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Did you enjoy the new Hobbit trailer I posted last week?  If you haven’t seen them, here are all of the other alternate endings to that trailer.

Uh oh.  Looks like Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt has dropped out of work on the sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, apparently because Fox is rushing the film to meet the release date the studio had chosen.  This is not a good sign.

This past weekend, on the eve of Treme’s season 3 premiere came the good news/bad news that HBO had renewed the show for a fourth and final season (four seasons was apparently David Simon’s ideal length for the run of the show), albeit a shortened season.  The exact length of this shortened fourth season, what Mr. Simon refers to as “season 3.5,” is TBD.  I’m bummed the show couldn’t swing a full final season, but I’m thrilled that HBO is at least giving Mr. Simon and his team some episodes to bring their television masterpiece to a conclusion of their choosing.

Well,  now I know why Robot Chicken did a DC Comics special this year, rather than a fourth Star Wars one.  It’s because Seth Green and many of the rest of the Robot Chicken gang are working on a whole new Star Wars parody show, Star Wars Detours. This first trailer is funny, though I’m not sure why this is a whole new show and not just more Robot Chicken…

Speaking of Star Wars, it looks like Episode II and Episode III will be getting a 3-D theatrical re-release in 2013.  I sat out the Episode I re-release (I must admit I was a little tempted, but that film is just so bad I couldn’t see spending the money, even though I was curious about the look of the 3-D), and I’m not that much more interested in seeing Episode II. But seeing Episode III back on the big screen, and in 3-D?  That just might have my ticket.  But I am really waiting to see if they re-release the Original Trilogy.  Any excuse to see those films on the big screen again is exciting for me, no matter how much new digital fiddling Mr. Lucas and his minions have done…

This is an interesting list of the Top 5 Best-Acted Moments in a Steven Spielberg Film.  I definitely agree with numbers 5, 4, and 1, not so sure about 3 and 2…

I was already interested in Judd Apatow’s new film, This is 40, and this interview with Robert Smigel and Albert Brooks, both of whom are appearing in the film, has … [continued]

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Days of Terrence Malick (Part 4): The Tree of Life (2011)

Yes, yes, I know my “Days of De Palma” series has been missing for several weeks.  Rest assured, I’ve already seen and written about several more Brian De Palma films, and those reviews will be posted on the site for the next several Fridays in a row.  But for now, as part of my “Catching up on 2011” project, it’s time at last to circle back to my “Days of Terrence Malick” series to write about his 2011 film The Tree of Life.

Click here for “Days of Terrence Malick” Part 1: The Thin Red Line (1998), here for Part 2: Badlands (1973), and here for Part 3: Days of Heaven (1978).

The Tree of Life is about, well, that’s sort of hard to say.  The bulk of the film chronicles the life of an American family living in Texas in the 1950s.  Brad Pitt plays the stern father of three boys, and Jessica Chastain (having quite a break-out year after also starring in The Help) plays his wife, the sensitive, loving mother.  We also get glimpses of one of those boys as an adult, played by Sean Penn.  We also witness the creation of the world and an extensive sequence set in the time of the dinosaurs… as well as the apparent ultimate destruction of the Earth and a possible glimpse into the afterlife.

I feel like I might sound somewhat dismissive of the film in the way I wrote that plot summary, and that’s not really fair.  The Tree of Life is a staggeringly beautiful film, and a staggeringly original one.  I can’t think of any other film I’ve ever seen in my life that is at all similar to this film (except perhaps some of Mr. Malick’s prior films).  Narrative and character development are apparently inconsequential to Mr. Malick.  The entire film, start-to-finish, is a montage.  Mr. Malick weaves imagery and sound together in the way of an artisan working an enormous loom.  The film has a stream-of-consciousness feel to it, in the fashion of memories that slide together in one’s mind as one thought leads to another recollection leads to another, with no regard for chronological consistency or continuity.  What a bizarre, wonderfully unique way to make a movie!  When The Tree of Life delights it’s in realizing what a unique creation one is watching unfold, and allowing oneself to be swept along by the river of gorgeous imagery of life (and death).

But while The Tree of Life is beautiful and original and transporting, I also found it to be deathly dull and incredibly frustrating.  I really had to force myself to keep watching during the last hour.  I was enjoyably … [continued]

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Days of Terrence Malick (Part 3): Days of Heaven (1978)

Ok, so it took me a little longer than I’d anticipated to get to the next installment in my “Days of Terrence Malick” series, looking back at the films of this acclaimed director.  Re-watching The Thin Red Line (read my review here) made me want to watch the two films that Mr. Malick made in the 1970’s: Badlands (read my review here) and Days of Heaven. Both films are considered masterpieces by many, and I was eager to finally see them.

In Days of Heaven, a young and very handsome Richard Gere plays Bill, a poor worker forced to flee his steel-mill job in Chicago after he knocks down his boss in a moment of anger.  So he and his girlfriend Abby (Brooke Adams) and young sister (Linda Manz) hop a train out of the city.  The threesome eventually find themselves in the Texas panhandle, where they find work (along with hundreds of other migrant laborers) in the wheat fields of a wealthy farmer (Sam Shepard, who I’ll always associate with his role as Chuck Yeager in The Right Stuff).  The farmer takes a liking to Abby, and Bill urges her to move in with him, so that the three of them can take advantage of the farmer’s wealth.  Needless to say, things don’t turn out well for anyone involved.

There is very little dialogue in Days of Heaven. At times it feels like a silent movie, or a tone poem in which the beautiful imagery is called upon to carry the weight of the story.  There are moments in Days of Heaven in which Mr. Malick is able to harness the awesome power of cinema to create some truly breathtaking moments, all the more notable for their near-total lack of dialogue or narrative exposition.  There are long stretches in which the film lets the absolutely gorgeous shots of the rural Texas landscape carry the viewer along, and I found myself endlessly fascinated by the scenes showing the men and women hard at work harvesting wheat.  Those moments have a poetic beauty that surprised me.  Then, most notably, there is the sequence, late in the film, in which a fire spreads through the farmer’s wheat fields, eventually building to a mighty conflagration.  The escalation of this sequence is incredible and terrifying, a bravura achievement.

And yet so much of the film feels to me as if Mr. Malick was purposely trying to make his film difficult to understand.  I continually found myself struggling to understand the dynamics between the characters, or the simple set-ups of what was going on.  Bill and Abby make a decision, in the early minutes of the film, to pretend that … [continued]

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Days of Terrence Malick (Part 2): Badlands (1973)

OK!  As I wrote about last week, after re-watching Terrence Malick’s 1998 WWII film The Thin Red Line, I decided the time had come for me to track down Mr. Malick’s first two films, both of which had gotten so much acclaim when they were released back in the ’70s.  The first of these was Badlands, Mr. Malick’s debut film which he wrote and directed.

Set in the 1950’s, Badlands centers on two main characters: Kit and Holly.  Holly, played by Sissy Spacek, is a fifteen year-old girl living with her father in a quiet South Dakota town.  Her life changes forever when she meets Kit (played by a ferocious, impossibly young Martin Sheen).  Kit is the epitome of cool to her: he is quiet and enigmatic, he’s older (Kit is twenty-five), and he looks and dresses sort of like James Dean.  What’s clear to the audience, though not to Holly, is that something is definitely off about this young man.  During the scene in which we first meet him, working his route as a garbage-collector, Kit seems socially awkward and more than a little weird.  But what I did not see coming was Kit’s tendency towards violence.  That tendency explodes when Holly’s father forbids Kit from seeing her, and only grows from there.  Once Holly finds herself in Kit’s orbit, she gets swept up in an American odyssey of violence and murder.

That sounds like the plot of an exciting action film, but Mr. Malick was after something entirely different.  Badlands is as quiet and weird a film as Kit is as a character.  There is not an inordinate amount of dialogue in the film, and what little there is is fairly banal stuff, not really connected to the incredible events that are transpiring.  Both Kit and Holly are rather still, quiet, almost passive characters.  (Somewhat paradoxically, Kit’s passivity only lasts until he picks up his shotgun.)  Though Kit and Holly are the main characters, the film does not go out of its way to get us to like, or even to sympathize at all with, either one of them.  That cold, almost dispassionate way in which Mr. Malick’s film presents the events we watch unfold is quite striking, and part, I think, of what makes this such a unique piece of work.

Even on the battered version of the film I watched (the image on the old DVD I got from Netflix was a far cry from the gorgeous, newly-restored image of the Criterion Collection’s blu-ray release of The Thin Red Line!), I still found Badlands to be a beautifully shot film.  Mr. Malick’s camera takes the time to explore the incredible vistas of the American … [continued]

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Days of Terrence Malick (Part 1): The Thin Red Line (1998)

Terrence Malick directed two highly acclaimed films in the 1970’s (Badlands and Days of Heaven, neither of which I’ve seen, but I plan to remedy that soon — more on this later), and then he dropped out of sight for twenty years.  Mr. Malick finally returned to the world of filmmaking in 1998 with the release of The Thin Red Line, his lengthy adaptation of James Jones’ novel, set during the battles of Guadalcanal during World War II.

I had previously seen The Thin Red Line once, in theatres back in 1998.  It had nowhere near the effect on me that Steven Spielberg’s WWII film, Saving Private Ryan (which had been released earlier that year) did.  (I still remember my shell-shocked, emotionally drained reaction after seeing Saving Private Ryan in the theatre.  My friends and I sat silently in our seats for a good while after the film ended, and it took a while into the car-ride home before we began to unwind a bit and find ourselves able to discuss the film we’d seen.  These days I am well aware of the film’s narrative weaknesses and tendencies towards over-emotionalities, but I still bow before Mr. Spielberg’s skill in crafting a film that, upon my initial viewing, on the big-screen, left me so emotionally devastated.  The only other film that’s affected me quite that way, when seeing it for the first time on the big screen, was Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.)

But even though I didn’t have anything like that reaction upon seeing The Thin Red Line for the first time back in 1998, I remember thoroughly enjoying the film.  I was entranced by the gorgeous imagery and beguiled by the dense, inter-weaving inner monologues of countless characters, each sharing some of their own insight and reflections on the conflict and on larger issues of human nature and mankind.

When the Criterion Collection released a new blu-ray edition of The Thin Red Line, I was eager to see the film again.  The blu-ray, no surprise, looks and sounds absolutely immaculate.  The barrage of imagery in what I once read described as Mr. Malick’s “tone-poem” remains as sumptuously gorgeous as I remembered.  The juxtaposition of the jaw-droppingly beautiful landscapes and imagery of animals and nature with the unspeakably brutal realities of human conflict during war gives the film a potent and heart-rending thematic punch.

I do find myself wishing, though, that the film’s dense ideas and philosophical musings — not to mention the sheer amount of filmmaking mastery on display as one watches the film’s gorgeous imagery unfold — could have been melded with a narrative that was more effectively coherent.  Because we’re constantly jumping around from character … [continued]