CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Archive for May 2008

TOWELHEAD Trailer Is Unwrapped

by Christopher Beaubien • May 16, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Warner Independent Pictures is releasing Towelhead, the theatrical debut of filmmaker Alan Ball, the creator of Six Feet Under, the upcoming True Blood series and is also the Academy Award Winning writer of American Beauty (1999). The film premiered in the Toronto Film Festival with the title Nothing Is Private. It has been named back in the US to Towelhead, the same title of the Alicia Erian novel that Ball has based his written adaptation on.

“Towelhead” Trailer

Set during the first Gulf War, a teenage Arab-American girl named Jasira whose new found and confused sexual awareness results in drastic measures by her mother (Maria Bello, The Cooler, 2003). She is sent away from New York to a small town in Texas to live with her strict, disciplinary Lebanese father, Rifat (Peter Macdissi, Three Kings, 1999). While the Middle Eastern war spreads prejudice at home, they struggle to be recognized as a respected Americans. Jasira is played by newcomer Summer Bishil who is running as fast as she can from children’s television programming to dramatic material more mature and respectable, much like Anne Hathaway did with Havoc (2005).

Director Ball is still testing the water with another plot about the adult male leaching after the underage girl. A bigoted Army revisionist played by Aaron Eckhart (Your Friends and Neighbors, 1998) is torn between his racism and his attraction for the minor. Eckhart, who exudes sliminess as well as James Spader (Secretary, 2002), says to girl in private: “You know what you do. You know what you do to men.” Ewww…

Watching the Towelhead trailer, the tampon sequence brings to mind a scene from Tamara Jenkin’s Slums of Beverley Hills (1998) where a well-meaning father (Alan Arkin, Little Miss Sunshine, 2006) takes his mortified daughter (Natasha Lyonne, But I’m A Cheerleader, 1999) out bra shopping. I’m also reminded of the menstrual-minded Canadian werewolf-horror film Ginger Snaps (2000).

towelhead2Towelhead also stars Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, 1994 and Japanese Story, 2003) and Matt Letscher (Identity, 2003) as welcoming, sarcastic Liberal neighbors. Here’s hoping this daring American indie is sharp, poignant and uncompromising as Alan Ball’s previous efforts.

The release date is August 28th.

Columbia Pictures Gives Us GOOSEBUMPS!

by Christopher Beaubien • May 15, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Columbia Pictures and Neal Moritz, the producer of Cruel Intentions (1999) and I am Legend (2007), have secured the rights with Scholastic Media’s Deborah Forte to make the R.L. Stine penned Goosebumps franchise into a theatrical feature. It’s like Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone targeted to kids. Executive Producer Andrea Giannetti (Vantage Point, 2008) will oversee the production. The release date is set at 2010.

The popular Goosebumps book series, much of it written and sold throughout the 1990s, holds second place as the most financially successful in the young adults demographic. It was published in over 32 languages and has sold more than 300 million copies worldwide. It was beaten by another youth-oriented serial written by some Brit named J.K. Rowling who specialized in wizards or something (supposedly 5 out of 8 blockbuster films were also adapted).

goosebumps2My reservations on an adapted Goosebumps movie is that it will be based on a Horrorland revision (unread by me) that includes many characters from previous plots. Between evil ventriloquist dummies, a preordained picture-taking camera, possessed Halloween masks, plant zombies, mutating green blood, and a summer camp that enslaves children to wash down a blob with teeth; I hope the filmmakers don’t bloat the film with too many creatures.

Why the invested interest? As a kid, I had difficulty being engaged by less than compelling material outside of Beverley Cleary’s Ramona serial. Unless the characters were personable and a real sense of doom was preordained, my mind drifted to more haunted thoughts of my imagining that proved more enticing. At the age of 7, I was introduced to the Goosebumps series, the closest in horror literature I could obtain at the time, by an antique dealer who I never saw again. As an early reader, I am in debt to R.L. Stine. Throughout grades four and seven, I read front to back over seventy Goosebumps novels. My father used to bribe me with a new Goosebumps book ($5.50 each) every week I completed all of my homework.

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A Retrospect on Robert Altman

by Christopher Beaubien • May 14, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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On November 2006, the world of cinema lost a giant. Director Robert Altman (1925 – 2006) was a maverick in Hollywood, a daring artist whose films captured the messiness and wonderment of human nature. Like John Sayles, a hero to independent film, Altman’s portrayals of community were personable, vast, and generous. Altman could juggle multiple story lines populated with dozens of characters and still make each one distinct and memorable.

Altman was popular in the 1970s, churning out great movies like M*A*S*H* (1970 – Altman hated the toothless TV show), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), Nashville (1975) and Three Women (1977). After the success of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977), the powers in Hollywood deemed that audiences — desire for worldly-conscious character studies had staled after being dazzled by pyrotechnical melodramas. Respectively, those blockbusters were just as compelling in their function in terms of character development than what we mostly get today. Suddenly studio heads wanted to make The Most Profitable Blockbuster™ instead of The Great American Movie. The revered Golden Age of Cinema came to a close. Enter the 1980s, the “Greed Is Good” decade, and Altman the Artist became an outcast in an industry that once embraced him for nearly a decade. Altman described his situation as being a shoemaker in a company that wanted him to make gloves.

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Movie Review:
STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 09, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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How We Look At It

The price of freedom is tarnishing the moral upstanding of the United States of America. The Bush Administration may not have advertised that so broadly, but that’s what they were selling. Its president outright denied it: “We don’t torture.” They did and the American people bought it unaware what was happening behind the heavy curtain hiding the actions of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Had the American soldiers confined by their government to torture the prisoners for tainted information not taken a few hundred snapshots, we never would have known what was really going on. When the pictures were released around the world, America had to choke it down. Perhaps the photos were a blessing in disguise, everyone must become humbled before evil atrocities in their name.

Standard Operating Procedure follows the best examples of documented journalism from last year from Charles Ferguson’s No End In Sight to Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire. The film has also won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Detective-Director Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, 1978 and Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leutcher Jr., 1999) examines the shocking exposé of the Abu Ghraib torture-photography scandal with a dogged determination to simply analyze and discover the limited truth of the photos themselves. It also works as an apology from Morris, an American citizen. By taking the photographs, former MP Ken Davis figures that (the soldiers) weren’t trying to hide anything.” G.I. Javal Davis reasons that “if you consider yourself dead, you can do all the shit you have to.” Upon the release of the photos to the American public, the government, its military and the people felt worse about this exposure than the actual crimes themselves. The soldiers were to blame while their superiors back home strolled back into the shadows.

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Movie Review:
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 09, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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A New Simple Plan

Watching (May You Be In Heaven Half an Hour) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead again, I was reminded what an inciting filmmaker legend Sidney Lumet is. His directorial resume strikes me with awe: 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), Q&A (1990). In 2005, the Academy Awards honored Lumet with a Lifetime Achievement Award after being nominated for five awards in the past. Three years later at the age of 83, Lumet just makes another masterpiece as if it were easy.

Now I have to tread carefully here because there are many revelations you should discover for yourselves. The film stars Philip Seymore Hoffman (Happiness, 1998) as Andy, a dominating businessman over Hank, his feckless brother played by Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset, 2004). They both need money desperately. Andy is caught in a vicious grip of drug use to cope with his rocky marriage and the money he is embezzling from his company to feed his habit. Hank, a pretty boy gone to seed, is way behind on alimony payment and is paralyzed by fear that his little girl will despise him as much as his ex. Marisa Tomei (Slums of Beverly Hills, 1998) plays Andy’s wife Gina who displays her body vindictively and suffers from personal demons.

In his office, Andy just about towers over Hank as he proposes a way to get some easy money by robbing a jewelry store, “a mom and pop operation”, one Sunday morning. In one of many chilling moments, Hank is hunch-shouldered and all twitches as he points out, “Andy — that’s mom and dad’s store”. Andy smiles, “it’s perfect.” They know the combinations to the safe. The woman opening the store is practically blind. Get in and out. Their parents are insured. No one gets hurt. It’s perfect!

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