A dear friend coined a handy if snotty phrase she employs when she enjoys a film or a play that she doesn’t find particularly cerebral: “It’s not a major work but I liked it.” I’ll borrow her phrase for Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, an engrossing and splashy biopic that doesn’t seem like the nearly three-hour investment it demands.
The story chronicles the rocky relationship of Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a girl from the wrong side of the tax, so to speak, who marries up; and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), her catch: that Gucci, the heir to the fashion dynasty. Her ambition pushes her husband and the family business to unexpected heights but destroys everything else in the process. Every. Single. Thing.
Janty Yates’s costumes are every bit as important to the story as Roberto Bentivegna’s script and Scott’s keen direction. She captures the royal air that (perhaps once) was Gucci. Yates deserves an Oscar. Gaga and Driver deliver standout performances that are worth the investment this film demands. Al Pacino and Jared Leto soar in their supporting roles, sometimes upstaging Gaga and Driver. The casting is a wet dream.
House of Gucci did not touch me or move me. I’m no better for seeing it. The characters are irredeemable. Still, it kept my attention and it entertained me. I would see it again. In a heartbeat.
With Jeremy Irons, Salma Hayek, Jack Huston, Reeve Carney, Camille Cottin, Vincent Riotta, Alexia Muray, Mia McGovern Zaini, Florence Andrews, Madalina Diana Ghenea, Youssef Kerkour, Mehdi Nebbou, Miloud Mourad Benamara, Antonello Annunziata, Catherine Walker, Martino Palmisano
Production: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Bron Creative, Scott Free Productions
Distribution: United Artists Releasing, Universal Pictures
Ridley Scott is hit or miss with me, Harrison Ford bores me, and I tend to eschew science fiction. So, neo-noir sci-fi drama Blade Runner doesn’t seem like something that would appeal to me. It does, though—in fact, I love it.
Like Alien, another gem by Scott, Blade Runner succeeds on so many levels. Executed near flawlessly, its themes and narrative, its structure and pace, its sets and technical aspects are all polished, eloquent, and downright cerebral. It cuts right to the heart of humanity—what’s beautiful about it and what isn’t, and what it is to be human.
Los Angeles, November 2019: six rogue artificial humans known as replicants that were banished to an “off-world” work camp in space return to Earth in a desperate attempt to extend their life. Created by tech behemoth Tyrell Corporation, this particular model, the Nexus-6, is the smartest and strongest replicant. However, it has a lifespan of only four years—and the meter is ticking. Fortunately for them, replicants are indistinguishable from real humans, except for their emotional responses. It takes a lengthy question-and-answer test to positively identify them.
Burned out former cop Rick Deckard (Ford), whose job as a blade runner was to track down replicants and “retire,” or kill them, is persuaded—okay, extorted—out of a self-imposed furlough to find and get rid of these troublemakers. Stat. The job isn’t an easy one, particularly where charmingly weird and conniving Pris (Daryl Hannah) and invincible badass Roy (Rutger Hauer) are involved.
As Deckard searches for his targets, he meets and gets to know the rather severely formal Rachael (Sean Young), assistant to replicant inventor Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel). Rachael doesn’t know she’s a replicant. Tyrell asks Deckard to retire her as well, but there’s a problem: Deckard realizes he’s falling for her.
Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—with the title taken from Alan E. Nourse’s novel The Blade Runner, which had nothing to do with Dick (https://www.neondystopia.com/cyberpunk-movies-anime/the-story-behind-blade-runners-title/)—Blade Runner is dark in every sense of the word. Jordan Cronenweth’s cinematography is stunningly bleak. The setting might be Los Angeles, but Scott slyly references Metropolis—only he refits it to Hong Kong or Tokyo. Many of the ideas explored here are eerily relevant today, especially the way morality plays out with corporations, genetic engineering, a police state, the environment, and hierarchy of life and life forms.
Blade Runner is a weighty movie, but seriousness aside—I found myself entertained with a number of things that simply aren’t present today: PanAm, Atari, and TDK. Smoking indoors. Pay phones. Photographs. Even urban decay. I was also floored that one of the replicants was “born” 20 days after this screening. Plus, Roy is a bionic Ken doll and Pris looks like a club kid from Party Monster. Still, Blade Runner is timeless; I’ll see it again in three or 33 years and still swoon over it. Yes, it’s that good. The Final Cut is Scott’s own finetuned version of the original theatrical release. It kills me that after all this time, a sequel that I probably won’t see is coming out later this year.
Aside from Alien and Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s films don’t excite me. So, it should come as no surprise that The Martian didn’t do it for me, either. I didn’t hate it, but I definitely found it lacking. It aims for blockbuster status, which it achieved—good for it. Like far too many blockbusters, though, The Martian is an average Hollywood film at best.
Matt Damon stars as botanist/astronaut Mark Watney, a member of the Ares III mission to Mars. To Scott’s credit, he gets right down to business from the very first scene: while the crew is collecting soil samples, a violent dust storm kicks up out of nowhere and knocks down a sattellite (or something). Watney is struck with debris and pushed out of sight. His crew mates take him for dead. He’s not, we learn once the dust settles (no pun intended) and Ares has already left Mars.
Based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name—which I didn’t read—the story seems to lend itself naturally to drama, suspense, and action. Somehow, The Martian is oddly low on all three until the last half hour or so. The story moves along and Watney faces his share of obstacles, none of which are a surprise. He approaches them all with a MacGyver-like ingenuity (duct tape literally does fix anything). I won’t ruin the ending, but all it got out of me was a shrug. Eh.
Mars to Houston: what is Kristen Wiig doing in this movie? I laud her efforts to expand her horizons, but she’s not there yet. She can’t do drama. She sticks out like a sixth finger.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, The Martian has its positive aspects. The shots on Mars (actually Jordan) are realistic and downright stunning. Damon is excellent: he single-handedly saves The Martian from slipping into a black hole. Good thing, because the success of the entire script rests on his shoulders. He gives Watney sympathy and relatability. I like his character. His constant talking to himself to act as narrator easily could have gone south fast but he makes it work almost unnoticeably. To lighten the tone, he adds a believable sense of humor that I didn’t expect considering the plot. I now understand the Golden Globe “best actor in a comedy” thing. The disco hits are a nice touch that effectively augments this subtle comic relief. Overall, though, I expected something a lot more interesting.