Monthly Archives: September 2013

Film Review: The Way Way Back

14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) goes on a summer holiday to Cape Cod with his mother (Toni Collette), overbearing step father (Steve Carell) and bitchy step sister. Not fitting in and feeling really rather miserable about everything, Duncan gets a job at a local waterpark where here meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), a senior worker at the park, whom he looks up to. Owen takes Duncan under his wing and helps him have the most important summer of his life.

Last year, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower was somewhat of a surprise hit and made it cool to be unpopular. It was filled with misfit teenagers who, over the course of the film, made some of the important steps from being a kid towards adulthood. The Way Way Back follows a similar ‘coming-of-age’ formula and looks set to repeat the success of Perks, largely thanks to some excellent performances from its (some familiar, some not so familiar) cast.

If you’re a fan of so-called coming-of-age films, then there’s a lot to like in The Way Way Back. All the hallmarks are there, which does give the film an air of predictability about it and it does suffer from slight over-sentimentality at times, although both these can be overlooked without too much effort. It’ll be easy for many to find something to relate to within the film, whether it be Duncan’s difficulty finding his own identity, summer romances, difficult step parents, or just having one of those summers you’ll never forget. This allows the film to be accessible to practically anyone.

However, it’s the performances that really elevate the film. Liam James is perfectly awkward as Duncan, echoing Logan Lerman’s performance in Perks. You can see him grow throughout the film, starting off as a shy, introverted child before slowly growing into a confident young man. Steve Carrell is also excellent as the simply infuriating Trent, Duncan’s step father, who has little to no time for his stepson, whilst Allison Janney is hilarious as their flirty, borderline alcoholic neighbour. It’s Sam Rockwell, though, who really steals the show as the carefree Owen. His dialogue is consistently sharp and quick-witted, with his delivery and timing nothing short of perfect. It’s not overly clear why Owen decides to befriend Duncan in particular, but their relationship works and is the backbone of the film.

The Way Way Back is most definitely a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. On paper it’s pretty formulaic but played out on screen it’s heart warming and genuine. I wouldn’t be surprised if this sneaks onto some ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Quickie: You’re Next

Crispian (AJ Bowen), along with his girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson), sister, brothers and their respective partners, celebrate his parents’ wedding anniversary out in the sticks at their new, swanky house. However, it’s not long before the celebrations are cut short by a brutal home invasion by masked attackers.

Some people are more freaked out by supernatural horror (me), whilst others find themselves gripping their seat with slasher-esque movies. If you fall into the latter category then You’re Next will likely have you double checking the locks when you get home.

The film has a distinctly b-movie feel to it, which is by no means a bad thing, and doesn’t hold back with its violence. There are even a couple of particularly grisly deaths that verge on video nasty territory. It’s well filmed with plenty of close up shots to give you that claustrophobic feel and restrict your on-screen peripheral vision. The use of shaky cam, however, does get a little tiresome after a while.

Whilst the film is tight and well constructed, it’s also a little shallow and you may well find yourself with little empathy for the main characters. Indeed, the attackers have more personality than most of the protagonists even though they’re masked up.

You’re Next is a pretty blatant attack on the middle class, but it does so with its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek. It recalls Scream at various instances, almost riffing on the home invasion sub-genre at times. It’s at no point cerebral but is a succinctly packaged piece of good gruesome fun.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Debuts Blogathon Wrap Up

debuts collage 2

Well there we go, it’s all done and dusted. This blogathon, which I co-hosted with Mark from Three Rows Back, has been a great experience. I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with some great bloggers, some familiar, some not-so familiar and I think it’s been a great success. There have been some fantastic posts, covering a wide range of directors and films, which is exactly what Mark and I were hoping for. There are some classics in there and also some directors I hadn’t even heard of, which has helped me broaden my knowledge that little bit more.

Thanks

First of all I would like to say thanks to Mark for proposing the idea of doing the blogathon in the first place. I’d toyed with the idea of a blogathon for a while but didn’t really know what to do and how to go about organising it, but Mark gave me the impetus to do that. It’s been an absolute pleasure working with him and if you don’t follow his great blog already, I urge you to do so.

And of course an enormous thank you to everyone who has taken the time to get involved. I know you all have busy lives and are busy tending to your own blogs, but we’ve both been overwhelmed with the response, enthusiasm and quality of the work produced. Every piece was a belter.

Here is a list of all the posts in the blogathon…

Again, thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to contribute. This has been a lot of fun, and we may well run another blogathon in the future. If we do, we hope to see you there.

Tagged , , ,

Debuts Blogathon: Steven Soderbergh – Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989)

three rows back

Debuts Blogathon

It’s the final day of the Debuts Blogathon; and what a great Blogathon it’s been. When we first proposed the idea; Chris and I never guessed we’d get such a brilliant response. The diversity and quality of the entries we’ve received has been what’s made this such a fun feature to put together. I’ve learned a lot and look forward to revisiting some old classics and adding others to my watch list. I hope you have to. Thanks so much to Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop for being my partner on this venture; I couldn’t have put this together without him. Thanks also to all the brilliant contributors whose insightful and passionate entries have made this Blogathon so great. Finally, thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to follow the Blogathon; I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. Here we go, the last entry and it’s…

View original post 1,038 more words

Debuts Blogathon: Stanley Kubrick – Fear and Desire (1953)

debuts banner 2

This is the final post on my site in the Debuts Blogathon, which has been co-hosted by myself and Mark from Three Rows Back. Here I’m taking a look at my favourite filmmaker Stanley Kubrick and his debut feature, Fear and Desire.

STANLEY KUBRICK

Fear and Desire (1953)

To me, Stanley Kubrick is one of, if not the, greatest directors of all time. Obviously I’ve not sampled every director but of all the directors whose films I have seen, it’s Kubrick who stands head and shoulders atop the pile. I don’t think he’s made a bad film, despite what others may argue, and it was really interesting going back to see his first feature and looking at how he subsequently evolved and grew as a filmmaker.

The story of Fear and Desire is pretty simple and goes a little something like this: Four soldiers in the midst of an unknown war are stranded behind enemy lines. They must battle their own fears and desires in a bid to survive.

Fear and Desire was shot in 1951 and exhibited two years later in 1953. It was originally entitled The Trap and then The Shape of Fear and was sold in some places as a ‘sexploitation’ picture, largely due to a scene in which a woman is strapped to a tree. It was shot in five weeks without sound, which was post-synched, and cost somewhere in the region of $40,000, much of which was donated by friends and family (kubrick’s father cashed in on his life insurance policy to help finance the film).

It’s considered separate from the rest of Kubrick’s filmography, but is still an fascinating snapshot of Kubrick’s early work. Kubrick himself was not a fan of his debut feature, calling it “a bumbling, amateur film exercise… a completely inept oddity, boring and pretentious.” Unfortunately, Kubrick has a point.

The whole production is very amateurish, which is unsurprising. Much of the editing, particularly towards the start of the film is very jarring and not fluid. It’s difficult to tell where people are standing and to whom they’re talking. This makes whole scene very distracting and disorientating. Kubrick also breaks the 180 degree rule, jumping the line on a number of occasions, although it’s unclear whether this is intentional or not. Knowing Kubrick, it probably was, but it just ends up getting tarred with the same brush as the rest of the editing.

We also don’t get any of the interesting camera movements Kubrick became known for, purely because he had no tracks or equipment. This isn’t really his fault, but it does make the film feel very static. Kubrick’s decision to post-synch the sound was also a mistake. Unfamiliar with sound production, he did this thinking it would be economical and allow the production to move more swiftly. The result was quite the opposite, greatly affecting the film’s quality and increasing production costs. The acting is also not of the highest quality, most of it being stilted and wooden.

However, Fear and Desire isn’t a total mess and does have its moments. There’s some interesting cinematography and lighting choices which do show some clear promise in Kubrick’s skills. The film is clearly Kubrick expreimenting with the medium, seeing what he can do, which may be of detriment to the overall quality but is a fascinating examination of the young director. Wipes and dissolves link scenes together whilst one memorable scene which sees the murder of several enemy soldiers is clearly influenced by Eisenstein and Soviet cinema.

There’s much to criticise in Fear and Desire but as a study of the conception of Kubrick’s oeuvre, it’s a fascinating insight.

How does Fear and Desire compare to Kubrick’s other films?

It almost goes without saying that the rest of Kubrick’s filmography is of a much higher standard than Fear and Desire. It probably goes down as the weakest film in his catalogue for pretty much every aspect. However, you can definitely see a few things here and there that have filtered through into some of his subsequent films.

Of course, the most obvious comparison to make is with his other war films, Paths of Glory, Dr Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket. What’s interesting is that none of these films are really about the war itself, rather those caught up in it. The actual fighting is incidental to its effects on those involved. In Fear and Desire this is cleverly shown by not naming the conflict, meaning the war could be from almost any point in past, present or future. Again with all these films, the enemy is largely unseen, of little interest, or almost indistinguishable from the protagonists; what’s more pertinent is the fragile state that war has inflicted upon those entangled in it.

This could be seen as Kubrick’s commentary on the futility of war. One of the soldiers in Fear and Desire comments: “I’m thirty four years old and I’ve never done anything important. When this is over I’ll fix radios and washing machines“. In Kubrick’s world, fixing radios and washing machines is more important than war. In Dr Strangelove we see the idiots behind the war and how dangerous these men can be rather than what’s going on on the front lines, whilst in both Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket we see little actual conflict, more the preparations and consequences.

Kubrick’s films also generally carry a very negative, misogynistic view of his fellow man and Fear and Desire is no exception. For example, the soldiers take a woman prisoner for no reason other than she might or might not be colluding with the enemy. She’s tied to a tree and left at the hands of one particular soldier who struggles to contain his desire for her. Here we get a scene that is borderline rape, with the soldier coming across as both detestable and pitiful, clearly deeply affected by the war he’s a part of, just like Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. This negative view of man runs throughout almost all of his films in some part, with Lolita, A Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket probably the most obvious examples.

If you think about it, the title Fear and Desire could probably apply in some way to every Stanley Kubrick film. From Paths of Glory to 2001 to Eyes Wide Shut, these themes and the way humans deal with them are central to Kubrick’s pictures. Fear and Desire doesn’t perhaps explore these in as much depth his as later films, but thematically it definitely deserves its place amongst his more celebrated works.

Over at Three Rows Back today in his final piece for the blogathon, Mark is taking a look at Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape. Head over there if you haven’t already to give it a read.

A massive thank you to everyone who has taken part in the blogathon. I know I speak for both Mark and I when I say it’s been a blast and we’ve been overwhelmed with the enthusiasm from all involved and from those who have been reading the posts and commenting on them. I’ll do a proper wrap up post tomorrow but until then you can check out the rest of the entries in the Debuts Blogathon here.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Debuts Blogathon: Danny Boyle – Shallow Grave (1994)

Today is the penultimate day of the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Mark from Three Rows Back. Due to various complications and whatnot, we’ve ended up with an odd number of entries. As such, we’ve decided to both run the same piece today, a look at Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave by Shah from Blank Page Beatdown. Shah has a great looking site with a variety of reviews and features. Well worth your time! Over to you good sir…

DANNY BOYLE

Shallow Grave (1994)

Danny Boyle’s body of work is pretty varied and diverse. He is one of the few directors whom I cannot label a hack. Quentin Tarantino is a hack. Guy Ritchie is a hack. J. J. Abrahms, hack. I don’t mean this as an insult; those guys are some of my favorite directors. I just mean that most directors’ films will have some clear indications of the fact that it is their brand of cinema. This could be through style of cinematography (Tim Burton),  similar subject matter and content (Quentin Tarantino),  or unique technical execution such as a plethora of lens flares (J. J. Abrams) that will clearly identify the director of the movie. Whereas the complete opposite is true of Danny Boyle.

Probably the only director whose movies reveal nothing of the man behind the camera, as no two movies are alike in theme, tone, style or even genre. From zombie apocalypses to Bollywood extravaganzas to drug induced piles of awesome; there is nothing that Danny Boyle cannot direct, apparently.

The Debuts Blogathon has allowed me a chance to visit Boyle’s debut as a feature film Director in SHALLOW GRAVE, and compare it against his now famous repertoire of film. Even though TRAINSPOTTING launched Boyle (and others) into cult fanatic status, SHALLOW GRAVE is where he started his path of originality, and has stayed true to it ever since.

SHALLOW GRAVE is an easy story that goes places that requires little explanation. 3 friends have to come to grips with the death of a new roommate, while being transformed due to the discovery of a suitcase full of money with the body. It’s never explained who the man was, or why he had the money, but it doesn’t matter.

SHALLOW GRAVE stars Ewan McGregor in his first leading role as the jester with a heart of stone. Along with him is Christopher Eccleston, better known as (one of many) Dr. Who, who is amazing as a soft spoken bookish man, who’s traumatized by his experiences during the story. Eccleston steals the show, in my opinion, in a performance with great range and depth.

I say it’s an easy movie because the usual sequence of events don’t take place. There aren’t long drawn out moral conundrums about what to do with the money, or how to dispose of the dead body; they just do it and move on. What’s more interesting is the slow and steady transformation of mild mannered David played by Eccleston. The brutal actions he takes part in, almost compelled to do so by his so called friends, changes him dramatically. The movie focuses on the bonds of friendship, when tested under unusual circumstances and challenged by greed and selfish-ness.

While being his most mediocre film, it’s not difficult to see how this is Danny Boyle’s first film. The ‘wow factor’ isn’t really present until the 3rd act, in terms of the story. Boyle’s usual aesthetics seem amateurish, with topsy turvy camera work, even though it works for the story being told in this particular movie. Similar to how the raw-ness of the camera work worked for a story like 28 DAYS LATER. The Brit chemistry is on full display between the 3 main characters, just like TRAINSPOTTING, but to a lesser extent.

shallow-grave

Like most Boyle fares, SHALLOW GRAVE does go deeper than what it gives you at face value. It goes to darker places while invoking emotion that bring you to the edge of the seat, at least in the final 10 minutes. The journey of the characters within the story follows the darkness exhibited by the lead in Boyle’s THE BEACH, however nowhere near as extreme. The one thing consistent with Boyle’s other movies is the downward spiral that the characters take throughout the film, and especially near the end, with intense consequences.

Danny Boyle has become one of my favorite directors despite, or in spite of, his completely out of the box style of filmmaking and interests. Every Danny Boyle movie looks nothing like the last Danny Boyle movie, which I think is more challenging than creating a trademark style evident in all of one’s films. SHALLOW GRAVE marked the beginning of an acclaimed career, and it’s not difficult to see in this film, how the talent behind the camera got more creative and stylistic over the years.

Tomorrow marks the last day of this blogathon, which sees me getting in on the act with my look at Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire whilst Mark will be taking a look at Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape. Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, you can check out the rest of the entries in the Debuts Blogathon here.

Tagged , , , , ,

Debuts Blogathon: Quetin Tarantino – Reservoir Dogs (1992)

three rows back

Debuts Blogathon

As the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, nears its end, we’ve saved one of the very best till last. Tyson from Head in a Vice is covering the one and only Reservoir Dogs, Quentin Tarantino’s hugely influential 1992 debut. Tyson was the first movie blogger to follow me and I’ve followed his posts ever since. His site is a real one-of-a-kind, providing entertaining reviews of genre fare, as well as his long-term Project: De Niro to watch and review all of Bobby’s films and his popular Desert Island Films feature (I promise to sort mine out soon!). Simply put, this is a fantastic site you really need to be following.

Quentin Tarantino

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

When Chris and Mark posted about this project, I immediately knew I could only do it if I could grab Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs.

Reservoir Dogs PosterFor my…

View original post 897 more words

Debuts Blogathon: Andrew Dominik – Chopper (2000)

debuts collage 2

We’re nearing the end of the Debuts Blogathon, but both Mark and I still have a few pieces left for you and today’s comes from Dave over at ccpopculture with his look at Andrew Dominik’s Chopper. Dave’s blog is a reasonably new one to me but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read; definitely worth checking out. Take it away Dave…

ANDREW DOMINIK

Chopper (2000)

Chopper, the directorial debut of New Zealand-born Australian director Andrew Dominik, is a study in contrasts and contradictions. Mark “Chopper” Read, the real Australian crim from whom the film takes its name, is a complex character, simultaneously fascinating and horrifying. The film’s script is penned by Dominik but based heavily on Read’s own best-selling memoirs, which were omnipresent in Australia bookstores throughout the ‘90s, and it refuses to celebrate or denigrate the man’s violent history. It opens with the disclaimer, “This film is a dramatization in which narrative liberties have been taken. It is not a biography,” but doesn’t use this as an excuse to fit Chopper’s crimes to a cookie-cutter narrative; rather it bends the facts to tell an ambiguous yet rewarding story.

chopper

Chopper seems to be largely unknown outside of Australia, though Dominik has made an international name for himself with his subsequent films, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and last year’s Killing Them Softly. This obscurity isn’t necessarily surprising – at its time of release, Chopper himself was a minor Australian celebrity, using his notoriety in the press to launch an extensive and successful semi-autobiographical book series (nine books had been published by 2000). Most Aussie audiences went into the film expecting a comedic crime romp, thanks to the casting: at the time, Eric Bana was best known for portraying mullet-sporting bogan (a term for Aussie white trash, essentially) “Poida” on late-night comedy sketch shows. Bana was funny at times, certainly (Heath Franklin had a great deal of stand-up success as “Chopper,” essentially impersonating Bana’s take on Read), but he also delivered a nuanced, captivating performance that launched him to prominent Hollywood roles, including lead roles in Hulk (2003), Munich (2005) and Star Trek (2009).

The film is often funny, but it finds it humour in the oddest places. The first act takes place in H Division of Pentridge Prison in the ‘70s,and after Chopper brutally and graphically stabs a rival gang leader, he approaches the man as he perishes in a spreading pool of impossibly dark blood and asks, “You alright, Keith, eh? You want a cigarette, Keith?” Funny, but very dark. The scene is a potent introduction to Chopper’s complex contradictory character, establishing him as a violent, deeply troubled man who’s also peculiar in a childlike way. The pointlessness of the attack has been underlined in the preceding scene, with Chopper unable to come up with a reason for the ongoing feud between himself and Keith’s gang: “I don’t hate him. I don’t hate anybody.”

These early Pentridge scenes are Chopper’s best, shot with a cold blue filter that creates an unnerving, antiseptic atmosphere. As the sombre inmates scuttle around the pale prison, it’s reminiscent of insects crawling along a wall; an intentional evocation, with Dominik cutting to a cockroach and bull ant throughout these scenes. It’s demonstrative of Dominik’s impressive control of tone – he knows what images he wants to convey and executes them masterfully. There’s a wintery, washed-out feel to this entire act, particularly when Chopper’s former allies turn on him and attempt to murder him to save their own skins. Chopper survives the assault, but nonetheless there’s a funereal quality to the scene: colour drains out as it disintegrates into slow motion, smoke wafting and showers of sparks cascading with hypnotic sluggishness.

I said earlier that Chopper was about contrasts and contradictions, and that’s made very clear midway through the film, when it snaps roughly from the confines of Pentridge’s cold walls to the grimy Melbourne streets of the ‘80s. There’s a clear demarcation between “within prison” and “without,” Dominik abandoning the blue-rinsed solemnity for a gritty yet colourful palette, infused with fierce reds and lime-cordial greens and murky blacks. It recalls the look of Scorsese’s Mean Streets (not the only Scorsese vibe – a shot of Chopper contemplating violence within a blood-red nightclub feels like a conscious quotation of the classic slow zoom on DeNiro from Goodfellas). The contradictions at the heart of Chopper’s character are underlined in this section of the film; he’s the sort of man who shoots someone then drives him to hospital, or who lends a suit to the man who just tried to kill him. Chopper craves attention but is hopelessly paranoid, wanting everyone’s devotion but expecting everyone’s derision. These two competing impulses would be explicitly put at odds in Dominik’s next film, with Jesse James’s paranoia set against Robert Ford’s pathetic, whimpering need for notoriety.

The film commendably avoids celebrating Chopper – an unfortunate habit of Australian culture (see: Ned Kelly) – while also resisting the urge to portray him as an unambiguous villain. He may beat his girlfriend savagely for imagined affronts, but there’s also the sense that his perpetual paranoia is not entirely unjustified. The climax sees Chopper commit a murder that sends him back to prison, and the murder is presented in three different forms – once, as an apparently unprovoked cold-blooded killing, then from Read’s perspective as he shares the tale with the cops, and finally, a vaudevillian recreation that suggests that the murder may not have been unjustified. It’s this kind of ambiguity (and a refreshing lack of a clichéd character arc that sees Chopper grow and change as a person) that ensures the film is more than a mere biopic.

The aforementioned vaudevillian scene is one of many stylistic flourishes that Dominik peppers through the film, moments of experimentation amidst otherwise classical cinematography. These same elements are apparent in his later films; the theatrical recreation feels of a piece with the old-fashioned homage to silent film that forms the epilogue of Jesse James. A jittery, fast-motion conversation between a coked-up Chopper and a bartender provides a fleeting insight into Chopper’s headspace, and Dominik repeats this trick in Killing Them Softly, filming a conversation in an elliptical, trancelike fashion to convey the heroin-fuelled perception of the film’s protagonist. While Dominik’s excursions into experimentation may have occasionally overwhelmed Killing Them Softly, they’re perfectly executed within Chopper, improving the film rather than distracting from it.

I would argue that Chopper remains both Dominik’s best film and the best demonstration of Bana’s immense talent. Jesse James and Killing Them Softly may be more prestigious films (particularly the former, whose stately Roger Deakins-helmed cinematography is undeniably impressive), but they lack the lean hunger of Chopper. Emphasis on “lean” – one of Chopper’s strengths is how it tells a rich story in under two hours, while Dominik’s later films are somewhat bloated. Bana, meanwhile, has done excellent work in the years that followed, but has yet to have a film that really capitalises on his wounded masculinity as Chopper does (Munich comes close). It’s a debut that seems to be eclipsed by its main players’ more recent works, yet it deserves respect as an excellent film in its own right.

Over at Three Rows Back today, you can check out a brilliant piece on Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs by housewives’ favourite Tyson Carter from Head in a Vice. Head over there right now to check it out!

Tomorrow is the penultimate post in the blogathon and comes courtesy of Shah from Blank Page Beatdown with his piece on Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave. Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, you can check out the rest of the entries in the Debuts Blogathon here.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Debuts Blogathon: Ben Affleck – Gone Baby Gone (2007)

three rows back

Debuts Blogathon

Another day, another great post in the Debuts Blogathon hosted by myself and Chris at Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop, this time courtesy of Ruth from FlixChatter. If it’s quality you’re  looking for, look no further than this great site. Each and every post is infused with great insights, as well as Ruth’s unique, conversational style. She brings that style to this analysis of Ben Affleck’s debut feature Gone Baby Gone. I thoroughly recommend that you visit Ruth’s site (if you haven’t already of course) and see what I’m talking about.

Ben Affleck

Gone Baby Gone (2007)

When I first heard about this Blogathon, I was initially going to do The Usual Suspects as I thought it was Bryan Singer’s debut, but I ended up settling with Ben Affleck’s first film instead, which I think is still the top one out of the three excellent feature films he’s done…

View original post 1,308 more words

Debuts Blogathon: Sam Mendes – American Beauty (1999)

Today’s post on the Debuts Blogathon, hosted by myself and Three Rows Back, comes from Nika at The Running Reel with a superb look At Sam Mendes’s excellent American Beauty. I urge everyone to head over and give Nika’s blog a read; there’s some great reviews and features well worth checking out. Take it away Nika…

SAM MENDES

American Beauty (1999)

I cannot imagine any talk about directing debuts without even mentioning Sam Mendes’s 5 Oscar winner picture American Beauty. Considering everything I am going to discuss in my post, none of the directors have ever had such a high standard debut as Mendes had.

American Beauty looks at average life of average American family, their aspiration to happiness, their failure to actually be happy and the way how it ends.

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) is a father to a troubled teenage daughter Jane (Thora Birch) and a husband to a successful wife Carolyn (Annette Bening). They smile every day, collect flowers, drive Jane to school, work hard and have a family dinner in the evenings. Everything just seems perfect, as it supposed to be. But Lester, who himself tells the whole story, does not feel so. He jerks in the shower in the mornings, hates his job, thinks that daughter hates her father (damn right) and can’t stand his own wife. Burnhams’ life is just a show, a commercial for how normal they are when they are anything but. However, inside each of family memeber feels messy and lost.

American Beauty is comedy and drama at the same time, because we laugh at how absurd characters’ problems are and get sad, because we can find something familiar in our lives. In this mix of laughter and tears you see a lot part of reality – how families come apart, how ideals get ruined and how people change their life directions after finding out their true desires. Mendes gives a brilliant chance to think what happiness means for each of us, is it a good job just like Carolyn? Or lust just like Lester or maybe total freedom like Jane? You have to make your own decision, exactly as Mr. Burnham did.

Alan Ball who also won his debut writing Oscar created an extraordinary story with very smart, interesting, tense and touching dialogues. He came up with a great idea of delivering a story that was told many times before. Sarcasm and dark humor accompanies whole satiric story of this family making the film a lot more memorable.

american-beauty

I cannot imagine any better Lester than Kevin’s. He gave the most sincere, inspiring and enjoyable performance of his career and one of the bests of nineties. Mr. Burnham transforms from total loser to determined man during the movie and Spacey makes these changes very natural. He does an outstanding job by being emotional, careless, sexually inactive man. And then suddenly he changes into a daughter-friend-loving, determined and motivated man, who finally found “beauty” in his life.

Annette Bening is not any worse as career drive wife. Carolyn is control freak. As Lester say, that’s the reason why she got boring. She is the best to show up as a happy person by trying to see positive in everything.  But Carolyn always cries behind the curtains, in dark rooms where no one can see her tears. Bening just nails to be Mrs. Burnham.

The same time, supporting cast is as amazing as the rest of the movie. Thora Birch and Wes Bentley are brilliant as Jane Burnham and Ricky Fitts, respectively.  They both have trouble with parents. Jane hates her mom and dad because of this façade happiness and Ricky can’t stand father – violate, latent homosexual ex-soldier who communicates with son only when beats him.  And all these is part of whole average American family drama those young characters so desperately want to escape.

Excellent cinematography and Thomas Newman’s beautiful score make this interesting story a lot more spectacular.

Despite being a Hollywood film about America, American Beauty does not suggest either Happy Ending or clear finale. Mendes comes up with a great idea of confusing viewers in the very last minutes of the film. During almost two hours he has been trying to detach Lester from his family, which actually happens but Sam bring him back to family in the end. He as a director perfectly managed to hide some hints in every scene of movie to make us really think about the issue of happiness and not to be very late deciding for ourselves. We don’t want to be Lesters, do we?!

For being one of the most enjoyable, dramatic, interesting, brilliantly played, directed and written movie of Hollywood filmmaking, I consider American Beauty to be of the most successful directing debuts of all time.

Over at Three Rows Back today you can check out a brilliant write-up of Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone by Ruth over at the always wonderful FlixChatter. Head over there right now to check it out!

Tomorrow you’ll be treated to Dave from ccpopculture‘s piece on Andrew Dominik’s Chopper. Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, you can check out the rest of the entries in the Debuts Blogathon here.

Tagged , , , , , ,