CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Movie Reviews

Movie Review:
THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER (1989)

by Christopher Beaubien • July 06, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

Served Scolding, Heavily Trysted, and Blood-Thirsty!

This sumptuously lurid play, by Peter Greenaway, on depravity, sexual oblivion, and Jacobian revenge remains the most accessible and compelling in his filmography. It is also one of the few films I hold closest to my heart. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989) is simultaneously simple and deceptive beginning with the film’s title. The main characters could stand for an angry allegory about greedy Thatcher-inspired bullies exploiting the working class citizens of Britain. Then again, perhaps this tale of excess, rape, and cannibalism is a heightened account about deeply wounded souls.

Le Hollandaise is a grotesquely bourgeois restaurant where the thief Albert Spica (Michael Gambon, Gosford Park, 2001), his wife Georgina (the indispensable Helen Mirren, Gosford Park and Last Orders, 2001), and his goons (Tim Roth and Ciarán Hinds) dine every night. We are introduced to Albert as he force-feeds a lowly member of the kitchen staff owing money his excrement, and elaborating on its value: “I eat the very best and that’s expensive!”

The cook, Richard Borst (Richard Bohringer, Diva, 1981) stands up to the thief’s boorish threats concerning his offered “protection” with a collected reserve that masks deep rage – “If you button your expensive jacket, Mister Spica, you feel less…empty inside, Mister Spica.” Seated in the center of the operatic dining room, Albert’s hostility extends toward everyone around him, including the patrons. Georgina, who Albert crudely dubs, “Georgie”, often berated and beaten by her husband, is quietly defiant. She makes eye contact with Michael, a quiet intellectual (Alan Howard, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, 2003) as he eats and reads in the corner. Their infatuation leads to many excuses for a rendezvous in the opulent lavatory, where she and tender, love-handled Michael make desperate, explicit love as a means of escape.

Their sexual escapades take them behind closed doors in the kitchen, a secret quietly kept by the restaurant’s workers. Albert, obvious to being a cuckold, continues displaying his virtuoso nastiness with loud, arrogant (and darkly hilarious) commentary punctuated by violence: “I think Ethiopians like starving!” and “Human milk should be considered a delicacy.” Everyone around him is reduced to frightened submission. One night, he invites Michael to his table where he picks on his reading habits, “Does this stuff make money?” After having badly-bruised Georgina dictate how wonderful her life is (“Tell Michael you live in a big house and you spend a thousand pounds a week on clothes!”), she retaliates with news about her gynecology appointments (“Being infertile makes me a safe bet for a good screw.”) Albert drags her across the parking lot for that one. CONTINUE READING ►

Movie Review: THE HAPPENING (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • June 13, 2008 • 1 Comment

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It ain’t happening.

How god-awful does M. Night Shyamalan’s thriller The Happening get? Marky Mark Walhberg actually talks to a house plant. I wish I was making this up. Now I realize Shyamalan’s intention for the scene and the film in whole — mankind has pushed Mother Nature too far and the planet uses mind manipulation to destroy its human inhabitants. A near-glib premise that holds enough weight to make a decent Twilight Zone episode circa 1950s, maybe even a successful M. Night Shyamalan feature. It could have worked had Shyamalan made wiser choices that don’t fall with a clunk like the one where Walhberg talks to a house plant.

The greatest failure on Shyamalan’s part is that he has stopped respecting the audience’s intelligence. Everything is spelled out in such agonizing exposition. Even the character’s motives are clumsily explained: “I don’t like to show my feelings too!” The talking points by key characters and news anchors going on about the environment’s biting cause have the subtlety of a running drill against the skull. It is very aggravating to watch a movie that has exchanged much needed ambiguity, menace, atmosphere and compelling characterizations for said exposition — even more so from a filmmaker who has proved himself a smart and skillful one more than once.

The premise is a compelling one: people, for some airy reason, are subject to possession and committing suicide. Scenes of the mass population being driven to inventivelykill themselves are disturbing for the tact strategy that goes into their execution. The blood letting is sparing, and kept to a minimum to maintain its effectiveness without going into overkill. Construction workers fall from a high rise with balletic grace before making sickening thuds. Much ado has been made about this being Shyamalan’s first R-rated feature, though anyone expecting to witness a holocaust will be attending a small-scale spectacle of human annihilation.

CONTINUE READING ►

Review: INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008)

by Christopher Beaubien • May 28, 2008 • 1 Comment

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Old Man Jones is whipping up a storm!

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is the best Indy movie after the blessed original. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have taken the whip-snapping archaeologist out for a fourth time while retaining some of the most crucial elements from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) that without tarnished the past two sequels. The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is not a perfect movie. Far from it. There are quibbles galore, but it didn’t stop me from grinning throughout this popcorn entertainment. The fourth exceeding the original is impossible. Raiders is perfect.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), after twenty-seven years is still the best example of a character-driven action motion picture. There are no wasted moments and the exposition is told briskly so the adrenaline rush isn’t tempered. More importantly, the characters were larger than life, capable of nuance, and worth caring about. Watching Raiders in a revival theater last year was an uplifting experience. Spielberg and Lucas made the movie, one they personally would have liked to have seen, with great zeal and, more importantly, selfishness. Like a hyper-imaginative kid, he invented one exhilarating sequence after another and clocked in five minutes shy of two hours. When initially released, Raiders saved Hollywood at a time when ticket sales ebbed to a devastating low.

I approached the fourth one with trepidation after recalling how the sequels treated the fedora man so shamefully. “Docta Jones” anyone? Thankfully the fourth adventure is a hardy throwback that mostly succeeds in integrating the dashing 1930s rouge into the 1950s. The Indiana Jones saga now explores that decades’ hang ups: conspiracy theories, commies, and the stuff science-fiction magazines reveled in. Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones, now in his fifties, is at a point in his life one of colleagues, Dean Charles Stanforth (Jim Broadbent, Hot Fuzz, 2007), refers to as “where (it) stops giving you things and starts taking them away.” CONTINUE READING ►

Movie Review:
STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE (2008)

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

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How We Look At It

The price of freedom is tarnishing the moral upstanding of the United States of America. The Bush Administration may not have advertised that so broadly, but that’s what they were selling. Its president outright denied it: “We don’t torture.” They did and the American people bought it unaware what was happening behind the heavy curtain hiding the actions of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Had the American soldiers confined by their government to torture the prisoners for tainted information not taken a few hundred snapshots, we never would have known what was really going on. When the pictures were released around the world, America had to choke it down. Perhaps the photos were a blessing in disguise, everyone must become humbled before evil atrocities in their name.

Standard Operating Procedure follows the best examples of documented journalism from last year from Charles Ferguson’s No End In Sight to Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire. The film has also won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Detective-Director Errol Morris (Gates of Heaven, 1978 and Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leutcher Jr., 1999) examines the shocking exposé of the Abu Ghraib torture-photography scandal with a dogged determination to simply analyze and discover the limited truth of the photos themselves. It also works as an apology from Morris, an American citizen. By taking the photographs, former MP Ken Davis figures that (the soldiers) weren’t trying to hide anything.” G.I. Javal Davis reasons that “if you consider yourself dead, you can do all the shit you have to.” Upon the release of the photos to the American public, the government, its military and the people felt worse about this exposure than the actual crimes themselves. The soldiers were to blame while their superiors back home strolled back into the shadows.

CONTINUE READING ►

Movie Review:
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2008)

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

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A New Simple Plan

Watching (May You Be In Heaven Half an Hour) Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead again, I was reminded what an inciting filmmaker legend Sidney Lumet is. His directorial resume strikes me with awe: 12 Angry Men (1957), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), Q&A (1990). In 2005, the Academy Awards honored Lumet with a Lifetime Achievement Award after being nominated for five awards in the past. Three years later at the age of 83, Lumet just makes another masterpiece as if it were easy.

Now I have to tread carefully here because there are many revelations you should discover for yourselves. The film stars Philip Seymore Hoffman (Happiness, 1998) as Andy, a dominating businessman over Hank, his feckless brother played by Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset, 2004). They both need money desperately. Andy is caught in a vicious grip of drug use to cope with his rocky marriage and the money he is embezzling from his company to feed his habit. Hank, a pretty boy gone to seed, is way behind on alimony payment and is paralyzed by fear that his little girl will despise him as much as his ex. Marisa Tomei (Slums of Beverly Hills, 1998) plays Andy’s wife Gina who displays her body vindictively and suffers from personal demons.

In his office, Andy just about towers over Hank as he proposes a way to get some easy money by robbing a jewelry store, “a mom and pop operation”, one Sunday morning. In one of many chilling moments, Hank is hunch-shouldered and all twitches as he points out, “Andy — that’s mom and dad’s store”. Andy smiles, “it’s perfect.” They know the combinations to the safe. The woman opening the store is practically blind. Get in and out. Their parents are insured. No one gets hurt. It’s perfect!

CONTINUE READING ►