Posted in Wednesday Warriors

Lester Burnham

Stay tuned this Friday when I make a major announcement regarding the direction of JackFlacco.com.

Few movies have a feeling attached to the presentation. You know the ones, Lost in Translation, Juno, Elizabethtown. Although subjective, the feeling is that of loneliness coupled with the search for meaning. At times, dark comedy screams a message so clear that no one understands it. American Beauty is that way. It succeeds with showing what happens when preconceptions turn to fear. At the same time, the film opens the mind to a world not much different from our own, but sparkles with beauty.

Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty
Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty

Wednesday Warriors presents Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), a middle-aged man inspired to breathe again.

No one can tell us about Lester’s life except Lester himself:

“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don’t know that yet. And in a way, I am dead already.”

Later on, he says:

“Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser. And they’re right. I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”

From there the focus shifts to his office cubicle where he sits slouched in his chair speaking with a client on the phone. If you study the mess he calls a desk, you’ll see a small sign hanging on his cubicle wall saying, “Look closer.” The sign is a message to the viewing audience from director Sam Mendes. It’s to encourage the viewer to pay attention because there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

In the midst of Lester’s middle class family lies a disturbing isolation within its members—the domineering wife, the negligent father, the angry teen. Each have their own agenda, each want validation for their role in the family.

Lester
Lester

When Angela (Mena Suvari) finally appears in the film, Lester has all he can do to get out of the evening drive to support his daughter’s cheerleading squad, the same squad cheering for the town’s basketball team. His excuse? He says he’s missing the James Bond marathon on TNT.

After meeting Angela for the first time he doesn’t fall for the illusion that she’s self-absorbed and indifferent. Nor does he pay attention to her attitude, which hovers around “you scratch my back and I’ll accept it.” But remember the movie’s tagline? Look closer.

He sees Angela possessing the ability to move people into doing things they wouldn’t do had she not inspired the change. In Lester’s case, it’s obvious. She’s a Rockwell High award-winning Dancing Spartanette. He falls for her, his mind scrambles and all of a sudden, he’s a teenager again wanting to get to know her like all the other teenage boys her age. The only difference, he’s not a teenager. He’s a married man. For someone such as Angela to spur those feelings in someone without regard to marital status, she must really be something special.

The truth is you’ll have to look closer. Lester realizes there’s more to Angela than the outward snob moniker she wears so well. She sports a vulnerability few have seen other than Lester. That vulnerability comes to play later in the film, regardless of us having to deal with her current label as the class tease, even if she feels there’s nothing worse than being ordinary.

Lester’s change in mindset couldn’t have happened hadn’t Angela shown up in his life. Had she not given him a second breath, a second hope for the future, he would have been a recluse for the rest of his miserable existence. Angela did that—not Lester. She did it by simply becoming a symbol to what he wanted from life—hope. He gained that hope from her.

[Author’s Note: Originally posted as Angela on April 2, 2014, I adapted the piece early last week to reflect Lester’s point of view. After some thought, I wanted to kill the post but I scheduled it for today anyway to complete the American Beauty bookends.]

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What do you like about American Beauty? What do you think about Lester?

Posted in Wednesday Warriors

Mitch McDeere

Whenever I think of superheroes, I think of Batman and his ability to pass through the shadows undetected; Superman, and his power to repel bullets; Captain America and his super strength; Iron Man and his flare with a super suit; and finally, Black Widow, who is an expert at stealth and deception.

Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere
Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere

And whenever I think of heroes—movie heroes—I think of the ones people would least likely chose. For instance, Ray Kinsella fits perfectly in the mix as the farmer who builds a baseball field in the middle of nowhere in the film Field of Dreams. And then there’s Lester Burnham who rebels against a midlife crisis to find his way back in the drama American Beauty.

But of all the fictional heroes I enjoy watching over and over again on the small screen, Mitch McDeere (Tom Cruise) of the film The Firm has to be the most fascinating of them all.

For those wondering who Mitch McDeere is—he’s one of the top Ivy League graduates of his class, lands a position at the prestigious law firm Bendini, Lambert and Locke in Memphis, and is a faithful husband to a beautiful wife.

Tom Cruise is Mitch McDeere
Tom Cruise is Mitch McDeere

During the time of his recruitment, the firm offers him a position as a junior lawyer. They don’t stop there. They give him a brand new Porsche, which he chooses black as its color, a new house to live in at the cost of a no-interest loan, a new office complete with his own secretary, and all sorts of other delights I can’t remember offhand, but I’m sure they are also top of the line frills.

Everything seems perfect to Mitch. The perfect wife. The perfect car. The perfect house. And the perfect job.

What Mitch doesn’t know, however, is all that goodness comes at a price.

The first thing to go is his time with his wife. He’s the first to show up at work and the last to leave. He works on weekends and doesn’t have the time to even study for the bar exam, which, incidentally, the firm guarantees he will pass if he maintains the strenuous pace he’s been following.

Of course, there’s one thing the firm didn’t tell him, and that’s the fact that they will supply all the rewards, luxuries and services, but in return Mitch is theirs. The firm integrates with every aspect of his life from his professional life as a lawyer to personal life, picking the furniture that goes into his home. What’s more? The firm takes an active interest in ensuring they have their hooks in him completely by encouraging him to have a child. In their view, he’s less likely to leave if he has a family to look after.

Now, before you begin thinking that Mitch got a raw deal and can’t get out, which I happen to agree with, he devises a plan. The thing is, the plan is so intricate and so complex, that he becomes that which he never thought he’d become—an enemy of the firm.

When I think of Mitch McDeere, I think of a character trapped in a life that looked great on the outside, but rotten to the core on the inside. It took him time to figure that out and a resolve few people possess. Yet, when he did figure it out, he escaped his old life and began anew. A new life. A new identity. And a new goal that doesn’t lead to a superficial victory.

Mitch McDeere is today’s Wednesday Warrior.

Get the Ranger Martin trilogy now!

Have you seen The Firm? What do you think about Mitch McDeere?

Posted in Freedom Friday

1999

I am convinced that 1999 was one of the best years in film. I didn’t notice this until one night when I was looking through my DVD collection and came upon The Matrix, a movie about a reality within a reality. Flipping the box, I came upon the date and remembered Fight Club came out that same year. This led me also to note American Beauty and Magnolia released that year, too.

Brad Pitt in Fight Club
Brad Pitt in Fight Club

I have a few minutes, grab a chair, and let’s talk movies for Freedom Friday.

Did you know The Mummy and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out in 1999? Both mega-blockbusters took in just under $1.5 Billion. That’s a lot of money, especially for back then.

What thrills me, though, is not the blockbusters, but the movies that have become annual events here at my home. Movies like Drop Dead Gorgeous, Analyze This, and Payback get a yearly viewing from me. Why? They’re fun movies! Whenever I’m bored, which happens more often than you think, I grab one of these movies, ease into my couch and let the story carry me away. I’m like a little kid wanting to watch the same movie again, even after having watched it twice already in a row. I never tire of these.

The Matrix
The Matrix

Anyway, about 1999—the world held its breath wondering if the lights would go out because of that supposed nasty Y2K bug that would have otherwise crippled North America’s very capable power grid. Of course, Y2K came and went with not even so much as a whimper. But the movies remained and the stories tempted their audience to be different. The majority of films imposed the message on us that we humans are unique, different, and filled with hope, and that we should go ahead and fulfill our dreams.

Here is a list of movies that hit theaters that year and why I feel they merit more than an once-in-a-lifetime viewing:

JanuaryThe Thin Red Line: A military movie gone crazy. So many cameos hit the film that I can hardly keep up including George Clooney, John Travolta and John Cusack.
FebruaryPayback: Mel Gibson as the bad guy out to settle a score. Notable mentions go to October Sky, Office Space and 8mm.
MarchAnalyze This: Robert De Niro spoofing his mob boss roles from the past. Hilarious. Notable mentions go to Cruel Intentions, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and The Matrix, of course.
AprilGo: One drug deal, three different points of view. Incredible.
MayThe Mummy: A mummy comes back to life and eats people’s body parts. Sounds like a modern zombie movie. Notable mentions go to Election, and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
JuneTarzan: Disney’s animated version. Great song by Phil Collins.
JulyDrop Dead Gorgeous: A mockumentary about teen beauty pageants. Notable mentions go to American Pie and The Blair Witch Project.
AugustThe Sixth Sense: The kid sees dead people. Scary as heckfire. Notable mentions go to Dick and The Iron Giant.
SeptemberAmerican Beauty: Kevin Spacey has a midlife meltdown. Awesome! Notable mention goes to Double Jeopardy.
OctoberFight Club: Don’t talk about Fight Club. Notable mentions go to Mystery, Alaska, Three Kings, and Bringing Out the Dead.
NovemberDogma: A loophole in Catholic dogma may undo creation. Hey, anything with George Carlin is funny. Notable mentions go to The Bone Collector, The Insider, Sleepy Hollow and Toy Story 2. You didn’t really think I was going to forget this one, did you?
DecemberMagnolia: Multiple plotlines that all intertwine somehow. Notable mentions go to The Green Mile and Man on the Moon.

Quite a list, isn’t it? Can you believe these great movies came out all in one year? I suppose the fear of the Y2K bug consuming civilization made for a situation where creative juices flowed freely.

Speaking of which, I have to head off. I think later tonight I’ll pop in Fight Club and have Jack’s complete lack of surprise engulf me.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

What 1999 movie do you remember as the one you cannot forget?

Posted in Women Who Wow Wednesday

Angela

Few movies have a feeling attached to the presentation. You know the ones, Lost in Translation, Juno, Elizabethtown. Although subjective, the feeling is that of loneliness coupled with the search for meaning. At times, dark comedy screams a message so clear that no one understands it. American Beauty is that way. It succeeds with showing what happens when preconceptions turn to fear. At the same time, the film opens the mind to a world not much different from our own, but sparkles with beauty.

Kevin Spacey & Mena Suvari in American Beauty
Kevin Spacey & Mena Suvari in American Beauty

Women Who Wow Wednesday presents Angela, the cheerleader who captures the imagination of a middle-aged man forcing a change in him.

To know Angela (Mena Suvari) you must know Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey). Let him describe in his own words his life:

“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood. This is my street. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don’t know that yet. And in a way, I am dead already.”

Later on, he says:

“Both my wife and daughter think I’m this gigantic loser. And they’re right. I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”

From there the focus shifts to his office cubicle where he sits slouched in his chair speaking with a client on the phone. If you study the mess he calls a desk, you’ll see a small sign hanging on his cubicle wall saying, “Look closer.” The sign is a message to the viewing audience from director Sam Mendes. It’s to encourage the viewer to pay attention because there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

In the midst of Lester’s middle class family lies a disturbing isolation within its members—the domineering wife, the negligent father, the angry teen. Each have their own agenda, each want validation for their role in the family.

Angela
Angela

When Angela finally appears in the film, Lester has all he can do to get out of the evening drive to support his daughter’s cheerleading squad, the same squad cheering for the town’s basketball team. His excuse? He says he’s missing the James Bond marathon on TNT.

When meeting Angela for the first time she gives the illusion she’s self-absorbed and indifferent. Her attitude hovers around “you scratch my back and I’ll accept it.” But remember the movie’s tagline? Look closer.

Angela possesses the ability to move people into doing things they wouldn’t do had she not inspired the change. In Lester’s case, it’s obvious. She’s a Rockwell High award-winning Dancing Spartanette. She strikes him. His mind scrambles and all of a sudden, he’s a teenager again, wanting to get to know her like all the other teenage boys her age. The only difference, he’s not a teenager. He’s a married man. For someone such as Angela to spur those feeling in someone without regard to marital status, she must really have something wrong with her.

The truth is, though, you’ll have to look closer. There’s more to Angela than the outward snob moniker she wears so well. She sports a vulnerability few have seen other than Lester. That vulnerability comes to play later in the film, regardless of us having to deal with her current label as the class tease.

What else makes Angela different? Even if she feels there’s nothing worse than being ordinary, she proves she’s more mature than any girl her age. How? Remember how knowing Lester is the same as knowing Angela? His change in mindset couldn’t have happened hadn’t Angela shown up in his life. Had she not given him a second breath, a second hope for the future, he would have been a recluse for the rest of his miserable existence. Angela did that—not Lester. She did it by simply becoming a symbol to what he wanted from life—hope. She provided him that hope.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

What did you like about American Beauty? What did you think of Angela?