CLASSICS: American Beauty

American Beauty
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Alan Ball (screenplay)
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, and Wes Bentley

American Beauty shouldn’t be the kind of movie Oscar loves.  It’s hard to watch a movie that begins with a man saying that masturbating in the shower will be the highlight of his day and pair it alongside other Best Picture winners like The King’s Speech or Shakespeare In Love.

That’s not even the biggest reason American Beauty defies the Academy, though.  At almost every chance the voting members get, they favor superficial uplift over true grit.  Yet when you look closer at this movie (as its tagline instructs you to do), you see that there is no happy ending, at least not in the traditional Best Picture sense.  Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) really does die like he says he’s going to in the beginning.

Movies that blatently tell you their outcome are usually more surprising than ones with a big reveal at the end.   Sometimes knowing the conclusion is more baffling than not.  How can a man who’s already dead die, and why will we care?

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SPOTLIGHT: Annette Bening

There’s always a little bit of madness lurking behind Annette Bening’s eyes.  Whether this is her character or the real woman is a mystery, one that viewers have been more than happy to be wrapped up in throughout her career.  Bening is an expert at pealing back the layers of characters we would normally dismiss as arrogant, shallow or bitchy.  She does this either with an objective approach to a distasteful character (American Beauty) or by putting herself completely into the role (The Kids Are All Right.)  No matter what her approach, though, there’s always that little bit of madness below the surface, ready to snap.

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REVIEW: I Am Love

I Am Love
Directed by: Luca Guadagnino
Written by: Luca Guadagnino
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Flavio Parente, Edoardo Gabbriellini, and Alba Rohrwacher

Amid the beautiful interiors, finely prepared meals, and meticulously planned out wardrobes, a human element emerges.  I Am Love, the beautifully written, filmed, and acted drama from Luca Guadagnino, is obsessed not only with its elegant, finely tuned surface, but the emotions that boil just beneath it as well.

The age of the horrific Katherine Heigl rom-com doesn’t exist yet in this film, which chronicles the Recchis,  a wealthy Italian family, and the Russian black sheep who married into it at the turn of the millennium.  Every day, Emma (Tilda Swinton) must suit up in a differently colored, yet similar-looking dress and perform the functions of an everyday aristocrat.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Justin Haythe (screenplay), Richard Yates (novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon, and Kathy Bates

The way cinema portrays it, I’m led to believe absolutely no marriages of the 1950’s ended well.  With all of these shattered dreams and repressed rage foaming to the surface, it’s difficult to see how these people have time for mowing the lawn or raising the kids.

In fact, the children hardly make an appearance in Sam Mendes’ adaptation of Revolutionary Road, originally a cult novel written by Richard Yates.  They are alluded to, yes, but their most prominent function is to make Leonardo DiCaprio’s Frank Wheeler feel guilty about cheating on his wife April (Kate Winslet) on his birthday.  There he is walking into his own house, and here comes a birthday cake, a happy wife, and two smiling kids right after he got done staring ominously at the steering wheel of his car and feeling dreadful.

It’s this dreary mood of hidden secrets and suburban angst that drives much of Revolutionary Road. And though the children rarely appear, the adults do enough childish dreaming of their own.  April and Frank decide to move to Paris, an aspiration they remembered and want to achieve.

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