HOUSE OF GUCCI (2021)

November 22, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. I’ve never purchased or owned anything Gucci, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the heck out of Ridley Scott’s film that brings the longest, most expensive and dangerous real life episode of ‘Family Feud’ to the big screen. It’s co-written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna, and is based on the 2001 book, “House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed” by Sara Gay Forden. Brace yourself for a (mostly) true wild ride, and for what is likely to be one of the year’s most divisive films – plenty of love and hate (just like the actual story).

What happens when a brand is so closely associated with a family name? The arguments begin on who ‘deserves’ to be a Gucci, who is a ‘real’ Gucci, and who should make the decisions that impact the Gucci family and business wealth and reputation. During the extended run time (2 hours, 37 minutes), we see many of the iconic Gucci items: the Flora scarf, the moccasins, the bamboo bag, and the watches. And though high fashion is always present, director Scott has delivered a spectacle of romance, family riffs, extravagance, greed, power, betrayal, revenge, and crime.

Lady Gaga (Oscar winner, A STAR IS BORN, 2018) stars as Patrizia, the newest Gucci. Hers is not blind ambition, but rather calculated and laser-focused. That she implodes a dysfunctional family is only a portion of the story. After marrying Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), Patrizia immediately begins manipulating her husband into reconciling with his family and taking on an active role in a business for which he previously had little interest. This is simply step two (the first was marriage) in her grand scheme to control the business and the money. Maurizio’s father Rodolfo (Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, REVERSAL OF FORTUNE, 1990) is ailing, so it’s Uncle Aldo (Oscar winner Al Pacino, SCENT OF A WOMAN, 1992) to whom Patrizia directs her attention. She plays it like a chess match – only this is more entertaining to watch unfold.

Also in the picture is Paolo Gucci (a truly unrecognizable Jared Leto, Oscar winner, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB), Aldo’s son, and a family outcast. Paolo is a wildly creative individual who tends to his pet pigeons and tries desperately to find his place in the family. Jack Huston plays Dominico De Sole, Rodolfo’s consigliere and the family attorney. Each of the characters is given their time in the spotlight, including a terrific breakfast scene with Pacino and Irons. Of course this is mostly Patrizia’s story, so it’s Lady Gaga’s performance that will attract much of the attention and commentary. I found her mesmerizing and twisted fun to watch as she proceeded with backstabbing and trickery. Driver’s quietly intense approach makes the perfect contrast to hers.

If you are familiar with the story, you know that Maurizio does eventually run the company, and he also tires of Patrizia’s family-crushing antics … which send him back into the arms of Paola Franchi (Camile Cottin, STILLWATER, 2021). This turns the campy and juicy melodrama factor up to 11 (on the Spinal Tap scale). Patrizia’s frequent trips to fortune teller and TV psychic Pina Auriemma (Salma Hayek) cause a massive tonal shift in the film, leading to the well-documented conclusion. If all this isn’t strange enough, Ms. Hayek is the real-life spouse of the CEO of Gucci’s present-day parent company, Kering. Reeve Carney (“Penny Dreadful”) has a small, yet vital role as up-and-coming fashion designer Tom Ford.

In this movie, it’s easy to describe some performances as hammy or over-the-top, but that’s likely to only hold as a first reaction. Leto’s characterization of Paolo sticks out so much from the others … but he was known as eccentric, and at best, was patronized by the family. It seems highly likely that his personality and approach stood in stark contrast to the old-school style of his father Aldo, or the more staid personalities of his Uncle Rodolfo and cousin Maurizio. Lady Gaga as Patrizia is cunning and shrewd in her calculated approach to re-structure the family and the business. She plays whatever games she must to get where she wants to be. I found her first half performance to be truly outstanding. Pacino is the actor who has trademarked hammy performances over the years, yet here, he fully grasps his role and character, and is a delight to watch.

Much of this is documented by history, though the Gucci family claims not all is or was how it seems. Whether the boost in counterfeiting/knock-offs went down in the 70’s and 80’s as it’s portrayed here, might be an area worth researching, but this is much less a case study in business principles as it is one in family dynamics. I’ll certainly understand those who argue against the story structure here, but the entertainment value proved to be enough for me. As the Gucci tagline goes, “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”, but the backstabbing and disloyalty is never forgotten – despite providing great theater (and fashion).

Opens in theaters on November 24, 2021

WATCH THE TRAILER


THE LITTLE THINGS (2021)

January 30, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. When a script has bounced around Hollywood for 30 years without getting produced, there is usually a good reason why. Written by John Lee Hancock in the early 1990s, a handful of directors have been attached at various times, but it’s the writer himself who has managed to get it on screen all these years later. Mr. Hancock has found his niche as a director by targeting the precise middle of mainstream with such films as SAVING MR BANKS (2013) and THE BLIND SIDE (2009), an approach more challenging when the topic is chasing a brutal serial killer.

Of course, casting three Oscar winning actors is always a wise choice. Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington (TRAINING DAY, 2001, GLORY, 1989) stars as Joe Deacon, a defrocked L.A. homicide detective banished to the California desert as a Deputy Sheriff in Kern County. “Deke” suffered a heart attack, went through a divorce, and lost his job as a result of being haunted by an especially grisly unsolved case. When Deacon is tasked to pick up evidence in Los Angeles, he stumbles into a case being worked by his hotshot replacement, Jim Baxter. Oscar winner Rami Malek (BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, 2018) brings his unorthodox mannerisms to the role and soon (and unsurprisingly) the ‘old school’ and ‘next gen’ detectives are teaming up to work a serial killer case with (unsurprising) similarities to Deke’s old case.

Denzel is especially effective in the first half of the film. His Deke is a quiet man with extraordinary observational and listening skills, and he brings none of his patented histrionics to the role. Deke’s ‘little things’ process quickly identifies a suspect, and it’s a doozy. Oscar winner Jared Leto (DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, 2013) is Albert Sparma, a greasy-haired appliance repair man (who let’s this guy in their house?) with a penchant for following news of the city’s crimes. Soon enough he’s taunting Deke and Baxter, and enjoying every minute of their frustration at the lack of evidence. It’s the cat and mouse game we’ve seen many times.

I’m a fan of retro movies, and Hancock announces upfront that this one is set in 1990. There are two reasons for this: that’s the era when he wrote the script, and it corresponds to a time when the Night Stalker was fresh on the minds of L.A. citizens. (side note: Netflix is currently showing the superb docuseries, “Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer”). The idea of mismatched partners with polar opposite personalities is another aspect that we are quite familiar with, and Hancock even uses flashbacks to show us exactly what haunts Deke.

Supporting work comes from Chris Bauer, Terry Kinney, Glenn Morshower, Natalie Morales, and Michael Hyatt, with the latter two providing a non-victim female presence – although neither is given much to do. The most interesting aspect of the story is how Baxter is falling into the same emotional void as his new mentor, but unfortunately, not much time is devoted to this. In fact, the story has very little to keep us interested, and instead that burden falls to Washington, Malek, and Leto. Hancock has delivered a dark, brooding crime thriller that fails to deliver the thrills. It certainly pales in the obvious comparisons to David Fincher’s Fincher’s SE7EN (1995) and ZODIAC (2007), but is fine for killing time while stuck at home during a pandemic.

Now available on HBO Max

WATCH THE TRAILER

 


BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)

October 4, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ridley Scott’s original film was released in 1982 and based in 2019. The highly anticipated sequel from Denis Villenueve is being released in 2017 and based in 2049. So we have 35 years between films, and 30 years between story settings. Expect that to be the most complicated part of this review since we were mandated by the studio to follow many rules – write this, don’t write that. Such rules would normally be frowned upon (and even ignored by many), but in fact, this film does such a masterful job of paying homage to the first, while enhancing the characters and story, that we are eager for every viewer to experience it with fresh eyes and clear mind … no matter how tempting it is to talk about!

Obviously, the massive fan base that has grown over the years (the original was not an initial box office hit) will be filling the theatres the first weekend – even those who are ambivalent towards, or adamantly against, the idea of a sequel. The big question was whether screenwriters Hampton Fancher (maybe every writer should begin as a flamenco dancer) and Michael Green would be able to create a script that would attract new viewers while honoring the original film and source Philip K Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” The answer is not only a resounding yes, but it’s likely even those who usually shy away from science-fiction may find themselves thoroughly enjoying the nearly 2 hours and 43 minute run time (it doesn’t seem too long).

The cast is deep and perfectly matched, and there are even a few surprises (no spoilers here). Ryan Gosling is fun to watch as the reserved K, an expert Blade Runner who tracks and “retires” old model replicants – the Nexus 8’s have been replaced by the more-controllable Nexus 9’s. An early sequence has K in combat mode against a protein farmer named Morton (played by the massive Dave Bautista). With all that is going on in these few scenes, director Villenueve is training us to lock in and pay attention, lest we miss the key to the rest of the movie and K’s motivation for most everything he does from this point on. Robin Wright plays K’s icy Lieutenant Joshi, who administers “baseline” tests to him after every successful mission – just to make certain he is still under her control.

Jared Leto delivers an understated and mesmerizing performance as the God-like Wallace who not only managed to solve global hunger, but also is a genetic engineer creating new beings. Somehow, this is one of Leto’s most normal roles (which makes quite a statement about his career) and yet his character is so intriguing, it could warrant a spin-off standalone film. Wallace’s trusted assistant is the ruthless bulldog mis-named Luv, played by Sylvia Hoeks. Her scene with Robin Wright is one of the best onscreen female duels we’ve seen in awhile. One of the more unusual characters (and that’s saying a lot) is Joi (Ana de Armas), the Artificial Intelligence/hologram companion to K, whose presence is cued by Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf notes. Other support work to notice comes in brief but crucial roles by Hiam Abbas, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Barkhad Abdi and Lennie James.

Who is not listed above? Of course it’s Harrison Ford (as seen in the trailer), who reprises his Deckard role from the original. All these years later, he’s a grizzled recluse who doesn’t take kindly to home visitations. Mr. Ford offers up proof that he still possesses the acting ability that made him a movie star (even if his best piloting days have passed him by). It’s such a thrill to see him flash the screen presence that’s been missing for many years. And yes, fans of the first film will mourn the absence of the great Rutger Hauer, yet there is no need to dwell on one of the few negatives.

The story leans heavily on philosophical and metaphysical questions … just like every great sci-fi film. What makes us human, or better yet, is there a difference between humans and machines that can think and feel? Can memories be trusted, or can they be implanted or influenced over time? These are some of the post-movie discussion points, which are surely to also include the cutting edge cinematography and use of lighting from the always-great Roger Deakins, and the production design from Dennis Gassner that somehow fits the tone, mood and texture of both the first film and this sequel. The set pieces are stunning and sometimes indistinguishable from the visual effects – a rarity these days. My theatre did feature the “shaky seats” that work in conjunction with the sound design … a gimmick I found distracting and more in line with what kids might find appealing.

There was some unwelcome drama a couple of months ago as noted composer Johann Johannsson dropped out and was replaced with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The resulting score complements the film without mimicking the original. Ridley Scott, who directed the original BLADE RUNNER (and its numerous versions over the years), was involved as Executive Producer, and to put things in perspective, the first film was released the same year as TOOTSIE and TRON. Denis Villenueve was Oscar nominated for directing ARRIVAL, and he has proven himself to be a superb and dependable filmmaker with SICARIO, PRISONERS, and INCENDIES. He deserves recognition and respect for his nods to the original (Pan Am, Atari) and ability to mold a sequel that stands on its own … and in my opinion, is better than the first. Hopefully stating that is not against the Warner Bros rules.

watch the trailer:

 


DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013)

November 11, 2013

dallas1 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s not unusual for an actor or actress to alter their physical appearance for a movie role. Sometimes those changes become the story: Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, Christian Bale in The Machinist and Charlize Theron in Monster are a few that come to mind. Regardless of the transformation or make-up, what really matters is the performance and the character. Just ask Eddie Murphy (Norbit) or Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal). In Dallas Buyers Club, we actually get two incredible transformations that lead to two stunning performances.

dallas2 Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto each lost approximately 40 pounds for their respective roles as Ron Woodroof, the redneck, three-way loving, alcoholic, drug-addicted electrician/rodeo cowboy; and Rayon, the sensitive, street-savvy, would-be transsexual so desperate for a kind word. Their physical appearance will startle you more than once, but is quite effective in getting across the struggles of those infected with HIV virus in the 1980’s. The number of victims impacted exploded and the medical profession was ill-equipped to properly treat the patients.

This is based on a true story and a real life guy (Woodroof) who became a most unlikely beacon of hope for AIDS patients. Woodroof fought the medical industry, Pharmaceutical companies and the government (FDA, DEA, IRS). It’s impossible to miss the message and accusations that most of these had a single goal of increasing profits, rather than dallas3curing the disease. And that’s where the story lags a bit. Michael O’Neill and Dennis O’Hare are the faces of greed and bureaucracy, while Jennifer Garner, Leto, and Griffin Dunne represent the side with a heart (though Ms. Garner is clearly out of her class here). Woodroof seems to be a guy who just doesn’t want to die, sees a business opportunity, and even learns a little bit about humanity along the way.

There have been numerous other projects that deal with AIDS, including: Philadelphia with Tom Hanks and the recent documentary How to Survive a Plague. This may be the first with a protagonist who is distinctly unlikeable, despite his passion and strong survival instincts. McConaughey doesn’t shy away from the homophobic personality and cruel manner of speech that Woodroof possesses. We never doubt his frustration at those controlling the big picture, but we never really see him connect with those his brash tactics help.

dallas4 McConaughey is on a dream run as an actor right now, and it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see him garner an Oscar nomination. But it would be a mistake to chalk that up to his losing so much weight – he really delivers a character that we won’t soon forget. And let’s not overlook Mr. Leto, who has been away from acting for 4 years touring with his band. He is a remarkable talent and a true screen presence. Compare this role to his Mark David Chapman in Chapter 27. It’s not just the range of weight, but moreso the range in acting that so impresses.

Also worth noting here is the outstanding cinematography of Yves Belanger. This movie is shot in a way that brings out the intimacy of the moment, while not losing the big picture. Director Jean-Marc Vallee (The Young Victoria) and co-writers Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack work together for a solid foundation, but it’s McConaughey and Leto that we will most remember … and of course, the pics of the great Marc Bolan on the wall.

**NOTE: for you baseball fans, that is in fact slugger Adam Dunn as a bartender.  He was also an investor in the film.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see two of the best and most startling acting performances of the year OR you want a glimpse at the confusion and panic that the AIDS epidemic brought to the mid 1980’s.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for an elegant treatment of AIDS … this one will make your skin crawl.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvMPU0WaPcc