Summer of 85

Summer of 85 (⭐⭐⭐)

Director: François Ozon. Cast: Félix Lefebvre, Benjamin Voisin, Philippine Velge, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.

This French film about teenage love, heartbreaks, gay awakening and death is a bit of a mixed bag, despite echoes of one of my favourite films “the Talented Mr Ripley”.The broken structure of the film, with constant flashbacks, keeps a certain tension going and the audience always guessing and intrigued at least for the first half. However once the “death” happens (don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything, we are told who’s going to die in the first minute of the film), she film becomes a lot more predictable and not only I began to see right through it and feel I was always miles ahead of it, but crucially I started to feel more and more detached to it. Director François Ozon handles the teen love material with great sensitivity (top marks to the young actor Félix Lefebvre), but he cannot avoid the contrivances and mechanics of the actual plot, which is at times not very believable. And by the time one gets to the ending (which you can easily guess, since not only it’s telegraphed right from the start but it’s also the title of the book itself “Dance On My Grave”) what should have been the most cathartic and powerful scene of the film, ends up feeling a little silly and rather underwhelming. For a film that’s all about young passionate love, “Summer of 85” often feels strangely muted, restrained. Having said that, I challenge you to watch this and not hum “Sailing” by Rod Steward for the rest of the evening.

It’s in cinemas right now and available to stream on the Curzon Website


Rebecca (⭐⭐)

Director: Ben Wheatley. Cast: Lily JamesJacques BouanichMarie Collins 

Remaking any film by Alfred Hitchcock is NEVER a good idea, whether it’s the ’39 steps’, Psycho, Rear Window and so on… The original ‘Rebecca’ is of course a masterpiece, but it’s also an 80 years old film. Surely there must be a way to revisit it, without making a mockery and bringing a more modern sensitivity to the old story? Well, if there is, director Ben Wheatley is absolutely unable to do anything with it (aside from adding a third rushed act.) The only real “modern” twist I could see was in the editing, which was possibly the most annoying and confusing editing I’ve seen in long long time, constantly intercutting sequences with each other, not only diminishing their effect (see the way Mrs. Danvers is introduced, with a quick flash even before the new Mrs. de Winter sees her for the first time, hence depriving the audience of really being in the heroine’ shoes), but also making everything needlessly confusing. Something else that really annoyed the hell out of me was the soundtrack, constantly playing in the background despite ad against the visuals as if somebody had forgotten to write it and they had to throw something in at the very last moment.There are some good production values , which makes the final product even more disappointing, because it doesn’t matter how good the locations are (though Manderley here looks more Downton Abbey than the “haunted house” I’ve grown up watching) how vibrant the cinematography is, how good Kristin Scott Thomas is, everything about the film ends up feeling a bit dull.Obviously it goes without saying that Lily James (who is really dreadful in my view) is no Joan Fontaine and, however much he tries, Armie Hammer is no Laurence Olivier, but to be honest they are the least of my problems. It’s Ben Wheatley who doesn’t know what film he’s making, misses all the marks and seems to have mis-read everything that made Rebecca such an enduring classic. Instead what he’s given us is something which despite its lush colours is just a pale imitation and a very limp film. …And now let’s just wait for Michael Bay’s version of “the Birds” (no kidding, it’s really happening).

The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (****)

Writer/Director: Aaron Sorkin. Casrt: Eddie Redmayne, Alex Sharp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella.

This handsome, star-studded, award contender and crowd pleaser comes with its fair share of controversy for what has or has not been altered to the real event. But it’s obviously that Sorkin (here both writer and director) is more interested in the relevance to the story today, making the all too easy connections between the past and present that actual accuracy: “look how free speech is being threatened by an incompetent government” he seems to be screaming at us.

He is not subtle, nor has he ever been (“You can’t handle the truth!!), but if there is one person who knows how to keep his audience glued to their seats with the “simple” power of the stirring dialogue, drenched with ping pong slick exchanges, quick remarks, smart jokes and gripping erudite monologues, that’s Aaron Sorkin.

He’s obviously completely at ease with the material. He is after all a veteran when it comes to both court room dramas and politics.

Less inspired is his direction, which is fairly static and a bit too conventional (One wonders what Spielberg would have done with this script, as he was supposed to direct it a few years ago, but then passed it on to Sorkin himself). But who care when you have a stellar cast like this one? They could be reading from a script sitting around a table and it would still work.

I wasn’t quite sure about the structure of the film either, in fact I don’t think the cross-cutting with all those flashbacks made it any better, but maybe it was needed to alternate those dialogue scenes in the trial with something less word-heavy.

I don’t think I would have had any problem if the story had been told in a linear way, but then again, I’m a sucker for this kind of things… and I have a bit of a crash for Sorkin, despite all his faults. Yes his characters might be a bit cold, at times they all speak with the same voice and some of their words are just too perfect to be true dialogue coming out of a human being, but the core message is what counts here and that one comes across loud and clear. And by the time the ending came along, complete with a moment so reminiscent of the “Captain my captain” scene from “Dead Poets Society” I was completely WITH the film, IN the film and FOR the film.

On Netflix

Harry Potter & The Philosopher Stone

Harry Potter & the Philosopher Stone (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)

Director: Chris Columbus. Cast: Richard Harris, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Alan Rickman

Your appreciation for this film goes hand in hand with how much you really care about the original source. 

I’m not going to lie or hide it: I adore the first book (yes, the others too, but the philosopher stone is special). I first read it more than 20 years ago and then again aloud (in Italian) to my brothers and sisters during a Xmas holiday (very fond memories of those evenings) and very recently again to my son. If you’re one of those few people who’s still has not read it and are snobby about it because you think “it’s a book for children and certainly doesn’t concern you”, please don’t be an idiot! It’s never too late to fix the damage.

Only then you’ll be able to understand what an incredible achievement this film is. Yes, because beyond the dodgy acting from those children, the dialogue full exposition (putting it down and condensing it onto film did highlight the few weaknesses of the book too), the convoluted plot (maybe a bit too much?), a slightly dry direction and the dated special effects, what actually Chris Columbus and his team were able to do was to visualise the pages of JK Rowling’s incredible book to perfection (the production design is beyond words) and find the magic in them (particularly in the first half).

I still have to meet a person who didn’t think “that is exactly as I had imagined it”. The amount of details, the sheer spectacle, the naive innocence and magic infused in the film is overwhelming. Of course it’s all enhanced by John William’s wonderful (and now iconic) score blasting throughout pretty much its entirety. I still remember the feeling of pure joy as I watched it for the first time with my dear friend J. and tonight I had that same smile throughout.

There are of course cuts and shortcuts (the subplot about Norbert the dragon is probably the most notable), but the film (already quite long) packs so much in it that it’s a wonder it can actually hold together. Giovanni was glued to it for more than 2 and a half hours, even though he knew the story, shouting at the screen, cheering and covering his eyes, just like he was shouting and cheering at the book while we were reading it (He was not allowed to watch it until we finished the book, we are now two thirds through the second).

His love for the story, the characters, the details, the magic, the world building feels very much like the same love ‘little boy “me” had for Star Wars more than 40 years ago. 

For that alone I’m thankful to both book and film.

You can disagree with me as much as you want, you‘ll still a muggle to me.

Dick Johnson is Dead

Dick Johnson Is Dead (*****)

Director: Kirsten Johnson. Cast: Michael HilowAna HoffmanDick Johnson 

To find something so fresh, so original, so different after the 279 films I’ve watched in a row since the 1st of January is an achievement in itself.

This is one of those that’s going to stick with me for a quite a while, not just for the kind of affecting subject it touches (mortality and family), but also because because it’s the kind of film I would probably make (if I ever had the chance…), hence it’s not perfect, but it’s deeply personal and heartfelt like very few things I’ve seen this year. Yes, you may argue that it meanders a bit and at times it’s a slightly repetitive, but please, do stick to it till the end because eventually it will hit you like a sharp pin, it will melt your heart and squeeze all the tears you may have inside. But don’t be scared, this is anything but depressing. The film may all be about growing old, loosing a father and mortality in general (incredibly, it’s also about “dementia”… This is the fourth film about this subject in just a few days), but it’s done with the lightest of touch, exuberance, humour and it’s so full of optimism, life and warm feelings that it’s hard to fault it. poetic.Yes it is also very moving and it did break me a few times, but this is ultimately a joyful, very funny and jubilant experience which should remind us all to enjoy our loved ones while they’re still with us and cherish every single moment with them (and possibly save those moments on a video too… well at least that part I certainly do).This is such a unique piece of work, which I will cherish forever.

On Netflix

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