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Posts Tagged ‘american beauty’

Revolutionary Road: Could Lead to Oscar Blvd.

Posted by goldwriting on December 23, 2008

revolutionaryroad “Let’s take a cruise together.”

“Umm…actually, I have this thing about boats. They’re not really my thing.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Throughout movie history there has been a wide variety of classic couples, people you yearned to see on screen together again and again: Bogart and Bergman, Gable and Leigh, and Lancaster and Kerr to name only a few. But in 1997 another young couple cemented their right to being included on that list, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, in James Cameron‘s  record breaking film, Titanic. Even though the pair were one of the very few things in Titanic not awarded with Oscars or Golden Globes that year, they still lived on inside the hearts of the audience members who went back to see the romantic duo lean over that railing and declare their reign over the world. It only took eleven years for them to find a project to work on together again, but DiCaprio and Winslet have proven it was worth the wait.

Revolutionary Road is the story of a young passionate couple who meet, connect and yearn to spend their lives striving for the limits of experience. The story takes a only a brief look into their initial introduction to each other, instead opting to quickly jump years forward into their marriage only to find the passion has dissipated and their struggle now is against their suburban mundane existence. The couple, once wild and free, now find themselves deciding whether to stay in their current situation and try to make the best of it or to risk it all and run away to Paris in hopes of rekindling their love of life and their love for each other. It’s a war of contentment and  security versus passion and fulfillment and both sides fight dirty.

There was always one big threat looming over this film, that we, the audience, would look up at the screen and only see the Leo and Kate we remember from Titanic. The love struck duo fated to be together, but torn apart. All we would see would be longing glances full of love and hope and the rest of this new story would be lost in those memories. So, with that looming in front of director Sam Mendes, Mendes made a brilliant choice to jump very quickly into the deeply troubled marriage, nearly opening the film in a vicious fight on the side of the road. The anger and vitriol spilled on each other in that opening argument is more than enough to wipe away all previous visions of wistful gazes and romantic cuddling. DiCaprio rages against the self-imposed cage he’s stuck in, giving us the intensity and raw aggression we’ve come to expect from him (from performances such as The Basketball Diaries, Gangs of New York, The Departed, etc.). Now tie that aggression with the always impressive strength and surety of Kate Winslet and you’re locked and loaded for a true battle of the wills. Only actors who are completely trusting of each other could reach the fever pitch Leo and Kate achieve, which allows not only for touching moments of love, but also incredibly sharp attacks that cut deeper than any knife ever could.

Behind the dynamic duo there is a bevy of talented actors, including Kathy Bates, Kathryn Hahn and David Harbour, and heading into this film they had to know they were only bringing the trimmings and decorations to a party made for Leo and Kate, but one person decided to crash the party and steal some of the spotlight for himself. Michael Shannon plays John Givings, Kathy Bates’ son who happens to be on a short term visit from the local insane asylum. Now he doesn’t bash into the scenes ranting and raving, but his particular type of craziness allows him to cut through the bull and call people out on what is really going on underneath their shiny plastic veneer. Shannon has only three scenes in the film, but during each one of them you can’t take your eyes away from him. He is not only the spark-plug for those moments, but he becomes the lightning rod for the entire movie during a dinner scene which will go on my list as one of the best scenes on film in the last five years. The only shame in Michael Shannon’s performance is that he didn’t get a nomination for it. Here’s hoping the Academy voters are smarter than the Hollywood Foreign Press.

As much as I can rave about the wonderful acting on display in this film, those jewels are only achievable through the eyes and sensitivity of a talented director like Sam Mendes. Mendes keeps his tradition from American Beauty alive of painting picturesque communities of sterility and perfection, but all the while hinting and flashing light on the cracks growing underneath. There is always a deeper truth underneath the veil his characters show to the world and that’s where his real talent lies, making those people remove the masks in a believable and truthful fashion. I was on the lookout for subtle preferential treatment for Kate since she’s married to Mendes in real life, but both parties refused to pull any punches, once again proving the entire team’s commitment to powerful and honest filmmaking. Also proving that point is the completely anti-Hollywood ending, which I obviously won’t go into, but according to screenwriter Justin Haythe there was some push for it to be softened or changed, but Sam locked arms with him and demanded that it stay true to the original novel it is based on. If more people showed even half as much commitment to all the other film projects out there, the quality level we would reach would be unimaginable.

Recommendation: I’ll put this as plainly as I can: Before seeing this I was a locked in vote for Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture of the Year, now I’m not so sure. My new fear is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is going to make this choice even harder, but for the moment I am blissfully unaware of that option.

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Towelhead: A Hat Trick of Anxiety, Trauma and Beauty

Posted by goldwriting on September 3, 2008

I’m sure there’s a joke out there somewhere to make about a movie with themes like this, but I’m not going there. So phbbbtttt…

Nothing sets the mood like walking into a movie already brimming with controversy before it ever hits a single silver screen. So it was with the new storytime vision of Alan Ball, writer of American Beauty and creator of Six Feet Under. With those two titles under your belt, every audience member knows they are in for something darkly humorous, unusually frank and powerfully uncomfortable. Once again, Alan Ball did not disappoint on any count.

Towelhead is the story of Jasira, a young thirteen year old girl reaching the inevitable point in her life where changes occur in her body and her surroundings, but none of the adults around her represent anything close to a good role model. Without proper guidance Jasira stumbles tragically into puberty and has to fight off racism, sexism and the primal urges of others as well as her own. Nothing makes sense to her anymore and a new fight emerges when someone actually tries to care for her and make her recognize right from wrong.

This film penetrates through layer upon layer of social taboo and almost dares the audience to flinch, maybe even leave if they can’t handle it. The depths of humiliation and abuse Jasira sinks into are troubling to say the least, but there does seem to be a method to the madness behind the scenes. The story does attempt to say something important about young children, especially girls, who are victimized. Too many times once a tragedy has occured in a young girl’s life, she is forever treated like a victim and never expected to fully return to a normal, well balanced life, but Alan Ball strove to show a different possibility. He created a world where Jasira suffers terrible act upon terrible act, but continues her fight for understanding and once she does fully come to grips with what is happening to her, it becomes a fight to take back control of her own life. Also brought to bear upon the social mindset is the dispicable parenting that takes place. Jasira is an all too common example of divorced parents using their child as a weapon against each other and losing all recognition of the small impressionable person in between. It’s not to say what happens in Towelhead happens to every child, I surely hope not, but the allusions drawn here are far from unheard of.

The thematics will feel somewhat familiar to those in touch with Ball’s previous works, but he claims to have not noticed that until after filming was already done. Also part of the excuse is Ball didn’t write the story, he adapted the script from the novel of the same name by Alicia Erian, a middle eastern woman herself. Together, Alicia and Alan both defended the use of the title Towelhead in the face of protests from American Muslim groups across the nation. It’s a gray area to be sure. Alicia and Alan actually changed the name to Nothing is Private before they screened at Cannes because they were so afraid of the reaction (and it’s still listed on IMDB under that title), but after the film was sold, the studio actually asked for them to change it back. Everyone involved seemed to feel the inherent racism in the title and the shocking nature of it was integral to the story they were trying to tell. Opposers feel it is sensationalist and only helps further the use of such a deroggatory term. In my opinion, it’s a tough sell to try and make them change it since it gets embroiled in a censorship vs. artistry dispute, but I do see a double standard in our country where this movie can get released and supported, but Nas is forced to change the name of his last album away from N****r for exactly the same reasons. I think that proves the point that we may have come a long way in the fight against racism, but it’s only against some cultures, not all.

OK, off my political soapbox, back to the movie. Like I expected, Towelhead is incredibly well done, but equally uncomfortable. Numerous times I shifted around in my seat because there was no way to watch the screen and feel at ease with what I was being shown. Alan made this effect possible with strong unapologetic writing and brilliant casting. Summer Bishil takes on the impressive and heavy role of Jasira and delivers a stunning performace, which for her is nearly a debut (she’d done some children’s TV movies before, but nothing of this level or caliber). Her nievete in acting only helped to make Jasira more innocent on screen, creating even more torment when that innocence is threatened. It was a inceredibly brave role to play and I would not be surprised if her name is mentioned around Oscar time. Aaron Eckhart once again proves he can play any kind of next door neighbor, the one you invite over and cook hot dogs with or the one you make sure you lock the side doors against. This time he plays the more devious and dispicable of the two and his commitment to the role was impressive and frightening to say the least. Playing the role of Jasira’s father, Peter Macdissi had an entirely new road to travel as a man ill equipped for fatherhood in America during this day and age, while also fighting off racism both against him and from him. My feelings towards his character were very close to those of Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine. Both were paternal characters who were incredibly easy to hate, but when the film tries to redeem them at the end, it feels like too little too late. I will say in Towelhead, Peter’s character makes a stronger turn in the third act, but so much animosity is built up by then, it’s hard for an audience to empathize. Trying to save adults everyone from being portrayed as completely inept is Toni Collette. She plays a pregnant neighbor on the other side who begins to see terrible possibilities open in front of her and does her best to protect and shelter the young girl, sometimes even from Jasira herself. It was a nice touch to make the character pregnant since it added an extra level of worry and panic over whether something like this could happen to her own incoming child.

Recommendation: This is not a sunny afternoon matinee and certainly, positively not a date movie. But, if you are a fan of good, powerful and emotional filmmaking, strap yourself in because this is a heavy ride. See it in the theater for that extra added power, since it won’t be so easy to pause or change the channel.

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