In the Bedroom, and six more movies

Chuck & Buck (2000)

This was written by Mike White, who I sometimes confuse with Jack Black. Black is the fat one from Tenacious D and School of Rock. White is the skinny, pasty gay guy who wrote School of Rock and ran with his dad on The Amazing Race.

White plays Buck, whose mother dies in the opening scene. Buck is one of those people who are always ill at ease, and it's catching. You'll be instantly ill at ease.

His best friend from childhood, Chuck, comes to the funeral, and he's instantly ill at ease, too. Also, he'd rather be called Charlie, now that he's 30-something — an adult and all.

They're the same age, but Buck isn't an adult. Something's not right with him. He's very clingy, doesn't have any friends, doesn't believe in boundaries, and he desperately wants to be buddies with Charlie again. He wants it so much, he moves to Los Angeles to be closer to Charlie. Things get awkward, and then (plot twist) things get awkwarder.

Verdict: YES. I love awkward, and this is all awkward, all the time.

The Neverending
Film Festival

♦ ♦ ♦

The Disappearance (1977)

Donald Sutherland plays a broken-hearted hit man, sad because his wife has left him. We see her in flashbacks and she's horrible, spewing crap like, "Loving me is not enough. You also have to care about me." I don't even know what that means, but if a woman said that to me and left, I'd be glad she was gone.

Anyway, due to Sutherland's sadness, he mopes around a lot, often with sad piano music playing to remind you that he's sad. As motion picture entertainment, this is not entertaining.

Sutherland's hit-man handler (David Warner) is estranged from his wife, too, and possibly buddy-buddy with Sutherland's wife, but alas, my interest in murderers' marital problems reached its end long before The Disappearance did.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Doll Squad (1973)

After a NASA launch at Cape Kennedy, the ship explodes in mid-air, like the Challenger. It's a terrorist attack, complete with a cryptic message from some person or group — "Next time, perhaps you'll listen."

Potentially, that's the start of an interesting movie, and it is interesting as it starts. Almost immediately, though, a gorgeous woman with ample cleavage is brought in to investigate the crime. She's Sabrina, super-spy and head of The Doll Squad, comprised of several more super-spy cleavagey women.

That could be interesting, too, but it isn't. There are lots of poorly-staged fistfights and kickfights and gunfights and very poorly-written exposition, and over the end credits someone sings a very bad "Song for Sabrina."

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

In the Bedroom (2001)

Sissy Spacek and Tom Wiklinson star as a long-married couple with an adult son. You'll think you're watching an excellent family drama, until their son is killed.

After that pivotal scene the movie is still excellent, but now it's about two parents dealing with the aftermath of the death of their child, and adrift within America's lethargic criminal justice system. When you're settled into that story, think you know what you're watching and what to expect, you'll be mistaken again.

It's something special when a movie is this good, this smart, and this completely different from every other movie. I can't even think of a film I'd compare it to, that goes where this movie goes, does what this movie does. It's thought-provoking, unforgettable, and... what's a fancy word for 'holy moly'?

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Road to the Stars (1957)

This is an optimistic Soviet documentary on the history and future of space exploration. It explains basic concepts of science with clever graphics and nearly poetic prose, and reminds me of the educational films we saw in school on days the teachers were too hungover to teach. In this movie, though, the special effects, writing, and music are much better.

There's a great segment where an actor portraying the scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky demonstrates how propulsion might work in space, by standing in a rowboat and tossing the oars overboard, which pushes the boat along on the lake. Lots of cool moments like that. And it's short, only an hour or so.

Verdict: YES. For what it is and when it was made, it's quite good.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Tree of Life (2011)
and Knight of Cups (2015)

Terrence Malick's first movie was Badlands, in 1973, and I loved it. Just typing the title makes me want to see it again.

His second movie was, for me, Malick's masterpiece, a sprawling Depression-era epic called Days of Heaven (1978), which I found mesmerizing and saw ten or twelve times in theaters.

Maybe it wasn't financially successful, though, or maybe Malick was unable to find funding for his next film, or maybe he was unwilling to compromise with Hollywood producers, or maybe all the above. For whatever reason, after Days of Heaven, twenty years went by with no new works from Mr Malick. 

He came back with The Thin Red Line (1998), which was good, but not great. To me it seemed like a movie made by someone who'd been inspired by Malick but lacked his talent. Some lesser moviemaker's homage.

He kept making movies, and to me they all looked and sounded pretentious, so I've put off seeing any of them. Even after scoring a copy of this one a few months ago, I was in no hurry to watch it, fearing Malick's new trademark — very, very seriousness.

No more putting it off, though. Here we go:

The Tree of Life opens with several minutes of whispered, not entirely audible narration by a youngish mother, over images of her children. Then there's a scream as she gets a telegram and learns that one of them has been killed at war. Or maybe both of them. It's not clear.

Then there's more whispering, and sometimes I heard nothing, and wondered if my sound system was on the fritz. It's a good sound system, with an aftermarket amplifier wired in — it ain't Dolby but it's capable of making a blow-stuff-up movie sound like you're in a theater. Yet with all three volume controls at full-blast, I was able to make out only about half the narration, and subtitles were not available.

Twenty minutes into this, Sean Penn joined the cast and took over the whispering duties. The music was becoming more and more ponderous, and there were briefly elephants and a greenhouse. Penn was walking past skyscrapers and drinking whiskey and he sure seemed sad, but he hadn't been in the opening montage of kids and whispers before the lady's son was killed, so I'm not sure what he was sad about.

There's operatic singing — the first clearly audible sound in the movie, hooray — along with visuals of outer space, and a volcanic eruption or maybe it's sunspots. Now more than half an hour into this movie, there'd been no dialogue, only throaty, borderline audible narration and very artsy cinematography. The movie is more than three hours long, but it was time to say fuck this shit and turn it off.

Another Malick movie was on my list, and I wanted to watch it, just to get it over with. It's Knight of Cups, and same as The Tree of Life, it opens with impressionistic cinematography and ponderous narration.

This time the narration is audible, which is a relief, but I was making no sense of it. In a consistently cracking voice, the voiceover told a fairy tale about a long-ago king and a prince, while the visuals showed outer space and urban skyscrapers, just like The Tree of Life. There's also a party of adults and confetti, a woman dancing while wearing only electrical tape, and other imagery designed to confuse.

Then something happens — an earthquake rattles the screen, and briefly, optimistically, it seemed that we might be told a story. But, no.

Christian Bale is among the people walking city streets in a daze after the quake. He meets a pink-haired woman, they talk indecipherably, she takes off her pink wig, and joins him as the film's whispered co-narrator.

Bale is playing an actor, or maybe a moviemaker; it's unclear, but he's wandering through backstage buildings at a movie studio. Bale and the formerly-pink-haired woman run their hands over each other, but not in a sexual way, because that might be accidentally interesting.

Then there are more whispers, more narration, more visuals that aren't yet making sense. As with The Tree of Life, Malick seems disinterested in dialogue, instead giving the audience artsy images and barely-spoken stream of consciousness voiceovers.

With The Tree of Life, I suffered through half an hour. With Knight of Cups, not even twenty minutes. It was a perfectly awful double feature.

Verdict: BIG NO for both movies.

Malick is a very talented filmmaker who's been making horseshit movies. Maybe he's lost his way, but I prefer to think he's cranking out horseshit on purpose, laughing about it, and waiting to see if anyone notices.

— — —

Find a movie
DVDpublic librarystreaming

If you can't find a movie, or if you have any
recommendations, please drop me a note.

Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Did you watch these movies recently? Just curious...Hey I have a joke about you, can you handle being teased?

    1. Doug's a big boy, what's the joke?

    2. When do I get my promised teasing... or were you just teasng?

  2. The Tree of Life only starts confusing. Your impatience with it is understandable, also funny, but you missed actually a good movie, maybe great. Knight of Cups is horseshit tho, you're right about that.

    1. Well, regarding Knight of Cups, I know, right? And regarding The Tree of Life, if you say so, but I don't have enough lifetime left to ever try that one again.


The site's software sometimes swallows comments. For less frustration, send an email and I'll post it as a comment.