Tag Archives: Sean Penn

CAPSULE: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (2011)

DIRECTED BY: Paolo Sorrentino

FEATURING: , Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch

PLOT: A retired Goth rocker hunts for the Nazi who persecuted his deceased father in a concentration camp.

Still from This Must Be the Place (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s worth watching just to see Sean Penn in Goth drag, but one of the world’s weirdest movies this ain’t.

COMMENTS: The reason to see This Must Be the Place is Sean Penn’s high-concept, high-pitched performance as an emotionally stunted man-child serving a self-imposed sentence of early retirement while living off royalties from his pop star youth. I think that the movie probably works better with an against-type movie star in the lead than it would with an unknown or a character actor; seeing Penn, who has a reputation as an onscreen firebrand prone to fits of violence, playing an effeminate ex-rocker in makeup adds another level of incongruity to an already oddball tale. Penn plays Cheyenne as a man who’s completely drained, so much that you might think his corpse-like pallor comes not from foundation powder but from a total lack of circulation. He walks slowly, as if his bones ache, and with his eyeglasses on a rhinestone lanyard, he often looks like someone’s grandma. At least in the early part of the film, his answer to nearly every question is a bemused “I don’t know”; he seems to be waiting to die in a kind of post-heroin, pre-senility middle-aged twilight. Unfortunately, the script starts off reflecting the same bored aimlessness as its subject, spending its first half-hour dithering around in Cheyenne’s retirement in Ireland, focusing on an extraneous menagerie of quirky friends (an overweight Lothario, a Goth girl and her straight-laced paramour, a mother whose son has gone missing) who serve no function in the main plot. The story picks up speed once Cheyenne gets the call saying that his estranged father has died and makes his way to America, where he discovers pop’s lifelong quest to track down a small-time Nazi who tormented him as a boy at Auschwitz. Following the clues uncovered by his father gives Cheyenne a purpose, and he morphs into a laconic angel of vengeance, touring the United States and engaging in eccentric conversations with middle Americans (including a brief encounter with as a retired airline pilot obsessed with luggage). He encounters several casually weird and dreamy bits on his odd journey, including an incident where he’s trapped in a traffic jam caused by a giant promotional bottle of whiskey, visitations by a goose and a buffalo, and a vision of an elderly Hitler passing by on a platform pulled by a tractor. “A lot of unusual things have been happening to me lately,” Cheyenne tells a trucker in his detached falsetto after his rental pickup truck spontaneously catches fire. Penn has some great confessional moments that explain Cheyenne’s lassitude, and he brings this unique and scarcely credible character to life; it’s a shame that the script couldn’t be more economical in introducing the rocker. When Cheyenne’s not hunting Nazis, his halfhearted, girlish giggle and stoned, distant demeanor can get annoying.

The film’s title was suggested by a Talking Heads song, which is performed live by David Byrne in the middle of the movie, and then sung again later by a freckle-faced kid. “You’re delusional,” Cheyenne calmly explains when the lad insists that Arcade Fire wrote the song.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“As juxtapositions go, regressed Goth rock star and Holocaust could hardly be more bizarre, and bizarre can be good when it’s done deftly. In this case, however, it’s done ponderously and sententiously.”–Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by dwarfoscar, who said, “there is a fair amount of weirdness in it. I really loved that film and its always low-key and quiet craziness.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

99. THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)

“If the cosmic astronaut god-baby at the end of ‘2001’ could come back to Earth and make a movie? It would pretty much be ‘Tree of Life.'”–Film critic Andrew O’Hehir after the Cannes screening of Tree of Life (via Twitter)

“If you didn’t care for Tree of Life then genetically you are not a human being.”– (via Twitter)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Terrence Malick

FEATURING: , Hunter McCracken, Jessica Chastain,

PLOT:  A couple learns about the death of one of their three sons.  Then, a flashback covers events from the birth of the universe to the birth of the couple’s first son, Jack.  A series of impressionistic scenes show Jack growing up in a small Texas town, afraid of the stern father who wants to toughen him up to face life’s trials.

Still from The Tree of Life (2011)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Tree of Life may be a partial reworking of Q, a discarded Malick script from the 1970s, which was said to involve “a Minotaur, sleeping in the water, and he dreams about the evolution of the universe…
  • Producer Grant Hill recalls that when he first saw Terrence Malick’s original script for The Tree of Life, it was “a long document that included photographs, bits of material from his research, paintings, references to pieces of music.  It was like something I’d never seen or even heard of before.”
  • Special photographic effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Blade Runner (1982).  He came out of retirement to work on this film at Malick’s request.
  • Won the Palme D’or at Cannes in 2011 and was voted “best film” in Sight & Sound‘s 2011 poll.
  • After some theatergoers asked for their money back after screenings of the movie, the Avon Theater in Stamford, Connecticut put up a poster reading, in part: “We would like to remind patrons that THE TREE OF LIFE is a uniquely visionary and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director.  It does not follow a traditional linear narrative approach to storytelling. We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it, and for those electing to attend, please go in with an opened mind and know that the Avon has a NO-REFUND policy once you have purchased a ticket to see one of our films.”
  • A shorter version of the film, featuring expanded versions of the birth of the universe sequences, is planned for a separate release as an IMAX documentary at a later date.
  • Our original July 5, 2011 review rated The Tree of Life a “Must See,” but demurred that the film was not quite weird enough to merit a place on the List.  Readers disagreed, and in the 2nd Reader’s Choice Poll they voted Malick’s masterpiece be promoted to a List Candidate.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Thanks to its cosmic visuals, The Tree of Life is compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey more often than any other movie.  That should tip you off that selecting a single indelible image is no easy task.  I could cheat and include the entire twenty minute birth of the universe montage.  I could select my personal favorite image: the child in a flooded, womb-like bedroom who swims out the window to be born as a teddy bear floats in the amniotic brine.  But I believe we will be forced to anoint the “gracious dinosaur” scene as the film’s most unforgettable gambit.  It’s Malick’s “chaos reigns” moment, the juncture at which you either get out of your seat and leave the theater, or experience your first weirdgasm of the evening.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  Sometimes, when you spend your cinematic time immersed in the surrealistic worlds of and , it’s easy to forget how uncompromisingly radical and bizarre a film like The Tree of Life appears to someone whose idea of an “out there” movie is of Cowboys and Aliens. In our initial assessment of Malick’s grandiose God picture, we concluded that “surrealism is only used as an occasional accent here; overall, the mood is more accurately described as ‘poetic’ rather than ‘weird’” while acknowledging that “[a]ny movie that tells the story of a suburban Texas boy’s troubled relationship with his father—but uses a dramatic encounter between dinosaurs to illustrate its main point—is at least making a nod towards the bizarre.” In the months since that initial review, however, The Tree of Life‘s empyrean strangeness has continued to impress us as 2011’s best weird work. The clincher came when co-star Sean Penn complained to the French press, “A clearer and more conventional narrative would have helped the film without, in my opinion, lessening its beauty and its impact. Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing there and what I was supposed to add in that context! What’s more, Terry himself never managed to explain it to me clearly.” That’s all the endorsement we need: when a movie is too weird for its own Hollywood stars, we have to accept that it’s just weird enough for us.


Original trailer for The Tree of Life

COMMENTS: A boy’s tempestuous relationship with Brad the Father is used as a metaphor for Continue reading 99. THE TREE OF LIFE (2011)