Cast: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Sean Penn, Hunter McCracken
Director: Terrence Malick
The Tree Of Life is one of the most challenging films I would ever have the pleasure to review, a cinematic poem of incredible visual beauty that dares to examine our place in the Universe through the eyes of a boy growing up in Texas during the 1950s.
Only the fifth feature-length film of Terrence Malick’s long career, The Tree Of Life is as ambitious as it is personal, feeling like the director’s quest to find God in the memory of a fading childhood.
Malick’s exploration is a quiet one, using his impressive cast as vessels of emotion that speak through their eyes and through their touch, more than by the content of their words. For most of its running time, The Tree Of Life centers on Jack, the oldest son of an American southern family. He is shown as an older man reminiscing about his childhood and the loss of a brother, played by a nearly silent Sean Penn; and as a young kid, played by the very capable child actor Hunter McCracken, who seems to grow up in front of our eyes, balancing two very different parents and two younger siblings.
Synopsis: A crew of scientists embark on a mission to find answers about the origin of the human race in a distant planetary system. What they find is not only surprising but a bit more than they can handle.
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba
Director: Ridley Scott
To watch Prometheus on the big screen at your local multiplex is an experience that should not be missed. From the gorgeous visuals, to the effectiveness of the cast and the artistry of the special effects, Prometheus is one of those pieces of cinema that is well worth the admission price.
After years away from science fiction, Ridley Scott shows that this genre might be his true forte as an artist, always able to create immersive worlds that border on the sublime. The stylistic language in Prometheus takes cues from Scott’s previous work while utilizing the latest in special effects to modernize his view of the future. Whereas Alien featured clunky, heavy machinery with computers running on MS-DOS in a maze of dark hallways filled with smoke, Prometheus takes the route of revisionism and updates Scott’s vision towards sterilized, streamlined, minimalistic technology inside spacious rooms adorned with splashes of bright colors. The change is mostly an aesthetic one. Prometheus continues with the tradition of Alien, crafting sets that contribute to the suspense, almost too large and too perfect to be inviting.
Cast: Max Records, James Gandolfini (voice), Lauren Ambrose (voice), Catherine Keener
♦ Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films Ever ♦
Rarely do I get to sit down to watch a film that despite its visual tenderness and innocence, manages to dig deep in my soul and carve itself a small crevasse in my memory where it will remain for a long long time. The beautiful Where the Wild Things Are, wonderfully directed by Spike Jonze, is one of those rare films that had I not been able to see it, my life would have been a little less complete and a little less special than it is today.
What Spike Jonze has done is not without merit for he has not only crafted a touching piece of film, but he managed to bring a wonderful story to life from a slender children’s book first written in the 1960s that runs for less than 40 pages containing as many images as it does words. Crucially, the screenplay did not seek to interpret what was at the heart of the story, instead Jonze collaborated with Dave Eggers to expand upon the central message by infusing it with richer characters surrounded by colors, textures and incredible shots of forests, endless seas and wavy sand dunes.
Cast: Liam Neeson (Ottway), Dermot Mulroney (Talget), Frank Grillo (Diaz) & Dallas Roberts (Hendrick).
After delivering powerful, critically-acclaimed performances during the 1990s, Liam Neeson has been truly prolific in recent years as a bad-ass action leading man that has brought him box-office hits such as last year’s “Unknown” or the intense “Taken” a year prior. This time around, Mr. Neeson continues his unlikely rise as one of the preeminent action stars in Hollywood with “The Grey”, a beautifully shot survival film by director Joe Carnahan.
In this post of “1-minute reviews” I analyze three films that I have seen over the last couple of weeks: Melancholia, Baaria and The Devil’s Double.
Melancholia (Lars Von Trier – 2011)
If judged from a purely visual standpoint, the latest film by Danish director Lars Von Trier is as stunning as anything you will see in theaters on this or any year. The large mansion, the expansive landscapes and the endless skies all serve to build a cinematography that is elegant and captivating, setting the stage for extremely detailed characters that express a plethora of emotions that range from complete and utter desperation to a quiet sense of resignation.
My IMDB top 250 film challenge continues. Today I reach my 11th review with the end of my Clint Eastwood cycle. In this post I will analyze one of the most critically acclaimed pieces in the history of film: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, directed by Sergio Leone and released in 1966. At IMDB, the film never leaves the top 5 and it was, until recently, one of those widely known classics I had never seen. So, this week I can finally say I have cleansed my cinematic soul and proudly declare I have seen the famous Western.
As it happened with Unforgiven a few weeks ago, I came into this film with a lot of hesitation. I really did not think it would deliver despite the great ratings it has received since it was first released. You see, I had always come to think of the Spaghetti Western as the genre of cinema where all cliches come to find a home. The image of John Wayne taking down cowboys and stereotypical Indians still burns my retina and clouds my view. To my delight, both Unforgiven and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (which I will abbreviate from now on with the letters GBU) delivered in style. While Unforgiven was the masterful stroke of Eastwood as a director and a storyteller, GBU was a fun trip from beginning to end.
It became apparent to me, from early on, that one of GBU greatest assets is how it meanders through every cliche in the book and makes it work by not taking itself seriously and playing with the audience’s expectations to create one incredibly entertaining story. GBU plays like an epic novel where every character seems to be taken straight from a comic book. There is a caricature of the heartless pay-as-you-go assassin (The Bad), the dirty and poor bandit that is always looking for the next big hit (The Ugly) and the mysterious yet incredibly cocky cowboy that roams the land in search for gold and adventure (The Good).
Of all of the three main characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was Tuco, the bandit, played by the eternal Eli Wallach, and not Blondie, the cowboy, played by Eastwood, to be the most interesting and entertaining character. Tuco is, in many ways, the heart of the film, balancing with humor and silliness the cockiness and grace of both Blondie and Angel Eyes, the assassin, wonderfully played by Lee Van Cleef. Tuco is a whole lot of fun because his character seems to remain above all stereotypes. The only thing that is certain about him is that he dreams of riches. There would be no one, not even a brother he still holds dear to his heart, or Blondie, who he grows fond of, that would be able to stop him in his quest for the treasure that a dying man spoke to him about.
Angel Eyes, out of the three, is the easiest to define. He is a brutal killer whose only rule is to see a job through to the end, no matter how difficult or how tempting it may be to desist. The film clearly depicts him as the guy the audience should root against as he has no comedic or gentler side to him. For Angel Eyes the goal is only money and that is never in doubt. While Tuco is comedic and even adorable in his messiness and mannerism, Angel Eyes is always business and nothing else.
Blondie is a bit of a mystery as the film leaves open the question of whether we should root for him in this adventure. Despite being branded as “The Good” at the end of the movie, Blondie is not altogether decent. His desire is also to be rich but, unlike the other two, he will not go out of his way to cause harm. In fact, Blondie only kills in the movie as a defense mechanism, to protect his life from the common threats of the Wild West.
What makes GBU great is not the story though. For Leone, film was very much an instrument to exploit his creativity as an artist and composer. As with previous endeavors, GBU is an opportunity for Leone to explore a great variety of shots, often switching from panoramic to close-ups, using the arid and vast terrain to his advantage to create wonderful compositions. While there are certain elements of GBU’s central story that are sketchy, Leone’s stylistic display of talent is, without question, the film’s strongest aspect. No better example than the masterful scene at the cemetery where Tuco frantically searches the circular grave site as the camera follows him and accelerates until everything in the background becomes a blur of graves passing through. Once the three main characters meet upon finding the treasure we are placed as the spectators to one of the most inventive and fitting endings in the history of cinema, one that is not only clever, but impressively shot by Leone, who grasped the moment with a fine use of creative composition and music.