Monday, 6 May 2013

1999 Blog Series - American Beauty

How appropriate that the poster for American Beauty invited audiences to "look closer."  

This picture is simply a classic sexual tease that really catches the eye of the voyeur searching for something illicit, but there is much more.  Lester Burnham, Kevin Spacey's character in American Beauty, is that voyeur.  As a baby boomer he was raised on sexual liberation and the carefree days of free love, but for Lester those days are far in the past.  Burnham longs for something more in his life and turns to lust to fill it.  Lester hasn't expereinced any sort of intimacy with his wife for a very long time and turns to a high school girl to help him fulfill some of his emptiness.

The rose petals throughout the story always come back to the innocence and purity of the cheerleader
Oscar winning screen writer Alan Ball Purposely provoked audiences, saying, " A Puritan would look at his visions of angels and go, 'Oh, that's disgusting, a middle-aged man lusting over a young girl like that.' I look at that and I go, 'You know, here's a man who hasn't felt anything for years, and all of a sudden he's feeling something.  That's not disgusting.  His choice not to follow through with it redeems him, because she's not really the goal, she's the knock on the door.  And I didn't even know that myself when I wrote the first draft of the script."

"Look closer" also suggests peering behind the "perfect" families populating the world around us.  The white picket fence just disguise the dissatisfaction rumbling between husband and wife, parents and child and brother and sister.  Certainly, next-door neighbor Ricky Fitts suffers in silence like his mute mother.  Both are constantly living in fear of his military father, Colonel Frank Fitts. Alan Ball recalls, "I grew up in a household with a somewhat troubled father figure and somewhat sutdown mother figure, so Ricky's household certainly resembles mine in ways."

This is a role Chris Cooper plays to perfection
 What really lifts American Beauty from the disturbing and often ugly forefront is Ricky Fitt's ability to "look closer."  Ricky celebrates a fragile beauty in a broken world.  His videotaping allows him to see the world beyond the horror of his family life.  He shows Jane the most beautiful thing he has ever captured on tape.  The random freedom of a plastic bag blowing effortlessly in the wind serves as reason for him to carry on.

American Beauty did not win best picture because it was satire.  In fact, director Sam Mendes actually had to trim down the original satirical bite in Ball's original screenplay.  Mendes made American Beauty a meditation on truth, beauty and transcendence.  Everyday it seems new tragedy and new heartache befall us.  Yet we are in a generation who continues to find beauty amidst tragedy, like the runners who immediately ran to the hospital to donate blood following the Boston Marathon bombings.  Daily we are able to see the depths of human compassion dive straight into the tragedies of the day sometimes to see the beauty all we have to do is "look closer."

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Year that changed movies.

There is an issue of Entertainment Weekly that has this sentiment plastered across the cover - "THE YEAR THAT CHANGED MOVIES." "You can stop waiting for the future of movies.  It's already here.  Someday, 1999 will be etched on a microchip as the first real year of 21st century filmmaking.  The year when the old, boring rules about cinema started to crumble," said the article and The Los Angeles Times and several other publicastions agreed.

How attractive does Tom Cruise look in this picture?

I know this blog is technically about movies that can change the world, but to start off the conversation properly it is important to discuss the year that changed movies.  Therefore, I will be doing a blog series on movies from the year 1999 and bring up all of the edgy journeys each of these movies travelled.  One could actually argued 1999 was an era in film making that was not only thoughtful, but was actually deeply spiritual.

I have chosen a few movies from this year that I will elaborate on and discuss in my 1999 blog series hopefully to be releasesed sporadically in the next few weeks.  I don't want to give an exact number of movies I will be talking about in this series because there may be some I decide to drop and others I decide to add.  I am hoping to get feedback from people as well.  If there is a movie from the year 1999 that you feel really delves into hard questions and reveals truth about the world we live in please turn to twitter for your requests and to join the conversation.  You can follow me @joelwillick and tweet your suggestion with the #54films.

Hope to hear your feedback.  Make sure to keep an eye out for upcoming posts.

Monday, 11 March 2013

3 More Movies That Changed My Life

I previously wrote about 4 movies that have changed my life and am hoping to add 3 more movies to this list.  I am still quite convinced movies have the power to influence people in making the world around them a better place.  Often times people are at the threshold of truly making a difference and all they need is a little nudge in the proper direction.  Many times in my life movies have given me the nudge that I needed.   Here are 3 more movies that have changed my life.

3. The Truman Show


Nothing will change your life more than the idea that your entire life could possibly be a fraud.  The Truman Show follows a typical insurance salesman who realizes that his whole life has been on television for the whole world to watch without him having any idea.  Talk about an invasion of your privacy.

The Truman Show is a daring and charming comedy that invites everyone to truly examine the world around them.  I have discussed ideas about perceptions of reality found in The Matrix in a previous post.  The Truman Show invites its audience to ask similar questions about their life.  Is the world around me the way I percieve it?  Many times I have found myself daydreaming about my life and believing with lots of certainty that there was more to my life than met the eye.   Jim Carrey's titular character undergoes a very similar internal struggle.  While Truman actually was able to uncover the truth behind his situation I fear I will never fully understand the truth of the world I am living in, but nonetheless I will never stop looking.  The truth, to me, is to important to leave to ignorance.

In the movie, when Truman  appeals to a higher power, he is actually appealing to the TV show's omniscient creator, played by Ed Harris.

Who thought God would look like Ed Harris
I don't know how many times I have envisioned God as an omnipresent director whose only desire is to meddle in my life solely for the entertainment of everyone around me.  In my pursuit of the truth I have found that this is far from the truth, but it still is an interesting thought.

2. Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story 

Using a rough outline of the career of Bruce Lee as the central story-line this dramatic biopic takes fighting your inner demons to a whole new level.  Like most people, I have struggled with my own demons, but I have never really put an importance on this fight for control of my life until I watched this movie.  It is quite captivating to watch a fight scene that is actually an inner conflict of the character, but still the stakes are quite possibly higher than any fight he has ever fought.  In the movie there are a few scenes where Bruce Lee actually uses his kung fu to fight his inner demons and more often then not he gets his ass handed to him.  

But Bruce Lee always kicks ass when needed
Obviously these scenes are dream sequences used to capture the demons Bruce Lee fought throughout his entire life and career.  They represented to me, however, that overcoming my demons was possible I just literally had to fight.  I always try to liken my life to a battle, if I don't fight for my life and what I believe is good than my purpose becomes void.  I am not talking about using violence to spread my ideals, but I am talking about not living in complacency and actually using my strength and courage to fight against mediocrity.

Just as in Dragon, Bruce Lee used his talent in kung fu to overcome his demons.  I hope to use my talents to continuously conquer my demons.

1. Gone Baby Gone

In my life I love engaging in discussions about morality and the nature of what is right and wrong.  Great discussions about objective and subjective morality are fantastic and really provide great insight into what is important to people.  Often times what is the highest good in a situation isn't very easy to determine.  Gone Baby Gone aims to examine moral situations and where morality can be found in some of the worst situations.  I don't think any movie, book or story has left me with such a moral problem that left me speechless when I tried to answer it.  Both sides of every problem the movie puts forth provide such valid reasons and both sides were presented quite beautifully.  I have no plan of ruining the story for you, but I will challenge you to watch this movie and see the beauty of the story unfold before your eyes and try and determine where you stand.

Gone Baby Gone is a beautifully acted movie.  It is the directorial debut of Ben Affleck.  You would almost think Ben casting his brother Casey is a case of nepotism or just giving his brother a break, but Casey slides naturally and perfectly into the lead role of Patrick.  Patrick is a sincerely good Boston guy, who grew up in an ugly world.  Often being good in an ugly world can be difficult and confusing.  Gone Baby Gone is filled with good people who are in the same situation as Patrick.  They want to do good, but sometimes in a broken, dark and ugly world it is harder to find what is truly good and sometimes the good may not seem all that good.

Ed Harris always brings his A game and Gone Baby Gone was one of his best movies.  This scene does an absolutely amazing job of capturing the difficulty moral relativism can provide, which is an overhanging theme of the entire movie.  I believe the scene basically speaks for itself and I don't want to cheapen it anyway with my redundant and pseudo intellectual analysis.  I challenge you to not only watch Gone Baby Gone, but even watch this scene a few times.  It's worth it.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

4 Movies That Changed My Life

Often times I watch a movie just as a way to be entertained or to zone out from the world around me.   But there have been those times when I step out of a movie and my whole life has been shaken.  Some of these movies had the power to change my life or at the very least change my mindset on a certain topic or issue.  Even some huge blockbusters have been able to reach me on a subconscious level leaving me with unanswered questions and a deeply seeded desire to change myself, my thought process and the world around me.  Unfortunately, you will not find any Michael Bay on this list, but here are 4 movies that changed my life.

4. The Matrix

Already I can hear you thinking, "How is The Matrix life changing in any way?"  Let me explain.  I don't think to many movies have shaken my perceptions of the world around me quite like The Matrix.  The Wachowski brothers really sent my mind to places it had never been before questioning what I previous believed as truth.  Quick disclaimer, I did not leave The Matrix believing that everything around me was false and that are whole life and understanding is controlled by a race of super computers from the future.  I may be delusional, but not that bad.  I do, however, understand that I really have know idea what the truth is behind the universe around me no matter what lessons I have learned from Sunday School.  I believe what I perceive to be true could very well be wrong.

I will always be interested in what is the truth and I hope to never stop searching for it.  In the Matrix, Keanu Reeves character is left with a choice to take either a blue pill or a red pill.  The blue pill will send him back to his ordinary life.  The red pill will send him down a rabbit hole on a difficult journey of understanding truth - but atleast he will be living the truth.

"Why oh why didn't I take the blue pill?"

After several viewings of The Matrix into my adult life I have always tried to live a red pill lifestyle.  I have avoided the blissfulness of ignorance to hopefully make the world around me better in whatever small ways I can.

3. Shawshank Redemption

Hope has gotten me through several dark times in  my life.  I have held on to the belief that the battles I won would one day be worth it.  Shawshank Redemtion presents hope in a beautiful way, showing how hope can guide anyone through any ordeal.

Tim Robbins plays a banker who spends nearly 20 years in Shawshank State Prison for 2 murders he did not commit.  As he joins the other inmates in the prison, it isn't long until he expereinces and witnesses some of the brutality and injustices that go well beyond simple prison sentences.  At times the film can be hard to watch because of its constant reminder of how cruel humanity can be.

However, even through the most brutal circumstances, there is one emotion that can give the power to fight for our lives and live to see tomorrow - hope.  Out of the cesspool of despair that is Shawshank Prison the beauty of hope and love between friends prevails over all types of injustice.  Through hope they do not break.  Shawshank Redemption is an emotional and beautiful reminder of how important hope is, and how strong the human spirt can be.

I think anyone can find hope with Morgan Freeman as a friend

2. Pay It Forward

This movie is focused solely on changing lives and in many ways it changed my life.  Haley Joel Osment plays a young boy who believes so strongly in the goodness of human nature that he sets out to change the world.  And the beautiful part is, he succeeds.

Pay It Forward really proved the simplicity required to be a good person.  An act of goodness can actually change the world if we follow the above diagram.  I am a firm believer in the goodness of human nature, but I also believe goodness does not happen accidentally.  I cannot simply stumble into being kind in a any given situation, I have to be deliberate in my actions.  I have to make an easy choice to be kind to someone and if that person passes it on the kindness will never end. 

Sometimes I am easy to give over to despair when I look at the world around me.  The amount of suffering and tragedy can easily lead anyone to doubt the goodness in the world around them.  But Haley Joel Osment's character in Pay It Forward proved an act of goodness can actually be easy and is a legitimate step to changing the world around us.

1. American History X

I once had a friend describe American History X to me as an experience not a movie.  How true that is.  The tagline for this movie is "His father taught him to hate.  His friends taught him to rage.  His enemies gave him hope.

Edward Norton plays a neo-nazi skinhead who's entire life is consumed by hate.  The movie chronicles how his characters decisions slowly ruin his own life and the lives of those closest to him.  He however finds hope and acceptance in the last place he ever thought to look.

Do not watch this movie with anyone who is feint of heart

 Many times throughout my life I have given over to hate and nonacceptance, not to the extent of this movie, but I have hated people for things that were genuinely out of their control.  This movie more than any other movie I have watched basically scared me out of my improper beliefs.  Watching hate basically tear a family apart and leave a man hopeless and with nothing to show for it made me believe hate was a feeling I can do without.

Many movies have changed my life and I hope many more do in the future.