The Making Of The Tree Of Life

If director Terrence Malick lived life by a mantra, we’d put good money on that mantra being ‘Slow and steady wins the race’. The cult director of Badlands and The Thin Red Line has been making movies for over 30 years, but until recently he still only had four feature directing credits to his name.

His fifth and latest is The Tree Of Life, a CG-infused dramatic human-struggle genre-splicer that seemingly takes its title from Norse mythology, and has been consistently shrouded in mystery. But like all of Malick’s films, Tree has taken its time getting to the big screen.

With attempts to premiere the film at Cannes falling through and word that CGI work was coming along at a snail’s pace, Tree has failed to break into the public arena just yet. Which only serves to make the project even more enticing. Because Tree could just be Malick’s most ambitious, outrageous work to date…

Fair Game (2011)

Iraq. Bush. Al-Qaeda. Three things that a post-9/11 America is probably sick to death of hearing about. Mainly because, aside from the persistently hyperbolic headlines, Hollywood has spent the last decade or so wrestling the tricky subject of the Iraq War into cinemas. The result? Some good movies (The Hurt Locker). Some rubbish (Badland). Do we really need another?

Director Doug Liman thinks so. Except he’s no longer interested in breakneck action (The Bourne Identity), colossal explosions (Mr. & Mrs. Smith) or, uh, extravagant knitwear (Jumper). Instead, he’s taken a cue from emotion-inclined dramas The Messenger and Brothers, choosing to trace the war’s insidious influence as it creates rifts in family kitchens, at dinner parties and in office high-rises.

That those offices happen to belong to the CIA is par for the course in this story based on the real-life scandal of undercover agent Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts). Leading a double existence, Plame’s involvement in the Iraq investigation between 2001 and 2003 exposes deep-seated corruption and a government that is feeding erroneous raw data to the press as fact. But when things get nasty, hubbie Joe (Sean Penn), a former diplomat embroiled in the scandal, won’t go down without a very public fight.

Splicing shot footage with real-life clips of Bush and his administration (the latter, naturally, often played for laughs), this is Liman keeping it real. Intimacy is key, as hot topics are debated over dinner and human drama is pushed to the front line. Watts and Penn are more than up to the material’s demands, the former extraordinary as a woman who just wants to do right, the latter striving for the same with all the subtlety of a bulldozer.

Just as Watts and Penn’s performances are typically focussed, so is their director’s purposeful framing. When Liman loosens the leash – such as during a brief Baghdad bombing scene – he does so with a heart-hammering, terrifyingly intimate approach, showing the action entirely from the POV of a man and his son trapped in a car. He’s also unafraid of fun visual flourishes, among them a nifty view of Penn writing an email from inside the screen. Unlike previous effort Jumper, these are mere garnishes for a taut tale that is never frivolously showy.

Fair Game only trips in its attempts to harmoniously marry searing government condemnation, domestic strife and a more action-flavoured Baghdad plot. The outcome is a film that never quite cranks the tension up enough, especially if you’re already familiar with the upshot of the real Plame’s plight. Still, if all of the Iraq dramas that Hollywood crafts in the future are this entertaining, we’re game if you are.

Anticipation: Not the ’90s Cindy Crawford thriller, but a back-to-basics Doug Liman who’s reeled himself in after the CG-overloaded Jumper. 3

Enjoyment: Fact and fiction snake together, but where’s the real tension? 3

In Retrospect: Watts and Penn are first rate as a married couple divided by their desperation to do right, while stylistically it’s top notch. Could’ve done with more meat on its bones, though. 4

Via Little White Lies

Emile Hirsch Q&A [Speed Racer]

How did working with the Wachowskis compare to working with Sean Penn?
They’re both great in different ways. The Wachowskis are very precise and very meticulous. They like to study in micro-minimalism. Taking it down to the basics and then refining the basics – and you don’t realise how complicated the basics are. They really pride themselves on trying to do something new each time they make a film. The way they edit this film just has never been done before.

You’re the lead guy, did you feel under a lot of pressure?
No. I mean pressure in the sense that you don’t wanna fuck up, that kind of pressure. But I felt really good about what I was doing, and that was a result of having good guys to work with.

There’s kind of a pop art thing going on in Speed Racer…
Yeah, these really crazy colours. I saw a really early version of it, and even without the effects it was still striking. These kind of candy colours that just pop, and this kind of tongue in cheek sense of humour. The film really is surprisingly heavy. Just like the cartoon, which would be laughing one minute, and then screaming angry the next and then [sporting] a ridiculous monkey with a hat. It had this really strange tone, but that was what really separated it from some of the others on in the 1960s. And that’s really what the brothers went for. It’s just a unique tone, it’s really unlike any other movie.

Via Total Film

Into The Wild OST

Artist: Eddie Vedder
Distributor: Columbia

Soundtrack Rating: 4/5

Two-for-ones are usually a bit of a dud – ‘buy Spider-Man 2 on DVD and get Catwoman absolutely free!’ Just what you always wanted. But rules are ripe for a-breaking, and if anybody can break them it’s Eddie Vedder. A film soundtrack by Pearl Jam’s very own front man? Not a chance. This is Vedder’s debut solo album, and the fact that it provides background noise for some Sean Penn flick is besides the point. Pared down to the bare essentials, Vedder’s music beats to the sound of pain remembered, dreams dreamt and days forgotten. One man and his mandarin, this is campfire stuff that cracks and pops with the dried-wood flames. The quivering vocals of ‘Long Nights’ and ‘Hard Sun (Main)’ swell with virtuosity, stirring even the hardiest soul. You’ll want to raise a lighter and sway. And you should.