Friday, April 3, 2015

In John Martoccia's religious melodrama, DEATH OF A TREE, faith goes bonkers -- yet again

It begins with a seemingly endless round of preach, preach, preach, and closes with a climax of gun-fueled melodrama followed by a denouement of more preaching (and immediate conversion, of course, as most of these faith-based films allow for zero doubt). In between, DEATH OF A TREE, the second movie from John Martoccia, ambles along with scene after scene intended to show us how foul our current life style really is: How women wear clothes that are far too skimpy (never mind that our leading man is almost constantly seen in a tank top that reveals his arms and torso in all their glory: let the ladies take the blame, as usual); how one's reputation is far more important than what that person believes (wives, of course, are the culprits here; hus-bands do the right thing); and how abortion is the biggest crime imagin-able, while god, the Catholic Church and the Bible are the only true law.

If all this strikes you as the gospel to live by, you're gonna love the movie. If not, there may be a few problems, since Mr. Martoccia (pictured at right), as both writer and direc-tor, has saddled his film with characters who would rather yak about everything than probe their own behavior in more than cursory fashion or -- heaven forfend -- behave in a way that is more than cliché. This man is old school, for sure, and while this in itself could prove interesting if he were willing to go deeply into things, instead he relies on tried-and-true Catholic dogma to solve everything.

Further, he has his characters behave in ways that are simply too stupid to countenance, unless he intentionally wants to hand us a movie that keeps threatening to descend (then finally falls utterly) into the realm of camp. To give just the main example: He has his hero, the hot-looking Ronnie Marmo (above), keep placing temptation in his own way, despite the warning of friends and priest -- again and again and again -- until he falls for it.  Wow: That's a shockeroo.

Further, his leading lady, Gracie Tyrrell (above, left), exhibits most of the signs of a woman genuinely in love -- until his hero's narrow-minded obsessions or her own sudden mental instability do her in. Which is it, Mr. Martoccia? Is there simply no hope for anyone on this earth unless they bow down to patriarchy and Catholic dogma and "do the right thing"? (I suspect, on the basis of Death of a Tree, that the filmmaker is no fan of the current Pope.)

The movie begins with a poem written on the screen, and we see a man praying while being screamed at and threatened by another man. Then that prayerful one starts preaching -- at himself, at the other characters, and of course at us in the audience, and this simply never ends. The film turns out to be one long sermon by people who seem so limited in their understanding of life, human nature, and especially the enormity of that creation called god, that this constricts them and their movie entirely.

More poetry occurs now and then throughout, and we eventually discover that our hero is an artist. The surprisingly sophisticated art shown here looks actually pretty good, but the nitwit dialog given our hero to spout about it makes it seems nearly impossible that this guy could have created that art on his own. The dialog, in addition to the preaching, is full of male prerogative and scriptural cliche ("The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak), with a villain who, in addition to all else, is grammar-challenged. Says he: "There is a lot of girls I could bang."

Oddly, if audiences manage to sit through this debacle -- which, at only 79 minutes, is still far too repetitive -- they may actually emerge chastened, cleansed and finally understanding that, thanks to the stranglehold of religion on some brainwashed minds, no one in this movie has a chance in hell of leading an intelligent, fulfilling life.

Death of a Tree opens today at Manhattan's Quad Cinema, with a Q&A taking place by both John Martoccia (writer/director/producer) and Ronnie Marmo (lead actor) after the 7:45pm screenings on Wednesday April 8th and Thursday April 9th.  

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