Thursday, November 21, 2013

American Beauty ★★★★

Image result for american beauty movie poster

    As we grow older, numerous feelings seem to slip away from our adult lives; whether it is the feeling of innocence, nostalgia or the simple beauty of a sunset, these emotions tend to dissipate as we become confined in our jobs, responsibilities, and everyday nuisances. "American Beauty" is about a man who refuses to give in to these confinements. It's about a man who wants to regain what he has lost. This man is Lester Burnham, and he is the central character in this 1999 drama that won five Oscars, including Best Picture.

    "American Beauty" opens with a short narrative by our main character, Lester Burnham. He introduces us to himself, his wife, his neighbors, and his daughter, all through a seemingly dark and brutally honest perspective. Lester admits that he and his wife are unhappy. He slogs through his mornings to get to an "ordinary" job in which he advertises for a magazine publication. Our main character is aware of his shortcomings and that something has slipped away. This all changes, however, when he is forcibly taken by his wife to his daughter's step team performance. He becomes infatuated with his daughter's blonde friend, who ironically believes that "anything is better than being ordinary" when Lester is nothing else but ordinary.

    This seemingly fateful incident shocks Lester into coherence for the first time in twenty years. He begins his rebellion by blackmailing his boss, which gains him a full year's salary with benefits; he starts working out--because what young girl doesn't love a guy with muscles; he begins a relationship with the new neighbor's teenage son when he is once again forced to attend a business party by his wife. Lester also indulges in a marijuana habit in an effort to remember his younger days, when life held no responsibility and just adolescent happiness. Lester's rebellion intertwines with the supporting characters' lives and leads to an explosive and superb ending.

     The cast of "American Beauty" is nothing short of perfection for this interpretation of the typical, everyday American family. Annette Bening plays Carolyn Burnham, a woman who matches her pruning shears to her gardening clogs. She is a completely self-involved, career-driven, and controlling individual, who ignores Lester and treats her daughter as an "employee." Bening's nomination for Best Actress in a leading role is much deserved here.

    Thora Birch steps into the role of Jane, the daughter of the Burnhams. Jane is lacking self-confidence and hardly has a relationship with her parents. She becomes attached to the neighbor's teenage son after she catches him videotaping her. She is somewhat flattered that anyone would find her interesting, or physically attractive. (These thoughts are clearly psychological.) Ricky Fitts, the teenage neighbor and admirer of Jane, is played by Wes Bentley. Ricky is a closet dope smoker, and distributor, who has his own infatuations, including video recording and finding beauty in inanimate objects. Mena Suvari plays Angela Hayes, the beautiful blonde friend to Jane and Limerence Object to Lester. Although Mena is limited in screen time and dialogue, she plays this character with grace and poise. We ultimately find out that Angela Hayes isn't what she seems to portray.

     Last, but certainly not least, is Lester Burnham, played by the multi-talented actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey is unmatched in this brilliant portrayal of a middle-aged, suburban father. He certainly deserves the nod for Best Actor, and I believe he found the role that he was made for. I have supreme respect for Spacey and his performances over the years; however, it is his approach to acting that I have the most respect for. Spacey keeps his private life completely guarded against the materialistic world, which can sometimes hinder the realm of cinema. To him, keeping his private life to himself allows us, as the viewer, to completely believe that he is one of these characters on-screen. This could not be truer.

    "American Beauty" is a spectacular film and one that certainly deserves the recognition and praise it has received over the years. As human beings, it is only natural and instinctive that we fall into our everyday routines, and very seldom do we break free. If you have not seen this film, then you should most definitely give it a try. It might help shake you out of your reclusive coma of everyday life. I encourage everyone to try to enjoy life's simpler aspects. Stop to smell the roses once in a while. Before driving home from work, stop at an enjoyable surrounding and witness a beautiful sunset. Sometimes as adults we try much too hard to become something other than ordinary; to become something--extraordinary. You don't have to accomplish impossible feats to become extraordinary. Just live your life.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

3:10 To Yuma ★★★★

     A good western film in the 21st century is extremely hard to come by. James Mangold's "3:10 To Yuma" is one of the very few exceptions. "3:10 To Yuma" is a 2007 western drama based on the short story written by Elmore Leonard, which was originally published by Dime Western Magazine in 1953. A movie was originally made in 1957, and this 2007 version is a new spin on the classic film that was produced fifty years prior.

     "3:10 To Yuma" begins on a dark and dreary night in the old west. We find the protagonist, Dan Evans, startled from his sleep with good reason. A group of men working for a lender, in the near town of Bisbee, proceed to burn down his barn and warn him that he only has a week to pay back a debt of his. This situation instills resentment in Dan's older son, William, and a sense of failure in himself.

    We come to find out that Dan is a Civil War veteran who lost his leg in the war, and who later borrowed money to pay for his family's needs when a drought decimated his Arizona ranch. The next morning, Dan and his two sons leave the ranch in order to round up the cattle that were frightened off the night before by the fire. Unfortunately for Dan and his sons, they stumble upon a robbery in progress initiated by Ben Wade and his "wild bunch." This fateful meeting will lead Dan Evans and Ben Wade on a harrowing journey to their respected destinies.

     The characters in a western film are different from most genres. They are strictly a product of their environment, and the actors have to play their roles having virtually no idea how these 19th-century individuals really lived. The cast of "3:10 To Yuma" excel in all areas and give Oscar worthy performances. Dan Evans is played by the multi-talented actor Christian Bale, who found enough time to film this movie while not interfering with his role as Batman. (I am truly grateful that he did.) Bale triggers his inner sensibility and delivers a heartfelt performance centered around a man who has lost the respect of his family due to his inability to provide. Dan Evans stands by his morals and is proud to live off an honest living. He cares deeply for his family, and he is a testament for every man to inspire to be.

     Russell Crowe steps into the role of the ruthless gunslinger Ben Wade; Wade is an intelligent, cunning, and violent individual, who leads an outfit of men to sin and prosperity. He makes a living by robbing stagecoaches with seemingly relative ease. Crowe is brilliant in this particular role and shows that he can be a menacing villain. Although Wade is a thief and murderer, he does express faith in a higher power and shows a slight sense of empathy toward Evans. Some other notable roles in this film include Peter Fonda who plays Bryon McElroy, an employee of Pinkerton security, who was escorting the stagecoach in the opening robbery by Ben Wade. Even at an older age, Fonda delivers an inspiring and electric performance. Ben Foster plays Charlie Prince, the loyal and faithful sidekick to Ben Wade. Foster shows shades of brilliance and performs well in one of his most notable roles to date.

    Most westerns concentrate on long and rather tedious plot deterring shootouts; however, this film is most concentrated on the characters and their needs. In essence, "3:10 To Yuma" is a classic tale of the old west that serves well as a re-make. The direction and script are exceptional and are carried out to perfection by a superb cast. This is a dark and strikingly relevant film to humankind and the theory of destiny. We all face this controversy many times throughout our lives; questioning why we are here and what our purpose is on this Earth. To answer these questions, we must first look within ourselves. To quote the brilliant George Harrison, "Try to realize it's all within yourself, no one else can make you change."              

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Heist ★★

Image result for Heist film Gene Hackman stills

    Joe Moore is so cool that when he sleeps, "the sheep count him." Whatever that means.

    Mr. Moore is the central character in the 2001 caper film entitled "Heist." It was written and directed by David Mamet. This is a picture with an exceptional group of actors, that, unfortunately, do not live up to their previous Oscar worthy performances. A lack of quality writing and direction leave these characters one-dimensional, and, quite frankly, unexciting. 

    "Heist" opens up with Joe Moore, and his crew of flunkies, attempting a robbery on a local jewelry shop in New York City. They are successful, however, after one employee is still conscious due to their inept plan, he has to take action by subduing her, and he is ultimately seen on camera. This action of being "burned" (or being caught) fuels the plot throughout the picture and gives Joe a reason to get out of the game for good. Joe's fence has other ideas, however, and when he finds out Joe's plan to run, he withholds the profit from the previous gig.

    The fence has set up another robbery, which involves a Swiss airplane that contains gold in the cargo. He insists Joe and his crew take this last heist if Joe plans to sail off into the sunset with any kind of spending money. This will be the main heist that sends Joe Moore and his crew on a road filled with twists and turns until the bitter end. 

    The cast in this film are extremely talented and have proven so in many instances. Joe Moore is played by the well-known actor Gene Hackman, who extracts as much substance from this character that is humanly possible. Joe Moore is completely one-dimensional; his only care is money, which he makes abundantly clear in the opening minutes when he states the only love of importance is the "love of gold." (Not to mention the fact that he sends his wife into a promiscuous situation, with no thought or care, just to tactically complete a plan of action.) Hackman does show shades of brilliance, but, ultimately, they are drowned out by a rather dull character.

    Danny Devito plays Mickey Bergman, the fence for Joe and his crew. It is a small and defined role for Devito, who just simply tries to keep Joe in check and hopefully reap a share of Swiss gold. Bobby Blane is Joe Moore's faithful and longtime sidekick, and he is played by Delroy Lindo. Lindo is another very talented actor whose talents are suppressed and taken for granted.  The rest of the cast includes some forgettable names--especially Sam Rockwell--who is laughable in his role as Jimmy Silk, Bergman's nephew, who tags along on the final heist to ensure Joe stays true. 

    At its core, "Heist" has an exceptional plot and could seemingly be a great movie. A weak script and unmotivated actors could be the reason for this film's demise. Also not helping the cause are many absurd, and laughable, scenes, which involve inquiring police officers and several examples of horrendous acting. I will have to disagree with Mr. Roger Ebert and any serious film critic who gives this film a rave review. "Heist" does not exceed in any area of film-making, and an older Gene Hackman does not have enough firepower to otherwise mask these flaws.