American Beauty (1999) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Steven of Past, Present, Future In TV And Film. Thanks for the review, Steven! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about American Beauty, IMDB rank 51 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE.

Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

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The American family. Such a mystery at times. This easily explains why films and television love to portray them in various ways. What we see in public, is usually just that, what we see.

The DreamWorks Pictures film “American Beauty”, seems to create a very dysfunctional family that aims to be perfect and outstanding to all those on the outside, but with more than just dramatic flare.

This drama stars Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”, “Horrible Bosses”), Annette Bening (“The Face of Love”, “Girl Most Likely”), Thora Birch (“Petunia”, “Pregnancy Pact”), Wes Bentley (“American Horror Story”, “Cesar Chavez”), Mena Suvari (“Chicago Fire”, “American Reunion”), Allison Janney (“Mom”, “Tammy”), and Chris Cooper (“The Amazing Spider-Man 2”, “August: Osage County”) and Peter Gallagher (” Covert Affairs”, “Whitney”).

The film was directed by Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”, “Away We Go”). It was written by Alan Ball (“True Blood”, “Towelhead”).

The film originally opened in theaters on Oct. 1, 1999 after a limited release on Sept. 8. The film would later go on to receive eight Academy Awards nominations; winning five including Best Picture, six Golden Globe award nominations; winning three including Best Picture-Drama, and four Screen Actors Guild nominations; winning three including Best Cast in a Motion Picture.

Surprisingly, there’s a lot of dark humor. Most of what makes this film absolutely fun too watch, is how there’s a level of satire throughout. It’s not just from bits of dialogue but more importantly situations that occur. One situation later in the film is when Spacey’s character is just lounging at home and playing with a toy race car, when in walks Bening. She’s surprised and as they move into conversation, Spacey’s trying to seduce her. When it seems like things will succeed, she notices that he’s about to spill his beer on the nice couch of hers. Much like many of his actions in the film he turns into some sort of antagonistic person just to spite her.

There’s also a scene involving Bentley and Spacey that’s misinterpreted completely by Cooper’s very conservative father character. Cooper see’s his son, Bentley, over at Spacey’s and believes that there’s some sort of affair going on between them. While I’ll argue Cooper’s character brought this on himself, as he’s too strict and intrusive, it’s a pretty funny set up and speaks so well to his character.

The characters are all so fascinating because of who they are behind closed doors. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much what this film is representing. Incredibly flawed people, but wonderful when out in public. One scene that sent me into fits of laughter was when Bening was preparing herself to show a house, the ridiculous ritual she went through to psych herself up. Everything was so specifically planned and executed that it goes beyond that of a perfectionist. Later, after being unsuccessful, she’s slapping herself and crying for the failure she sees herself as. She’s a perfectionist and cherishes this kind of ideal family, where everything’s perfect, so it’s absolutely hilarious. Even Bening’s look for this character, is perfect! Everything is in place and impeccable, definitely that of a perfectionist. In its own way, this film is like a modern day version of “Ordinary People”, but without the huge and incredibly dramatic story.

While everyone really shined, it was Cooper, that stole the show. His conservative retired Marine Corps Colonel, even all these years later, was a far cry from anything I’d seen him play before. When he came on screen and continued to show his dominance over his family, which was evident from the way Janney’s character behaved, as well as Bentley’s, there was something of a pull towards his character. For a man you could spend much of the film disliking, there was still enough to make him somewhat vulnerable and remind you that he too is human.

One thing that I definitely noticed was the score created by Thomas Newman (“Get on Up”, “Saving Mr. Banks”). For films that aren’t action films it seems difficult to capture the feeling of a dramatic film or a comedy. Here, Newman managed to balance both. He created playful tunes and dramatic tones to fit the moment, which was usually brought on by something the character was doing or feeling. The score helped to make the film a bit more satirical at times and whimsical. Either being its own character or enhancing the different characters in the film.

Somehow, and this I find difficult to discuss most of the time, I love how brilliant the writing for this film is. The first moment I saw this film, and when I came back to it, I was hooked by all that was going on. The characters are each so different and well defined that it didn’t take much to decide how I should feel towards each one. One scene early on, that shows this is when the family is leaving the house and Bening and Birch are both impatient, but Spacey is going as fast as he can. Somehow it’s not enough. His briefcase falls open and that just manages to annoy both of them even more. Then you add in the general nature of the dialogue and you get so much clever, dark, and witty humor. It helps to define what stages they’re in in their lives and how they view each other. This writing makes for some pretty interesting situations throughout this film, that it’s hard to look away.

As a film lover I’m constantly aware of films from the past, especially those that earn widespread acclaim. However, there’s something that usually keeps me from seriously seeking out these films. Fortunately this film was just one of those films, otherwise, I don’t know if I could appreciate it for what it is and enjoy every aspect of the film. I can easily imagine missing so much of the humor or not being able to form my own thought on what I feel this film represents. Some things you can only appreciate when you’re older.

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Starter For 10 (2006) Review

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Starter For 10 (2006)

Directed by Tom Vaughan

Produced by Tom Hanks, Pippa Harris & Sam Mendes

Written by David Nicholls

Starring:
James McAvoy
Alice Eve
Benedict Cumberbatch
Rebecca Hall
Dominic Cooper
Catherine Tate
James Corden

Running time: 92 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)
Starter for 10 is a 2006 British comedy-drama film directed by Tom Vaughan from a screenplay by David Nicholls, adapted from his own novel Starter for Ten. The film stars James McAvoy as a university student who wins a place on a University Challenge quiz team.

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My Opinion:

I decided to watch this the other day after reading a review from the lovely Emma on MovieRob’s blog (HERE). I’d known about it but hadn’t known that it was set in my beloved 1980s until I read her review so that was all I needed to convince me to watch it.

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Starter For Ten is a book by David Nicholls. I’ve not read it (but Emma has & says it’s of course better than the movie). I did read One Day by David Nicholls and, although it’s very flawed, I still liked the book & the movie (despite the fact that Anne Hathaway was in it – staring at Jim Sturgess & his big brown eyes helped a little). Plus, as I said, Starter For 10 is set in the EIGHTIES! Woohoo! Well, unfortunately, the movie is a bit bland. And as for the 1980s, this is one of those movies where it doesn’t actually look or feel all that much like that decade even though they throw in as much music as possible from that era. Don’t get me wrong – I love 80’s music. At one point I looked at the hubby & said “are they actually playing my playlist?” as it’s filled with things like New Order, The Smiths, Tears For Fears and LOADS of songs from The Cure. It’s nice hearing a bunch of my favorite songs but, at the same time, it also feels very lazy on the part of the filmmakers. It’s like “See? Our movie is set in the eighties because we’re playing The Cure! Ignore Alice Eve with her big boobs & her very un-eighties clothes & blonde highlights – just listen to Motörhead!”

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I will say this movie is only really worth a watch if you’re a fan of any of its stars or if you enjoy similar British films. There are some very big names in Starter For 10 so it was fun seeing them just before most of them made it really big in blockbusters like the X-Men, Star Trek & Iron Man series of films. The storyline was extremely predictable to the point of almost being annoying (I’m talking especially about the romance!) but, when the group finally appear on the game show they’ve been preparing for, the film does get a little more fun. The movie is very “British” and I couldn’t help but compare it to Nick Hornby’s books & movies. I have to say I far prefer Hornby & would recommend his stuff over this (especially the book High Fidelity). Overall, Starter For 10 just didn’t really work for me. It’s not a bad movie but the predictable plot and one-dimensional characters just left me feeling “Meh. So what?”. Watch it if you like the actors but first check out some Nick Hornby. And The Cure’s greatest hits!

My Rating: 5.5/10

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