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The Bone Collector

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I wandered into this movie almost literally by accident when Dogma was sold out at my local multiplex. Having had only a passing interest in possibly seeing this film when it came out on tape, I settled in for some benign entertainment. Except for the gigantic leap of believability that comprises the central plot point, one that you have to see the movie to really appreciate, it’s actually a mildly interesting little wastrel of a film with some genuinely worthwhile bits.

Denzel Washington’s stand-in had the easiest job in the world, as he is bedridden all but 2 minutes of the film. This is somewhat of a crime because he is (Queen Latifah not withstanding) the most dynamic character in the movie. Angelina Jolie does her best with a poorly drawn character, but the entire ensemble is so free of any burden of motivation that it’s really quite a shame. And her gigantic lips! I used to make fun of Lisa Rinna for her lips but Jolie looks like she is sucking a cuttlefish! It was quite distracting.

I was also hugely annoyed by a character who became evident that he is the intended target **watching the preview** and so the tension for the movie was totally blown. If it’s that guy, then the whole movie is a crashing bore because it was so obvious. If it’s not that guy, then the movie is totally stupid for introducing a demon ex machina to make us feel stupid for falling for the obvious guy. It’s a lose lose situation. So, it doesn’t matter what the ending is, so the only reason you would see this is for the interesting puzzle-piecing that the Good Guys go through.

I will tell you one thing: what this movie lacked in script polish it made up for in atmosphere. The vast abandoned wastelands of NYC are creepy and smoky and wet and scary. Yay art department and cinematographer! I have to say here that I see a zillion movies (such as this one, and Mimic, and others) where people are wandering alone through definitely scary, definitely cavernous, definitely unused sections of major cities such as New York. Would not the city be using these abandoned subway areas for something, since they are so overcrowded and real estate space is so expensive? I swear Jolie walked seven football fields worth of usable space in a crowded city – and not a homeless population or anything. Weird. Looked nice, though.

Denzel is very good at making us believe he is brilliant, but I have a hard time believing that a guy who is one seizure away from a vegetative state (he’s a quadriplegic in the film) has such keen and broad-reaching recall and analysis. He’s so brilliant that he is the ONLY tool that NYC’s finest have to solve a series of crimes which had been going unsolved and unnoticed despite the perp actually leaving clues ON PURPOSE to get himself caught. This is only one goofy aspect of the film. There are more. Watch with caution.

MPAA Rating R – grisly violent content & language.
Release date 11/5/99
Time in minutes 118
Director Phillip Noyce
Studio Universal Pictures

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Princess Mononoke

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Mononoke Hime

Oh how I am spoiled by the big studios’ animation departments – television just doesn’t look the same anymore. I must amend this with the movements might be more jerky, but the design of Princess Mononoke is still up there with the big boys – this is one pretty film!

Those unfamiliar with Japanese animation, aka Japanimation aka anime, should check out Princess Mononoke. The title makes it sound like Mulan, and the general green, eco-friendly theme makes it sound like the Lion King, but it should not be a turnoff. It’s an action/adventure, it’s a big mythological epic, and it’s very long (don’t get a soda!) and involved. Do pay attention to the names of the gods as well as the humans. The design of everything is beautiful – the curse is represented visually which is very cool and quite scary (I should also mention this movie is not for kids – some serious R-rated violence in here!), the glade where the spirit of the forest lives (sounds hokey but it is soooo cool!), everything is awesome looking! I have to revert to high school language to get it across – it’s the simple childish joy of seeing nicely rendered color convey dampness or danger or magic or death or – I can’t explain it! It’s very interesting, it is a *little* long, but as long as you go in with an open mind and heart (and don’t roll your post-modern eyes at the mythological aspects of these people and their attempt at living harmoniously with the forest) I think you will enjoy it.

In short, a young man is infected with a demon’s curse and travels to jump in the middle of an earth-shattering humans/gods war. The gods are amazing, the scenery is gorgeous, and the only thing weird is hearing Billy Bob Thornton and Jada Pinkett Smith’s voices coming out of these people’s elfin faces! Don’t do what I did and labor trying to figure the other voices are – hit the IMDB before you go to get yourself prepped. And yes, that’s Gillian Anderson as a giant white wolf. It works, actually!

Being unfamiliar with director Hayao Miyazaki’s other work, as well as anime in general, I ran to the IMDB to check it out, and against my normal habit, read a viewer review. Apparently, this movie is top of the line anime (like I say, I am spoiled by Disney and Dreamworks and Fox and now WB) and the viewer saw it in Japanese with no subtitles or knowledge of Japanese and still loved it. I enjoyed it greatly (but it sure is weird seeing such pretty, delicate people be decapitated and whatnot in battle!) but I am far from an expert in the genre. I am pleased that I have had such a good introduction (besides the 1970’s Our Star Blazers or was it G-Force?) now – it is a very different animation form, with fewer frames of artwork (thereby jerkier) but with much more delicately rendered colors and figures. Very nice.

MPAA Rating PG-13 for images of violence and gore
Release date 10/29/99
Time in minutes 165
Director Hayao Miyazaki
Studio Miramax

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House on Haunted Hill

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This is one of those movies that is most like Chinese food: while you are watching it, it is viscerally captivating, but as soon as you leave, and the harsh light of reality and intelligent conversation intrudes, it is actually not very good. It gets a higher rating than Rental mostly because of the beautiful house and effects and the thrumming, stomach churning bass. This movie is, almost transparently so, the child of The Haunting (from earlier this year, previously titled the Haunting of Hill House!) and Jacob’s Ladder. But if you can only catch it on a dinky screen with dinky speakers, you might as well watch it at home.

Geoffrey Rush seems so enamored of his delicious role as Casanova Frankenstein in Mystery Men, that he has basically grown a John Waters mustache and continued the trend. He is the thrill-maker scare master and the whole thing is his baby. The film is based on a Shirley Jackson story (she wrote The Lottery, you may know that one better) but even though I have not read it, I suspect the screenwriters sort of neglected to keep the plot fully cohesive. The atmosphere is grand, actually, with long creepy halls (but not as gorgeous as the ones in The Haunting), beautiful women skittering along them in fear (but not as gorgeous as the ones in The Haunting – though Taye Diggs….!), creepy freaky surreal imagery that could be hallucinations or it could be ghosts or it could be demons (a la Jacob’s Ladder but not as upsetting)…basically it’s an also-ran next to these two movies, which were not exactly tour de forces themselves. Pity. My personal fear of rollercoasters actually rendered the first bit of the film (shot on The Joker at Magic Mountain) waaay scarier than the well-designed spookfest later.

Oh, Geoffrey! He could have acted out what the effects and the script could not – but perhaps it was the effects that outshined him (pun and error intended). That weird monkey guy (I refuse to know the name of any of the cast members) from Saturday Night Live was actually pretty amusing (but consider the rough in which I found his cubic zirconium) – I have hopes for him if he can wrench himself away from Lorne Michaels’ demented grasp and make a real movie. Maybe one of those Adam Sandler rejects. He’s got the bitterness thing down!

Sure, I watched the screen, fascinated, even nervous, as the cast wriggled their way repeatedly through the most dangerous underbelly of the house when clearly, the safe place to hang out and wait to be killed downstairs was in the parlor. Okay, fine, I jumped a couple of times, or was afraid I would see something that would really bother me later. I was interested in the idea of the story and will probably check out the actual source and just set it in another place altogether. But overall, it was kind of…watchable. Nothing to write a hundred or so strangers about, but at least it inspired me to say more than Three Kings did. So that’s got to say something.

MPAA Rating R-horror violence /gore, sexual images &language.
Release date 10/29/99
Time in minutes 96
Director William Malone
Studio Warner Brothers

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Being John Malkovich

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I have to say, as I sit down to type this, I don’t know what my rating will be. I can say that people should all go see this movie, because it will be discussion fodder for months to come if not longer; but it is definitely a weird movie. And I didn’t think Brazil was all that weird. An amusing tidbit to start the review off: The screenwriter(s) had always intended that the role of John Malkovich would be played by a lookalike, as it’s not entirely flattering to the esteemed (and weird) actor; however, it crossed his desk and he was keen to play himself – I think his distinct face and mannerisms would never have been so needed as they are in this movie.

Watching the movie, I was pretty frequently making an amazed, “this is so weird” face – all kinds of wonderful random things (as if Terry Gilliam had a hand in it) that had nothing to do with the actual storyline were present – not needed but certainly appreciated. The puppet work in this movie is pretty fricking incredible too – both the resemblance of the puppets to the actors and also the actual puppet work. Music by Carter Burwell which means I will run out and get it – but it was decidedly back to what I expect from Burwell and not that flat pabulum he pumped out for some movie recently, what was that…? Anyway, nice atmosphere, good production design. If you don’t like randomness, and people just suddenly behaving a certain way without much or any provocation, you will HATE this movie. Often times I get frustrated when a movie does that, thinking it’s gimmicky – but somehow the whole gimmicky aspect of Being John Malkovich made it…more okay.

Realism is not so much important as consistency – if the writers and directors create a world with these rules (for example, the rule that Kryptonians can fly and Earthlings cannot), and stick to the rules, then I will suspend any level of disbelief they put me at, as I am supposed to. The thing about this is, this world has no rules. So none can be broken? Whatever it is, you shouldn’t watch this movie demanding logic and perspective – and it may rankle you how off kilter it is. The only thing that bothered me was a central relationship pivot point and the shaky, hand held camera work at times that just seemed like shoddy camera work and not mood. But I laughed a lot! My companion laughed as much if not more. I was interested, fascinated, never bored, never alienated (but almost!) and definitely not viscerally involved. I was intellectually interested but I came out of movie-watching mode and just thought about the experience of being in the movie, or writing or reading the screenplay. This should not occur in an ideal film. I was sucked in, but no more involved than watching with the rapt attention of an entomologist watching beetles mating. Interestingly, that is the same amount of involvement some of the characters have when they Are John Malkovich.

Go in with few expectations, an open mind, and don’t read up on the story too much if you can help it. John Cusack fans, he’s wonderful as always but it’s not a big drool fest like Grosse Pointe Blank. Cameron Diaz fans – same for you! Catherine Keener finally gets in a higher profile movie – I’m sorry to say this is not her best work, but do check out her oeuvre, especially Walking and Talking and Living in Oblivion! Malkovich (whom some think is sexy) is really actually very interesting in this movie. I can’t go into more detail but really, his whole take on himself is quite amusing, from a remote point of view as well as an involved one. Go see it! It deserves to be seen – but you might not love it.

MPAA Rating R for language and sexuality.
Release date 10/29/99
Time in minutes 112
Director Spike Jonze
Studio USA Films

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Three To Tango

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I will admit freely, I expected to walk out of this theater clutching my gut and screaming; perhaps that low expectation is what saved me, but the worst thing I can say about Three to Tango is that Matthew Perry’s hair should have given the whole plot away to the participants – he could not possibly be gay with that hairdo. But I jump ahead of myself.

Three to Tango has a very alternate-lifestyle-spanning plot, from the stereotypical Hollywood homosexual betrayal to some somewhat preachy (though, frankly, well-speaking) “why can’t we all just get along, and not that there’s anything wrong with that” business, with everything inbetween. Dylan McDermott continues to not impress me as the patently obvious wanker of the film. Neve Campbell is at her most cute-as-a-button, giving that Jennifer Love Hewitt something to think about! She has so made up for her bug-eyed flatness in the Scream franchise and her trailer trash flatness in Wild Things – here she is lovely and fascinating and maybe still a LITTLE flat but I would blame this one on the material. Matthew Perry (my favorite Friend, by the way, and the reason I saw the film) is what we want him to be, which actually works perfectly for this role – he’s self-effacing, talking himself into inescapable awkwardnesses, and he’s witty and charming. I have to say (and many will disagree with me) that the first evening spent between him and Neve is one of the best examples of how a date really happens (and is good for the parties involved) for a looooong time. We don’t all get John Cusack holding up the jam box, but we do get nights like this one!

There are no threesomes (as in Threesome and other movies) despite the title’s tantalizing hints towards that – but a nice safe neo-swing soundtrack and a lot of really fabulous art direction, and some great zingy one-liners. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is overall as forgettable as movie popcorn, in the long run scheme of things, and if it had come out in summer, I would say it’s a wonderful air conditioned diversion. I did leave cracking up over a couple of great one-liners which have now, sadly, eluded me, but I will probably catch it on cable some day and make a point to write them down. This movie having come out in November, I recommend popping a ton of popcorn, cuddling up, and having a diverting evening on the couch.

It’s inoffensive (unless you’re a homosexual-sympathizer-phobe) and it’s even pleasant in unexpected ways. Oliver Platt, proving himself time and again with me comedically, has too little to do (and some script cutting I suspect makes a couple of things seem tacked on) but he’s quite fun to watch. But for a more rip roaring silly Oliver Platt performance, get The Imposters, or, if you MUST, Lake Placid (he’s the best part). Matthew Perry is much better than in Fools Rush In (the material is better too) and I have high hopes that he will follow Courtney Cox Arquette and Lisa Kudrow instead of poor, poor Matt LeBlanc.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/22/99
Time in minutes 98
Director Damon Santostefano
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Best Man (1999)

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I wandered into this movie quite by accident when another movie was sold out – and I am so glad I did! This is a wonderful ensemble comedy, and I have to say, it’s much more universal than any targeted demographic might think it would have been. It’s about friendships and love and commitment (to people as well as to marriage) and it’s not just a chick flick either. I admit freely that I was concerned I would be left out in the cultural dark, but instead I felt welcomed in and very involved with everyone on screen. The main characters (but, sadly, not so much the peripheral ones) imparted a strong sense of history in their interactions – they make the movie real with their beautiful performances. Speaking of beautiful performances, have you ever seen Taye Diggs’ torso? Good heavens! But I digress, whereas the film does not. Don’t get me wrong, there is some largely gratuitous partial nudity, some for the ladies, some for the gents, but the movie is not all about booty or betrayal.

Quentin (played by the magic-eyed Terrence Dashon Howard) reminds me more than a little bit of Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas) from American Pie – he’s an anchor to the group who hovers outside them. He has the least to do but for some reason he really stuck in my head after the movie was over. Morris Chestnut and Taye Diggs are the meaty core, and Harold Perrineau Jr. (he was in Macbeth in Manhattan and Leo’s Romeo + Juliet) well, there’s one in every crowd. The love these friends have for one another is palpable. The script is great – lots of surprises, lots of painful barreling towards inevitabilities broadcast well in advance, adding to the tension. The best part is the times you think will go how it “always” goes, and then it veers way off somewhere else, but it doesn’t feel forced at all. Very nicely done all around, a fine motion picture for any old time, but super great for the holidays. My companion snuck peeks at me to see if I was misting up but I was too busy reveling in how great it was! Poor Melissa DeSousa (Shelby) had better watch out before she gets pigeonholed in the Bitch role forever. The end credits roll over the cast having a great time, and it’s abundantly clear they are no longer in character. Their enthusiasm for the film is evident the whole time.

Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, Spike Lee’s cousin (oh god he’s MY age! I am such a loser) The Best Man is definitely superior than the 2 1/2 minutes of The Bachelor I sat through while waiting for my actual feature to begin. Three lines of dialogue into that one, and I was ready to hightail it to LA and kill Chris O’Donnell. The Best Man I could see again and again.

MPAA Rating R for language and sexuality.
Release date 10/22/99
Time in minutes 118
Director Malcolm D. Lee
Studio Universal Pictures

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The Story of Us

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Perhaps the fact that I have close friends marrying in a week and as a result, the institution as a whole has been on my mind, affected my judgment; perhaps my innate need to compartmentalize my memories into a photo album not dissimilar to how the screenplay is structured appealed to me. Maybe it’s that I feel I have the characters portrayed by Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer (a surprisingly winning couple) at war within my own psyche – but no matter what the reason, I really enjoyed Story of Us. I also think many people might find it dull or aimless or even simplistic. So I don’t want to carte blanche recommend it to everyone because it might just be me.

That said, Story of Us is an interesting story, spanning 15 years of marriage and never really settling on what time is “the present” – there is a perceived present, where the fate of the relationship hangs in the air, there is an interview style present which one would think would be the start of a clip-show of flashbacks (as implied by the preview), and there are multiple time periods shown to differing degrees of complexity in the film. Personally, I felt that the way the flashbacks were handled in the storyline was very nice, very organic (not like a clip show sitcom – “oh and remember when…”), and quite often, very moving.

You know when you are watching a standard emotional story, maybe a love story, maybe a drama, but one where there is a standard structure of exposition, inciting incident, action, obstacle, action, climax, denouement? And you know how at the obstacle, you have that grinding anxiety in your stomach as you watch them inexorably blow it (hence, the obstacle), the pain, occasionally the urge to cry? The Story of Us is that story moment almost the whole way through – the structure is obstacle interrupted by action which is punctuated by exposition leading up to a not-forgone conclusion. The performance of the climax is lovely, is all I will say. Both our leads perform beautifully (Bruce adding more weight to the hair/acting ratio – the less hair, the better he is) and have great chemistry, happy or angry.

So, anyway, the whole movie you feel like you want to cry – you see glimpses of their earlier life as they remember it, windows to a painless past from a painful room. This is not a bad thing – you are entirely engaged in the characters and the action because of that grinding sensation. I was sucked in and interested (and choosing sides) almost before I even knew who everyone was. A smattering of amusing side characters were nicely, simply drawn, and Rita Wilson in particular was the most real element in a fantasy cast of friends (not unlike as she was in Sleepless in Seattle). Yes, I cried at long last – the long buildup of almost crying was going to end up nowhere else, but it is a release. Willis and Pfeiffer are a nice balance of flaws and amazing traits, irritating habits and sweet honesty. I really dug them as a pair, and the quick snips of their life as I saw it felt truly as if we had missed long, well-established scenes. I wouldn’t recommend this movie to the about-to-be-wed, the commitment-phobic, or people with no empathy – I think anyone else would enjoy the payoff.

And yes, that great song, Classical Gas, from the preview, is in the movie. Soundtrack comes out 11/23.

MPAA Rating R for language and brief sexuality.
Release date 10/15/99
Time in minutes 95
Director Rob Reiner
Studio Universal Pictures

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Fight Club

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Like other David Fincher films (Seven, Alien 3), Fight Club is brutal, grungy, has a gear shift that coincides with a brief lull before an intense climax, and explains too well how to do various forms of mischief; Fincher’s Guide to Young Felons. After seeing this movie, which we universally agreed was “good,” my companions and I wondered what demographic this movie was skewed for? Collectively we decided it was disillusioned Gen X malcontents in the third stage of desensitization to violence; this covered why we enjoyed it, at least. The beginning is overly stylish, swooping, invasive camera work, sucking you in, and then it takes off and becomes a pretty standard looking movie with occasional camera winks and nods (some of which get explained in a brief, Ferris Bueller as Hunter S. Thompson-esque direct narration to the audience) and nutty content. The “normal” world has more showy camera tricks, and the insane later sections of the film look normal. Maybe this is on purpose, but maybe not.

Pointed dialogue treats us to a moderately goofy plot element but some great one-liners, razor sharp bitterness and hair-pullingly jolting scenes. I don’t know a cube drudge alive who won’t respond to this movie on some level or another, in morbid fascination of the shock value mixed with corporate drone destructo fantasy. Imagine if the printer mauling scene from Office Space was directed by Quentin Tarantino – it is only comparable to QT in the glee it takes in the physical release of violence. Brutality is not so much glorified as elevated to a kind of spiritual performance art. Plenty of moments where your only verbal response to what is on screen is, well, the F word. “Oh my god” doesn’t even cut it. Fight Club, like the club itself, is not for everyone. It will keep most people riveted or revolted; intrigued or insecure, 95% of the time, and it’s interesting to dissect afterward. It is no Sixth Sense of post-viewing “oh YEAH I get it” but there are rewards to be gleaned from paying attention and then thinking about it afterward.

Brad Pitt is almost at his 12 Monkeys fever pitch but much cooler and more controlled, dressed in a Buffalo Exchange thrift store mish mosh that somehow makes him look more dangerous than slovenly. Ed Norton is interesting – before he slides into his relationship with Pitt, he is a young American everyman – a real Willy Loman. Helena Bonham Carter, while looking like a crack-addled homeless club kid, still manages to look sexy and vulnerable under her disheveled bitchiness. Sometimes. The movie is chock full of decaying and disheveled people and places, not to mention about a zillion squibs (blood packets). But my god, that money shot when Pitt stands up after one fight. Guys, you get to see Helena’s bubbies too.

Fight Club is very interesting but kind of feels a little hollow afterward, not unlike Seven, and very much unlike Sixth Sense. It is definitely worth seeing, but be forewarned it is not for everyone.

MPAA Rating R-violent anti-social behavior, sexuality &language.
Release date 10/15/99
Time in minutes 140
Director David Fincher
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Random Hearts

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The only thing carrying this movie is Harrison Ford. And usually he knows better. One of my companions summed it up best: “It’s clear this movie was written by a bag of mesquite charcoal.” The unfortunate aspect of the film is that it should have been something else; it could have been something interesting – but I am not sure what would have had to change in order to make it better. Ford, normally a whiz with picking scripts, has always guaranteed a watchable movie just by his involvement. Kristin Scott Thomas, a chilly actress, has to work extra hard to make any sparks fly for her in general. Where did this movie think it was going? Lunatic desperate grief-sex? Beautiful healthy romance blossoming naturally? Humiliating sticky fumblings in the backs of cars? My other companion (I was speechless) noted that this movie could not possibly have been made with any audience in mind. Director Sydney Pollack may be responsible for not murdering the writers, but all the scenes that Sydney is actually in have some competence in them so perhaps he truly had no idea.

Scott Thomas’ chilliness works for her in this movie – but dear Harrison’s innate sense of Great Guy works against him. And the music! Agh! Turn up the jacuzzi, Aldo, I’m coming with our Perriers! I am purposefully not consulting the Internet Movie Database to get the names of the people who worked on this film, as I am positive they had no idea it would turn out like this. You know the gist of it, don’t you? Ford and Thomas had spouses killed in a plane crash and it turns out the spouses were having an affair with each other. Sounds interesting, dramatic – and indeed, the first reel was undoubtedly the best, even knowing what was going to happen. I thought, hm, sure, Matinee at the very least. I was concerned for everyone’s feelings and I thought everyone behaved pretty rationally, considering everything.

By the last 20 minutes I was thinking about how much great screen time all the extras have and what nice use they made of their locations, and how much I hated that whinging trumpet blowing the score into a kleenex. We were openly mocking the movie, mocking what should have been real pain (and was real, well-performed pain at the start). It isn’t even their romance that made the movie not work; it’s just not very good. I am so sorry to say so! In any other vehicle I would enjoy Ford melting the ice queen’s reserve, would like watching Indy and Duckface* hook up – but instead, it was just this vaguely unsettling, embarrassing non-hookup which left me feeling like someone had shot two movies (the one about their separate personal lives and the one where they hook up) starring these people and thought, “Wouldn’t it save a lot of marketing money if we just spliced them together and made them one story?”

The title “Random Hearts” means Random words selected from dictionary tossed in bag with little construction paper hearts and drawn out by monkeys, glued to a bulletin board, and then Washington Junior High’s 7th grade class is told to create a narrative using these words and inserting some kind of emotional response wherever a heart shows up.
Here is the screenplay – not having a heart shaped character I will use &.

politics cops n’ robbers answering machine & airplane Saks body bag & Miami anger & cabin *69 homicide car blue jeans & apartment & prep school television money dinner & jogging idiot dullness trite & whisper Stoli & Concord bar airport

So now you don’t have to see it.

*Correction: she played Fiona, who coined the nickname Duckface.

MPAA Rating R for brief violence, sexuality and language.
Release date 10/8/99
Time in minutes 133
Director Sydney Pollack
Studio Columbia Tristar

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American Beauty

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American Beauty is really really really good. No, that’s won’t do. Go see it, it’s awesome. Ecch! Uh, how about – American Beauty is a truly astonishing piece of filmmaking which I already intend to own and watch again and again. I have yet to use “astonishing” in a review and it is a perfect word here – knowing at the beginning how it will end (along the same line of Sunset Boulevard’s opening) and not having any idea what will take you there is exhilarating enough – the astonishing part is how great the spectacular cast is, how creative and interesting yet totally accessible our man Kevin Spacey is, and how smart the script is, and what happens along the way. Total visceral involvement.

I had been growing weary of the cold, just-imagine-what-I-am-thinking-and-you-still-have-no-idea ruthless sort of bit that Spacey had been doing lately. I knew he was excellent but I was seeing the same thing over and over (Usual Suspects, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil., Swimming With Sharks) and it was starting to wear on me. Here, he is none of those things and still extremely brilliant. His face is utterly readable, a mirror, a window, he’s hysterical. Annette Bening, always good, still inexplicably married to and birthing for Warren Beatty, is a perfect foil for him, visually, in her performance, oh! Molto bene. Thora Birch plays their daughter, and she is very good – she gives that sullen, closed off teen performance we see so infrequently these days without some kind of goofy “freak” layer to it. Wes Bentley skates the line of the freak layer, but always stays in the real world of the movie. His father, Chris Cooper from Lone Star, is…man, I wish I could make a drooling Homer Simpson noise somehow written. American Pie’s Mena Suvari proves she isn’t just a pretty blonde twit. They are all so very (drooling Homer noise) and with the material with which they have to work, they glimmer, they shine. It’s a treat! A joy! Kick ass, as they say. It rules.

Rosepetals shoot out of the screen at you – in the film, but also in the spirit of the metaphor of the film (those who have seen it will agree you walk out with a lapful) – this is filmmaking the way it’s supposed to be. The same exhilaration (I know I already used that word) I felt upon leaving Sixth Sense and Shakespeare in Love I feel now; someone wrote, greenlighted, directed, and distributed a movie that is the reason I see and review movies. American Beauty is sociologically significant, it’s emotionally significant, but it’s also in your gut entertaining and intelligent without being off-putting, witty and real and fascinating. It’s great!

Apparently, this is director Sam Mendes’ first time out, though his name somehow rings a bell. I can’t believe writer Alan Ball only has two TV series to his credit besides this movie, but I have a feeling that is about to change, for both of them. It’s a drama or a comedy (it will no doubt ultimately be classified under Drama) depending on how unhappy you are in your life right now. It’s beautifully shot, fantastically written, and all the actors (even those with more disposable roles) are right there in it. Oh! Rapture!

I don’t want to tell you too much, because not knowing was the best part. I will say this: DON’T WATCH PREVIEWS! The same company that was savvy enough to produce this picture will ruin it for you advertising for it. Avoid reading about it, hearing about it, seeing previews. It’s wonderful, anyone who has seen it will say as much, trust us. So you go see it too. Get there early – it’s doing a well-deserved brisk box office business.

MPAA Rating R-sexuality, language, violence & drug content.
Release date 10/1/99
Time in minutes 122
Director Sam Mendes
Studio Dreamworks