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June 20, 2011 - Image 7

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2011-06-20

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Monday, June 20, 2011
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com


'Tree of Life' trades face-time for illusions

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Daily Arts Writer
Movies are miraculous. Pro-
jected illusions of life, engineered
to entertain and
keep us in our ***
seats, collected in
the dark for hours The Tree
on end - it's all Of Life
very silly, after
all. But film taps At the
something inside Michigan
people that noth-
ing else does, hit- F Seanchlighl
ting a rhythmic
visual chord that is - at least to an
extent - organic and natural.
There are rules, though.
Sometimes, you can make a film
like visual poetry, like Godfrey Reg-
gio in his 1980s films "Koyaanisqat-
si" and "Powaqqatsi." Or Ron Fricke
in 1992 with "Baraka."All three pic-
tures were montages of nature and
civilization, without narrative.
Those movies are cool. Awesome,
actually, if you have the energy to
stay awake. But when you see a
trailer for a film featuring Brad Pitt
and Sean Penn in leading roles, you
don't expect that. You expect face-
time, and lots of it. And when that
doesn't quite happen - when a film
experience is so completely differ-

ent than what you expect - how do
the masses in the dark respond?
Easy. They walk out.
Forget the rhythmic chord inside
us. Film is a social thing, not only
independent but something to
facilitate our interactions with oth-
ers. And when the first 40 minutes
of "Tree of Life" turn out lifelessly
incomprehensible, it's not surpris-
ing to see people flocking back to
the ticket counter to retrieve their
12 bucks, or actually boo the film, as
at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
The film has a whispery-beauti-
ful opening set in the 1950s around
the.O'Brien family, a young couple
and their three boys. The mother
(Jessica Chastain, "Jolene") sets
up the opposition of "grace" and
"nature" - the balance of spiritual-
ity and humanity that tugs on both
ends of the film.
That "nature" is presented as
the stern Mr. O'Brien (Brad Pitt,
"Inglourious Basterds"), who
teaches his sons thatethey must fight
to find their place in the world. His
antithesis is Chastain's delicate per-
formance as his wife, who strives to
be the "grace" end of the equation.
The film begins with the death
of one of their sons, as presented
in mysterious jump cuts and unex-
plained hints. The parents despair

and contemplate the death of a child
in each of their own ways.
Then it all takes a strange turn,
thrusting into a half-hour (or at
least it feels that long) exploration
of forests, the cosmos, dinosaurs
and volcanoes (among many, many
other things) throughout which not
a word is spoken.
And that's when the audience
may become somewhat unruly, and
it's hard to blame them.
But right when you think the
ordeal will never end, it does, push-
ing the story back to the O'Briens
and, in a different time and place,
their grown-up eldest son Jack
(Sean Penn, "Milk"), who barely
says a word but his eyes seem to
contemplate mortality.
Jack is the focus of the rest of the
film - his younger version (newcom-
er Hunter McCracken) grows from
an innocentyouth to atroubled ado-
lescent. He witnesses the drown-
ing of a friend, which prompts him
to whisper to the heavens, "Why
should I be good if you aren't?"
"The Tree of Life" is an utterly
polarizing picture, and not only
in the way you experience it. It's a
story of fathers and sons, death and
God, poetry and pragmatism. As
a whole, though, it's about more,
and it's about you - the way you

approach life, faith and the deci-
sions therein.
By the end of the film, who is still
sitting in the theater? Perhaps it's
the population of only one end of
that central balance.
On the technical side, Emmanuel
Lubezki's ("Children of Men") cin-
ematography is the epitome of stun-
ning. Even in its dullest moments,
the film is an unforgettable pictur-
escape that wows the eyes.
Yet, as sumptuous as it is, the film
struggles to satisfy even the most
patient. Character arcs are told in
glimpses and whispered voiceovers,
not the screams of regular summer
fare. It is a testament to director
Terrance Malick's ("The Thin Red
Line") genius that there are dis-
cernable arcs at all. But if only there
were something more to take away,
an easy reward for our patience. For
a film that seems so meaningful, it
veers awfully close to commonplace
nonspecificity of purpose.
Film professors will tell you; If
you can tell a story without saying
a word, do it. Terrance Malick tries
something in that vein and succeeds
in many ways. The film can change
the way you see storytelling on the
screen. Whether that change is for
the better or worse really depends
on your own outlook.

Unrealized potential ruins 'Green Lantern'


Daily Arts Writer
To directly contradict Kermit the
Frog's proclamation, it's quite easy
being green, especially if you're
the Green Lantern. The DC Com-
ics superhero is
venerated among
comics readers
for his stupen- Green
dous storylines,
and since the
Lantern usually At Quality 16
plays no less than and Rave
third banana
to Batman and Warner Bros.
Superman in the
Justice League, even Joe Schmo has
a passingresemblance to his name.
When the character's ticket
to the silver screen was finally
punched, it was put under the ten-
der-loving care of talented comic
writer Geoff Johns, arming direc-
tor Martin Campbell (who reboot-
ed the shit out of James Bond in
("Casino Royale") with a reported
$200 million budget and casting

Ryan Reynolds ("The Proposal") -
the hubba-hubba hunk that women
throw their drawers at and men
respect, well, because he was once
married to Scarlett Johansson - as
Hal Jordan.
And after all that, "Green Lan-
tern" is a conflagration of ridicu-
lously amateurish storytelling and
pathetically poor characters, think-
ing it can squirrel behind its fagade
of snazzy special effects and call ita
wrap. Well, you can't spoon a dollop
of creme fraiche onto cow dung and
deem it edible. As the Comic Book
Guy would likely say, "Worst comic-
book movie featuring a middle-tier
DC superhero ever."
"Green Lantern" is doomed from
its first act, where wildly confus-
ing exposition, delivered by Geof-
frey Rush's ("The King's Speech")
monotone, rockets the audience
off into the Land of Bewilderment
before introducing us to our hero,
Hal Jordan. That's "hero" in the
lightest sense of the term, since
Hal is a cocky, reckless, woman-
izing blowhard we're supposed to

like anyways because - gasp -
his father died when he was a kid.
Hal will grow up by the end of the
movie, but once he gets the ring he
just becomes drab, and isn't as excit-
ed and/or surprised that he was just
chosen to join an intergalactic force
as he probably should be.
Reynolds is clearly trying his
darndest out there, but he's dragged
down by the insolvent screenplay
and his anti-chemistry with Blake
Lively (TV's "Gossip Girl"). Then
there's the case of Peter Saarsgaard
("An Education"), gagging and
squealing (read: obnoxiously over-
acting) as Dr. Hector Hammond, a
villain so transcendently hideous he
makes Jabba the Hut look like Clive
Owen. Hammond isn't remotely
intimidating (unless fugliness
counts as a superpower) and may
just be the most ineffectual villain
since LeBron James.
What's most disappointing is
Campbell's sloppy direction. He
handles the action well, particu-
larly Hal's training sequence, but
everything else is slapdash. One of

the film's more egregious instanc-
es of Great Moments in Directo-
rial Ineptitude occurs during Hal's
goosebumps-inducing first recital
of the Green Lantern oath, in the
middle of which Campbell inexpli-
cably cuts to Hammond sticking
his hand into a dead alien's open
wound. Gross, in more ways than
$200 million can buy a lot (must
... fight urge to say clean drinking
water), and it definitely buys good
special effects. Unfortunately, these
effects are splattered onto action
sequences crippled by the fact that
Green Lantern is first fighting Baldy
McGrossFace, Hammond and later
a humongous, amorphous blob of
evil. Not exactly The Joker. Hell,
not even Mr. Freeze.
It's a poor sign when the film's
most compelling scene occurs after
the credits, an obscenely cool twist
that could make "Green Lantern
2" legitimately great. Until then,
in brightest day, in blackest night,
"Green Lantern" will still suck with
all its might.

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