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Bananas and absurdity
August 25, 2011 - April Diodato
I do not believe it is possible to unite this column under one common paragraph. I have some movie reviews – one film that we will probably be hearing about come awards season and one that could not be less likely to be uttered in the same sentence as the phrase “Academy Award-worthy” – and events to check out this weekend, a drink recipe to go bananas for and, as usual, some sass and complaints. With no further adieu, let us dive right in.
Now Showing: “The Tree of Life”
It has been touted as “controversial” and, according to some critics, one of the best films of the year, perhaps an Oscar contender. The buzz about “The Tree of Life” was enough to convince me to see it for myself at a screening held at the Fredonia Opera House Tuesday, if only to understand what the fuss was all about. I will save curious cinephiles the trouble and the atrophy-inducing 139 minutes – it’s “controversial” because a consensus cannot be reached as to whether it’s some kind of profound masterpiece or an absolute mess. I believe it’s the latter, though it so desperately intends to be the former.
“The Tree of Life” doesn’t really have a narrative – it’s a baffling collection of moments, images and experiences. At its core is a family in 1950s rural America – a gentle mother (Jessica Chastain), an unyielding father (Brad Pitt), and three sons, though one of the sons is completely disregarded; in one scene, the boys ask their mother which one she loves best, and it clearly isn’t Son No. 3. There are glimpses into the family dynamic, primarily the complicated, strained relationship between the eldest son and his father, what appears to be the son’s not-so-subtle Oedipus complex, their internal monologue with God, and the crushing grief experienced by the parents and his adult brother (Sean Penn) after the first son dies at 19. It begins with his death, takes a bizarre detour, circles back to the family’s youth, and where it winds up, exactly, I haven’t quite figured out and I’m not convinced that director Terrence Malick has either.
It is the detour, which begins in the first hour of the film and lasts for what felt like forever, that I found completely baffling. The son dies, we flash forward to despondent Sean Penn in a modern city, and then the interlude begins. There are scenes showing the creation of life – the surface of the sun, the solar system, the ocean, dinosaurs – yes, dinosaurs. There is some truly stunning footage capturing the infinite beauty of nature accompanied by the occasional whisper to God, asking why the son was taken, but it continues on and on, and it becomes completely absurd. While muddling through it, lost in this strange abyss, my mind was racing. “What happened to that family?” I wondered. “What is this about? Could there really be another two hours of this?” The natives were growing restless. “Are you serious?” cried out one man across the theater as a stingray swam by onscreen. Finally – I estimate 20 minutes later, as I fought the urge to check the time for fear that I would run out of the Opera House screaming – we’re brought back to adolescence in the 1950s. I spent the rest of the film confused and afraid that another psychedelic interlude would begin.
The strange trip aside, “The Tree of Life” has its moments where it shines. There are some interesting elements within it and the moments we spend with the family as it grapples with growing up, mortality, the loss of innocence and the search for God are occasionally fascinating. The performances of Chastain and Pitt are outstanding – when it becomes possible to forget that I’m watching Brad Pitt, one of the most famous men on the planet, I feel he’s succeeded. The beauty of the film is phenomenal. It will certainly make you think and lead to a lively discussion afterward.
There is simply too much extraneous nonsense. What Malick really needed was a ruthless editor with no qualms about leaving at least an hour’s worth of footage on the cutting room floor. Less sting ray, more story, please. A true cinematic triumph needn’t involve inducing an overwhelming urge to vacate the premises and never return.
Just wait – Academy Awards season, some pretentious fools will herald it as the second coming of “Citizen Kane.” I could not disagree more.
- On DVD: 'Something Borrowed'
In preparation for a lazy night in, you may spot this romantic “comedy” on the shelf and think, “Why not? How bad could it be?” Just walk away. There are no surprises, no fun to be had, nothing to be gained from reliving the sheer torture experienced during “Bride Wars.”
Rachel, a mousy lawyer (Ginnifer Goodwin), missed her chance to profess her love to Dex, her law school chum (Colin Egglesfield), who is now dating her best friend, Darcy. Dex and Darcy get engaged. Rachel and Dex confess that they have feelings for each other. This happens about 20 minutes into the film. You will ask yourself, “Isn’t that pretty much the end of the movie? Didn’t they essentially show all of this in the trailer?” The answer is yes. You’ve been warned.
- This weekend is the second annual Dunkirk Cultural District Festival at the Lighthouse. There will be performances Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the line-up as follows: Cloud Called 9 at 6 p.m. and Big Leg Emma at 8 p.m. on Friday; Saturday’s festivities start at 2 p.m. with Tommy Link, East Clintwood and Well Worn Boot, and The Town Pants at 8 p.m.; and on Sunday, Three Dollar Bill and Raggedy at 2 p.m., and La Krema at 6 p.m. The concerts are free to attend, and beer, pop and food will be available. Funds raised go to the Dunkirk Lighthouse, Dunkirk Historical Museum and Adams Art Gallery. Take a lighthouse tour if you haven’t already, it’s well worth checking out. Wear sneakers!
- Tonight’s Music on the Pier event will feature the Nickel City Pimp Choir. The Pimps will provide some favorite funk and soul tunes from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the Dunkirk Pier. It’s also Northern Chautauqua County Polio Eradication Day, with representatives spreading awareness on the pier this evening.
- The Fredonia Farm Festival is this weekend, with crafters and vendors setting up shop in Barker Common from 10 a.m. to dusk on Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Expect the flavorful scent of fried dough, an opportunity to do some early Christmas shopping for your mother, and a lot of pedestrians who can’t figure out how to effectively cross the street without bringing downtown traffic to a standstill.
- Walleye Willie's will have live music by Three Amigos on Thursday, Studio 54 on Friday and Ion Sky featuring Tara Graves on Saturday.
- BJ's is having an 80s Dance Party tonight. Finally, there is a completely appropriate occasion to don leggings, neon and about half of the frocks found on the racks at Forever 21. Expect specials and giveaways.
- Chautauqua Institution has a star-studded roster for closing weekend. The Beach Boys will play the Amphitheater on Friday at 8:15 p.m. and comedic legend Bill Cosby will perform Saturday at 5:15 and 8:15 p.m.
GET OUT OF TOWN
Feeling green this weekend? The 30th annual Buffalo Irish Festival will be held in the Statler Hotel in downtown Buffalo Friday from 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday from noon to 11 p.m., and Saturday from noon to 9 p.m. There will be traditional Irish music, dancing, food and goods, genealogy experts available to anyone who wants to find their roots, Buffalo Irish history info, a raffle to win a trip for two to Ireland, and much more. Visit BuffaloIrish.com for complete details.
DRINK OF THE WEEK
For those who like their cocktails sweet, potent and completely bananas, here is a recipe for a Banana Cream Pie Martini, courtesy of my sister, Hilary Diodato. You will need: 2 oz. banana nectar (no need to actually squeeze a banana for its nectar – it's available in the ethnic foods section of the grocery store), 1 oz. vanilla vodka, 1 oz. whipped cream flavored vodka, and alcohol-infused whipped cream, vanilla-flavored (or regular-old whipped cream, if you prefer, but fans of the boozy whipped cream say it’s a must-try). Combine banana nectar and vodkas in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Top with whipped cream. Garnish with a banana coin on the rim.
WHAT REALLY GRINDS MY GEARS
We had an article in Tuesday's paper about the typical back-to-school shenanigans that come with the start of SUNY Fredonia's fall semester. As usual, there are the same complaints – “Why doesn't the OBSERVER publish any positive stories about all the great things the college students are doing?” To these critics I ask, do you actually read our newspaper? Do you realize how many stories we have published about the great things many of the SUNY Fredonia students are doing? From planting trees to fundraising efforts, awards and achievements, the good most certainly outweighs the bad. It's unfortunate that there is some bad news to report regarding the extracurricular activities of a few students but it's college, it's a rite of passage, and it's going to happen.
I personally believe that we’d all be better off if the drinking age was 18. Just ask any alum who legally enjoyed a beer at the Student Union or the Sundowner (SUNY Fredonia’s campus bar during the good old days) – from all of the reports I’ve received, it sounds like it made for a much more positive college experience.
April Diodato is the OBSERVER Lifestyles editor. Send comments and events to firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy free music Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the second annual Dunkirk Cultural District Festival at the Lighthouse. This view of the lighthouse from the lake makes it look especially haunted. Photo by Gene Pauszek.