Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reel News...Pearl Jam Twenty Premiere

Combing two greats- movies and music, be sure to tune into PBS this Friday, October 21 for the world-wide premiere of Pearl Jam Twenty.  Celebrating and glorifying one of the most prolific bands of rock 'n roll, director Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Fast Times At Ridgemont High), follows the band from the beginning through various interviews, concert footage and much more.  Lots of what's seen in the film are rare or previously unseen footage compiled together making it a truly unique and new experience for even the most die-hard Pearl Jam fans.  Check out the trailer below, beginning with a snippet from an interview between frontman Eddie Vedder and film director David Lynch (Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks).

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Useless Clatter...Why Dinosaurs in The Tree of Life + Why 2001?

     After witnessing cosmic explosions and other extraordinary images of the universe, moviegoers who came out to see The Tree of Life were probably not in total shock when two dinosaurs emerged on the screen.  But, after finishing the movie and trying to grasp what just went on for the last two and a half hours, a new question emerges- why on earth were there dinosaurs in this movie?
     Many people call to mind Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey when discussing The Tree of Life for the similarities in their extravagant cinematography and little dialogue.  Believe it or not, the special effects production for both films was done by the same man- Douglas Trumbull.  However another similarity often gets overlooked in their comparisons.  While these films both take place in human environments, The Tree of Life in 1950s Texas and 2001 simply set in the future, they both incorporate scenes in which humans do not exist.  In the beginning of Kubrick's film, he devotes an entire sequence to apes before ever arriving in space, simply titled “The Dawn of Man.”
     The Dawn of Man is almost a small movie in itself.  It centers on a group of apes in prehistory.  They lay in the barren desert stricken with hunger when suddenly a large monolith appears and they go berserk, howling with both fear and fascination.  But what pertains to The Tree of Life lies in the frames that follow. (This section can be seen in the video link below.)  The camera fades in onto a group of apes desperately searching for a meal when one of the apes comes across the skeleton of a boar.  He sits there and remains motionless when all of the sudden the music begins to play- he has struck an idea.  The ape picks up one of the bones and begins to pound on the skeleton, at first it’s a slow, methodical tapping, like the beating of a drum, but this quickly evolves into a ruthless and savage obliteration of the skeleton.  From here on, Ape can now wield the weapon- evolution. (The Dawn of Man).
     In Tree of Life, Malick does not toy with the realities of evolution, or ponder with the hypothesis that man has in fact evolved from dinosaurs.  No, the dinosaurs in his film serve a different purpose.  About twenty minutes into the film, where at this point the audience’s eyes have finally adjusted to witnessing the creation of the world all while being in 1950s Waco, the screen goes black.  From here, the camera fades in on a small creek amidst lush rolling hills of green; we realize that we are no longer in Waco, Texas.  Lying in the creek there is a small dinosaur that appears to fatally injured.  At this point, a large velociraptor-like dinosaur emerges and trots over to the wounded creature placing its foot on the neck of the small dinosaur ready to kill it.  But no killing follows.  The bigger dinosaur takes its foot off of its neck, gives it two gentle pats and simply walks away.
     So all in all, what purpose do the dinosaurs serve?  Why couldn’t this scene have remained in Texas and substituted the dinosaurs with wild dogs?  Why was it there at all?  The choice of dinosaurs must have been done to connect the images of creation with those of the 1950s Texas setting.  If one was to try and explain a synopsis of the film, it would most likely revolve around Jack’s youthful experiences, growing up through the decisions he faced.  But as the movie goes back and forth between creation and Texas and back, the dinosaurs serve as a connection between human life and the very beginnings of universal existence.  Choice, as instructed at the beginning of the film by either nature or by grace, is nothing new, proved to us by dinosaurs.  Its decision to kill or not is not all that different that Jack’s decisions to sneak into a stranger’s house or shoot his brother’s finger with a BB gun.  While the movie portrays the development of the universe and the earth, it does the same for the development of choice and free will.  But, what the movie brings forth here is the wholeness of compassion.  When the larger dinosaur lifts its foot off the other one’s throat and gently pats it on the head, there is a connection to a later scene in which Jack gently holds his brother’s finger after he has shot it with the BB gun.  Millions of years later in Waco, Texas, the scenario is almost the same.  However, while humans have developed into much more complex beings of thought, compassion is an age old virtue that lies within us all, innately.  Just as Kubrick uses apes to show the purposeful evolution of the human mind, Malick’s dinosaurs do the same, but for the human heart.
     Yes both 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Tree of Life probably could have managed without monkeys and dinosaurs, but it is these images that allow the director’s creativity and unique approach to narrative structure to take full effect.  On another note, it is these images that are most remembered, discussed and even argued over, thus allowing the films not to be forgotten.

 2001: A Space Odyssey (The Dawn of Man) cut-

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Why See This...The Tree of Life [2011]

A historian’s record of the creation of earth and the existence of life may perhaps take volumes of and textbooks to explain.  Director Terrance Malick, on the other hand, manages to pull it off in a mere two and a half hours, or so it appears.  To say that The Tree of Life is built around answering the same questions that have given scientists trouble for centuries would be untrue, but given the magnitude of its images and ideologies, the case can almost be made.  The Tree of Life is Malick’s fifth feature film in a career spanning almost 40 years, something hard to figure for a Hollywood director.  Nevertheless, his reclusive tendencies and anonymous nature seem quite fitting for the premise of his latest feature. 
The Tree of Life opens with a quotation from the Bible’s Book of Job ("Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Job 38:4, 7) coupled together with an image of a small flame representing its creator, God.  It continues onward interlaced with grand images of what appears to as the creation of the world.  Saying that the film’s setting is a quaint Texas suburb in the 1950s would be doing Malick a disservice.  The movie jumps back and forth thereon to images of creation, seemingly, a particular exterior shot of the world as we witness the Big Bang, the age of Dinosaurs and forward to man’s journey to eternal life.  From its premise in Texas, the movie centers around a typical suburban family- the O’Brien family, consisting of a sweet and sincere, stay-at-home mother (Jessica Chastain), a hard-working and stern father (Brad Pitt) and three adolescent boys who enjoy endless summer days playing under the sun.  At its core, it a movie about relationships, about love for one’s family, and about love for one’s own self.  In the beginning, we are told that one of the O’Brien son’s has died young, at the age of 19.  But instead of establishing a story around the loss, the movie jumps back 20 years to the three of them growing up together, reflecting on the existence of life, rather than the loss
What is central to the movie’s foundation is a statement said by Mrs. O’Brien early on the film as if preaching to the audience- “...there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow.”  From that point on, the film seems to be a grand illustration of what the world is, why we exist and what becomes of us after death.  Answering these types of questions is difficult, even for Harvard graduate Terrence Malick, who was rumored to have begun writing the script in the ‘80s under an early title, Q.  What The Tree of Life does is leave more questions than answers at its end, which can leave audiences with an unfulfilling conclusion. 
The Tree of Life does not possess a conventional narrative like a typical movie would and often gets caught up in its own surrealistic images.  In fact, its inability to stay put in one place symbolizes the perplexity and abrupt beauty of life itself.  At the same time, however, this and a lack of narrative is a cause for the movie’s inability to reach out to the typical movie-going audience.  But as unconventional as it is, the film did earn top honors at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival winning the Palm d’Or. Head judge for the event, Robert DeNiro claimed that the movie had “the size, the importance, and the tension that seemed to fit the prize.” 
Rather than looking at the screen for the answers set forth by the film’s premise, Malick uses the grandiose imagery as a way into our own minds.  The film’s nostalgic overtone of the experiences of childhood, filled with laughter, love, curiosity and fear can lead each viewer to reflect upon his or her own life after the film’s end. Asking yourself whether you live by nature or by grace may not be the film’s purpose.  What it does leave is an understanding of the beauty of human existence as a whole, our job as viewers is to uncover that in our own lives.

Monday, September 5, 2011


So here it is, the first of what should be many posts as part of my new blog/hobby "FILMclatter." Within the topic of movies, plenty will be discussed here including new movie reviews, old movie reviews, Hollywood news (minus all the celeb drama), and much, much more. Please feel free to comment on any post and keep it interesting.  Enjoy!