Chumscrubber is now open for discussion

Our November 2007 film selection, Chumscrubber, is now open for discussion. Members who would like to Post an Official Commentary about this film are welcome to do so (Contact Ron or Roger if you would like to have posting privileges to this blogsite). Anyone, member or not, can place brief comments here by simply clicking on the comments button.


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    We open looking down from a tall hillside, down onto a new housing development. As we are watching the real houses begin to turn into cartoon animated houses –and then they begin to disintegrate and fall apart mysteriously. We are introduced to an Anime Video Game hero:
    Chumscrubber: I live in a city, but in an apartment high above the cloud left by the blast. I’m one of the lucky ones. But one morning, I awoke to find my head was no longer attached to my body. I’m not dead, but who could call this a life? So I do what I can, in this city of freaks and subhuman creatures. I became “The Chumscrubber”.
    We are reminded of the villain in RE-ANIMATOR (1985), carrying around his severed head, still alive, able to command the army of zombies that have taken over the city.

    Ari Posin and Zac Stanford had met years before at a film festival in Houston. They became pals and collaborated on this film, with Zac doing most of the writing, and Ari sitting in the director’s chair. One executive producer, Bonnie Curtis, had worked for years for her mentor Steven Spielberg. She took the CHUMSCRUBBER script to him, and he liked it, seeing many of the obvious plot parallels to DREAMWORKS mega-hit, AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999). He shared some comments on what he thought was a third act that seemed much too busy with a swirl of storylines. He did like the fact that CHUMSCRUBBER was very “edgy”, that it pushed the edge of the envelope. When they filmed BEAUTY, they assumed that it would be completely a comedy, but it morphed into some tremendously dramatic moments. CHUMSCRUBBER had the same kind of dichotomy going for it, even though it was more surreal. Its characters, especially the teenagers could have stepped out of the script for DONNIE DARKO (2001).

    CHUMSCRUBBER was the feature film debut for director Ari Posin, paralleling Sam Mendes who directed BEAUTY as his feature debut. Posin had graduated from USC a decade earlier, and this film was his first shot at the Hollywood brass ring. His father had been a film director in Russia, before the family fled the repression there and came to America. So Posin grew up in a home where the dinner conversation was centered squarely on cinema. He co-wrote the script, and he understood the necessity to cast strong actors who could meet the challenges on the page. Following Elia Kazan’s advice, he tried not “to direct too much” –the cardinal sin for most first time directors.

    Suburbia is the “world” of this dramedy –a sanitized new ticky-tacky housing development called “Hillside”; the place to play out this dystopian vision.
    Director Ari Posin wrote, “This movie has its own personality. Is it a drama, or is it a comedy? It is a drama, but it has a lot of humor. It doesn’t quite fit into a horror movie or a teenage coming-of-age tale; it straddles the line. So we wanted a title that says the movie is a little bit different than what you are used to.”

    That brings most of us to wonder just what a Chumscrubber is. In the film it is video game that is owned and played by most of the teenage characters. In one way it is a major thread that connects them all; that and the drugs most of them take, sell and distribute. We discover that the animated face of the character is actually that of the teenager, Troy, who commits suicide. By the film’s epilogue we see a “real” version of the character, and it is wearing Troy’s clothes and Dean’s boots. The voice is definitely that of Josh Janowicz, who played Troy. A friend suggested that when we stand on that hillside overlooking the suburbia, we as adults, see a utopia; a place sparkling with newness set in a lush valley, a long ways out of the smog and stress of the nearest city, but the Chumscrubber only sees a nuclear wasteland, emptiness, sadness, and desolation –and that this is probably what the teenagers “see” when they look out over their neighborhood.

    Ari Posin said, “In terms of where it (the title) came from, there’s an animated character in the movie and when you look at the culture around us, all those animated characters have strange names –SpongeBob, Pokemon, Shrek, Teletubbies, or Ninja Turtles; we thought it was fitting in with that notion.
    The word itself is a little bit of a play on words because it does mean the bait they throw out to attract sharks in the water, but it also means friend, my buddy, my “chum”. Scrubber is someone who looks after, who cleans or takes care of –so that is the consideration that there is a deeper meaning to it.”

    Perhaps it does not play out as heartbreakingly as Gus Van Sant’s ELEPHANT (2003), or as realistically, but it is teeming with middle-aged parental characters who must have watched way too much OZZIE & HARRIET, DONNA REED, and FATHER KNOWS BEST reruns. They should have paid more attention to the disturbing goings on along Wisteria Lane on DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, or re-watched THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975), THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998), or even THX 1138 (1971).

    Jamie Bell, a Brit, played young protagonist Dean Stiffle with a perfect pitch American accent. His “Dean” was a recognizable adolescent, but further burdened with being both an outsider and rebel, and having a father who was a New Age guru, who used his family’s “dysfunctions” to write about; especially Dean’s. So Dean, like most of his compeers found solace in the swirling miasma of pharmacology that was readily available at their middle class high school; feel-good drugs like Zantac, Ritalin, and Prozac. Being stoned led to an easier pretense of “good behavior” which kept their parents clueless as to their actual behavior. When his father cajoled him to take more medication, “to keep his stress down”, he popped the pills like they were candy, without a word. The parents in this suburb were mostly selfish, inebriated, arrogant, and ignorant, practicing several forms of abandonment effortlessly.

    Dean: I read this statistic once, that an average kid sees something like 10,000 dead bodies on TV before he turns 18.

    Bill Stiffle: How do you feel about the suicide of your best friend in the world?
    Dean Stiffle: (pause) Real shitty.
    Bill Stiffle: Mrs. Johnson suspects that Troy might have been selling drugs to some other kids at school.
    Dean Stiffle: Yeah?
    Bill: How do you feel about that?
    Dean: I feel that it must have been unfulfilling for him.
    Bill: That’s very interesting. Why do you say that?
    Dean: Because he killed himself.

    Jamie Bell has appeared in 13 films since his big break in 2000 when he landed the lead in BILLY ELLIOT. He also was in NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (2002), KING KONG (2005), and FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006). Bell came from a family of dancers, so the plot of BILLY ELLIOT kind of paralleled his life. In school he was cruelly called, “Ballerina Boy”, which might have steeled him up a bit so that he could play a loner and outcast like Dean Stiffle. He said that actually he prefers tap dancing to ballet. On the DVD backstory, Bell said, “No, there will be no dancing in this one. I am so out of practice anyway, you wouldn’t want to see any.”

    Camilla Belle played Crystal, and she was as beautiful as a young Angelina Jolie in HACKERS (1995), and as stunning as the young Elizabeth Taylor in A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951). Belle played Crystal very self-aware of being the prettiest girl in school, mired in shallow selfishness and rebellion, yet nevertheless she began to show indications that she might be “growing up”, that she might actually be receptive to an honest communication, logic, and tenderness. For a long time she hung out with a cruel posse of drug dealers and “rinks”, girlfriend to their leader Billy (played impressively by Justin Chatwin). Billy turned out to be both bully and victim.

    Crystal Falls:: I probably would have ended up with a football player if I hadn’t met you. And I’m not going to lie –you have really kept it interesting –but I’m done.
    Billy: What the fuck are you talking about?

    Crystal Falls: How do you eat that?
    Dean Stiffle: In pretty much the standard way.
    Crystal: You know, if I ate that every day, I would get a big fat ass.
    Dean: Is that your greatest fear?
    Crystal: No, but it is my mother’s greatest wish.
    Dean: What? That you would be fat?
    Crystal: No, just fatter than her.

    Crystal: I don’t think you are crazy.
    Dean: You know, there are several major book chains that would be willing to disagree with you on that point.
    Crystal: You really don’t care what people think about you, do you?
    Dean: No, I really don’t.
    Crystal: Nice trick.
    Dean: Thanks, I studied in the Far East.
    Crystal: What’s the first step?
    Dean: Well, you start with years of ridicule.

    Camilla Belle Routh has appeared in 24 films since 1993. Her career started out when she was 8 years old in EMPTY CRADLE (1993). She was in THE LITTLE PRINCESS (1995). She was a child eaten by dinosaurs in THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997). She played one of Mel Gibson’s daughters in THE PATRIOT (1998). She showed a lot of promise as the daughter of Daniel Day-Lewis in THE BALLAD OF JACK AND ROSE (2005). She also had a lead in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (2006).

    The supporting cast consisted of a number of talented actors, many of them brought on board secondary to the charm of the young director, and some because they liked the irreverent and necessary messages of the film. Ralph Fiennes, Glenn Close, Carrie-Ann Moss, Rita Wilson, Allison Janney, William Fichtner, Rory Culkin, John Heard, and Lauren Holly were the “dream cast”.

    Glenn Close as Mrs. Johnson took on the small role on the strength of the one scene she had at her son’s memorial service, talking to Dean.

    Mrs. Johnson: It’s all my fault. I didn’t even know him.
    Dean Stiffle: Troy wanted to play guitar in a rock band –be famous. He knew he wasn’t any good, so he felt stupid for wishing that. He had a crush on a girl since he was thirteen, but he never talked to her, although I think he wished he had. He was so smart, but he kept his ideas to himself –unless you asked him. He liked you. I think he felt sorry for you. He was afraid that he would end up like his Dad. Troy was my friend. He was my best friend.
    Mrs. Johnson: Thank you.

    The cinematography was done by Lawrence Sher. He has lensed 24 films since 1992. He was only 22 years old when he started. He shot KISSING JESSICA STEIN (2001), LEGALLY BLONDE (2003), GARDEN STATE (2004), DUKES OF HAZZARD (2005), and has just completed shooting on DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007). I felt the camera work was credible in CHUMSCRUBBER, uninspired but yet unobtrusive. He only caught my attention with the crane shots and the helicopter shots.

    The film score was done by James Horner, who is one of my favorite composers. I was surprised to find his name in the credits because the music was so featureless, so subtle. I paid more attention to it during my second viewing, but it not sound like vintage Horner. He has composed music for 136 films since 1978, films like BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980), Oliver Stone’s THE HAND (1981), one of my favorite horror films, WOLFEN (1981), STAR TREK: WRATH OF KHAN (1982), 48 HOURS (1982), KRULL (1983), THE DRESSER (1983), UNCOMMON VALOR (1983), THE STONE BOY (1984), COCOON (1985), THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN (1985), ALIENS (1986), NAME OF THE ROSE (1986), WILLOW (1988), FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), GLORY (1989), THE ROCKETEER (1991), SWING KIDS (1993), LEGENDS OF THE FALL (1994), my personal favorite, BRAVEHEART (1995), COURAGE UNDER FIRE (1996), TITANIC (1997), THE PERFECT STORM (2001), ENEMY AT THE GATES (2001), A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001), WINDTALKERS (2002), THE MISSING (2003), TROY (2004), THE NEW WORLD (2005), ALL THE KING’S MEN (2006), and APOCALYPTO (2006). One must admit, that is quite a list of accomplishments, and these are just my picks.

    Most of the major film critics disliked the film, and felt that the cast were slumming in this “pretentious Indie” film. I disagree.

    Duane Byrge of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “CHUMSCRUBBER should be a front-runner for the worst film title of the year award. There is nothing new under the creative sun in this slight satire of California suburbia. Fried dry with mordant sensibility, this film should skim some appreciation from nouveau cineastes who might enjoy sendups of their environs—but more sophisticated and seasoned viewers will be less than dazzled by its puffy plottings.”

    Carina Chocano of THE LOS ANGELES TIMES wrote, “An appallingly clumsy and stupid take on drugs, kidnapping and suicide in Suburbia. Director Ari Posin drags down a name cast, who will need to scrub their reps clean of this tripe.”
    But she also wrote in the same review, “The movie is flawed and at times overly familiar. But it is nonetheless an impassioned and occasionally mesmerizing first effort that is at once messier, more complex and more ambitious than many other suburban dystopias –the overpraised AMERICAN BEAUTY for one.”

    Peter Travers of ROLLING STONE wrote, “This film is a sour portrait of suburban hypocrisy. Jamie Bell is convincing enough as Dean Stiffle, a high school loner who discovers the suicide of his best friend, and stumbles out in shock without telling anyone. But his social world of absurdly shallow, self-involved parents and very cruel teenagers is a cartoonish display of grotesqueries; a waste of a good cast.”

    As per usual, I wonder if these critics saw the same film I did. I enjoyed the writing and acting in it very much. I felt that for a first time feature film this fable both entertained and gave us food for thought; that it had hilarious moments, but in its darkness it hit close to home, containing emotion and insight as well. I wish I had seen it when I was 18 years old. It might have reshaped some of my socializations and attitudes.

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