer, and like every other year the online bitching and moaning about how bad of a summer it was at the movies has already begun. Twenty-one rejects got together for our bi-weekly bake sale/FSR office cleaning day, and we got to thinking. That’s just bullshit. Because there were actually some surprisingly solid and entertaining movies that hit theaters over the past four months. From comic book heroes that soared above the competition, to legendary directors who returned with their best work in decades, to R-rated comedies that made us wet ourselves, to prequels that proved going backwards can sometimes be a genius move, this summer offered up plenty of bang for the buck. So we each jotted down our five favorite films of the summer, assigned a point value to each rank (5 pts for 1st, 4 pts for 2nd, etc), and fed the raw data into our Commodore Vic-20 office computer. It finished processing eighteen hours later, and we ended up with the results below. So screw the haters… let’s embrace the movies that made us laugh, gasp, applaud, and sit up and take notice this past summer. Here are FSR’s Favorite Movies of Summer 2011!

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God, you gotta love Uwe Boll. Whether or not you despise his films like most of the online community, the man isn’t afraid of making headlines. Now he’s delivered one of my favorite stories in recent memory: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is a “piece of shit” and Lars von Trier is “retarded.” As one expects, Boll didn’t pull his punches when it came to discussing The Tree of Life, “I totally hated that movie because I feel as a filmmaker that besides the fact that Terrence Malick did some great visuals on some movies, also on The New World, like the opening of that movie was really good but then he completely lost it. I think Tree of Life is a piece of shit. I think Sean Penn is ridiculous in it, like walking around in the elevator,” and Boll really isn’t the first to take a jab at those Penn scenes, although he is the only person I know to equate Malick’s epic to feces.

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The Tree of Life isn’t a film for everyone. You have to meet it halfway, it tests your patience at times, and it doesn’t fit normal storytelling conventions. If a viewer isn’t at all into experimental filmmaking and doesn’t know what “non-linear” means, then it’s most likely not a film for them. Because of this, some filmgoers should probably do their homework before going to Terrence Malick’s epic. “Brad Pitt? Sean Penn? Dinosaurs? And the creation of earth!?! Awesome!” Some patrons must’ve gotten that impression, and the art house Avon Theater in Stamford, CT is responding to those theatergoers who would prefer a refund, rather than enduring a two and a half hour poem. Here’s the “no refund” warning the theater put out:

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The Tree of Life is a film that, as most of you have surely already noticed, will be hailed for its beauty and visual ecstasy. Everyone will discuss how every frame could make for a great photo or whether or not Terrence Malick is actually saying something with all those incredibly long non-narrative shots, but thematically, Malick backs up his eye-candy. While the headline title and statement made by actress Jessica Chastain could be read as being very hyperbolic, it couldn’t be closer to the truth. The Tree of Life does not hit the standard narrative beats, something that will either excite or annoy viewers. When there’s a 20-minute sequence of seeing the beginning of time unfold, you’ll quickly realize you’re not watching your typical drama. Here’s what Jessica Chastain had to say in our quick conversation about the film’s truthful exploration of childhood memories, the film’s structure, how Malick’s scripts read, and her interpretation of the ending.

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This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr follows Jamie Chung to Thailand, hoping to get married. Unfortunately, someone slips him roofies, which made him black out and spend a drunken night in Bangkok. Once he got out of that city, he headed over to China to become the new pot-bellied dragon warrior. After all, if a cartoon panda can do it, why can’t he? That didn’t stop him from spending another night in the hospital, and maybe a little time in a Bangkok jail. And then the real horror happened… Kevin saw The Tree of Life.

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Whether you’re trying to avoid the releases this week or augment them with even more movies, Your Alternate Box Office offers some options for movies that would play perfectly alongside of (or instead of) the stuff studios are shoving into the megaplex this weekend. This week features a group of grown men reliving their drunken nightmares in Thailand, a group of animated animals kicking Kung Fu ass throughout China, and one man taking an epic journey through everywhere ever.

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The Reject Report

Another Summer weekend, another slate of motion pictures fighting for your hard-earned dollar and precious minutes. But what could possibly pull it out and end up at the top of the heap this Memorial Day weekend? Could it be the one with the monkey, all cute and cuddly and human-like? Or could it possibly be the one with the monkey? Or even better yet, and this one is an outside shot, it could be the one that’s already been in release, the one with the monkey. Zombie monkey. One of these movies – it’s gonna be the one with the monkey – is going to come out on top. Let’s look a little closer at them and sort out which one it’s going to be. Monkey.

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Each Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar, there’s an extraordinary prayer read in synagogue. Called the “Unetanneh Tokef,” it evokes the awesome power of judgment day, extolling God’s capacity for punishment, his propensity for mercy and man’s insignificance in the face of it all. I thought of the third part of that prayer while watching The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick’s ambitious, meditative stab at codifying the cosmos. It gets close to the essence of the reclusive auteur’s much-anticipated new picture: “A man’s origin is from dust and his destiny is back to dust. At risk of his life he earns his bread; he is likened to a broken shard, withering grass, a fading flower, a passing shade, a dissipating cloud, a blowing wind, flying dust, and a fleeting dream.” In paralleling the origins of the universe with flashes from the everyday 1950s childhood of a young boy from Waco, Texas, Malick’s film captures the ethereal nature of life. Beginning with the Big Bang and the dinosaurs and cycling through Jack O’Brien’s (Sean Penn) memories of his youth — of ballgames on the lawn during muggy summer nights, his younger brother’s warm gaze, contentious family dinners and the first stirrings of sexual feelings — Malick offers one man’s story writ large and small.

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22 films in 11 days. One walk-out. One mighty fine steak. Such is the story of this writer’s coverage of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, and now that Robert De Niro and his panel of the great and the good of world filmmaking have sat down over coffee and cheese to decide the real winners, I’d like to offer my own thoughts on who I would have liked to see win. This is all based on my personal experiences of the films, and you might notice the categories don’t match up to the split competitions of the festival itself, but I’m in charge here, and I can do what the flaming hell I want. So here we go with the best parts of the 64th Cannes Film Festival…

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This year at Cannes was a year of firsts. It was a first for FSR to cover it (a situation that the larger press seemed to ignore entirely), but it was also the first time in nearly two decades that an American actress took home the Best Actress Award (known as the Prix d’interprétation féminine if you’re nasty). Kirsten Dunst took home the top acting prize for her performance in Melancholia despite its director Lars Von Trier being permanently (for the foreseeable future) kicked out of the festival. From 1985 to 1993, there was a solid run of American actresses earning the award. In that 9-year span, Americans chalked up 5 wins: Cher, Barbara Hershey twice, Meryl Streep and Holly Hunter. Then, nothing. Until now. On top of that, Tree of Life became the first American film since Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004 to win the Palme d’Or. Unfortunate rhymes aside, that’s a pretty stirring achievement (although it’s not nearly as significant as Dunst’s streak-ending win considering that 3 other American films (Pulp Fiction, Elephant, and Michael Moore’s documentary) won the Golden Palm in the same time-frame between American actress wins). However, it is timely. This information shouldn’t be merely to support a sort of nationalistic pride, but also to support cinematic pride in general. The tone of the conversation in this country is often negative because there’s an industry out there that is obsessed with bottom lines and not nearly as concerned about quality or storytelling. However, these wins (at […]

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Wouldn’t you bloody well know it. Before the festival was tarnished by the Von Trier/Nazi scandal, all anyone seemed interested in talking about was the way Terrence Malick‘s latest had split the audiences in attendance almost straight down the middle. Not only that, The Tree of Life also inspired a rejuvenated debate over the nature of film, and the sometimes opposing ideals of entertainment and art. I ended my review stating that your reception of the film would depend entirely on what you valued more in your film-making experience, and it seems we now know that the Jury values the art of something over its entertainment value. Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the film was already chosen before even the first minutes of footage rolled. Held up to the light, The Tree of Life looks exactly like a Cannes film, something eccentric enough, with grand enough aspirations and some sort of importance that extends beyond what we can actually see. And that troubles me somewhat: should a film win because it fits the artistic manifesto of the festival, or should it win on quality? Robert DeNiro‘s comment after the decision answers precisely that: It seemed to have the size, the importance, the tension to fit the prize. Not, “it was fantastic,” not “it moved me,” but it fit the bill.

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