The Tree of Life

 By: Matthew Kerwin

 
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … when the morning stars sang together?” Job 38: 4,7

Imagine a film without a concrete beginning or ending, instead a series of vignettes, a kaleidoscope of images and ideas where you can come in and pick up at any point and create any story you want. This film is about life–yours, mine, your friends, or neighbors. It is bountiful – in the sense that has something to give to anyone—- if one is willing to indulge themselves in the viewing process. You must let down your defenses, your inhibitions and enter Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” a film not meant to be watched, but experienced.

Malick ‘s stylistic approach is philosophical– above and beyond the rest of Hollywood. He is the master of unrelated narratives and poetic grandeur; when nature, image and sound are brought from the foreground while plot, dialogue and character are reeled back.

On paper this film seems straightforward–  A family with three boys growing up in the 1950s from a small Texas town. But in context it is an honest flow of memories from Jack, the eldest boy’s point of view and his loss of innocence while struggling with the death of his older brother. We are implanted into Jack’s most intimate memories. Memories that evoke, pain, suffering, resentment, regret, disappointment, love, happiness, innocence, growth, triumph, desire. In actuality, the family was merely a vessel for Malick to paint a bigger picture about the meaning of life and why we are here.  The film itself invites the viewer to dissect life from its most outer shell, to reflect on the purpose of our existence while surrounded by an infinite, powerful and magnificent universe. We humans find it complex to come to terms with it all, habitually relying on religious faith in order to come to terms with our own life and death. For nature is merciless. It does not care If we suffer or pray — It is indifferent, unaffected by human emotion. “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.” While life can bring overwhelming pain and suffering, part of the secret of life is expanding our love through grace or nature. The question is: Which one will you follow?

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The Thin Blue Line

Like the old adage timing really is everything. Nothing exemplifies this better than The Thin Blue Line. Every once in a while a story comes along that captivates the nation and visionary director Errol Morris seemed to be at the right place at the right time when investigating the murder of Dallas police officer Robert Wood. All the stars were aligned for Morris who was actually coming to Texas to interview Dr. James Grigson, a Dallas psychiatrist nicknamed “Doctor Death” but after interviewing Randall Adams who was convicted of killing Wood, Morris began to shift gears on his topic. Adams was in the 11th year of his life sentence for the crime he insists he didn’t commit. To make matters worse there was evidence pointing towards the supposed witness to the crime  David Harris, but he was a minor at the time of the murder and it was easier to prosecute Adams. Call it fate, call it karma, Harris ended up in jail for another crime in 1985, just in time for the filming of the documentary.  You cannot make this shit up, this film reminded me of a hoaxy James Patterson novel. The beauty of this film is that it became bigger than Morris ever could have conceived and I must say—-it is nothing short of miraculous. During the final scene Harris confesses to the crime and Adams walks out a free man.  This is the perfect Shawshank Redemption-esque fairytale ending that we all were rooting for. To top it off, the final scene of Harris, who talks wonderingly about the fact that a person’s whole life can be changed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Is Randall Adams an innocent man?” Morris asks Harris.

“I’m sure he is.” “How can you be sure?” “Because I’m the one that knows.”

This dialogue was initially meant to be shot using a camera, but Morris’s equipment broke down that day and they resorted to a tape recorder to capture the dialogue. Perfect timing right? I think so, its chilling to the bone and really captures the eeriness of the entire case.

The style of filming breaks all the traditions of the documentary format, including the interview process where the interviewee is looking into a mirrored lens that makes it look like they are talking to someone across from them. Morris also makes use of visually striking objects such as a swinging clock, the use of cop lights, and reenactments from the night of the murder. The thing I like most about Morris’s style was the decision not to use narration or voiceovers, the film flows smoothly without someone guiding us along  which makes the viewer engage themselves into the characters even more.

The Illusionist

Sylvain Chomet’s “The Illusionist” is nostalgia wrapped in bubble wrap- it’s very fragile for an animated film and the style suits it perfectly. The screenplay is the final act of the late great Jacques Tati, who is famous for films such as Mr Hulot’s Holiday, Playtime and Traffic. The film itself is about an aging Magician, a vagabond of sorts who goes from one place to another, wherever he can find steady work, a paycheck and an audience. He eventually ends up in Scotland and crosses paths with a young girl who seems to be the only one who admires his work and they decide to move in together and form a kind of Father- Daughter relationship. The relationship also shows the drastic differences that are defining them; the magician is slowly disappearing and being replaced by loud rambunctious bands, whereas the girl is slowly emerging into her own shoes. The main character’s look is definitely an homage to Tati, who sports an identical long slender frame, trench coat and a trademark pipe. The film feels like an extension of Tati because it captures the magical charm that surrounded him, but sadly signifies how tragic and troubled his family life was like.

Biutiful

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life, is rounded with a sleep” One moment you can have something that is beautiful, a family, a successful career, and complete euphoria, but the next moment can be filled with sadness, conflict, or despair and then we disappear. In Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful” we get a blend of both. Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a good-natured man dying of cancer that resorts to illegal things to provide for his family. Uxbal lives with his two children in a very run down part of Barcelona and you get a sense early on this is a man who will go to extreme lengths to support his children at any cost. In the midst of taking care of his children Uxbal is in a complete free fall, he has a struggling relationship with his bi-polar wife and they have scenes of extreme frustration when it comes to communication and co-existing with one another. Here is a couple that has a deep love for each other but can’t stand to be in the same room with each other either. This relationship has many layers like any normal relationship has and you connect with them on some level if you have ever had a difficult relationship with someone you love. To make matters worse Uxbal is in cahoots with his boss at work, and his drug dealing associates. He is surrounded by so much noise and clamor that the audience may forget this is a man who is slowly dying piece by piece.
The glue that holds the film together easily goes to Bardem, who was recently nominated for his performance. He easily has the most range and screen presence I have seen in years. Although this movie is very challenging and difficult at times, it is a must see for Bardem’s performance alone.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

After I viewed this film for the first time, I was convinced it was a hoax. As it is, Banksy pushes the envelope with his very political and thought provoking street art. Making this documentary was just a new medium for him to transmit his… work. He also may have used the “hoax” controversy to create a new art form. With that in mind, I personally think Banksy is trying to prove a point or send a message to audiences around the globe. For instance, if the media has so much power and manipulation over how we think when it comes to news, politics, and religion, then Banksy can successfully manipulate us into thinking a certain way too. Take Thierry Guetta for example, how did he go from a creepy stalker with a camera to making millions? Is he smarter than you and I? I just think it’s baffling that someone like Mr. Guetta can go from a man with no direction in his life,( a man who filmed random nonsense) to a self made millionaire overnight by taking Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup can painting and merely changing the soup can into a spray-paint can and selling it for an insane profit. Is that art? Thats relative, but I can’t be too surprised; we do live in a world where one of the most popular TV shows is “Jersey Shore” so it wouldn’t shock me if this wasn’t a hoax, and if that’s the case— we are to blame for feeding into this nonsense – that may be what Banksy is trying to prove, after all Thierry’s pseudonym is Mr Brainwash.

Restrepo

Published By: Matthew Kerwin

“The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, -for war is a drug.”

From the very start of the documentary we are introduced to a group of young men around  19-24 years of age. They are in what looks like some sort of vehicle headed for deployment. The first scene is homemade, shot POV style by one of the soldiers. It captures some of the guys bonding, laughing and joking with one another—most of all it shows us that soldiers aren’t the stereotypical  “juice headed man with a machine gun”,–they are like you and I. They have personality and emotion- they could be your family, your friend, your neighbor.  We see the exterior of the soldiers; they are like steel but throughout the documentary we find out the interior has cracks and can be fragile.

  Filmmakers Tim Hetherington of “The Devil Comes on Horseback” fame and  Sebastian Junger bring us this hauntingly beautiful footage in the form of  “Restrepo”

These gentlemen followed and documented the soldiers of a U.S. platoon in the Korengal Valley for an entire year. I was sucked into the void of helplessness known as  “The most dangerous place in the world” and  I can only imagine how terrified all of  the soldiers were when they were in the midst of battle because I was petrified watching 8,000 miles away. 

 The name Restrepo is taken from a fallen soldier of this particular platoon, Juan “Doc” Restrepo. He had charm, wit and charisma. He was likeable and everyone in the platoon had only great things to say about him. He was held in such a high regard that the platoon named an Out Post after him.

Platoons in the U.S. armed forces become more than partners they become family. This platoon is no different, each guy cares for the other like they were of the same blood.

Like Devil Comes on Horseback, Restrepo shows war at its ugliest, the soul at its darkest and the mind at its most unstable.

Some of the most poignant parts of the film were without dialogue; they were strictly headshot stills of individual soldiers. Eerie silences, scenic mountain shots and frantic gunfire captivated the film so poetically that I was left feeling numb and grew attached to the individuals that were being documented.

One scene that exemplifies this is also the hardiest to watch. [Spoiler]—————

The scene involves Staff Sergeant Rougel during the mission “Rock Avalanche” he is ambushed by a group of Taliban soldiers and is killed instantly. The camera captures the reaction of his fellow soldiers, they all have a deep fear in their eyes like they had just seen a ghost—watching this just sent shivers down my spine. One of the most powerful scenes I have ever seen in any film is the reaction of the soldier who broke down at the sight of Rougel’s lifeless body. This took my breath away and left me in tears,  it was just gut wrenching.——————-Spoiler

What I liked most about this film is the guerilla style camera work with no narration or commentary from the film makers. It really helped enhance the quality of the film, showing the raw and long term effects war has on the human mind. This movie will stay with you, just like war haunts a soldier for the rest of his or her life.

Films of 2010

Published by: Matthew Kerwin

 Well folks, 2010 has come and gone, we had some laughs, we had some cries and we also saw some films that made us do both.

I wont make a top 10 of the year, instead i’ll talk about the  films that left an impression on me for better or worse. First and foremost, it was a fairly slow year in terms of great films so that is why i take this approach instead of a traditional ” top 10 list”.  I would like to designate  the 2010 year in movies as “the little engine that couldnt”.  It started out with great promise with such releases as ” Shutter Island, Toy Story 3 and Secretariat” , but  followed with the absymal, Takers, Book of Eli, Paranormal Activity 2, and Alice and Wonderland. (there were more horrible films, but i wont go Debbie Downer on you.) Also, if you liked any of the films i catagorized as terrible, i am so sorry for your taste in movies.

This year just never had many original concepts or ideas like we have seen in the past. Alot of the good films were even pusing it with recycled material or sequals. This is a bit alarming, but i hope it was just one of those years where nothing came together just– perfectly.  Dont get me wrong i absolutely loved some of the films that were released last year, but i wasnt blown away like years past. Maybe i have been watching too many movies and have become too picky for my own good, i’ll let you be the judge of that.

These films are in no paticular order.

  Blockbuster films

 Inception, The Social Network, Black Swan,The Kings Speech, 127 Hours,The American

Limited released films

Winters Bone, Blue Valentine, Somewhere, Animal Kingdom, I Love You Philip Morris, Another Year

 Documentaries

Exit Through The Gift Shop, Citizen Architect, Lemmy, Catfish,Restrepo

 Animated Films

A Town Called Panic, Toy Story 3

Foreign Films

Mother, The Secret In Their Eyes, Biutiful and Dogtooth

Other films that you might want to check out as well,

Shutter Island, And Everything is Going Fine, Never Let Me Go,Carlos, Monsters

Most challanging film this year goes to:

Enter The Void

Drop me a comment,

Let me know if you agree or disagree with the films i chose and what ones you would have put in their place.