Review of Nine, a 2009 musical Directed by Rob Marshall and Starring Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Fergie

NineA ver4.jpg

Nine (wikipedia)

Summary:  Nine has characters who represent characters of another film (Fellini‘s 8 1/2)  but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions

About one year ago, I went to watch a Gujarati play on the theme of ‘harrassment of women by their NRI husbands’, written and directed by an acquaintance who was pursuing his Postgraduate Degree in Dramatics. As this was a local play with a completely local cast, I decided to bring a buddy along for moral support in case the play stank. Unsurprisingly, the play proved to be a massive disappointment with its crude treatment of the subject matter and ridiculously unnecesary focus on supporting characters (like making the gravedigger the lead in Hamlet). Yet, to my bewilderment, people cheered on and gave it a standing ovation it didn’t deserve. I realized later that the antagonist in the play was a very popular name among Gujarati audiences, and so they cheered him on as he hammed endlessly, while I looked on bemused at all the beaming faces around me.

When the seven ladies of Nine (Dench, Cotillard, Cruz, Loren, Fergie, Hudson and Kidman) turn up one after the other in the opening musical sequence of Nine, I sat looking at the screen with the same bemused expression, and the question ‘What am I supposed to feel here?’ crossed my mind. These seven wonderful dames of acting may have caused a flurry of applauses had this been a live play (Nine is originally a Broadway musical), but they little impact when they such a grand entry on film for the simple reason that the entire thing is ‘filmed’.

I have not seen Fellini’s autobiographical classic 8 ½ either (on which both the play and the film are based), although the DVD does wait for me in the cupboard (will follow Mr. Roger Ebert’s advice in his review and catch the film tonight). This makes me more alien towards Nine but not too much because I have seen Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ four times and regard it as one of my favorite movies. So the parts which evoked a sense of familiary were Nicole Kidman’s ‘ideal woman’ character and Daniel Day Lewis’ ‘detached persona looking for a centre’, which Marcello Mastroianni played excellently in LDV. The main question here is: does Nine work as a musical and a movie independently in its own right? The answer is sadly a no.

A smiling man wearing a grey hat with piping above the band, and a tan Western style shirt, stands in an office, posing for the camera.

Daniel Day Lewis Plays Guido Contini in Nine

The experience of watching Nine can be compared to visiting ‘Marina Abramović’s – The Artist is Present’ exhibition without having any clue of who she is or what she has done. The film has characters who represent characters of another film but do not distinguish themselves to become characters of THIS film, thereby seeming like wandering apparitions who don’t really care about each other or this film. They function like the (actually) moving portraits in the Harry Potter stories; they wink, they smile, they laugh, they cry like humans but in the end, they remain portraits. And the worst part is that they’re given such dark and ugly sets to sing and dance around, robbing all the richness off the mise-en-scène.

The reason for such unappealing sets is that all the performance pieces are figments of Guido Contini’s often prurient imagination. The protagonist suffers from artistic block after two of his films flop following a streak of critical and commercial successes. After one reporter boldly asks him during a press interview whether ‘he has nothing to speak about’, Contini performs a great escape and books a room for himself at a hotel under a pseudonym. His next movie ‘Italia’ does not have a script yet and its cast and crew are left stranded without Contini, who spends much of his time at parties and events dreaming and fantasizing about the women in his life. There’s angelic Claudia Jennsen: his inspiration, Luisa: his lonely wife, Carla: his sexy mistress, Lilli: his costume designer, Stephanie: an alluring reporter, Saraghina: a prostitute from his childhood, and lastly his Mamma. And unfortunately, everybody gets a number or two to perform (in Contini’s mind). This basically goes on in a repetitive manner till the end, where finally the plot decides to move another inch or two.

There is not one song I can recollect now, except ‘Cinema Italiano’ which too stays in mind only because of its irritating hook. The other reason I think the number is easy to remember is that it’s got a livelier and brighter set with performances we can actually see. The rest of the numbers are hampered by lack of light; if one has seen Gene Kelly’s super-duper-brilliant ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ he or she would remember the incredibly colorful sets and lighting which instantly evokes the performances to memory. The performers themselves in Nine aren’t memorable. Fergie, Dench and Cottilard know how to ‘sell a performance’; Fergie as most would know is an established singer-performer while Dench has a grande damme showstopper charm. Cruz is predictably sexy (with delectable bosoms) while sex-goddess Loren is motherly.  And what about the man of the house: Mr. Daniel Day Lewis?

Oh, what a disappointment. Bringing a characteristic method approach to become Guido Contini, Lewis fails to get the ‘performance element’ that protagonists of a musical require that too in plenty. And I remember actress Meryl Streep telling in her interview with James Lipton that ‘she added the element of performance in her acting after being mesmerized by one of Lisa Minelli’s performances’; watch ‘Mamma Mia’ and you’ll get what she means. Actors in a musical should have the ability of selling themselves through their characters. Gene Kelly does it best. Lewis however buries himself deep within his character and makes his whole act damn gloomy. And he ain’t that good a singer either. Neither is he as addictive and infectious as Streep, who radiates even in her worst films. In fact, Lewis on a bad day digs the grave for his character and the whole film. That’s a tragedy.

Reviewing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ Starring Triple Oscar Winner Daniel Day Lewis Along-with Veteran Actors Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones

Last night Daniel Day-Lewis won an Oscar as Be...

Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar Winning Turn As Abraham Lincoln(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Summary: Steven’s Lincoln is an Important Film Made and Played With Such Seriousness You Feel Proud To Be A Part Of The Experience

 

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ is so dignified and composed in depicting the endeavor of the Sixteenth President of United States that you feel proud to witness the victory achieved by its characters. It is a movie which makes you want to get up on your feet at the end and stand in silence for two minutes as a mark of tribute to Mr. President. Steven Spielberg makes his film keeping in mind that it isn’t snazzy camera editing and unusual angles that will supply the strength that this film requires, but the careful and thorough understanding and execution of its central themes with the help of a perfect cast. Spielberg had an array of options to alter the cinematography of his film to make it more fast-paced and create tension using swifter camera movements, but he does not use innovative techniques because he knows that it wouldn’t work here. He wants us to listen closely to every spoken and unspoken word and feel the crucial significance of the subject matter.

 

There are heavy dialogues involving constitutional amendments, slavery, Euclid’s principle etc and we can choose to skip all this and concentrate on the popcorn in our hands or pay attention, and when we do the latter we rejoice along with the film’s characters when victory is attained. There was a ‘groupie’ of youngsters who left the hall when Mr. Lincoln was gravely pondering about some matter in the first half, and I was relieved those idiots left because they were obviously little interested in the subject and would certainly not have found a reason to celebrate later. I, on the other hand missed about fifteen minutes in the beginning and yet found myself extremely engrossed by every word of dialogue spoken by brilliant actors in Lincoln, and later got to share their joy and victory as if it was I who had attained emancipation.

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

Ab Lincoln – A Man Of Great Importance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The groupie that left the hall had possibly bunked their college lecture or got to know that it was Spielberg’s film or had glanced at the online ratings for Lincoln. I do not think they truly what the subject matter was and just came in thinking that they were going to see Lincoln jumping off a building evading knife-wielding Democrats. Lincoln’s actual concern is the pursuit to find a solution to end the Civil war and pass the 13th amendment for abolishment of slavery in the Constitution. President Abraham Lincoln is the central instrument in bringing an end to both the crisis and the unjust legislation, but what we realize here is that it isn’t an aggressive, outspoken and impractical Lincoln who’s leading the party but an extremely sensible, persuasive, down-to-earth and astute (sometimes crafty too) Lincoln who’s responsible for orchestrating the historical events.

 

He is very much like the director of a play, staying behind-the-scenes to let his party do the battle for him in the parliament while formulating the most carefully planned strategy to achieve enough support for success. Not once do we see him personally countering the Democrats but hear his voice through the voices of his supporters, which includes radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens who brings in the blunt and fiery force that Lincoln outwardly lacks. The movie hardly takes us to the scene of the actual war (we only get to see the gory aftermath), instead choosing to concentrate on the political battlefield between Democrats and Republicans in finding a solution to the war. We also get glimpses from Lincoln’s personal life: his relationship with his strong-willed yet intensely caring wife Mary and some touching moments involving Lincoln and his youngest son Tad. And yes there is Lincoln’s elder son Robert but the character is very forgettable because of Josh Gordon Levitt’s underdeveloped interpretation of him.

 

In one of the scenes involving Lincoln and Robert, Lincoln remarks that he does not believe in people who prophesize too much; yet when the voting for the thirteenth amendment ends, we see Lincoln celebrating his victory embracing Tad in his office. This moment very subtly shows that Lincoln himself has predicted how his son’s future shall be (one with relatively less inequality). This is just one of the many beautiful moments that brilliantly justify the themes of equality, freedom, courage, perseverance, heroism and compassion. Nothing (at least to me who is more open-minded to optimistic resolutions) to me sounded preachy or maudlin partly because Tony Kushner pens the script so well, allowing us to have moments of great fun with Thaddeus’ irresistible zingers and the entire voting session with its twists and turns.

 

And more importantly it is the cast that makes us root for the movie’s characters. Just listening to Daniel Day Lewis’ calm yet extremely effective vocal delivery made me accept him as the President of the United States. Lewis is also supported by the camera work which circles around him and his audience (to whom he is directing something or just telling a story –a profound story) till it slowly pans and zooms into his face and we are all ears to him. The most astonishing part was how Lewis showed Lincoln’s gradual aging through a slight crackle in his voice and an avuncular sparkle in his eyes that many older people, especially grandfathers have. While Sally supports Lewis effortlessly in her scenes, it is Tommy Lee Jones who nails Thaddeus so well that we are just as emotionally involved with his character as we are with Lewis’.

Cropped image of Steven Spielberg

Joan Rivers Calls Spielberg’s Lincoln Boring… Perhaps He Should Make A Sequel Of E.T. Casting Rivers as You-Know-What (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Comedienne Joan Rivers said on her show she ‘found Lincoln so boring, although the movie had everything’; well, I think Rivers envied Thaddeus’ character because he gave her still competition in repartee. I believe an important subject or person should be treated with highest seriousness and regard, and Spielberg does exactly that. ‘If you want fluff, go watch a Katherine Heigl movie!’… I know I’ve begun sounding like Thaddeus Stevens now, but why I shouldn’t when I believe in Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’.

 

Grade: AA