MOVIE, REVIEWED


…OR FOR WORSE “Date Night”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on April 12, 2010

…OR FOR WORSE Date Night, reviewed

By Gregory A. Butler

Some opposites mix like oil and water (that is to say, they DON’T) while some opposites mix like Reeses.

Physical slapstick comic Steve Carrel and sophisticated intellectual comedian Tina Fey go together like chocolate and peanut butter in the marital action comedy (yes, that is an actual film genre now – hey, the “New York Times” arts section said so and who am I to disagree) “Date Night”

This light breezy comedy (which is more in tune with Carrel’s default style than Fay’s) follows boring suburban married couple Claire and Phil Foster as they come into the city for a night on the town, borrow another couple’s identity to get a table at a fancy SoHo restaurant – and spend the rest of the movie running from the gangsters, corrupt cops and dirty politicians who are gunning for the folks they impersonated.

The movie is funny as hell and had me laughing from start to finish. There are also some excellent supporting characters – including Ray Liotta doing an awesome parody of the gangster roles that defined his film career, Mila Kunis and James Franco (who steal the show from Fey and Carrel during their brief time on the screen)  and  William Fichtner as a supposedly incorruptible District Attorney who turns out to be a ….well, I won’t spoil the movie by telling you – but watch out for the broom (and the Sex Robots).

This is a cute funny little movie – I enjoyed it and I’m sure you will too.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Date Night” an 8.78

Originally published on Monday, April 12, 2010

GO ASK ALICE “Alice In Wonderland”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on March 19, 2010

GO ASK ALICE “Alice In Wonderland”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

Back in 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel came up with a simple test to determine if a film was pro feminist; 1) It has to have at least two women in it, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something besides a man.

Sadly, many Hollywood blockbusters fail the Bechdel Test.

But Tim Burton’s “Alice In Wonderland” is NOT one of those films – it passes the test with flying colors.

That unique auteur and screenwriter Linda Wolverton updated Lewis Carol’s famed stories, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”, to have Alice Kingsleigh (young and very talented Australian actor Mia Wasikowska) returning to Wonderland 13 years after her original adventures.

Alice is 19 now (unmarried and, by the reactionary standards of the day, virtually an “old maid” doomed to a life of spinsterhood), but, at the elaborate stiff Victorian garden party where she was supposed to announce her engagement to some lame upper class guy, the White Rabbit (the voice of Michael Sheen) comes to her rescue and leads her back down the rabbit hole.

Alice (who throughout most of the film thinks this is one long dream) revisits the sites of her childhood adventures – in front of a truly amazing part live action part CGI backdrop channeled straight from the wild imagination of the great Tim Burton – but with a whole new adult twist.

Every step of the way, Alice is challenging the straightjacket (or more accurately, corset) that suffocated the will and imagination of women in 19th century England – symbolized in part by the frantic effort of all the characters to cover her nude body when her size changes and she outgrows – or outshrinks – her outfits.

The film climaxes with Alice becomes her own “knight in shining armor”, becomes the champion of the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and takes on Jabberwocky (the voice of the great Christopher Lee), the monster of the evil Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter with an unbelievable makeup job).

In the end, despite the pleas of the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) that she stay on, Alice returns home, ready to forge an independent path in live in an era when respectable young ladies just didn’t do that!

All in all, Alice In Wonderland is an amazing film – right up there with Tim Burton’s best – and, in an age when women are still second class citizens in the motion picture world, it shows that you can make a film about women where it isn’t all about husband hunting  – yes, the ladies can be adventurers and heroes too!

On a scale of 1 to 10 (one is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give Alice In Wonderland a 9.96

Also, if you live in the greater New York City metropolitan area, I urge you to get down to the Museum of Modern Art before April 26, to see the Tim Burton exhibition. It’s a retrospective of his career from childhood, through his years at Disney right up to Alice In Wonderland it has to be seen to be believed.

It’s only $ 20 bucks and, because so many folks want to see it, you’ll have to register for tickets online: http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/313 but you owe it to yourself to check it out!

“I’D LIKE TO THANK THE ACADEMY…” The Oscars, Reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on March 8, 2010

A few quick thoughts on the 82nd Academy Awards (or at least the Big Six – do you really care about the other Oscars?):
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: as much as I like Mo’Nique as an actress, “Precious” is a deeply racist and offensive film (all the moreso because African Americans produced and directed this vile piece of poverty porn that demonized poor African Americans so harshly) so I really cannot support her here.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE: “Inglorious Basterds” was an amazing film, and Christoph Weitz did a great job playing the Nazi villain role. This Austrian TV actor – in his first major English speaking role – did the job and did it well, he deserves the statuette.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE: my objection is the same as with Mo’Nique – Sandra Bullock is a great performer, but “The Blind Side” was a very racist movie, so I can’t support her here.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE: Jeff Bridges was good in “Crazy Heart”, but George Clooney was far superior in “Up in the Air” - Clooney should have been the one with the little statue.

DIRECTOR: Katheryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) made history as the first woman director to ever get the statuette (and that’s kind of pathetic that it took this long) – AND she beat out her ex husband, James Cameron (“Avatar”)!

And just a few seconds later…

BEST PICTURE: …”The Hurt Locker” beat “Avatar” and 8 other pictures – and it deserved it, a simple story about men and war – showing the triumphs and tears of 3 US Army bomb disposal technicians in Baghdad. I’m actually happier that “Avatar” lost – yeah, it made more money, but as an artwork it’s all big bucs and technology, at the expense of character development, plot and storyline.

Big ups to Ms Bigelow – and to all the other winners.

SILVER BULLET THEORY “The Wolfman”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on February 13, 2010

SILVER BULLET THEORY – “The Wolfman”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

As I’ve pointed out before here on the “MOVIE, REVIEWED” blog, a big budget does not necessarily a good film make.

With some films, it’s obvious they spent millions of dollars on star salaries and special effects – but they apparently got the script from the 99 cent store.

Now, that may be a bit harsh – but, with all due respect to the skills of screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, it applies to Joe Johnson’s “The Wolfman”.

Quite frankly, I suspect that Curt Siodmack, the writer of the original 1941 screenplay adapted by Walker and Self, might just agree with me on that!

In any case, our story begins when American actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) receives an urgent letter from his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conlife (Emily Blunt), informing him that his brother has mysteriously disappeared on the moors near the rural English estate of his wealthy adventurer father, Sir John Talbot (Sir Anthony Hopkins – yeah, he’s a real live British knight playing a British knight – and Sir Anthony is in full “Silence Of The Lambs” creepazoid mode here)

Gwen urges Lawrence to come to Sir John’s estate as soon as possible to find his brother – but, Lawrence arrives to discover that his brother is already dead – brutally killed in the woods by an unknown creature.

The locals, reverting to small town racism, blame a band of Gypsies encamped near the village – but Lawrence (and we in the audience) quickly discover that this is not the case at all.

Actually, a half man/half beast creature slaughtered Lawrence’s brother – and several other townspeople, and the hunt is on to catch and kill the creature.

Lawrence puts his acting career on hold for the moment and throws himself full tilt into the investigation.

This leads him into an exploration of the traumatic childhood death of his beloved mother, opens the doors to a forbidden love between Lawrence and Gwen and ends up with Lawrence having a chance to explore lycanthropy from the inside.

This should have been the good part of the film.

Unfortunately, at this point, “The Wolfman” becomes mired in overdone special effects, excessive and random killing, overacting and a climactic fight scene that should have been awesome but instead ended up being nothing more than well filmed stupidity.

What could have and should have been a great film ended up being…kinda wack.

[At the end, members of the audience at the AMC Empire Theater on W 42nd St in Manhattan were actually yelling out “I want my money back”!]

On paper, this film should have been awesome – but on the screen, it ended up sucking rather badly – and that’s truly unfortunate, considering the vast sums of money invested in this film and the kind of talent they had in front of and behind the cameras.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “The Wolfman” a 5.14.

SKIJACKED “Frozen”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on February 6, 2010

SKIJACKED – “Frozen”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

In recent years, North American moviegoers have gotten somewhat spoiled by all the multimillion dollar budget films presented before us in the multiplex each week.

It’s easy to forget what a skilled director and a talented writer can do with a simple story, talented actors, a few good locations and a couple hundred feet of film stock – indie auteur Adam Green’s “Frozen” reminds us that you don’t need big bucks to make a good movie.

As the story opens, we meet three twentysomething Boston-area college students – Dan Walker (Kevin Zegers) his lifelong friend Joe Lynch (Shawn Ashmore) and Dan’s new girlfriend Parker O’Neil (Emma Bell) who Joe very much does NOT like.

They’re on the slopes at a New Hampshire ski resort (with Utah standing in for the slopes of the Granite State) and Dan has gotten Parker to sweet-talk the ski lift operator into letting the three friends ride without paying for lift tickets.

This later proves to be their undoing when, on the way up for one last run down the slopes, Dan, Joe and Parker get trapped on the lift.

At first, the three friends think this is just a brief outage – soon, they figure out that they are trapped, because it appears that the lift has been shut down as the resort is closing for the night.

This is kind of a big deal – since this particular ski resort is only open on weekends and it happens to be Sunday night!

Initially, the skiers are only mildly uncomfortable – they’re starting to get chilly, Parker’s fear of heights is starting to really get to her and Joe and Parker both need to relieve themselves (Joe is able to find an undignified but effective way to relieve his bladder – Parker unfortunately can’t do anything about hers).

But then, after an attempt to get help goes horribly wrong, their situation rapidly deteriorates from minor inconvenience to a life or death struggle for survival.

Green keeps the suspense up throughout the last two thirds of the film – and you never know what’s going to happen next.

All in all, “Frozen” is a very good thriller and I would recommend seeing it.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Frozen” a 7.97.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF THALLIUM “Edge of Darkness”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on January 30, 2010

LOVE IN THE TIME OF THALLIUM – “Edge of Darkness”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

Mel Gibson has not starred in a major motion picture since 2003.

During those 7 years, he’s been the subject of controversy – about his Orthodox Catholicism, his alleged prejudice against Jewish people, his drinking and driving, his having a child with his mistress ect ect ect.

But, you know what?

Despite all of that, Gibson is still a hell of an actor – there is a REASON why this dude has been a movie star for the last 31 years!

We are reminded of why that is in Martin Campbell’s “Edge of Darkness”.

Gibson’s character, Craven is a Boston Police detective who is so estranged from his nuclear engineer daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovik – and no, I never heard of her either, but she’s been in a few movies, just not as the star) that he doesn’t know anybody in her life, not even her boyfriend and he barely knows what she does for a living.

Emma comes home out of the blue to visit Craven one day, but before he can even put dinner on the stove, hitmen have shotgunned Emma to death.

At first, his colleagues on the force think this was a botched hit against Craven – but he knows better. Even though he’s torn with grief over the murder of his only child, Craven deals with it by throwing himself into a one man investigation of her killing.

Craven’s unofficial probe into Emma’s murder manages to open up quite the can of worms – he discovers that his daughter’s employer, a secretive defense contractor, is involved with a shadowy conspiracy with elements of the intelligence community – an evil scheme which they are quite willing to kill to protect.

During his investigation, Craven encounters Jedburgh (awesome British character actor Ray Winstone) a shadowy government troubleshooter (and I mean troubleSHOOTER quite literally) who gives him some unexpected help along the way.

Ironically enough, Craven also becomes closer to Emma while investigating her murder than he ever was at any time in her adult life.

There are action scenes in “Edge of Darkness” – but with a quite remarkable humanistic twist.

When folks get killed, you really get a sense that somebody is killing a PERSON – a human being with hopes and dreams, someone’s child, someone’s parent, someone’s lover – not at all like the typical action movie, where human lives are as disposable as kleenex.

Also, quite surprisingly in a film starring a man widely viewed as a conservative, the politics of “Edge of Darkness” are very progressive.

The film is highly critical of the War On Terror and the secret government it’s spawned – in this picture, the villains are defense contractors, federal agents and a corrupt Republican Senator from Massachusetts

And no, that character’s name isn’t “Scott Brown” – this film was made way before the recent special election – he’s Senator Jim Pine, played with appropriate oiliness by Damian Young.

The anti establishmentarianism of “Edge of Darkness” really isn’t that surprising when you consider that Campbell and screenwriters William Monahan and Andrew Bovell adapted it from British television writer Troy Kennedy Martin’s 1985 BBC miniseries of the same title.

The BBC’s “Edge of Darkness” took place in the Great Britain of the mid 1980’s second cold war, and was harshly critical of the Anglo-American military industrial complex of it’s era – this film shares similar politics.

“Edge of Darkness” hits all the marks – it has compelling political drama, riveting action and it explores the lengths a father will go to for the love of his child.

And we’re reminded of what an amazing talent Mel Gibson is – it’s been a long 7 years, and it’s good to have him back on the big screen!

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Edge of Darkness” a 9.84 – you have to see this movie!

ARCHANGEL ISN’T JUST A CITY IN RUSSIA “Legion”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on January 23, 2010

ARCHANGEL ISN’T JUST A CITY IN RUSSIA– “Legion”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

2010 is less than a month old, and there are already two different religious themed action adventure films in general release – going to the movies is getting to be almost like going to church (and I have to write these reviews with a Bible next to my computer)!

This week, we have Scott Stewart’s “Legion”, “starring” a bunch of people you’ve never heard of – plus model/actor Tyrese Gibson and a pathetically wasted Charles S. Dutton.

Legion” is a theological mishmash, combining elements of the birth of Jesus Christ and the End Times – mixed in with zombie movie clichés and sub par John Woo-style gunfights.

It seems that God has lost faith in humanity (again) and, as He did in Genesis, he’s going to test us.

The first time, of course, it was with water – but, this time, it’s going to be with – people possessed by angels who turn into zombies, grow shark teeth and black eyeballs, develop a taste for raw meat and like to use a lot of swear words?

Hey, wait just a minute here – that wasn’t anywhere in Revelations!!!!

Apparently it is in screenwriter Peter Schink’s version of the Bible (can we get a ruling from Pope Benedict XVI on this?)

In any case, God decides to send his two archangels – Michael (Paul Bettany – who actually does a pretty good job, considering the material he was working with) and Gabriel (Kevin Durand) with His army of angel/zombie/shark toothed demons to wreak havoc on humanity (or at least the State of Arizona) and – most importantly – prevent the birth of the fetus being carried by pregnant roadside diner waitress Charlie (Adrianne Palicki – a basic cable television actress much of who’s work has been voice acting on Adult Swim cartoon shows).

Apparently, if Charlie gives birth, her son (you knew it couldn’t be a DAUGHTER, right?) will grow up to be some sort of messiah or something.

The Joseph to Charlie’s not quite so virginal Mary is her coworker/roommate Jeep Hanson (Lucas Black) a hapless short order cook/car mechanic who is trapped deep in Charlie’s “friend zone”.

The truck stop they work at is destined to be the site of the final battle between Good and…. Good? Again, the theology is kind of fuzzy here, so I’m not quite sure.

Michael has problems with God’s plans, so he comes to Los Angeles and kills some random Korean-American toy store owner who, conveniently, has a huge stockpile of automatic rifles in his warehouse (why exactly a toy warehouse would be filled with firearms is never explained)

After arming up and carjacking a police car, our archangel goes out to the desert to defend Charlie and the savior/messiah whatever inside of her uterus.

You know what comes next.

The desert diner will have a plentiful supply of stock characters, who will, all too predictably be killed off in various odd ways by the angel/demon/zombie whatevers.

There will also be lots of what film folks call “exposition” – that is, the action stops so the actors can explain a bunch of stuff to you, the audience (instead of actually SHOWING YOU – because, of course, if they actually showed you it would be, oh, I don’t know too entertaining – hell, the film might actually be exciting and you might actually get some fun for your $ 12.50, and we can’t have that, now can we?)

There will also be the usual stereotypical stuff with the Black characters too – and they get to die heroically saving White people.

And, of course, there will be the typical John Woo-style firearms that never jam, have bottomless clips which never run out of bullets, do not have any recoil and have all of the other physics-defying characteristics that you see far too much of in Hollywood movies.

At least this film actually had safety catches and bolts on the guns – they didn’t just fire like magic, like they usually do in films like this.

This film has some of it’s own special forms of suck as well – like an exposition scene with Charlie and Jeep that turns into – an editorial against abortion!

What is this – Fox News?

Bottom line, if you can only see just one Christian-themed action adventure movie this year …let it be “The Book Of Eli”!

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Legion” a 4.53 [and that’s with a 1.44 bonus point for casting Charles S. Dutton – cause that brother deserves to get work more often!]

MATTHEW 10:34 “The Book Of Eli”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on January 16, 2010

MATTHEW 10:34 – “The Book of Eli”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

When we first enter the world of Allen and Albert Hughes’ “The Book of Eli”, it’s 30 years after a great war where, according to our hero Eli (Denzel Washington, in one of his best roles), “they ripped a hole in the sky”.

The great solar flash that came through that hole killed most of the world’s population, blinded many of the survivors (a plot point which will become very relevant later on in the film) and reduced the visually impaired and sighted alike to a state of illiterate barbarism.

But in this harsh world where reading is unknown, Eli has spent the last 30 years roaming the ruined byways with a book in his backpack.

Not just any book.

THE Book.

Yes, THAT book – “the Holy Bible”

And not just any old Bible – but the last bible left in America (all the other copies were burned after the war – because that globally lethal conflict was caused by Christian fundamentalists)

But Eli’s no soft-spoken librarian – he comes not with peace, but with a machete.

And a sawed off shotgun.

And a 9 mm pistol.

And he is more than willing to use those arms against the many vile hijackers who roam the deserted roads, seeking to rob, rape, kill and eat (yes, you read that last part right) any travelers they encounter.

In his travels, Eli encounters a town run by the amoral warlord Carnegie (Gary Oldman – in a role that reminds you why he has played so many villains in so many films).

As it happens, Carnegie is seeking out the last copy of the Bible, to give a religious justification to his tyrannical rule, and he and his “road crew” goon squad are more than willing to kill for it.

Kill – or do other immoral stuff, like forcing his twentysomething stepdaughter Solara (Mila Kunis) to offer herself sexually to Eli.

But since he’s a decent man, who’s old enough to be her father, Eli turns the offer down – and instead shares a meal with her, teaches her how to say grace and gives her a glimpse of a moral world that she’s never known.

Eli flees town soon afterwards – with Solara as his first disciple – and continues his flight west, with Carnegie in hot pursuit.

I won’t spoil the rest of this very deeply moral martial arts adventure, because you really do need to see it “cold” with as little information as possible to appreciate it the most, but there is a plot swerve coming, hinted at by Eli quoting II Corinthians 5:7 to Solara – “for we walk by faith, not by sight”.

There is a whole lot to like in this film.

Like the fight scenes (reminiscent of the old 1970’s TV series “Kung Fu”) where Eli, a gentle and reluctant warrior, gives his enemies plenty of chances to back down and just let him leave in peace – but when his antagonists insist on fighting anyway, he dispatches them with fierce intensity.

And the decent and respectful way the Hughes Brothers – and screenwriter Gary Whitta – treated their female characters, most notably Solara.

There is no gratuitous nudity or soft core porno here – the female characters are here to move the story forward, not to titillate the male half of the audience.

Don’t get it twisted – I’m far from prudish and there is definitely a time and a place for sex and pornography in films (just not in moral allegories like this one).

Thankfully, the Hughes Brothers and Whitta understood that, and kept their female characters fully dressed.

I really enjoyed this film and I think you will too (even if you’re not a Christian).

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “The Book of Eli” a 9.81

BLOOD SIMPLE “Daybreakers”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on January 8, 2010

BLOOD SIMPLE – “Daybreakers”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

The best dramas – the only REAL dramas, in the classical Greek sense – are the ones that take the hero out of his normal environment, sends him on a journey and, in the end, the journey fundamentally transforms him.

Those dramas are even better when the writers create a whole new world, on the surface totally different than the one we live in, but in a real way fundamentally the same – and, despite the many surface differences, the writers actually make us believe in that world.

Australian auteur twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig succeeded in creating just this type of drama with their film “Daybreakers”.

We enter the Spierig’s world in April 2019, a decade after a virus – spread by bat bites – has infected most of the world’s population with vampirism.

And yes, folks, these are classic Bram Stoker-style vampires – they catch fire if they are exposed to sunlight, they cannot see themselves in mirrors and, most importantly, they subsist on human blood.

That blood thing is getting to be a bit of a problem.

95% of the world’s human population is extinct (from the whole blood drinking thing, of course) and the world’s vampires only have one month’s worth of drinking blood left.

And that’s kind of a big deal, since, in this universe, vampires who go more than a few weeks without human blood devolve from civilized nocturnal goth-types who are partial to 1940’s style fashion into horrible violent monsters (monstrous even by vampire standards) who will destroy every one and every thing in their path.

That’s where Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) comes in – he’s a hematologist for the corporation that has monopolized the extraction and distribution of human blood.

As you might imagine, scientists who specialize in the study of human blood are pretty damned important in a world ruled by vampires.

Dalton, a vampire with a soft spot for humans, is hard at work on a blood substitute – not just because a bloodless world would spell doom for his species, but also to save the last humans from being driven to extinction.

The story takes off when Dalton encounters a hardy band of human survivors, led by Lionel “Elvis” Cormac (Willem Dafoe) a former auto mechanic (he used to customize cars so vampires could drive them during the day) who now is organizing the human resistance to the vampires.

As we discover, Elvis has the solution to the twin dilemmas of vampires and humans within himself – literally.

Incidentally, this film has a subtle critique of modern American consumerism hidden inside of the science fiction/action adventure story – this diseased vampire world has spawned a whole consumer culture to help the vampires normalize their bloodlust and it’s consequences – from Chrysler sedans with tinted windows and video monitors that vampires can drive during the day to a Starbucks like chain of coffee stores (where they add blood, instead of milk, to your drink).

It really makes you think of how dehumanizing our society’s consumer culture is – again, another mark of good storytelling, put a social message in a film, without beating the audience over the head with it.

Daybreakers” is one of the best vampire films I’ve seen in a long time – it succeeds not only as a genre picture and as an action film, but also, in the most fundamental classical sense, as a drama.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Daybreakers” an 8.65

I LIKED YOUR GOOD MOVIES, NOT THE FLOPS – “Nine”, reviewed

Posted in Uncategorized by MOVIE, REVIEWED on January 2, 2010

I LIKED YOUR GOOD MOVIES, NOT THE FLOPS – “Nine”, reviewed

by Gregory A. Butler

When you adapt a movie from a musical that was adapted from another movie, that in turn is a thinly veiled biography of a real person, then things might tend to get a bit rough around the edges.

That’s kinda what happened with director Rob Marshal’s “Nine”, a musical about the self inflicted midlife professional and romantic crises afflicting fictional Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis – playing a character modeled on real life Italian director Federico Felini).

We meet Contini as he’s driving into Rome’s famed Cinecita studios back in 1965, and he’s about to make his 9th major motion picture (unfortunately, he hasn’t yet written the script!)

But you can kind of understand the oversight – after all, Guido’s got a VERY complicated life – a beautiful wife, Luisa (Marion Cotillard) who used to be his leading lady, a high strung married mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz) and his current leading lady, the very demanding American movie star Claudia (Nicole Kidman)

So, even with his costume designer/surrogate mother figure Lilli (Judi Dench) – and the ghost of his actual mother, (Sophia Loren) trying to keep Guido on the straight and narrow, this production is not quite going to work out as planned.

This is a musical, so there are song and dance routines throughout the movie – all of which are actually very well done, at least technically speaking (my personal favorite was Carla’s “call from the Vatican” number).

Problem is, they really don’t move the story forward that well – it’s kind of like you take a break from the movie to see a music video.

And that’s a damned shame, because Guido’s personal and professional crisis (and the fact that he brought it all upon himself by taking his art and the women in his life for granted) is very compelling and heart touching material.

There’s also a fascinating subplot about how the Catholic hierarchy publicly condemn Guido’s films – but are secretly his biggest fans.

The film would have benefited from more exploration of that part of the story, and how it relates to how Guido’s innocent childhood sexual curiosity was fiercely punished by his parish priest, and how that may have figured into his later conflicts with the women who love him – but, unfortunately, Marshal and screenwriters Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella didn’t go there.

And the imbalance between strong musical numbers and weak plot development is what really weakens this film and flaws what otherwise could have been a very powerful motion picture.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is unwatchably bad – 10 is incredibly awesome) I give “Nine” a 7.1

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