You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

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I’m not really sure what to think of Lynn Shelton’s indie flick Humpday. I understand that the impetus of the whole endeavor is to show how someone’s own individuality cannot be buried deep down forever. When we decide to settle down and start a family—getting married, buying a house, having a baby, etc—there comes a point where you start to question your motivations, wondering if it’s what you truly want. Rather than make this film a conversation between spouses, sparked by whatever new or old thing is thrown into the mix, Shelton has decided to put caution to the wind and base it all around what is really a pretty crazy idea. In a drunken stupor, two old college friends come up with the brainstorm of submitting an amateur porn film to a local Seattle event called Humpfest. Ben has been relegated to subdued normalcy with his wife and white picket fence and Andrew has lived his life fast and wild in the art scene, yet still never becoming an ‘artist’. So, both carry insecurities with their current lot in life and both look at the other with a machismo attitude, ready to prove they are strong enough—man enough—to have sex together.

The premise itself borders, if not completely eclipses, the barrier of good taste or common decency. And this is the point at which I am torn on my thoughts of the whole. The actual point of it is something I can put my praise towards, showing an element of domestication that most films would gloss over, instead portraying either marital bliss or utter dysfunction. So, showing this lifestyle as the complex and difficult partnership it really is becomes a breathe of fresh air that I can get behind. However, by using this sex film to be created by two heterosexual men together as the catalyst for the kind of conversation and thinking going on rubs me as a bit exploitative. I want to hope that the idea isn’t to shock an audience, but that it is a creative way to induce the sort of topics and messages the filmmaker would like to get across. It is true that we are all frauds in one way or another. Whether it be pretending life is grand when there is some feeling of suppressing a piece of you to get there or telling people you are something that you’ve yet to prove is true, no one is exactly as they seem.

If the movie gets anything correct, it is showing the complexities of the human spirit. Mark Duplass is competent as Ben, coming across to the audience as a good guy who loves his wife, but secretly is wondering what his life could have been had he not settled down. He tells his friend that his marriage is so strong his wife would have no problem with him participating in a sex film, but yet he is too afraid to tell her, to take that risk he has never done his entire life. Even his wife Anna, played by Alycia Delmore, is trying her hardest to exceed preconceptions. This crazy college buddy of her husband’s arrives in the middle of the night, throwing her equilibrium off completely. Living in her world of bliss, she has Ben all to herself as they try to build a family. They even vocalize that they will make love the next day—that’s right, the title does not mean Wednesday—to be sure to take advantage of her ovulation schedule. She tries so hard to be the ‘cool’ wife to this friend that shows her how maybe the quietly reserved man she married had a more wild past; she is self-conscious to the point that she is absolutely elated when Andrew tells her he likes her as they are both buzzed on scotch.

My favorite character of the entire thing, though, is that of Joshua Leonard’s Andrew. Here is a man that loves the arts and lives a nomadic life going to exotic places and doing creative things. He is living the sort of life that allows him to meet open-minded people at a coffee shop and become close to them in the matter of minutes, never letting societal constraints of what’s proper get in the way. But is that really who he is or just what he wishes he could be; the image he projects to the public? Every time the opportunity presents itself to prove that he is what he preaches, something goes off in his mind to build a wall up that he is too scared to scale. Andrew needs this adventure with Ben to finally believe in himself, to finish something and conquer his fears. I guess, in this respect, the idea of that project being to have sex with his best friend makes some sort of sick sense. Originally set-up as a unique porn idea to win the festival, showing two men making love that are not gay, the whole thing spirals into an event not to be backed down from for risk of losing any and all self-respect. Here is something that scares them more than anything else; to walk away only proves how square and safe they are.

Even if the idea were looked upon as fresh and new rather than crazy and provocative, there are other issues with the film. I understand that the aesthetic is meant to be realistic and unscripted, but oftentimes the dialogue becomes too meandering, devolving to repetitive rambling that you can’t wait to end. The whole work might have succeeded so much better, in my mind, as a short film, excising some of the redundancies, paring it down to the bare essentials. There is a lot that I liked here, some moments really grabbing my attention and proving how ineffective other sequences were. I absolutely loved the scene at the dining room table between Delmore and Leonard, drinking scotch and bonding on a personal and real level. It culminates in a massive nuclear explosion that I believe shows the best acting work from the trio. There was too little of that, however, and instead much more moments like the final scene in the hotel room. Not only does the idea of these two men having sex come across as ridiculous, but they are so awkward and talkative—I guess relevant and true to life, sure—that I became overly embarrassed and weirded out myself. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted them to get over the hump and be stronger people as a result or to wake up and realize what they could be losing, especially Ben, if they go through with it. Humpday is making a few end of year lists, and for the idea of it all I can see why. I’m just not sure the final project warrants that much praise.

Humpday 6/10

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[1] Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard in HUMPDAY, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Alycia Delmore in HUMPDAY, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.Photo credit: Ted Speaker.

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More biography than sports drama, Tom Hooper’s The Damned United becomes so much more than just a chronicle of English soccer in the 1970s. Peter Morgan has made a pretty good career of late by screenwriting true stories to be handled with effectiveness onscreen. This story is no different, even throwing in a unique timeline aspect, showing the audience where Brian Clough has ended up before the many memories that got him there. An overly-ambitious man, Clough generally was able to put his money where his big mouth was, silencing all critics and building a team in Derby, with friend and colleague Peter Taylor, that defied all odds in winning the league championship. That drive for success became rooted in vengeance and rivalry early on though, taking an incident after a game versus Leeds United, something just as much his fault as that of enemy Don Revie, as the motivation to strive, not to be the best, but to beat the best. Never truly seeing the big picture, Clough moved on in his career and made the worst decision he could, taking a job with the team he had built a lifetime of hatred towards, a team that would never have played for him, no matter what.

The success of this film is that it actually hones in on displaying the one failure in Clough’s otherwise stellar career. Sure it shows his early success and epilogues his future accolades, but those things are shown not to build the man up for knighthood. No, they are used to show how large his ego had become, bracing us for his inevitable fall, the plummet he just couldn’t open his eyes to seeing right in front of him. By accepting a job with the team he publicly denounced as cheaters, the club he devoted his career to beating, the end was written on the wall. Overstepping his bounds and giving himself only one choice, he went into Leeds thinking he could reach these boys of whom he had defamed for years. Instead of reaching for glory, he tried desperately to grab a spiteful revenge, going back on his own word and pushing away friends who helped get him to the lofty position he assumed he held. And the filmmakers make the connection between past and present obvious by showing his successful coaching tactics in Derby juxtaposed with the abject failure of the same in Leeds.

I don’t want to overshadow the actual sport scenes, because they are shot effectively. Spliced with what appears to be actual game footage, we are shown the dirty maneuvers of Leeds as well as the skills Clough himself has. I wonder how many takes it took for a couple seamless shots of Michael Sheen chest bumping a passed ball in order to strike it mid-air into the goal. Who knows, maybe he was a bit of a player himself before the acting career took off. There aren’t many instances of true game play however, many times we just see the coach and his players talking before a game as the final score is superimposed above the image. Even when showing a montage of winning ways, we see the actual standing boards, Derby’s placeholder moving up swiftly in the ranks. This isn’t about the soccer; it’s about the man behind the game who let it all get away from him. In Sheen’s portrayal of Clough we are given a lively gentleman unafraid to speak his mind, no matter how dangerous it might be. He is a family man at heart that crafted his team, as he did his own wife and children, with love. Taylor scouted the boys and signed them; Clough smoothed things over with the moneymen and trained the players to be champions. It was the desire for more, satisfied by greed and anger, which began his fall.

Sheen really is one of the best actors working today. And to think I first saw him as a werewolf in Underworld—by no means a bad film, I actually quite enjoy it, but definitely not a role displaying the dramatic excellence contained within him. His Clough really does come across as a likeable guy that has earned his notoriety as both a loudmouth and a winner. Watching the compassion in the locker room with his boys and the loving relationship he had with his staff, especially best friend and assistant coach Taylor, is necessary to effectively show where he went wrong. As good as he is playing the self-righteous prick he becomes, Sheen is wonderful in expressing the torture felt beneath the façade constructed for the cameras. He was hurting before he ever arrived at Leeds and nothing there would be able to change that. As for Taylor, I enjoyed seeing Timothy Spall getting a part he could sink his teeth into rather than just be a supporting player in the background. Here is a man doing something he loves, knowing when he has a good thing and not wanting to mess that up for petty desires. I also thought Colm Meaney was successfully cast as the villain of this tale, Don Revie. Not only is he a spitting image of the soccer coach, no one else can do angry, egomaniacal jerk like him.

Hooper has gotten the aesthetic of the times down to perfection too with wardrobe, technology, and hairstyles. The Damned United is a wonderful look into British sports in the 70s, showing the fervor for soccer and the importance the entire nation holds in this pastime. I can’t deny that my enjoyment stems greatly from the fact that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill success story of shoddy team finding a way to win and be the David to whoever’s Goliath. There is something to be said about failure and how it can open one’s eyes to what truly matters. Above any self-satisfying action is the ability to see the big picture and ask whether the next move would actually be the right one. Sometimes you need to fall before you can pick yourself back up again, hoping you didn’t burn your bridges irreparably in the wake. We can all learn how to win and succeed, but what is intrinsically there or not is that appeal to be liked and appreciated for who you are. Brian Clough has that in spades; he just needed to wake up a bit to remember that it was success in life that achieved his victory on the field.

The Damned United 8/10

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[1] Left to Right: Timothy Spall as Peter Taylor and Michael Sheen as Brian Clough. Photo taken by Laurie Sparham © Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, All Rights Reserved.
[2] Colm Meaney as Don Revie. Photo taken by Laurie Sparham © Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, All Rights Reserved.

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There are no clean breaks. Life is messy and wonderful all at once as we grow older each day, striving for that little bit of excitement and longing to continue on. We all have dreams and aspirations, but oftentimes they fall into the background as life itself takes over, pushing us in one direction without a chance to breathe and say no. There is always that love keeping us going whether from a significant other or a child or a friend. Sometimes too, that love could be someone not able to reciprocate it, no matter how close the two of you are to each other. The living move on while the dead are laid to rest, relationships evolve or devolve depending on fate, fact, or age. Claire Denis understands these simple truths and has encapsulated them all in the magnificent gem that is 35 Rhums [35 Shots of Rum], showing us four Parisians that have lived in disharmonious harmony for what seem their entire lives. For some reason, however, the period of time displayed explodes in a powderkeg of emotion and progression, finally allowing each to take stock of his or herself and move on towards the future they’ve kept in front of them for too long.

Lionel, his daughter Joséphine, her surrogate mother Gabrielle, and her childhood friend Noé all come together one last time, an event that hasn’t occurred in forever. Each is at a crossroads wondering about their next step, carefully watching the others for some sign or clue for what to do. Lionel sees his friend retire from their job running the trains/subway and the loneliness and fear of the unknown he shows. Seeing his own mortality, he begins to worry about his daughter spending so much time taking care of him, hoping and trying to let her know that he will be okay. Jo herself is in school, studying hard, and working a part time job at a record store, being the woman of the house when she comes home, cherishing the routine that has served the duo well for so many years. Gaby is entrenched with her taxicab, loving the adventure it creates with new customers each day, but longing for something big, not to mention pining for Lionel and hoping that one day he will notice her as she does him. And Noé is a successful young man constantly traveling for business, retaining his parents’ old apartment and belongings, including the family cat, rather than leaving to make his own mark. Jo asks him one day why he has stayed and his smile tells us—if she doesn’t want to accept the truth—that it is her, the only attachment he has allowed himself to keep in his heart.

All four characters go through the weeks, maybe months, shown onscreen by crisscrossing one another and pretending everything is all right when in fact nothing is. They are all living in the past, dreaming their dreams but doing nothing to let them come true. It is the oldest story in the book, something each and every one of else deals with at some point of our lives. There is always the easy answer keeping us from achieving the big prize out there for the taking, if only we were bold enough to reach out and grab it. Their reunion together as a ‘family’ eventually reaches its climax while attempting to see a concert in the city. Car trouble ensues, Noé sees another man court his Jo, and the foursome find themselves at a bar past closing time, looking each other in the eyes and taking the plunge for better or for worse. There is dancing, there is kissing, there is love, and there is heartbreak. When all is said and done, decisions are made that risk shaking up the equilibrium all have become so accustomed to. Their lives are forever changed by this one night—a wrench thrown into the middle—accelerating choices to be made and allowing all to look behind them and say goodbye to the past, whether that means the death of a family pet or visiting the grave of a deceased family member. In order to move forward, one must acquiesce with what’s been left behind.

I love how the film was shot, very up close and personal. We see the quivering faces during times of sadness and the jubilance at times of happiness as the camera frames each actor to allow them to do their thing. Many shots linger on hands or feet; we see menial activities such as cooking dinner, taking a shower, or smoking on the balcony awaiting the return of a loved one. It is the little details that draw you in to the big picture on display. By watching them all partake in the everyday minutiae, we are able to project ourselves into the film, relating to every emotion by remembering the last time we felt the same. This foursome of actors fully embody their roles; bringing each to life for us to follow. They are everyday folk that we work with, pass in the street, and share a beer with at the pub. Nicole Dogue’s Gaby shows her ceaseless sense of joy and love towards Jo as though she is her own daughter. No matter what Lionel does to hurt her feelings, she keeps the smile on her face, looking towards a new day. Grégoire Colin’s Noé has that deer in the headlight stare, contemplating his next move, hoping that Jo will finally look at him the way he does her. Unable to ask her to go with him due to her father being alone, all he can do is wait for life to intervene. And Mati Diop’s Jo is so strong and weak altogether. She gives so much of herself to those around her that she has never discovered a way to live for only her.

But the real story here pertains to Alex Dascas’s Lionel. This man is stoic perfection, finding himself on the outskirts, always watching and listening. A man of few words, he is also one of many emotions, knowing far more than he lets on of what is happening around him. Denis has crafted him as the one they all look towards for guidance, but, until he sees his friend’s inability to go on after retirement, he doesn’t realize how far they have all come without ever really going anywhere. There has been no real day that has stood out to him as one to remember above all the others; he has trapped himself away from the rest of the world for too long. Life does eventually start to move forward without him, pushing his own necessity for progression quicker than he might have wanted. But Lionel is an adapter, able to look at the future and smile with hope. All we can do, any one of us, whether we feel stuck in a rut or in over our heads, is hope for that one day that comes along once in a lifetime to be able to put caution to the wind and drink up thirty-five shots of rum in one sitting. That is the day we all strive for and hope to see before life gets too far ahead of us.

35 Rhums [35 Shots of Rum] 9/10

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Blind faith in God can lead to two outcomes; it’s either a way to accept an event and seek the good that can come from tragedy or a springboard to absolute atheism once you realize an event like that which has transpired can’t occur in a world where God exists. For the believers, life will go on and the big picture plan will eventually be revealed; for the non-believers, life will be a journey through mindless souls that have given themselves over to the powerful, to be controlled and manipulated. Gerald McMorrow’s film Franklyn deals with this two-sided coin in a futuristically original way. Stylistically and thematically constructed to be a melding of Jacob’s Ladder and Dark City, the story deals with fate and the idea that maybe someone is out there pulling the strings, nudging us on our way by showing glimpses of the future or even allowing insanity to run its course and result in love. We all touch so many people in our lives, some we build relationships with and others we just pass by at random. But one line of dialogue here begs to be remembered and processed because it isn’t always about the ones we’ve touched, our futures are still to come and disappearing now affects those we haven’t yet met.

There is so much to like about this film. The final half, once the reveals are slowly exposed, is thought provoking and really quite wonderful. I feel as though Franklyn has the workings of being a brilliant piece in cinema’s canon, but it just isn’t quite whole. We are transported from the stories of two London residents, Emilia and Milo, as they deal with their own life’s pain and suffering, to a fantasy world called Meanwhile City and Jonathan Preest’s search for a young girl’s murderer who is also the leader of the most dangerous faith-based cult in existence. Only at the end, when we start to grasp the overlapping and illusory mind games at work, do the transitions begin to feel natural. Until that point, the film is very disjointed with sharp cuts, creating a sense of disorientation as though we are watching two separate movies that have been spliced together without rhyme or reason. I’m not quite sure what could change in order to rectify this problem—and maybe on a repeat viewing it will make more sense knowing what’s really going on—but the issue does detract from an intelligently told allegory about the weaknesses inherent in fervent spirituality. While, for some, the ability to have community and someone or something to turn to in dark times is a godsend, religion can also take control if left unchecked, brainwashing people into easy answers and premature forgiveness. It is all in the eye of the beholder.

Preest is played by an effectively stone-faced and dour Ryan Phillippe, searching for the cult leader that is responsible for the death of a young girl he was hired to save. Her sacrifice is seen by the religion as a necessary evil to spawn salvation, but to him it is just a preventable tragedy that he came too late to stop. Emilia is the beautiful Eva Green, dragging her feet through life as an art student who has manifested her abusive childhood and cold relationship with the mother that looked the other way into a project where her own suicide attempts are the subject. And Sam Riley plays Milo, a late-twenties man who has just had his heart broken by his soon-to-be wife calling off the wedding, trying to find answers in both heartbreak and the sudden appearance of a love he hasn’t seen since age seven. All three of these characters are seemingly disparate from each other, especially with Phillippe’s residing in another world completely, but in fact they are more intertwined than can ever be imagined. It’s quite amazing how important someone you have followed for a school project or someone you’ve caught a passing second’s glimpse of can play in your future. Every connection is crucial to a person’s life, no matter how big or small, and no one knows this better than James Faulkner’s omnipresent visage watching over all as a doctor, a janitor, and a pastor, always there for guidance.

There is also a fourth role whose search for his missing son becomes the most integral piece to the entire puzzle. Bernard Hill is a man of God who has seen much tragedy and suffering in his lifetime, so much so that it has driven his family apart. His wife has left him, his daughter has passed away, and his son David has come back from Iraq to a broken home, only exacerbating his post-traumatic syndrome, relegating him to a lengthy stay at a military hospital. David’s release for a visit home is what starts everything in motion, bringing Hill’s Peter Esser to London and into the lives of Emilia and Milo without realizing it. I don’t want to ruin any of the revelations to be discovered in due course by McMorrow’s script, but it all will make sense soon enough, explaining dystopian worlds, adult imaginary friends, and the fracturing of the human brain. Sometimes, as shown, God may even use a person’s inability to believe as a way to achieve his goal—one’s disbelief in fate being exactly what fate has set in motion.

All the acting is quite superb, but special mention needs to be made for Green’s portrayal of an immensely hurt young woman. Trying to make her own personal tragedy into some sort of constructive understanding only leads her deeper and deeper into despair. The role is just one of many broken souls seeking solace and answers, but the part of Jonathan Preest rises above all those philosophical constraints seeing the realty in front of his eyes. Stuck in a futuristic metropolis where existence is synonymous with faith, we the audience learn an interesting bent on the whole idea of religion that questions beliefs and serves as the basis for what is to transpire in the film. McMorrow has woven an intricate mindbender with invisible thread connecting every character, soon to be tightened, pairing off those who’ve been living in order to reach that moment they become one. With a finale that epitomizes tragedy breeding hope, the ending almost made me forget the film’s early shortcomings. I will be anxiously waiting to see what this new talent has to offer with his hopefully inevitable second feature.

Franklyn 8/10

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I knew right after the above review title quote flashed across the screen that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was going to be a fun time. Sony Pictures Animation did not let me down, keeping me enthralled and smiling for the entire duration. Based on a children’s book from 1978, the film follows the exploits of a young scientist and his dreams of changing the world with his inventions. Up to adulthood, however, he has achieved little more that a ‘menace to society’ label from everyone in his small island town of Swallow Falls, where the staple of sardines has become there only source of food now that the world has realized they’re gross. Small and subtle jokes such as this statement as a newspaper headline are sprinkled throughout to keep the audience’s sense of humor on its toes while the feel-good story in the background continues on, reaching forward to the inevitable nerd-to-hero transformation wherein Flint Lockwood grows up and into his full potential.

The invention that becomes the final straw for Flint’s disturbing the peace shenanigans is a machine that converts water into food, giving the people of his hometown something to eat besides the overabundance of sardines. Its baptism to the world is a disaster, ruining the mayor’s asinine use of government money on a new theme park, soon becoming a happy accident of epic proportions. A malfunction due to too much power—I guess connecting the machine to an electrical tower wasn’t the best of ideas—sends it into the atmosphere where it hovers above, taking in the cloud moisture and raining down hamburgers for all to enjoy. Let’s not get into details about how that burger will be hot enough to be appetizing because there is a lot more to worry about, such as newfound fame in the community and the world. Flint is the toast of the town and fresh face of newly renamed Chew and Swallow, usurping the monopoly ‘Baby’ Brent had on the market after posing for sardine tins many years before. Even the cute weather girl intern sent to broadcast it all seems to be falling for him, she herself hiding nerd tendencies and a strong grasp of the scientific beneath her flighty, blonde facade.

Mutations are never an exact science and soon the food falling from the sky becomes too large and dangerous to contain. It becomes up to Flint and his friends to risk it all and save the town before the invention—named with a crazy acronym that has about six consonants and one vowel—takes over the world. The mayor wants nothing to change, except his ever-expanding waistband, and in an accidentally villainous role makes things even worse, using the ‘like a son’ card with the lad, made more meaningful by the lack in ability to express love from his real Dad. So, amidst the chaos, we meet a plethora of kooky characters all voiced by some great comedic actors as they try and help our lead regain control over the one invention that actually works. Well, that statement is a bit harsh considering that everything he’s created—from a young elementary student until now—has worked. It’s just that they all had minor problems turning that success into hazard or worse. Spray-on shoes is a great concept if you can ever remove them; monkey thought converters would be groundbreaking if a monkey ever could string together more than one loud word at a time, (great Neil Patrick Harris as Steve); and rat-birds would solve … wait, what was he thinking with that one? I did like when one swooped down and snatched a child to which his friends screamed, “Just play dead!”

The animation is really crisp and vibrant, utilizing a cartoony feel rather than a need for realism. Each character is an elongated caricature of a human, adding a sense of style that allows an audience to enter a new world and bask in the creativity. I do kind of wish I had seen it in 3D, though, because multiple instances appear to play to that technology’s strengths. There are a few chase sequences that have us following the leads as they run and jump through obstacles flying out at our faces. But, the biggest compliment I can pay to the film is the fact that I enjoyed myself thoroughly without the gimmick. Every joke hits and the story is fun enough to succeed on its own merits. There is definitely something to be said about absurd comedic set pieces existing for the sole purpose to make you laugh. Oneliners abound, sometimes said in the distance so keep your ears open, and sight gags enhance the hilarity, oftentimes reminding me of the humor found in “Family Guy”, only much cleaner for the young audience targeted here.

Bill Hader is great as Flint, with a sort of crazed innocence coming across, so sure of himself in the scientific world, yet completely unconfident in the realm of real-life relationships. Both James Caan and Anna Faris, as his father and love interest Sam Sparks respectively, are casting perfection. Faris is a riot; using that bimbo voice she pulls off so well to great use, especially when she has to talk about something brainy and genius-caliber smart. Andy Samberg is a hoot as Brent and Bruce Campbell is channeling a bit of William Shatner in his portrayal of Mayor Shelbourne, but it is the venerable Mr. T as Officer Earl Devereaux that shines in the supporting category. It is such a treat to hear his voice—a wonderful complement to the overzealously athletic policeman. Everything is working within Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s film, from the heart to the jokes to the visuals. It may not stand a chance against Up for awards glory, but it definitely sets itself apart as a film to be seen.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 8/10

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[1] “Sam Sparks” voiced by Anna Faris and “Flint Lockwood” voiced by Bill Hader in Columbia Pictures’ animated film CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. ©2009 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Raining food in Columbia Pictures’ animated film CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS. ©2009 Columbia TriStar Marketing Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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I’d say that the tagline of ‘True Love’ is a tad misleading. Granted, the young romance at hand is what got me invested in the tale, but the absolute squalor in which they live—not to mention the toxic fume huffing, tragedy upon tragedy, and vagrant lifestyle—is quite the rough experience. I am not a fan of the vagabond-centric film genre, as they generally seem to be exploitative and tragic for shock value alone, yet something about Samson & Delilah stuck out and drew me into the story. It could be the beautifully dry expanse of Australia’s landscape, shot by writer/director Warwick Thornton himself, or possibly the brilliant use of music, a fresh juxtaposition with country music blaring out a young aborigine’s radio. Language is very sparse while emotions are strong and ever apparent. Both Samson and Delilah are alone in the world, doing their best to survive with the little they are given. My, oh my, are times tough though.

Their love is a slow-burning one to say the least. Delilah lives with her Nana and helps paint the native canvases that an Australian shop owner takes and sells in the city to tourists and whatever art collectors are out there. Samson resides in a shack with his brother, awakening to the sounds of friends playing drums and guitar outside his open window. Both children sleep amongst the elements in a thrown together town lacking many creature comforts. Showers are few if ever, cars are used as shelter and radios, the clinic is a worn down trailer, and fires burn constantly for light and warmth. Living across the way from each other, the kids pass often, Delilah doing her best to pretend he isn’t there and Samson trying his hardest to get her attention. They are lively in the early moments, full of spunk and life, butting heads as he moves to her compound and she attempts to throw him out; it doesn’t help things that Nana insists on calling him her granddaughter’s husband. Soon, however, the first tragedy occurs, showing us Westerners the abuse inflicted in the aboriginal culture. Beating with sticks seems to be par for the course whether in response to annoyances, violence, or letting those close by pass away of old age.

Samson takes it upon himself to excise his love and drive off into the distance; as far as they can before the gas runs out. And it is when it does that we finally see what makes the boy so strange in his demeanor and actions. What we assume has been some sort of drug contained in a tin that he awakens each morning to shove his face inside of is replaced by a two-liter soda bottle full of siphoned gasoline taken from parked cars. It appears Samson is getting fuel for their ride when in fact he is getting himself that extra drive to continue on through the pain of just plain living. Constantly escaping to the intoxication more and more, he doesn’t see how much Delilah begins to rely on him, falling in love and now showing it. Instead, his brain slowly devolves as the gas bottle never leaves his hand, only being removed by her at night to be replaced by her wanting hand. This slow division between them, a distance growing each day, soon made me think how relevant the title would end up being. Would someone arrive with a proposition to kill her lover for financial gain as in the Biblical tale, or would she stand by him no matter what hardships were to come? It doesn’t take too long to find out because the tragedies just get larger and more jarring in quick succession.

Thornton has quite the visual eye and I hope to see more of him in the future. Being compared to Bresson for his cinematic minimalism, Samson & Delilah is a prime example of cinematic realism stripped down to only what is absolutely necessary. Definitely an exercise in ‘less is more’, this economy of words and action shows so much. Credit both Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson for their stunning portraits of underprivileged nomads; they are these characters, dirty, beaten, and mute, swatting at flies and doing whatever they can to escape the reality of how low they are. Only when Scott Thornton’s homeless Gonzo befriends them—asking for conversation in return for food—do we finally realize Samson can’t speak. Whether it is from lack of education or the degradation of his mind from the fumes or a combination of both doesn’t matter. All we need to understand is how his ability to function gets worse and worse every day. And it doesn’t get shown in more breathtaking fashion than when Delilah is kidnapped from right behind him as he walks, nose still stuck in the bottle. He is so out of it that he hears nothing until the wheels screech away. It is one of many detailed shot compositions that are unforgettable; Samson in the foreground to the left side of the screen as three boys exit the car and drag her inside, all in slomotion, seamlessly orchestrated to perfection. It’s almost hard to believe that this isn’t even the worst thing to happen while he is under the influence.

The outlook is pretty bleak throughout, so I was surprised when an angelic moment of clarity wasn’t actually the death of one seeing the other in heaven. No, these two kids always seem to find a way to save the other when all appears lost. It culminates in what may be a bit too hopeful of an ending, especially after the absolute bottom hit by both, but it all still stays true to the story’s progression. You can see the struggle these second-class citizens have to overcome in Central Australia, doing their best to survive let alone succeed. The laughter is both crazed—Samson—and infectious—Mitjili Napanangka Gibson’s Nana—a dual role that really epitomizes the entire film. It is an insane world and while these two have found a love to endure, the troubles they face aren’t just a test of fortitude, but also one more hurdle to overcome. The truth is, what occurs is one giant barricade I don’t think I’d have the courage to tackle, let alone succeed in defeating, so watching them risk it all is quite the kick in the pants. If you ever think you have it hard living in suburban America, pop on this film and prepare for a very sobering experience.

Samson & Delilah 8/10

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Courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival

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Leave it to Joaquin Phoenix to quit the business after giving his finest performance to date. The role of Leonard Kraditor in James Gray’s Two Lovers is an amazing turn from someone that has been usually relegated to the cool, confident leading man. Yes, I know, his portrayal of Johnny Cash had its moments of vulnerability, but the closest character I can compare this to would be Lucius Hunt from The Village, a shy, kind-hearted soul in love, yet unable to quite find his voice. Never in a million years would I have thought that would be so when looking at the Cannes poster for this film, horribly Photoshopped to include a suave Phoenix between two glam shots of costars Vinessa Shaw and Gwyneth Paltrow. In what could be the worst marketing material item of the year, it is the main reason I had no interest whatsoever to check this film out, (the attached final onesheet does much better). Only when I started hearing the buzz and eventually saw it on many end of year lists did I decide to pop it in. All the praise is warranted for both the lead and the movie itself; this is a very strong drama dealing with the pains of life and the hope for happiness despite our propensity to look right by it.

Phoenix’s Leonard is a thirty-something New Yorker who has recently broken up with his fiancé and moved back home to his parents’ apartment. Our introduction to his character is with an ‘accidental’ fall into the Bay and eventual surfacing where a group of good Samaritans help him remove the water from his lungs. Only when he arrives home and his mother, (a really nice turn from Isabella Rossellini), whispers to her husband that she thinks “he tried it again” do we comprehend the stifling depression that he has. His demeanor is awkward and unsure—confidence is greatly lacking—as he must meet a girl his family has maneuvered over for dinner right after his mid-day swim. It is very refreshing to watch him look at the floor, mumble his way through conversation, and fumble through the dinner full of innocence. He is a young child, always being watched by his parents closely as they prod him to open up and find the happiness he lost when his engagement was broken off. Leonard is on medication and slightly off-kilter, lending him an appearance of inexperienced youth that Shaw’s Sandra finds cute and appealing, like a little dog needing to be taken care of.

Soon, though, Leonard takes on another persona completely; one trying to be cooler than he has in sometime, reaching back to happier days of fun and excitement. It is all precipitated by his meeting a beautiful neighbor, Paltrow’s Michelle, of whom he becomes fast friends with. Becoming self-conscious and highly aware that she is a woman to be coveted, we soon see his walk inherit a hitch in its step, his words become spiced with vulgarities, and his attitude morphing into one devoid of inhibitions. When he joins Michelle and her friends for an evening of clubbing, you can’t help but laugh at his confidence in telling stories, rapping, and even break dancing to impress and cut loose. So, we become familiar with the two sides of his bi-polar nature, two worlds separated by the woman he loves in each. The issue soon becomes how he will be able to cope with this double life after having no one but his solitude to take up his time for so long. One has the security of a prosperous father about to merge companies with his own Dad, completely in love with this broken man on the mend, and the other is a wild card with substance abuse in her past and a boyfriend who is married with a son, yet someone Leonard has fallen for.

The question that the film drives to answer is whether the duplicitous lifestyle will be too much for him to bear, eventually hurting him so heavily that he spirals back into the suicidal tendencies he literally just left behind. Leonard is a complicated fellow that is not easily understood. One could say he creates his own troubles by attaching himself so quickly to anyone that shows some sign of affection, but you must understand the psychological issues he struggles with. Only his mother’s eyes are truly open to her son’s plight, seeing his strange and eccentric activities, yet never judging or scolding. She has to believe that he will find his way or that he’ll find his way back to her if he leaves and is hurt again. The performance is fully realized, creating this man with issues an audience can relate to and a love that cannot seem to find a home to rest. One could say Sandra is the safe answer to his troubles, but that is doing her a disservice, just as saying Michelle is the high-adrenaline fantasy would belittle her own problems and naivety in love.

All three of these characters are in dire need of answers. The triangle Phoenix constructs has been set up to inevitably hurt one, if not all, of the trio when the end is finally reached. They may have stereotypical issues, but none come across as clichéd due to the wonderful performances. Paltrow branches out and shows a vulnerability herself that you sometimes forget she can pull off while Shaw is gorgeous in her own desire to be needed, opening herself up to be loved while risking a devastating letdown that only we the audience can anticipate coming. James Gray has given these two actresses the room and material to sink their teeth into and complement his muse Phoenix. So many small moments resonate and stay with you; the direction is strong and non-invasive, letting the actors speak for themselves. And the ending is so real in its messiness, setting a chain of events in motion, making you question whether motives are pure or all that is left. Watching Phoenix enter the room and walk across with only music playing, drowning out all other sound, is a great sequence that culminates in a brief shot of Joaquin peering into the camera, right at us. It’s a questioning glare that brings us in as part of his decision, either leaving the viewer with a sense of joy or anger depending on his/her interpretation of what has transpired.

Two Lovers 9/10

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[1] Elias Koteas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix in TWO LOVERS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
[2] Joaquin Phoenix and Vinessa Shaw in TWO LOVERS, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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I’ve got to give it to director Christian Alvart and writer Travis Milloy for delivering the goods with their horror/thriller Pandorum. Admittedly, I’d go see anything with Ben Foster in the cast, but there was also something in the trailer that piqued my interest despite the very easy chance of the film ending up a failure. The aesthetic is dark and slimy, the atmosphere is claustrophobic, and there are creatures of some sort hiding beneath the industrial tubes and blast-proof glass panes. While hopes were high, the dread of a disappointment kept me from rolling the dice and going with my gut to see it in the theatres. That was a mistake, as I do believe seeing it on the big screen would have only enhanced my enjoyment. This little gem is The Descent in space—maybe not as taut or starkly tactile emotionally, but it is engrossing and smart nonetheless—and well worth a visit.

Our fears of overpopulation have occurred and the necessity to seek out new habitable worlds has been reached. Tanis has been found and it will serve as a new home, meeting the incalculable odds necessary to sustain human life. After many years of hoping to ferry over a settlement population, the time came with the advent of spaceship Elysium, capable of holding an astonishing 60,000 passengers. Something has gone wrong, however, and we listen to a radio broadcast wishing the flight crew good luck and safe journey for they are all that is left. Disjointed and discombobulated, exactly like the two crewmembers about to awaken from hibernation, the audience is left in the dark as to the meaning of that statement, let alone when it occurred in proximity to the present we are about to enter. Corporal Bower and Lieutenant Payton have become animated once more, unaware of their surroundings or their past, the only remnants of themselves lay in the training and duties they are meant to perform. It is a sort of muscle memory in their ability to understand the ship, but complete amnesia as far as recalling their own humanity.

Locked in the sleeping chamber, the two discover the immense vessel is gasping for life, overloading its circuits and in desperate need of a reboot. Luckily, Bower is the mechanical engineer and he sets out for the reactor to jumpstart their life support and figure out how to get the rest of the passengers to safety. What he finds instead is a race of super-strong humanoids without language and in abundance of bloodlust and hunger. Much like the creepy-crawlers in The Descent, these creatures have become hunters and killers without rhyme or reason, taking over the ship and using it as a playground for feasting. There truly is nothing like a room of pods full of sleeping people, opening at random, to be treated as a cafeteria of free food. Some of these poor souls have survived, though, living for who knows how long, learning to fight and survive. Only the tattoos on their arms lead to a memory of past lives and occupations, each person becoming an army of one, doing anything to earn an extra second of breath, whether it means stringing a fellow soul up as bait or not. Their lack of memory does ask one very large and looming question—how long have they been out in space?

The fictional realism created is quite believable. Our heroes have woken from deep sleep to be covered in a gelatinous layer of dead skin, their bodies unaged, thinking they have been offline for only eight years. The ship itself is a mass of tubes and metal with lights flickering, illuminating each reflective or matte surface with a foreboding sterility. Every sound and sharply cut fight scene only adds to the starkly stripped palette, making Pandorum a futuristic sci-fi flick of the cyberpunk genre. There is something to be said about the disorientation and metaphoric storytelling in a film like Eden Log that holds many stylistic similarities here, but perhaps a bit more in the easy to process plot Milloy has chosen, (once you reach the end and decipher the puzzle pieces that have been laid at your feet throughout). I actually believe this movie to be smarter than it gives itself credit for, creating a tight plot progression that reveals information slowly, giving the audience only what they need to keep questioning and wanting more. If you pay attention to the words and the timeframes, keeping care to construct an internal timeline for yourself as secrets are divulged, the conclusion will be more satisfying than cheap parlor trick. I would have loved the very end to be much darker and bleak, though, to keep with the tone of the rest.

Never that big a Dennis Quaid fan, I’ll concede that he does a pretty good job here as Payton. He is the man in charge, mostly alone for the duration, having to fight against himself to stay sane with all the noises and fearful things his imagination may dream up. The risk of reaching a state of pandorum—where one believes that all is lost, acquiescing to nature and pretty much partaking in mass suicide to expedite affairs—is high and unless Bower can find the reactor, the entire ship will die anyway. Ben Foster’s Bower is the character we find ourselves relating to for the duration. He is a smart kid with a memory of love to hold onto while traveling deeper and deeper into the depths of Elysium’s hell. Showing his ability to kick ass and be believable as an intellectual, humanity’s last chance at survival, is apparent at every turn. Even Antje Traue’s Nadia and Cung Le’s Manh are able to trust in his humanity to help achieve success in this veritable death march. These additions to his posse are exciting to watch as they engage the mutants and add a sense of purpose rather than following only one man for two hours in the dark. That isolation might have been workable too, but something about a group fighting for the whole of life resonates a bit more than the need of a God-like figure to do it for them. And while much of Pandorum may seem familiar, don’t let it detract from its effectiveness. I know there was talk of a sequel, but I for one would rather be interested in a prequel. There are many years between that opening transmission and the end of the journey, as well as some interesting stories to be told.

Pandorum 7/10

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[1] (Left to right.) Antje Traue and Ben Foster star in Overture Films’ Pandorum. PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE ARE TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. Jay Maidment © 2009 Constantin Film Produktion GmbH
[2] (Left to right.) Dennis Quaid and Cam Gigandet star in Overture Films’ Pandorum. PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE ARE TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. Constantin Film Produktion GmbH © 2009 Constantin Film Produktion GmbH

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Two-dimensional animation is back in the Mouse House, but for how long? The Princess and the Frog is the first hand drawn feature length to be released theatrically since a string of failures at the hands of Disney studios, before they bought Pixar and began distributing Studio Ghibli work. I have no problem saying that it is a return to form and hopefully a sign of things to come, showing that creativity still resides in the cell by cell creations. However, despite praise and opening weekend success, the medium may not be able to sustain the type of draw that it needs to stick around. When you have a CGI pile of drivel like The Squeakquel beating it up, there is something wrong. The Disney name can no longer be the end all be all for a children’s film, it needs to blow away the audience visually. Unfortunately, the times have changed, and while this new entry to the genre is gorgeous to look at, the lack of three-dimensionality hinders its appeal, showing once again that a good story does not always make a monetary winner.

Perhaps, though, the filmmakers will take a page from their own story and realize that money isn’t what we need, it is only what we want. When all is said and done, the true cinephiles out there—including parents seeking a well constructed film for their children that relies on a morally centered theme—want quality work. The love we have for Disney classics and the kind of storytelling that emits regularly from behind Cinderella’s castle will always be held higher than the box office take. And if The Princess and the Frog did anything, it continues that reveled tradition. Utilizing a popular tale for its story’s basis, the film puts on a new spin, breathing some fresh air on an otherwise old subject. Whereas the greats such as Cinderella and Snow White took a time-honored fairy tale and made it accessible for children, Disney has this time used the German tale “The Frog King” and brought it into the 21st century, turning it on its head. Putting it in the locale of New Orleans is an inspired move, adding a little culture that many people are unaware of, while also positing the fantasy in a world ripe with mysticism and uniqueness. Where else could you have a voodoo practicing con artist for a villain and a Cajun firefly as one of its heroes?

True love is the main underlying theme here, showing people that happiness and love is more important than all the money and empty dreams we may wish for upon a distant star. Tiana is a fiscally poor young woman that has been rich in familial joy her entire life. Her father James, voiced recognizably by Terrence Howard, worked multiple jobs and literally killed himself for his family, never showing his little girl the suffering behind the smile. Wishing to fulfill his dream of opening a restaurant, a vision she has wanted herself so as to bring the world her famous gumbo, Tiana works double shifts waitressing, hoping to save enough for a down payment. Meanwhile, childhood friend Charlotte is entrenched in a wealthy family about to bring a prince to town. So, by hiring Tiana to cook for the welcome banquet, she earns the money to open her dining parlor, unaware that this affair has begun a chain of events about to spiral her life out of control. You see, ‘Shadow Man’ Dr. Facilier—who better than Keith David to lend his deep baritone for a nefarious creature such as this—envisions great wealth and control of the bayou, using black magic to transform Prince Naveen into a frog, make his servant into a prince, and wait for the wedding of this false royalty and Charlotte so he may murder her father and take their money.

Prince Naveen is a poor soul that has been cut off by his parents for loafing around and doing nothing with his life. Full of charm and charisma, he hopes to talk Tiana, dressed as a princess for the masquerade, to kiss him and break the spell, just like the tale he was told as a child. Alas, the smooch only turns her into an amphibious pile of mucus too, sending them both on a journey through New Orleans to find a way back to the human world. Being trapped by their wants of material gains, the adventure they take brings them closer to understanding what it is they truly wish for and to each other as a result. The story doesn’t lack a wonderful cast of new friends met along the way to enhance the proceedings, with Louis the gator, Ray the firefly, and Mama Odie the blind old mystic in the swamp to name the best. Infused by a distinct southern flavor, these creatures help the frog pair find the answers they seek, hide from the evil Facilier, and also help themselves to reach the goals they desire … those being for Louis to play jazz trumpet amongst the humans and Ray to meet his true love Evangeline, the Evening Star.

Credit the filmmakers for never shying away from the tough topics that lesser works would gloss over. There are many instances of darkness, even with songs to accompany them, and the subject of death comes into play as well as greed and ego. You cannot have the topic of unequivocal bliss without the rough stuff, though, so seeing all the suffering is a necessity to make the joyous occasions resonate even more. Both Michael-Leon Wooley and Jim Cummings are hilarious as Louis and Ray respectively, adding the levity to counteract the more dark moments. The roles reminded me of the congenial animals of The Jungle Book and I’ll admit that it was a welcome treat to have them be played by non A-list stars. Even our leads, Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos as the Frog Princess and Prince really excel in their roles despite being unfamiliar in the live action world. Both evolve their characters with a complete range of emotion, bringing them to life before our eyes and allowing us to get behind them and hope for a happily ever after. Whether that final outcome is blissful living on four sticky appendages or two upright legs is for you to watch and find out. Either way, as the song says, it’s a wondrous thing to know that dreams do come true in New Orleans.

The Princess and the Frog 8/10

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[1] Princess Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Walt Disney Pictures Christmas 2009. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (L-R) Dr. Facilier (Keith David), Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) and Naveen (Bruno Campos) in Walt Disney Pictures’ The Princess and the Frog. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Being the film version of a Broadway musical based on the Fellini film 8 1/2, it interested me to find out what the title meant. The Italian director’s odd half integer was in regards to the fact that he made a few short films, so the work was its number in his oeuvre. But director Rob Marshall has only made two previous, non-television features, so that comparison is a dead-end. Maybe it has to do with the nine women in lead character Guido’s life? Nope again, there are only seven. So, the best explanation I can think of, after sitting through the seemingly longer than it was film, is simply that it follows the original cinematic classic. The reason being because the biggest success coming out of Nine is that it makes 8 1/2 look that much more brilliant. My opinion could be completely different if I had not seen the 1963 semi-autobiographical film, but the writers of the musical have no excuse for missing the source material, so why should I? Therefore, I blame the original book writers for the film’s failure. For all I know, this thing is a faithful adaptation of the stage play and a success as a result. However, as a relevant companion, or even send-up, of Fellini’s masterpiece, it doesn’t even compare.

I’m not even really certain why anyone would make a musical out of the personal journey of a director that’s over his head creatively and sexually such as Fellini’s doppelganger in Guido. The music itself isn’t even really exciting, something it should be to instill interest. Musically, I did appreciate the sounds, though, as they were soothing and classy in their score-like presentation. But this is a musical; there should be bombast and emotive crescendos clashing and jarring us awake. All we get here is matter-of-fact script points being sung rather than spoken, creating a musical fantasy world for Guido to escape into. And this is the most glaring misstep of the whole endeavor—it has all become so literal, shedding all of the ambiguity that made the original such a puzzle to be deciphered and interpreted. What could be meaningful in absolutely different ways to each viewer with 8 1/2 has but one linear explanation with Nine. Everything shot in crisp color is happening in real time, everything stripped of vibrancy going as far as being black and white is a past occurrence, and the moments of song on a half-finished soundstage are daydreams trapped in the interior mind of the Maestro. What was a journey of metaphysical proportions has become straightforward mediocrity. Perhaps the musical’s creators needed simplicity for a Broadway audience, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, they stripped all originality and creativity from the source.

Why would you even want to tackle a work so synonymous with its creator when all the personal moments hold none of that unique meaning to you? Fellini’s work was autobiographical; it was a catharsis to except the errors of his way. Nine is just a broad retelling about a director with creative-block, watching all his lies and secrets unravel before his very eyes. It becomes so nonspecific that the whole project becomes long-winded and boring. Why do we care about this adulterer trying to get on track? Why do we want him to find happiness when all he has ever given is pain and sorrow? Fellini created his for himself and those in his life written in, this was made for an audience. Yes, I understand Judi Dench’s Lilli and her words that Guido must continue working for the mere fact that his art speaks to people and touches them in such a way to be life altering. She speaks about the power of art and its intrinsic value to society, but the film itself does not. All the images on the screen show are an egomaniacal man and his selfishness. The fact that he shows compassion and the ability to be loving, if not ever actually loving, only makes the audience hate him more. By appearing that way, he shows the capacity to change as well as knowledge of his inexcusable actions. He does wrong and knows it; in which case we hope he fails.

Perhaps that is the purpose of this tale; maybe it really is just some masochistic interpretation of the hubris all directors possess. But why would you want to be affiliated with something that gives your own occupation a bad name? You wouldn’t and that’s why I deem this film a failure whereas 8 1/2 was a true success about inner-turmoil and artistic validity. All the intrigue and detail that hid between the lines is gone. You don’t get more literal and expository than what has been constructed here. We have a famous director, who hasn’t made a success since fame set in, about to begin a new work without any ideas where to start. And because the women of his life have always been his muses, he invites each one to the set, pitting the wife, the mistress, and the leading lady against each other. It’s a volatile situation to say the least and my only pleasure was in watching it all implode around him. This may be a spoiler, but the mere fact that an epilogue was tacked on, showing the actual shutting down of the film and then how Guido pulls himself up from his bootstraps to begin anew two years later shows how pandering the movie is. Once again we have a watered-down remake of a classic foreign piece that preaches to the lowest common denominator, making a masterpiece into a hack job unworthy of the talent involved to make it.

That talent does consist of a cast that is unrivaled on paper and screen. Daniel Day-Lewis has done his chameleon best at becoming this Italian philanderer giving a fantastic performance. Penélope Cruz is effective and I did enjoy both Dench and Kate Hudson in their small roles, each woman getting their chance to flex the golden pipes and sing their hearts out. And all of it is ravishing to look at. One cannot deny the talent that is Rob Marshall, but he needs to pick better material. I understand that the stage version won Tony awards and is highly praised and that’s okay since it’s a new medium, but by making it a movie again you automatically ask to compare it to the original film. It never stood a chance. However, if you do not feel like reading subtitles and need to check the story out via this, you will be privy to one component that resonates above the mediocrity, and that is the beautiful and talented Marion Cotillard. Here is an actress that runs away with the emotions being strewn about, taking her opportunities and excelling. Even her musical number, literally and figuratively stripping away the constraints Day-Lewis’s Guido has put upon her, is jarring and memorable. It is just a shame that the rest of the translation is so half-hearted and misguided. You do not take a surreal work and streamline it to be narratively coherent yet still attempt to create a metaphor at the end, bridging the real with the dream. Nine did not earn the rite, walking all over a classic to then, at the end, try and pay respect.

Nine 5/10

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[1] Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) agonizes over starting his new film in “Guido’s Song” (musical number), from Rob Marshall’s NINE. Photo by: David James © 2009 The Weinstein Co.
[2] Saraghina (Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson) and dancers perform “Be Italian” (musical number) in Rob Marshall’s NINE. Photo by: David James © 2009 The Weinstein Co.


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