CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Movie Reviews

Movie Review:
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • November 08, 2008 • 2 Comments

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Rare, Bloody and Tender

First, I would like to single out a scene that is pivotal to the overall success of Let the Right One In. Oskar, a twelve-year-old Swedish boy (Kåre Hedebrant), whose parents are separated, is visiting his father (Henrik Dahl) over the weekend. Late in the night, the two are having a blast playing tic-tac-toe. They are interrupted by a visitor whose presence subtly changes the course for the rest of the evening. The last grim exchange between the father and son expresses so much hurt and understanding about the how and why. It doesn’t need to be explained. It is simply felt. This scene sounds like it belongs in a serious drama. It is, but Let the Right One In is also a vampire movie – as sophisticated and thoughtful a horror film as you are likely to find.

This film, like so few can, redeems the horror genre. So many cynical filmmakers belittle their horror films because they don’t believe the genre is worthy. You can browse shelves of horror titles and find only one success out of thirty failures. Thankfully, Let the Right One In joins the ranks of great vampire films like Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987), both of the 1922 (dir. F.W. Murnau) and 1979 (dir. Werner Herzog) versions of Nosferatu, and its cunning companion Shadow of the Vampire (2000) by E. Elias Merhige. Let the Right One In is the real thing. Set in Sweden – 1982, it uses vampire logic in an environment as cold, cruel and recognizable to our own. There are moments of invention such as what happens when a vampire trespasses property where an invitation has not been given. Here, vampires get burned when touched by sunlight – they don’t (*shudder*) sparkle.

ltroi5Living next door to Oskar is Eli (Lina Leandersson), a young vampire who looks like a twelve-year-old girl, but it is more complicated than that. There is an alarming shot of her behind a door that’s ajar — you know the one. She is sheltered by an older deviant (Per Ragner) who appears to be under a spell as he fetches her blood from victims he kills and drains. She would have been better off sending the Ice Truck Killer to perform this task. Upon further reflection, this character may be a possible outlook into the future of what Oskar will become when he reaches adulthood.

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Movie Review: SLACKER UPRISING (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • November 04, 2008 • 1 Comment

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Wake Up and Smell the— 286 (R) | 252 (D)

On the night before the 2004 presidential election, Michael Moore spoke with ferocity and vigor at the final round of his five-week Slacker Uprising tour across the country and visiting sixty cities. Despite being outnumbered by an enthusiastic crowd of Kerry supporters, many Bush pushers chanted “4 more years” voluminously. It was like a bad omen of things to come. New Orleans citizens abandoned for days in the Katrina flood. Nearly 4200 US soldiers dead in Iraq. Thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens tortured and killed. A damning deficit and a broken economy. You know the drill. What’s done is done. Four years after, we have another roll of the dice.

Some remember Bush’s second win back in 2004, his first legitimate one, and wondered if we’d still be alive next year. R.E.M.: “It’s The End of the World As We Know It”. It felt something like that. From the beginning of 2003, I discovered Michael Moore through his stinging documentary/political thesis Bowling For Columbine, which won the Academy Award. I sympathized with Moore’s views and followed up on his work. At the time I worked on tiling roofs, I remember after reading Dude, Where’s My Country? over the weekend in its entirety, I missed out on a Michael Moore signing at the same Chapters (the Canadian version of Borders) the day after I bought the book. The next year, I had seen all of his films, TV shows – TV Nation and The Awful Truth – and read all his books including the elusive copy Adventures in a TV Nation. Having followed Moore’s exploits closely, visiting his website weekly, watching Slacker Uprising now was like catching up with an old sitcom I was all too familiar with.

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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.

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Movie Review: HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • October 23, 2008 • 6 Comments

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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!”

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Movie Review:
BURN AFTER READING (2008)

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”.

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