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Movie Review: NINE

Nine (and the movie 8 ½, on which it’s based) is about a writer/director who has a hard time coming up with a story for his latest film. It’s ironic, then, that Nine, written by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella, also seems to be lacking a plot of its own.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays the auteur, Guido Contini, who’s having a breakdown since his movie Italia is supposed to go into production within days but he still hasn’t written one word. His leading actress, international star Claudia (Nicole Kidman), is getting impatient and demanding to see a script. He’s haunted by memories of the women in his life, including his mother (Sophie Loren) and a prostitute he knew when he was a boy (Fergie). In the real world, he continues his dalliance with mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz) despite telling his long-suffering wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard) the affair is over.

Rob Marshall said during the post-Variety-screening Q & A that he thought long and hard about how to integrate the musical numbers into the movie. On that level, he succeeded; the songs are interwoven well and don’t really disrupt the story’s pacing.

Trouble is, there’s not much plot to interrupt. It’s mostly about what’s going on in Guido’s head and since he comes across as a self-absorbed, lying, cheating bastard, I couldn’t sympathize with him. He hasn’t earned the self-pity because his misery is of his own doing. It’s not Day-Lewis’s fault; he gives a consummate performance as usual. His Italian accent is spot-on and his singing robust (is there anything he can’t do?). The problem lies more with the character and this was partly why I also disliked Fellini’s film: Guido is a whiny little boy.

As for the all-star female lineup, Cotillard, Cruz and Dench come through most spectacularly. Cotillard is wistful and heartbreaking at first then busts out the sexy in “Take It All,” doing a striptease and letting Guido know she’s done being the accommodating little wife. Cruz scorches the screen in her “A Call from the Vatican” number, with her, um, gymnastic moves. She’s also emotionally flexible, going from vixen to little girl lost, and somehow manages to make me feel sorry for her adulterous Carla. And Dench, as Guido’s confidante Lilli, displays a fun side and hearty voice along with her usual gravitas.

Kate Hudson also knocked my socks off, singing and dancing with abandon in the movie’s catchiest number, “Cinema Italiano,” but her Vogue reporter is otherwise given nothing to do. Likewise Fergie’s Saraghina. Although this character was in Fellini’s movie and Fergie attacks “Be Italian” with impressive ferocity, the prostitute from Guido’s past has no usefulness here. Kidman looks great but this version of Claudia could have easily been played by any other beautiful actress with a passable singing voice.

The costumes are dazzling, the dancing and singing energetic, but I’m afraid I’m not in love with this Cinema Marshalliano.

Nerd verdict: Nine‘s a 6 on scale of 1 to 10

All photos by David James © The Weinstein Co.

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NINE Trailer with Day-Lewis, Kidman, Cruz and More


From L: Dench, Cruz, Cotillard, Loren, Ferguson (in front), Kidman, Hudson

I seriously dislike musicals and didn’t like Fellini’s 8 1/2 much, either. But Nine, the musical version of that Italian film coming out this November, is one of the movies I’m most eagerly anticipating this year. Why? First off, Daniel Day-Lewis is in it. That man can do anything and he’ll apparently be singing and dancing here. Can’t wait to see that.

As extra incentive, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Penelope Cruz, Dame Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson and Fergie, er, Stacy Ferguson also show up to display their jazz hands. The title of the movie might as well stand for how many Oscar winners are in the cast.

And they’re all being directed by Rob Marshall, which excites me because I really enjoyed Chicago despite my aforementioned lack of love for the musical. This man turned the usually wooden Richard Gere into a dashing musical performer—imagine what he can do with Day-Lewis—and got Catherine Zeta-Jones an Oscar. Since most cast members this time are already Oscar-winners, how high can they go?

From what I hazily remember about the original, the story is about a director who’s experiencing a creative block while directing his ninth film (8 1/2 because he only co-directed one of the films). Compounding this problem are personal issues he has with the many women in his lives, some in the present and some in the past. And there were a bunch of confusing dream sequences.

Anyway, check out the trailer below and tell me what you think. Fergie’s doing the singing, Kidman’s doing the kissing, Hudson’s doing the booty-shaking and Cruz is doing that really flexible thing with her leg. (UPDATE: See new trailer and hear Kate Hudson & Marion Cotillard sing here.)

Backstage Oscars Scoop!

After the ceremony, I received a call from a source who attended the show and had lots of scoop to share. Here’s our conversation: [She also took the photo below]

PCN: Spill! Tell me your favorite moments.

A: I’m so overwhelmed that the Slumdog kids won, and by the grand symbolism of the acting awards, just the way the new winners were welcomed into the club by previous winners, some who are legends. That feeling must have been like, Wow.

PCN: That was really cool how they had 5 winners come out for each acting award. I gasped when Eva Marie Saint came out to present Best Supporting Actress.

A: Me, too! I actually walked up to her and told her how starstruck I was by her. She won an Oscar for On the Waterfront

PCN: Who else were you starstruck by?

A: Sophia Loren. They just don’t make ’em like her anymore.  And Daniel Craig. He usually looks kinda weathered on screen but he walked by me a couple times and was very debonair, the epitome of a British gentleman. 

PCN: I need to shove you down the stairs, I’m so envious. I loooove him. Did you ask him if you could take a photo of him holding up a sign saying he loved me back?

A: Yeah, right.

PCN:  OK, let’s go back to the way the acting awards were presented. When the first group of five came out, that was a nice surprise. But then I caught on. I’d seen Kevin Kline walk the red carpet so I thought, “A ha! I’ll bet he’s one of the five presenting Best Supporting Actor!” They also kept cutting to reaction shots of Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Ben Kingsley so I figured those were two Best Actor presenters right there.

A: That makes me mad! Did they really show them on TV before they presented?

PCN:  Yes. In closeups. 

A: That makes me mad, because the coordinators worked so hard to keep everyone a secret by having them not walk the red carpet, going in through the back entrance, seated far away from the front row. Joel Grey was practically in the mezzanine so that you couldn’t see him. That’s really sh*tty that you could see them from home before we could reveal them.

PCN:  Well, I never saw Christopher Walken or Robert DeNiro so those were nice surprises for me. Speaking of being seated far from the front row, where were all those adorable little Slumdog babies placed?

A: In the mezzanine. But that’s standard for non-nominated cast members who are in nominated films.

PCN:  What were they like?

A: I don’t even know how to describe them. It’s very touching because it’s been such a long road for them to be at the show. The Oscars, for me, were heightened by the joy they exuded. I’ve never been as excited for a bunch of people I don’t know to win an award as I was for these children. They were glowing, on top of the world, overjoyed. It was pure. And the littlest Salim [Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail] was asked to carry the Oscar all night. It was so cute.


PCN:  All right, I have to ask because people want to know. Was someone assigned to keep Brad & Angelina and Jennifer Aniston apart?

A: Not that I know of, but there was a close call. Brad and Angelina had left during a commercial break. They went out to the lobby, they were just hanging out, having wine when Jennifer came walking towards them from the other direction. People gasped and freaked out, “Oh no! What’s gonna happen? What’s gonna happen?!” But then Jennifer just turned and went backstage before she got to them. I don’t know if she saw them or someone warned her but she was only a few feet away from them.

PCN:  It probably would’ve been okay. I think the whole Jen vs. Angie thing is stupid. They probably all moved on years ago.

A: Jennifer was a social butterfly. She was very cute. At one point, when she was coming out of the bathroom, she saw Sophia Loren and was like, “Hi!” but then her dress got caught in the bathroom door. She was, like, “This is not a good time for my dress to be caught in the door.” It was a very Rachel moment. 

At another moment, my jaw just dropped because in this one small room, Jennifer, Reese Witherspoon, Sophia Loren, Halle Berry, Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman were all getting their makeup done. I just could not handle it. 

PCN: That’s really something. Now, I know things look different on TV so who was best dressed in person? 

A: Miley Cyrus. 

PCN:  What?! Ugh.

A: You don’t like her?

PCN: She kept telling everyone on the red carpet she hopes to be back at the Oscars next year and get something for The Hannah Montana Movie. I mean, Dream on, honey. 

A: That is gross.

PCN: So, who else looked good?

A: Marion Cotillard looked really good. Diane Lane—I love her. Nicole Kidman and Penelope were very “them,” wearing what we normally expect of them so there were no fashion risks. Robert Downey Jr. looked like he did in The Pick-Up Artist [his 1987 comedy with Molly Ringwald].

PCN:  He did look like he aged backwards! How about worst dressed?

A: Shirley MacLaine. What was that?! For males, Mickey Rourke and Adrien Brody. 

PCN:  Adrien Brody could’ve done the Joaquin impersonation with that beard instead of Ben Stiller. 

A: Really.

PCN:  Overall, did everything go as planned?

A: I would say so. I thought it went really well. 


Review of Baz Luhrmann’s AUSTRALIA

2008_australia_0191My friend Eric and I attended a Variety screening of Australia on November 20 (it opens Nov. 26), where Hugh Jackman, director/co-writer Baz Luhrmann and co-producer Catherine Martin did Q & A afterwards. Jackman looked very much like the Sexiest Man Alive in his black leather jacket and all-black ensemble but that’s beside the point.

The film is a big, ambitious epic that deals with everything from Australia’s Stolen Generation (how half-white, half-Aboriginal children were taken away from their families to be trained as white people) to battling cattle ranchers competing to provide beef to the Army and the Japanese bombing of Darwin during World War 2008_australia_030II. In the midst of all this, Nicole Kidman’s aristocratic character, Lady Sarah Ashley, and Hugh Jackman’s no-name ranch hand (he’s simply called Drover, which means a person who drives cattle herds) fall in love.

Eric and I had wildly different reactions to the film so I thought we’d do a Siskel-and-Ebert-style review instead of just me writing a straight one.

Our conversation went something like this:

Pop Culture Nerd: It was obvious Luhrmann was trying to make an overly stylized, old-fashioned epic so I just went with it and enjoyed it, although, admittedly, some things were pretty ham-fisted.

Eric: Some things? Other than the relationship between King George and Nullah [an Aboriginal elder and his grandson, who narrates the movie], I don’t believe there was a single organic moment in the whole film.

PCN: You did not just say “organic.” That’s an overly used and vague word. What do you mean exactly?

Eric: Organic, to me, in terms of acting, means real, unaffected and having a ring of truth. For me, Kidman is huffing and puffing her way through the entire film and Jackman is busy mugging for the camera. I find it hard to believe they ever did a scene together. It looks like they said their lines separately and were spliced together later during post-production. They weren’t listening to each other, which makes it all the more jarring when you see the stillness and focus during the scenes between King George and Nullah.

2008_australia_0141PCN: Granted, the acting is not naturalistic. It’s very much about making an ENTRANCE and holding the smoldering looks. It’s that old-movie style of acting. Kidman is a little cartoonish in the beginning but I felt it was to give her a place to go during the course of the movie. She has to start out as a somewhat silly woman so her eyes could be opened along her journey. Once she settles down, she’s much more grounded. And Jackman said during the Q & A he was directed to be over-the-top, at least during the slo-mo shower scene, which was hilarious. Drover is Indiana Jones and Rick hugh-jackmanBlaine. Luhrmann said he wasn’t going for naturalism. He wanted to make something like Gone With The Wind and Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia. This movie is nowhere near that stratosphere but it’s still enjoyable.

Eric: Yes, he invoked those movies over and over again. I think it’s unfair to compare Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman to the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, but Bogart and Bergman at least knew when to throw away a line and when to give it intensity. So his comparison rings hollow for me, which is disappointing because I’m a fan of Baz Luhrmann.

PCN: I’m neither a fan nor a hater. I think he’s hit or miss. I liked Strictly Ballroom, not so much William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. I thought Moulin Rouge was visually bold but just okay overall. This movie is 2008_australia_006flawed, it’s too long, it tries to include too many stories and elements—comedy, romance, mysticism, action, Western, the Stolen Generation, World War II—but it was never boring.

Eric: At least with Ballroom, R + J, and Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann had a clear vision. With this movie, he seems to have had a number of stories he wanted to tell but there’s no clear focus. There’s nothing wrong with juggling a number of plot lines as long as they become cohesive by the end of the movie. What I saw on screen was a story about Australia’s Stolen Generation derailed by the addition of two high-wattage movie stars.

2008_australia_023PCN: I do agree that the Stolen Generation plot got sidetracked by the rivalry between the ranchers and the romance. But the battling-ranchers storyline introduced a lot of conflict and the cow stampede was heart-stopping. It reminded me of the stampede in The Lion King that killed Mufasa, but in live action.

Eric: The stampede was incredible. When Nullah (Brandon Walters) stands at the edge of the cliff and stares down the cattle heading for him, it’s so powerful. And even though you know the kid was never actually in danger on set, he seemed to have really experienced it.

2008_australia_wallpaper_006PCN: That kid is great. I can’t believe he’d never done any acting or even seen a large city before doing this movie. He’s a natural. He anchors the whole film for me.

Eric: He’s just as intense in all his scenes with King George (David Gulpilil). Sadly, Bryan Brown (who plays King Carney, the rival rancher) and David Wenham (as his lackey, Fletcher) are reduced to playing stock bad guys drinking from oversized beer bottles and doing everything they can not to twirl their mustaches and laugh maniacally.

PCN: Yeah, those guys are pretty one-note. They’re just stereotypically greedy and evil.

Eric: For me, this movie’s a mess and only barely redeemable by its cinematography. It’s an over-the-top romance novel with too much money behind it and not enough vision.

PCN: I think Luhrmann had too much vision for one movie and that’s why he ultimately failed to make a great one. But some of that money was put to good use. The cinematography is spectacular; some of those vistas are breathtaking. It makes me want to call my Australian friends to see if I can come visit.

2008_australia_018Eric: No argument there. The vistas are beautiful. But some of them looked too spectacular. Luhrmann mentioned that he digitized some scenes.

PCN: So? Name one recent movie that hasn’t been digitized in some way.

Eric: That’s not the point. From what I’ve heard, Australia’s so beautiful you don’t need to digitize it, especially the Outback.

PCN: The CGI is so subtle that it didn’t bother me. I don’t think you would’ve noticed it, either, if you hadn’t heard Luhrmann say he used it.

Eric: True.

PCN: So, in conclusion, are you telling people not to see it or wait for the DVD or what?

Eric: Wait for the DVD. Maybe the extras will make it worth their time.

PCN: I think if people have 2 hours and 45 minutes to kill and they like those old-fashioned epics that studios rarely make any more, they should check this out on the big screen. The acting is cheesy at times but once you accept that’s the broad style they’re going for, the film can be entertaining. It’s not great but it’s worth a look.

Rating—PCN: Good, My Friend Eric: Sucks Dirt