Thursday, July 2, 2020

American Beauty 1999 - Movie Review


A beautiful Kaleidoscope of American Suburbia

I saw this award-winning gem directed by Sam Mendes (his directorial debut)  just when it released in September 1999 with absolutely no idea of what it was. It was one of those drama movies that start at the end, telling you that somebody is going to die, and then makes you wait to find out how it happens. Towards the finish, three possibilities are waved in front of you, but then the plot twists to something else. And that's what makes it a fascinating watch.

By now, most of you would have seen American Beauty already. A story of dysfunctional families in white middle-class suburbia: the main characters are the Burnham couple (Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening) who don't seem to copulate or even communicate anymore, but still share a bedroom. They have a highly insecure teenage daughter, played with aplomb by Thora Birch who believes she is an ugly misfit. Next door there are the Fitts: a right-wing militaristic father (Chris Cooper) and an emotionally dead mother (Allison Janey), whose son Ricky (Wes Bentley) has been in a mental hospital.

Kevin Spacey plays Lester Burnham, the father doomed to die with such finesse, that it rightfully earned him a Best Actor award at the Oscars. One day he sees the boy next door calmy quit his job as a waiter, so he too quits his joyless job as a writer for a magazine. He starts buying marijuana from the boy next door, horrifying his straight real estate agent wife, who is obsessed with success (or the image of it). Annette Bening shows some restraint with the over-the-top character. 

Lester also becomes infatuated with his daughter's cheerleader friend (Mena Suvari), who is beautiful, but also vain, shallow and dishonest. Somebody like that can't be a real friend, so let's call them companions. Thus Lester alienates his daughter even more. The daughter becomes involved with Ricky the weirdo next door, and Mrs. Burnham starts having meetings with another real estate agent, so you have a soap opera, where any of them might have a motive for smiting poor old Lester. 

The most fascinating character is Ricky Fitts, the teenage neighbor. He looks like a bible salesman but sells drugs. He has no fear of anything, and sees beauty where others can't, videotaping everything around him. It is he and the Lolita cheerleader who give Lester lust for life again. His wife's answer to the emptiness of her life is to become more successful. She isn't going to admit what the real problem is. 

American Beauty pokes a burnt stick in the eye of the American way of life, anything from guns and fast food to drugs and materialism. Only religion seems missing from this. It feels like a major studio tried to make a commercial arthouse movie, and it actually succeeded.

American Beauty won five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Spacey), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. American Beauty also won six of the 14 awards for which it was nominated at the
British Academy Film Awards: Best Film, Best Actor, Best Actress (Bening), Best Cinematography, Best Film Music and Best Editing. The Oscar-nominated, Grammy-winning soundtrack score by Thomas Newman is worth highlighting too as it sets the mood for this great watch.


This scene is a highlight!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Wonder Women Puberty Awakenings


How Old TV shows spark the 
incendiary first fires of teen sexuality

I noticed a petite beautiful brunette while riding the Metro today. It happens. Normally, I look over, I say to myself, "that's one hot mama," and I go back to reading the overrated novel for which I overpaid at the second-hand book shop. I consistently overpay. Okay, but I don't say ' hot mama'. 

But today, I had no book, and I was especially unable to accept any passing thought at face value. So I thought to myself, "Why do I find this woman attractive?" That, of course, can be answered in no one simple discourse, due to a wide array of possible influences - the physical, the psychological, the sociological, and so forth. But I realized that this lovely lady, who had so efficiently grabbed my attention from the sweet and naughty sound of her thighs gently skidding against the vinyl Metro seat, was especially alluring to me because of one thing - her resemblance to Erin Grey (Katherine "Kate" Summers Stratton), of the 80s situational comedy sitcom Silver Spoons fame. 

Then it hit me. Many of the incendiary sparks that kindled the first fires of my teen sexuality came from a single origin - watching re-runs of old television sitcoms with my aunt who had a peculiar penchant for watching these old shows. I suppose this should come as no surprise to a cable slave with a media-infested mind like myself, but pinpointing the various sources of my libidinous teen development proved both entertaining and enlightening. What's even more funnier is that most of these starlets are now grandmas. And let's be clear, I have no granny fetish! Anyway, the following involves a high degree of self-disclosure, but I will progress nonetheless, in chronological order.  

Maria from Sesame Street: Sonia Manzano, this Latin-American beauty captured my youthful schoolkid heart when it still could cry for a misunderstood woolly mammoth and the departing of an elderly shop keeper. With her bright smile and willingness to teach, she made me toddle back to the tube again and again. Sonia, now 70 played Maria on Sesame Street from 1971 until her departure in 2015. 

Wilma from The Flintstones: The brained beauty from the second-greatest TV cartoon of all time. Wilma’s intelligence and no-nonsense attitude, tempered by a sweetness lost on today's women, all packaged with a shock of red hair and a body that won't quit made me wonder why Fred would ever try to fool her, and why he and Barney spent so much time together with a fine piece like that at home. When she and Betty got together to make dino-cookies, I wished I was a rolling pin.

Wonder Woman: No not Gal Gadot, but Lynda Carter from the American live-action television series of the 70s. What can I say, Miss World USA Lynda Carter made me feel funny in a way for which I had no label until after puberty. It's a good thing she never threw the lasso of truth around me because I definitely would have ended up telling her how great her amazon woman tits were. Lynda is 68 now!

Vicki from The Love Boat: I believe she was the second entertainment director for the Spelling cruise, but blonde beauty Jill Whelan as Vicki Stubing, the daughter of Captain Stubing in the 70s hit cruise ship television series The Love Boat made love exciting and new for me when it truly was. I came aboard 9:00 PM every Saturday for carrom board and costume parties and Vicki. Jill is 53 now.

Daisy Duke from the Dukes of Hazzard: I know this is an obvious one, but for noobs, Catherine Bach, played the famous role in the late 70s – early 80s American television series The Dukes of Hazzard. After watching it, you can probably understand why hillbillies have a reputation for incest. If those shorts were any higher, I wouldn't have needed the sex education classes that were to follow in later years. I think she inspired my first little bitty teen erections. Catherine is 66 now.

Catwoman: Not Halle Berry but Julie Newmar, from the Batman TV series of the 1960s. Catwoman was more than just Meeooowww. helping me make the first associations between women and felines. A purrrfect template for the beginning of my understanding of female sexuality. She's hot, she's naughty, and she always takes Batman's bat-belt away. Holy hormones, Batman. Julie is 86 now.

Nellie Ruth "Nell" Harper from Gimme a Break: Don't laugh, Nell was a whole lotta woman, and boy, could she snare a man. Playing the motherly Black housekeeper for a widowed police chief and his three daughters in the 80s show, she showed me what a REAL woman wants - and she didn't take no guff from nobody. And I'm not alone - Joey Lawrence got his start as a leading man on that show- and look what a stud he turned out to be. Nell Carter passed away in 2003 aged 54.

Lauren from Family Ties: Before she became actually famous in Friends, Courtney Cox already inspired at least one 12 year old to make Friends. I made a new friend - she may just have been the first subject of my masturbatory fantasies. Incidentally, this hit 80s series in which she played 
Alex Keaton's Girlfriend, also featured Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Joseph Garden Levitt & Christina Applegate. Courtney is 56 now.

Wanda from Doogie Howser M.D: Even though still in my early teens, Wanda Plenn, the girlfriend (played by Lisa Dean Ryan) of the eponymous character in the early 90s series Doogie Howser, M.D. made me want to quit junior high and take up medical school. If I were Doogie, I'd have brought all kinds of medical equipment home for that little vixen. And you know Vinny watched them get down from his little window entrance all the time. I think Doogie liked it. Also, I believe Wanda to be the precursor to the later Neve Campbell craze. Lisa is 48 now.

Darlene Merriman from Head of the Class: Never saw anyone in high school that looked like Robin Givens, I'll tell you that but she was always nice to Arvid and Dennis. I still can't believe an honors student like her would go and ruin my fantasy world and marry Mike Tyson. I could talk your ear off about that...Perhaps the luscious redhead Simone played by the beautiful Khrystyne Haje is still available. btw, Robin is 55 now.

I think I started getting laid soon after that, but that wasn't really the case. However, I believe that any other TV women I found attractive after that were probably some conglomeration of what qualities this group brought to the table. If only I learned back then that if you're bored with a real woman, you can't just change the channel. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

From Beyond 1986 Movie Review


Macabre 80s Cult Campy Horror!

In 1986, the famed team of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna that brought the 1985 Horror hit ”Re-Animator” returned for another bizarre sci-fi horror shocker, ”From Beyond” based on one more H.P. Lovecraft story and starring Jeffrey Combs again. 

This one is about a Resonator, a futuristic machine that's a two-way window to the soul and allows you to see entities from another dimension;  but they can see you too, and they're hungry unleashing all manner of evil creatures and enabling individuals to indulge their most sinister desires and depraved fantasies. This film lacked some of the ghoulish original humor of Re-Animator, but its script is better thought-out, and there are lots of scary, campy moments and spectacularly gruesome special effects.

23 years later, an indie filmmaker Blair Erickson released ”Banshee Chapter” in 2013 starring Ted Levine and Katia Winter, rebooting the original story. Both movies are a good quarantine watch but ”From Beyond” takes the prize for being more interesting and more satisfying.
A cult classic of menacing design and blood-curdling execution, From Beyond is a perverse head-trip of horror.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

River's Edge 1986 - Movie Review


Probably the Darkest Teen Movie of its time

Inspired by the sensational real-life murder of 14 year old Marcy Renee Conrad on November 3, 1981, in Milpitas, California by Anthony Jacques Broussard, a then 16-year-old high school student, this controversial crime drama is a grim watch about dissociated youth and the moral malaise that affects society. Ironically, even after 34 years, River's Edge has not lost its social relevance.

Remember "Stand by Me", the Rob Reiner directed, Oscar-nominated 1986 adventure drama? A young little Jerry O'Connell asks River Phoenix and his other buddies: "You guys want to go see a dead body?" In "River's Edge", Samson Tollet, "John" (Daniel Roebuck)  to his white trash posse, kills his girlfriend and leads his friends to see her nude corpse, on the river's edge. "Dude! I saw it! I poked at it with a stick." Of course, John has a motive for his crime. "Why did you kill her?" "She was talking shit.", he says nonchalantly.

If "Stand by Me" based on the Stephen King novella was a sweet coming of age cinema, "River's Edge" coincidentally also released in 1986, is like its strung-out somber antidote version; a social drama and a dark satire all wrapped up in a horrific teen movie camouflage. 
 
John's friends, led by Layne (Crispin Glover) decide to cover up the murder for him. But Layne is the only one really committed to the plan. He buries the dead girl and nobody helps, not even John. "I'll be expecting a sixer for this," says Layne, dumping the body in the river. "You'd think I'd at least rate a Michelob," says Layne, when John gives him a sixer of Bud.

One gets to gawk at the Pre-"Speed" teaming of Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper too. Keanu, a relatively unknown star then plays Matt, the burn-out with a conscience and Hopper plays Feck, a nutso shut-in with a stash of premium weed, which he gladly gives to Layne and his friends whenever they visit, as long as they talk nice to his inflatable girlfriend, Ellie. Feck had a real girlfriend once, but he had to kill her. So he and John have something in common. 

Their psycho bonding time goes like this! "I killed a girl once, put a gun to the back of her head, blew her brains out the front. I loved her." Feck "I strangled mine." John "Did you love her?" Feck "She was all right." John 

Matt's little brother Tim (Joshua John Miller) is the evilest kid since The Omen's Damien. He drowns his little sister's doll. When Matt beats him up, he hatches a plan to kill Matt and tells his Asian punk friend, "Go get your nunchucks and your dad's car!" Watch your back, Matt! Eventually, somebody narcs to the cops. Furious, Layne drives around in his jacked-up VW Bug trying to figure out a plan. Meanwhile, Matt gets together with Layne's girlfriend, played by Ione Skye. He also has a big fight with his mother's boyfriend, who lives with the family. "You just stay around here to fuck my mother and eat our food. Mother Fucker! Food Eater!" 

The alienated kids spend a lot of time wondering why they don't feel worse about their dead friend. Maybe it's because they're jealous of her? Maybe it's our morally bankrupt society? Maybe it's just ennui? "Sometimes I think it would be a lot easier being dead." "That's bullshit. You couldn't get stoned anymore."

Film Critic Emanuel Levy wrote that River's Edge "addresses the alienation and moral vacancy among American kids growing up in a drug-oriented, valueless culture. River's Edge has the disturbing quality of a collective fear - the cherished, eagerly awaited adolescence is presented as confusing and vacuous. Unlike most 1980s teenage sex comedies, this film doesn't glamorize youth, instead depicting it as a bleak, aimless coming of age, a time of boredom, stupor, and waste." However, Levy writes that the film does share in common with its peers the manner in which it presents adult figures, as "irresponsible and indifferent".

Watch this movie for a much more insightful look at 80's disconnected youth. The added bonus is Keanu Reeves and the Heavy Metal soundtrack (if you are a Metal fan) featuring the likes of Slayer and Agent Orange. And in case you were curious, Anthony Jacques Broussard, the original murderer now 55, is still in prison.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Dead Man 1995 - Movie Review


Revisiting the underrated surreal Western

Jim Jarmusch called his 1995 Johnny Depp starrer ”Dead Man” a psychedelic western. Believe the famed independent filmmaker, ’Dead Man’ is indeed a brooding post-modern western or as a film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum called it, a trippy authentic ”Acid Western”.

Johnny Depp shines in this hypnotic movie that seems even more trippy to watch it again. Billy Bob Thornton, Iggy Pop, Alfred Molina, Crispin Glover, John Hurt, Lance Henriksen, Gabriel Byrne, Gary Farmer and Robert Mitchum add to the star quality while Neil Young amplifies the surreal weirdness with his guitar-driven soundtrack. Even though this strange movie flopped on release, it divided critics and has now become a cult Western. 

I personally like it because of Johnny Depp, the character of Nobody, and William Blake's poetry: 
'Oh why was I born with a different face 
Why was I not born like the rest of my race? 
When I look, each one starts 
When I speak I offend 
Then I'm silent and passive 
and lose every friend.' 

Watch it. The film is also achingly beautifully shot by acclaimed Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller in crisp black and white, which adds to the minimalist gritty feel.



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