Rebecca

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 Johanna 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 Andrea’ 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

Ladri di Biciclette

Ladri di Biciclette (Bycicle Thieves) *****

Director: Vittorio De Sica.Cast: Lamberto MaggioraniEnzo StaiolaLianella Carell

Routinely voted one of the greatest films of all time by pretty much everyone, revered by modern directors (from Martin Scorsese to Woody Allen, from Steve Spielberg to Ken Loach) Bicycle thieves (the plural is key) is clearly one of the foundation stones of Italian neorealism (after Rome Open City) and, beyond that, a landmark in movie history. The use of available light, non professional actors and real locations may seem normal today, but at the time telling stories so far away from the conventions of Hollywood was basically revolutionary.And amazingly, especially for such a simple story (this could almost be the subject of a short film), the power of Ladri di biciclette is still palpable today. The tension in the film is more subtle than in Rossellini’S open city. Here there no war or Nazi to be afraid of. Instead the angst comes from the dehumanisation of the main character as the precariousness of his life leaves us desperately rooting for him. It’s a slow build towards the heart wrenching finale (still more subtle than ‘Open City’: no executions here), where I challenge anyone not to be moved by Bruno reaction to what’s happening to his dad.Possibly some of the best child acting you’ll ever see.The film was awarded a special Oscar in 1946 and basically paved the way for the best foreign film award. Just one of the many contributions to cinema from De Sica’s masterpiece.Routinely voted one of the greatest films of all time by pretty much everyone, revered by modern directors (from Martin Scorsese to Woody Allen, from Steve Spielberg to Ken Loach) Bicycle thieves (the plural is key) is clearly one of the foundation stones of Italian neorealism (after Rome Open City) and, beyond that, a landmark in movie history.The use of available light, non-professional actors and real locations may seem normal today, but at the time telling stories so far away from the conventions of Hollywood was basically revolutionary.And amazingly, especially for such a simple story (this could almost be the subject of a short film), the power of Ladri di biciclette is still palpable today.The tension in the film is more subtle than in Rossellini’s open city. Here there no war or Nazi to be afraid of. Instead the angst comes from the dehumanisation of the main character as the precariousness of his life leaves us desperately rooting for him. It’s a slow build towards the heart wrenching finale (still more subtle than ‘Open City’: no executions here), where I challenge anyone not to be moved by Bruno reaction to what’s happening to his dad.Possibly some of the best child acting you’ll ever see.The film was awarded a special Oscar in 1946 and basically paved the way for the best foreign film award. Just one of the many contributions to cinema from De Sica’s masterpiece.

Supernova

Supernova (****)

Director: Harry Macqueen. Cast: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Lori Campbell, James Dreyfus, Ian Drysdale.

Unbelievable! This is the third film I’ve seen in a week about ‘dementia’ (the others being “The Father” and “Relic”). It seems to be the hot topic of the moment. Having said that, I have to be honest, I really really liked this one!!The subject itself is obviously bound to break your heart (and it bloody did! I was real wreck during several sequences), but here it’s all done incredibly tastefully, thanks to a smart and seemingly simple script which mixes wit and poignancy in the most restrained, sensitive and unflashy way, and all the better for it. At the centre of this Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci give two wonderfully nuanced performances as Sam and Tusker, a couple who has obviously been together for ages, and they’re now trying to figure out how to live with the impending shadow of mortality, as Tusker (Tucci) has been diagnosed with dementia. Their chemistry in the film is palpable (It helps that the two actors know each other and have been friends for decades) and it’s what makes the film so beautiful and affecting, but also so unexpectedly funny and real: their deadpan snappy dialogue as they’re lovingly arguing like an old married couple at the start of the film, as they’re driving a camper van across the north of England, is priceless and sets the tone for their relationship for the rest of the film. Despite everything they always try their hardest to keep it light because as it’s said in the film “You’re not supposed to mourn someone when they’re still alive” .Later on a scene where Sam reads aloud a letter written by Tusker where he essentially says goodbye to all his friends is heartbreakingly like few things I’ve seen lately (and crucially without being cheesy).Director Harry Macqueen handles it all with great care and sensitivity. He’s also not afraid of silences (which are often a lot more telling than dialogue) as he allows his actors to be quiet in several scenes just looking at each other. And while on the surface not a lot seems to happen in the film, underneath the emotion journey is a devastating tsunami.

The fim is been shown at the #LondonFilmFestival

After that it’s out in November.

8 1/2

8 1/2 (*****)

Director: Federico Fellini, Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia CardinaleAnouk Aimée 

This is probably going to horrify some my friends here, but I need to make a confession: I don’t think I had ever seen this film from beginning to end until tonight.I’ve always been afraid that it would be too surreal for me and I would eventually find it a bit boring. How wrong I was!! There is a reason why this film ends up being among the top of most lists of the best ones ever made and why every director tries (and fail… yes I’ talking to you Sorrentino!!) to replicate it.8 1/2 may be about a director loosing his creativity and struggling to make a film, but actually I’ve hardly ever seen one which is so full of ideas, striking imagery, music and life!Right from very opening, with a spectacular nightmare sequence, you know you’re watching something special. And then it never stops, all the way through a carnival of characters, right to the joyous ending.The film is not just a very personal journey for Fellini, through his past, his weaknesses, his doubts, his dreams, but it’s also a sharp commentary on all the things he cared and felt strongly about: the Church, marriage life, adultery, sex, creativity and film making (among many other things).Visually it’s a real masterpiece. What Fellini does with his camera is beyond words: there’s hardly a frame that doesn’t deserve to be printed and put on a wall: the choreography, the blocking, the cinematography, the use of sound… Not to mention the music, not just the original score by Nino Rota, which can evoke beauty, happiness and sadness within the space of a few bars, but also the use of classical pieces (including Wagner’s Valkyrie, long before Coppola used it in Apocalypse Now). Fellini has an incredible eye not just for his frame, but for the incredible faces of every single characters who populate them. (Including and especially the extras). But there’s also more than just visuals and music here. This is also film full of emotions, jokes, laughs, memories and joy.Shame on me for waiting so long to watch this properly!On Amazon Prime (though I did watch it on a beautiful pristine Criterion bluray)And by the way… Mastroianni is a God!

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