The highlight of Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is an 18-minute montage of galloping dinosaurs, exploding volcanoes, floating amoebas, majestic rainbows, wriggling jellyfish and a giant meteor hurtling through space. Not a single person or human voice interrupts the kaleidoscopic flow.
It’s a perfect reflection of Malick’s eccentric filmmaking style, one that emphasizes mood and images over plot and drama.
Malick has a painter’s eye and a philosopher’s mind. In movies such as “Days of Heaven” and “The New World,” characters take a backseat to nature and story lines zigzag like a car sliding on ice.
“The Tree of Life,” only his fifth feature in 38 years, may be his most elusive and beautiful. It’s ostensibly about a 1950s Midwestern family: a stern father (Brad Pitt), a gentle mother (Jessica Chastain) and their three boys. What it’s really about, though, is the mystery of life.
Malick uses the parents as symbols of nature’s brutal force and the soothing balm of spirituality. While that’s a worthy subject to explore, the film’s amorphous structure makes it hard to concentrate on anything except the glorious pictures Malick has created with the help of special-effects whiz Douglas Trumbull.
Humans simply aren’t that important in “Tree of Life.” Pitt’s striving, crew-cut dad and Chastain’s red-headed Earth Mother are more concepts than flesh-and-blood people. And Sean Penn, who plays the haunted, grownup version of the eldest son, is barely noticeable in his ephemeral scenes.
The film is narrated by several characters in whispering voices and is often accompanied by a choral soundtrack that underscores the metaphysical tone.
It was greeted by cheers and boos at the recent Cannes Film Festival. I’m sure audiences everywhere will be just as divided.
The follow-up uses the same formula as the original -- the guys wake up in a trashed hotel room after a crazy night of partying and can’t remember how they got there -- but it can’t duplicate the comic shock and awe of the first one.
The original left me exhausted from laughter. This one left me exhausted from boredom.
In “Part II,” Phil (Bradley Cooper), Alan (Zach Galifianakis), Doug (Justin Bartha) and Stu (Ed Helms) travel to Thailand for Stu’s wedding. Following a campfire celebration at a luxurious resort, they wake up in a seedy room in Bangkok, where they encounter a cigarette-smoking monkey, a wheelchair- bound Buddhist monk and a transsexual stripper.
Even Galifianakis, the breakout star of Part I, is a letdown. His character, a lonely goofball who lives with his parents and is always making inappropriate remarks, still has the funniest lines. But that’s only compared with the rest of the lame dialogue.
The only reason to stay around for the end is another cameo by Mike Tyson, who reprises his role as the world’s worst singer. Iron Mike’s rap about Bangkok may give you a hangover- worthy headache.
“The Hangover: Part II,” from Warner Bros. Pictures, opens today across the U.S. Rating: *1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
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