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Archive for the ‘Penelope Cruz’ Category

Nine

22 Oct

Nine – Directed by Rob Marshall. Soundstage Musical. 2009 COlor 118 minutes.

★★★★

The Story: A film director puts off everyone as his film goes into production, but he can’t admit he has no script.

~

Daniel Day-Lewis stars in this musical in which one cannot say he dances any more than a monkey might, for his strong body is put to musical acrobatic uses, and perhaps he has two left feet. The dancing and the singing are left up to the cherishable skills of Marion Cotillard, Penèlope Cruz, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, and Sophia Loren. Who could ask for anything more?

Not I. The dances are super-duper and the songs are fun. Judi Dench is a musical comedy singer from way back, and does a wicked Follies Bergère number with a mile long boa. Fergie in a wilderness of hair that somewhat unnecessarily masks her interesting face reviews her philosophy of Italian love in a wild song and dance. Kate Hudson plays an American reporter who does a big witty number about Italian Cinema.

For the musical is about the block Day-Lewis has in writing his next musical. All the women pose delays, distractions, denials. And in the end Nicole Kidman writes his new film off because he cannot show anyone a script. He is impotent. She sings goodbye to him.

What starts with Penèlope Cruz performing a hot comic turn as his mistress winds up with Sophia Loren singing him a lullaby to reform – no two actresses have resembled one another in film history more than these.

One would not question the execution of this material. One might question the strength of the source of this material. For it devolves from Fellini’s 8 1/2, which is about a similar predicament for a director. It starred Marcello Mastroianni. Mastroianni is an interior sort of actor, the kind that doesn’t move much, and the story of impotence is too navel-gazing to move me much either. Both seem weak. And Day-Lewis is cast in and plays the part along the lines of Mastroianni also. His opening scene where he lies to the press is his funniest, and it also displays his Italian accent and manner ruthlessly.

No, it is neither he nor the story that carry the film, but the women, their exuberance, their talent, and the dances in which the choreographer has put them to use.

I liked it. I didn’t think I would. But I like it. Because I liked these women, their sauciness, their independence, their smart take, their beauty, their agility, their out-front-ness, and the talent in each of them whose bigness warrants their being up there before me. They gave me their all and I took it for the plenty it was worth.

 

Broken Embraces

04 Sep

Broken Embraces – written and directed by Pedro Alomodóvar. Drama. A film director changes his profession after becoming blinded and losing the love of his life. 128 minutes Color 2009.

★★★★★

This is badly titled, isn’t it? Coitus Interruptus would be closer, but the Spanish language has a striking coloration than English cannot translate.

Anyhow the embraces are plural, which coitus interruptus is not. For there are two embraces cracked by the blinding of the director, both of them the loves of his life, one being with the flabbergastering Penélope Cruz and the other with his calling as a director.

The effect of all of this on himself and those around him – his Gal Friday and her son – is momentous. And I’m not going to talk about any of that, for I never tell the story of a film to you, for I will not betray you. I trust your susceptibility to what I have to say to make clear those values I can speak of without undermining your surprise and the human need in you for participation in the deep deed of narration. The story is not mine to tell. It is the director’s to tell it, and yours to open yourself to it, which in this case I urge thoroughly to do. You need, as I do, to be told a story. But you need, as I do, to be told it by the right person. Not I, but Almodóvar is that person.

I can point out the coloration spread before us by the director, particularly marked, wouldn’t you say, in the story of a man who is blind.

I can also mention how the loss of the sight – no, I won’t point that out at all. You will know it for yourself when you see it before you.

Do so. For who is it that does not make a point of seeing any new movie of Pedro Almodóvar? Is there such a ninny breathing God’s air? Don’t you want to be in kindergarten again, playing with poster paints on those big sheets of paper? Don’t you want to hear tales of love and loyalty and princesses lodged in ogre’s castles? Have you no passion? Have you no waking dreams? Have you never seen Penélope Cruz in her home territory even once and not yearned to revisit her there once again?

Almodóvar treats Cruz’s first appearance before the director, Lluis Homar, as Charles Vidor treats Rita Hayworth’s before Glenn Ford in Gilda – as a never-to-be-banished bedazzlement, a sudden looking up at him from amidst the double bed of her fabulous hair – certainly a resource of her talent and beauty and interest – like Anna Magnani’s hair or Clark Gable’s – one of things that hold us to the screen.

The film is beautifully acted and cast, with one exception, which is that of the leading role of the gal Friday. The part is not a tragic role, but a romantic role, that of a woman holding patience in place for many years. We need to see much less of her feeling than of her precious hoarding of it.

Here we are in the house of full scale melodrama, with all of Almodóvar’s variety of humor, to appreciate which, make sure to watch the extra features for one of the funniest actor monologues you will ever have the privileged of witnessing. Go to, my friends, go to. See it and be seen by it.

 

Elegy

16 Jan

Elegy – directed by Isabel Coixet. Romantic Drama. A celebrity professor of 60 and a student fall in love, and try for some history together. 112 minutes Color 2008.
★★★★★
Five stars, because of Penélope Cruz’ performance, with its fluidity, freedom, and accessibility. What a wonderful talent she has, what a beauty of spirit and form. But there is something wrong with the script or the story or with Ben Kingsley as the professor. Let’s start with him, because the film’s subject is so gripping and so beautifully told by the director, that I want to end with that, and get the questionable part out of the way first.

“I am here,” the last line of the script does not work nor does cancer as a dramatic tool. For the professor is a man who won’t commit. So, if the woman is dying of cancer the question of quitting her is no longer moot. Of course he can commit to her: she’s not going to live long. So if the cancer scene at the end is meant for us to believe that he finally does commit, it fails. It is not even strong enough to be ambiguous.

As to Kingsley’s performance, good as he is, he is not a film actor of the order of freedom of brilliance of Cruz, and what that means is that we never see in him the possibility that he might commit. So, for us he is without inner conflict. He is only one thing, non-commital. The character, however, has an open heart. He loves her. To be willing to feel such a love is already to commit, for it is to be taking an enormous risk. Kingsley is able to “act” love, but never to be in love. We never see the other side of his refusal.

However, setting all this aside, as I hope you do, the film is a thoroughly adult treatment of the subject of love. It is not about love’s approaches or love’s departures, but about love itself, what it looks like, how it goes. Abetted so ably by the brilliant supporting playing of Dennis Hopper, Peter Sarsgaard, and Patrician Clarkson, the film took my respect and interest and care all along.

The film is very badly titled, irrelevantly titled. It is set in New York City but filmed in Vancouver, so its atmosphere is more drenched than New York’s is, but that hardly matters as the picture unfolds behind its drawn shades and we are let into love’s unlikely clearing in the woods once more. It is not an elegy. It enlarges its subject with the life Cruz brings to it and my hope things will work out and the energy of my attention to those workings. I hope you will agree.

See it.

 

To Rome, With Love

04 Jul

To Rome, With Love –– written and directed by Woody Allen. Farce. Four groups of people find themselves out of their depths in the Eternal City. 102 minutes Color 2012.

★★★★★

As the fingers of two hands folded together mesh but do not meld together, these four adventures interlace in the narrative of this film, but never coincide, except in the satisfaction their juxtaposition affords, which is the same natural satisfaction that folded hands afford. It’s farce: speed is everything, and so are doors. As each door slams on one group it breezes open unapologetically on another. The young American girl and the young Roman lawyer, engaged to be married, meet her parents, Woody Allen and Judy Davis, and their parents meet his parents, and before you know it, bingo, the father of the one is rushing the father of the other, a mortician, into a major operatic career, although the poor man is only able to sing in the shower. Jesse Eisenberg and his live-in host her trivial titillating best friend, Ellen Page, and he tumbles for the minx, although she is clearly out his class.  A young married couple arrive from the country for his interview for a big-city job, and fall foul of a lady of the afternoon, Penélope Cruz, who through force of circumstance must double as his wife at an interview with his future bosses, every one of whom is her client. All this while the young man’s wife falls into the toils of a plump movie star who offers her once-in-a-lifetime sexual possibilities. She succumbs, I am glad to say, and husband and wife come out of their escapades with useful sexual educations. A nonentity clerk, Roberto Benigni is extracted from his little family into inexplicable notoriety, which he at first resists, then embraces wildly. These four cards are played for our amusement by Allen who plays them as playful playthings. Cruz is, of course, once again hilarious in the Sophia Loren role. The movie star, played by Antonio Albanese is superbly funny as the stout sex symbol matinee idol. Ellen Page is Jim Dandy as the girl who comes to dinner and eats the host. But the entire film is stolen by Her Greatness Judy Davis from whom one cannot wrench one’s eyes. She is the actress of actresses, and Allen wisely keeps her on camera in every scene with him that he can. Her role is purely responsive to him, but you never watch him for a minute while she is there, because in never attempting to steal a scene she steals all of them, and because she is the real thing and, of course, Allen isn’t. What he is is a cartoon. Sadsack is the name of the cartoon. As an actor Allen does what he has always done, be hapless and paranoid, and he is very funny, but he is also annoying and never appealing ever, and she is. He is always appealing and so he is never appealing. His comedy as a director is not visual, but verbal and histrionic. Which means he cannot tell a story with a camera. But when a camera is on, the sound track records some very good jokes and some very telling human behavior. And that is enough for us and all we need to deserve as an audience very used to this national monument with its pigeon droppings, Woody Allen. Alec Baldwin appears as the useless sexual wisdom of the future and the past, playing Jiminy Cricket to Eisenberg’s sexual Pinocchio. He and Judy Davis define the difference between humor and Woody Allen who defines comedy. A movie can satisfy without a belly laugh because it has humor. But a comedy, with all its belly laughs, cannot satisfy if it does not have humor. To Rome, With Love has both. When it was over, we all applauded. I would send Woody Allen one perfect rose, except I think it more proper to send him a huge cellophane-wrapped basket of fresh fruit as a bon voyage gratitude to his continued voyage before us.

 

 

Broken Embraces

28 Feb

Broken Embraces — directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Romantic Melodrama. A famed film director falls for the mistress of a vengeful and jealous tycoon. 127 minutes Color 2009.

★★★★★

Who is it that does not make a point of seeing any new movie of Pedro Almodóvar? Is there such a ninny breathing God’s air? Don’t you want to be in kindergarten again, playing with poster paints on those big sheets of paper? Don’t you want to hear tales of love and loyalty and princesses lodged in ogres’ castles? Have you no passion? Have you no waking dreams? Have you never seen Penélope Cruz in her home territory even once and not yearned to revisit her there once again? Almodóvar treats Cruz’s first appearance before the director, Lluis Homar, as Charles Vidor treats Rita Hayworth’s before Glenn Ford in Gilda – as a never-to-be-banished bedazzlement, a sudden looking up at him from amidst the seductive double bed of her fabulous hair. Hayworth’s hair was so thick and rich, she was never able to wear a wig in costume drama, and I don’t know whether the same can be said of Penélope Cruz’s, but it is certainly a resource of her talent and beauty and interest – like Anna Magnani’s hair or Clark Gable’s, one of things that hold us to the screen. The film is beautifully acted and cast, with one sad exception, which is that of the leading role of the gal Friday of the director, which is probably misdirected and certainly misplayed as tragical. The part is not a tragic role, but a romantic role of the late 18th Century variety, a Jane Austen sort of part, that of a woman holding patience in place for many years. We need to see much less of her feeling than of her precious hoarding of it. Here we are in the house of full scale melodrama, with all of Almodóvar’s Shakespearean variety of humor, to appreciate which, make sure to watch the extra features for one of the funniest actor monologues you will ever have the hysterical privilege of witnessing.

 

Blow

15 Dec

Blow – directed by Ted Demme – a young man grows into a big time drug dealer, then withers. 2 hours color 2001.

* * * * *

Johnny Depp can carry a film all right all right. The trouble is, as the film goes on, the burden gets lighter and as the burden gets lighter the film is harder for him to carry, because there’s nothing left to carry, until he almost staggers under the exhausting weight of nothing. And this is noticeable here. The material is actually quite thin. Its first thinness is that it is about drugs to begin with, and not really about any conflict or irresolution between the characters or even in the characters. For years Depp has played noble crooks and cranks doomed to betrayal by life and love and oh so many octopi. And he had made other films about drugs, but films about drugs, stories about drugs, always end up collapsed partly because drugs are not human and partly because drugs are a power larger than any human, no matter how successful one might be in doing business with them. So the final thinness is that all films about drugs become enfeebled by the foregone conclusion that they will not end well. Ray Liotto and Rachel Griffiths are especially good as Depp’s parents, and Griffiths, who is younger than Depp and Australian, nails her New England accent and character with one blow. This is a very well made, beautifully shot and written and filmed piece. The wigs are dreadful and in them Depp and Penelope Cruz look like … well, they look like they’re wearing wigs. As Elia Kazan said, “No wigs. Wigs always look like wigs.” And he was right. So there is never a single moment when the wigs here give character registration. All they give is: “Why is Johnny Depp wearing another peculiar wig?” Depp, of course, we root for, not because of his performance, but because it is inherent to his nature that we do so. Will It Work? is our suspense. Will He Get Away With It? How Will it Turn Out? Yes. Yes. And Badly.

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