CINELATION | Movie Reviews by Christopher Beaubien
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Wes Anderson is as crazy as a MR. FOX

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 04, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

wesandersonWes Anderson, the director of Bottle Rocket (1996), the classic Rushmore (1998) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007), will helm the Fox Animation production based on the Roald Dahl novella The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The script has been adapted by Anderson and Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, 1995, The Squid and the Whale, 2005), who both collaborated on the screenplay of Anderson’s own The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) — “I’ve never seen a bond company stooge stick his neck out like that.”

The stop-motion animated film will closely observe the character designs of the illustrations by Donald Chaffin for the book released in 1970. Class act Scott Rudin, who has produced Mother (1996), The Truman Show (1998), The Hours (2002), and No Country for Old Men (2007) among others, will overlook the production.

When asked about the animation in the film, Wes Anderson responded that “(it’s) like The Nightmare Before Christmas (and) those (Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. produced) Christmas specials. These [characters] have fur, so it’s not like claymation (like Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit). The settings will be very natural. We want to use real trees and real sand, but it’s all miniature.”

That’s fantastic news when one remembers those strange and beautiful sea creatures that were rendered with stop-motion by animation director Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, 1996) for Life Aquatic. Selick was set to co-direct with Anderson in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but left to pursue the direction of Neil Gaiman’s Caroline. Replacing Selick is Mark Gustafson, who has had extensive experience with stop-motion animation in short, experimental films.

mr_foxThe Roald Dahl tale is about a wily fox who outwits a group of farmers out of their produce. Just imagine Max Fischer with orange fur and a tail. Mr. Fox will be voiced by the equally wily George Clooney. There is confirmation that Wes Anderson alumni such as Cate Blanchett, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray (sound the trumpets!), and Anjelica Huston will lend their vocal talents as well.

Ebert Speaks Up Again for DARK CITY (1998)

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 03, 2008 • 1 Comment

ebertOne of the new special features for the upcoming Director’s Cut DVD of Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998) due on July 29th, 2008 is a brand new audio commentary track by Roger Ebert. Whether he recorded at the same time before the first DVD was released on July 1998 or sometime again before 2005 when Ebert had surgery on his salivary gland. The operation was botched when his carotid artery burst, leaving him in intensive care for over a year, and costing him his ability to speak.

At that time, I was devastated to learn this because Ebert was one of my heroes whose prose encouraged me to broaden my horizons with his recommended films and books and occasional insights into human nature. The man also delivered some of the most informed and entertaining commentary tracks for films he has spent years championing such as Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb (1995), Yasujiro Ozu’s Floating Weeds (1959), and Russ (Mammary-Fanatic) Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), which Ebert also penned. Ebert’s easy conversational tone along with his exceptional vocabulary and wit made the commentaries a singular pleasure.

Last January, Ebert’s latest attempt to fix his voice had failed. He is resolute to continue writing film reviews at rogerebert.com for the time being. Let’s face it; however wrong I hope I am that Ebert may never get his voice back. And then, like a plum from heaven, I find out that Ebert had a new commentary track New Line has been holding back. Ebert, back in 1999, recorded his first track for the theatrically released Dark City, which he called “the best movie of 1998” and “an important landmark in the genre of science fiction film.” Instead of rehashing the old commentary track over the fifteen-minutes extra director’s cut, I figure Ebert was commissioned to record a new one.

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What Is Godfrey Reggio Up To Now?

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 02, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

The next film of experimental filmmaker Godfrey Reggio will be Savage Eden, a collaboration between Philip Glass (composer of The Hours), and Ron Fricke (Baraka). These three have not all worked together since their breakout sensation Koyannisqatsi, one of my personal favourites, back in 1982.

godferyreggioReggio’s Qatsi Trilogy and Animi Mundi present moving imagery of landscapes from around the world that are manipulated by time-lapse techniques set to unique scores by Philip Glass. Savage Eden is a bit different, being described as a film that combines “narrative and non-narrative cinema”. Much like Reggio’s previous works, it will mostly be devoid of plot and characters. Reggio vaguely elaborates on the title during an interview with Barcelona 2004: “Eden, of course, is the God of Paradise from the Biblical reference, and the subject matter would be the “ism.” The point of view of the film is that when the physical and metaphysical foundation of life is collapsing, that leads to ideology, it leads to destiny, to control of human behavior through utopian fascism. When the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. So this film would be questioning the perfection of the “ism” of ideology.”

Whatever the filmmaker’s motives are, judging by his previous works, Savage Eden should be an awesome visceral experience.

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Through The Philip Glass

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 02, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

“Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts” Trailer

philipglassGlass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts is a new documentary about one of the greatest living composers from the last century, is in limited release now. The film, set for release at the Toronto Film Festival in 2007, marks Philip Glass’ 70th year. Scott Hicks, the director of Shine (1996 — one of the best films of the 1990s), has jumped at the chance to document Glass for a year while collaborating on music for his film No Reservations (2007). Hicks had been granted access behind the curtains and inside Glass’ home to present the artist more intimately. The documentary presents twelve different aspects of Glass, much like François Girard did for Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993), a fictional account of the eccentric Canadian classical pianist who died in 1982. The Girard film was also one of the very best films of 1994.

Having produced experimental operas, in the late 1960s and 1970s, that most audiences first balked at (any Einstein on the Beach admirers out there?), Glass’ reputation as a unique contemporary composer grew over the decades from cult status to widespread appreciation and influence around the world. Listening to his music, he makes an indelible impression with his trademark use of repetitive structure. He even did a series called Geometry of Circles for Sesame Street.

Geometry of Circles

Filmmakers demanded Glass’ services as a film composer after the soaring success working on Koyaanisqatsi (1982), which remains one of the best film compositions of all time. Philip Glass sought collaboration with a diverse set of film directors such as Paul Schrader (Mishima, 1985), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, 1988), Clive Barker (Candyman, 1992), Martin Scorsese (Kundun, 1997), Stephen Daldry (The Hours, 2003), and David Gordon Green (Undertow, 2004); most of who will be interviewed in the documentary.

For any self-respecting cinemaniac, this is a must-see regarding one of the most influential artists in the industry.

New “Happy-Go-Lucky” British Trailer

Written by Christopher Beaubien • May 01, 2008 • Start the Discussion!

happy_go1

UK Director Mike Leigh’s most anticipated feature film Happy-Go-Lucky is set to play in theaters September 26th. Leigh (High Hopes, Secrets & Lies, Career Girls), who is responsible for uncommonly powerful films about blue-collar people living in London, has had a fruitful career. His method of direction is to accumulate working actors with a theme in mind and then develop the script using improvisation and a deep understanding of the characters. The result is films that feel as unpredictable and as fascinating as life really is.

Happy-Go-Lucky Trailer

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Vera Drake (2004), Leigh’s previous feature, showcased Imelda Staunton in an Academy Award Nominated Performance as a nurturing mother and wife who, out of the goodness of her heart, performed abortions deemed illegal back in the 1950s. Leigh’s love for the plays of Gilbert and Sullivan inspired Topsy Turvy (1999), staring Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner as the creative duo in a dramatized realization of their comic-opera “The Mikado”. After that, Leigh made the gritty and heartfelt All or Nothing (2002) portraying a working-class family (Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville) whose sudden crisis shakes them out of their destructive malaise.

One of the characters in All or Nothing, an angst-ridden young woman who berates her alcoholic mother is played by Sally Hawkins. Hawkins is in the title role of the comedy Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) as Poppy, a thirty-year-old preschool teacher who exudes great wit and optimism wherever she goes. Her bright outlook in life is tested by a troubled child being abused at home and by a cynical driving instructor who holds onto deep prejudice. In Leigh’s hands, such a cheerful character will be extraordinarily complex as to harbor deep feelings of bitter-sweetness.

Honored for her performance as Best Actress by the Berlin Film Festival this year, Hawkins portrays Poppy as the kind of sweet, outgoing and insightful free-spirit that you just want to embrace. She has an enduring sunny quality reminiscent of Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, 2000 and All the Real Girls, 2003) that’s quite infectious. Let’s hope Leigh’s film is too.

An Interview with Sally Hawkins

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