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Archive for 2008

Movie Review: WENDY AND LUCY (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • October 25, 2008 • 2 Comments

Poor in Show

Quietly, slowly and efficiently, writer and director Kelly Reichardt observes Wendy (Michelle Williams), a young runaway disenchanted with her life back home and who is dangerously close to becoming a drifter. Invisible to those around her, she is accompanied by Lucy, her golden retriever. She also wants to find work in Alaska. Wise choice: the fish canneries do pay well. The two sleep in her car. Her budget is really tight. Now her car won’t start. Over the next few days, she is stranded in a nearly desolate Portland, Oregon town where she curtly explains to strangers: “I’m just passing through.” With many miles left to go and too far away to go back, Wendy is determined to stick to her plan.

In a wonderful shot early one morning, Wendy lugs out a nearly empty extra-large bag of dog food out of her car to fill Lucy’s bowl near a suburban curb. Under an overcast sky, the shot stays with Wendy and then she leaves the frame. From a low-angle, we observe a line of modestly kept homes at a distance. There is someone sitting in one of the porches looking back at us. Who is this person? Is this important to the plot? Where’s the movie star? This is a waste of money! The studio notes would have been endless had this not been an independent production outside the studio system. Wendy does come back into the frame. The means of losing her momentarily demonstrates just how easily she could slip right through the cracks and never be seen again.


Movie Review: HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • October 23, 2008 • 6 Comments


Driven Conversations About One Thing

Pauline ‘Poppy’ Cross, the title character of Mike Leigh’s winning comedy Happy-Go-Lucky, is a litmus test like determining whether a glass is half-full or half-empty. Is it so unreal for someone to be so good and so strong? In a world that seems to be over-populated with a bunch of sorry-sacks all too eager to pop the bubbles of others, the outcry is deafening. It is rare how a movie directly tells you who you really are. Some audience members will find her infallible sunniness grating, perhaps worthy of envy. Others will want invite her over to their house for drinks and laughs once the movie is over. I am in the latter category. It is important to first understand how and why you feel the way you do about Poppy. She is the key to how successfully the film will bypass all of your qualms and barriers guarding your heart. You may well find yourself grinning from ear to ear. I did.

What Mike Leigh most enjoys is playing with our perceptions of people. We are wired to make assumptions by the initial impressions of our casual acquaintances and strangers who enter our field of vision. Sometimes our hunches are right (to each his own) and most times we are mistaken. Notice what Leigh shows us about Poppy. She has a sense of humour. She’s earnestly social. She goes clubbing with her friends all-night on Saturdays. She’s not afraid to look silly. At the point she is making bird masks with paperbags and colourful felts and feathers, Leigh is practically goading us to see her as a “bimbo”, while giving those who are onto Leigh’s game just enough leeway to hold their verdicts. How this plays out reveals the real themes of Happy-Go-Lucky. What do we really know about one enough? How do we learn to see people for who they are? What makes a good teacher?

Character actress Sally Hawkins has a great challenge playing a woman who looks happy, is happy, and remains complex and wise. Some viewers may argue she deceives them with her depth. There is a prejudice against a smile; anyone who smiles appears shallow and light-minded. Deep thinkers are usually pictured as angst-ridden, haunted, and in great pain. It is a mistake to assume Poppy is a bubbly fool. A mistake that her sullen driving instructor Scott (Eddie Marsen), a Bizarro to her Super(girl), makes throughout. He can’t believe she is an elementary school teacher. He can’t stand how she wears those high-heeled boots while driving. Her insistent joking actually counterattacks his punishing personality. At one point he tells her, “You celebrate chaos!”


New 27th Annual Vancouver International Film Festival 2008 Openers

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

Vancouver International Film Festival | “Foreign Film”


Movie Review:

by Christopher Beaubien • September 17, 2008 • 4 Comments

A few months shy of a year, right after winning Academy Awards for best written, produced and directed film of 2007, Joel and Ethan Coen breathlessly churn out something completely different. Such confident, heady, speedy workmanship that is Burn After Reading makes me wonder if the Coens realize No Country For Old Men – a film full of Chigurh – actually won the Best Picture. For a comedy about government intelligence, it is curiously, though appropriately ominous. This coming from the Coen Brothers, I am not surprised. I am overjoyed.

Burn After Reading is not as broad and eccentric as Raising Arizona (1987) and O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still eccentric. The comedy is more subdued like Barton Fink (1991) where the stuck up title character (John Tuturro) proclaims himself a writer of the common man (“The life of the mind. There’s no road map for that territory”.) while ignoring a bumbling insurance salesman (John Goodman) who often says “I could tell you some stories”.


Movie Review: AMERICAN TEEN (2008)

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

The Kids Stay In The Picture

The new Nanette Burstein documentary American Teen observes and even tampers with a senior class’ transcendence through a high school (“Total caste system”) in Warsaw, Indiana, a small American town that’s labeled “Red State all the way”. To set the stage, the filmmakers all but steal the compact and diverse grouping of stereotypes from the influential John Hughes cult film The Breakfast Club (1985). We are introduced to five main players attending Warsaw Community High School: Colin Clemens (The Jock), Megan Krizmanich (The Princess), Jake Tusing (The Geek), Mitch Reinholt (The Heartthrob in place of The Criminal), and Hannah Bailey (The Recluse — that’s the trailer’s version — The Rebel). Any moment in American Teen would have been appropriate to play ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ by Simple Minds.

This film is really about the fear that stems in adolescence and stirs into oncoming adulthood. The fear of being defined by your vices and insecurities brought up by those vicious, maddening years of being a teenager. The fear of realizing your idealistic youth spent in middling, regretful pastimes that are glibly called ‘the best years of your life’. It is dominated by the fear that things will not get better while the present is eaten up by internal bitterness. High school can really suck. Thankfully the clouds clear and the sun comes out on graduation day.