American Beauty – … Look Closer (1999)

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American Beauty is a creative exploration of insecurities, betrayals, insignificance and the mid-life crisis in suburban America. The marvellous script is perfectly transferred to screen by director Sam Mendes and his first-rate cast at the height of their form. American Beauty tragically reveals the truth about American society with this dark comedy about love, hate, passion and destruction.

American Beauty revolves around a dysfunctional family in a beautiful neighbourhood with no hope, love, appreciation or respect. Lester Burnham and his over-ambitious realtor wife Carolyn who was formerly joyful and smitten but now they detest spending time together and endure their lives for the sake of their daughter. Lester’s daughter Jane is your ordinary depressed teenager, battling acceptance and filled to the brim with sorrow. Their life continues mechanically, day by day, until the arrival of a strange family next door.

Kevin Spacey, in a sensational performance, nails every comic and emotional tone in the role of Lester Burnham, an average suburban man whose life is slowly falling apart. Spacey flawlessly charts his transformation from a crumpled loser to a tremendously self-confident slacker. Annette Bening throws all of her acting energy into immaculately profound Carolyn, making her sharp and superficial enough to believe Lester would grow to find her repulsive. Thora Birch plays the troubled adolescent without resorting to exaggerated theatrics, while Mena Suvari reflects her best friend as an oddly fragile, wannabe-model bitch. Wes Bentley is ideal as mysterious, camcorder adoring Ricky, skipping between unbalanced weirdo and artistically inspired genius.

The performances are outstanding, the direction is strident, the cinematography is striking and the themes still ring as loud as before. It’s a spectacular and energetic black comedy that astonishingly finds the humanity in ugly, abhorrent characters and reinforces it, meanwhile extracting our sympathy. American Beauty suggests that even below the seemingly pristine surface there are often hollow echoes of dullness, denial and despair. But there’s beauty in even in the wretched efficiency of our lives, and American Beauty makes us grateful for it.

Forrest Gump – The Story of a Lifetime (1994)

Forrest Gump is a film heart-breaker of eccentric wit and startling beauty. Gump’s story is an extraordinary virtual-reality tour of the late twentieth century American history. Vietnam, integration, Watergate and other significant events illustrate from the perspective of Hanks’ lovable slow-witted character as he finds himself entangled in situations he can’t seem to understand. The combined everlasting love, dedication, persistence and joy in this film is both refreshing and captivating.

Forrest Gump is gifted with a low IQ and a pure soul, which leads him into a delightfully childlike atmosphere even as he matures. He leads a very charmed life and follows a straight path throughout the world, ever true to the informal advice of his mother. As he grows up he encounters a miraculous incident that eliminates the need for him to have braces on his legs, a childhood girlfriend who constantly remains faithful to him, surviving Vietnam with high awards, and in general, a tendency to transform everything that happens to him into good.

Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a simple Alabama soul who serves his country with dignity and perseverance. Tom Hanks plays the role with a smooth Southern intonation and Evangelic sincerity. Gump is the typical simpleton, his only main characteristic is the passive virtue infused in him by his mama. Overall the performance is a breathtaking balancing act between comedy and sadness, between a story rich in big laughs and quiet truths.

The film effectively follows Forrest on a tour of recent American history. The director, Robert Zemeckis has experience with special effects, previously incorporated in his other feature films such as Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Zemeckis uses computerized visual effects to place Gump in historic situations with real people. Gump teaches Elvis to swivel his hips, becomes a football star, meets John F. Kennedy, speaks at an anti-war rally in Washington, features on the Dick Cavett show with infamous John Lennon and serves with honour in Vietnam.

Forrest Gump is a beautiful illustration of hope and inspires me constantly to strive above and beyond the expectations. Gump is a new male role model, a nice boy with a loving attitude, complete honesty and genuine kindness, which everyone knows is hard to find. The film has many meaningful quotes and inspirational events, for instance my personal favourite; ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you’re going to get’.

Romantics Anonymous ~ An Odd Twist On True Love (2012)

Romantics Anonymous is a bittersweet tale of true love between two pathologically shy chocolate makers. I was pleasantly surprised by the genuine affection and charming humor displayed from the quirky characters throughout the film. Award winning director Jean-Pierre Améris plays with terrifying emotions, misfits and good old-fashioned romance to create this perky retake on everlasting love.

Angélique, a saucy-eyed beauty with a halo of curls, is a gifted chocolatier who is so meek that the merest compliment makes her faint. To build up her confidence she regularly attends 12-step meetings for people who struggle with anxiety disorders. Her male counterpart, Jean-René, is the middle-aged owner of a chocolate shop drowning in debt. Jean-René is afraid to answer his telephone, listens to encouraging tapes at night and regularly visits a therapist. The desirous pair meets when he hires Angélique as a sales representative. The pair embark on a series of failed dates, misread signals and anxiety attacks.

The acting quality is superb. Isabelle Carré is perfect as the wide-eyed Angélique, determined to overcome her insecurities. Benoît Poelvoorde is a refreshing twist on prince charming, a creative character who reveals his charming flaws throughout the film.

The cinematography by Gérard Simon has the palette of a chocolate box; it’s a combination of dark hues and silver highlights that make the real-world location of hotels, factories and streets look like a studio fantasy – rich and beautiful. The films upbeat sense of potential seems earned and its style, seductive.

Romantics Anonymous is an artistic romance with outstanding production, creative cinematography and brilliant actors. Romance blossoms in an unusual way and the unique humour is ironically amusing. If you embrace Romantics Anonymous for what it is, you are sure to enjoy the film, particularly if you admire French romantic comedies.

Amélie – The uniquely creative French film (2001)

So over the next few weeks I’ve decided to review a few of my favourite French films. French films are always unpredictable, unlike Hollywood films you have no idea who’s going to fall in love with whom and when all seems happy there might be a sudden death! I’ve decided to start with Amelie, the greatest film I have ever seen.

The utterly charming French romantic comedy recreates love and compassion through one young woman who’s destined to mend the lives of people around her. Jean-Pierre Jeunet produces Amelie with genuine pleasure; a film bursting with clever wit and irresistible visuals.

Amelie Poulain had an eccentric childhood, as we learn through flashback, raised by two equally eccentric parents who overprotected her and misdiagnosed her of a rare heart disease. As a result she was home schooled and spent most of her time alone, evolving an active imagination. Amelie now works as a waitress in Paris and indulges in the lives of her friends. When she meets a distinctively unique man by the name of Nino she instantly falls in love and the rest of the film follows her unique journey through love, the rediscovery of self and the search for true happiness.

Audrey Tautou is a flawless, doll-faced woman whose expressions and feelings slowly appear as the film continues. It’s a wonderfully coarse performance for which Tautou appears to originate for. Strengthened by a strong supporting cast of remarkable French actors, including actor Mathieu Kassovitz as Amelie’s mysterious lover, comedian Jamel Debbouze as delightful Lucien and Raymond Dufayel as her fragile neighbour, Audrey is constantly in the limelight.

Theoretically, the film is excellent. Jeunet operates inventive techniques to allow Amelie’s world to come to life. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is an appealing illustration of yellows, greens and browns gathered into a beautiful and even dreamlike world. The compositions that escort the scenes are immaculate and remarkably suit all scenes exceptionally well.

Amelie is a heartwarming romance matched by an enchanting atmosphere of whimsy and burning emotions that together create a modern fairy tale. What’s amazing is the way the love story loans some desirable heart and soul to all the visual traces. Here is a rare film that will draw you in through the powerful act of compassion and joy.

500 Days of Summer – The Charming Summer Romance (2009)

(500) Days of Summer is a quirky American romance that designates a sweet yet realistic view of relationships that’s both refreshing and logical. Director Marc Webb plays with time and memories, much as the mind does when recalling the moments that make or break a relationship. (500) Days of Summer is the kind of film that will make believers have faith again – both in Hollywood and in love.

The plot is rather unusual and creative. Rather than simply recounting how boy meets girl and succeeding the stereotypical storyline, it attempts to answer some challenging questions about love. The film initiates on Day 1 when Tom meets his Boss’s new assistant Summer and falls for her instantly; but Day 488, a scene on a park bench which may specify the end of their flourishing relationship. The film remains in what appears as a backwards and forwards skipping pattern in the 500 day history of a wrecked love affair. These are Tom’s personal memories, and one’s memory can play dreadful tricks.

Director Marc Webb envisioned a romantic movie with an unsentimental collection of characters and events. Michael Weber’s perky, imaginatively structured screenplay is given supreme glamour with a clever split screen to show his expectation vs. reality when Tom tries to win Summer back. This delightful comedy floats between the intricacy of love, faith and true happiness.

With his crooked smile, thin physique and unbelievably deep voice Joseph Gordon-Levitt conceals his inner charm as introverted and love-sick Tom Hansen. Zooey Deschanel uses her slightly dreamy, somewhat miserable appearance to mirror her internal charisma as Summer Finn. Their characters seem so ideally matched that it’s a bit of a shock when things don’t work out between them.

(500) Days of Summer presents the perfect resemblance for itself, a greeting card writer who hopelessly falls in love. This film is a heartfelt dose of something wonderful midst a rollercoaster of unpredictably deceiving emotions, tied together with a bit of cinematic charm to capture the most magical moments. Here is a rare film that begins by telling us how it will end.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – British, Indian-Set Romance (2012)

Director John Madden unites the acting talents of Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Judi Dench to create this feel-good comedy romance. Originally adapted from Deborah Moggach’s bestselling novel These Foolish Things, the story of relocated British tourists in India attracts all the usual clichés of foreigners wallowing in an unfamiliar environment. While not deep or demanding, this comedy traces certain serious issues and makes for pleasurable watching.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel follows the story of seven financially distressed men and women of retired age, allured by an electronic invitation to indulge at the newly opened Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, India. However the luxurious hotel is wreckage managed by young Sonny Kapur who has big dreams for the future of the hotel. As the hotel residents finally adjust to their exotic surroundings, the seniors journey on a path of rediscovery, love and uncertain emotions.

Ol Parker generates the screenplay with a brighter colour arrangement and tone, further reinforcing the vivid Indian atmosphere. Award winning director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) defines the cheerful Indian atmosphere through a variety of camera angles and shots.

All of the performances in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are splendid, but the film’s two male stars are downright surprising. Tom Wilkinson always shows authority but we’ve rarely seen the vulnerability he displays as Graham. Bill Nighy is quick-witted and terribly funny; he reaches new and powerful depths of feeling as a man in touch with boiling rage. Determined and tough Judi Dench lets her love for India shine through her charming character Evelyn. Dev Patel   (Slumdog Millionaire) shows his outgoing personality and unrealistic optimism through Sonny Kapoor, the clumsy manager of the hotel. One by one, each character faces life-changing challenges, which entail that they either embrace or reject the prospect of transformation.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a warm romantic comedy with stunning colours, costume design and a broad assortment of well-known actors. “This visually splendid film delivers the belly laughs while holding afloat the dream that self-reinvention is possible, no matter how late in life” Sunday Telegraph. John Madden creates a remarkable adaptation of the infamous novel with complexity, modesty and faultless acting from the entire cast.

Silver Linings Playbook – Crime, Chaos and Love (2012)

A bubbly feel-good comedy drama featuring a superb performance from Bradley Cooper as a bipolar man recently released from a mental institution. Silver Linings Playbook was originally adapted from Mathew Quick’s novel published in 2008. Having just followed American Beauty and The Fighter, Director David O’ Russel delivers yet another subtle film. I was pleasantly surprised by the realism factor and genuine on screen chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence. If you enjoy watching drama, comedy and romance all rolled into one spectacular movie, then you’ll most definitely like this film.

After an unfortunate incident with his ex-wife’s lover and a bi polar diagnosis, Pat Solitano spent quality time in a mental institution. After 8 months of intense therapy, Pat embarks on a plan of self improvement with hopes to win back the affection of his ex-wife and set his life back in order. Released into the care of his parents and the local police, Pat discovers he’s not quite ready to be let go yet. Running around the neighbourhood is where he frequently encounters Tiffany, a young widow and a friend of Pat’s ex-wife. Tiffany sees and loves her own problems, and is willing to do the same with Pat.

Director David O’ Russell is an astonishly experienced figure who has had his share of Oscar winning films; American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire. He creates Silver Linings Playbook with a lighter colour scheme and realistic camera effects. O’ Russel fits in more than enough action to determine that the film never gets stagnant.

Bradley Cooper delivers yet another mature performance leading the cast on a rollercoaster of uncertain emotions. Jennifer Lawrence plays the character of Tiffany with charm, wit and pride, another spectacular performance preceding The Hunger Games. Pat’s parents are played by the perfect pair; Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, both in rare and wonderful form. In addition, Rush Hour’s Chris Tucker delivers some real comedy highlights as an institution buddy. The actors all help to increase purity and improve the plot altogether.

There are certain segments of the film which prove challenging to watch but these situations reminds the audience that mental illness is no laughing matter. Even if this film might sound a little typical of the usual Hollywood rom-com, how Tiffany and Pat fit each other’s crazy is an inspiring and entertaining story of how the right people can be good for each other, even in the unlikeliest of situations. Watch Silver Linings Playbook to see just how two sides of chaos make a pair.