Thoughts on Movies: R.I.P. Robin Williams


It was sad to hear the news this week of the passing of actor and comedian Robin Williams. I loved this tribute to him posted on the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Facebook page. It was designed by Eric Goldberg, the renowned animator who brought the Genie to life in the 1992 Disney animated film Aladdin.

© Disney

© Disney

Cinema Italiano 2014: ‘La grande bellezza’


Decadence, bewilderment, and regret infuse the 2013 Italian film La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty). And I felt the same way after watching the film. While it is probably a true-to-life statement about how some people feel in and about the world, I was hoping to see and experience more of the bellezza (beauty) of the eternal city of Rome and of humanity rather than the bruttezza (ugliness) and schifezza (filth) as exhibited in the film.

Toni Servillo in "La grande bellezza" (2013)

Toni Servillo in “La grande bellezza” (2013)

The protagonist (if you can call him that) is an aging Roman author and socialite named Jep Gambardella (played by Toni Servillo). Jep rose to fame and fortune early in his life by writing a famous and beloved novel. He has since lived his life writing the occasional column and throwing lavish parties (his elegant flat overlooks the Coliseum as shown in the photo above). After his 65th birthday party, Jep walks through the city of Rome, reflecting upon his life, his first love, and his overall sense of malaise.

It seemed to me that the film is a modern-day remake in many ways of the Federico Fellini classic La dolce vita (The Sweet Life), which is also decadent and depressing as all get out.

Although La grande bellezza took home the Academy Award© this year for Best Foreign Film, I can’t recommend it unless you want a really sad look at the state of human affairs. The film contains a lot of nudity and adult situations, too. I recommend visiting Rome, Italy for yourself instead of watching this sad, wasted opportunity of a film.

Happy 59th Birthday to Disneyland


One of my favorite places is celebrating a birthday today. Disneyland park in Anaheim, California celebrated its grand opening 59 years ago on July 17, 1955. I love this picture of Walt Disney walking through the park early one morning. Great stuff. Happy Birthday, Disneyland! Thanks for the happy memories. And hopefully there will be many more happy memories to come.

Cinema Italiano 2014: ‘Il gattopardo’


Burt Lancaster of all people stars in this epic Italian historical drama from 1963, Il gattopardo (The Leopard). Directed by Luchino Visconti, and based on the 1958 novel by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa, the film tells the story of a wealthy Sicilian family living in the 1860s during a time of great political revolt in Italy. Lancaster plays the family patriarch who can see that his family’s days of isolated wealth and privilege are coming to an end and does what he must to keep his family’s legacy alive.

Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale in the ball sequence in 'Il gattopardo' (1963)

Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale in the ball sequence in ‘Il gattopardo’ (1963)

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) gives some interesting background to the one of the great sequences in the film, the ball scene in Act III:

Over a month was devoted to the ball sequence alone (it had to be filmed at night, because of the summer heat), with results that fully justified Visconti’s perfectionism. The ball is one of the great set pieces in cinema, an astoundingly fluid and complex sequence in which all the themes of The Leopard converge, together with the three classes of the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the military. According to screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico, “At heart, the novel is the story of the first time that different social classes mix.” The ball sequence brilliantly dramatizes this historical moment, staging it as a spectacle that unfolds under the view of the pensive Prince, who, loathing the shallow, self-satisfied guests parading before him, retires privately to contemplate his own death.

Il gattopardo is widely praised for its elaborate historical recreations, lavish costumes, and marvelous filming locations (mostly in and around Palermo, Sicily). And I would concur–I found the film to be beautiful, compelling, and thought provoking.

Burt Lancaster delivers a phenomenal performance as the Prince of Salina. The international supporting cast does a terrific job as well, particularly Alain Delon (from France) who plays the Prince’s nephew Tancredi, and Claudia Cardinale (who is actually from Italy) who plays Tancredi’s intended Angelica. I’m not sure if Burt Lancaster actually delivered his lines in Italian or not during filming, but his voice is dubbed in the finished film along with many others (I rented an Italian language version of the film with English subtitles from Amazon Instant Video).

Non abbiate paura (never fear), it all works. If you’re interested in a beautiful historical drama with some interesting things to think about, definitely check out Il gattopardo.


Burt Lancaster in 'Il gattopardo' (1963)

Burt Lancaster in ‘Il gattopardo’ (1963)

Cinema Italiano 2014: ‘We Have a Pope’


2011’s We Have a Pope (Habemus Papam) poses an interesting scenario: what if the newly elected Catholic Pope has a panic attack and flees the Vatican before taking on the job?

This comedy/drama, written and directed by Italian filmmaker Nanni Moretti, is part social commentary and part human drama. It tells the story of Cardinal Melville (played by famous French actor Michel Piccoli), a humble man of God just doing his duty at the papal conclave after the passing of the beloved (and now canonized) Pope John Paul II. When it turns out that he is the one elected by the College of Cardinals to be the next pope, Melville immediately turns to feelings of his own inadequacy, self doubt, and apprehension about taking on the incredible burden, particularly at his advanced age. His indecision causes him to literally run away from the Vatican and roam the streets of Rome in street clothes as he tries to figure out which steps to take with the remainder of his life.

Director Moretti displays his own views in the film about the constant associations in Italy between religion and the media. He also juxtaposes the narrative of the film with a volleyball tournament between the cardinals while they wait to hear from the absentee pope along with the play “The Seagull” by Anton Chekov (Melville runs into a group of actors in Rome getting ready to put on the play). While “The Seagull” might seem an odd choice, its themes of unhappy and unsatisfied people and the element of human folly involved capture Melville’s thought processes and, most importantly, his humanity.

Although the film’s realistic portrayal of many sites within the interior of the Vatican (the Sistine Chapel, etc.) look real, the scenes were actually shot on sets created at the famed Cinecittà Studios in Rome.

It was fun to see some current Italian cinema, particularly this well-made and thought provoking film. We Have a Pope is available to rent on Amazon Instant Video.

Michel Piccoli in 'We Have a Pope' (2011)

Michel Piccoli in ‘We Have a Pope’ (2011)