Video Picks Archive

May 10, 2000
This Week's Video Picks
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Reviews by Rachel Deahl <>

This week my picks are American Beauty (1999 - ) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943 - ).

With American Beauty, British theatre director Sam Mendes stole the critics' hearts and a quite a few Oscars. This tale of suburban dysfunction does just about everything right and is exactly the kind of movie made for Academy gold: intelligent but not exactly subtle. Mendes theatrical film (neighbors look into each other's houses like they're characters out of Our Town and Annette Bening's over-the-top performance lends itself to a stage much more readily than a movie screen), exposes the lighter and darker side of those searching for meaning in their empty lives. What American Beauty does best is cast the misfortunes of its elder characters perfectly against the struggles of their younger counterparts. As Kevin Spacey's hapless Lester Burnham yearns for his daughter's sexy friend (Mena Suvari), the seemingly perfect teen (she's pretty and popular-what else could she want?) reveals her tragic fate of having to appear less na´ve than she actually is. The characters are all lost, though, as is often the case in life, they assume they're alone in that. In the end American Beauty is a character-driven film which comes together beautifully. The diverging storylines finally collide in a brilliantly, and neatly, woven finale leaving one to wonder if it might not have been a more interesting journey left sordid and messy.
Full review by Matt Heffernan from September 24, 1999

Speaking of messy, Alfred Hitchcock basked in the banality of suburban America with his foray into a fictional California 'burb in Shadow of a Doubt. Hitchcock's flawless (and infectiously fun) tale about a murderous uncle's return to his beloved, and until now innocent, niece is filled with doubling themes and dark undertones. When Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) returns to Santa Rosa to visit his favorite niece, and his namesake (Theresa Wright), suspicions arise that Uncle Charlie may in fact be the infamous Merry Widow Murderer. Once young Charlie realizes the truth about Uncle Charlie, things will never be quite the same again. Hitchcock is in top form in Shadow of a Doubt and his black humor plays perfectly in this familial surrounding. As Uncle Charlie states it at one point, "When you rip the fronts off of houses you find swine." And who better to show you that than the Master of Suspense himself?

For more information, visit the Internet Movie Database:
American Beauty (1999)
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
American Beauty (1999) -- VHS
American Beauty (1999) -- DVD
American Beauty: The Shooting Script, by Alan Ball -- Paperback
American Beauty: Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack -- Compact Disc
Shadow of a Doubt (1943) -- VHS Home
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