July 19th, 2010

I Am Love

We are very fond of actress Tilda Swinton’s performances, and so went to see her new movie, “I Am Love” (“Io sono l'amore”) the first chance we got.
“I Am Love”, on which Swinton is also credited as a co-producer, is a very classically styled piece of European cinema. As Georgie noted, it is like an Impressionist painting, with the story shown in brief scenes and vignettes like the Impressionist’s small strokes of color.

Honestly looked at, the film does not have much plot; it is more of an episode, although we do get the story of Emma Recchi’s (Swinton) life. The daughter of a Russian art restorer, she is discovered, married, and brought to Milan by one of his clients, Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), the scion of one of Milan’s great textile manufacturing houses. She settles into what seems to be a good marriage, bringing up two sons and a daughter, and becoming mistress of her husband’s palatial villa and its Victorian-style cadre of housekeepers, footmen, and maidservants.

The movie opens, strikingly, in a snow-covered Milan. It is near Christmas, but the holiday the family has gathered to celebrate is the birthday of the family patriarch, Emma’s father-in-law. As the family gathers, we get subtle hints of the group dynamics. For example, we learn that Emma’s eldest son, Edwardo (Flavio Parente) was in a race of some sort that day, and came in second. We never even learn what kind of a race or any of the details of what happened, since the family only cares about the fact that Edo “lost.” Rubbing this in is done gently, but relentlessly, and lets you know where the family values lie.

The family equilibrium is upset that day by two things: Edwardo Sr.’s retirement, in which he makes the Lear-like decision to divide responsibility for the company operations between his son Tancredi, and his grandson, Edo; and a visit by the race victor, Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), who has come to make a sportsmanlike gesture of friendship to Edo.

Cut forward, then, six months. Edo has become fast friends with Antonio, who is a talented chef, and is working with him on plans to open a restaurant in the hills above San Remo. Edo encourages his mother to dine where Antonio is cooking now, and she is at first enraptured by his food (a moment that reminded me of the epiphany of Anton Ego in “Ratatouille”--), and then by the passionate and handsome young chef. With all her children off to school or in London with the business, there’s nothing to hinder Emma’s falling into an incandescent affair with Antonio.

When things go wrong, as they do in an unexpected fashion, the consequences are the most emotionally dreadful imaginable, and Emma’s inability to deal with it brings on further disaster.

The major attraction of this film is to watch Ms. Swinton act. She can go from coolly competent, to shamelessly passionate, to utterly, speechlessly destroyed. She can seem to age herself twenty years in twenty seconds--. The second attraction is the film itself, which is gorgeously photographed. One might be a bit amused by the sequences of bees and flowers during the love scene, or seemingly weeping statues in the rain when tragedy strikes, but they seem right in the context.

Satisfying, and highly recommended for those who enjoy “art” cinema.

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Friday the 16th, we went to our local Marcus Cinema for “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” the new action/adventure/fantasy film inspired by the Mickey Mouse sequence in Disney’s “Fantasia” (to the music of Paul Dukas, in turn inspired by the poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe--). While not a great movie, and not likely to become a blockbusting franchise like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” it was a very enjoyable movie and good fun.

Jay Baruchel plays the “Apprentice” of the title, who is, in one of the film’s more clichéd bits, the descendant of Merlin who is destined to destroy the evil Morgana le Fey (Alice Krige). The title given this legacy is the clunky “Prime Merlinian,” which I persisted in wanting to hear as “Prime Meridian.” Once you get over that, it’s a fairly decent bit of story telling. It was nice to see that, even after “Harry Potter,” something relatively fresh can still be said about teaching magic, and the distinctly “Dungeons and Dragons” flavored magic being thrown around is flashy and effective.

Kudos for Baruchel, who plays the role of the young man driven into geekdom by his earlier, traumatic exposure to magic and the warring sorcerers Balthazar (Nicholas Cage) and Horvath (Alfred Molina). Despite learning real magic, and that he is the heir of Merlin, Dave (Baruchel) never looses his geekiness or his adenoidal accent.

Cage as Balthazar is a wild-haired, glaring eyed questor, who plays his role as it should be—dead serious, with only the rare bit of mordant wit as called for by the situations. Molina as Horvath joins the line of sneering, well-dressed and accoutered evil wizards (I want his walking stick--) very creditably.

Of course there has to be a reference to the mops-and-buckets incident, and the updated sequence works nicely. I liked the fact that the initial invoking gesture Dave uses is the same one given Mickey in “Fantasia,” one of a nice little number of references, including one in the ‘sequel hook’ that is, yes, at the very end of the credits.

One criticism I haven’t seen elsewhere is the extent to which sorcery is a “boy’s club”. Veronica (Monica Bellucci), Merlin’s female apprentice is the cause of dissention between Balthazar and Horvath, and allegedly Horvath’s turn to the dark side, and regrets having become a sorcerer. Besides the opening sequence, neither she nor Morgana have any action until the final battle, and her part in that is minimal. Morgana shows up only to be an opponent. The only other female sorcerer we see, “Abigail Williams” (Nicole Ehinger) is sacrificed by Horvath almost as soon as she shows up.

This is somewhat softened by the presence of Teresa Palmer as “Becky”, Dave’s muggle—er, non-magical love interest, who is a reasonably strong character, forgiving of Dave’s foibles, and who survives getting dragged into the wizard war without a screaming freak-out.

Special effects and production values are up to modern standards and overall nicely done. Fun, and good for the whole family who can handle fairly intense wizard duels and car crashes. No sex or bad language, and it’s actually less scary than “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire

On Sunday the 18th, we went to the Downer Theatre to see “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” the second film of author Steig Larsson’s “Millenium Trilogy,” following “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Since all three films were shot in Sweden in close sequence, the series has the advantage of excellent continuity, with the same actors in the same roles and settings as the previous.

Noomi Rapace reprises her role as Lisbeth Salander, the “Girl” of the title. It is a year after the end of the last film, and she has grown restless in the exile life she has been living since looting millions from the bad guys of last adventure, and decides to return to Sweden in order to refresh her hold over slimy lawyer Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson). She inadvertently puts in train a sequence of events that result in her being wanted for the murders of three people.

Ever the paranoid, Lisbeth goes underground to find out who is trying to get her. Meanwhile, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) , who cannot believe that Lisbeth did it, starts his own investigation to clear her name, and ends up discovering much about the enigmatic woman’s life and background. The two investigations are tied together by Millenium Magazine’s planned expose on human trafficking, the researchers of which are two of the murder victims. Lisbeth and Mikael proceed on parallel tracks, not meeting until the final denoument.

This story, while well done and engrossing, as is “Dragon Tattoo,” it is a different story and a different movie. The solitary Lisbeth doesn’t talk much, so we get long scenes of her face changing as she makes her plans, changes disguises, or makes an escape, which are well worth watching. We also get to see a bit more of Nykvist’s life. That’s not to say that there isn’t sex, because there is (although mostly tasteful and consensual this time around) and violence, because there is that, too, with the deadly struggle between Lisbeth and the villains that climaxes the film is rather grisly. As Georgie says, the “wince factor” is pretty high.

I enjoyed the movie very much, and I am looking forward to the third and final installment to be released this fall (and hoping the library will let me have a copy of the novel sometime before then--).

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