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American Beauty (1999)
A simple "What goes on.. beyond the facade.. in American suburbia". This though is so cleverly written and superbly employed as just an element in a fantastic dream.
When the film is over, you'll find your self, as if you been suddenly awaken from a dream, that you want so much to continue. So you try closing your eyes to capture and further cherish the images, the music and the overall experience.
I watched the film again to find many many jewels that I've missed. Then I soon found my self watching the film a third time to fathom, absorb, and enjoy the "dream" as a whole.
Enjoy the many genius strokes of cinematography by Conrad Hall, chillingly cozy musical impressions by Thomas Newman.. All subtle and well employed by the director. The acting is nothing less than superbly amazing by namely Wes Bently (Rick), also by Chris Cooper (Colonel Frank), Thora Birch (Jane), Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening. Added th that, Allan Ball's clever script & Sam Mendez's artistic direction, earn this film in my opinion a 9/10.
Lester Burnham, a typical suburbia male in his forties (played by Kevin Spacey) dreams on from the start on.. He gives you many reasons to disgust him.. but not for long .. soon you'll find your self understanding and liking him a lot.
His wife (played by Annette Bening) invokes a laugh or two about how silly our suburban life can be, and she manages to maintain your dislike for the irritating persona much longer towards the end. Only then you discover you like her too.
Their teenage daughter Jane (a lovable freak) is so enjoyably genuine and vivid that you'd wish she is your daughter.
There comes the freaky neighbors: Frank, a US Army colonel, who constantly freaking out his son and neighbors. His wife, or what he left of her, is long worn out by him, but still finds love in her heart to inject in their son.
The film gives you every thinkable reason of hating the colonel, but amazingly giving him so much credibility and depth that you, even knowing what he's capable of, start sympathizing with this wreck of a human being towards the end of the movie.
The real admirable role in the film is their son Rick (played by Wes Bently). Although he's so f...d up, he sees a lot of life and love in everything. He earns the love of the girl at school, her father, and, believe me, yours too.
Don't miss this dream of a film. As Lester says of his dream in the beginning of the film: "SPECTACULAR!!!!"
Lion of the Desert (1980)
A true financial disaster, but one of the greatest films to watch.
Moustapha Akkad, who produced the "Halloween" series is a Syrian-born filmmaker who has two ambitious epic films as a director. His first, the relatively forgotten film The "Message", about Mohammed and the Koran, it was (mistycal enough for me) a huge success worldwide. Then, Akkad lured Libyan dictator Molomar Qaddafi to invest million $35 in the war epic "Lion of the Desert".... One of the largest financial disasters in film history, though one of the greatest films I've seen... (Does this make sense???..)
Anthony Quinn (somehow reprising his role in the epic "Lawrence of Arabia") portrays the Libyan Guerilla fighter "Omar Mukhtar" who pledged his (as well as his countrymen's) life to drive the invading Italian forces out.
The story depicts post World War 1, pre WW2 era where Benito Mussolini (played by Rod Steiger) tries carving up the globe with empires for Italy. He uses Libya as an "easy" stepping stone to the the Middle East (Libya's occupation was not started by him.. funny and demagogical enough the young Mussolini demonstrated against the occupation of Libya in 1911).
Mukhtar, the village teacher, on the other hand made this difficult and was so successful waging his campaign against the Italians, that Mussolini sends in his top general "The Butcher" Graziani, played deliciously by the late Sir Oliver Reed (the Trap 1966, The Four Musketeers 1974, Gladiator 2000 and many more) to straighten things out.
First, the Italians just "tour" Libya, raiding, burning, killing and raping... but when an entire attack convoy is completely wiped out by rebels, Graziani decides to wage an all-out war against Libyans. Graziani pretends to come to terms with Mukhtar, but, at the same time, brings thousands of fresh Italian troops to Tripoli and marches them inland. He is the first general to use planes and tanks in the desert, destroying town after town. This way he successfully corners Mukhtar and his rebels in the mountains.
Historically accurate, in its portrayal of the Italian army and of the campaign itself, Lion of the Desert is an action packed, nearly (I say nearly..) flawless epic war film.
Rod Steiger starts with some over-acting marching around his offices barking at people. But the film quickly shifts towards the vastness and splendor of the Sahara desert. It has excellent action sequences, that employ splendid special effects and lots of stunt work.
On top of this, it's one of the bloodiest war films I've seen, with bullet wounds spraying blood and people smashed to pulps by Italian tanks. God knows how this film faded away with a mediocre rating, but then again noone really saw the film right?
The film is also a fascinating portrayal of the Arabs way of life and how it conflicts with European ideals.
The musical score of this film, by Maurice Jarre (Lawrence of Arabia), is only great at times, but often seems uninspired and lame compared to his previous works on David Lean's great films.
The cinematography and editing are classy, (one con though.. the cameras seemed a little shy of hanging around close to the big gasoline truck explosion. The best scenes in the film are battle scenes, one involving a vast army of extras destroying a nearly helpless arab village, another with Graziani's army battling the Libyans for control of a mountain bridge. Other than those two, I can't say great about the 3 or so other battle scenes (compared to these two).The overall effect of battle senes is though quite satisfying.
The cast of this film, doesn't lack big-names like Irene Papas and Sir John Gielgud but the roles were inconsequential as Mukhtar's friends. Then, there's a lot of the old Italian B-movie stars in small roles as Italian soldiers and aides..
Akkad's strong point seems to be showing Italian artillery blowing the bewildered Bedouin warriors while his weak point seems to be spending the money. The film didn't really need the lavishness and authenticity of the picture. Do you really have to hire thousands of extras and build many many replica tanks just to go destroy them for the authenticy? No surprise this movie lost money, but the fact that it made almost no money astonishes me. Could be cause early 1980´s were wrong timing for an epic film. People watched "The Empire Strikes Back" and didn't want to see a thorough recreation of some war, most never heard of.
Lion of the Desert may not be perfect, but it's just as splendid a viewing as any of the old big-budget war films like Lawrence of Arabia and Doctor Zhivago, only this one's got a bit more action and politically ignored (as propoganda or is it the propoganda that endorses ignoring it??).
I highly recommend seeing the DVD in Widescreen, crisp quality and good 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, plus lots of informative extra features.