You Need to Watch This Before the End of the Year

THE TREE OF LIFE

is probably my absolute favorite film of 2011.

A friend of mine kept recommending this and building it up and I finally watched it in October; it was everything I expected and more.


Since I’m a total sucker for symbols and poetic film, I was left with so much to think about after watching it, drawing parallels to my own life and pondering the greater questions of existence; it’s hard not to let the film sink in like that! Even weeks after I watched it, I still think about it.


A man is looking back on his child and pondering on the meaning of life and how the two opposite ways of “nature” and “grace” became known to him through his family. Everyone I know who has seen it was moved by the acting and how relatable the simple storyline is.


Yes, the cinematography and plot are done quite differently from most mainstream films. That’s just part of why I love it so much. And there’s purpose behind it all!



What might be strange at first are some of the brief sequences in the film that may seem out of place or unnecessary to the storyline, like the scene in which the mother is floating gracefully under a tree or the one in which a little boy is riding his tricycle around a tall man standing in a small attic (don’t worry, these aren’t “spoilers”), BUT I read them as symbols or poetic illustrations of the characters in the film. For example, the floating mother might just be an illustration of her gracefulness and loving maternal self.


Everything from the unexplained brief light that transitions the chapters of the film to the universe/creation sequence that echoes the raw, honest questions of mankind (or, at least, the main character) was so perfectly placed and spoke things to me that most other films never have. The verses from Job 38 gave me chills but introduced the film so powerfully.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

Even if these interpretations aren’t natural or may not make sense to you, I still highly encourage you to just watch and try to let the images speak to you in ways that direct dialogue and action scenes can’t.  



Even if the SUBSTANCE of the film doesn’t move you, the STYLE is hard to miss; I don’t know too much about cinematography or the various techniques that the filmmakers used in The Tree of Life, but I can definitely say it was so captivating that I forgot to eat my chips during some of the scenes (and that’s rare for me). The framing and lighting of many of the shots were done so well for the tones and themes of the film; the cinematography, overall, was just so refreshing and different from what I’m used to.

Okay and the soundtrack is divine. These epic works of classical music really magnified the details of the plot and the seemingly trivial scenes. With iconic classical pieces such as Smetana’s “The Moldau” and a sweetly haunting “Lacrimosa” by Preisner, the film is full of pieces that add to its timeless flavor.

This is such a cliche thing to say (and I almost never say it because I’m cynical about what the phrase means) but Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is definitely one of those life-changing films for me.


Let it speak to you.


Let it sink into your thoughts.


Go watch it. Now.

Oldie but a Goodie

I don’t intend to blog about many older films, but this one caught my eye a few weeks ago and, while I was cringing with suspense the entire time, I ended up really liking this controversial work by Michael Haneke.

“Funny Games” (1997) 
[Quick summary: Nice, wealthy family of 3 (mom, dad, kid) takes vacation at a lake cabin and is rudely interrupted by two young men (who wear all white) who force the family to play their sadistic games to see if they can survive the night.]

With a title image like this, it looks like this film will scare the heck out of you (or is it just me?):

#scared

…and to be honest, I was hanging onto my friends the entire time that we were watching it, fully conscious of the fact that all of my built-up fear lied in ANTICIPATION. (one of the film’s charms)


However, as the film continued to grow on me, I realized I actually really appreciated what Haneke had created and what this film really does for an audience. It turns out that Haneke didn’t even intend for the film to automatically fall into the “horror movie” genre! Rather, it was meant to be a statement about America’s depiction of violence in media and its influence on society. Or as I saw it, the film was one big satire of American “horror flicks” and their cinematic standards.


The most obvious evidence for this is the character, Paul, who continually “breaks the fourth wall”  by directly addressing and smirking at the audience. Like this:

smirk at you

Several times throughout the film, Paul acknowledges the audience and its expectations for certain standards of horror/thriller flicks to make it plain to everyone that the film is purposefully violating these expectations (maybe exaggeratedly obvious because of an American audience? or just for humor?) This also further points to Haneke’s attempt to force the audience to question these standards and open film to dialogue and debate, instead of being content with repeated plots and genre-typical characters!


Also. The SOUNDTRACK. It’s pretty hard to miss; from the very beginning, as the opening credits start to roll, John Zorn’s “Bonehead” interrupts the soothing classical music playing in the family’s car and gives you a big heads-up about the nature of this film. Similar tracks are used later on, and I noticed that the sense of horror and violence was exaggerated simply because of the violent-sounding music. I just saw this as a commentary on how a lot of typical Hollywood films dramatize and add on to the violence or suspense of a scene with soundtrack.


The more I think about this film, the more appreciation I get for it! However, I also can’t help but think about the way I became totally numb to the murders by the end of the film because of how Haneke’s techniques distanced me more and more from the story. Did I simply prove Haneke’s point about the numbness of American society towards violence?!

Either way, it’s a hit!

BEST THING I DID THIS WEEK

was to go see “The Artist” at a cute little theater at 10:30 p.m. a few nights ago. Aside from the magical feeling of going to an empty theater at that time, the film itself, a modern-day version of the silent film, took me by surprise with how well the filmmakers imitated the older style of cinema AND captured my undivided attention for the entire film. What’s interesting is how the film is a inner-commentary on sound in cinema; both the style and substance of the film are driven by the “silent era”. 

this pretty lady

(that’s Berenice Bejo as Peppy Miller)

This lady, Berenice, was so adorably funny and got to wear some fantastic 20’s-era costumes! Her character, Peppy, becomes a sort of symbol for the transition out of the silent era and into the genre of “talkies”. I really liked how she doesn’t forget her roots in silent cinema and her start with the help of George Valentin, the main character; Peppy parallels the entire film in paying homage to the silent era.

One of the elements that I enjoyed the most was actually the lack of sound! (Except for background music as soundtrack) The occasional caption cards/intertitle cards are perfectly placed within the plot, but most of the film is so easily understandable and directs the audience’s attention and emotions with the acting and soundtrack. I can totally see this film being used as a study for sound in cinema in future years. Heck, if I ever get to teach a film course, I would definitely assign this film!

Jean Dujardin

(that’s Jean Dujardin as George Valentin)

This guy plays the main character, whom I both laughed and cried along with during the film. The story mainly follows his career as a silent film actor in the 1920’s and how it begins to spiral downwards with the advent and popularity of “talkies”. (I won’t say anything more because I don’t want to spoil it!)

these two were marvelous!

This film was just so surprisingly captivating and I highly recommend going to see it, preferably in a cute little empty theater! (it’s the only way I’m going to watch films at the theaters now :))

Oh, and if it helps at all, this film was written and directed by this cool French dude (Michel Hazavanicius):

Michel H.

Hat’s Off to These Dudes

I can’t help but get all nostalgic and smiley when I see quick little timelines like this.

A Brief History of Title Design from Ian Albinson on Vimeo.


While I applaud at the evolution of Title Design in Film & TV, I can’t help but also be reminded of the importance of Cinema in our lives (or maybe just MY life?). Growing up, it was one of the few treasured pleasures that I had. Whether it was the DVD rentals that my dad would get every weekend or the midday re-runs of classics on TV, I always knew there was something fresh and exciting that was waiting to be watched and absorbed into my brain.


Yes, this may sound like another kid who grew up on too much television (and that’s probably right!) but I would like to point out this: like the many, many books and short stories I read in my childhood and adolescence, film was simply another medium that helped to feed and develop my observational skills, creativity and love for storytelling. I could go on and on in written gratitude for what I was exposed to in my life, but I’m sure everyone who had similar upbringings knows what I’m getting at.


I just hope that more people begin to realize the art in Film & TV and not treat these mediums like a cheap fast-food burger that you gobble down and forget about in a few minutes. Sure, some works and genres may serve just that sort of purpose, but, as one who is in the habit of extracting meaning and truth from all aspects of life, I will always encourage the act of “reading between the lines” in film.


In any case, I don’t think its a waste of time (what does that expression even mean anyway?).

I salute you, Film and Television!