Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

American Beauty (1999) * * *

(first lines)
Jane Burnham: I need a father who's a role model, not some horny geek-boy who's gonna spray his shorts whenever I bring a girlfriend home from school. What a lame-o. Someone really should just put him out of his misery.
Ricky Fitts: Want me to kill him for you?
Jane Burnham: Yeah. Would you?

Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and his wife Carolyn (Annette Bening) are a seemingly perfect suburban couple who make life-changing choices mostly because of Lester's mid-life crisis. He is a father and advertising executive who serves as the film's narrator: "I'm 42 years old. In less than a year, I'll be dead. Of course, I don't know that yet. And in a way, I'm dead already." He describes himself as a loser in a dead end job with bosses he doesn't respect. Carolyn is an ambitious realtor who feels unsuccessful at fulfilling her potential, and his 16-year-old daughter Jane (Thora Birch) is unhappy and struggling with her self-esteem. Jane hates her parents and is saving money for a breast augmentation operation. Lester is reinvigorated when he meets Jane's sexually precocious friend and classmate Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari) at a high school basketball game. He immediately develops an infatuation for her, much to his daughter's dismay. Throughout the film, Lester has sexual fantasies about Angela and red rose petals.

His new neighbours are US Marine Corps Colonel Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper), his wife Barbara (Allison Janney), and their teenage son Ricky (Wes Bentley). Fascist Col. Fitts has homophobic disgust for a gay couple who are also neighbors, and believes Ricky is gay and having sex with Lester. This is not true, he only supplies marijuana for Lester, but Ricky claims to be gay to escape from his father. Frank controls Ricky with very strict discipline and gives him drug tests regularly. Ricky, a smoker and drug dealer, makes deals with a client of his so he can have clean urine samples to pass these tests. He frequently uses a hand-held video camera to record his surroundings and keeps hundreds of tapes in his bedroom.

Carolyn begins an affair with her business rival Buddy Kane (Peter Gallagher). Lester is about to be laid off, then he blackmails his boss, quits his job and takes up low-pressure employment at a fast food chain. He trades in his car for a 1970 Pontiac Firebird, starts running, and lifts weights so he can "look good naked" to impress Angela, whom he overheard tell Jane that she'd find him sexy if he had more muscles.

Brad Dupree: (reading Lester's job description) "My job consists of basically masking my contempt for the assholes in charge, and, at least once a day, retiring to the men's room so I can jerk off while I fantasize about a life that doesn't so closely resemble Hell." Well, you have absolutely no interest in saving yourself.
Lester: Brad, for 14 years I've been a whore for the advertising industry. The only way I could save myself now is if I start firebombing. I guess I'll have to throw in a sexual harassment charge.
Brad Dupree: Against who?
Lester: Against you. Can you prove that you didn't offer to save my job if I let you blow me?
Brad Dupree: Man, you are one twisted f**k.
Lester: Nope. I'm just an ordinary guy who has nothing left to lose.

Carolyn: Uh, whose car is that out front?
Lester: Mine. 1970 Pontiac Firebird. The car I've always wanted and now I have it. I rule!

Lester: I figured you guys might be able to give me some pointers. I need to shape up. Fast.
Jim Olmeyer: Are you just looking to lose weight, or do you want increased strength and flexibility as well?
Lester: I want to look good naked!

After watching Ricky and Lester make a drug transaction through the garage window, Frank mistakenly concludes that the two are engaged in a sexual relationship. That evening, Ricky returns home, where Frank beats him and accuses him of being gay. Ricky falsely admits the charge and goads Frank into turning him out of their home.

Frank Fitts: Where did you get that?
Ricky Fitts: From my job.
Frank Fitts: Don't lie to me. Now, I saw you with him.
Ricky Fitts: You were watching me?
Frank Fitts: What did he make you do?
Ricky Fitts: Oh, Dad, you don't really think that me and Mr. Burnham were...
Frank Fitts: Don't you laugh at me. Now, I will not sit back and watch my only son become a c**k-sucker.
Ricky Fitts: Jesus, what is it with you?
Frank Fitts: I swear to God, I will throw you out of the house and never look at you again.
Ricky Fitts: You mean that?
Frank Fitts: You're damn straight I do. I'd rather you were dead than be a fuckin' faggot.
Ricky Fitts: You're right. I suck d**k for money.
Frank Fitts: Boy, don't start.
Ricky Fitts: Two thousand dollars. I'm that good.
Frank Fitts: Get out.
Ricky Fitts: And you should see me f**k. I'm the best piece of ass in three States.
Frank Fitts: Get out. I don't ever want to see you again.
Ricky Fitts: What a sad old man you are.

Ricky goes to Jane and asks her to flee with him to New York City. An emotionally distraught Col. Fitts kisses Lester in his garage. Later gunshot rings out and blood spatters on the kitchen wall in front of Lester as he is shot from behind. Ricky and Jane find him dead. Lester's final narration reflects on his life, and the actions of the other characters at the moment of his death.

(last lines)
Lester: I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars... And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined my street... Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper... And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird... And Janie... And Janie... And... Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.

AMERICAN BEAUTY is a cinematic triumph that is both funny and sad, disturbing, yet provocative and deep. This compelling well-paced film is an extraordinary achievement that reveals a tragic and realistic story about a family that is anything but ordinary. It has many layers and it deals with the disparity between appearances and their underlying realities. Lester's abrupt break with his superficial world is refreshing, and the circumstances that evolve from it are both provocative and entertaining. The beautiful cinematography, good music score, precise and evocative screenplay, and first-rate acting make this movie stand above most others. AMERICAN BEAUTY was a massive success both critically and commercially, and the film won a total of five Oscars, including Best Picture. Writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, Edward Guthman called it "a dazzling tale of loneliness, desire and the hollowness of conformity". Jay Carr for the Boston Globe called the film "a millennial classic". The New York Post called it "a flat-out masterpiece".

The cast also includes: Allison Janney (Barbara Fitts), Scott Bakula (Jim Olmeyer), Sam Robards (Jim Berkley), Barry Del Sherman (Brad Dupree), Ara Celi, Amber Smith (Christy Kane), John Cho, Fort Atkinson, Sue Casey, Kent Faulcon, Brenda Wehle, Lisa Cloud, Allison Faulk, Krista Goodsitt, Lily Houtkin, Carolina Lancaster, Romana Leah, Chekesha Van Putten, Emily Zachary, Nancy Anderson, Reshma Gajjar, Stephanie Rizzo, Heather Joy Sher, Chelsea Hertford, Amber Smith, and many others. Thomas Newman composed the original music. Alan Ball wrote the screenplay derived from his stage play. He saw a paper bag floating in the wind near the World Trade Center plaza and this inspired him to write it. Sam Mendes directed.

Wilde (1997) * * *

The film opens with Oscar Wilde's (Stephen Fry) 1882 visit to Leadville, Colorado during his lecture tour of the United States. Despite his flamboyant personality and urbane wit, he proves to be a success with the silver miners as he regales them with tales of Renaissance silversmith Benvenuto Cellini.

Wilde returns to London and weds Constance Lloyd (Jennifer Ehle), and they have two sons in quick succession. While the second child is still an infant, the Wildes are playing host to young Canadian Robbie Ross (Michael Sheen), who seduces Oscar and helps him come to terms with his homosexuality. On the opening night of his play "Lady Windermere's Fan", Wilde is re-introduced to the dashingly handsome and openly foppish poet Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law), whom he had met briefly the year before, and the two fall into a passionate relationship. Hedonistic Alfred is not content to remain monogamous and frequently engages in sexual activity with rent boys while his older lover plays the role of voyeur. Alfred's father, the Marquess of Queensbury (Tom Wilkinson), objects to his son's relationship with Wilde.

Marquess of Queensberry: Where d'you stand on cremation?
Wilde: I'm not sure I have a position.
Marquess of Queensberry: I'm for it. I wrote a poem about it. "When I am dead, cremate me." That's how it starts. 'When... I am dead... cremate me". Whaddya think of that for an opening line?
Wilde: It's... challenging.

Douglas: (Wilde is ill in bed) You look such an idiot lying there. Revolting. Have you forgotten how to wash?
Wilde: As a matter of fact, I'm dying for a glass of water
Douglas: Well, help yourself. You know where the jug is.
Wilde: Bosie, darling...
Douglas: It stinks in here. You'll be wanting me to empty your chamber pot next.
Wilde: Well, I emptied your chamber pot... I looked after you...
Douglas: Well, I'm not looking after you. Not now. You don't interest me, not when you're ill. You're just a boring, middle-aged man with a blocked-up nose.
Wilde: Bosie, dearest boy...
Douglas: Shut up! Dearest boy! Darling Bosie! It doesn't mean anything! You don't love me! The only person you've ever loved is yourself. You like me, you lust after me, you go about with me because I've got a title. That's all. You like to write about Dukes and Duchesses, but you know nothing about them. You're the biggest snob I've ever met, and you think you're so daring because you f**k the occasional boy.
Wilde: Bosie, please... You're killing me...
Douglas: You just about do when you're at your best. You're amusing, very amusing, but when you're not at your best, you're no one!
Wilde: All I asked for was a glass of water...

Carson: In this poem by Lord Alfred Douglas, "Two Loves", there is one love, true love, which, and I quote "fills the hearts of boy and girl with mutual flame." And there is another: "I am the love that dare not speak its name." Was that poem explained to you?
Wilde: I think it's clear.
Carson: There's no question as to what it means?
Wilde: Most certainly not.
Carson: So, is it not clear that the love described relates to natural and unnatural love?
Wilde: No.
Carson: Oh. Then what is 'the love that dare not speak its name?'
Wilde: "The love that dare not speak its name", in this century, is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Johnathan. Such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you may find in the sonnets of Michelangelo or Shakespeare. It is, in this century, misunderstood. So much misunderstood that it may be described as "the love that dare not speak its name", and on account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful. It is fine. It is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual. And it repeatedly exists between an elder and a younger man when the elder has intellect and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it and sometimes puts someone in the pillory for it.

The Marquess of Queensberry eventually baits Wilde by publicly demeaning him shortly after the opening of his play "The Importance of Being Earnest", and when Wilde makes a complaint of criminal libel against him, his sexual preference is exposed and he is arrested and tried for gross indecency. He chooses to fight the charge rather than flee the country. Eventually sentenced to two years' hard labor, he is visited in prison by his wife, who tells him she isn't divorcing him but is taking their sons to Germany and that he is welcome to visit as long as he never sees Douglas again. Oscar is released from prison and the film ends with his attempt to reconcile with Lord Alfred Douglas.

WILDE is the story of Oscar Wilde, the brilliant Victorian poet, writer, playwright, wit, and martyr for homosexuality. First the film establishes Wilde as a loving family man, complete with wife Constance and two sons, and portrays him as a dignified genius who is pained by his homosexuality. From his initial encounters with Robbie Ross, his first male lover, to his tragic affair with the beautiful and bratty Alfred "Bosie" Lord Douglas, Wilde is shown as a conflicted artist, fighting with his own urges as he amazes everyone around him. Bosie's father objects to his son's relationship with Oscar and eventually has him arrested and tried for gross indecency. Sentenced to two years' hard labour, Wilde is eventually released and the film ends with his attempt to reconcile with Bosie. Throughout the film, portions of the Wilde fairy tale "The Selfish Giant" are woven in: first by Wilde telling the story to his children, then as narrator, and finishing the story as the film ends with his tragic death.

Wilde: I do believe in anything, provided it is incredible. That's why I intend to die a Catholic, though I never could live as one.
Robbie Ross: I've given in and become a Catholic. I find Confession wonderfully consoling.
John Gray: I can't go to Confession when I want to kill Bosie... and myself...

The cast also includes: Vanessa Redgrave (Lady Speranza Wilde), Gemma Jones (Lady Queensberry), Judy Parfitt (Lady Mount-Temple), Zoƫ Wanamaker (Ada Leverson), Ioan Gruffudd (John Gray), Matthew Mills (Lionel Johnson), Jason Morell (Ernest Dowson), Peter Barkworth (Charles Gill), Robert Lang (C.O. Humphreys), Philip Locke (Judge), David Westhead (Edward Carson), Jack Knight (Cyril Wilde), Jackson Leach (Cyril Wilde, aged 4), Laurence Owen (Vyvyan Wilde), Benedict Sandiford (Alfred Wood), Mark Letheren (Charles Parker), Michael Fitzgerald (Alfred Taylor), Orlando Bloom (Rent Boy), Bob Sessions (Mine Owner), Adam Garcia (Jones), and many others. Arthur Sullivan and Debbie Wiseman composed the original music. Julian Mitchell wrote the screenplay from Richard Ellmann's book. Brian Gilbert directed.

In her review in the New York Times, Janet Maslin called the film "a broad but effectively intimate portrait", and added, "Playing the large dandyish writer with obvious gusto, Stephen Fry looks uncannily like Wilde and presents an edgy mixture of superciliousness and vulnerability." In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas stated the film, "has found a perfect Oscar in the formidably talented Stephen Fry...Coupled with Julian Mitchell's superb script...and director Brian Gilbert's total commitment to it and to his sterling cast, this deeply moving Wilde is likely to remain the definitive screen treatment of Oscar Wilde for years to come." In the San Francisco Examiner, David Armstrong wrote the film, "benefits from its lush period costumes and settings but gains even more from an accomplished cast of British film and stage actors. Gilbert's direction is sturdy but uninspired, and Ehle's part is underwritten. To her credit, Ehle movingly conveys the sad frustration that Wilde implanted in his lonely wife; but Ehle has to do the work, playing her feelings on her face, with little help from Julian Mitchell's screenplay."

Gods and Monsters (1998) * * *

Set in 1957 Los Angeles, James Whale (Ian McKellan), director of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), has retired and lives with his housekeeper Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), who disapproves of his gay lifestyle. Whale has suffered a series of strokes that have left him fragile and tormented by memories of his past, growing up as a poor outcast, his World War I service and working in Hollywood as a director. He indulges in his fantasies, reminiscing of gay pool parties and toys with a starstruck fan who comes to interview him. Whale also battles depression knowing his life is slipping away and the diagnosis that his stroke damage grows worse, at times contemplating suicide.

Whale: Hatred was the only thing that kept my soul alive. And amongst the men I hated... was my dear old dumb father, who put me in that hell in the first place.

Whale befriends his handsome and muscular gardener, ex-Marine Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser) and the two begin a friendship. Boone agrees to pose for Whale, is reluctant to remove his shirt, but does so. Whale begins sketching and the two begin talking about their lives. Clay researches Whale's film career, and is impressed. His girlfriend speculates that Whale is just an old fruit pretending to be famous to have sex with him. Hanna confirms that Whale is homosexual and Clay leaves when Whale talks about the young men who've posed previously. Boone, impressed with Whale's fame, watches THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on TV as others mock the movie. He questions his friendship with Whale and Whale's intentions. After assuring Whale he is straight, Whale says he has no interest in him.

Hannah: Poor Mr. Jimmy. There is much good in him, but he will suffer the fires of hell.
Boone: Oh yeah?
Hannah: That is what the priests tell me. His sins of the flesh will keep him from heaven.
Boone: Hell, everybody's got those.
Hannah: No. His is the worst. The unspeakable. The deed no man can name without shame. What is the good English? All I know is bugger, he's a bugger, men who bugger each other...
Boone: A homo?
Hannah: Yes, you know...

Boone: No, I don't have a girlfriend.
Whale: Why not?
Boone: You have to kiss some ass to get a piece of it.
Whale: My life is a game of strip poker. Want to play?
Boone: You must think the whole world is queer.

Boone storms out when Whale graphically discusses his sexual history, then later returns with the agreement that no such discussion will occur again. Boone escorts Whale to a party given by gay director George Cukor (Martin Ferrero) hosted by Princess Margaret (Cornelia Hayes O'Herlihy) where a photo op has been arranged with Whale and "His Monsters", Boris Karloff (Jack Betts) and Elsa Lanchester (Rosalind Ayres). It starts raining and the two return to Whales' home. Whale realizes he is but a footnote in cinematic history, which only worsens his depression and uses a sudden rain storm as an excuse to leave.

Back home Whale persuades Boone to pose nude for him and uses the opportunity to make a brazen advance on Boone. Whale puts a gas mask on Clay, kisses him and touches his penis. Predictably, Boone becomes enraged and attacks James, who confesses that this was his plan all along, to use Clay as his means of assisted suicide. He begs Boone to kill him to relieve him of his suffering. Boone refuses, puts Whale to bed then sleeps downstairs. The next morning Hanna is alarmed when she can't find Whale, prompting a thorough search. Boone finds Whale floating dead in the pool, as a distraught Hanna runs out clutching a suicide note and orders Clay to leave.

The film closes roughly a decade in the future. In an epilogue, Clay has a son who enjoys watching THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on TV. His son is skeptical of his father's claim that he knew Whale but is impressed when shown a sketch of the Frankenstein monster signed, "To Clayton Boone. Friend?". Clay gives his son the sketch for the Frankenstein monster. He then takes the trash out, and begins walking like the Frankenstein monster.

One of the most critically acclaimed films of 1998 and winner of several awards including the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, GODS AND MONSTERS is a speculation about the final days of James Whale (1889-1957), the director of SHOWBOAT (1936) and 20 other films of the 1930s and '40s. He was openly gay and said "I'm an artist, and don't have to put up with this s**t". Hollywood disagreed, and he was out of work. The movie is humorous but ultimately rather sad, a touchingly affectionate film that succeeds on many levels. A loving tribute to James Whale, it is a richly moving drama about loneliness, memory, and the passions that keep us alive. The title comes from a line in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN with Dr. Pretorius toasting Dr. Frankenstein: "To a new world of gods and monsters." This film is about Whale and his straight gardener Clay Boone, usually considered his murderer by those in the know, but not in this Hollywood movie.

The cast also includes: Lolita Davidovich (Betty), David Dukes (David Lewis), Kevin J. O'Connor (Harry), Mark Kiely (Dwight), Jack Plotnick (Edmund Kay), Matt McKenzie (Colin Clive), Todd Babcock (Leonard Barnett), Brandon Kleyla (Young Whale), Pamela Salem (Sarah Whale), Michael O'Hagan (William Whale), David Millbern (Dr. Payne), Amir Aboulela (The Monster), Marlon Braccia (Starlet), Jesse Long (Assistant Director), Owen Masterson (Camera Assistant), Lisa Vastine (Librarian), Kent George (Whale at 25), David Fabrizio (Photographer), Jesse James (Michael Boone), Lisa Darr (Dana Boone), Paul Michael Sandberg (Sound Man), Judson Mills (Young Man at Pool), Arthur Dignam (Ernest Thesiger), John Gatins (Kid Saylor), Curtis Harrington (Cukor party guest), Sarah Ann Morris (Daisy), and Richard Pines (Bar Patron). Carter Burwell composed the original music. Bill Condon wrote the screenplay from Christopher Bram's 1995 novel "Father of Frankenstein" and also directed.

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