Quick Takes – 07.03.11

Somewhere (2010)

Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing

My one big issue with Sofia Coppola’s films has been an issue of class. She tends to favor ridiculously wealthy protagonists living in painfully wealthy isolation (as the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, she is probably drawing from real life). It is an obstacle that starts her characters out as difficult to empathize, which she usually overcomes by the end of the film. In Somewhere she was only mildly successful at presenting Stephen Dorff’s A-list actor as a sympathetic character and she does so through supporting actress Elle Fanning, who proves once again she is one of the brightest up and coming talents in film.

Despite the general uninterestingness of the main character, there are some fantastic visual motifs that Coppola achieves that mostly redeem the viewing experience. However, one scene that sort of disturbed me was when the main character receives a massage from another man. The bit that ensues is supposed to be played for laughs, but it came across a bit homophobic, which I am sure was unintentional.

I Vitelloni (1953)

Grade: A- | 1st Viewing

Somewhat inspired by my trip to Rome, but mostly inspired by my simple lack of having seen them, I have been catching up on the films of Federico Fellini over the last week and I decided to begin with the film that established him as a genius filmmaking force. I Vitelloni was both bitterly funny and tremendously sad and it may be the most accessible Fellini film I have seen. It follows five young men who linger around their Italian town essentially doing nothing but exist. Each character exists on an alternate moral plane with Moraldo apparently the only one with a conscious (yet surprisingly one of the most interesting).

Apparently this is one of the more autobiographical films of Fellini’s (all of his films have an autobiographical element) and he was said to represent Moraldo, the character who leaves. Knowing what Fellini’s career will blossom into shows the incredible stakes of a character being faced with the choice to either stay and remain an unemployed child and leave and realize one’s true potential. I am very glad that Fellini made that choice.

La Strada (1954)

Grade: A | 2nd Viewing

Re-watching this Fellini masterpiece is a treat for numerous reasons, but one in particular is the performance of Fellini’s real-life wife Giullietta Masina. Right from the start when she learns that her sister has died and has to suppress her excitement at the fact that she will now take her place and go on the road with circus performer Zampano. Her facial expressions exhibit such a myriad of emotions – childlike enthusiasm, sadness, and eagerness – that she immediately grabs the viewer’s attention and simultaneously becomes a sympathetic character much like Chaplin’s Little Tramp.

Balancing out Masina’s Gelsomina is Anthony Quinn’s Zampano, a brutish and abusive street-performing hack. Gelsomina’s complete devotion to Zampano could be viewed as allegorical like Christ’s devotion to a sinner as it is revealed at the end that both parties rely on one another. Like many of Fellini’s films, La Strada can be described as a tragicomedy and it is one of his best.

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  • I had a really good week:

    “Blue Valentine” (A) – I don’t think this was on your “to see” list for 2010, Alex, but it needs to be. Without question, one of the best movies of last year. My review of it posted earlier today, for anyone who’s interested.

    “Far from Heaven” (A): Another great one. Very quiet and gentle for the most part, but its lyrical filming style masks a rather downbeat story about a rather sheltered young woman learning about how the world (at the time) works. Moore is fantastic, as is the film.

    “Sideways” (A): Will have a full review of this at some point, but it’s without question a masterful piece of filmmaking with one of the best screenplays I can recall. I believe it was your #1 film of 2004, and while it’s not quite my favorite of the year (that would be “Before Sunset”), it’s close.

    Also started watching “Sons of Anarchy”. I’m 5 episodes in, and thus far it’s operating at an extremely solid (B+/A-) level. Everything I’ve read says that it gets really great in season 2, so the fact that it’s this good now is an encouraging sign.

    Really should see “La Strada”. I was kind of turned off Fellini after “8 1/2” (which I didn’t care for at all despite some strong cinematography), but I recall Ebert saying something about how “La Strada” is very different from a lot of Fellini’s other work. So I’d probably like it.

  • The Cider House Rules: B+
    A good performance by Michael Caine and a decent screenplay.

    A History of Violence: B+
    It kept me interested, but I expected a little bit more.

    Heavenly Creatures: C
    This was one of Peter Jackson’s earlier movies and unfortunately his talent is not here.

    Superman: B-
    It started off well, but when he became Superman the movie became silly at times. The ending was ridiculous. Gene Hackman was good as Lex Luther, although I’m not sure why he wore a wig. Also I never understood why Lois Lane couldn’t recognize that Superman looked like Clark Kent.

  • Jose

    Transformers: Darm of the Moon
    I liked it for what it was, dumb fun.
    It helped that me and my friends were making fun of what we were seeing, and the rest of the audience members were joining us instead of telling us to be quiet.

    Tremors 4: The Legend Begins
    Wow, this series just didn’t know when to quit did it?

  • @G1000 – I definitely would check out Fellini’s earliest stuff – ‘I Vitelloni,’ ‘Nights of Cabiria,’ ‘La Strada,’ and ‘La Dolce Vita.’ These were when he still sort of embraced neo-realism and had not quite delved into surrealism.

  • Asif Khan

    1. Quiz Show- A-
    2. Sideways- A
    3. Ponyo- B
    4. Annie Hall- A+
    5. Secretariat- C+
    6. Bridesmaids- A-
    7. The Godfather 3- B-

    and from the one you saw,
    . Somewhere- B-

  • I personally like the surrealist Fellini more. I love 8 1/2, and Amarcord is far and away my favorite of his. I do love La Strada though; and I agree on Somewhere.

  • @Greg – I somehow completely forgot about ‘Blue Valentine’. It is now at the top of my Netflix queue, which means I’ll hopefully see it next week.

  • @Davin – I agree on ‘8 1/2’ and am looking forward to seeing ‘Amarcord’ and ‘Satyricon’ soon. My favorite of his is still ‘La Dolce Vita’, though.

  • One night I watched the first ten minutes to Satyricon on Netflix and it looked very ‘interesting’. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

    8 1/2 is the only other movie I’ve seen by him and I thought it was great.

  • Satyricon is definitely interesting. I would recommend you watch the rest of it, though. Very good Fellini.

    Of his earlier stuff, Nights in Carbiria is probably my favorite, but La Strada is a bit more accessible. And, as Alex said, features a brilliantly quaint but very dramatic performance by Fellini’s wife.

    @Alex, Amarcord is the film that many believe inspired Woody Allen’s Radio Days. It is the warmest and brightest (both literally and figuratively) of Fellini’s work. I suspect you will adore it.

    I’m digging the discussions in the past few Quick Takes posts.

  • *Nights of Cabiria*

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