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Happy Family (2010)
A Half Baked Interesting Idea
A fun idea that needed some extra thought. The lack of cohesion puts in evidence the lack of thought behind it. The actors are fun to watch. Fabrizo Bentivoglio superb, as usual. Diego Abatantuono, funny and human in the most Italian way. Margerita Buy is beautiful and lovely but the idea remains just that, an idea. Some visual surprises plus Simon and Garfunkel makes you wonder what could have been if Salvatores and his co-writer had taken the whole thing as seriously as it deserved rather than standing at the periphery of it all and, it appears, very pleased with themselves. In any case, an attempt at something different in an Italian movie. That gets the extra points for trying, but Mr. Salvatores, that's not nearly enough.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
The Jewish Scalphunters of Quentin Tarantino
Once again, revenge is at the center of a Quentin Tarantino movie. This time a Jewish dirty dozen takes things on their own hands. Tarantino re-writes history and shortens WWII with a comic stroke that is as entertaining as it is vacuous. A fantasy that re-arranges some controversial historical points. Okay, it's a movie and as such it works for most of its two and a half hours. Christoph Waltz opens things up in the most promising way. The opening sequence is filled with a subtle but unbearable tension. Weltz amalgamates all the Nazi villains we have loved and hated in the movies into one glorious creation. (I will advise my countrymen to see it in its original multi-language version - the Italian version is another movie altogether. Some of the extra pleasures are in the dialog that, naturally, are not to be found in the Italian version) Brad Pitt, rapidly becoming one of the best character actors in the world, with a leading man's face and billing, is truly fantastic. Diane Kruger makes a credible Barbara Bouchet (one of Tarantino's muses from trash action Italian movies from the 70's) and the rest of the cast has some exquisite touches like Rod Taylor as Winston Churchill. Highly recommended for a Sunday afternoon.
Michael Clayton (2007)
A Very Gray Thriller
I understand they were trying to be serious but their intentions took over the film. A special projects man played by George Clooney against the monstrous conglomerates bearing the face of Tilda Swinton. Scary? You bet! Little touches to let us know that the special projects man has a gambling problem and no life. Horses, in an indirect way, will save his life and well, you can sit through this couple of hours without guessing what's going to happen next and, if you permit me, without caring. I prefer George Clooney in his brighter, campier roles. I believe Cary Grant had the same problem but I would like to know who's idea was the Queen Christina moment through the closing credits. That was campy and allowed some much needed smiles. All in all, go to see it at your own peril.
Ho voglia di te (2007)
Riccardo Scamarcio glares out from the posters promising a thousand delights. A romantic comedy with the romantic star of the moment. What more could his teen age fans want? I'm not sure but it must be more than this. Riccardo Scamarcio, building a reputation as a "serious" actor keeps turning this thinner than thin nonsense that risks to alienate his young adoring fans and jeopardize the potential career of a "serious" actor. Here he seems bored. As if he was above it all. As if he just wanted to get the hell out of there. Even with the introduction of his character (his name is Step, yes Step), the director attempts a star introduction. He is on an escalator, his back to us. Then he turns. But the turning is hesitant, his eyes wonder. Embarrassment? Insecurity? Maybe both, maybe one feeding the other. I hope Scamarcio wakes up. He certainly has the face and, I suspect, the talent. The Italian cinema needs a great film star and he seems to have all it takes, except perhaps, good advise or a good ear. I'm prepared to give him, one more chance.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Oh no. Spielberg does it again
I love and respect Spielberg, let's make that absolutely clear. I grew up with the man. But, that love and respect, clearly, is exclusively one sided. I have the feeling I've been treated like a moron. There are so many concessions made in the film in a vain attempt to reach everybody, that at the end of the day, most everybody is disappointed. It's not one thing or the other. Much like "Artificial Intelligence" Steven Spielberg, more than any of his contemporaries, has everything at his disposal. He has the luxury to choose the best of the best in every department, so why not apply that standard to the most important, the writing. Here the source was H.G Wells so, no excuses for the cheap shots and the smart ass wise cracks. I think that compromises are, in a business of millions and millions of dollars, unavoidable, but, how terrible when the compromise takes over. When marketing researchers have so much power. I think that compromises based on political correctness have taken over the world of Spielberg. I remember when Elia Kazan received the Academy Award to his career and the polemic that followed. Spielberg found a way to be okay with everybody. He applauded but didn't stand up. Is that his position? He made comments about War of the Worlds, hinting that the updated story reflected what was happening in the world today. Really? There is a line thrown out there casually on purpose "Occupation never works" or something like that. But that's not nearly enough. It is an insult to our intelligence. "War of the Worlds" has a terrific opening. We are several steps ahead of the characters populating the world in the movie. The thrilling anticipation of what we know is coming, raises our expectations to levels that, naturally, are impossible to reach. Tom Cruise is terrific, but the film moves between Wells and Spielberg's worlds without being fair to either one. Technically the film is astonishing, but the soul is sadly not there.
Alexander The Great
What a refreshing adventure great writing really is. Through the mind, heart and soul of a filmmaker like Alexander Payne you can enter forbidden territory and dive into experiences that, at first glance, seem so far removed from our own. Little tales with enormous, universal implications. Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen jump out of the screen and as soon as the movie ends we find them sitting next to us. We get home and find them waiting for us there, we even find them on the mirror looking back at us. This is the sort of movie going experience that will never get old. Its strength is in its truth. You may not like it, you may even resent it. Good, that's what art is all about. It provokes you. It motivates and inspires you. And as if all that wasn't enough, it entertains you it amuses you, it gives you one hell of a great time. I want another Payne soon in a theater near me.
Concorso di colpa (2004)
Before seeing a film I look at the credited writer. Nine times out of ten it tells me all I need to know. I didn't read the name of the writer before I sat to see this. Terrible mistake. But it was hot, an air conditioned room, a big TV screen with THX, a new Italian film with Gabriele Ferzetti (L'Avventura)and Luca Lionello, the splendid Judas of Gibson's "Passion of The Christ". Italy is going through a proverbial crisis, very few films get made. One would assume that the few that do are sure shots at the box office (comedies with Christian de Sica for instance) or films of quality. So how come a film of this catastrophic, moronic caliber can be made with a more than respectable cast, a director - Claudio Fragasso - with a sure hand and years of experience falling into this trap. The film is beyond bad because it aspires to something grander. It has the obscene audacity to attempt some social and political relevance. The script is laughable from beginning to end. In spite of the afore mentioned crisis, Italy has some phenomenal writers and top notch directors. What lacks is producers, real producers people with guts and taste and balls. They are all there like mamma's boys waiting for the Ministry to grant them some money. What about a bit of showmanship? Because, let's face it, who's going to pay the consequences of the failure of "Concorso di Colpa"? (translated it means "Concourse of Guilt" very apropos if you ask me)Who? Other, more deserving filmmakers, that's who. Nobody can tell me if this film got distribution, if it does, well that would be another mystery. Not to sound all gloom and doom, there is some light at the end of the Italian tunnel Marco Tullio Giordana's "Once you're born you can't hide anymore" Is a beautiful gem.
Being Julia (2004)
Acting Up A Storm
Tom Sturridge in a lovely performance as Roger, Julia's son, puts it beautifully in a soft confrontation with his mother. "You're playing, mother, or playing wife..." Yes, acting as a way of life as a way of being. Tricky. Ronald Harwood can write the ins and outs of theatrical life better than any living soul - remember "The Dresser? - This is not any way near as good or as insightful but is charming and fun. Lilli Palmer played the part back in the 60's in "Adorable Julia" and she was adorable indeed as is Annette Bening in a tour de force performance with regular interruptions to give plenty of space to the trade mark Bening giggle. Shaun Evans plays the young man, the object of Julia's desire, her frustrating emotional holiday and I must admit, that's the one element that should have sizzle instead of fizzle. Shaun Evans is a good actor but it doesn't have anything that would make us understand the folly attraction that awakes in Julia. He plays an American but appears bland, as bland as a British actor can be when he's bland. I longed for a Billy Crudup or someone younger, a Brad Renfro. Can you imagine what the movie would have been like with a Heath Ledger in that part? Unless, of course, the whole thing was intentional to underline Julia's absurdity. An actress on the verge of a nervous break down. Comparasions with "All About Eve" are ridiculous. That would be like comparing "One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest" with "The Couch Trip"
Batman Begins (2005)
Again? Well, not quite.
The name of David Goyer among the writing credits made me fear the worse. After all those Zig Zag and Blades appallingness you can hardly blame me. So, you may imagine my surprise to discover that Batman Begins is not only better than the previous Batmans but much better. The genesis of the character as well as inedited insights into the seven mystery years in the life of Bruce Wayne makes the whole enterprise engaging even thrilling. Christian Bale is an American Psycho Batman, pouty lips and unexpected sexual presence. Katie Holmes is lovely, with a sharp intelligence and a riveting imperfect beauty. Michael Caine fills the shoes of the butler with wit and charm. Gary Oldman, looking more Oldman than Gary, adds another surprising characterization to his already impressive gallery. So, very nice. There is still hope in hopeless trends. Who knew.