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Posts Tagged ‘american beauty’

Beautiful: These “dark side of suburban families” films are getting a bit tiresome. The depressingly ordinary Ordinary People and American Beauty influenced loads of young directors to come up with a slew of storylines about lenses being lifted from normal upper-class families to reveal tortured souls screwing with each other’s heads. I’ll have to disagree with Tolstoy on this one, I don’t think unhappy families are unhappy in their unique way all the time; at least not the ones featured in films such as Dean O’Flaherty’s Beautiful. Technically I have no qualms about it other than its constant use of tried and tested downer clichés. We have the quintessential loner who’s too befuddled to qualify as geeky, residential sexual deviants, emotionally-scarred parents and a whole lot of dirty secrets. Some of scenes in this tip their hats off to movies like Blue Velvet, Donnie Darko and Happiness so feverishly that it blurs the line between being influenced and plagiarizing. Quite sad, considering that Beautiful has a decent-enough storyline going for it ( So 14-year-old Danny (Sebastian Gregory) goes on a super serial secret mission for the psychotic 17-year-old Lolita – Suzy (Tahyna Tozzi) – to discover the hidden filth that lurks in the living room of their neighbours).

A good hour into the film the director starts messing with the twists and turns, finally leaving us with one that leaves a sour taste in our mouths. The colourful photography and navel-gazing music makes Beautiful live up to its name in parts. Orchestrator Bryce Jacobs and art director Tuesday Stone have done a nice job capturing the film’s chilling moments, letting us comfortably breathe as the rest – the actors, the script writers, the director – bring it down a notch. One of those indie films that make you sit through them, but evoke little else than a “meh” reaction at the end of it. Watch it once if you thought American Beauty needed to be a bit more screwed up.

Thumbsucker: Director Mike Mills has a knack for defying logical conclusions. He makes a documentary on uber-suave electronic pop duo Air seem listlessly dull and lifeless yet creates another called “Does Your Soul Have a Cold?” that investigates the impact of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals on the depression level of the Japanese and makes that look interesting. In the 2005 film Thumbsucker, he continues to bewilder us. Make no mistake, this is a good film, just that it leaves you with an odd feeling when you realize why exactly you liked it. Lou Taylor Pucci, despite looking like Kristen Stewart’s twin sister grappling with a minor case of lycanthropy, actually makes thumb sucking look like a genuine medium of existential malcontent and doesn’t reduce playing a Ritalin addict to annoying American stoner shenanigans. Then there’s Benjaman Bratt, who starred in some of crappiest films of the 2000s (The Next Best Thing, Miss Congeniality, Catwoman), standing out in Thumbsucker as one of its definitive highlights; he’s incidentally funny and consummately fucked up as Matt Schramm, the charming actor and hapless junkie.

Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of Perry Lyman, the spaced-out orthodontist, is so good that it jumps out of nowhere and slaps you in the face, screaming, “bet you didn’t expect it”. Much of the shock can be traced to the fact  that Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly was released only a year later, so as of 2005 – the world had no reason to believe that Keanu had any acting talent whatsoever. Also the character itself called for an air of nonchalance and a sense of disconnect that only guy who has no clue what he’s doing can accurately convey.

On the flip side, firstly we have Vince Vaughn, overrated in big-budget comedies but perfectly fine in gently fucked up films like these, not living up to his reputation. I almost hoped that Will Ferrell would at some point appear in a cameo and give him some on-screen chemistry to work with. Then we have Tilda Swinton, arguably one of the finest actresses to grace our screen, surprising us here with her half-hearted portrayal of Audrey, Cobb’s doleful mom by day and a slightly less retarded Nurse Betty by night. There’s a scene in which she confronts Schramn at the hospital and Benjaman Bratt actually out-acts her; normally this would signify the end of the world and the cruel demise of all its living things, but thankfully it all makes sense, considering this is a Mike Mills movie. Good film, but the surprises might kill you.

Everything Is Illuminated: Most of my love for Liev Schreiber’s Everything Is Illuminated stems from the all the wonderful music it introduced me to, right from the gorgeously eerie themes that Paul Cantelon stirs up to the insanely catchy gypsy-punk harmonies of Gogol Bordello and Tin Hat Trio’s whimsical acoustic chamber sound. Of course, there’s Matthew Libatique’s breathtaking cinematography; I can only assume that sunflower fields and meadows in and near Prague have never looked prettier.

It only lately occurred to me that everything else pretty much illuminates (see what I did there? High-five?) the film, as well. Elijah Wood, who plays young Jewish bloke looking for the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II, Eugene Hutz, his American pop culture-obsessed Ukrainian guide and Boris Leskin, Eugene’s disgruntled semi-blind, anti-semitic grandfather, are all fantastic in their roles as quirky characters yearning for that elusive ray of guiding light to make sense of their lives.

Somewhere down the middle, Everything Is Illuminated pans out to resemble one of those soul-searching road trip movies, but stays strong in its course to become something less pretentious, thanks to its actors and a tight screenplay. Few of the scenes (this sequence, for instance) in fact have the perfect combination of sound, sight and thought, something so rare that Steven Spielberg, having accidentally stumbled upon it during the mid-portion of Jaws, convinced three generations thereafter that it wasn’t a fluke despite all signs pointing otherwise. The film also boasts of great one-liners that are thankfully more Coen-esque than Borat-ish, (Alex: I am unequivocally tall. I do not know any women who are taller than me. The women who are taller than me are lesbians, for whom 1969 was a very momentous year). Humour is often lost in translation, especially from well-written novels, but kudos to Schreiber for bringing in the whimsies and the subsequent giggles. Just so you know, Jonathan Safran Foer’s original novel based on which the film was made is really good too. If I fawn over this anymore, I’d actually salivate.

Igby Goes Down: Take out all the overacting courtesy of Susan Sarandon and you have a pretty good film in Igby Goes Down. She almost sinks Burr Steers’ film with a loud performance as Mimi Slocumb, the manic mum. I remember her as a talented actress during the early Nineties; I guess Chris Columbus and his masterpiece of suck – Stepmom – just went ahead and killed her enthusiasm for a good script. Her incessant grunting in the opening scene, intentional as it might have been, would have certainly rivaled Avril Lavigne’s voice as the most irritating shit you could hear in 2002, but what’s worse are her sycophantic over-delivery of dialogues that really stretches our nerves. Having said that, fear not for the other actors turn into superheroes and rescue Burr’s debut from her clutches.

Kieran Culkin is fascinating to watch as Igby. Not that he awes us with skull-crushing intensity or bone marrow-sucking awesomeness; it’s just that every time I see this dude act, the more I am convinced that he uses negativity to scare the actor out of him. It almost amazes me when people who have led screwed up lives or closely been around those who have end up doing nothing worthwhile. Isn’t pain the greatest muse of all? Both him and his talented younger brother Rory are or at least seem competent at trying to channel the crap that once surrounded the Culkin name and turn it into their lady muse.

In Igby Goes Down, he tunes in a good performance as the lead role, a post-modern, coffee-house Holden Caulfield struggling to grow up despite being taught only to self-destruct. Jeff Goldblum is predictably great in his portrayal of Igby’s sleazy and stylishly suited step dad, only outdone by another actor who has been consistently fantastic for the past three decades – Bill Pullman, who plays Igby’s dad by birth. He is sparingly used, but whenever we do see him, there he is…wallowing in self-decay, mumbling inconsequential truths about life and looking fucking terrific at it! Amanda Peet, Claire Danes and Ryan Phillippe are given shitty dialogues to work with, so nothing to shout about there, but they certainly don’t harm the film. In fact I wouldn’t  have believed that Claire Danes could pull off Faustian one-liners but dam she proved me wrong in this film. So there you have it, an entertaining film about a family’s collapse and a kid trying to make sense of it by running the hell away. I bet you’ll like it…you, sick freak, you.

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Million Dollar Baby: I hate the second and third sections of Hotel California. Don Henley and the gang hardly do anything to break up the monotony of the rhythm that gets tiring after 2 minutes. When the song eventually does take a turn, it is in the form of THE lamest solo ever. Clint Eastwood gets the audience nodding to a pretty decent groove  for about 75% of Million Dollar Baby; neither spectacular nor terrible, just a bland sports film about a working-class heroine. The last half-an-hour of the film is cringe-worthy. I’m talking about “Step Mom” bad here, people. I wanted to rip that dam respirator tube out of Hilary Swank and throw it at Paul Haggis. First Crash, now this. Have a heart, man.

Ordinary People: I think Ordinary People won an Oscar in 1980 because Kramer vs Kramer had won the previous year, beating out Apocalypse Now and someone in the jury thought this would make for a really funny extended joke. David Lynch’s Elephant Man and Scorsese’s Raging Bull shared the same ignominy in 1980 as they lost out to Robert Redford and this bore-fest of a movie. Many of us still don’t get the joke.

Saving Private Ryan & ET: Guns don’t kill people, Steven Spielberg kills people. Only Paul Haggis and the irritating couple sitting behind us in the theatre would enjoy this sort of crap.

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Braveheart: At least for national security purposes, the last scene in Braveheart with Mel Gibson screaming “FREEDOM” needs to be kept in a top-secret vault. With more and more people binging on  hallucinogens and sedatives these days, it is only a matter of time before the truth serum becomes impotent; either that or terror mongers will start realizing how well it goes with whole grain bread and start becoming immune to it. Don’t panic, Mel Gibson has given us a secret weapon.

Which embassy are you planning to blow up tomorrow?” (Silence) “I said, which fucking embassy you fucking planning to blow up tomorrow, you terrorist fuck?” (Silence) “Play that last scene from Braveheart again” (Noooooooooooooo)

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Dead Poets Society: Giving Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society an Oscar for best screenplay is like giving one of those dudes who design gnarly cigarette packets a Nobel Peace Prize for promoting cancer awareness. Some of the dialogues involving Robin Williams waxing whimsical about transcendentalism are so awful that I got the shivers. The torment continues with his pseudo-rebellious students attacking conformism by vying for a spot in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Are you friggin kidding me? We should have known that the once great Peter Weir had lost his mind when he chose Harrison Ford for a lead role. Twice.

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Shrink: Kevin Spacey has been misconceieved as one of most talented American actors of our generation. Maybe it has to do with all the really cool characters he gets to play. Just to set the record straight, he neither ad-libbed the final speech in American Beauty nor did he impulsively straighten his limbs and walk out of the police station as Kaiser Soze. If you ask me, both Chris Cooper and Gabriel Byrne acted circles around him in those films. Yes, he was good in Seven; I’m sure the staleness of Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman did wonders to his confidence. In Shrink, the character he plays brings out the worst in him. Awkward, boring and full of chicken soup for everyone’s soul. Jonas Pate’s film about the quasi-tragic life of a celebrity psychiatrist/ best-selling author isn’t any better. It swallows any semblance of talent that its actors might have and spits out the bits that matter. Then there’s Dallas Roberts playing a second-rate House MD-type guy and the desecration of Mary Jane. Please stop the pain.

Scent Of A Woman: I’ll let Tony Montana handle this one.

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Theme music is a perfect marriage between sound and sight when films tip their hats to musicians and composers and let them take control. Composer Thomas Newman is mad; not quite the lunatic, but rather a maniacal artist obsessed with finding that perfect theme. He searches and he searches some more. Past gems like American Beauty, Meet Joe Black, Green Mile, Road To Perdition and he still can’t stop. Good for us.

I really would want Jon Brion to write the soundtrack to my life. Something pleasantly disquieting about the way he picks apart harmonies from a moment of melancholy. It’s a dyslexic gift, I think. The sounds he created for Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Punch Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees are his finest ever. Hell, probably anyone’s finest ever.

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To the future!

Cathedral (Road To Perdition) – Thomas Newman

American Beauty – Thomas Newman

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Thomas Newman’s albums

Jon Brion’s Meaningless

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