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Cannes Review: “The Tree.”

Cannes Review: “The Tree.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

During Julie Bertuccelli’s “The Tree,” closing this year’s Cannes Film Festival out of competition, I started mentally tracing back the chain of decisions that landed the film on-screen before me — in no small part because that process was far more engaging and diverting than anything playing out on-screen in Bertuccelli’s maudlin, mawkish pagan-pastoral grief-and-growth melodrama.

Who thought it was a good idea to have “The Tree” close Cannes? Going back even farther, who thought “The Tree” would make a good film? Adapting Julie Pacoe’s novel “Our Father Who Art in the Tree,” “The Tree” offers audiences a mix of syrupy sentiment and high-fiber sensitivity, squandering Charlotte Gainsbourg’s rough, ragged and real charisma on a familiar plot line dragged down by even more familiar soft-soap cliches and entirely predictable plot turns.

In the Australian outback, the O’Neil family is happy; so happy, in fact, that anyone who’s seen a film will wonder which of them will die, and when, mere milliseconds after we meet start to meet them. Dad Peter (Aden Young) has a sudden heart attack — clutching his chest, slumping over the wheel — leaving his wife Dawn (Gainsbourg) to founder in her grief and try to help the O’Neil’s clan four children cope in the wake of the loss.

05212010_thetree2.jpgSimone (Morgana Davies) — the second-youngest, the only girl, golden-haired and plucky — becomes convinced that she can hear her father speaking to her through the huge sprawling fig tree that looms over their Queensland home’s yard. Dawn, herself shattered, doesn’t object to her daughter’s coping mechanism, and even seeks comfort in that fantasy herself.

It’s not that the story of a family stricken by grief is an unacceptable one for a film to explore and articulate; it’s just that “The Tree” consistently and constantly takes the path of least resistance towards its conclusion, with only the occasional natural disaster — not character’s choices or actions — driving the engine of the film’s plot.

When Dawn stumbles into a local plumber’s — she’s got a problem with frogs in the pipes — not only is the owner George (Martin Csokas) stunningly handsome, single and sensitive, he’s also looking to hire part-time help. (Even more odd is the idea that despite their town looking approximately as large as a postage stamp, Dawn and George clearly have never met.) When the fig tree’s tangled roots start to disrupt plumbing and the fence and porch of the sniffy next-door neighbor, of course there will be heated discussions of whether or not the tree must come down, with Simone pulling a Julia “Butterfly” Hill and moving into the branches when George comes by with a winch and a saw to try and help Dawn out.

05212010_thetree3.jpgEveryone involved in “The Tree” is clearly well-intentioned (as eldest son Tim, Tom Russell stands out as he tries to force the family to move forward), and one can only imagine how the film might have been improved if another hand had been involved in shaping the material instead of Bertuccelli directing her own adaptation of the novel. But watching Gainsbourg cry, sleep and, sniff, dare to be happy again for nearly two hours is so clearly beneath her that it’s painfully obvious how much she’s wasted. Cinematographer Nigel Bluck gets some beautiful images out of the muck of the script — the wilds of Australia remain as bleakly picturesque as ever — but, again, the dreary conventionality and by-the-numbers numbness of “The Tree” are hard to take.

Someone must have gotten “The Tree” to Cannes somehow, and my curiosity about that is far more interesting than anything in the film’s blandly soothing hundred minutes, which amount to nothing more than re-hashed Book of Ecclesiastes homilies with an Australian accent: To everything, there is a season, and so on. “The Tree” doesn’t feel like a film that should be debuting at Cannes’ premiere venue, le Palais des Festivals; it feels like it should be screening on le channel du Hallmark.

“The Tree” does not yet have US distribution.

[Photos: “The Tree,” Taylor Media, 2010]

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.