CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Movie Reviews

Movie Review:
HARDLY BEAR TO LOOK AT YOU (2009)

by Christopher Beaubien • September 24, 2009 • Start the Discussion!

Here’s Looking at You, Kid.

At first sight, the couple walking and dining throughout Paris appear to be lovers. We are mistaken. Daniel, a trim and fortyish intellectual with a voice like Patrick Bauchau (The Rapture, 1991), is played by Jeremy Herman, the writer of Hardly Bear to Look at You (2009). Stella is a pretty performance artist in her early twenties, played by Anna Neil. A few years ago, Neil starred in a short film called The Yacht (2006), which was written and co-directed by Herman. The other director who also starred in The Yacht was Huck Melnick, who directed his first feature-length film, Hardly Bear to Look at You.

If you are enjoying the giddy sensation of your brain spinning, keep reading.

Daniel, an artist as well a connoisseur of fine food and wines, acts as a mentor to Stella. It’s questionable whether Stella realizes she is his muse — Sylvia to Daniel’s Marcello. Wandering the streets of Paris, he takes her out to restaurants and bars. Their relationship is one of flirtation, but never becomes one as intimate as in Guinevere (1999), though the Audrey Wells film took a more lacerating view of such a coupling. Daniel and Stella sleep in the same bed without sleeping with each other. Upon the description of this May-August romance, Daniel is surprisingly more sympathetic because Stella is never a victim and clearly has the upper hand here. Any advance made by him is either encouraged or vetoed. Director Melnick makes no judgment calls here, but I wish that Daniel had been scorched at least once. His feelings toward her are genuine, so why not challenge him?

He is utterly infatuated with her. The first two minutes of the film simply watches Stella sleeping in the morning light. Great concentration is made to the movement of her feathery collar as she inhales and exhales. Somehow, this does not feel perverse; it is a form of adoration in the sweetest sense. Known to savor the strong tartness of an olive, Daniel commits a silent declaration when he slides an olive into his pants pocket. More obvious is the shot of his jean-clad crotch after he has asked (read: directs) Stella to climb up three flights of stairs to ask her something. He admits to her that he has had sex with a number of women, including prostitutes. Stella claims to having had just a few lovers, but we suspect otherwise, considering how flirtatious and often she runs into other men she knew way back when. Sometimes she is cruel while feigning tactfulness. Being too close to Daniel’s perspective, his jealousy is infectious.

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Movie Review: CORALINE (2009)

by Christopher Beaubien • February 23, 2009 • 1 Comment

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Grimm Girl

When I say “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” what is the first name that comes to mind? Tim Burton. Burton invokes visions of dark whimsy, and promises tours into a world that is distinctly his own. From the visual style and original story based on Burton’s illustrated book to his entire filmography coined a word that solely attributes to the artist and his world — Burtonesque. Hell, his name is in the title: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It takes a few more synapses in the brain to remember that Henry Selick was the film’s director. Selick made Jack Skellington come to life. Even the association of Burton as a producer blurs Selick’s accomplishment for his 1996 film James and the Giant Peach, based on the Roald Dahl novel. Finally, Burton is absent working on his adaptation of Alice in Wonderland due 2010. Selick is all alone here with the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Hugo Award winning novel.

Coraline is Selick’s baby.

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Movie Review: THE WRESTLER (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • February 02, 2009 • Start the Discussion!

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A Punishing Character Study

One of the most painful moments in The Wrestler is when the doctor explains to Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) after his heart attack that he must not exert himself. The aging, muscular man is devastated and cries out, “Doc! I’m a professional wrestler!” The key word there is professional. He takes it seriously. It defines him. Being stripped of his identity, Randy feels worthless. He has never thought about the long term. His lost years of celebrity, drug use and promiscuity left him devoid of anyone who really care about him. Now, Randy is finally going to feel the emotional punishment he has spent his life numbing by punishing himself in the ring.

Why do I love Randy “The Ram” Robinson? Because after sleeping in the back of his van, he has the good spirit to humour the kids knocking outside his window with some horseplay. Because he is a good sport when he choreographs a wrestling match involving a staple gun being used on him. Because he really does love Cassidy (Marisa Tomei), that sweet woman who works at the strip joint he often frequents. Because he is a good sport when he choreographs having a staple gun used on him during a match. Because when Randy picks out a jacket with the letter “S” for his justifiably resentful daughter Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood), he really thinks she’ll like it. Because Randy hates himself for screwing up the good things that come his way. I can’t hate a man who already hates himself so much.

Mickey Rourke plays this character as if he atoning for sins for which he cannot forgive himself. Watch how Rourke has Randy force himself to smile and not cry when Cassidy swills the rest of her beer down. Sizing up Rourke, Marisa Tomei as Cassidy stomachs so much pain here, whether she exposes her body and is passed over by customers or how she just can’t bear to watch Randy punish himself. Back in 2005, Rourke played a brutish lug named Marv in the comic-adaptation of Sin City. That character’s dialogue and scarred face were the stuff of pulp. Marv is an extension to Randy, a very sad avenger who nurses romantic fantasies. The closest Marv gets to a confession is when he confides his trouble with love. “I couldn’t even buy a woman… the way I look.” Mickey cut a big slab of himself off that meaty character and named him “The Ram”.

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Movie Review: MILK (2008)

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

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Vote for Harvey Milk (1930 – 1978)

The passing of Proposition 8 across the United States two weeks ago adds more urgency to the new Gus Van Sant film Milk. It is a red alarm crying out against the continued and criminal persecution of homosexuals. Denying the civil rights of an individual to legally marry a person of their choice is cruel. For decades, sanctimonious hypocrites have relentlessly imposed their prejudice on homosexuals, forcing them to live in the margins of society. Homophobia has always puzzled and irritated me. When I was seven, before I was aware of gays and lesbians, I casually wondered if there were men who loved men and women who loved women. Later I found out my musing was correct – and like looking up at the sky to see birds were flying up there — I was cheered by the prospect. As a level-headed straight man, I support and empathize with good people like Harvey Milk.

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Movie Review:
SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • November 11, 2008 • 2 Comments

The Life Stages of Caden Cotard

Oh God, I feel alone. I feel so utterly alone having connected and clicked with a film that many people will reject. This being the directorial debut of the incomparable screenwriter Charlie Kaufmann: Sï-nêk’dõ-kë, Nyöo Yáwrk. For me, Synecdoche, New York is a tough sell — an unconventional film that I treasure where recommendation demands caution. It’s where I stand with Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies (2000), Lars Von Trier’s Breaking the Waves (1996), Bill Forsyth’s Housekeeping (1987) and Robert Altman’s Three Women (1977). These films fly in the face of all the formulaic and commercial creeds of how a movie should work and gives pause for how many ways it could work best. A first impression might grimace, conclude “it’s weird” and close the investigation — that’s their right; however, Synecdoche, New York deserves better and an appreciative audience. The film works, not despite, but because of its extraordinary structure and function being mysterious, opaque, labyrinthine, yet emotional, accessible, and fully-formed.

What I love most about Charlie Kaufman’s exercises in the celluloid medium is how they exceed expectations throughout his most unorthodox and dizzying narratives. Throughout, there is apt teasing and suspense over where this story could go when driven by such a visionary. By the end, I feel as if he has exhausted every possibility from his premises with an attentive heart. Such as when the pitiable Craig Schwartz whose puppets of himself and Maxine, a distant female co-worker, kiss for the first time in Being John Malkovich (1999). Or when Joel Barish frantically races away from his evaporating memories with his ex-girlfriend Clementine at hand, trying to save her in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). Or how about when in Adaptation (2002), New Yorker writer Susan Orlean is struck by the awesome poetry of John Laroche, a toothless orchid thief, musing about the “little dance” between wasps and orchids — “How, when you spot your flower, you can’t let anything get in your way.”

In Synecdoche, New York, our hero tries to find meaning in his very existence by resurrecting an evolving metropolis in a gigantic sound-stage where a flock of birds fly off many miles down the structure. The seminal replica of Manhattan is a theatre set for an untitled play about its director and all of the people in his life. Since the play reflects life, so the play must reflect itself like a microcosm that expands, refracts, grows and deepens. It is a comic-tragic, universal illustration of a life that tries to manage its surrounding citizens in roles (wife, daughter, mistress, 2nd wife, etc.) the participant tries to contain. Of course, everyone else is the lead in their own story, so management of the play of one’s life becomes discombobulated.

Enter the world of theatre director Caden Cotard played with great nerve and without vanity by Philip Seymore Hoffman. At age forty, he is burdened with anxiety, bad health, failed relationships, and occasionally distracted by lofty goals that feed his great ego which barely hides his low self-esteem. Like an addict, he mercilessly prods, analyzes and compresses his failures; denying himself a much wanted recovery by purging himself deeper into a sea of emotional toxin. What hurts most is that he tries so hard to preserve what little he has left. While a doctor sews stitches into his forehead after a freak accident with an exploding sink faucet, Caden sheepishly remarks, “I’d rather there not be a scar.”

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