Alright, it’s not a secret that I’m a sucker for musicals. And since Chicago is one of the best musicals made for the big screen in recent years — though not to the degree that deserves an Best Picture Oscar — I had to check out the new adaptation by director Rob Marshall.
Based on the movie 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini, Nine is a loose biography of himself as Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) amidst a mid-life crisis, struggling to find inspiration for his latest film while dealing with all the women in his life, including his mother, wife, mistress, muse, and wardrobe designer/confidant. It is a bad idea to compare Nine to Chicago. The movie does not have a strong storyline nor plot rich enough for its 118 minutes running time. With a cast full of Academy Award winners and nominees, the women seem to enter and exit through revolving doors before we really get to know any of them. The songs are nowhere as memorable of those in Chicago (not surprising, because jazz tunes are just so catchy!).
I have to say Day-Lewis is no Richard Gere. He has the chain-smoking Italian director down pat, but he looks uncomfortable in his singing and dancing. And Judi Dench pales in comparison to Queen Latifah’s Mama, but she was a good match to Day-Lewis and the tone of this film. I am pleasantly surprised by Penélope Cruz’s and Fergie’s performance. I am now convinced that they are more than pretty faces and killer bodies. I am also glad to see that Nicole Kidman’s face could convey some real emotion again (See? The surgery-free pregnancy was a great thing). Sophia Loren might be a legend and the only authentic Italian in the movie, but I don’t really get her significance nor detect good chemistry between her and Day-Lewis. Kate Hudson is given the hook of the musical, newly written for this film adaptation. She is refreshing in this seasoned cast. Some argue the purpose of having her in the movie, but I didn’t mind her at all. I saved the best for last: Marion Cotillard makes the movie for me. I understand why she won that Oscar. She conveys desperation and vulnerability with such grace (that laugh in bed, oh!). I am heartbroken while watching her being emotionally tortured in the marriage to Contini. However, I don’t like how Marshall handles her final confrontation in “Take it all.” Although I understand that it shows her distress and liberation, not everything needs to be sexed up, OK? But Marshall does know how to make things look pretty on screen. In the opening scene, when Contini entered in the bottom right corner of the screen, leaving everything else in the dark, I knew this film would be easy on the eyes.
Nine is not on par with Chicago, but it does has its merits (like letting me discover Cotillard. Better late than never, right?). What can I say? Musical movie are rare these days, so I’m going easy on them.
Alice in Wonderland 魔境夢遊
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Can you give me a reason not to see this movie?
The movie stars a 19-year-old Alice, returning to the magical land after she’s forgotten her first adventure down the rabbit hole. Wonderland has fallen under the Red Queen’s reign of terror. Alice has to rediscover herself and realize her destiny — to defeat the Red Queen with the help from her friends.
Alice in Wonderland seems like a story made for Tim Burton, and the art direction and set design is out of this world, as expected. But also like many of his other films, the script is not the strong suit. With Depp as the quirky Mad Hatter and a bunch of CGI talking animals, for some reason the theme of self-discovery and the wisdom of the Blue Caterpillar feel a little forced. Instead, the movie is a good summer flick, a feast for the eye and fun ride for everyone who’s still got an imaginative kid inside them. Helena Bonham Carter is always a good sport for allowing her boyfriend to make her a big-headed tyrant. In an age-old story of good vs. evil, she turns out to be the most interesting character (perhaps that’s Burton’s goal all along? They’re really a perfect match). Depp’s Mad Hatter is just as crazy as his name. Of course, the outrageous makeup and wardrobe help, too. I don’t really get Anne Hathaway’s White Queen. What’s her story? Why hasn’t she done anything to go against her sister for everyone’s sake? This is where stronger writing could have make the movie better. On a personal note, someone needs to cast Anne Hathaway is a musical ASAP. That girl has got star quality and some pipes (as seen in the Oscar opening act with Hugh Jackman)! I recognized Alan Rickman’s voice as the Blue Caterpillar right away and sat through the credits just to confirm that. He’s one of the few actors that can be cool just with his voice! As the protagonist, it’s very important for to cast an Alice that is likable. And Mia Wasikowska fills the bill for me. She has both the innocence and rebelliousness needed for the part. While she may be a little stiff at times, she’s a believable Alice, and it’s natural to root for her. I’m happy to see her in this next generation of up-and-coming young actresses. In fact, The Kids Are All Right looks pretty good.
Alice in Wonderland has smashed Avatar’s record as the most successful opening weekend for a 3D film. Even the trailers feature all 3D movies. But I gotta say, 3D is just a new Hollywood gimmick and sometimes a distraction for me. I found myself keep taking the glasses off my nose to take a peek at the screen, wanting to see what the difference is. Since this trend started, the first 3D movie I saw in the theatre was Disney/Pixar’s UP. And everyone who has seen it knows that you don’t need 3D to feel moved and touched by that incredible story. Once again it brings us back to the problem with Burton’s films. It’s wonderful to look at, everything could be a piece of modern art, but the story is shallow and lacking something as magical as Wonderland. However, I’ll give Burton the benefit of the doubt and still look forward to what he brings next, because I still remember the first Burton/Depp collaboration, Edward Scissorhands, which made me a fan for life. When he gets right, man, it will be an instant classic.