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Giant is Enormous
Strange what time does. I wasn't in a hurry to see Giant again. I had a fuzzy memory of the film. I remembered James Dean but I also remembered the length and the pace. Now in 2018 it had a completely different effect. I was riveted from beginning to end. Elizabeth Taylor ! How is it that I didn't remember the groundbreaking aspect of her character. She's a woman of the future tied by marriage to a reactionary past. I was born in Italy but I've been married to a Texan for 23 years. I know Texas well and I know the difference between Texas and New York as well as Texans who never left Texas and Texans who have lived and traveled elsewhere. Giant, made in 1956 tells us that without partisan bias. That's how it was and how, in many respects still is. James Dean, magic, of course Rock Hudson is terrific but it is Elizabeth Taylor's film. Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Mercedes McCambridge and Sal Mineo are moving parts of this arid and beautiful landscape.
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Paddy Chayefsky, what a writer!
Think of Network or The Hospital, Paddy Chayefsky was seeing into the future and what he saw was ugly. Here we have an insane admiral and how his men, who know he's crazy, stand in line to follow his wishes/commands. An anti war film without sentimentality. Julie Andrews is a total delight as the tough cookie with a razor sharp mind. James Garner has the best lines of his career. His tea with Joyce Grenfell is a superb written scene. Joyce Grenfell as Julie's mother is divine, yes, divine! Melvyn Douglas as the crazy man in charge is the Howard Beale of the situation and what he does with it is pure genius. Highly recommend it.
Look Into My Eyes
Shattered. Yes, that's exactly how I felt. Unable to utter a word. Jonathan Banks creates one of the most hateful creatures I've ever seen on the screen and I've seen hateful creatures. I had a physical reaction to his recognizable monster, we saw him or one of his ilk marching down the streets of Charlottesville in 2017. Carey Mulligan is simply sublime. Garret Hedlund and Jason Mitchell have become two of my favorite actors. Their truth made of confusion, outrage and pain is pungently present in their eyes. Mary J Blige provides a powerful poster child for dignity and composure. A remarkable performance and Rob Morgan moved me so very deeply. A film experience that we all should confront. My gratitude and admiration to the extraordinary Dee Rees.
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!
Julie & Julia (2009)
Nora Ephron's terrible miscalculation doesn't spoil things completely but it certainly hurts what it could have been, one of the best films of the year with a superlative performance by Meryl Streep. The performance more than survives, thank God, because I believe in years to come it will be considered one of Meryl's best. Imagine that! I loved her! Her Julia Child is total, complete, overwhelming, enchanting, inspiring. A woman of her day that was way, way ahead, in every department. A woman who was capable of love in the most direct and powerful way. She even loved the French for all the right reasons. When the films moves away from her the film suffers, terribly. The modern, neurotic kitchen of the modern woman is much more "passè" than the vintage one. In fact the vintage one is the ultra modern. But, as Billy Wilder used to say, we have to take the bitter with the sour. The film gets your gastric juices going and vindicates the power of butter in a way we hadn't seen since Last Tango In Paris. Stanley Tucci is also a delight and a perfect foil for her much taller wife. Bravo Meryl. once more, thank you, you're my hero.
La pianiste (2001)
A Compelling Shoker
Isabelle Huppert must be one of the greatest actresses of her or any other generation. "La Pianiste" truly confirms it. As if that wasn't enough, Annie Girardot plays her mother and Annie Girardot is one of the greatest actresses of her or any other generation. So, as you may well imagine, those pieces of casting are worth the horror we're put through. Isabelle and Annie play characters we've never seen before on the screen. A mother and daughter yes but with such virulent fearlessness that sometimes I was unable even to blink or to breath. Personally, I don't believe in the director's intentions, I don't believe they (the intentions that is) go beyond the shocking anecdote and the ending made me scream with frustration but I was riveted by the story written in the face of the sensational Huppert and the fierceness of Girardot's strength. I highly recommend it to cinema lovers anywhere and to the collectors of great performances like me, you can't afford to miss "La Pianiste"
A Chemistry Lesson by Cooper and Dietrich
A chemistry lesson by two masters at their craft. Dietrich and Cooper. What a delight! She looks stronger than him, not physically, but emotionally. A man eater. She could have done whatever she wanted with him but she can't go as far as she might have because she falls in love. What a delight! Cooper's simpleton is a perfect target for a swindler and yet nothing truly harmful comes to him because he's protected by his own decency. What a delight! Lubitch producing this time, manages to infuse his glorious magic in this remarkable equation. I enjoyed it so much that I had to see it again immediately. What a delight!
Postcards from the Edge (1990)
Autumn Sonata Hollywood Style
Debiee Reynolds/Carrie Fisher or MacLaine/Streep? It doesn't really matter. A comedy that swims around a theme without ever getting anywhere. To see Streep and MacLaine together is enough to make this a collector's item. The cheerful side of the Ingrid Bergman/Liv Ullman grim Ingman Bergman "Autumn Sonata" I know that Carrie Fisher with her American wit was telling us something, something personal but did it have to be so shallow? There is nothing about this characters with a hint of depth. Drugs and alcohol part of a culture in permanent denial. Maybe that's what it is. We're witnessing the replicas of what used to be human beings. The hurt is so flimsy. He may have told a million women that they smelled like Catalina, so what? Didn't she notice the phoniness in Dennis Quaid's smirk? I had to rush and see "Plenty" and stare into Meryl Streep's face to be reminded of her greatness. Not that she's bad here, not at all, she's wonderful, it's the character that made me recoil in horror. Okay, enough of that. the combination of MacLaine and Streep is terrific and the film will keep you entertained even if, like in my case, will leave you with a toxic aftertaste.
Romeo and Juliet (1968)
Leonard and Olivia
This was the first time we actually saw the teenage love Shakespeare intended. Years and years before Leonardo Di Caprio and Clare Danes, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Houssey gave life to the tragic story told in this ancestral tale, revamping it without betraying it, making it accessible to a 60s audience without updating it. Leonard and Olivia were so beautiful that Shakespeare became trendy again and I don't mean any disrespect by it, I'm simply stating a fact. The real, stunning, dusty locations, the costumes, the faces, the music made the whole thing a totally new Shakespearen experience. Remember than the biggest screen adaptation of this play had been with the forty something Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in those roles. Here everything reeked of youth underlining the tragedy in the most cinematic way. Another important point is to confirm that in 2007 the film still feels young and fresh. Recommended
An Acting Masterclass
Holly Hunter is just amazing in this true, stranger than fiction, slice of Americana. Regardless of the horrors told here by the underrated Michael Ritchie, the film emerges as one of the funniest black comedies ever made. Holly Hunter deals with the madness of her character in such a completely matter-of-fact fashion that I felt compelled to sit through the movie one more time to make sure I hadn't imagined the whole thing. The second viewing allowed me, not only to confirm what I'd suspected but to discover a million new details in Hunter's performance that flew by me the first time round. You can bet I'll sit through it a third time while I recommend it to you whole heartedly.
Midnight Lace (1960)
Dressed To Scream
I've loved Doris Day in her most famous comedy roles, I loved her "Calamity Jane" and always though she gave real depth to her American wife and mother in "The Man Who Knew Too Much" But Doris in "Midnight Lace" is something else. The suspension of disbelief that the film expects from its audience is totally achievable because of her. She goes through it for real and manages to involve us and to actually care for this rich American lady. Her anguish rings true and that's all we need to get involved. There is not a single moment within the preposterous plot in which we catch her acting, that in itself lifts this yarn to unexpected levels. Terrific fun. Rex Harrison plays Professor Higgin's brother with the same kind of aplomb. Myrna Loy is a hoot. John Gavin , beautifully wooden as usual, Roddy McDowell is a creepy delight and Hermione Baddely creates something with her seconds on the screen. Thank you Doris for a surprising thrilling fun ride.
Bedroom Farce (1980)
From Large Stage To Little Screen
I remember roaring with laughter at the London National Theater with Alan Aykbourn's production of "Bedroom Farce" Three bedrooms, one hilarious link. Every day events transformed into one grand theatrical event. The TV production allows us to move without obstacles but, as I remember, were precisely the obstacles that made this production so remarkable on stage. That aside, once you get used to the idea that this is an entirely different medium, one is grateful to have Alan Aykbourn's words in the mouths of such a spectacular cast, so readily available. Joan Hickson, my favorite, in a cast of favorites, utters and delivers my favorite lines: "We're regulars, we go there every year" Stephen Moore's character is the one character that Woody Allen should have included in his gallery but never did. The entire premise acquires a life that it's pure Ayckbourn. I strongly recommend it.
Knocked Up (2007)
Young America In The Eternal City
As I lived part of my life in the US, both coasts. I was able to read between the lines of the dubbed-into-Italian breakthrough Judd Apatow comedy and laugh. Most people dismissed it at the movie theater in Rome where I saw it. Thought it was vulgar and old hat. Vulgar? The Italians of the Massimo Boldi comedies thought it was vulgar?! "Knocked Up", besides making me laugh out loud and amusing me no end taught me a really important cultural lesson. We, in Italy, ride a very high (non existent) horse. I think the time has come for us to get off the horse and start looking at ourselves for what we really are - like we used to in Dino Risi, Pietro Germi and Mario Monicelli's films. "Knocked Up" is ultra sophisticated and yet, it reached a vast audience in the States because the sophistication is so amazingly smart. Seth Rogen is a real find. His eyes when he realizes Katherinre Heigl is going to stay with him that first and fatal night made me fall in love with his unlikely character. Katherine Heigl is another incredible discovery. Superb and stunning and classy to boot. Now, all this praise and I haven't even seen it in its original English version. I can't wait.