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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.08%
Worth A Look: 3.85%
Just Average: 15.38%
Pretty Crappy53.85%
Sucks: 3.85%

3 reviews, 8 user ratings

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by Peter Sobczynski

"Cinecitta Of Women"
5 stars

At first glance, the musical “Nine” would seem to be a unlikely candidate to make the transition from the stage to the screen. Although it ran on Broadway for the while and won the Tony for Best Musical in 1982, none of the songs from the score ever took off as hits and the show as a whole didn’t really become popular until its 2003 revival and that could be largely attributed to the presence of Antonio Banderas in the cast. Alas, Banderas chose not to sign on for the film version and while the cast is as talented and attractive as one could hope for (especially those trying to promote a musical without any other obvious publicity hook), only a couple of them could be said to have had any real prior musical experience. Finally, the film is based on one of the all-time classic films, Federico Fellini’s 1963 masterpiece “8 ½,” a work that is once sacrosanct amongst most film lovers and one that has had its ideas and imagery appropriated countless times over the years--practically every film about the world of filmmaking made since its release owes it a debt. It sounds like a potential recipe for disaster but despite the unlikely combination of ingredients, “Nine” is an utter delight from start to finish--a sexy and surreal musical fantasy that is both one of the very best musicals of the decade and arguably the most fun that you will have in a multiplex right now.

Set in 1965, the film stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido Contini, a Italian filmmaker not unlike Fellini himself who is equally celebrated for his bold and bawdy excesses, both artistic and romantic. As the film opens, arrives at the famed Cinecitta studios to begin preparations for his latest epic, a project with no less of a title than “Italia” amid the bustle of workers ready to bring his latest visions to life and newspaper reporters eager to splash him across their pages. What none of them realize is that even though production of the film is scheduled to begin in a week’s time, Guido not only doesn’t have a finished screenplay, he doesn’t even have an idea as to what the film should be--a bad thing under any circumstance but especially so in his case since his two previous films were both high-profile flops. After a press conference that starts off well but which quickly goes south when the journalists begin pressing for information about his new film while speculating that he has run out of things to say, Guido flees the studio to a seaside spa to escape the pressures he is facing and to finally come up with something that he can shoot.

While there, Guido finds himself distracted by appearances--both real and imagined--from the various women in his life, both past and present, who have helped shape him into the overly coddled and oversexed model of well-dressed emotional dysfunction that he has become. Luisa (Marion Cotillard) is the patient and long-suffering wife whose willingness to turn a blind eye to her husband’s artistic ambitions and extracurricular romances is rapidly coming to an end. Carla (Penelope Cruz) is his current mistress, a married sex bomb who has made the grave mistake of genuinely falling in love with the guy. Claudia (Nicole Kidman) is the bombshell actress who has served as Guido’s muse over the course of several movies but who is now looking for something a little more concrete if their relationship is to continue--an actual script for “Italia,” for starters. Stephanie (Kate Hudson) is a reporter for “Vogue” who is a devotee of Guido’s films who makes it clear that she would like to express her admiration in more personal terms. Perhaps the only one who has no designs on Guido--ironic, given her profession--is his longtime costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench) and as a result, she is the closest thing that he has to a genuine confidante. In his memories, Guido also flashes back to the two most important women of his childhood--the mother (Sophia Loren) who gave him numerous lessons on how to treat a woman and the prostitute (Fergie) who gave him an entirely different, and presumably more entertaining, syllabus to work from.

In bringing “Nine” from the stage to the screen for an audience that is still somewhat mistrustful of films in which characters suddenly burst into song and dance, director Rob Marshall utilizes the same basic approach that he took with his adaptation of “Chicago” a few years ago by conceiving the musical numbers largely as fantasies going on within the mind of the main character and presenting them in overtly theatrical terms on a stage, a vast and empty soundstage in this case. In “Chicago,” this approach struck me as a bit of a cheat designed to make the musical numbers a little more palatable to those not inclined to accept them otherwise and often didn’t make sense from a conceptual standpoint. This time around, however, the conceit works because more or less makes sense from a conceptual standpoint. Since all the songs are filtered through the mind of a director who fears that he has run out of ideas, the notion of an empty soundstage as a constantly looming background to his momentary distractions is a potent one. It also helps to explain the razzle-dazzle staging of many of the numbers in which flashy effects and quick edits are as important--if not more so--than the choreography; as Guido is a filmmaker and not, say, a choreographer, it makes perfect sense that he would visualize these moments in terms that are more overtly cinematic than theatrical. The other smart move that Marshall makes here is to resist any attempt to approximate Fellini’s famously flamboyant stylistic approach. To put it kindly, Marshall is not a particularly bold or stylish director in his own right (as anyone who managed to make it through the slog that was “Memoirs of a Geisha” can attest) and trying to overtly emulate Fellini’s style would have led to disaster. Although the film is stylized throughout--the world of filmmaking that he depicts is essentially a fantasy unto itself--it correctly saves its biggest indulgences for the musical numbers and restrains itself enough elsewhere so that it never wears out its welcome by becoming too whimsical for its own good.

Although the screenplay by Michael Tolkin and the late Anthony Minghella does a reasonably good job of repurposing “8 ½” while balancing Guido’s personal and professional predicaments, “Nine” is the kind of film that lives and dies solely on the strength of its production numbers and the skills of the people performing them and in that respect, it is pretty much a triumph through and through. Although Daniel Day-Lewis’ Italian accent takes a little while to get used to (which is unfortunate since the first of his two solo numbers, “Guido’s Song,” appears during this period of adjustment), his performance quickly begins to grow on you in the way that he stresses a humorous sense of self-awareness of Guido’s plight instead of going for a more self-pitying approach--it may not be the best or most powerful work that he has ever done as an actor but there is a genuine sense of joy to his performance that you rarely see from him that is entirely refreshing. Of the women, Penelope Cruz is enormously winning with her sweet, sad and sympathetic turn as Carla and her big number, “A Call From the Vatican,” is a sexy show-stopper for the ages. Marion Cotillard is just as effective as Luisa--her performance here is actually far more interesting than her Oscar-winning turn as Edith Piaf in “La Vie En Rose”--and she also shows a surprising facility for musical performance with her two songs, the plaintive lament “My Husband Makes Movies” and the newly written number “Take It All,” a steamy look-at-what-you’re-missing kiss-off to Guido that gives Cruz’s number a run for its money in the va-va-voom sweepstakes.

Given the task of interpreting what is probably the show’s best-known number, “Be Italian,” Fergie gives a ferocious take on the tune that features the most convincing singing performance that she has given to date. As for Nicole Kidman, although she doesn’t turn up until the late innings, she makes it worth the wait with her affecting rendition of “Unusual Way.“ By comparison, Judi Dench and Kate Hudson may not be the most skilled singers or dancers but they throw themselves into their respective numbers, “Folies Bergeres” and the newly written “Cinema Italiano,” with such enthusiasm and good cheer that it is hard to resist their efforts. As for Sophia Loren’s big number, “Guarda la luna,” it isn’t much of a song and she isn’t much of a singer--however, she is presented in such frankly regal terms (both as a movie star from an era when such people truly were larger than life and as an authentic representative of the era celebrated by the film as a whole) that you are in too much awe of her mere presence to note such things.

“Nine” may not be a masterpiece of the musical genre and it is certainly in no danger of replacing “8 ½” in the annals of film history anytime soon. Nevertheless, speaking as someone who has never exactly warmed to movie musicals--especially those adapted from stage shows--I found the film to be an enormously entertaining spectacle and one of the few films of this holiday season that I would want to watch again without a moment’s hesitation. As eye-popping fantasies go, it certainly beats “Avatar” like a gong, though the mind boggles at what might have been achieved if this one had been made in 3-D. The MPAA, in their infinite wisdom, has given “Nine” a PG-13 rating for “sexual content and smoking”--trust me, truer words have never been spoken.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18366&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/25/09 00:26:10
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User Comments

2/09/12 Ladsdon Wellgood Challenges people because it breaks the rule: backstagers celebrate success. 3 stars
1/28/11 R.W. Welch Some interesting cinematography, tho the score is not all that great. B- 4 stars
12/04/10 millersxing A less intoxicating musical than I'd hoped for, the music fails to titillate. 3 stars
10/13/10 Meep Perfectly enjoyable but lacking real drive and ambition, beautiful woman 3 stars
8/08/10 the dork knight Hang on. Did I rent Moulin Rouge 2 by accident? 3 stars
5/04/10 J Plot was terrable, but Penelope Cruz made it watchable 2 stars
1/01/10 Darkstar I hated every second of this movie 1 stars
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  18-Dec-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-May-2010


  DVD: 04-May-2010

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