Brad Pitt in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, your LiC Pick of the Week

Sure, there are a couple of new summer wide releases this weekend that are going to clean up at the box office, but the real movie story is the limited release of Terrence Malick’s long-awaited The Tree of Life (LiC review). Some of you will love it and some of you will hate it, but it will hopefully be the source of some interesting discussions either way. Also of note is a 50+ location expansion of Woody Allen’s terrific Midnight in Paris (LiC Review). Also, be sure to check out the Now Playing page for an extensive look at the good, the bad and the ugly currently in theaters. What are you waiting for? Get thee to a theater.

  • The Tree of Life (*****) Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain star in the highly anticipated film from Terrence Malick. Beautiful, mysterious and lightly plotted, The Tree of Life in some ways feels like the film the director has been building up to all along. It’s certainly his least grounded in terms of conventional narrative, though there is a clearly defined story at its center about a small-town Texas family in the 1950s. Brad Pitt is fantastic as the family patriarch, perfectly evoking that mix of affection and fear inspired by many a stern but loving father from that generation. This lovely-yet-haunted portrayal of family dynamics, however, is just the anchor for a more far reaching (and special effects-fueled) contemplation on our place in the infinite. These sections have the rise and fall contours of a symphony rather than the more straightforward arc of a typical movie and they are likely to divide audiences just as strongly as they have critics. I’m sure Malick wouldn’t have it any other way. (Review) (Limited)

  • Kung Fu Panda 2. Po and The Furious Five are back and this time they must save China and the very art of kung fu itself from a new villain with a secret weapon. The first Kung Fu Panda was a pleasant summer surprise in 2008 and the first real indication that DreamWorks Animation was no longer content to be an also-ran. It was also a hit so a sequel was inevitable. Much as I liked the original, I have to admit I’m having a hard time getting up for this one. That sense of freshness is gone and, while I’m sure it’s still charming and fun and I’ll probably see it sooner or later, I’m in no hurry. Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, James Hong, Michelle Yeoh and Danny McBride lend their voice talents. (Wide)
  • The Hangover Part II. The Wolf Pack goes to Bangkok. End of story. In 2009, The Hangover (review) pulled in over $277 million in the US and (somewhat surprisingly because comedy doesn’t always translate that well) another $190+ million overseas. Even if it hadn’t, a sequel was already in the works before the first film landed in theaters because test audiences loved the thing so much. Well, here we are. What else am I supposed to say about this thing? Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Mike Tyson, Justin Bartha and Ken Jeong all return. Also, there’s a monkey. (Wide)
  • Tuesday, After Christmas. Riding in the wake of the much-heralded Romanian New Wave comes this drama about a family upended by the husband’s affair with a younger woman. (NY 5/25)
  • Puzzle. Art house fans will recognize Maria Onetto from Lucrecia Martel’s The Headless Woman. Here she plays a neglected suburban Buenos Aires housewife who discovers she has a talent for putting together jigsaw puzzles. Secretly training with a “magnetic millionaire bachelor,” she enters the World Puzzle Championship in Germany. Wait. What?  (NY)
  • Tied to a Chair. A tiny release with a long-winded synopses that kicks off with “The movie begins…” Nope. Not going to do it, but feel free to investigate for yourself here. (NY)
  • United Red Army. A verite style story about Japan’s lefty United Red Army fondly remembered for torturing and murdering its own members and taking hostages in the 1960s. (NY)

And now, your tree of hungover pandas (tip: Jennybee)

13 Responses to “Weekend Forecast: Tree of Hungover Pandas”

  1. “Tree of Life” was mostly phenomenal. I thought the last five minutes was a bit too artsy for its own good, but everything else about this movie was incredible to watch.

    I love the feel of the piece, the way each segment is structured and edited, and how the entire story feels like an extended montage. There’s not really a traditional sequence in the entire movie. It’s all rather experimental and loose, more about tone and emotion than plot and dialogue. I said this to a friend and I stand by it: it’s like the “Koyaanasqatsi” of family dramas. It felt like a Godfrey Reggio movie to me more than the Terrence Malick of old. It’s a visual experience with heavy themes and gives the viewer a lot to ponder.

    Fascinating stuff, and I look forward to seeing it again.

  2. Koyaanasqatsi is a fantastic reference point, if I take your meaning correctly. For me it was very impressionistic and visual. It created a tone through repetition of ideas rather than strict narrative.

    You’ll have to remind me as I’ve still only seen it once and it was a week or two ago and the experience is still kind of…. ephemeral. Is the ending you speak of the bit on the beach?

  3. yeah, the sequence on the beach. is there such a thing as being too graceful?

  4. I’ve heard it described in a several unflattering ways, but I found it oddly moving. Actually not as moving as I wanted (as moving as New World was) but I’m holding out hop it will resonate more on subsequent viewings.

  5. I wouldn’t say the ending was poorly done, but I didn’t connect with it emotionally the way I had with the rest of the movie. Still, this is a minor quibble, and something that doesn’t take away from an otherwise incredible experience. this is a special film, and one that I look forward to seeing again.

    the koyaanasqatsi reference is really about the similarity in tone and editing. I thought Malick was stirring an emotional and thematic feeling simply by the way he edited the sequences and mixed in the music. The use of classical music plays a huge part in setting a tone, and there’s something universal and transcendent about the experience. I know people immediately bring up Kubrick, which is also a good comparison, but I kept thinking about films like the Qatsi trilogy and Baraka while I was watching “Tree of Life”, especially the way the past (all the matieral in the 50’s) is romanticized, somewhat innocent and poetic, and the sequences with Sean Penn in a modern metropolis have this foreboding, eerie quality.

    also, Brad Pritt is terrific here. Btw, I rewatched “The New World” again last night and it might be my favorite Malick film, surpassing “Thin Red Line”. I was hit pretty hard by the emotion in that film for some reason rewatching it yesterday.

  6. That emotion you talk about with The New World is exactly why it’s my favorite and why I had a similar issue to you at the ending of Tree. I’m wondering though if seeing it a second time will have a stronger impact.

    With New World, I just sat there the first time as the credits rolled, as close to being devastated as I can remember a movie making me feel.

  7. Just saw “Tree of Life”. There’s 3 hours of my life I want back (I’m adjusting for inflation).

    Seriously, though. I found it the most watchable of Malick’s movies, from my point of view, but I still didn’t really like it all that much. Beautifully shot, yes, and I’m glad that the voice-overs are actually rather restrained, unobtrusive and in-character compared to other films (“The Thin Red Line”, especially– was the Pacific theater fought entirely by philosophy majors, or something?). I didn’t care for the music choices, that more often than not took me out of the action by feeling dreadfully portentious. Most of the footage I enjoyed still felt as though it were gleaned from better films– the “dawn of life” stuff from “2001” and “Superman”; the Sean Pean stuff from “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her” and “THX 1138”; the Wonder Years stuff pretty much any movie about the 1950’s made back in the 90’s. I couldn’t help but chuckle seeing Brad Pitt ask somebody to punch him in the face again (why the ear, man?). The central family dynamic felt like a joke to me– the marriage of a frustrated musician with one too many get-rich-quick schemes and what I can only describe as a domesticated woodland nymph. I had trouble telling the three brothers apart– I figured after a while that the one with the most screen-time was a young Penn, and the kid who played git-tar was the one from the Western Union telegram (I have no idea why the third one existed at all). They were all nothing but archetypes, mere ideas of characters and puppethead symbols, and paper-thin ones at that.

    Anyway, I tried to give the movie a fair shake. I was mostly enjoying it up until young Penn’s home-invasion sequence, where it really went off the rails for me. Seriously, what the hell was going on there? Is that supposed to be normal behavior? After a certain point, I began to wonder if Penn’s character had grown up to become some sort of a disturbed sexual stalker or voyeur. In the end, with all its reflective surfaces, shadows and so much time in an increasingly violent and warped recreation of childhood past, it felt like an eye-opening example of pure baby-boomer navel gazing. God creates the universe, galaxies, whole star systems and planets, brings life upon the earth, births and destroys the dinosaurs, all to pave the way for a nucular family fairy-tale that leads to a Rapture on the riverbanks, or something.

  8. On second viewing I thought it was even better, except the ending, which I thought was even more distracting. It’s obviously a religious film from the outset, however the concept of spirituality and God feels more universal for the majority of the film. At the very end you have heaven and angels. I felt like it was a bit excessive at that point. Still, everything else is extraordinary.

    It will be a divisive movie. based on my viewing yesterday, several people in the audience saw the movie Bob did, with some people walking out in the middle or leaving the theater in total confusion and frustration as the credits rolled. I heard a lot of “what was that?”, or “weird movie” comments on my way out of the theater.

  9. Ari, the stuff at the ending reminded me of all the missing people walking out of the mothership at the end of “Close Encounters”– the idea of people being abducted by UFO’s and returned having never aged a day feels like a modern expression of Rapture-values (although the very concept of a “Rapture” is more or less modern as well). The images of people at the beach didn’t bother me. The stuff with the mother at the very end, with the two girls did, because of how hazy the ideas are there. It’s Malick at his most voice-over dependent, expressing something that isn’t quite there in the visuals with a red-flag waving line that’s never followed up on. Angels? The new-age, non-commital type, feels like. That part, and the whole ending in general, really did make me feel like this is the sort of thing that should’ve come out about fifteen or twenty years ago. All you’d need is some Enya music.

    I wasn’t confused by it, myself, or even frustrated really. The section where the boy starts going through the motions of puberty as some kind of queasy sexual/violent crisis and lazy Oedipal complex was the only part where the movie truly lost me, but the rest of it is easy to follow, if not really enjoyable for me. I do think that the film is much more straightforward than its reputation suggests.

  10. Yeah, the ending does have that new-age spiritual quality to it, and honestly Enya music would be right at home for that ending. It’s probably my least favorite sequence Malick has ever filmed, but in a movie I feel is still one of his best.

    The audience I saw it with for my first viewing mostly dug it. There was applause at the end. The audience on the second viewing was definitely not feeling it.

  11. There was one person who tried to start a slow golf clap at the screening I saw. Nobody said a damn thing.

    Again, I’ll say that out of all the Malick I’ve seen, I enjoyed this one the most. But I don’t really like his stuff at all, so it doesn’t say much. “The Thin Red Line” was the closest one after this, because buried within all the overdone narration, frolicking with nature and whatnot there was actually a pretty solid 90-100 minute stretch that could’ve been pulled from Sam Fuller after drink had made him wistful. I don’t hate “The Tree of Life”, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give a Malick film so far.

  12. I can’t comment on the Malick, but “Tree of Hungover Pandas” = brilliant.

  13. This never works, but I’m going to try and continue this Tree of Life convo on the review thread so it will be easier for people to find if they come to the movie later on down the road:

    http://livingincinema.com/2011/05/17/review-the-tree-of-life-2011/comment-page-1/#comment-456914

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