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Friday, January 28, 2011

Catching up on movies : NINE, directed by Rob Marshall

The Culture Vulture was, well, overwhelmed and underwhelmed by Nine at the same time.

There's a lot of star talent in this film. Still the final product ...

Of course, some reviews were positive,  such as Todd McCarthy's in VARIETY. 

 "Nine" is a savvy piece of musical filmmaking. Sophisticated, sexy and stylishly decked out, Rob Marshall's disciplined, tightly focused film impresses and amuses as it extravagantly renders the creative crisis of a middle-aged Italian director, circa 1965. Given its basis in a 27-year-old Broadway show, which itself had its unlikely origins in Federico Fellini's self-reflective 1963 classic "8½," the Stateside Weinstein release will probably find a more receptive audience among culture vultures than with the masses. But a robust marketing push stressing the stellar cast, strong notices and the "another 'Chicago' " vibe should still generate solid returns, especially in urban areas.
(  According to the website BOX OFFICE MOJO, 'Nine' cost $80 million. Its domestic gross was a tad under $20 million, its foreign gross just over $34 million.  The film was nominated for four Academy Awards, for acting ( Best Supporting Actress (Penélope Cruz),  Best Original Song, Best Art Direction, and Best Costume Design. )

My own opinion is aligned with those of Roger Ebert of the CHICAGO-SUN-TIMES,  A. O. Scott of THE NEW YORK TIMES,  and Armond White of the NEW YORK PRESS.

Roger Ebert opined that
 "Nine" is just plain adrift in its own lack of necessity. It is filled wall to wall with stars (Marion Cotillard as the wife figure, Penelope Cruz as the mistress, Judi Dench as the worrying assistant, Nicole Kidman as the muse, the sublime Sophia Loren as the mother). But that's what they are, stars, because the movie doesn't make them characters. My closing advice is very sincere: In the life of anyone who loves movies, there must be time to see "8½." You can watch it instantly right now on Netflix or Amazon. What are you waiting for?
 A. O. Scott, in a NYT review aptly titled 'There Will Be Lingerie (Singing, Too)', observed
Occasionally a flicker of genuine style emerges from all this busy, gaudy fuss. Mr. Day-Lewis [who plays the protagonist, film director Guido Contini ] does not overdo the Italian-ness, and the sardonic smile playing around his mouth may be a sign of what he thinks of it all. Ms. Cotillard attains a measure of wounded dignity as Louisa, Guido’s former leading lady and much-betrayed wife. She is not spared the striptease obligations that fall to every other female character, but at least her big song is not splintered by the clumsy, mechanical cross-cutting that seems to be Mr. Marshall’s attempt to fuse choreographic energy with cinematic brio.
None of the rest of Guido’s ladies are so lucky. It must be said that “Nine” is an impressive feat of casting, with a shocking number of Oscar winners and nominees assembled in the service of its dubious and incoherent cause.
The best that can be said about “Nine” is that its affections are sincere, though you could say the same about its hero, who has the misfortune of being in a movie that’s an even worse mess than he is.
Last but not least,  Armond White of The New York Press tells us that 'Rob Marshall dumbs down Fosse’s cinematic movie musical technique in 'Nine''.’s showbiz as usual in Marshall’s approach. Nine’s story of Italian filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) juggling his relationships with various women while trying to conceive his next movie continues Marshall’s rip-off of the prismatic technique Bob Fosse crafted in the 1972 film Cabaret. Fosse used on-stage performances to refract the characters’ inner lives, which reflected their Weimar period social circumstances.The complexity of Fosse’s cinematic style is poorly imitated by Marshall’s TV-trained technique. He dumbs-down Fosse’s montage for no good reason than that it’s the only style he can ape.
Filmmaker Contini’s life is depicted as a second-rate stage show—that is, like Marshall’s messy 2002 film Chicago. There’s none of the visual layering or rhythm that suggests film is at the center of Contini’s consciousness or Marshall’s. By favoring six-second edits (the TV hack’s credo), Marshall never establishes a physical reality for the musical numbers like the moments in This Is It where one is held in rapturous thrall at the beauty and marvel of Jackson’s dance and singing performance, such as the split-screen effects that juxtapose different rehearsals to show the process of creation and to stimulate our awareness of creativity. Nine fails to be about creativity because its banality is entirely uncreative.
Marshall tries to repeat the fluke of Chicago’s success by once again casting actors who cannot sing or dance. The result suggests a musical version of Woody Allen’s Celebrity guest spots. Guido and his harem are not characters, they’re not even box-office stars—just celebs: Day- Lewis, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Fergie and a waxwork legend, Sophia Loren.This casting is worse than Chicago because the fragile structure of Nine isn’t sustained by storytelling but by the quality and personal investment of performance.The original 1982 Broadway production was a showcase for individually talented actresses who exhibited their training, skill and inspiration. Instead, Marshall uses Judi at her Denchiest, dragging a feather boa across a stage.
Constantly referring back to the stage proves Marshall’s ineptitude, not his commitment to theatrical tradition. But he might have revived the musical genre with more artistic casting: imagine Michael Jackson as Guido with a retinue that included Beyoncé, J-Lo, Alicia Keys, Missy, Shakira, Eva Mendes, Megan Fox! But by displaying his unmusical and unexciting stable on the boards, Marshall denies the psychological cultural, religious and erotic obsessions in Guido’s head. Using women to scrutinize the male ego was an idea that Bob Fosse also flummoxed in his 1979 All That Jazz. Oh yes, that movie was also inspired by (ripped-off) Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. The title Nine purportedly proceeds from Fellini’s movie (during ’60s high-modernism a film maker could legitimately title a film like an art project).What Marshall’s unmovie-musical adds to Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece is less than a half a film.

For more info on the film, see the IMDB entry or the film's own website.

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