(Kinda Belated) Weekend Update – August 21, 2011

21 08 2011

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now.

You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets.

Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life.”

– George Clooney as Ryan Bingham in 2009’s “Up in the Air

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

– Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button in 2008’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In case you missed it…

It was a pretty slow week as I was incredibly preoccupied running last second errands before leaving for college on Wednesday.  Hopefully I won’t fall off the map too precipitously, but things might be running slow for a while – especially in terms of reviewing new releases.

I took this as an opportunity to run reviews for some older movies that tied into other releases this week.  With Jessica Alba headlining the new “Spy Kids” movie, I reviewed her “Machete” and “Little Fockers” from 2010.  James McAvoy’s “The Conspirator” hit video this week, so I took the opportunity to review “Gnomeo & Juliet,” the animated Shakespearean tale to which he lent his voice.

I also took a look at the September crop of releases, which has a few gems shining amidst the trash heap.  Kris Tapley of “In Contention” just updated his Oscar predictions to include “Moneyball” as a probable nominee for Best Picture, Actor, and Supporting Actor.  More reason to get excited.  Click on the picture below to see the September preview post.

And the end of the week saw a lot of emphasis on Anne Hathaway as “One Day” opened in theaters.  On Friday, the “F.I.L.M. of the Week” was “Rachel Getting Married,” Oscar-nominated because of her performance.  On Saturday, I reviewed “One Day” and for the most part liked what I saw.  Click the picture below to read the review.

Recommended Reading

Save a tree, read a blog. Unless you want to print out a review … in which case, you aren’t saving trees.

And Vulture asks the question we are all pondering: Why Do Studios Think There’s So Much Value in Old Titles?  After the flop of “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night,” here was their best conclusion.

“‘Studios remake these movies because they often already own the title,’ says Ammer. But it’s more than that. After all, it wouldn’t cost a studio any more money to hire a writer to write an original screenplay than it would to have him or her write one based on an older film. The real appeal of an old title is more superstitious: The studios use them, says Ammer, because ‘they know it’s worked in the past.’ Even though it’s an entirely different movie made by different people for a different generation, the idea is, hey, the title worked before, why not give it another shot? For all of Hollywood’s supposed liberalism, studios, like their audiences, are quite conservative. Genre is the most predictive aspect of a film’s future results, and then title, so why not double down? A remake of a successful genre film allows a studio the greatest possible risk reduction.”

The Tree of Death

/Film said it best when they broke the story: Even Sean Penn did not care for Sean Penn in “The Tree of Life.”  However, I’ll give credit to where I saw this first, Guy Lodge of “In Contention.”

Sean Penn moping about in my hometown.

In an interview with the French magazine Le Figaro, Sean Penn had this to say about Terrence Malick’s enigmatic film:

“I didn’t at all find on the screen the emotion of the script, which is the most magnificent one that I’ve ever read. A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.”

I’ll go ahead and add this disclaimer to those that love the movie or the fact-checking Gestapo that yes, I realize that’s not the full quote.  But for the sake of this post, it’s easier to just analyze this part.

Where to begin?  The fact that a two-time Academy Award winner would bash his own movie would be shocking even if it was a total sellout, but even I as a non-impressed watcher see “The Tree of Life” as anything but a sellout.  It’s high art, just not the kind of art that was to my taste.  He doesn’t exactly mince his words there, pretty openly stating his distaste for how his role in the movie turned out.

This is nothing new, of course.  Adrien Brody complained when he was largely cut out of Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” – while I don’t like when whiners get their way, he certainly got it with Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” in 2002.  But Penn’s statement goes far beyond just a diva fit, although I do think it dabbles in a sort of self-centered sensibility.  He questions the very way that the movie was made!  Keep in mind that Sean Penn has stepped behind the camera before, even turning out an all-time favorite of mine with “Into the Wild.”

Penn gets to the core of my issues with the movie.  I’m even a little bit more flexible – I’d be fine without a conventional narrative.  But Penn points out that the movie was incredibly disjointed.  I’m sure that the movie was beautiful in Terence Malick’s head, just as Penn says it was beautiful on the page.  Interestingly enough, I’ve heard from industry insiders that Malick shot the script with the dialogue, even allowing Jessica Chastain to speak.  Then he would cut, walk over, and tell her to emote all of the dialogue just with her eyes.  An interesting philosophy that produced an interesting end product.

Still moping...

Yet when everyone on set is not working in sync with the same vision towards a final product, the movie inevitably suffers.  If an actor doesn’t understand his purpose on screen, how can he do a decent job?  Moreover, how can he contribute anything to the movie?  If a director can’t even articulate his vision to the people he entrusts to help him create art, how can he articulate it to an audience?  I’ll inevitably be hit with the “it’s subjective” argument, but give it up here.  You can’t honestly argue that Malick is such a visionary that he can’t even be on the same page with his fellow artists.

Even those that I’ve talked to who LOVE the film can at least admit that the Sean Penn segments were the weakest parts of the film, and the actor’s statements shed some light on why that is.  An actor just existing on screen because a character exists on the page doesn’t make for compelling cinema if he doesn’t understand the basic objectives and motivations.  It’s just … boring.

I guess my biggest question here is why didn’t Penn make a bigger fuss on the set?  It seems kind of cowardly to whip out these harsh words now, potentially even in “too little, too late” territory for those who feel they’ve wasted their life watching the movie.  I get the whole mindset that Malick is a genius and you don’t question him, but for such primal acting concerns as these, why wouldn’t you demand more from the master during production?  If he was really that dissatisfied, why not walk off the movie?  These problems Penn has should have been settled a long time ago, and by just bringing them up now, he’s either searching for attention or absolution for being the worst part of the movie.

Penn did close with this statement about the movie, something that I’d say I basically espouse:

“But it’s a film I recommend, as long as you go in without any preconceived ideas. It’s up to each person to find their own personal, emotional or spiritual connection to it. Those that do generally emerge very moved.”

 

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4 responses

25 08 2011
CMrok93

Thanks for the link Marshall! Appreciate it man!

26 08 2011
5plitreel

Thanks so much for the link!
Those comments Penn made were interesting.. Whether they came out of bitterness or actual disappointment is a different thing. I’d love to see the script, and whether it got torn apart in the editing room.

26 08 2011
Nick

Thanks for the link! Much appreciated!

12 09 2011
Fitz

Seems a shame that Malick hasn’t quite figured out that voice over and “existing” on camera isn’t enough for the audience to empathize with. We simply need more than Sean Penn walking around.

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