CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Written by Christopher Beaubien • June 18, 2008 • Start the Discussion!


Nearly a month ago, the trailer for the next highly anticipated film David Fincher film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button debuted before the fourth Indiana Jones movie on May 23rd. Now Fincher and Paramount Pictures have officially launched the teaser trailer today. For contemporary movie marketing, this is as good as it gets.


My first viewing of the trailer on the big screen was kind of a transcendent experience. Maybe greater than the one for The Dark Knight coming July 18th. Hell, it’s on par with There Will Be Blood from last year.

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) Trailer

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) Trailer

The angelic and somber score accompanying the teaser of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button comes from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals – Aquarium sans the choir. It has been used in Terrance Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) and a few Ren and Stimpy cartoons. Except for the odd line of dialogue that bookends the teaser, the music is dominant like a silent picture. It reminds me of the eerie, dialogue-free trailer for Dark City.

DARK CITY (1998) Trailer

Best of all, the David Fincher teaser doesn’t overstay its welcome clocking in at one minute and forty-six seconds. Too many trailers go to the trouble of cramming in every cool visual along with the final confrontation into two minutes and forty seconds. Over-eagerness does not suit a seducer.

button2The F. Scott Fitzgerald short story makes for a compelling hour’s read. It draws parallels to Daniel Keyes’ Flowers For Algernon. A baby is born wrinkled, decrepit and frighteningly able to talk candidly about the indignity of being given a milk bottle. As the time passes, Benjamin Button (nearly named Methuselah, referring to the son of Noah who reached the age of 969 years old) must contend with living a unique life of regressing to youth both psychically and mentally. He is always withheld from the conventional human experience, but strives for it anyways.

Within Fincher’s command after Zodiac (2007), his most successful feature, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button could become an instant classic. So long as Benjamin Button himself is a tragic character. It would be terrible if the filmmakers screwed it up with playing safe and happy with such a volatile and melancholy premise.

The film stars Brad Pitt (12 Monkeys, 1995), Cate Blanchett (The Talented Mr. Ripley, 1999), Tilda Swinton (Young Adam, 2003), Julia Ormond (The Baby of Macon, 1993), Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line, 1998), Jason Flemyng (From Hell, 2001), and Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow, 2005)

Christmas is looking very promising this year.

Flickering Thought: THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • June 18, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

I was just mulling over the Ron Clements and John Musker film The Little Mermaid (1989) and this popped in my head: Since Ursula (voiced by Pat Caroll – Songcatcher, 2000) has duped so many mermaids and mermen, poor unfortunate souls, into breaking their contract in exchange for physical beauty or whatever and then having transformed them into hideous seaweeds held prisoner in her garden, wouldn’t anyone in the Kingdom realize a sudden depletion in mermaid population? Where are missing mermaid notices and search parties?

Some ruler King Tritan turned out to be; he’s doesn’t even give a damn about his subjects’ whereabouts! Must be too busy arranging for the few mermaids left to attend another musical starring his daughters and obsessing over Ariel, the youngest one. What a tool!

Obituary: Stan Winston (1946-2008)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • June 17, 2008 • Start the Discussion!


Stan Winston, a giant in old school special effects, has passed away. He is survived by Karen, his wife of 37 years, and his two children. Without his perseverance, imagination and the comradeship he had with those at Stan Winston Studios we wouldn’t have our Terminators, our “Stay Away From Her, You Bitch” Aliens, our Pumpkinheads, our Scissorhands, our Small Soldiers, and our Jurassic Park dinosaurs as we see them today. He won four well-deserved Academy Awards.

Winston on THE TERMINATOR (1984)

Winston on ALIENS (1986)

Winston on TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)

At a time when practically all visual wizardry can be accomplished with a computer, Winston’s work makes a compelling argument for the you-see-what-you-see handcrafted effects that are taken for granted. For granted because those seemingly breathing creatures on the screen made us focus on the real gem: the story.

German filmmaker Werner Herzog actually hauled a 360-ton boat up a muddy 40-degree slope in the Amazon jungle when filming Fitzcarraldo (1982) because visual effects wouldn’t be able to express such a feat as completely. I think Stan Winston would’ve appreciated that.

Before his death he supervising the special effects for Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins to be released next year. The last completed film Winston conjured with his magic touch was the brilliant Iron Man (2008). With his passing, the world just got less awesome.

Movie Review: THE HAPPENING (2008)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • June 13, 2008 • 1 Comment


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.


BAGHEAD is coming for you…

Written by Christopher Beaubien • June 09, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

BAGHEAD (2008) Trailer

This is a movie that excites me – it could be very good or very bad – there’s no middle ground here. Even the poster is arresting for its mundanity, repulsion, eeriness and quirkiness. I’ve always found paperbags to be rather ominous.

bagheadWhat gives me hope is that the premise of a half-naked man with a eye-holed paperbag over his head will not be delivered as a straight-up horror film. No, the Duplass Brothers are too smart for that. Baghead is described by the filmmakers as being “funny, truthful, (and) endearing”, which makes it much scarier. Usually the combination of comedy and horror looks good on paper but is a trial to execute successfully as a film. It requires a deft touch like a Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, 1999) or a Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001).

Here’s the skinny: A bunch of would-be actors retreat to a cabin in the Necronomicon-filled woods to write an indie film over the weekend. The film has a light-touch when focused on the comradery and the wavering prospect of romance between friends. The proverbial bag-headed boogeyman that is penned by our heroes in their script materializes as a very human and intimate threat. This reminds me of the urban legend turned real in the underrated Bernard Rose (Paperhouse, 1988) film Candyman (1992).

From Mark and Larry Duplass, Baghead comes right after their whimsical The Puffy Chair (2005), which is on my To-See List after Jane Champion’s An Angel At My Table (1990).

Baghead will be shown in Austin, Texas June 13th. A limited release is still pending.