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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Oscars 2019 — No Host, Some Progress, and Gaga/Cooper Sizzle

Posted on February 25, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Raise your hand if you missed having a host at the Oscars. Yeah, me neither. Without a host to mock-mock the stars and studios and be instantly dissected on social media, the Oscar telecast seemed almost — supple and elegant, if still not anywhere close to the authenticity of the Spirit Awards or the grace and aplomb of the Tony Awards. Highlights, lowlights, upsets, and a couple of moments sure to be on Oscar highlight reels for decades to come.

Best idea: Skipping the host. That position, meaning both the assignment and the opening of the show, has become impossible. Starting with a rousing musical number from Queen (though Adam Lambert is no Freddie Mercury, and not even a Rami Malek) was just fine. And the always-brilliant trio of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph gave us a light sprinkling of pointed but not mean one-liners to remind us not to take the awards too seriously. Thanks, Academy, for jettisoning almost all of the achingly arch fake banter of the presenters, too.

Worst idea: Trains. Stylists, please remember that the stars may have to do more than swirl on the red carpet. When they have to go up the stairs to claim their Oscars, those trains get in the way. Huge thanks to the gallant Chris Evans for discreetly lending a hand to Regina King.

Best moment: Screens all around the world melted during the sizzling performance of “Shallow” by Lady Gaga and Bradly Cooper. Instead of coming out from the wings, they simply got up from their seats in the audience and sat down on stage as naturally as if it was their own living room. The performance was breathtakingly intimate and touching. When he left his stool to come sit beside her on the piano bench, their deep affection and respect was palpable.

Best speeches: Regina King’s heartfelt tribute to her mother’s support and love, Spike Lee’s jubilance, Olivia Colman’s very un-British dissolve into incoherence.

Best omission: In multiple wins for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” no one mentioned the now-disgraced director.

Best dress: Michell Yeoh in Elie Saab

Runner-up: Billy Porter, designed by my favorite Project Runway winner, Christian Siriano

Porter’s ensemble inspired the evening’s best Twitter comments.

From Broadway star Audra McDonald: Audra McDonald’s time of death: Billy Porter O’ Clock.
From writer/director Ava Duverney: I really just think I’ve seen all I need to see as this outfit is paying all my bills, offering advice, watering my plants and generally giving me life as well as afterlife. I’m going to go somewhere and have a good cry. Amen.
And Porter himself, who noted that the ensemble was a tribute to iconic Hector Xtravaganza of the House of Xtravaganza, who died in December: “My goal is to be a walking piece of political art every time I show up.”

Color theme of the evening’s couture: Pink, worn by many of the most glamorous stars, including Best Picture presenter Julia Roberts, who looked ravishing.

Best surprise: The conventional choices for Best Animated Feature would be whatever movie Disney or Pixar released. I loved “Incredibles 2” and “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” but was thrilled to see the wonderfully inclusive and wildly innovative “Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse” win. My Spidey sense tingled right up my spine with that one.

Best development: Oscars are a little less white this year, not just in the key acting awards, with Regina King and Mahershala Ali winning for supporting roles (Ali is now only the second black performer to win more than one Oscar, after Denzel Washington), but crucially historic wins at the below the line level, with “Black Panther’s” Ruth Carter (costume designer) and Hannah Beachler (production designer, with Jay Hart) becoming the first black women to win in their categories.

“Roma” became the first Mexican film to win Best Foreign Language Picture, and Alfonso Cuaron, its writer/director/cinematographer, who based the story on his own life, won for direction and cinematography as well. This was the fifth time in six years a Mexican director has won Best Director. The other categories had a heartening diversity as well, including Peter Ramsey, the first black director to win an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and the Chinese-American Domee Shi, who wrote and directed the award-winning animated short “Bao.” Three of the four acting awards went to people of color.

Far to go: But the writing awards sharply highlighted the way that the AMPAS is still grappling with the way American movies tell stories about race and class. The thrill of the adapted screenplay win by Spike Lee for “BlackKklansman.” Lee has been criminally overlooked by the Oscars for decades (except for one honorary award). The joy at his award was instantly eclipsed by the original screenplay award to “Green Book,” which many people consider to be condescending and insensitive. The choice of “Green Book” as Best Picture prompted an explosion of furious Twitter comments. The clueless acceptance speeches of the writer/producers failed to mention either Dr. Don Shirley or the titular travel guide and seemed clueless about the way some audience members responded to it. Their kumbayah-style comments came across as, well, condescending and insensitive.

I gave up on the idea of the Oscars as indicators, much less arbiters, of absolute value, aesthetic or cultural, many, many years ago, which leaves me free to enjoy the show as what it is — the industry saluting and, more important, revealing itself. If you want to know which are the best films of the year, check out the Critics Choice Awards, voted on by people whose profession is to watch all movies, not just those supported by the studios for awards, and to evaluate them. Or check out the Spirit Awards, given the night before the Oscars, which pay tribute to the films made entirely out of passionate commitment to the art of telling stories, not the art of making money. And the awards show has an outsider perspective that ensures no one takes any of it too seriously.

But the Oscars are always un-missable, and this year’s show, frustrating as it was, to me showed great progress and has me already looking forward to next year.

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A Star is Born

Posted on October 3, 2018 at 5:52 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity and substance abuse
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drug abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Some fights, medical issues, suicide
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 5, 2018
Date Released to DVD: February 18, 2019
Copyright 2018 Warner Brothers

There are movies like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that are periodically remade to reflect changing times. And then there is “A Star is Born,” with its fifth version in just under 90 years, where the difference is in the details of the characters and performances but the theme remains the same. Going back to 1932, with “What Price Hollywood,” and then the Janet Gaynor/Judy Garland/Barbra Streisand versions of this same name, it remains the story of a fading male performer with substance abuse problems who falls in love with a young, talented female, helps her become a star, and then realizes he is in her way.

It is perhaps surprising that this story still carries so much power to move us. It could be corny and dated. After all, stars these days go to rehab and then come out to tell their stories of redemption and healthy habits on the cover of People Magazine. The credit for this latest version’s compelling power goes to its director/co-writer/star, Bradley Cooper, who has told the story with verve, specificity, and conviction, and who wisely selected pop superstar Lady Gaga to play the part of the young singer. Life imitates art for the performer originally as famous for her transgressive videos and wild attire (who can forget the meat dress, now at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum?) as for her music. Reportedly, when Cooper met the artist originally known as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, he wiped the makeup off her face and told her that was how he wanted her to be seen in the film. Her character, Ally, would not be the highly burnished, defiantly confident, even brazen pop performer in grotesque haute couture, but the real girl underneath. That girl is a revelation. The emotions we see on her face as he tries to pull her onstage for the first time, and then her resolve as she steps out from the wings are achingly honest.

Writer/director/co-star Bradley Cooper shows as much evident pride and pleasure in showing her to us as his character, Jackson Maine, does in pulling Ally onstage to introduce her to the audience by making her sing, for the first time, her own songs. His careful attention to every detail is evident in every moment and he has a true musician’s sense of pace and timing. The songs are not just lovely; each of them is meaningful in revealing character and helps to tell the story. The two most recent “Star is Born” movies had their songs nominated for Oscars. One was a winner; the other should have been. This follows in that tradition and I hereby predict that “Shallow” will win this year’s Best Song and that Lady Gaga will be nominated as well.

Cooper’s script reflects the intensive textual analysis he learned in his studies at the Actors Studio and his direction reflects his deep understanding of the importance of creating a safe space for actors to take risks and be completely vulnerable on screen. His own performance is meticulously considered. We see his struggle, his pain, and his passion for music. But like his character, it is very much in service to Lady Gaga as Ally. Cooper says that the idea for the film came to him when he was backstage at a Metallica concert, where he could see the intimacy of the experience of the musicians working together on stage at the same time he saw the immensity of the crowd caught up in the experience. He creates that for us here, and one of the movie’s best images is the small, private smile we see when Jackson begins his signature song. For a moment, the agony of his world disappears and all that is left is the music and the connection it makes to the audience.

Ally gives him that feeling, too. Helping her pulls him out of himself, at least for a while. But his past and dark thoughts about his future are too much to bear.

Cooper also has some small but lovely tributes to the earlier versions of the story, to James Mason wiping off Judy Garland’s garish make-up and to the bathtub scene with Streisand and Kristofferson. But this is very much a stand-alone, a timeless story of love and loss, and a stunning debut from a director who arrives fully present, utterly committed, and astonishingly in control of a vision that is a work of art and completely heartfelt.

SPOILER ALERT: All of the other versions of this story end with a suicide that is portrayed as tragic but also noble, a sacrifice to make it possible for another person to succeed. I was very concerned going into this film that it would perpetuate this toxic romanticized notion. Cooper finds a way to mitigate that to some extent, but viewers should know that it remains a very troubling issue and is the reason I did not give the film a higher grade.

Parents should know that this film has very strong language, alcohol and drug abuse, some fighting, sexual references and situations, some nudity, and suicide.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Jackson tell Ally the truth about what was happening to him? What will Ally do next? How is this version of the story different from the previous films?

If you like this, try: the earlier versions of the story, with Frederic March and Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland and James Mason, and Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson

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Exclusive Clip from “Welcome to Monster High” in Theaters August 27

Posted on August 15, 2016 at 4:39 pm

On August 27, Fathom Events presents “Welcome to Monster High” in theaters across the country and we are thrilled to present an exclusive clip.

It’s a sweet story of kindness and friendship in partnership with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. “Welcome to Monster High™” brings the message of furthering the reach of Lady Gaga’s #KindMonsters Movement to this story that has Draculaura™ and her best ghoulfriends travel the world rescuing monsters in hiding to bring them to a place where they can have friends. Monster High’s characters celebrate individuality and kindness. The story recognizes that we all feel like monsters sometimes — and that we are all too quick to think of other people as strange or worry about whether they like us when they are worrying about whether we like them. Just the thing for getting ready to go back to school.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Muppets Most Wanted

Posted on March 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and action, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 21, 2014
Date Released to DVD: August 11, 2014 ASIN: B00H4RL2H2
Poster courtesy Walt Disney Pictures
Poster courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

The Muppets live up to the title in this adorable follow-up that is even truer to the essence of Muppetry than the Jason Segal predecessor because it puts the Muppets themselves at the heart of the story, not the humans. And that’s very good news. No one is better than the Muppets at creating a giddy mixture of sharp wit, delirious silliness, pop culture references (here they range from Ingmar Bergman’s scythe-bearing Death chess match to a “Producers”-inspired prison gang kick-line) and random guest stars (Lady Gaga! Tony Bennett! Together!), and a self-deprecating but irrepressibly sunny sensibility. There is always grand spectacle, romance, and heart, even a brief but telling lesson in manners. Plus, there’s another tuneful and hilarious collection of songs from Oscar-winner Bret McKenzie. The result is pure joy.

It starts about one minute after the last movie ends.  The human couple is clearly on the road to happily ever after, but what about the Muppets?  Time for a sequel! “While they wait for Tom Hanks to Make ‘Toy Story 4,'” they sing, even though “everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good.”  They also blithely explain that we can expect “a family-style adventure during which we should bond and learn heartwarming lessons like sharing and taking your turn and the Number 3.”

The Muppets hire Dominic Badguy (“pronounced Bad-GEE”) (Ricky Gervais) as their new tour manager and go to Europe to perform.  He actually is a bad GUY, however, and the tour is just a cover for an elaborate series of heists, conveniently located next door to the venues selected by Dominic.  Meanwhile, Constantine, the most dangerous frog in the world, escapes from the Siberian gulag where he has been in prison.  And he looks almost exactly like Kermit, except for a distinctive beauty mark on his cheek.  Constantine slaps a fake birthmark onto Kermit’s cheek, covers his own with green make-up, and soon Kermit is captured (vainly trying to explain that he’s an “Amphibian-American”) and sent to the gulag.

And Constantine is running the Muppet Show.  Even though he speaks with a thick accent and has a completely different personality, none of the Muppets notices the switch, especially when he tells them they can do whatever they want.  Miss Piggy does not realize that her beloved frog has been replaced.

Meanwhile, the hard core prisoners in the gulag (including Ray Liotta and a mystery guest star in solitary) figure out immediately that Kermit is not Constantine because he says “thank you.”  Even Nadya (Tina Fey), who runs the prison, knows it is not Constantine.  But her fondest dream is a first-class gulag musical show.  She won’t let Kermit leave because she needs him to direct it.  And she knows every possible trick the prisoners might try to sneak out.  She explains, “I have a Netflix account with the search words ‘prison escape.'”  Also, she likes him.  So, soon Kermit is overseeing a prison kick-line to a song from “A Chorus Line” (the guy in solitary has a great set of pipes).  And Constantine is getting ready for the biggest heist of all: the British royal family’s crown jewels, though — wait for it — “It’s not easy being mean.”

On the path of the master thieves are a pair of non-master detectives, Jean Pierre Napoleon from Interpol (Ty Burell, through no fault of his own the movie’s only weak point) and Sam the Eagle from the FBI.  Their competition over the size of their badges is rather fun, but then their appearances descend into repeated and increasingly flat jokes about Napoleon’s tiny car and constant breaks for meals and vacations.  But then we have the classic shots of newspapers to bring us up to date: “Slow News Week; Muppets Dominate Headlines” and we’re back in Muppet heaven.

Note: Be sure to get to the theater in time.  There’s an adorable “Monsters University” short before the feature starts.

Parents should know that there is some bad behavior, a very brief scary skeleton and mild peril.  Scenes in the gulag play dire prison conditions and treatment for comedy.

Family discussion: How could Nadya, Fozzie, and Walter tell the difference between Kermit and Constantine? Why didn’t anyone else figure out what was going on?  Why did Constantine let the Muppets do whatever they wanted?

If you like this, try: The Muppet Show and their feature films

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