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Sicily! (1999)
Pretentious movie with bad acting on a gorgeous text
8 June 2012
"Conversazione in Sicilia" by Vittorini is one of the most interesting books of Italian literature from the 1st half of 20th century (in 1950 an edition with wonderful b/w pictures by Luigi Crescenzi was published: a real gem). The novel consists basically in dialogs between the protagonist, Silvestro, and people he meets on his voyage to his native country, Sicily, that he left years ago to live in Milan (and not in New York, as the orange seller at the beginning of the movie believes - with Silvestro indulging him in the error, by pretending he's an immigrant coming back). The dialogs oscillate between vivid descriptions of past events and philosophical considerations on good and evil or on man and world (like in the stunning dialog with the knife grinder, which seems to come out of some ancient tragedy). In the movie, however, the really bad acting spoils completely the text. If you use non professional actors, you can't expect that they will be able to render convincingly such a complex, multi-layered text as the one by Vittorini. While watching, I wondered the whole time, whether the bad acting was due to the actors' inability in memorizing their lines, to their absence of training, to their not being professionals, or to the directors' will to produce a sense of estrangement (for which I couldn't see any reason - neither artistic/aesthetic, nor textual/political). It was like they were reading the text for the firs time, without knowing where exactly to make a pause. They would stop a sentence abruptly just to re-assume it by adding a final word, as if they had just remembered that they forgot it. Again, if this was done willingly, the result was extremely annoying. The filming itself seemed to be the work of non professionals - even if the directors are indeed professionals: long takes from a running train or slow takes of a landscape with a city, with no particular artistic or aesthetic value, just something everyone holding a camera could do with no particular effort. They did nothing to conceal the fact that they were filming in present Sicily (when the train leaves Catania, you see ugly modern buildings and a freeway), even if the text is so obviously connected to the Thirties (starting with the prices and the references to the War, which is evidently WWI). I had the whole time the impression of someone deciding to make a movie by taking his/her cam-recorder and asking some friends to do the acting without rehearsals. As much as I love Vittorini's book, I really hated the movie.
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300 (2006)
Story, not history
7 March 2008
This movie is not about a historical fact, rather about a mythological version of it. There is no real historical accuracy in the depicting of persons or actual events. It is a piece of story-, not history-telling. Miller (who wrote the graphic novel the movie is based on and co-produced the movie itself) offers a personal version of a story which has already been told many times. He doesn't claim that his version is truer, on the contrary: he claims often in interviews that he's no realist. Furthermore, the story is told through the words of a Spartian soldier, who obviously is working on the myth of Leonidas and the 300 in order to move Greece to combat against the Persians. It is not only a subjective tale; it is an instrumental, manipulated and manipulative propaganda tale basing on a real heroic deed. For this reason, do not look for historical truth in this movie: you would rather find lot of factual errors (the ephors weren't a caste of inbred priests but elected magistrates who remained in charge for one year and gave the kings their advice; the oracle was in Delphi, not in Sparta; it gave a different advice as the one in the movie; etc.), even if the depiction of the education of the Spartan youth is quite reasonable. But, again, this movie is NOT about history, it is story-telling. There is a large use of computer generated special effects. This gives to it an artificial character and makes it look like a cartoon or an anime (being based on a graphic novel, this should cause no wonder). The lights are never natural, the landscape is obviously computer generated, the fight scenes are real (according to the producers), but largely enhanced. They are quite stylish and well choreographed: the Spartians move graciously through the enemy lines killing with elegant movements which resemble a dance. Again: this embellishment is typical of myth, not of a realistic depiction of actual events. As for the "political" debate: is this movie an apology for the Iraqi war? Did the director and the producers want to draw a parallel between Leonidas and Bush? If you really are interested in this question (but you don't have to in order to enjoy or to dislike the movie), you should consider at least the following things: 1) Miller wrote the graphic novel in 1998, well before the Bush presidency; furthermore, he claims that he has been fascinated by Leonidas since he was a boy. 2) On the other side, the decision of making a movie out of 300 came in a specific historical moment, with the US being criticized for breaking international law in order to wage war to a middle-eastern tyrant and with Bush being considered by large masses around the world to be a blood-thirsty fanatical. Some of the dialogs in the movie could be applied to this situation, with the Spartian council in the blocking position of the UN and the ephors in that of the Security Council. Leonidas is accused of having provoked Xerxes to war and to wage war against the law, but he claims to be acting to secure freedom (an "enduring freedom"?). His fiercest political rival, Theron, is of course a traitor (and so were considered by the White House, Fox etc. those in the US who opposed the war). Xerxes is depicted as a heartless tyrant with a rather psychopathic personality, who punishes cruelly his general (does this remind you of some recent middle-eastern tyrant?). The Persians do not look like the real Persians did, but like present-day Middle-Easterners, that is: like Arabs (of course, the good guys are white, while the bad guys are brown, as in many other Hollywood movies). The Spartans' allies, the Archadian, have "good will" but follow Leonidas only half-hearted and eventually prefer to leave (precisely like most "allies" of the US in the invasion of Iraq). Leonidas claims often that Spartans are fighting for freedom and reason against tyranny and – at one moment – against mysticism (consider the typical arguments of neo-cons about Islam and its allegedly fanatic character). There is even an allusion to a "crush of cultures" à la Huntington (and if you want to be a little bit paranoid, the final scene of the dead Leonidas in the same position as Christ on the cross is somehow disturbing). It is quite implausible that the producers and the director were not aware of such parallels. On the other side, Leonidas dies at the head of his soldiers, while most "hawks" in Washington revealed themselves to be "chickens". Furthermore he dies facing the most powerful army of the world leaded by someone who believes to be a god and has imperialistic plans. The USA are at present considered an imperialistic nation in most countries, they have the most powerful army of the world, and their commander-in-chief does not believe to be a god, but claims that he speaks to God and vice versa. So, one could even reverse the political reading I quoted above. All this shows how tricky any political interpretation of a work of fiction can be, particularly when it handles with a myth (a few brave men fighting for freedom against an apparently invincible enemy who wants to enslave them). Watch this movie, if you are looking for action, fighting and blood galore: it won't offer you much more than this, but it'll do this in a quite convincing manner.
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The Island (2005)
a potpourri of Sci-Fi and Action movies
21 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The main idea of the movie is quite interesting: in a not-so-far future a big company run by an unethical scientist is creating clones which in due time will be used as organs' donors for rich sponsors. In this part of the movie one can quite easily find features and ideas from other similar movies such as THX 1138, Logan's Run, Coma, even the Matrix. Anyway, what begins as a typical, nevertheless interesting dystopia comes to an end after about 45 minutes (the movie goes over 2 hours), when our heroes (two clones, played by Johansson and MacGregor) discover the truth and manage to escape the ex-military bunker where the clones' "stock farm" is. The rest is (again) typical action movie of the form: the heroes run, the bad guys pursue them. You have breathtaking car chases, our heroes hanging outside the facade of a skyscraper, etc. etc. In this case the similarities with other movies are obviously even more evident. All along the movie you have plenty of quite overt ads for companies such as Calvin Klein, MNS, Nokia, Chevrolet etc. What is most disturbing is the ending, which is highly implausible, much more than an average Sci-Fi movie could afford to be. Of course one cannot expect too much likelihood from such a movie, but there are limits a serious movie cannot trespass. The whole is nicely done, well acted, has good special effects, and can provide for 2 hours of relax if you switch off your brain and don't take too seriously what you are seeing (I mean: the story, not the topic of the movie, which is really interesting and deserves a far better handling).
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Allonsanfan (1974)
this is no Italian comedy, it's a political movie
18 August 2006
This movie is a quite open metaphor for the attitude of many leftists in Italy (and elsewhere) in the 70s. It's about Fulvio, a man who left his house and loving and wealthy family (and also an illegitimate son) in order to free the poor and oppressed and to become a full-time revolutionary agitator, and who - after only 3 months in prison and the suicide of a comrade - decides that it was all a mistake and that he should go back and live with his brother and sister in their villa, where he is pampered by old, mama-like servants, seeking happiness in family life. But his past thwarts his project, first when his ex-lover (an emancipated, passionate, Hungarian revolutionary woman, beautifully played by Lea Massari) appears at his home, mocking his family and shocking the servants with her manners, then when the whole bunch of revolutionary, Utopian friends of Fulvio tries to involve him in a crazy plan: initiate a revolution in poor, backward, oppressed Southern Italy. Fulvio gets involved in the plot against his will. The more he tries to get away from his former comrades, the more - ironically - he gets deep into the plot, till the sad, grotesque end. Taking place during the Restoration which followed the fall of Napoleon and seemed to mark the defeat of ideals created by the French Revolution, the movie is a bitter reflection about the fact that in everyone, even in the most revolutionary and idealist persons, there is a part which is counter-revolutionary and anti-idealistic. Fulvio is willing to betray his friends and comrades in order to live a quiet life, having lost every interest and hope in fighting injustice and oppression. It's a movie about political engagement and the following delusion, about a suicidal courage in pursuing ideas which are absolutely unrealizable and the cowardice of those who just want to enjoy life (as long as they are on the sunny side of it...), about individualism and blind dedication to THE cause and to the party/group/revolution etc. It's a sad movie in which the main figures oscillates between appeasement with the existing injustice (Fulvio's private, inner Restoration) and empty, finally pointless revolutionary beau gestes (like his comrades). We follow Fulvio and his friend from a lovely, rich Lombardy (with its villas, lakes, hills), in which men and Nature seem to harmonize perfectly, to a bare, sun battered countryside of Southern Italy (with its extremely poor towns), in which the unnaturally red jackets of the revolutionaries stand out as something which do not belong there at all. When still in Lombardy, Fulvio seeks villas and palaces, but his friends force him always to go to abandoned places, ruins, warehouses. They offer him nocturnal bivouacs instead of well furnished dining rooms like the one he brings once his illegitimate son. But they act in the name of an ideal, he in the name of his individual happiness. Is a conciliation of both motives possible? The ending of the movie seems to give a deluded, cynical answer to the question.
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Troy (2004)
unbearable meatloaf
30 May 2005
Troy is a meatloaf: you take some rests of cold beef, etc., you mixed everything and voilá: an unbearable stuff you scarcely can swallow - surely not enjoy. Even if we let beside the fact that the movie has only slightly to do with Homer (and I do not refer just to the plot: it's the epic which is missing, and no special effects or computerized armies could make this even), the movie is highly implausible. It makes ancient Greeks thinking, speaking and acting as if they were contemporary Americans. You could think of it as a SciFi-movie and imagine they are all on some planet far far away, instead of in ancient Troy, and it will still work (or better: NOT work). It is really a sort of Hi-Tech Hercules: the same ignorance (did they even think of making some serious research on the topic, or did they only watched some bad Italian Maciste movie from the 60s?), the same dull dialogs, the same bad acting (with some exceptions: Sean Bean, Peter O'Toole and few others). It is just one of those awful movies, in which the bad guys are really bad, the good guys are really good, and there is a bad guy who eventually becomes a good guy because of the love of a pure girl but has to die. I wasted 2:40 hours of my life - except for the few seconds in which you may enjoy Brad Pitt's naked bottom. May Zeus strike Pedersen with His lighting! (This is not meant to be a blasphemy, dear IMDb friends: I indeed worship Zeus)
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