“The Sea of Trees”

When Gus Van Sant’s (“Good Will Hunting,” “Milk”) “The Sea of Trees” was booed at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, I was curious why. Answer – it’s a Lifetime movie.

Matthew McConaughey plays a suicidal teacher named Arthur. He travels to the “Suicide Forest” in Japan since it’s the “perfect place to commit suicide.” It’s here he meets another suicidal man named Takumi (a typecast Ken Watanabe). Together, they look for a way out of the forest after a change of heart.

I don’t mind an emotionally heavy movie that questions life and death (“The Fountain” is one of my favorite movies, after all), but “The Sea of Trees” has an annoying fetish for misery and a lack of vision. There are a few mildly haunting moments, but it’s mostly a film that tries too hard.


Arthur is in a failing marriage with Joan (Naomi Watts), and in several vague arguments, a thousand flashbacks, and one exposition-heavy monologue we learn the following:

  • Arthur was miserable at an esteemed company.
  • Joan was a functioning alcoholic
  • Arthur had an affair with a colleague that further strained his marriage with Joan.
  • She began drinking more.
  • Arthur took a job as a professor, which Joan judged as laziness.
  • Joan was then diagnosed with cancer, which brought them closer together.
  • They reconciled after her recovery surgery.
  • Joan died in a car accident after her recovery surgery.

The biggest problem with its content besides its lackluster execution is the lack of emotion. We know Arthur didn’t know Joan well, but we don’t know if he ever loved her. Therefore, his suicide attempt isn’t powerful, but melodramatic.

Watanabe once again finds himself as a character who only speaks the screenwriters’ philosophical thoughts, much like in “Godzilla” and “Inception.” He’s a great actor, but can we give the man a meatier role? It doesn’t help that his character is just a painfully obvious symbol of Joan.

There are a couple of eerie moments in which both men need to survive using corpses’ clothes and tools that work, but these moments are scattered too far apart. I can see the movie working better if it focused on the survival elements rather than Arthur’s marriage, but that’s not the writers’ main fetish, isn’t it?

Grade: D-

“True Detective” – Season 2

DISCLAIMER – I mainly review movies, but I make an exception for mini-series such as “True Detective” since they’re essentially longer movies.

I wish I could say “True Detective” was as brilliant this year as last year. If you guys haven’t seen season one, it featured Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Southern detectives investigating a ritualistic murder in the backwoods of Louisiana. It was unpredictable, artistic, innovative, and featured the best work from both Harrelson and McConaughey.

This season trades in mythical Louisiana swamps and backwoods for an industrial and deteriorating city outside Los Angeles. Colin Farrell is the corrupt alcoholic detective, Ray Velcoro, Rachel MacAdams is the debauched Sheriff’s Department investigator, Ani Bezzerides, and Taylor Kitsch is the traumatized ex-soldier Highway Patrolman, Paul Woodraugh. They’re assembled together to investigate the murder of a businessman linked to European gangsters and a reformed criminal-turned-businessman named Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn).

Each of the detectives are in the case for different reasons. Ray is pressured by his more crooked superiors and Frank (Ray is Frank’s enforcer) to solve the murder and cover up his department’s involvement, Ani is put in charge due to rank, and Paul is enlisted to avoid a scandal involving a young actress. Trust issues ensue among the four characters as they uncover shady business deals, a mob-hosted sex party, and the truth behind a rare bag of diamonds.

Let’s start with the positives of “True Detective” this season – Rachel MacAdams delivers a raw and badass performance, Taylor Kitsch proves he’s one of the most dedicated actors of his generation, and the soundtrack packs a deeper narrative.

Singer Lera Lynn wrote and performed several songs for this season and each song tells us something about the characters and the world they’re in. T-Bone Burnett returns as head composer with a synthesizer-heavy score that emphasizes the Neo-Noir style.

This season also features some of the craziest and bloody gunfights I’ve seen in any TV show or movie, including one in episode 4 that’s strongly reminiscent of Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995). However, this is where criticisms come in. The shootouts escalate out of nowhere and seem like Pizzolatto’s trying to outdo season 1’s craziest moments.

Let’s talk Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn here – they’re both clearly trying to deliver this season and both actors have some solid moments this season, but they’re both given the show’s worst dialogue that’s on par with “Star Wars: Episode I” level of quality. “Don’t do anything out of hunger, even eat.” –Vince Vaughn as Frank.

“Twelve years old my ass… fuck you.” –Colin Farrell as Ray.

Yeah, I’m just as flabbergasted as you are. The show also suffers from several genre cliches, pacing issues, and uncertainties with direction. The pacing and direction is likely attributed to the show having several different directors this season, as opposed to last (Cary Fukanaga directed all of season one).

The cliches are all painful and overdone with Ray as the cop who’s embraced corruption (like Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey in “LA Confidential (1997)) and Ani portrayed as a sexually troubled cop with a dysfunctional family (this has been seen with too many female detective characters to name).

SPOILER ALERT – It was no shock that these two would somehow fall for each other abruptly by the end.


The way Pizzolatto portrays women and homosexuals is tasteless and amateur here. Ani and her sister are both kinky due to a traumatic encounter in their childhood? Paul is a closeted homosexual with an incestuous mother? Frank’s wife does nothing but act concern for him? This all looks like Pizzolatto read half a page of a human sexuality textbook and wrote his few notes into the script.

The biggest disappointment though is the ending. The revelation of the killer isn’t epic or shocking, but rather anti-climactic and quickly resolved before turning back to the corruption story. I wanted to know more about the killer, dammit!

I mean, I’m all for trying something new with anthologies, but execution matters. This just wasn’t well executed as it could have been.

Grade: C