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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.

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Movie Review: THE FALL (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • September 12, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Alexandria In Wonderland

Once Upon A Time, Six-year-old Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), one of the injured patients in a Los Angeles hospital circa 1920, wanders the limey and creamy walls looking for something to help pass the time. She has a doughy and lovable face that is genuine, animated, and suggests a definite sharpness of thought. She comes across Roy Walker (Lee Pace), an American stuntman working in the Hollywood “flickers”, who is now being treated for his paralyzed legs from an occupational hazard. He is welcoming and befriends the little Romanian girl. Her presence distracts him from an inky cloud of depression.

Their bond grows when he tells her an epic story that is silly yet strong, perplexing yet straight-forward, fantastical yet damned. Her own imagination manifests, reinterprets, and even edits his words into a hodgepodge of visually radical planes, structures, and characters. A whole new universe takes us away from the confines of the hospital and into a land of eye candy.

The Fall is not the best film of the year, but it is one of the most special. While watching it, I realized that I have never seen this movie before. What I mean is that most of the movies I’ve seen are a variation on other films I have seen. Out of the cookie-cutter machine a la Edward Scissorhands, a strange butterfly-shaped cookie has escaped the line: The Fall is a genuine original. What a fresh breeze it is to have a filmmaker throw out that unwritten book that rules out exploration and approaches deemed too strange and melodramatic for mainstream expectations. Here is a work by an artist who exercises his liberties selfishly in the best sense of the word, but not without purpose.

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Movie Review: MAN ON WIRE (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • August 13, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

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Watch His Step!

Watching a great movie that clicks in all of the right places assures me that there is harmony in the universe. It is like marveling at a perfectly symmetrical design like the Eiffel Tower or a spider web. Life is really random chaos with no point. It is a relief that our human intellect stubbornly seeks and finds safety, reason and occasional serendipity in the face of an abyss. Without a sound mind, sanity is lost. To perform well, the struggle between genius and madness is universal. The endeavor of Philippe Petit is one of the most memorable…and balanced.

The documentary Man on Wire recounts a French tightrope walker’s obsession to tread while suspended between the void of the World Trade Center Towers 1,368 feet from the ground. That’s the height of 228 six-foot men. Having trained for most of his life to perform this feat, he masterminded a plot with an adventurous team of experts and thrill-seekers to infiltrate the towers’ rooftops to get the wire across them. The illegal operation was as dangerous and complex as a robbing a heavily guarded infrastructure like in Jules Dassin’s Rififi (1954) or, if you haven’t seen that one, Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven. My only complaint about the break-in was that they didn’t pack a video camera to film the spectacle from such an awesome perspective view.

The scenes of the controversial incursion are narrated by the present interviewees while documented footage and dramatically staged footage bring us intimately to experience it. The black-and-white footage (always timeless) is integrated so well that documentary and the fictional realization become seamless. The director James Marsh has made an exceptional thriller and a visual poem about great dreamers whose vision threaten to capsize them unless they rise to act upon their desires.

This is a superb follow-up to Marsh’s 2006 directorial debut titled The King, a chilling docudrama about an estranged son (Gael Garcí­a Bernal) who goes to depraved lengths to integrate himself into the new family of his born-again father (William Hurt – “How does that feel?”). The King was between Julia Kwan’s Eve and the Firehorse and John Hillcoat’s The Proposition on my Best Films of 2006 list. This year, Marsh is almost neck-to-neck with magician/filmmaker Errol Morris who too has made another invaluable documentary called Standard Operating Procedure. CONTINUE READING ►

Movie Review: XXY (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • August 08, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

What Is There Between Him and Her and/or Him?

Adolescence is a trial no matter what gender one is. The conflict can be so crippling that it damages and ultimately defines one as an adult. There have been many films, some good, about experiencing teenage angst and the need to break free or remain grounded. Either way can produce regret later in life. This film XXY has tread new ground by presenting a teenager whose entire identity, both internally and anatomically, is unusual to a majority of people. Funnily enough, the uniqueness of this case makes the experience all the more universal. The teenager is named Alex and is fifteen years old. Alex has a choice this summer that boggles one’s mind toward fantasy. The choice is whether Alex should resume the rest of life as male or female.

Alex is a hermaphrodite. Alex looks like a teenage girl but possesses the make-up of a boy that he/she has deluded with pills of estrogen. Alex is cared for by her parents Kraken (brilliantly played by Ricardo Darí­­n) and Suli (Valeria Bertuccelli) who live, for their child’s sake, in a wooden turquoise cabin near the seaside in Uruguay after moving from Argentina. Her father works as an oceanographer who possesses a protectiveness, even for the wounded sea turtles he studies. The key for observing this challenging and brave film is by possessing the empathy that Kraken has. He is quiet, smart, unobtrusive, and lashes out only when someone endangers his child. Rarely has a father been portrayed on film with such loveliness.

There is an astonishing sequence late at night where Kraken seeks out a frank older man who presents pictures of himself as a child — pictures of girl! Kraken listens calmly and curiously to the difficult experiences of this struggling hermaphrodite. He is so involved with understanding his “daughter” that he is simply removed from prejudice: “Making her afraid of her body is the worst thing you can do to a child”. This character was so easy for me to gravitate towards. CONTINUE READING ►

Movie Review: THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • July 22, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

Gotham’s Finest! Consequently, also its bleakest.

I wept throughout the last two minutes of The Dark Knight and applauded rapturously throughout the end credits. This is the Batman movie I have been waited for ever since I discovered the Batman comics at the age of five. It is unrelentingly grim; however, it is also very optimistic because the power of good, slight as it is, glows against the darkness. When hopelessness engulfs its victims, true heroism at its most intangible and mysterious can shine in the corridors of the heart. Here, sacrifice is the key to combat such harrowing evil. I love exhilarating tragedies. This film has a prominent place on my list of the best films of the decade alongside the Dardenne Brother’s Le Fils (2003), Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), Nicole Holofcener’s Lovely and Amazing (2002), Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) and Mike Nicols’ Wit (2001). I love this movie so much that, despite the obvious legalities attached to this proposition, I want to ask Christopher Nolan’s permission to marry his movie.

In terms of on-screen performances, I’d like to do something rather radical, and focus on the work of Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent first. My first confrontation with Eckart was as Chad, the all-too-credible venomous charmer in Neil Labute’s In The Company of Men (1997). In that film, Chad persuades his pal Howard (Matt Malloy), an earnest lemming, while on their business venture out of town to play a cruel joke on a pretty, deaf woman (Stacy Edwards). It was a small masterpiece about how a sterile, corporate environment breeds nihilistic alpha males, nebbishes and their victims. Eckhart’s work was phenomenal in depicting misanthropy with such unnerving — in the worst sense of the word — humanity. This was a character actor to watch out for.

Throughout the last ten years, I’ve seen him shine in the corners of Your Friends and Neighbors (1998), Nurse Betty (2000), The Pledge (2001), and Conversations with Other Women (2005). Finally, Jason Reitman cast Eckhart as an earnest tobacco lobbyist in Thank You For Smoking (2005), which launched him into the mainstream as a leading man who could dive in the taboo stream (“It is in our best interest to keep Robin (Cancer Boy) alive and smoking!”) and retain his likability – he could smile his way through manslaughter if he wanted.

As Gotham City’s new White Knight, District Attorney Harvey Dent, Eckhart has finally delivered an astonishing performance in a mainstream blockbuster. Eckhart is so good that he deserves nomination talk along with Heath Ledger, who I will write about later. Throughout the first half of the picture, Eckhart is perfect as the passionate, though moody D.A. with his brooding forehead and easy smile. So eager to hang up the cape, Batman (Christian Bale) looks to Dent as a fearless crusader, his equal minus the mask, who could take down the mob and return Gotham to form. They both give one another strength like yin and yang: “You can’t quit!” Dent is a man who would rather face on powerful criminals in court (“I haven’t finished question him, your honor!”) than hobnob alone with stuck-up socialites at his re-election fund raiser. He simply prefers to make his own fate.

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