Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Sponsor - Primo Piano Venice Art Gallery

La Trilogia del Dollare by Manuela Sain
(Venice, Italy) At the Primo Piano Venice Art Gallery opening for Manuela Sain's My Holly-view on September 1 -- the same day the Venice Film Festival opened -- the artist told me that her greatest wish was that one day Quentin Tarantino would own the painting you see above, La Trilogia del Dollare. Sain had been influenced by Tarantino and Sergio Leone to such an extent that last year she presented an entire show inspired by the directors' films entitled C'era una volta (Once upon a time)...PULP Sergio Leone & Quentin Tarantino, fratelli di sangue (Blood Brothers). Hollywood icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn have also inspired the Novara-born artist, so Sain was especially pleased that Primo Piano was showing her work during the film festival. And that the President of the jury of the 67th Venice International Film Festival this year just happened to be Quentin Tarantino -- it seemed that Manuela Sain's stars were in alignment.

Kill Bill by Manuela Sain
Thanks to the efforts of Elisabetta Cudicio and Ioulia Doudina, owners of new Primo Piano Venice Art Gallery located about a minute away from the renowned Palazzo Grassi, Manuela Sain's wish came doubly true. Tarantino not only bought La Trilogia del Dollare, he also bought the acrylic on canvas painting Kill Bill. Timing, hard work, marketing, location and collaboration between the gallery and the artist paid off -- that, together with a dash of luck.

Lavagna a Terezin by Giorgio Celiberti
Elisabetta Cudicio hails from Friuli and has been in the business of promoting and selling art throughout Italy since 1996. Her passion for her work is evident the moment you enter Primo Piano. She doesn't believe a gallery should be silent and intimidating like a mausoleum, but filled with life and the search for truth. "We have to look for the truth every day. It is not something you discover over night. One of my greatest satisfactions is promoting an artist like Giorgi Celiberti, who is 81-years-old and working 365 days a year, with forty projects going at once. Art should make you feel something -- the most rewarding transactions are when people tell me they want to buy a particular piece of art because it fills them with emotion." Please click HERE to continue reading.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

THE TEMPEST - The Stuff of Dreams - Venice World Premiere

(Venice, Italy) We are such stuff that dreams are made on...

After 400 years, The Tempest by William Shakespeare has metamorphosized into an electric new creation. Changing the gender of the protagonist and casting the masterful Helen Mirren as the female sorceress, Prospera, who has been banished as the ruler of Milan, instead of the traditionally male sorcerer Prospero, was a stroke of genius by Julie Taymor. It feels right, as though Shakespeare should have written it that way from the start. It makes the unseen character of Sycorax, a powerful sorceress who has died before the story begins, much more dynamic. The pregnant Sycorax was banished from Algiers, just as Prospera was banished from Milan with her three-year-old daughter -- that they both ended up on the same bewitched island seems destined, as if the island itself provides the chessboard for the game that must be played.

In fact, in an example of real-life synchronicity, it turns out that both Julie Taymor and Helen Mirren were already on the same wavelength before either of them had met each other -- they both had thought about Prospera as a woman. They met at a party and were talking Shakespeare when Mirren said to Taymor, "You know, I could play Prospero -- as a woman." Taymor said, "Do you want to? Because I've been preparing a film version of The Tempest with exactly that in mind."

The tempest that shipwrecks the royal court, however, is no accident. The King of Naples (David Strathairn) is on the boat, together with Prospera's own dastardly brother, Antonio (Chris Cooper), who was the cause of Prospera's banishment -- he accused her of using witchcraft to kill her husband, the Duke of Milan, so Antonio could steal the title. Prospera conjures up a violent storm and wrecks the royal court on her mysterious island, and then uses magic to lure them to her lair.

During the press conference, Helen Mirren was asked if she felt Prospera represented women who had been victimized because they had knowledge. Mirren said that for many centuries women of knowledge have been punished for their knowledge, and that an educated female is considered a dangerous thing -- even to this day. In the production notes, she says: "The gender switch...alters the political slant of the play, making it obvious that Prospera's banishment has to do with her being a woman in control of a male-dominated court in Milan."

The Big Island of Hawaii and Lanai was the landscape for the mysterious island: black volcanic rock, red earth canyons, white coral bones and a deep blue sea. When Lynn Hendee, one of the film's producers, contacted the Lanai film commissioner, she was told, "No, you can't film here. It's privately owned and the owner doesn't allow filming." (If there is no filming allowed on Lanai, then why do they have a film commissioner??? I want that job!)

In any event, that did not stop Lynn Hendee. She contacted the island's owner, Dole pineapple's David Murdock, and had dinner. "We had a lovely evening and it turns out Mr. Murdock is a huge Shakespeare fan. He liked the idea of this project and thought it would be a tribute to the island that he loved. And, as the audience will see, the island is a character in the film."

Caliban, the dead sorceress Sycorax's son, is played by Djimon Hounsou as a force of nature, barely contained, the volcanic island personified. Hounsou said his only complaint was that he had to spend five hours every day in make-up. The result is stupendous -- caked mud, black and white, one blue eye, strange markings.

When asked how it was to work with Russell Brand (Trinculo), who apparently has an.... interesting... reputation, Helen Mirren raved about him, saying he used language in an inventive way and that he was utterly sweet-natured and a genius. Julie Taymor said she didn't know who he was when she cast him, and spoke highly of him, too, and said he could basically have whatever career he wanted to have. Of course this made me curious about him because I have no idea who he is, either. From Wikipedia:

Brand achieved fame in the UK for presenting a Big Brother spin-off, Big Brother's Big Mouth, and for his radio show, among other television series and award ceremonies. He has also appeared in a number of films, including the romantic comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bedtime Stories, St Trinian's, Get Him to the Greek, and most recently, Despicable Me. He is noted for various controversies that have surrounded him in the British media, such as the 2008 prank calls that led to his resignation from the BBC. He is engaged to Katy Perry.

Click HERE to read the entire article.

The spirit Ariel is played by Ben Winshaw, who literally was not there for most of the shoot, so Helen Mirren had to act to the air, imagining where he would be. Taymor said it actually worked out for the better because it allowed them to really get creative. Taymor said, "Ariel is not human, does not walk on the ground and is constantly transforming. This limitation was an invitation to Kyle Cooper, the visual effects designer, and myself to invent an entirely new way of combining a live actor's performance with CGI (computer generated imagery)." Personally, I think they came up with some very cool effects, and I would have even liked more of them.

Casting Helen Mirren as Prospera also changes the most important relationship in the play, the one between parent and child. Prospera's young daughter, Miranda, is played by the beautiful Felicity Jones. The relationship becomes matriarchal, which adds many different elements and colors without changing a word of dialogue. When Prospera decides to return to Milan so that Miranda can have her rightful place, she puts on a corset, symbolizing the constricted life she is returning to for the sake of her daughter.

I loved the film, but I love Shakespeare and can never get enough of his work. All the performances are terrific, Sandy Powell's costumes are cool, and the original score by the composer, Elliot Goldenthal, is hauntingly beautiful, as full of magic as the play. Be sure to stick around until the the credits roll for the final song, "Coda," a totally original way to incorporate one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches, the epilogue to The Tempest.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Glorified Gangsters and Evil Angels - THE TOWN and VALLANZASCA

(Venice, Italy) Charlestown: a Boston neighborhood that has produced more bank and armored car robbers than any other single square mile in the world.

That is the log line of Ben Affleck's solid second directorial effort, The Town, based on the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, in which the neighborhood of Charlestown also features as a character in the movie. The idea of a space as a character with a personality seems to be a running theme this year at La Biennale, not only in film, but in architecture -- see If Buildings Could Talk. Instead of a talking building, in The Town, Charlestown speaks to us through the voices of the human beings that have grown up there -- we get to eavesdrop on their Code of Silence. Everyone in the 'hood knows what's going down, but nobody talks, which makes crime a thriving business.

How does a space breed bank and armored car robbers? At one time, Charlestown was the site of a maximum security prison, and folks moved into the neighborhood to be close to their loved ones. In the press book, Affleck says: "It served as a kind of revolving door. People would go to prison and their families would move there, and, as they got out and then went back in, a community developed around it. It was hypothesized in the book -- and we included it in the film -- that robbing banks became a trade that was passed down from fathers to sons."

Makes sense. It also makes this statistic from the Financial Times about the state of California more chilling:

Public funding for higher education in California has been squeezed in recent years. Thirty years ago, 10 per cent of California’s general budget was spent on the UC (University of California) and California State systems and 3 per cent was allocated to prisons.
But in the past three decades spending on prisons has risen to 11 per cent of the state’s revenue, while higher education’s share has slipped to 7.5 per cent

At the press conference Ben Affleck, who also gives a stellar performance in the film as Doug MacRay, said he was fascinated by the idea that where we grow up shapes what we become, and how children pay for the sins of their parents. Affleck also co-wrote the film with Aaron Stockard, who are both from Boston. Even though they grew up in Cambridge, "a stone's throw away from Charlestown," it was another world entirely. Stockard said, "We knew its reputation, but we assumed that most of it was overblown. It turned out that what we thought were mythical notions about Charlestown were actually true, which made the story even more appealing to us."

If that makes The Town sound like a cops and robbers boys' flick, it's not just that. Affleck says, "It's interesting because, on the one hand, you have this outer shell of a heist movie, but at its heart, the story is about a guy who's dealing with being stuck in a place he doesn't want to be and wants to change his life, which was much more compelling to me.It's about how rooted you are in how you grew up and also about children paying for the sins of their parents. I think that's something many people can identify with, even those of us who can't necessarily related to the criminal aspect."

Well, in addition to all that, The Town also happens to be a love story. Affleck's character Doug falls for a  bank manager named Claire (played by the talented Rebecca Hall) whom the gang took hostage during a masked robbery and then released, blindfolded, so she doesn't know who her kidnappers were. It's an interesting element that really works, and adds depth to the story.

In another shoot 'em up, Michele Placido's Italian film, Vallanzasca, Gli angeli del male, or "Vallanzasca, Angels of Evil" the very charismatic Italian actor, Kim Rossi Stuart, plays the very charismatic Italian mobster, Renato Vallanzasca, who is still alive and currently serving four consecutive life sentences. From Wikipedia:

Renato Vallanzasca Constantini (Milan, May 4, 1950) is a notorious Italian mobster from Milan who was a powerful figure in the Milanese underworld during the 1970s. Following numerous robberies, kidnappings, murders, and many years as a fugitive, he is currently serving four consecutive life sentences with an additional 260 years in prison, but with permission to work outside during the day. This enables him to go to work every morning in a workshop in the periphery of Milan, making bags from recycled material. He is a local celebrity in Milan, famous for appealing to part of the public opinion for his image linked to the "myth of the bandit".

Click HERE to read the entire article.

After this movie, Vallanzasca is sure to become a national celebrity, if not an international one. It's a terrific film even though it romanticizes and glorifies a mobster, but a mobster who has a strict code of rules, such as: no messing with innocent family members. At one moment in the film, Vallanzasca complains about the new batch of criminals, and how they have no morals -- so it's not just oil companies and Wall Street who are having integrity problems these days. If the evil angels are complaining, things have got to be bad.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, September 6, 2010

Trophy Wives and Hollywood Daughters - Potiche, Hitparzut X, Somewhere

(Venice, Italy) Catherine Deneuve will be 67-years-old next month, and after seeing her in the world premiere of the French film, Potiche, I nominate her for Empress of the Planet Earth. I want to live under her rule. Set in 1977, director Francois Ozon's Potiche is an old-fashioned, contemporary-Moliere, feel-good comedy, and injected some much appreciated French humor into the festival. The character Deneuve plays, Suzanne Pujol, transforms from trophy wife to umbrella factory boss to member of Parliament and wanna-be Mother of France -- the "trophy wife who refuses to stay on the shelf." Co-starring Gerard Depardieu as the communist mayor love interest, and Fabrice Luchini as the bombastic, tyrannical husband, I wouldn't know how to market it to American audiences, but I am quite sure it would be a hit for the simple reason that it is a funny, well-constructed story, with terrific performances by all. It's like an old-fashioned Doris Day comedy with teeth. You can pile your grown children into the car and take in the show -- in fact, for those of you in New York and Los Angeles, where, perhaps, this film could eventually arrive, that is what I suggest -- it is the perfect film to see with your in-laws. The industry audience laughed throughout the screening, with genuine applause at the end. During the press conference, it was mentioned how difficult it is for a comedy to screen at a film festival, but I think the entire Potiche group got their message across brilliantly, using humor to comment on the new advance of male chauvinism that seems to be spreading across the globe.

At the opposite side of the spectrum, Israeli director Eitan Zur makes his feature debut about another trophy wife in Hitparzut X, or Naomi. Much darker in tone, 60-something, overweight, astrophysicist Ilan Ben-Natanist is married to blonde, beautiful 28-year-old book illustrator, Naomi -- how that marriage happened in the first place is not clear. Of course she cheats on him. Ilan becomes obsessed with jealousy and turns to his 80-something mother for advice, who tells him that is what he gets for marrying eye-candy, and to let the affair play itself out. Instead of heeding his mother, Ilan murders his wife's lover with his bare hands, and turns again to Mom for advice. "No corpse, no crime," she advises, and takes the stereotypical self-sacrificing Jewish mother to new heights with her solution.

Sofia Coppola's Somewhere, starring Stephen Dorff as Johnny Marco, is set in Los Angeles at the legendary Chateau Marmont, "playing itself for the first time at length on-screen," according to the press book. "The Chateau doesn't allow a lot of filming," comments producer G. Mac Brown, who entered into negotiations with the hotel early and often. "If and when they do, they can charge a very high location fee and it probably has to be done in the middle of the night. None of this was the case with 'Somewhere.'"

And that, perhaps, is the point of the movie -- Sofia Coppola's reflections on what it's like to be the daughter of a Hollywood icon, with all its privileges and sand traps. Johnny Marco drives a Ferrari and has twin blonds pole-dancing in his room for amusement -- the poles are collapsible, transported by the girls; the gay masseuse transports his massage table; room service is delivered; everything comes and goes in Johnny Marco's room at the Chateau without much effort on his part, including his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo -- forcing him to decide which path in life he will take.

During the festival, I have been reading Irwin Shaw's Evening in Byzantium about the Cannes Film Festival, and first published in 1973.

"How's your daughter?"
"It would take all night to tell you," he said. "She's after me to quit the movie business. Altogether. She says it's cruel and capricious and the people're awful."
"Did she convince you?"
"Not quite. Although I more or less agree with her. It is cruel and capricious, and most of the people are awful. Only it's not worse and probably better than most other businesses. You get more bootlicking and lying in one day in any army, for example, than in a year in every studio in Hollywood combined. And there's more throat-cutting and double-dealing in politics, say, or selling frozen foods than there ever possibly could be on a movie set. And the end product, no matter how bad it is, can't do any more harm than generals and senators and TV dinners."

Since I lived much of my adult life in Los Angeles, it was nice to cruise Sunset Boulevard again in a car that rumbles, if only in a film...

Ciao from Venice,
Cat -

Friday, September 3, 2010

New Sponsor - The Terrace at the Gritti Palace

(Venice, Italy) The terrace of the Hotel Gritti Palace is a magnetic location, attracting the illustrious and industrious from all over the world. The Gritti terrace has supported the weight of kings and queens, ambassadors and diplomats, movie stars and fashion models, politicians, writers, conductors, composers, architects, artists, designers, intellectuals -- even a Head of State or two. With its spectacular view of the Grand Canal, it is the dramatic setting for prestigious corporate lunches as well as intimate private dinners. Just a five-minute walk to La Fenice, or ten minutes to the Goldoni, the Gritti terrace is the place where opera and theater lovers congregate before and after the show. The Gritti terrace is connected by boat to the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido for resident guests of both hotels that allows easy access to the Venice International Film Festival.

Ernest Hemingway often enjoyed a meal and a bottle of Valpolicella on the Gritti terrace, then wandered one floor up to his suite to put the finishing touches on his novel, Across the River and Into the Trees, which was inspired by his relationship with a young Venetian aristocrat, Adriana Ivancich. Years after Hemingway's death, Adriana wrote her own book about the relationship, White Tower, and in 1980 revealed to People magazine:

She last saw Hemingway in Venice in 1955. They sat on the Gritti terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. It was sunset in one of the world's most beautiful cities. Adriana remembers that tears rolled down the author's cheeks. "Look, daughter," he said. "Now you can tell everyone you saw Ernest Hemingway cry." 

The celebrated English novelist, W. Somerset Maugham, author of "The Razor's Edge" and "Of Human Bondage" often stayed at the Gritti. In a letter dated June 18, 1960, he wrote:

 “There are few things in life more pleasant than to sit on the terrace of the Gritti when the sun about to set bathes in lovely colour the Salute, which almost faces you. You see that noble building at its best and the sight adds to your satisfaction. For at the Gritti you are not merely a number as you are in those vast caravanserais that are now being built all over the world; you are a friend who has been welcomed as he stepped out of his motor boat, and when you seat down to dinner at the very same table that you sat at the year before, and the year before that, when you see that your bottle of Soave is in the ice-pail, waiting for you, as it has been year after year, you cannot but feel very much at home.”

Please click HERE to continue reading.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez on the Lido

(Venice, Italy) As promised, there are Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez together on the Lido for the 67th International Venice Film Festival. Quentin Tarantino is the President of the Jury, and Robert Rodriguez's newest film MACHETE will have its world premiere tonight at midnight. At the press conference, Rodriguez described the film as a "Mex-ploitation" film. Starring Danny Trejo, a former convict-turned-drug-counselor- turned-movie actor, Trejo said Rodriguez transformed him "from ex-con to icon." The eclectic ensemble includes Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Michelle Rodriguez, Jeff Fahey and Cheech Marin. When asked if he ever took his hat off, Rodriguez said, no, if he ever took his hat off all the good ideas would go out of his head.

BLACK SWAN, the opening film in competition, stars Natalie Portman as Nina, and Mila Kunis as Lily, combatants over the lead in the ballet, "Swan Lake." Director Darren Aronofsky sees BLACK SWAN as a companion film to THE WRESTLER, which won the Golden Lion in 2008, since they are both about people who take their bodies to extreme levels. Full of symbolism, BLACK SWAN is a dark psychological thriller set in the world of ballet about a good girl getting in touch, literally, with her dark, sexual side. The director of the New York City ballet company, played by Vincent Cassel, pushes her to the extreme on one side, and her mother, played by Barbara Hershey, pulls her to the other -- but no one is lifting her to the light except Nina herself, destroying herself with the effort -- what she is trying to achieve is "perfection." In the production notes, Hershey sums up her own character, Erica, a former dancer who never made it out of the background, which gives insight into Nina:

“I’m sure some people will look at Erica as the mother from hell but I see her as a mother in hell, which is a big difference,” says Hershey.  “I think she’s pretty tortured. For everything she does, there’s this opposite thing happening at the same time.  She loves her daughter yet there’s an obsession to it.  She wants her to succeed but at the same time she knows her fragile mental state.  She’s terribly jealous of her daughter, yet she wants the world for her.  She wants Nina to fly -- but she doesn’t want her to leave.”

Portman said that Aronofsky had originally spoken to her about the role back in 2002, and told her there would be a scene in which she had sex with herself. At the press conference, people were buzzing about the sex scene, but some people are always buzzing about the sex scene -- it was not much more than you would see in a music video. BLACK SWAN delves into something more profound than sex between two women -- the eternal struggle between the Dark and the Light.

Ciao from the 67th Venice International Film Festival,