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If You Couldn't Stand "The Tree of Life," Here's Another Flick to Avoid

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Heads up: Terrance Malick's To The Wonder has just played the Venice Film Festival and is headed our way -- a screening at the Toronto International Film Festival Sept. 6-16.

To The Wonder is a romantic drama centered on a man who reconnects with a woman from his hometown after his marriage to a European woman falls apart.

I've got chills and they're multiplying.

The star, Ben Affleck, isn't helping my trepidation. After seeing the film he told Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood Elsewhere, it "makes The Tree of Life look like Transformers."

Oh boy, I know what that means. It's a daunting task to even attempt to describe Malick's last film The Tree of Life.

A group of us who attended its screening met for coffee after and tried to figure out Malick's version of the origin of time for what felt like an eternity. Much like the movie itself, for it felt like it went on for an eternity, too. That's nothing. I hear the director's cut was 15 hours. A year later I'm still trying to figure this all out.

I know that some people felt the film helped them realize that life is good. I'm glad someone did because I know my group spent two hours and 20 minutes feeling that life is bad. One hundred and 40 minutes that we'll never get back.

We weren't alone. Some audience members at its first screening in Cannes felt bad, too. They didn't need the discussion time my friends and I had to describe our feelings. In fact, they only needed one syllable: "Boo!"

Some critics called the booers animalistic jerks. Booing might be a bit much. I remember I just couldn't stop giggling. The CGI dinosaurs 40 minutes in did it for me. I couldn't help myself: "For Pete's sake!" I cried out loud in the theatre.

"You dragged me to Jurassic Park 5!" said one friend, giving me an elbow. "Ten more minutes and I'm going to 'the washroom!' Talk to you tomorrow."

To critics, I promise you we weren't animalistic or jerks. We appreciated the beautiful cinematography shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, but much of that stunningly imagery accompanied by a soundtrack of angels sung with "joy" I'd seen at an Imax theatre on a screen several storeys high or on a National Geographic special. Frankly I'd rather have heard the productions' voice-overs than the "angelic" music used in The Tree of Life.

Potential viewers of To The Wonder, be warned. Once again audience members booed -- this time in Venice. I don't wonder why.

In the press notes for the film, Affleck himself prepares us: "The film feels to me like more a memory of a life than a literal story in real time of someone's life, the way movies more commonly are. This pastiche of impressionistic moments, skipping across the character's life and moving in a nonlinear way, mirror, in my mind, the way one remembers one's life. It's a little hypnotic and you're a little bit in a daze -- it's more fluid than real life is."

Uh oh! Shades of The Tree of Life all over again. When that film wasn't showing us the formation of life and/or the universe (in what felt like real time!) and instead focused on small-town life in the mid-20th century and one particular family, there were few dialogue-driven scenes.

I'd have paid money to have seen a copy of that script! Why even the child actors at the centre of the tale were not permitted to see the script. They were told roughly what to do or say. Malick wanted everyone to follow their instincts.

Brad Pitt played the father in the film and he explained it this way: "(Malick's) like a guy with a butterfly net waiting for the truth to go by." A hare waiting for a tortoise to speed by is more like it.

Malick rented an entire neighbourhood where they shot the film, dressed it to resemble the '50s, and would have the family linger together on the street, playing on swings, or working in the yard, while he "awaited special moments." A year and half later I'm still waiting.

Pitt's wife in the film, Jessica Chastain, explained that the director tended to steer the camera toward a nearby woodpecker or something else in nature if it interrupted the scene. Instead of ruining the take, that tended to be the thing Malick would rather use.

Oh, brother.

It's not that I want to influence people not to see To The Wonder. It's just that time is precious. I watched The Tree of Life the day after Amy Winehouse died. My only thought was, well, at least that's one movie Amy never had to sit through.

Don't say I didn't warn you.