Wednesday, June 29, 2011

'Tree of Life': A solitary walk in the woods

Most of us have taken a walk in the woods, alone, with only our thoughts keeping us company.

That is what Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" is like. It's a meditation layered with introspection and contemplation.

Or as one viewer said after leaving the theater: "Heavy."

It's the opposite of most films that fill the multiplexes. 

While you have noise and violence in most movies these days, "The Tree of Life" offers whispers, incomparable imagery and asks, why are we here?

It's more of an impressionistic montage than a standard movie.

For fans of Malick's previous four films, "The Tree of Life" covers familiar territory. Except this time, he goes farther afield, to the cosmos actually, and deeper into melancholia, a troubling childhood, than ever before.

Given its mixed reviews and the top prize at the Cannes film festival, it wasn't surprising that the  theater in Bend was about one-quarter full on Sunday evening of opening weekend in Central Oregon.

In Connecticut, it left some movie-goers wanting their money back and forced the theater to post a "boredom" warning.

And yet, the film merits 8 out of 10 stars -- some, though, giving it 1 star -- from 149 posters, as of this writing, on the IMDb website. At Rotten Tomatoes, where it earned 3.5 tomatoes out of 5 tomatoes, 66 percent of viewers liked it.

The film may seem pretentious and bewildering to many viewers. I, too, have some of those feelings about the movie, yet I can't quite dismiss it from my mind. That is the power of a Malick movie. It lingers long after leaving the theater.

For those of us who were children in the 1950s, the film rings painfully true in its depiction of family life in Waco, Texas. The parents love their children, but with a heavy hand, of course. The father, Brad Pitt, is a conflicted man who alternates from wanting to hug or hit his kids. The oldest child, presumably Sean Penn later in life, appears disturbed by the hypocrisy he sees in his family and in his town.

There isn't much of a narrative drive to "The Tree of Life." It's a film about themes -- loss of innocence, family dynamics, biblical musings and the meaning of life.

How the family copes with the loss of one of the three children is the main unifying theme in the film. Of course, we're not really sure which child it is or why or how it happened.

Malick is unconcerned with such convention. In the end, apparently, it doesn't matter. Only the hollowness of loss remains along with, perhaps, a fleeting memory of happiness.

Malick's malaise, though, is that in reaching for a grand universal truth, he would've grasped a larger audience with just a tad more dialogue here or a bit more story there. But that is not his style and there is plenty of room in the entertainment world for a filmmaker like Malick.

"The Tree of Life" may connect most with those who have lost a loved one prematurely and how it haunts you the rest of your days.

You may randomly remember that person while driving your car, gazing out of your office window, washing the dishes or walking, lost in your thoughts, in the woods.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Corporate conspiracy?

Why is "tort reform" an essential part of Republican talking points?

Why does a little house in Wyoming house more than 2,000 companies?

For an answer to the first question, check out this story about a documentary filmmaker from Ashland, Ore., who was also featured on NPR last week.

Susan Saladoff's film, "Hot Coffee," aired on HBO Monday night and hopefully it'll make its way to a channel, like PBS, that most people can watch.

The shorthand is that by limiting jury awards to victims, states are shifting the costs from corporations to taxpayers. If a maimed individual needs lifelong care that exceeds the limited jury award, something that is not hard to do, the person ends up on Medicaid with taxpayers paying the cost.

In essence, corporations not only buy off our representatives, but they also control more of the civil justice system than anyone really knows.

As Alan Price sang years ago in the soundtrack to "O Lucky Man":

"Next to health is wealth, and only wealth will buy you justice."

As for the second question, check out this piece from Reuters on how you don't need to go offshore to the Cayman Islands to set up a shell corporation. You can do it onshore in states like Wyoming, Nevada and Delaware.

It's no wonder we have a huge deficit. The people who have the most money, and can easily afford our low tax rates, avoid paying any taxes. We can get a handle on our debt. We just have to "follow the money."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The puppeteers who run our government

The iconic image of "The Godfather" movie poster shows a hand manipulating a marionette device holding the strings that hold up the title.

That film was about organized crime that pulled the strings on the people operating the levers of power.

Today, we have large corporations operating those strings on all levels of government.

We may think we're voting for "change" or "values" or "a better way," but we're not. We just elect people that do the bidding of the companies with the most money.

Locally, the daily newspaper ran a recent story on the renewal of Bend's affordable housing fee that was whittled from 1/3 of 1 percent to 1/5 of 1 percent of the total cost of a new construction project.

While it was amazing the fee was extended at all, given the teabagger majority on the city council, it revealed yet again that Bend is the only city in the state with such a fee.

Why is Bend the only city?

Well, the builders' lobbying hands, the Oregon Home Builders' Association, manipulated the strings controlling the legislature to forbid any other city in the state from ever adopting such a fee.

That's even more surprising since the local builders' group set up an "affordable" housing "non-profit"  group soon after the fee passed in 2006 and grabbed $645,000 of the $2.1 million doled out. Meanwhile, Bend Area Habitat for Humanity, which has been building affordable homes in Bend for more than 20 years, got $476,500.

Obviously, the builders' associations aren't the only arms wrapped around lawmakers in a bear hug. 

In the last legislative session, the muscular hands of the petroleum industry yanked the legislative strings to bar any city or county from enacting a local gasoline tax to pay for local roads.

During this legislative session, a plastic-bag ban was set to pass with bipartisan support until the puppeteers from Hilex Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer, derailed this first-in-the-nation state ban.

Despite the fact that the majority of Oregonians are progressive, their will is often thwarted by the corporate powers that be.

Nationally, we haven't made as much progress as we should have on alternative energy sources because of the "oiligarchy" that runs our nation, and the world, for that matter. 

Not to worry, though. China, and Germany, are pushing ahead with solar and may one day sell their power to us along with their technology. And then, we could borrow money from China to pay for that energy.

So, I guess it's not that bad afterall.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wall Street Journal readers like ... for president

The Wall Street Journal has an online voting poll here for the Republican nomination for president.

Guess who wins this poll in a landslide of 46 percent in a field of 13?

Yes, you guessed it: Ron Paul, erstwhile congressman from Texas and 2008 presidential candidate who appeared in Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno."

One of my favorite comments by readers of the WSJ poll praised the "deep" field of candidates.

Ya gotta love this stuff.

Just for a little fun, I voted for Michelle Bachmann.

Obviously, it's way too early for any prognostication.