Tree of Life – a review

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When a few months back I first saw the trailer for Tree of Life, I thought something along the lines of: “If that film is only half as good as the trailer, it must be fucking fantastic!”. If my life was a screenplay, you could file that as foreshadowing in the first act.

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the premiere here in Austria a few days ago and I was expecting, well, a lot. And as great expectations go, they are bound to go unfulfilled (here’s some more, less subtle, foreshadowing for you). Now, it would have been easy for the film to please me, because I really wanted to like it. I’d been going on and on about the film, in conversations with other people and on my other blog. I’d read about what some reviewers had called the very spiritual aspect of the film, and even though I’m not exactly spiritual, let alone religious, I thought that I could let that slide for the sake of the complete package.

As it turned out, I couldn’t.

The film starts off great, with nuanced performances and beautiful camerawork and even though there was a lengthy piece of creation footage which felt a bit like a high budget version of a National Geographic documentary, I was still sure I could really like that film. But then came the whispering. THE WHISPERING! Off screen voices just kept rambling on and on about nature and grace and every pretentious notion pertaining to these concepts you could think of. And directly addressing the “Lord” too. Which, I thought, was probably just part of the concept. Surely, the nature part, the science of things (and stuff) would get some more weight in the course of the film too. Well, it didn’t. And I’m still mad at every reviewer out there who didn’t pounce on the fact that this is ultimately an extremely and utterly Christian film.

Not just the open verbal references to God, but also the iconography that dominated throughout the film. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but hell, can you really get any more blatantly Christian than portraying the female protagonist as some sort of Mary mother of God?

Now, not everything was bad, and that’s the real shame here. Actually, a lot of things were brilliant. There were great observations of family dynamics, fantastic images and sometimes awe-inspiring work done with the music, but it was all ruined by a sophomoric approach to religion, spirituality and death.

Terrence Malick knows how to make good films, but with Tree of Life, he didn’t give us one film, he gave us two: one about a family in the 50s, which by all accounts would have been a touching piece, and another about spirituality and creation which should have been scrapped and shown in mega-churches all over the US instead. I’m sure that would have been a great success.

Carl Sagan or how I learned to love (or like) the sun

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I am not much of a sun-person. Actually, that’s not true anymore. I used to be wary of the sun, mainly because its main purpose seemed to me to send glares into my flat which would then put a glare on my monitor, making it a fucking nuisance to use my computer.

I’ve since learned two things:

  • One: Drapes are a great thing. The can make sure, none of those rays reach your computer screen.
  • Two: The sun is a magnificent thing, mainly because it’s providing us with the light and warmth we need and because it’s a testament to the fact that we are all made of star-stuff

Now, I know how esoteric that sounds, and all I can say is: it’s not esoteric, it’s science. It’s fucking science! Who taught me that? Well, Carl Sagan of course.

I’ve always held an interest in science, albeit in a superficial way, one that doesn’t demand long hours in labs. And, I’d heard about Carl Sagan before, but it was mostly confined to comment sections of Reddit or some other place where people with brains that don’t match their occupation tend to hang out.

Recently, or rather a couple of months back, I ordered Cosmos, the science-series with Carl Sagan, mainly because I’d read so many good things about it. And they were all right. Cosmos is by far the most intelligent, insightful, reflected and interesting show on science I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. And even though I know that there’s a shitload of people involved in writing a series like that, it is mainly due to Carl Sagan. That man simply knew his stuff but also knew how to convey it.

And just like that, he managed to instill in me an appreciation of the sun like I’d never experienced before. When earlier I was annoyed by too much brightness, today, when I look at the sun, I can’t help but think of how Carl Sagan described where we came from, what we are and where we are (probably) going.

It’s a shame the man died as young as he did, because I think we’d have good use for a Carl Sagan nowadays to remind us of the bigotry and pseudo-science that still dominates public discourse.

Here’s to Carl Sagan and the sun.

The Social Network – a film

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I finally got around to seeing “The Social Network”, a movie about – but only loosely based on – the actual inception of You know, that website you use to stalk people. I am not much of a movie critic, and even though introductory phrases like these should be enough to refrain from actually reviewing a film, I still feel I should mention a few things I liked and didn’t like about the film.

First of all, David Fincher simply is one of the best directors around. Second, Trent Reznor just knows how to write music. Third, the combination of both can be found throughout the movie, but the most poignant one is the scene of the rowing competition. It was actually the first time I’ve seen a scene shot in tilt-shift in a mainstream film (for the record, I haven’t seen one yet in an indie film either). Anyway, if you still don’t know whether to watch the film, do go and see it, just for that one scene (it’s roughly two minutes, but well worth it).

Now, for the rest. Without a doubt, Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay, did a masterful job. There was nary a boring scene throughout the whole film, and considering that the whole thing is, well, about a website, that is quite a feat. As for stereotypes and clich├ęs: yes, they’re all there. Most women portrayed are either demure, slutty or bossy. With a focus on slutty. I guess this simply comes with letting a middle-aged man write a film about college, young people and power (literary similarities are plentiful, go and have a look at Tom Wolfe and his “Charlotte Simmons”). So no, the film will never win a feminist’s award.

Apart from that, there’s the question of historical accuracy. For someone who has read Marshall Kirkpatrick’s “The Facebook Effect”, it soon becomes clear that a lot has been dramatized for the big screen. Fortunately, I already expected as much. Because, well, if it had been entirely accurate, the film would have been an absolute and utter bore.

Which leads me to my final point: “The Social Network” is in fact quite entertaining. Even though you might be wondering at the end what exactly it was you’d just been sitting through, when you think back, a good time was had.

In the end, it’s a film about a guy who’s shrewd, quite brilliant and mildly autistic, who gets sued by a bunch of people for being just that. Managing to make a feature film out of these elements without boring the shit out of everyone and their grandma simply is something to be admired.

Oh, and as much as it pains me to say so, Justin Timberlake is a solid actor.

And the Oscars…

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went to a whole bunch of people.

We held a very small Oscar night, including as always too much food. For example Tortillas, which looked like that before they were done:

Oscarnight menu

and like so when they actually were (to the right):

Oscarnight menu

In the end, they weren’t worth the trouble. What I liked a whole lot better were the Empanadillas, which had a nice cheese dough and a filling consisting of delicious cheese, bacon and beans.

The show itself was fun, John Stewart did an excellent job. We did the whole ballot thing, and I actually had 15 correct, including most of the important ones. Oh, and the foreign one, which turned out to be the Austrian contestant, The Counterfeiters. I’m really happy for them, but I fear there’s going to be a whole lot of self-applauding by politicians and other sycophants in the coming weeks. Filming in Austria most likely hindered the makers more than it helped them. Which makes their win even more impressive.

Since there was The Counterfeiters up for best foreign movie, Austrian National Broadcasting decided to broadcast the show live again, filling the US-commercials-void with blabber by two self-indulgent men, who constantly were so engrossed in their own story-telling, that they kept forgetting to go back to the show when the commercial breaks were over. Next year, if you do decide to broadcast again, please either show commercials yourself or just a still image until the US commercials are over.

Here’s the whole list of all the winners.