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The Final Countdown

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Illustration by Gluekit  

Never particularly original, Jackson can only replicate the language of other movies: a bit of Hitchcock here, a little Spielberg there, and none of the borrowings apt. The actors are all over the place. Tucci, with his caterpillar mustache and finicky comb-over, is so floridly creepy he might as well have child molester tattooed on his forehead. You can snicker at how over-the-top everything is, but it feels weird to be laughing at a film filled with ghastly images of dead girls. With material this disturbing comes a special responsibility. Jackson’s ineptitude isn’t just disastrous—it’s sinful.

As I watched the star-stuffed screen version of the musical Nine, I had a tough time getting past the central conceptual boo-boo. Let me explain. The musical’s evolution began with Fellini’s 8½, the mother of all self-referential, blocked-artist movie masterpieces, in which a pampered Italian auteur has phantasmagorical visions of various lovers (and his dead but still formidable mama) while he juggles producers, wives, mistresses, starlets, journalists, etc., and labors to generate a script for his new epic. Studded with songs and dances, its title bumped up by half a numeral, Fellini’s cinematic tour de force became a Broadway tour de force for Tommy Tune, whose circusy staging blurred past and present, artifice and reality.

In the film directed by Rob Marshall, Italian director Guido (Daniel Day-Lewis) has visions of the women in his life—on a stage. That’s right: This film about the visions of a visionary film director moves back and forth between life and a theater in which women in lingerie are carefully arranged around a multileveled set. With all the possibilities for Fellini-esque montage, for explosive dances in real settings, for cinema, Marshall maroons us in one big room, editing the numbers so maladroitly you can’t even savor their theatricality.

Not that there’s much in the way of dancing—it’s mostly hip-swinging and derrière-wriggling and sultry posing. Marshall has regressed from the middling heights of Chicago, where the choppy editing was at least in sync with the music’s staccato oomph. Maury Yeston’s lyrics banalize the characters’ emotions and tell us nothing we don’t already know (“My husband, he goes a little crazy making movies …), but at least they’re well sung. Yes, the voices are surprisingly on-key and sound better than they probably are coming out of those gorgeous faces. Kate Hudson croons and sashays, Penélope Cruz spits out her words and slithers, Nicole Kidman … well, her face doesn’t budge but she does hit the notes. As the bear-woman of the beach who introduces young Guido to the highs of low flesh, Fergie pops out of the screen with 3-D boobs and a flicking tongue. We know from Marion Cotillard’s performance in La Vie En Rose that she can sing—but not that she could look so irresistibly demure while doing so. Dame Judi Dench has enough dry wit to survive a horrible number about the Folies Bergère. There is also an Italian woman going by the name of “Sophia Loren,” but I prefer to think it’s someone wearing a mask. Day-Lewis holds the ramshackle proceedings together. He doesn’t dance, but he’s light on his feet, fluid as Chaplin, and his long, stringy body in that dark suit and skinny tie makes him less a Guido than a Linguido.

The Romanian drama Police, Adjective is a deadpan morality play in which a cop (Dragos Bucur) is ordered to tail a high-school kid who turns out to be doing nothing illegal except smoking a little dope. The cop argues that there’s nothing to the case, that it’s the informant who should be investigated. But he gets nowhere with his superiors, who insist his definition of conscience is limited. The second feature by Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest) won a Cannes jury prize and raves at this year’s New York Film Festival. I wonder if critics were writing those reviews during the scenes in which the cop walks up and down, up and down, staring ahead, waiting, for three, four, ten minutes. Or maybe it’s the scene when he leafs through a magazine while waiting to see his boss … ticktock, ticktock. Porumboiu means to evoke the absurd, suffocating power of a police state. But the projectionist could double the movie’s speed and it would still drag.


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