REVIEW: The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Written by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken, and Sean Penn

You always look at nature a little differently after you see a Terrence Malick film.  This is a man that you suspect has spent a great deal of time wandering through its various forms, envisioning ways to capture its essence.  Of course, all of us outside his friends, family and colleagues can ever do is suspect.  Malick creates his films, and then stays out of the spotlight.

The Tree of Life, his latest meditation on nature by way of the Big Bang, won the Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and the one who was there promoting it was Brad Pitt.  In a way this is fitting since he and Sean Penn are all the marketing team behind this movie will have to promote it with.  It’s likely that countless Americans will attend this film to see Pitt and then be outraged.

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Summer Box Office Predictions 2011

1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Release date: June 29

Plot summary: The Autobots are back in action after discovering a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon. They find themselves racing with the Decepticons to reach it and learn its secrets in order to ultimately save the human race in some form.

Why it will rule: The first Transformers movie was a $320 million hit and the second skyrocketed to a $410 million hit. Both of those movies were without the third dimension however, which is likely to add somewhere near an additional 25% to box office receipts. Dark of the Moon will enjoy a few of the finer luxuries summer has to offer: an IMAX slot and the Fourth of July weekend it usually dons. Director Michael Bay promises to not necessarily make the third film bigger than Revenge of the Fallen, but darker and more emotional, getting into the mythos and character development, something Nolan has faired well from at the box office.

Why it will fail: Michael Bay has never made a dark, emotional movie with character development in his career. Audiences saw what a car wreck Revenge of the Fallen was and it was panned by every known critic. Given what information is known about the plot and teaser, we have no reason to believe Dark of the Moon will be any different from the first two, except that it will be sans Megan Fox, the eye candy that seemed to bring in salivating young males by the droves. Another critical disaster and story-less film may not be a box office pounding for Bay, but it also isn’t going to be the same out of the world hit unless the trailer is another Linkin Park jammed visual trip.

Estimated box office: $120 million OW / $385 million domestic

2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Release date: July 15

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REVIEW: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Directed by: Edgar Wright
Written by: Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright (screenplay), Bryan Lee O’Malley (graphic novels.)
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, and Anna Kendrick

It almost seemed as if America had had enough of Michael Cera.  His “quirkier than thou,” acting career had cornered its hipster niche, and then pummeled it with character after awkward character until they just couldn’t take it anymore.  As we saw with his two earlier and still best movies, Superbad and Juno, his comic style’s effectiveness is screenplay dependent.  Thankfully, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World‘s got one of those, and it doesn’t pummel you with his long pauses or dopey, annoying sensibilities.

Another thing this potent, and fully alive comic book adaptation’s got is a visual style.  I’d rather be pummeled by fantastic visuals than awkward pauses any day, and director Edgar Wright does this.  It can overwhelm at times, and if it were in 3D it would kill you, but Wright effectively makes up for this summer’s lack of visual polish.  You’ll feel like you’re watching a music video and playing a video game, especially if you’re familiar with the artistry of both mediums.

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REVIEW: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Written by: Lisa Cholodenko & Stuart Blumberg
Starring: Annette Bening, Juliane Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Mia Wasikowska

You usually watch a movie about the inner workings of the suburban American family expecting to see it deconstructed, but sitting through Lisa Cholodenko’s bracing, hilarious The Kids Are All Right you watch something strange: it being rebuilt.  Following an economic crisis and subsequent rethinking of what it means to be American, Kids comes at the perfect time.  It rethinks the nuclear family on the silver screen by doing the most daring thing: not mentioning it.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Juliane Moore), the two moms at the center of the film, were each impregnated by the same sperm donor.  Now that their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) has turned 18, her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson) pressures her to contact the donor (Mark Ruffalo).  They do, it’s awkward, and it almost tears the happy family apart.

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REVIEW: Inception

Inception
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard

Waves crashing to shore, then a body; these are both one of the first things we see in Inception, and one of the last.  Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated dream-thriller may wow you with its visual prowess, dazzle you with its high-ended concepts, and intrigue you with its heist-style head invading, but it has a typical Hollywood-style circular structure.

If it sounds like I’m already being hard on Nolan and his predetermined masterpiece, it’s only because you need to know right off the bat that it does not reinvent cinema the way it’s publicity campaign suggested.

Many reviews have pointed out all of Nolan’s influences (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Matrix) and for good reason: Inception is chock full of moments where anyone who’s seen a sci-fi movie will chuckle to themselves.

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Summer Box Office Predictions

1. Inception

Release date: July 16th

Plot summary: Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) is an agent who has the technology to enter the minds of business tycoons to retrieve their strategies and sell them to the highest bidder. But the mind is no safe place for Dom and his team who find themselves in a place where things can rearrange and people can have powers outside of reality. When a heist goes wrong, one CEO seeks to steal the technology from the thieves attacking him.

Why it will rule: Just a few short summers ago, Christopher Nolan delivered audiences The Dark Knight, a domestic and overseas smash that made $1 billion worldwide and nabbed the attention of critics and mainstream audiences alike. Nolan’s talent lies in making brilliant narratives into dark, compelling films that are popularized by their own quality. Add in Leonardo DiCaprio and his latest success with Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Warner Bros. incredible marketing team for dark blockbusters, it looks to be a hit. All that and the trailer proves that this is going to be Memento mind-bending with The Dark Knight effects squad and July release.

Why it will fail: With the exception of the Batman franchise, Nolan has yet to have a real big blockbuster. Without the branding, and without knowing what it is really about, audiences might turn down this smarter box office fair for more Transformers style blow em’ up blockbusters as entertainment. Also, this movie is missing the Heath Ledger effect.

Estimated box office: $100 million OW / $410 million Domestic

2. Toy Story 3

Release date: June 18th Continue reading