Say Yes to the ‘House of Gucci’

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House of Gucci (CREDIT: Fabio Lovino/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures)

Starring: Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, Jeremy Irons, Jack Huston, Reeve Carney, Camille Cottin

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 157 Minutes

Rating: R for Opulent Language and Sexuality, and a Little Bit of Gun Violence

Release Date: November 24, 2021 (Theaters)

How historically accurate is House of Gucci? I’m not sure, and at this moment, I don’t particularly care. The general bullet points at least are correct as far as I can tell: Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) marries her way into the legendary Gucci fashion family. She reveals her true ambitious self by pushing aside her brother-in-law Paolo (Jared Leto) and uncle-in-law Aldo (Al Pacino). But her union with her husband Maurizio (Adam Driver) eventually falls apart, so much so that after their divorce, she teams up with a psychic (Salma Hayek) to hire a hitman to murder Maurizio. The Guccis are clearing themselves right out of Gucci.

It’s a tale that’s as ripe as a tomato for building a legend around. When you’re going the mythmaking route, it helps if the real-life people being portrayed are dead, which is mostly the case here, except for Reggiani. I don’t know if she plans on watching the film, but either way, I hope she can make peace with the fact that her persona is now partly owned by the culture at large.

And what a persona it is! Gaga goes big. Perhaps the Biggest of Her Career. Now, you may be thinking, “That’s saying something, considering what she’s famous for.” But while her landscapes and scaffolding are frequently over-the-top in baroque and rococo fashions, her foundations are usually grounded in more straightforward feeling. But in this case, Patrizia cannot be contained. She’s the kind of person who wonders aloud, “Will I be successful?” And you know what she really means is, “Look out suckers, I’m not going to stop until I do everything I can to be successful.” You get the feeling that Gaga has captured some elemental force, and if she had let it get away, it would be like unleashing Pandora’s box.

The other performance I’m absolutely in love with is Leto’s take on the black sheep of the family. Paolo Gucci and I have similarly left-of-center views on fashion, so I’m already drawn toward him for that reason. Leto plays him as a sort of simpering Italian version of Rodney Dangerfield, with a voice that sounds like a certain video game plumber. Often when it comes to Leto, I’m put off by stories of his onscreen antics, and even beyond that, I’ve never quite connected with any of his performances. However, in this case, he’s making some wild decisions that perfectly embody the House of Gucci milieu. It’s breathtaking.

As for the rest of the cast, Adam Driver and Jeremy Irons (as Maurizio’s stick-up-his-ass dad Rodolfo) are much more subdued than everyone else. Pacino is subdued by his standards (which is to say, he’s in between the Gucci extremes). And we all know that Salma Hayek always brings it, and she brings it as hard here as she always does. In conclusion, I spent most of this review talking about the acting, and that’s because these are performances that are as hearty and life-sustaining as a Mediterranean diet. Dig in!

House of Gucci is Recommended If You Like: I, Tonya, Super Marios Bros., That Olive Garden commercial with the Selena Gomez song

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fabrics

I Liked It When ‘The Last Duel’ Ended (That’s a Compliment)

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The Last Duel (CREDIT: 20th Century Studios/Screenshot)

Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer, Ben Affleck, Harriet Walter, Nathaniel Parker, Alex Lawther

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 153 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: October 15, 2021 (Theaters)

My favorite part of the The Last Duel is The Last Part – tres appropriate! Actually, I liked two last parts, as it were. The film is split into thirds: first we get the perspective of Sir Jean de Carrouges (as played by Mr. Matt Damon), then the perspective of Jacques Le Gris (as played by Mr. Adam Driver), and finally the perspective of Sir Jean’s wife Marguerite (as played by Ms. Jodie Comer). So when I say I liked two last parts, I mean that I liked Marguerite’s section the best of the three, AND I liked the very last scene more than any other scene, as we finally got to see the titular duel between Sir Jean and Jacques and the emotional stakes were abundantly clear. The men’s sections were occasionally a bit of a chore to get through, but they provided essential context to make the resolutions work as satisfactorily as they did (h/t to NPR’s Linda Holmes for priming me towards this reaction with her discussion on the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast). I hope everyone reading likes the end of this review just as much.

Grade: The End Was Good!

This Is a Movie Review: ‘All the Money in the World’ Brings the Life-or-Death Thrills, But Could Go Deeper in the Psychology of Vast Wealth

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CREDIT: Sony/Columbia TriStar

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Kidnapping-Related Dismemberment and the Vices of the Rich and Organized Criminals

Release Date: December 25, 2017

First off, for those of you wondering: yes, director Ridley Scott has seamlessly replaced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty. No distracting editing or effects tricks appear to have been necessary, and anyone unfamiliar with the backstory should not have any reason to suspect an unusual production.

As All the Money in the World states explicitly, the Getty family’s massive fortune makes them practically an alien species living among human beings. Is it J. Paul Getty’s billions that make him see the world differently, or has he always been that way? Certainly his instinct for negotiating every possible deal is unprecedented, but his particularly uncompromising worldview goes beyond that. How else to explain a man who takes extreme measures not to ensure that his grandson is freed from kidnappers, but rather to ensure that he gets the best possible deal out of the exchange?

Ridley Scott’s knack for ruthless efficiency makes it difficult to really plumb those psychological depths. (It also means that there are moments when characters are staged partially in shadow and I am not sure if it is an artistic decision or just poor lighting.) It is impossible to avoid them entirely, because of Getty’s singularity and Plummer’s inherent understanding of the role. The audience is left to draw its own conclusions, but we are nudged towards just accepting that this man is totally inscrutable.

While this efficiency may skimp on the thematic depth, it at least ensures the satisfaction of a nail-biting thrill ride. The kidnapping victim, John Paul Petty III, who goes by Paul, (Charlie Plummer, unrelated to Christopher) is adrift by his familial station, but he has still enough of a survival instinct to give his scenes plenty of verve. Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams, with a distractingly self-aware but perhaps historically accurate Mid-Atlantic accent) is understandably constantly on the verge of an emotional breakdown, but she remains steely, surprising herself perhaps most of all. And Mark Wahlberg is unusually upright and decent as the former CIA operative assisting J. Paul and Gail. In the moment of watching, the rescue mission grips you, but in the long run, the mark of J. Paul Getty leaves you existentially disoriented.

All the Money in the World is Recommended If You Like: Films About Real Life Rescue Missions and the Most Notorious Criminal Enterprises, Attempting to Understand the Wealthiest People on the Planet

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Negotiations

This Is a Movie Review: Sequel-Prequel ‘Alien: Covenant’ Follows the ‘Prometheus’ Template and Adds a Few Bizarre Details of Its Own

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This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 123 Minutes

Rating: R for the Usual Chest-Bursting Shenanigans

Release Date: May 19, 2017

When horror movies are successful enough to merit sequels, the follow-ups can either repeat the same scares or expand the mythology. They usually do both, with the latter generally growing in prominence as the series drags on, with the diminishing returns on the former become clearer and clearer. (They can also try to summon entirely new scares, but that is one of the most difficult tasks in all of moviemaking.) Ridley Scott’s Alien is pure horror, despite its sci-fi setting. When other directors took over for the first batch of sequels, their genres may have tended more towards action, but the mythology certainly blew out as well, what with cloning Ripley and hurtling hundreds of year into the future.

Now that Scott has taken back the reins, he has apparently decided that if crazy ideas are going to be the name of the day, he might as well underpin the franchise with his own peculiar philosophizing. Because otherwise, this would just be a rehash of intrepid spacefarers treading too far on the edge and getting ripped apart by lethally invasive extraterrestrials. That approach is not necessarily terrible, and Alien: Covenant does not avoid it entirely. Chest-bursting can no longer be as iconic as it was the first time, but it still packs a sickening kick, and there are other body parts to slice off and wear away with acid blood. And there are also some larger-scale action sequences, demonstrating Scott’s still vibrant eye for scale and knack for properly calibrating tension.

But Covenant truly excels when it gets weird. It bridges the gap, both temporally and thematically, between the original Alien and 2012 prequel Prometheus. The latter film started to answer the question of what made the original attack on the Nostromo possible, a question that nobody really ever asked. Covenant continues to answer the question, and while it is still unnecessary, the backstory on display is fascinating enough to justify itself.

The actors playing the human crew of the Covenant fulfill their duties, but it is android Michael Fassbender who is pulling the strings. Prometheus and Covenant are explicitly about creation myths and the limits of human ambition, and these fundamental themes of existence are represented and mercilessly toyed with by humanoid beings created by humans. Certain revelations come out squarely tsk-tsking against hubris, while other moments are more impenetrable with their messages. But that is no criticism. Traversing across the universe should be stunning, humbling, and mysterious, perhaps even to the point of incomprehensibility. What is the purpose, for example, of Fassbender teaching himself to play the flute? I cannot genuinely say that I know, except that it makes Alien: Covenant unforgettable.

Alien: Covenant is Recommended If You Like: Prometheus But Wish It Had Been Better, Even If You Thought It Was Good

Grade: 4 out of 5 Fingers