Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Sneezing and Monica Bellucci - Reviews #47

Malena (Giuseppe Tornatore, 2000) is an arresting but slightly insubstantial film from the creator of Cinema Paradiso, as village looker Malena becomes village hooker Malena, while remaining an angel in the eyes of eternally masturbating adolescent Giuseppe Sulfaro. It's really a coming-of-age story, but atypical of such films in its refusal to offer easy answers, or indeed any concessions to sentiment whatsoever. Beginning his film in 1940, with Italy on the brink of war, Tornatore displays his usual strong grasp of the Sicilian period setting: all white stone, crowded squares and appalling cattiness. And he's aided by a pair of very attractive central performances, along with cinematography and an Ennio Morricone score that are just glorious. Sadly though, while the script provides two memorable characters and considerable emotional engagement, it suffers from lurches in tone and is let down by repetition - essentially offering the same scene of Malena walking through the town over and over again - and an inability to tie up its loose ends. The narrative is augmented by a handful of very well-observed movie pastiches, but these are largely squashed into the first half. Malena is an honest, appealing, sometimes very funny film, but a touch light in the writing. (3)


Heaven Can Wait (Ernst Lubitsch, 1943) - There's surely no genre on earth as ripe for rehab as the romcom. Well this is how it used to look, before that debilitating addiction to formula filmmaking: clever, distinguished, witty and wise, with a focus on love, lust and the nature of being rather than, say, shoes. Don Ameche is the recently-deceased man about town who presents himself "where so many people had previously told him to go" - Hell. There, His Excellency (Laird Cregar) invites him to recount his story, from a youthful dalliance with a French maid, through elopement and marriage to the sweet-hearted Mary (Gene Tierney), then onto acceptance of his place in the world. On third viewing, it appears greater and more masterful than ever, blessed by Lubitsch's matchless handling. The performances he draws from the cast are superb across the board. The leads are delightful, legendary child stars Scotty Beckett and Dickie Moore play the young Ameches, while Charles Coburn is magnificent as the crusty, genial grandfather and Allyn Joslyn unexpectedly moving as Mary's "solid" suitor. Look also for celebrated character comics Eugene Pallette and Marjorie Main, as Tierney's constantly-warring screen parents. A wonderful film. (4)

Trivia note: It's interesting (to me, at least) how involuntary bodily functions play such a big part in bringing lovers together - or pulling them apart - in Lubitsch films. In That Uncertain Feeling it was hiccups. Here it's sneezing.


And this is the Pixar short playing before Toy Story 3:

SHORT: Day & Night (Teddy Newton, 2010)
is moralistic and a little light on laughs, but boasts some tremendous animation. The plot, such as it is, features cartoonish blobs representing day and night, who show one another just what they can do - namely showcase the very best of their respective worlds. The first is big on scantily-clad sunbathers; the other displays Vegas all lit-up. Eventually the familiar-looking blobs (I can't place them) learn to overcome their fear and prejudice, and understand the other, leading to a satisfying wrap-up. Mid-range Pixar, but we've been spoiled lately, to be honest. (3)

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