08 January 2010

The Dinner Game

From the director of the Valet, this absolutely brilliant (nearly) one-room movie is why the French are so good at this sort of thing. Based on the idea of bringing the biggest loser on can to a dinner party, this is a classic example of why a good writer is essential to a story. Acting of course helps and a director is key, too. Without those, you'd never have even heard of this. But the script is just pure gold.

Jacques Villeret is everything comedians wish they could be. Flawless in timing and delivery. Focused. Perfectly attuned to his character. Seamless.

I really don't know what else to say about it, but see it.

Malèna

Saving the best for last, Malèna is my favorite of the three Tornatore films. And once again, Tornatore returns to World War II and Sicily. Mixing Monica Belluci in one of her earlier works and Giuseppe Sulfaro (the boy) in his first film, Tornatore tells the perfect tale of a woman estranged from her husband (off fighting the war) and the young boy who loves her (secretly) regardless.

The movie takes some interesting turns and while American audiences will constantly want Sulfaro to do the honorable thing, the director always takes the realistic route — this is only a child and he is not equipped to deal with the emotions he is feeling. He never makes the right decisions and this always feels accurate, if somehow empty.

The movie is filled with awkward moments and incredibly powerful and dramatic highs and lows. Even when the supporting characters are at their loudest, I appreciate the level of emotion that the director has placed into every scene.

So very good.

And of course, we get to see Monica Bellucci getting dressed a couple times and that's hot too.

Ahem.

Ciao. Addio. Arrivederci. Pace.

La Sconosciuta

Titled the Unknown Woman in America, Tornatore shows a different side of his writing and directing talents with this tragic, overly depressing story of lose, redemption, and revenge. Instead of a young boy trying to find his way through the world, Tornatore tells the tale of a Russian woman who has come to Italy — however, he reason is unclear initially.

Without giving too much away, the movie details the horrific life of prostitutes in Russia, the level of disdain for Russian emigres coming to Italy, and the isolation of a single woman who shares nothing in common with those around her. Coming from deplorable beginnings (show in graphic detail), Irena must prove herself to everyone — even herself.

This is not the best of the three Tornatore movies I watched, but it was still damn good. European films have a different life and seem to rely on telling a different story. Even the modern world, the history and life of Europe comes to life in the simplest details. In this, Tornatore matches Modern Italy and storytelling with classic architecture and themes. Yeah. I'm probably over-analyzing it, but I really liked this one.

Eccellente! Molto bene!

Nuovo Cinema Paradiso

Placing itself among some of the most celebrated Italian films of all time, Cinema Paradiso (as it is known in the states) is part of three films by Giuseppe Tornatore that I watched recently.

Taking place in the flashbacks of a movie director, the movie highlights the major events of Salvatore di Vita (affectionally known as Toto) who grew up loving movies in the small Sicilian village of Giancaldo.

It's important to note at this time that Sicilians are not Italian. And as an Italian, I'm supposed to hate Sicilians. It's a law. Look it up. But the movie starts in Rome, before the flashbacks in Sicily begin. So. For today's purposes, this is an Italian movie. Capiche? Bel Fatto.

Like every Italian coming of age story (especially those by Tornatore), this movie shows the hurdles of being a man in post-war Italy, dealing with boyish hormones. Let me be very clear on this. Italian men are horny from birth. Until we're 13, though, we don't know what to do with this energy. So in the case of Toto, the kid acts out in horrible ways. He's not a monster, mind you. Just a impish child.

Endearing really. We all are.

The movie is a little slow for a while and the story tricks you in some of its turns that go nowhere. However, it all comes together in the last 15 minutes, which are just so over the top powerfully emotional. It's just. Wow.

It doesn't hurt that Salvatore's mother reminded me of my grandmother.

And the final minute of the movie. Just pure genius. Gold. I won't ruin it for you, but it's worth the watch, just for that.

Tornatore does not disappoint in this film, but he does need to learn when and how to edit himself. It's a minor complaint, but some of the movie drags a little and that could have been fixed with some better choices (four times he brings up how celluloid burns — okay, we get it).

Again. Minor complaints. I loved watching the village change from the day he leaves to the day he returns, 30 years later. Sopraffino.

Libertine

Oh goodness me. Was that ever good.

Wow.

Wow.

Wow.

What writing.

Seriously. Amazing.

Johnny Depp (everyone's favorite) takes on the role of infamous John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, known for his writing, courtly life, womanizing, drinking, and general debauchery.

This movie is not for the timid.

There were so many good lines in this movie, I had to stop and write them down.

Seriously.

Good.

Stuff.

Enough said. Add it to your list.

Daybreakers

An Australian vampire movie with Ethan Hawke, Sam Neil, and Willem Defoe — one of whom can't act anymore, one of whom phones in a performance of Ethan Hawke, and one of whom tries desperately to find a character inside his awful dialog.

I won't go into all the illogical steps that brought this film to utter submission and mediocrity. There are just too many dumb things to list and I have other things to do tonight. But I will say that the opening 15-20 minutes and the plot are utter genius. After that… it's like a monkey with a fussion reactor wondering which button causes the meltdown of all civilization.

I'll just give you one idea about how stupid it was — Vampires rule the world and a small group of humans need to get to safety. So, the obvious thing for the humans to do is to travel at night. In slow, stupid vans, devoid of cargo. Right? And stop for a flat tire.

And that's not the dumbest thing in the movie.

Skip this and pretend Ethan Hawke has only made Training Day and Gattaca. You'll be glad you did.

07 January 2010

The Valet

Francis Veber is known as one of the best comedy directors in France. Sadly, this film is not a showcase piece. While the premise is just down-right brilliant funny, the conflicts that arise in the film never get to bubble to the incredible lunacy of his other works. Which is sad, because the movie had potential.

Here's the description on Netflix. That's all you're going to get out of me on this one.
When a photo of billionaire businessman Pierre Levasseur (Daniel Auteuil) and his supermodel mistress, Elena (Alice Taglioni), makes the papers, he gets in dutch with his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas). To trick her and save his marriage, Pierre tracks down an unassuming valet (Gad Elmaleh) who was inadvertently part of the picture and pays him to feign a romance with Elena. But unintended consequences ensue in this merry comedy.

Mrs. Brown

Among one of my favorite films, Dame Judi Dench plays Queen Victoria I following the death of her husband Prince Albert (from which — historically — she never recovered). Billy Connolly plays John Brown, her attendant and a good friend of her husband who serves as her friend while she lives in Balmoral Castle.

The film swings between accuracy and fiction as it details parts of their relationship (purely platonic), that no one could ever know about. It also dramatizes events that never happened. However, that doesn't stop the film from being top-notch drama and storytelling. The chemistry between the two main characters is off the chart good. And Dame Judi Dench is deserving of any and all accolades you want to thrust upon her.

Anthony Sher as Prime Minister Disreali is just fantastic. His van dyke could have been a character all it's own.

Add it to your Netflix queue if you like dramatic character pieces, regardless of era.

Cromwell

The historical drama starring Richard Harris as Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell and Sir Alec Guinness as King Charles I. The meat of the film is the conflict between despotic (and unhinged) Charles I and the recently reassembled Parliament.

While classically acted and filmed, the movie fails show what Charles was doing to the country and instead relies on second-hand conjecture from the members of parliament. Not unlike many films of this era.

In addition, the film fails at nearly any level of authenticity. The details of Cromwell's life are so wrong… man, where do I start. Anyway. They did get the execution of Charles correct — after all he was executed.

As far as action, Richard Harris and Alec Guinness are fantastic. In fact, Guinness is beyond measure as the nervous, sweating, out of touch King who nearly bankrupted his own country, tired to shut down parliament (twice) and got England into two Civil Wars. All this just a generation or two after Elizabeth saw the Golden Age of England.

What a mess.

Anyway. Avoid this film. Go read a book.