CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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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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Dissecting the Music of Eli Roth’s THANKSGIVING

by Christopher Beaubien • May 05, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

Skewer Your Funny Bone: Recommended for Strong Stomachs

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The short film Thanksgiving, posing as a faux trailer, was one of the highlights of Grindhouse, the Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino collaboration. Those two-and-a-half minutes (a pound?) are the best of Eli Roth’s resume. It is both a loving homage to John Carpenter’s definitive film Halloween (1978) and an inspired parody of those awful 80s slasher-rip-off-flicks (and bad taste, in general) that is far elevated from Roth’s turgid Hostel films. A.O. Scott of The New York Times wrote, “In any case be sure not to miss the trailer for Thanksgiving — not for the squeamish or the humor impaired, and not that you’d necessarily want to see the movie, if it existed.”

I remember the first time seeing it in theaters, the last act of abomination by the Evil Pilgrim on the roasted turkey had me laughing so hard throughout the main title sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, the best of both feature films. In the Kurt Volk designed collectible hardcover book Grindhouse, which chronicles behind its scenes, its director Eli Roth wrote a fascinating article about making Thanksgiving in Prague after dressing it up as Small Town, America. The read is explores technical as well as the drama creating these sick scenes (God love ’em!) to round out Roth’s gut-busting observations. It’s a mixed blessing Thanksgiving won’t be getting the Grindhouse feature treatment, we already have the best parts. Why let a lame narrative ruin that?

My only grip about this really guilty pleasure is this: What is the deal with not listing John Harrison as the composer of Thanksgiving in the end credits of the cheerfully sleazy three-hour double-feature? The majority of the music is lifted right off the soundtrack of George A. Romero’s immortal five-part Creepshow (1982), which was based on a Tales From the Crypt-like graphic novel written by Stephen King as the film’s screenplay.

creepshowIn Thanksgiving, you’ll hear excerpts from Father’s Day, a Creepshow episode where Aunt Bedelia (Viveca Lindfors, A Wedding, 1978) is strangled to death by her cake-obsessed zombie-dad (John Amplas, Martin, 1977), which stands in as the Evil Pilgrim’s murderous theme song. Then the trampoline scene (Holy-NC-17-MPAA!) is accompanied by the music used for Something to Tide You Over when a jealous husband (Leslie Neilsen, The Naked Gun Series) watches, from the comfort of his living room, his wife and her lover drowning (Eat you heart out Peter Greenaway). Lastly, the sickly build-up to the near-thirty-year-old-depicting-a-teen (Eli Roth) head scene is from the They’re Creeping Up On You segment staring E.G. Marshall (Double Indemnity, 1944) as a corrupt, cockroach-phobic CEO. All are compositions by John Harrison.

The only original pieces of music by Nathan Barr, who was credited, are what follow: First, that menacing music at the beginning of trailer — following the knife-wielding maniac Halloween-style behind the buck-toothed screaming Grandma. And last, that perfectly drippy, romantic, synthesized 80s-like score playing over “Cool it, Judy! You’re safe. Bobby’s here…”

It seems strange, but this is the way credits work most of the time where original music versus licensed music is concerned. It’s not a matter of giving credit to the composer with the most music in the trailer, but rather giving credit for the most-recent music written specifically for that fake trailer.

CREEPSHOW (1982) Trailer

GRINDHOUSE (2007) Trailer 1

GRINDHOUSE (2007) Trailer 2

Ebert Speaks Up Again for DARK CITY (1998)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 03, 2008 • 1 Comment

ebertOne of the new special features for the upcoming Director’s Cut DVD of Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998) due on July 29th, 2008 is a brand new audio commentary track by Roger Ebert. Whether he recorded at the same time before the first DVD was released on July 1998 or sometime again before 2005 when Ebert had surgery on his salivary gland. The operation was botched when his carotid artery burst, leaving him in intensive care for over a year, and costing him his ability to speak.

At that time, I was devastated to learn this because Ebert was one of my heroes whose prose encouraged me to broaden my horizons with his recommended films and books and occasional insights into human nature. The man also delivered some of the most informed and entertaining commentary tracks for films he has spent years championing such as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb (1995), Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959), and Russ (Mammary-Fanatic) Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which Ebert also penned. Ebert’s easy conversational tone along with his exceptional vocabulary and wit made the commentaries a singular pleasure.

Last January, Ebert’s latest attempt to fix his voice had failed. He is resolute to continue writing film reviews at rogerebert.com for the time being. Let’s face it; however wrong I hope I am that Ebert may never get his voice back. And then, like a plum from heaven, I find out that Ebert had a new commentary track New Line has been holding back. Ebert, back in 1999, recorded his first track for the theatrically released Dark City, which he called “the best movie of 1998” and “an important landmark in the genre of science fiction film.” Instead of rehashing the old commentary track over the fifteen-minutes extra director’s cut, I figure Ebert was commissioned to record a new one.

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