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Movie Review: Tree of Life

Brad PittTree of Life starring Brad Pitt has made top ten lists and best films of the year list.  I think it was an audience fav or won at the Cannes.

The beginning of the movie was really strange.  It was just music and a slideshow taking us all over the world visually that is.  That was the prelude to the movie which started at the end of a family tragedy that we never really get inside of.  But the film is set in 1950s Waco, Texas.  I have a friend who grew up there and it is white bread city.

You do get a feel for life in the USA at that time.  And I think this played well in foreign audiences because it is a rare glimpse into a slice of life here.  But I did not like the beginning it was over the top visually and also in terms of audio.  I am going through some hearing problems now and movies with that much music and sound effects and stuff really does not help my brain and my psyche.  But it probably won’t affect normal people at all.

It was pretty.  The film was really beautiful and wonderfully shot.  The acting was first rate and Brad will get another nomination probably two and he will go up against himself this year one can easily predict.  Moneyball was a real winner and Brad’s performance in Tree of Life is also a winner.

Sean Penn has a small role as the grown son of the family who also becomes an architect.  There are some trying moments and times for the family as dad played by Brad is often abusive towards his kids.  Everything turns out well.

The film ends the way it began with lots of footage that was pretty to look at with some plaintive music in the background that bothered my ears but like I said normal people won’t have a problem with the music, the setting, the photography and the story line…when they finally get to it.

Brad Pitt scores French gold in “The Tree of Life” (July 8 wide release)

Cannes, Alpes-Maritimes, France

Image via Wikipedia

We have to admit, when it was announced yesterday that Terrence Malick‘s “The Tree Of Life” walked away from Cannes with the Palme d’Or we were a bit surprised. The long-awaited film got a mixed reception on the Croisette and we expected a unanimous crowdpleaser like “The Artist” or “Le Havre” to walk away with the honor instead. But undoubtedly, nothing else at Cannes this year matched the ambition or scale of “The Tree Of Life” so on that basis alone the award fits. In any case, Fox Searchlightare definitely pleased as punch to be on able to add Cannes to their marketing campaign and it puts a fresh eye on the film in advance of the platform release that will start this weekend. But don’t fret, it will be coming your way shortly.

Kicking off in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, “The Tree Of Life” will have a six week rollout to theaters across the country before finally going wide on July 8th (look out “Zookeeper” and “Horrible Bosses”!). A mix of cities big and small will get the film prior to that date, but if you’re not on the radar for the limited release, it will hit your multiplex or local arthouse eventually.

“The Tree Of Life” is a unique event film, one that will definitely rely largely on word on mouth and in this busy summer season with plenty of easier to digest distractions (a two-and-a-half hour movie about spirituality and our place in the universe is a tough sell any time of year), so we’ll be fascinated to see how the film builds (or doesn’t) in the upcoming weeks. Check out the full slate of dates below. [Fox Searchlight]

Movie Review: Fair Game (3/5 stars)

First published at Blogcritics:

Imagine a glamorous spy comes to dinner to dish the latest clandestine struggle! Now you want to be a spy or at least play one in a good film.  If so, then Fair Game is for your eyes. It was screened as part of Fort Worth’s Modern Cinema; with a release date of November 2010, and it is a very good film about a strong woman, who just happens to be a real spy. 

We meet Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) in the exotic locale of Kuala Lumpur, a densely populated Muslim country. The story follows her from that task to her testimony before the House. In between Valerie and husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) take life as it comes juggling love, time, and money. The pursuit of wealth has to take a back seat for now. Mrs. Plame-Wilson is at the top of her game -nabbing Muslim players in mid-sentence without blowing cover. She lies for a living and cool is her stock in trade, a real-life Mrs. Smith who fools everyone but is no one’s fool – yet.  We are not privy to the actual catharsis of this CIA operative. It occurs off-screen and beyond the range of this excellent biopic. What are in range is the Robert Novak newspaper column of 2003 outting a covert CIA operative and its impact on Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson.

We know the subsequent history — Valerie Plame writes her own declaration of independence Fair Game: How a Top CIA Agent Was Betrayed by Her Own Government, translated with precision by director Doug Liman (The Bourne Trilogy).

Fair Game picks up the pace during an official debriefing; Valerie blurts out that she knows the perfect person to fact-check the aluminum tubes story and purchase of yellow cake in Niger, Africa. This is Joe’s turf; he knows the people and the land. Thus Joe follows the yellow cake road to Niger, Africa, sent indirectly by his wife’s ‘innocent’ promotion.

Joe agrees reluctantly. He knows he won’t find a damn thing because there is nothing left in Niger and nowhere to hide nuclear weapons. He looks, sees only deforested roads. He returns without the “right” answer.

Sean Penn hides behind  “Joe’s” beard and long hair. He’s the pensive journalist, and plays a safe hide-and-seek act but manages to deliver a focused performance. He singlehandedly makes the Bush White House most unhappy and we buy it. The Niger 24/7 media spin locks Joe’s attention. He snaps out of his ennui when Condoleezza Rice loops: “I hope the smoking gun is not a mushroom cloud” – reaches critical mass. It’s a cloud he needs to catch. On the other hand Scooter Libby (David Andrews) and George Tenet, find consensus (recall the Italian letter and enriched uranium) for their plan to invade Iraq.

It is Scooter Libby’s job to deliver a scary-good performance within a film that I think will be queued for Oscar. The liberal crowd will love its bold revisit of hoary headlines. They will identify with the angry crowds Joe argues before and his growing disdain as he witnesses the media replay of the unthinkable — an Iraq invasion.

My strongest criticism of Fair Game is how it somehow manages to hide the real grit and grind of authentic spy life. Instead it feeds us a steady diet of “isn’t this glitter lovely?”  But those sparkles do not trash or overwhelm the experience. It is definitely worth meeting in a dark room, and make no mistake it is a strong experience; We care about Valerie and Joe. Because we know why they cannot balance the war effort equation that includes yellow cake squared, divided by Niger. Joe, then Valerie, knows these do not equal invasion of Iraq.

For all the drama, this is not the end of the story. It gets worse. Exactly six months after the invasion of Iraq, Joe begins typing his own declaration of independence that takes the form of: “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson’s written rant is within the scope of the film and pushes Liman’s taut dramatic accelerator so hard that it overheats (in a good way) with the rage of Plame and Wilson as their lives unravel before the world. It is all about Valerie Plame and the end of her government career. One can never step in the same river twice.

In the final third of the film we find melodrama. Crucified covert cries: “I was wrong; I do have a breaking point.”  She breaks and so does the marriage, precipitated by Joe’s suggestion that they hit back with a Vanity Fair spread. She blows and removes her feet from the fire, going home to mom and dad. While there, Valerie has an epiphany and decides not to sacrifice the marriage to the government. Naomi Watts’ Valerie is on fire as she fights finally to clear her name. 

In the meantime, Joe is alone with the five o’clock news – where comforting talking heads recycle the “CIA leak” for which there is no undo button – and as quickly as the media turned on Plame they pivot facing Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, telling Chris Matthews gleefully “Valerie Plame is fair game.” Joe and Valerie are both stunned at this gospel since the end of their nightmare is in sight: A determined Valerie joins Joe the crusader. We watch the obligatory newsreel of the real Valerie Plame in sworn testimony before Congress. We applaud and wish it were a work of fiction. 

Running Time 106 minutes. 

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