Sun Oct 03 22:03:45 1999


Hi folks. Here's the short version: After sending to various friends brief paragraphs about inspiring and/or awful movies I've seen, and after acknowledging that my Temple of Dominoes production schedule (years ago it was monthly, now pretty much annual) makes timely discussion about recent films impossible, and because Jeff Lester's original "Feh!" movie-review project was so much fun, I've decided to produce an incredibly informal e-zine titled ICK, after the fish disease, to share my otherwise unshared opinions about movies, movie trailers, the film business (of which I know little), and related culture.

I'm sending this to a small dozen friends who've either expressed enthusiasm for the half-assed reviews/complaints I've sent in the past, or who like the Temple of Dominoes thing and were on my nicknames list and I thought they might be interested. If you want to get OFF this tiny mailing list, please let me know, and no offense will be taken. I only ask that your 'remove' request include at least one complete sentence.

Some quick facts:

o Share the stuff if you want, but don't forward it to everyone you know. The internet will break and it will be your fault.

o This isn't a public or two-way mailing list; I'm Bcc'ing everybody, so you won't get my friends' responses saying "Yer wrong, Marty! 'The Matrix' had great dialogue!" etc. The only stuff you'll get will be from me.

o I'm not gonna put much effort into creating a complete and delicate work of art in this space, I promise. I'm gonna give quick, irrational responses to movies and the culture that produces them. It's more like a friendly note than a formal memo. (Actually, it's more like an angry letter to someone else accidentally dropped in your inbox.)

o Sometimes I'll discuss movies as if y'all have already seen them. I'll warn you when I give away important details, though. Most critics give away lots of details, thinking it's their job to do so. I hate that.

o Response of any size or type is encouraged but not required; regardless, I certainly don't expect you to agree with me about anything. (How could I be self-righteous about my opinions if they were also everybody else's?)

o I'm still doing Temple of Dominoes; one'll be out any year now.

ttfn -






"For those who love everything about The Movies, except for most of the movies."


Under attack this month:

The Story Of Us

American Beauty




I'm a thoughtful, generous guy. I like to give people a chance, and that means giving their very-likely-awful poetry and their I-hate-it-already screenplays and their the-title-alone-pisses-me-off movie projects a chance; it might be wonderful, after all. So it's actually very, very rare that I see a trailer and say aloud in the theater, "I WILL DIE BEFORE I WATCH THAT MOVIE." But such was the case with THE STORY OF US, the new Bruce Willis-Michelle Pfeiffer road accident that apparently combines the paper-thin character superficiality of Forrest Gump with the done-to-death classic-schlock soundtrack of...Forrest Gump. "Can a marriage survive fifteen years of marriage?" the commercials ask. "Can the audience withstand fifteen minutes of watching *anybody* be married to Bruce Willis?" the audience wonders. (The fun part of watching Bruce Willis play the father of two, of course, is wondering which of the actors playing his kids is going to wind up in bed with him before the end of the shoot.)

I haven't seen the movie, only the trailer - yet I'm both psychic and cynical, and so I *know*: this film is the latest example of the Hollywood Watering Down the Soup of Life phenomenon, whereby films daringly avoid exposing any of the depths or idiosyncrasies of their bland yuppie paste-white cookie-cutter characters, in order to give the audience the opportunity to project their own lives and conflicts onto the screen...or, better yet, not to. When characters display "conflict" without actually revealing any unique idiosyncrasy or depth *through* that conflict, the audience witnesses only a broad, safe cartoon; and in acheiving resolution, the audience is given the impression of a meaningful experience at the movies without being put through the stress of actually having one.

Sometimes doctors make patients sick, comedians make audiences cry pitiously, and movie trailers make audiences flee from theaters is nauseous horror. Such is the case with "The Story of Us". Do the world a favor and please, please, please, For The Love Of God, don't see this movie.






NOTE: THE BELOW COMMENTS OFFER SOME INFORMATION ABOUT THE ELEMENTS OF THE STORY AND THE CHARACTERS...they're pretty minor details, but if you're the kinda person who avoids such things (as I am) until you've seen the movie, I'd recommend you STOP READING NOW AND GO SEE THIS TREMENDOUS MOVIE.



It's hard to describe the level on which American Beauty hit me; it wasn't really an emotional impact...or not a heavy one. That might have been because I was too busy being thoroughly impressed with the film on every other level. Here's a partial list of what impressed me about it:

Every single last time I knew exactly what a character was about to say, the characters said...something completely different. Every character has reason and motive to do things that were thoroughly predictable, and yet at every opportunity, each character did something unexpected. This world was *alive*, and the characters were *alive*, and the story was merely a record of what happened to them...not a flat glass frame to squash them down and squeeze them into the same roles I saw different actors play in the last fifty movies I saw. Characters who hate their spouses still cry in lonely agony when the marriage crumbles; characters who make mistakes live to regret them, but cannot explain them away with a sentimental reconciliation. The causes have effects, and the effects have effects.

The casting was superb; Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening were fantastic, yes, but both young girls were (with momentary exceptions) utterly believable as awkward, beautiful, ugly, naive, insecure *young* high school girls; the neighbor kid was eerily opaque, yet ultimately the most openly explored of the characters, and fascinating in each way; Peter Gallagher was hilariously sleazy - yet genuinely conciliatory when the damage has been done.

The movie starts out like a Todd Solondz exposition-of-depravity-in-everyday-life, threatening to be merely a farcical insult to society instead of an insightful satire of it. But this is a world where characters can change, despite the torment of their traps. Relationships between characters change; relationships between characters and the obsessive desires that had defined them change. By the end of the movie, nobody is who he or she was at the beginning of the movie...nobody.


The trailer for "The Story of Us" that preceded the movie showed two married characters arguing over vague issues of responsibility, as if inviting the audience to project their own relationship issues and emotional baggage over this otherwise empty scene. Nothing is revealed about the two characters except that they disagree. American Beauty showed a married couple arguing when she catches him masturbating in bed beside her...not a universal argument-starter, fortunately, but a believable one. Which of these arguments evoked a greater sense of depth and reality?


And yet through all this exploration and transformation of character, this movie is genuinely hilarious and, yes, entertaining...rocketing back and forth like a ship in a storm, pitching from beautifully absurd moments of pure inspired comedy to moments of beautiful, unadorned, genuinely powerful drama, and all of the above arising naturally out of a single, complex, outrageous-yet-believable story that contains the disparate elements naturally.


The gay characters (well, two of them) survived the film; they were fine, respectable citizens, and not victims; yet they were also funny and not taken too seriously. Expressive of patterns, not stereotypes.


I would suggest that religion - or, the mystery of life which provides the need for and substance of religion - is at the foundation of every great story; maybe that's what a story is - an arrangement of characters and circumstances and scenery that together form an image of something larger than any of them or any of us, something recognizable as living outside and inside us, yet invisible when viewed in the distracting, exhausting struggle of our every day. American Beauty takes a frightening, unflinching, hilarious, sublime and ultimately exhilarating look deep into its own - our own - little corner of that mystery. It is the corner where beauty *is* the value of life, and sex is the tragically fleeting and deceptive possession of that beauty. It is also the place where the rules can be re-invented, where even obsession and solitude and perverse emotional handicaps can be the tools for survival, and communion, and love...and the re-invention of life itself. This corner, in other words, is America, or our modern Western culture; and this movie, like no other I can think of, explores what that culture is at is most shallow levels...and at its greatest depths.


As I said, I didn't experience the impact of this film as an emotional wallop; it's more like a wave, gathering force, rolling and rising...not to crash until long after the credits have rolled at the end. This is a movie that makes a sound so deep it may be felt in the culture before it registers in the senses of individuals.


Neil Gabler, religious conservative cultural commentator and smiling asshole movie critic of the PBS Sneak Previews show, wrote a book called "Life, the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality" that claims that people want their lives to be like the movies. (Really? Perhaps because we all wish we could be wealthy and get laid all the time, Mr. Neil "Einstein" Gabler?) I read about the book, haven't read it. But while I'd agree that most popular films are eagerly superficial and determined to avoid deeper meaning, American Beauty is one example of the way film very naturally can work to take us deeper into the world we already live in, revealing things we never see because they're so very close and so very constant. It does not lull us deeper into our illusions; it shatters and reveals them.


Copyright 1999 Martin Azevedo

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