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“The Tree of Life,” Reviewed

“The Tree of Life,” Reviewed (photo)

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Director Terrence Malick is a magician with a movie camera. But watching his new film, “The Tree of Life,” is like watching a magician perform one trick over and over again for 138 minutes. As amazing as that trick is, when it’s repeated endlessly, it loses some of its luster.

In “Tree of Life,” Malick produces images that are as stunning for their beauty as they are for their simplicity. One, in which an upside-down camera dances around the shadows of playing children, is absolutely astounding. Others look so good they literally made my jaw drop. But then the shots begin to pile up: more children playing, more images of the abstract luminescence of space, more hands delicately brushing across thistles (always with the thistles!). I kept waiting for something, anything, to break the monotony. It never did. Malick likes to shoot with magic hour light, so named because it’s rare and ephemeral. Not in “The Tree of Life,” where it’s always magic hour. Individually, these shots are incredible. But at a certain point, the perfection becomes almost suffocating.

Malick’s approach is both microcosmic and macrocosmic. Maybe that makes it simply cosmic, since the film’s scope includes scenes chronicling the birth of the universe itself, from the sparks that ignite suns to the evolution of creatures from globs of cells to thoughtful dinosaurs (yes, even the dinosaurs in a Malick film are thoughtful). Before and after his interstellar journey, Malick focuses in on an American family that is almost certainly based on his own childhood in small town Texas: a rebellious son named Jack (Hunter McCracken) and his strict but loving father (Brad Pitt) in Smithville in the 1950s.

There is no narrative per se, no story thrust upon Jack and his family. Artful, wordless scenes at the beginning of “Tree of Life” inform us that Jack’s brother will die years later as a teenager (much like Malick’s own brother did). And artful, wordless scenes that follow find Jack (and, perhaps, Malick himself) as an adult played by Sean Penn, wandering a modern landscape of cold glass and steel and business meetings, and slipping into a desert dreamscape. Penn fans looking for a performance on par with “Mystic River” or “Milk” should readjust their expectations; his role is small and his percentage of the film’s dialogue — which isn’t much to begin with — is even smaller. All the actors are fine, but none have much room to work with. They’re all just chess pieces for their director. They exist here not as people but as ideas of people, pretty but sort of empty.

“The Tree of Life”‘s greatest accomplishment is the way in which it transforms intensely personal childhood memories into these transcendent, fragmented moments of grace: the movie feels plucked, bit by beautiful bit, directly from Malick’s brain. But despite the resonance of individual chapters, the film never adds up, like a pile of Jenga pieces no one bothered to stack. Even though the film seems to exist inside the shared consciousness of its characters, we never get very deep inside any of their heads or their lives. For a movie with such audacious ambitions — to create a dialogue between the entire story of the universe and the entire story of one family; the sun versus the son, as it were — “The Tree of Life,” plods forward in a shockingly repetitive routine. Kids playing, father admonishing, mother (Jessica Chastain) watching silently and beautifully, idealized and unknowable. Over and over.

The visuals will stay with you for a long time, and Malick’s work is bold and risky in a way that not enough films are. Still, I hesitate to call it unconventional; as a Terrence Malick movie, it’s actually kind of conventional. With “Badlands, “The Thin Red Line” and the rest, Malick’s already proven he can make this sort of movie: striking, melancholy, gorgeous, and somewhat distant. I know I’m being greedy, and I’m in no position to tell an unquestioned master of cinema, what to do with his gifts. But isn’t it exciting when a magician does something new?

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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