House of Gucci

Posted on November 23, 2021 at 5:14 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, constant smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Murder, betrayal
Diversity Issues: Class issues are a theme in the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 24, 2021

Copyright MGM 2021
Remember the 80’s television series “Dynasty?” Combine that with the current HBO series “Succession” plus “The Godfather” and you have “House of Gucci,” the bananas real story of betrayal, ruthlessness, power, money, fashion, more money, and murder.

Lady Gaga gives everything she has to the role of Patrizia Reggiani, the ambitious woman who married into one of the wealthiest families in Europe, the people behind one of the top luxury and style brands in the world. We first see her working for her father’s trucking company when a friend invites her to be his date to an elegant costume ball. There she meets the shy, slightly awkward Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), a law student and the son of Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), who runs the company with his brother Aldo (Al Pacino).

Patrizia perks up when she hears Mauritzio’s last name and becomes very flirtatious. He tells her she looks like Elizabeth Taylor, and she purrs back, “I’m more fun than Elizabeth Taylor.” When he does not call her after the party, she tracks him down, pretending it is just a coincidence that they have run into each other at a book store, though she admits she does not read.

Like all wealthy people, Rodolfo and Aldo are very concerned with maintaining the family fortunes. As Aldo ruefully admits to his brother, while each of them has a son, Rodolfo is proud of his but Aldo thinks his son Paolo (an unrecognizable Jared Leto) is an idiot. You can think of Paulo as this movie’s Fredo, especially when you see him with Pacino. Rodolfo, though, does not approve of Maurizio’s relationship with Patrizia because she is lower-class (she can’t tell Klimt from Picasso!) and, he correctly suspects, she is after the money. Maurizio defies his father and marries Patrizia. Cut off from the family fortune, he goes to work for Patriza’s father, and we see him happily wearing overalls and power-hosing trucks with the other employees.

But this simple, happy life does not last.

Rodolfo dies, as we know he will because he coughed in his first scene. By then, Patrizia has insinuated herself with Aldo, which helps Maurizio get back in the company. She may also have contributed her skills at forging signatures.

Family business can be an oxymoron. The more business there is, the harder it is on the family. The more family there is, the harder it is on the business. That’s where it all turns into a high-gloss, ultra-glam soap opera, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The various schemes are not always clear and, as noted widely in social media, the accents are inconsistent and sometimes distracting. In fairness to Lady Gaga, she is doing something very specific with hers, code switching to sound more upper class — or try to — in some circumstances. And, this will surprise no one, she is never less than fascinating to watch. Driver, always impressive, gives one of his best performances ever as Maurizio, from his shy, awkward meeting with Patrizia to his more confident, more authoritative time as head of the company. Even with all of the plotting and betrayal, though, we do not get much insight into the characters inside those clothes and mansions. The glamor and the family drama provide the icing and it is yummy enough you might not notice that there isn’t much cake holding it up.

Parents should know that this movie includes extensive material inappropriate for young viewers: sexual references and situations, very strong language, family confrontations and betrayals, and murder-for-hire.

Family discussion: Did Patrizia ever love Maurizio? What are the biggest problems for families who are also in business together?

If you like this, try: the Sara Gay Forden book that inspired the film and television series like “Succession” and “Billions”

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Dog Day Afternoon: The Real Story

Posted on July 19, 2017 at 8:00 am

Bilge Ebiri explores the real story behind one of the most indelible movies of the 1970’s, Dog Day Afternoon. The gritty reality of Sidney Lumet’s direction, the strangeness of the story (according to the film, the motive for the robbery was money to pay for the sex reassignment surgery of the transgendered romantic partner of one of the robbers) and the stunning performances by Al Pacino, John Cazale, and Chris Sarandon captured the moment. Audiences of the era remembered the bungled bank robbery as it unfolded, with the hapless criminals stuck inside the surrounded bank ordering pizzas and the hostages and the crowd outside rooting for the robbers.

Ebiri looks at the contemporary coverage of the robbery and the film. According to this story, there was a mob involvement as well. And the guy behind it all learned that “moviemaking, like crime, does not pay.”

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The Real Story

Interview: David Gordon Green, Director of “Manglehorn”

Posted on July 7, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Copyright IFC Films 2015
Copyright IFC Films 2015

David Gordon Green has directed intimate, natural dramas (“George Washington,” “All the Real Girls”) and wild comedies (“Pineapple Express,” “Eastbound and Down”). His new film, “Manglehorn,” is a gentle story with magical realism elements, starring Al Pacino as the title character, a lonely small-town locksmith who is still mourning a long-lost love. Holly Hunter plays a sympathetic bank teller and Chris Messina is his estranged son. I spoke to Green about

It seems to me that in all of your movies I have seen, the characters are most themselves and freest when they are outdoors.

Yeah that would be me in a nutshell. It’s nice to start with a character you know in a suit. For me it’s always interesting to take a step back and see where they are in their environment and open the cameras a little bit.

What is the significant of Manglehorn’s profession?

Actually, the movie was originally going to be a children’s movie and I kind of started with the idea of thinking of him as some sort of fairytale character. Make him like a toy maker a wood cutter. But then I was getting the locks changed on my house and there was this locksmith shop about two blocks away that was kind of an amazing wonderful place. Watching them at work, I thought, ‘Why don’t we just shoot it here and have it take place here?’ Now the story that we’re going to sell is about a kind of unlikely character to follow with an old school profession, an old school craftsman and then the location is really spoke to me, so I thought we should get out there to do a little training on the keys and it worked out really nicely for us.

Chris Messina is always excellent and I really liked his performance in this film.

Well, I created it for him. He and Al had worked together years before and knew each other and there was a time when there was a little friction between them. And so when Chris told me the story and I thought he would be perfect for the son. I could use that. So they hadn’t seen each other in years when we were filming the dining room scene. I made sure that we hadn’t rehearsed. I just wanted them to jump right in and use this strange dynamic they had in their personal life. Since then they have become great friends again. It was just nice to have a sense of history between two really talented actors that I could use as a another layer within the context of the film.

Three of your actors are also directors: Messina, Pacino, and Harmony Korine. What was that like?

It couldn’t be a more pleasurable, creative, and inspiring environment on set. Usually, I like to work fast and shoot quick and I don’t like a lot of standing around but on this movie between lighting sets and things like that it was just amazing to just be able to sit around with those guys and hear the stories of their careers and professional lives.  When they had ideas, they would say that we could do the movie this way and challenge each other to not make it fall into a formula. There’s nothing standard about the way we shot the movie and edited the movie. We tried to be organic to its own strange, organic beast.
What do the costumes tell us about the characters?

Jill Newell is the costume designer that I use on most of my films.  She had the great idea of basically Al’s character as a black and white character in a very colorful world. Holly Hunter or even some of the production design were in turquoise and pastels and pinks and then we have Al in heavy fabrics, outfits of brown and grey, black and white. Try to keep him as monochromatic as possible.  And then, on occasion, bring out the purple pants, but in couple scenes of kind of emotional significance where he’ll be wearing purple and I thought that was really cool way to design these characters.

Holly Hunter is lovely in the film, warm and vulnerable.

I always loved Holly as an actress.  I guess she first got on my radar with “Raising Arizona.”  She always brightens up a movie. She has that voice and that smile. Actually, it’s not really her smile it’s the way she tries to hide her smile I find really endearing.  I sat down and talked to her about the character and she got insane ideas. I mean I loved that she was adding these details. Like she brought these pictures of her holding her pets when she was pregnant and we ended up putting them in our movie. Al goes into her bathroom when he is visiting her in the home and he goes into the bathroom and he picks up these pictures and I just thought, “What an interesting choice that an actress would have that there was this point in this lonely character’s life when she was pregnant.”   We don’t hear about her children or any other relationship and she went on a date with this guy and I was like, “So Holly, what does this mean?” And she’s like, “It means everything.” I just thought that there’s strange sadness and beauty in those type of ideas. And so if I could find somebody that brings that animated physicality and positivity with the expression on her face I know creatively she is going to be very challenging, bringing a layered, emotional depth. It was a great opportunity to work with one of my favourites.

Both of those characters really had experiences loss and a sense of isolation both of them really bonded with their pets and yet they reacted in very different ways. 

Pets are the elements of our life that don’t hold a grudge. They are forgiving. They’re there at the door for us, if we had a good day or a bad day. They’re not bringing us down. They’re there to lift us up and they don’t need much from us.  I think Manglehorn, whether it’s his granddaughter or his cat, they are these creatures of the world that challenge him.  They don’t get a vote but at the same time create who we are and how we look at our day.

Tell me about Manglehorn.

I’m sure that you know people who you love more than anyone and sometimes they’re the ones that are most challenging but are also the most rewarding. And I have a couple of friends that I have to justify that if I was going to introduce them to other circles of friends I would be like, “Just so you know guys, he tells it like he sees it. Don’t actually listen to him. He comes across as harsh; there is no polite laughter at your jokes.” But when you get to know them you find very rich, rewarding emotion inside them and so I think that’s what Manglehorn is. He’s the guy that lives down the street that weirdo man that ignores you. But there is an incredible heart.  If you’re willing to do the work, you’re going to find something within him that you can’t find in everyday love.

Letting Al loose was a amazing. He is a great technician so he shows up to set in character and if the character is going to have a difficult day, he shows up and he’s feeling the rock in his shoes you know as he’s coming in the set. I think that is an amazing attribute.  You’re connecting to the reality of the person rather than someone who just snaps into character. And we rehearsed a lot and worked out the script for months beforehand, every nuance of it. So there is always a sense of control but after three takes we always say, “Throw the script away and do whatever you want. As long as it feels right.”  We get a lot pretty inspiring elements that you can bring to the table when it wasn’t still engineered, when it was just left to the raw emotional instinct.

Like that story he tells.  That’s a real story. It came from the writer and we wrote it down and Al said, “I want to read that story in the morning and I don’t want to be worried about the technicality of it because I feel it very closely, so let me just know the storyline.”  For me it’s about finding something real, with naturalistic nuances and imperfections.

You included a very graphic scene of veterinary surgery.

I just wanted to show how difficult these types of operations are.  They are very gruesome illustrations of love. Like intercutting the very awkward, hard to watch connection between two people flirting over a bank teller counter. At the same time we’re showing veteran’s commitment to the life and wellbeing of an animal.  Both of which are hard to watch for very different reasons. And the surgery wasn’t even in the script. It was our technical consultant veterinarian, Dr. McLeod. His warmth and obsession with animals’ wellbeing and health was actually so powerful, it was funny.  When he told me about it he just showed me such joy, I saw the love of medicine and the love of science that was exuberant in this guy.  There is nothing we can do more powerful than actually hearing the joy and seeing the difficulty that people not in the medical field turn away from or shut our eyes to but know this is a miracle. I think it’s cool to challenge the viewer and challenge myself.

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Behind the Scenes

Danny Collins

Posted on March 19, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, drug use and some nudity
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Tense family confrontations, illness
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 20, 2015
Date Released to DVD: June 29, 2015 ASIN: B00UZJO7UA
Copyright 2015 Big Indie Pictures
Copyright 2015 Big Indie Pictures

Movie stories often begin with the hero or heroine having everything and then losing it or having nothing and then finding it. But some of the best combine them both, as Writer/director Dan Fogelman (“Cars,” “Tangled,” “Crazy Stupid Love”) has with “Danny Collins,” a heartwarming story of a one time rock star (Al Pacino) who can fill a stadium with his baby boomer fans but has an empty life that even a hot young fiancee and constant partying cannot hide.

And then he discovers that 40 years ago, when he admitted in an interview that he was afraid of becoming successful because it might impair his integrity as an artist, John Lennon sent him a letter saying that it did not have to happen that way and encouraging him to call. The letter never reached him until four decades later, when Collins’ longtime manager and best friend (Christopher Plummer) found it from a collector and bought it as a surprise birthday gift. (This part of the story is inspired by a real-life musician in the UK who did find out 34 years after it was written that John Lennon had sent him a letter almost identical to the one in the film, as we see in the closing credits.)

The letter serves as a wake-up call, instantly connecting Danny to the musician he once was. He cancels his tour, breaks up with the fiancee, and orders his private plane to New Jersey, where he moves into a suburban hotel managed by Mary (a deliciously crisp Annette Bening). He buys a new piano and has it delivered to his hotel room so he can start composing. And he reaches out to the son he has never met (Bobby Cannavale), who lives in New Jersey with his pregnant wife (Jennifer Garner) and young daughter (the delightful Giselle Eisenberg).

It is a treat to see the flamboyant rock star being checked into the numbingly generic hotel by an agog college student (Melissa Benoist of “Whiplash” and the Supergirl TV series) as stunning a transition for him as if he was Alice through the Looking Glass. Pacino is not entirely convincing as a rock star on stage but his genially raffish charm is as endearing to us as it is to the civilians he charms along the way. The highlight of the film is what he calls his “patter” with Mary, a sparkling throwback to the kind of romantic banter that might have been tossed back and forth by Tracy and Hepburn.

Immune to his charm, at least at first, is his son, even after Danny performs some rock star magic to help the family. But that’s what movies are for — to let us see Danny overcome his son’s efforts not to give in, all to the tune of some of Lennon’s most moving songs. And to wonder what we might do differently if we got a long-lost letter from Lennon.

Note: Danny’s catchy song, “Hey Baby Doll” was written by INXS replacement frontman Ciaran Gribbin, selected in a competition with top Hollywood songwriters for a tune that could sound like a real hit from the 60’s.

Parents should know that this film includes rock star behavior including sexual references and nudity, drinking and drug use, and very strong language, as well as family issues including abandonment and illness.

Family discussion: Who would you most like to get a letter from and what would you want it to say? Why did getting the letter make Danny decide to change his life? How often do get to enjoy patter?

If you like this, try: “One Trick Pony” and “The Last Waltz”

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