Had unquestionably one of the best days of my moviegoin’ life today at the theater. It seems now that I’m running the Arts section of the Suffolk Voice, I can walk into any screening I want. Today I celebrated that privelage by taking in a screening of Terrence Malick’s 2011 Palme D’or winner, “The Tree of Life”, followed by a sneak preview of Joe Cornish’s debut film, the festival favorite “Attack the Block”.
“The Tree of Life”. It’s pointless to review such a film. It is a mirror; you see in it whatever you want to see. It’s the film Terrence Malick has been building to his whole career, no doubts. It is not an out-of-character film for him, its very much part of his aesthetic, and in some ways is even a natural progression from the transcendental style laid out in “The New World” (the cinematography, done in both films perfectly by Emmanuel Lubezki, is very similar.) And there’s no doubt the film has gone through constant changes and iterations: Brad Pitt at one point saw a 4-hour cut, what remains is 138 minutes. Here the focus is on the family (the cosmos takes up little more than one reel of eight), and Sean Penn has been cut down to a cameo. Yet it’s entirely possible this is the best version of the film Malick ever cut: it’s elliptical, difficult, and ambiguous, yet never slow.
It undoubtedly is the culmination of his talents both as a filmmaker and a philosopher: his portrayal of the main family is as poignant and provocative as any characterization he’s done, and, as has been much publicized (and perhaps overemphasized), Malick does step further away from his plot here than he ever has before (and that’s pretty far). He freely cuts around the family, the birth of the cosmos, natural disasters, prehistoric landscapes, nothing is off limits. He is investigating life itself, and he has no borders around his subject. This is unquestionably Malick’s most personal film, his most ambitious film, and it will be his most polarizing film. Time may also reveal it to be his masterpiece.
And, “Attack the Block”. Oh my. How I love you, even now, a mere hour after seeing you. This movie is purely insane: a lazy Hollywood exec would sell it as Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” meets “Predator”, but this is operating on its own level. Joe Cornish’s debut is a love letter to South London, an examination of street gang culture, a fucking hilarious comedy, one of the best teen movies in years, and a purely badass genre film. Again, giving too much away could only limit your enjoyment of this one. You should go in blind, as I promise you it’ll grab you with the same energy of any classic genre film: you’ll simply love the characters so much that anything else (the genre plot, the low budget, etc) will seem secondary at best. Cornish has made a hard boiled, deeply layered, intricately drawn film with the hard nosed energy of a John Carpenter (and he also displays skills comparable to Carpenter’s mastery of the 2.35:1 frame, a rare talent), and it just happens to involve aliens, an incredible soundtrack, acting revelations, and more. Don’t be suprised if 2011 ends and these two are #1 and #2 on my top ten list. Be back with full reviews when the films are released (a week from Friday for “Tree”, no date yet for “Block”.)