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Not about hate but about pain
Hurrah for Ryan Murphy. He avoided the obvious trap of super camp. This human tragedy is told without winks and secret giggles. It is a tragedy no matter how funny. Two mega stars of its day drowning in personal pettiness and fear. Now with the benefit of hindsight and with the help of their daughters memoirs we know that fame and fortune is not the happy place most people imagine. Jessica Lange's Joan filled me with sadness, something Joan, the actress, could never do. Susan Sarandon's Bette made me want to shake her like she did Miriam Hopkins in "Old Acquaintance". Alfred Molina as Robert Aldrich deserves a mention all his own. Brilliant!
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
No, Mr Disney
Emma Thompson is great fun to watch, always. Here, she plays Mrs Travers the one who dared to say no to Walt Disney. The movie, made by the Disney studios, would have us believe that Walt Disney was, well...Tom Hanks. No. Impossible, incredible, almost laughable but thanks to the power of the stars one can sit through it, thoroughly entertained by this work of fiction. The imperious character played by Emma Thompson as a theatrical rather than a cinematic experience is nonetheless engaging and moving. The flashbacks were, if you permit the impudence, a total miscalculation. They come back with annoying regularity and instead of adding, they detract from the central story. My favorite parts were the meeting between Mrs Travers and Saint Walt Disney in London and Mrs Travers inviting herself and sitting at the premiere of Mary Poppins.
My Week with Marilyn (2011)
Michelle Williams achieves the impossible. We believe she's Marilyn! Judi Dench is a hoot as Dame Sibyl Thorndike and Kenneth Brannagh has his moments. But the rest...Oh dear, Oh dear. Who though of Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh!? and Eddie Redmeyer, he's a good actor, I've seen him on stage, but here he is a hole on the screen. He doesn't project anything that could possibly touch us. I remember loving "The Prince And The Showgirl" and thinking how remarkable Marilyn was. With the benefit of hindsight she had managed to keep her performance as fresh as timeless as a real work of art. While Olivier, the"actor" of his generation seems stilted and dated. My week with Marilyn misses the mark, big time but Michelle Williams performance makes it a must.
J. Edgar (2011)
Ugly Film About An Ugly Man
What a shocking disappointment. A director of Eastwood's caliber, an actor of DiCaprio reputation, giving us this travesty - no pun intended - of a biopic. Claude Rains and Madamr Constantine in "Notorious" someone made that comparison - I wish it had been that entertaining. This one is dull, dull, dull. Not a real insight into the man or, maybe more importantly, about the times of the man. Little, meaningless sketches about enormous events. I wonder what was the intention behind this venture. The "old" make-up was worthy of a B picture of the 50's. Jaw dropping really. I've always sensed that Eastwood, the director, left the actors to their own devices and, unless the devices belong to Gene Hackman or Sean Penn, the performance a rather poor. Here DiCaprio "recites" his lines with grit but without conviction. I couldn't wait for the film to be over and I waited and waited and waited.
Eat Pray Love (2010)
I did read the book but, I had hoped that this was going to be like "The Bridges Of Madison County". The film so much better than the book thanks to Meryl Streep's Francesca, a woman I could follow and learn from in every way. Here, my hero, Julia Roberts is as static as the page that originated her character. I couldn't and wouldn't get interested in her. Women, no matter how independent, remain nurturers by nature. I was desolate. I sided with her husband, Billy Crudup, totally. And what about the younger guy, James Franco, she takes instead of giving and she also takes from Richard Jenkins and Javier Bardem in Bali. It is in fact in Bali where I detected a glimpse of real emotion an emotion provoked by somebody else's feelings. I could see a film about that woman. Julia feels detached, as if she was just going through the motions. I'm sorry critics and public ganged up against her for her work in "Mery Reilly" An actress of Julia's talent and beauty could have contributed a sensational gallery of different women. Instead she seems stacked in this shrill, angry lady with very little to say.
The Right Stuff (1983)
History Is Made Of This Stuff
It was wonderful to see again this 1983 gem. Just as I remembered plus those unexpected surprises that time puts in evidence. Kim Stanley for instance. A few minutes on the screen, a peripheral character but I took her with me and here I am, thinking about her. The "starry" role jet pilots played and that new breed: "tha astronauts" getting the all American treatment, becoming overnight celebrities. Ed Harris is extraordinary as John Glenn. He becomes a sort of leader with some TV experience and we never ask why. Ed Harris's performance explains it all without ever actually saying it. Dennis Quaid is irresistible as "Gordo" Cooper. You believe every one of his thoughts, specially the ones he never reveals. In spite of the film's length, I wished the film would not end. I haven't had that wish very often. "The Right Stuff" is the real thing.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Tarantino and His Italian Critics
You should hear the Italian critics talking about Tarantino and "Inglorious Bastards". They run out of superlatives. One of them last night actually shouted "Tarantino is my God". Wow! I, personally, suspect that Tarantino is the result of a generation of TV and bad (now cult) exploitation movies. I enjoy him, don't get me wrong, but I'm not shouting miracle when I still have "The Great Escape", for instance, so fresh in my mind. "Inglorious Basterds" more than any of the other Tarantino films is all about appearances. There is nothing underneath other than references to other movies. Nothing wrong with that in fact I like it but I refuse to treat Quentin Tarantino as a sort of Deity. I can't buy it. I think he should be placed exactly where he belongs among the best of his kind but what kind is that? Never mind, it works. Italian critics who are so prepared to destroy their own - you should read some of the reviews for "Baaria" - are prepared to fall to their knees in front of Tarantino. This are the same critics that last year, the year of "Milk", "Slumdog Millionaire" "Edge Of Heaven", The Wrestler" etc, gave the David de Donatello Award for best picture to "Grand Torino" I want to make sure that I'm making my point clearly. "Inglorious Bastards" is a terrific comedy with most of Tarantino's trademark tricks in place. You'll have a great time with Brad Pitt and an incredible Christoph Waltz as the ultimate Nazi villain but don't expect a masterpiece as declared by some critics. That kind of review damages the film and me the spectator. It forces something on me. As if I was suppose to feel the same otherwise there is something wrong with me. No. I liked it, I recommend it for what it is. Period.
A Single Man (2009)
A Single Man In Venice
Of all the films I saw at the 66 Venice Film Festival, 12 in all, "A Single Man" is the one that stayed with me. I must admit, it wasn't love at first sight. My first reaction was a sort of rebellion against, what I felt was "far too beautiful" and slightly cold. But now, days after, the mood and guts of the film come back to my mind as if asking me to see it again. I will, as soon as possible. Behind the apparent stillness of the film there is a torrent of emotions and Colin Firth is at the very center of it. A day of grieving for a man who lived his life within a perfectly color coordinated world, coordinated in every sense of the word until death comes unexpectedly to turn everything upside down. I couldn't help but remember another Firth creation "Apartment Zero" (1988) where the color coordination of that character was gray, zero and the hinting of color coming into his life turned his world upside down. I loved and adored that performance and "A Single Man" reminds me, not so much for its similarities but for its differences. It's actually forcing me to go out and search all of Colin Firth's work I've missed. I also believe that Tom Ford, a living fashion icon, is here to stay as a filmmaker.
Il grande sogno (2009)
Confused, misguided and misinformed
Michele Placido has been an constant figure in the Italian cinema for decades now. He directed one of my favorite Italian films of the 90's "Un Eroe Borghese" and starred in some glorious Italian titles of the last 30 years but he himself has gone the road of so many others, he has "practiced" his craft hasn't cultivated it. There is a palpable sense of pretension in his work, trying to be "important" that goes head to head with a deep seated personal, cultural ignorance. Here he indulges in some personal memories connected to the tumultuous 1968, isn't that convenient? But, as it happens to someone who has remain in the intellectual periphery of things, "Il Grande Sogno" doesn't serve us to understand his memory or his beliefs, if any. Riccardo Scamarcio, Placido's alter ego in this case, displays an element of truth, absent in all of his wort for the last few years but his intention as a character is as falsely profound as the film itself. The generational conflict that the period created remains at the threshold of a really compelling story. I loved Luca Argentero and Laura Morante. The film is bloated with self importance but empty from every imaginable angle. As if this wasn't depressing enough, at the press conference, Placido exploded when a journalist ask him how he, a committed left wing man made a film financed by the right wing Mediaset, he didn't have a rational answer of course instead a really childish one, plus, accused the journalist's country of invading countries, sending people to die and then making movies about it to appear good and decent. The statement was ignorant and ridiculous in itself but to make it worse was the fact that Placido launched the attack to the journalist thinking she was English when in fact she was Spanish. In a way the incident reveals what wrong with Placido's film.
Not Michael Moore, Michael Less
"Half cooked" should be the kindest expression to describe this attempt at revealing something we all know. There is no real depth or cinematic wit here. An opportunistic denouncement of sorts is all I think this is. The real problem is not Berlusconi's power but the power WE have allowed him. We are the problem, we're not victims of some sinister plot but the willing participants of a shameless spectacle. Berlusconi and his ilk couldn't have grown and progress in a Country with memory and pride instead he's going to go wherever he wants to go because we're making it possible. "Name me another Italian that has accomplished what I have accomplished" Berlusconi tells us and we don't say a word, not a word! The terrifying moments dedicated to the self confessed "Mussolinian" Lele Mora seem a work of fiction. He has a fascist little march illustrated by images of swastikas and Mussolini himself in his cell phone. And Fabrizio Corona? He indulges in a full frontal and on pearls of wisdom such as "Robin Hood took from the rich to gave to the poor, I'm the modern version of Robin Hood, I take from the rich and keep it" yes, this is the Country we live in, the Country that gave us Dante and Michelangelo. Oh God!