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Our First Review Of Rob Marshall's NINE Comes Slinking In!

Beaks here...

As we move into the latter half of November, and the major year-end releases begin to screen for the actin' and writin' and directin' guilds, we're going to hear a great deal about the awards potential for films like UP IN THE AIR, THE LOVELY BONES, INVICTUS, MASKHEAD, AVATAR (yes, AVATAR) and THE LAST STATION. This discourse will be driven by a select group of bloggers who may or may not have access to Academy members. As ever, the quality of the actual films will be largely irrelevant. So let us examine Rob Marshall's kinda-sorta-anticipated NINE. Temerariously based on Federico Fellini's classic 8 1/2, this star-studded adaptation of Maury Yeston's Tony-Award-winning musical was expected to be The Weinstein Company's 2009-10 Oscar-season thoroughbred when it was greenlit. Then came the (now obligatory) nervous whispers about tone-deaf performances and errant tone. "Sure, Daniel Day-Lewis is wonderful as the tortured film director Guido, but the women are a mixed bag. Fergie can't act! Kidman stinks! And Marshall stupidly cut one of the show's best tunes!" Then the movie gets screened, and it turns out it ain't half-bad. In fact, according to our musical-loving-spy Tobby, it's damn near grand. And, apparently, Fergie can act! Tobby's written a rather extensive review of NINE, so I'll let him/her take it from here. There are mild spoilers below, but nothing that will ruin your enjoyment of the film. Will NINE be one of this year's ten Best Picture nominees? Certainly sounds like it's got a shot. (FYI, the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN item in the first paragraph isn't really a scoop. News of Marshall's involvement in the fourth film broke late last summer. That said, I think this is the first time he's spoken publicly about it, so I guess you can consider this a confirmation of sorts.)

Hi Jeremy. I just saw the DGA screening of Rob Marshall's latest movie, NINE tonight and stayed for the Q & A after, so I thought I'd write in to share my thoughts. First, let me just get the HUGE scoop out of the way: when asked about his next project (by Nora Ephron, who hosted the Q&A), he replied 'y'know, it's something that I was offered and never in the world thought I would do but then I was like 'why not?'... I'm doing 'Pirates of the Caribbean....''' That's right-- Rob Marshall is directing the next installment of the 'Pirates' franchise. The only additional thing he mentioned about it was that he had a wonderful meeting with Johnny a little while ago and that they're both excited to work together. Getting that out of the way, let me move on to NINE. First, let me mention that I actually work in the musical theater industry in NY, so I may have somewhat of a semi-biased-fan-boy approach to the film, having known the source material... having said that, let me say that NINE is a nice next move for Marshall, heavy with drama, conflict, madness, confusion and passion. Whereas CHICAGO relied more on the tongue-and-cheek satirical way of story telling, NINE is a lot more...grown up, complicated and darker. Don't get me wrong, you still have the very CHICAGO-y scantily clad ladies in black, slinking down poles, opening their legs, dancing up a storm and all, but it's all done in a very different way. A perfect example of things to come is how the film opens: with Daniel Day-Lewis as Guido Contini at a press conference, explaining some of his philosophies on film making. It then cuts to his character entering the empty dark studio that we've all seen in the preview. Nicole Kidman appears looking gorgeous, leans in and kisses him. All of a sudden the set becomes alive with tons of beautiful women, each one representing a sexual or emotional conquest for Contini from his past. As they sing the overture, they take him around the set, essentially 'introducing' to the audience the most important women of his life: his wife, Louisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress, Carla (Penelope Cruz), his muse, Claudia (Kidman) his mother (Sophia Lauren), his costume designer/confidant, Lilli (Judi Dench), the whore who taught him about sex, Saraghina (Sarah Ferguson- 'Fergie') and his soon-to-be conquest, Vogue reporter, Stephanie (Kate Hudson). The film follows the action surrounding Contini's latest film, entitled 'Italia,' for which costumes are being made, sets are being built, and it's all supposed to shoot in 10 days. The problem is that Contini has yet to produce a script. He's constantly hounded by everyone from his producer to the press, asking him questions about the script and what the film is about. Much of what happens in the film traces Guido's life and connections with the women from his past and some from the present. We see the strained relationship with his wife Louisa: once a promising actress, though after marrying Guido, she gives up her dreams and never works again. His mistress Carla, who is herself married, though she loves Guido and wants nothing more than to not hide their relationship or her feelings for him. We see his affectionate relationship with his mother, who has been dead for a while, but he still keeps her alive in his mind-- having conversations with her, and turning to her when times are the hardest. We see the camaraderie between him and Lilli, his costume designer; somewhat of a mother figure, who keeps him in line and picks him up when no one else will. We learn about his complicated relationship with his muse- Claudia Janssen, the internationally renowned star that he created. And we learn about the prostitute he used to visit when he was nine years old, who taught him everything he knows. Since that's the basic plot, I'm going to move on to the performances: Day-Lewis is incomparable once again. Displaying a rather powerful singing voice, clear, distinct, commanding, he unfortunately doesn't have a whole lot to sing in the movie as compared to the stage show (he only sings twice in the film) but both songs are masterful. He embodies Contini from head-to-toe, as one would only expect him to. Always with a cigarette in his hand, a twinge of chaos in his eye and looking like he should: like he crawled out of bed and his people kind of 'put him together'- combed his hair, made his tie, shaved him so that he would not go out and embarass himself. The complexities he finds in the character run very deep, making it easy to fall in love with him and forgive his madness. Marion Cotilard is deserving of another Oscar Nomination for this role. What she manages to with Louisa, is nothing short of spectacular. I was a little skeptical about her casting at first. In the stage show, Louisa and Guido have been married for 20 years, and by casting her so young, it lead me to believe that you would lose some of that history between these characters. Boy was I wrong. Marion's performance is a quiet, controlled bit of brilliance. You can see all of the pain she's ever felt as this character with just one simple look. She looks like an angel and sings like one too. Her two songs couldn't be more contrasting. The quiet but dark 'My Husband Makes Movies' expresses what life is like with Guido and reveals some past regrets she's had in giving up her career in place of his. Her later song, 'Take It All' is anything but quiet-- performing somewhat of a striptease for an audience full of men, to make Guido see that she can go far too--screaming that she's had it with him and ending with her finally leaving him. For me, Marion's performance is the best in the film. Judi Dench's scenes with Daniel Day-Lewis are just a pleasure to watch. It's not hard to sit back and just enjoy these two remarkable actors do what they do best together. You can see that they hold each other in extremely high regard as well-- not only as Lilly and Guido, but as Judi and Daniel. My only wish was to have seen more of Judi. Whilst in the stage play, the character of 'Lilli' is really 'Liliane La Fleur-' the producer of Guido's film and a former vedette of the Follies Bergeres (Marshall explained that because of the period that the film is set-- 1965, having a female producer would have been unheard of, so they changed 'Liliane the producer' to 'Lili the Costume Designer'). In doing so, I feel like Dench's number, 'Follies Bergeres' loses some of its purpose and ends up being a momentary distraction from the plot instead of actually moving it along. Though Dench sells the number like a pro and sounds pretty great. Penelope Cruz, who I'm getting increasingly impressed with, does a fantastic job as Carla. Delivering her hilarious number 'A Call From the Vatican' while oozing sexuality, swinging and playing with ropes and twisting her body in ways I didn't think were possible. I had been expecting her to keep her Spanish accent unchanged, but was pleasantly surprised to hear her modify her vowels and speech patterns and shift her accent into more of an Italian one. She provides much of the laughs of the film in her scenes with Day-Lewis and they play off of each other incredibly well. Sophia Lauren looks great in the film and performs wonderfully, though I feel like there wasn't a whole lot of time spent on examining her relationship with Guido and she hence becomes somewhat of a passing character. The new song, written for her, 'Guarda La Luna,' is a pretty, lullaby-ish tune, but like, Follies Bergeres, just doesn't quite really move the plot along. The best musical number of the film for me, would have to be Fergie performing 'Be Italian.' I'm sure we're all familiar with the song, having watched the trailer, but once you hear (and see) the full number, it will really rocks your socks off. Fergie gained 17 lbs to play Saraghina, the whore that taught Guido the art of love-making. She looks exactly like she should- smoldering eyes, a low, direct gaze, scraggly hair, boobs pushed up- she is the epitome of sexuality. The song inter-cuts between two scenes in Guido's mind-- his black & white memory of visiting Saraghina when he was nine and paying her to dance for him and the full colored fantasy Saraghina dancing and singing with the other women in his life. Fergie does a great job...selling sex. Not a whole lot of dialogue, but it's all in her gaze and you just believe her. And of course, she sounds fantastic. One of the best surprises of the film is Kate Hudson, as Stephanie- a Vogue reporter who tries to seduce Contini. She sings a new number called "Cinema Italiano" in which the aim is to remind the audience about this age of film making of the 60's-- the height of Italian art films, which introduced us to the skinny ties, sunglasses, coffee houses, etc. The bad news is that the song is pretty bad and the character seemed completely unnecessary; the song even more so. If you would have cut the entire character from the film, it literally would not have affected anything one single bit. The good news, though, is that Kate Hudson sings and dances the SHIT out of it and discovering that she can could sound THIS good was worth it all for me. The biggest disappointment for me was Nicole Kidman. I'm a fan of Nicole's but I honestly think she was completely miscast in this film. She's not in it for very long at all, but the bits she was in just didn't work for me. Her accent was muddled between Australian/English and Italian; some words were accented in Italian, some words sounded completely English. It wasn't hard to imagine why her character, Claudia, is a huge star and Contini's muse- she looks incredible, of course. But her delivery of arguably the best song in the film and stage show, 'Unusual Way,' was nothing less then a disappointment. Her singing may have worked in 'Moulin Rouge' where the whole film was such a fucking madhouse, it didn't really matter whether or not she sounded good... but NINE is no 'Moulin Rouge' and, to me, she was unconvincing in both her song and her scenes. I would've been curious to see what Catherine Zeta-Jones would have done with it (Kidman replaced her). She certainly would have sounded better, to say the least. All in all, the movie is somewhat of a curious delight. During the Q & A, the incredibly gracious and approachable Rob Marshall expressed how crazy that casting process was and mentioned that HUGE female stars came out of the woodwork to audition for the film, thinking 'well if Renee can do it, so can I.' He didn't name names but kind of hinted that a lot of them just didn't have the chops. He said Marion was one of the first actors cast; she originally sang for 'Lili' and then 'Claudia' before Marshall realized she was 'Louisa' all along. He mentioned that Judi Dench is one of the most amazingly sweet human beings he's ever worked with. He said that he had to keep pinching himself when he was shooting a scene with Sophia and Daniel in the middle of a 1960's Rome. He praised Francine Maisler, his casting director as well as Colleen Atwood, his Oscar winning costume designer (who also did Chicago and Geisha with him). He mentioned that there was one song from the film that was recorded and shot but ultimately cut out of the final print. The song, 'With You,' was sung by Guido, Louisa, Carla and Claudia, and expressed how each woman had a piece of Guido, but no one, including himself, had all of him. Marshall was heartbroken to cut the song, but said that there are moments where things just don't fit and he felt that was one, as he felt cutting 'Class' from Chicago was the correct choice as well. He mentioned that he's pushing for it to be on the DVD. After revealing that 'Pirates 4' would be his next project, he mentioned that he would like to come back to Broadway to direct something and that he misses it. He mentioned that he finished the final cut of NINE this past Thursday at 4 am, and he's officially exhausted. So that's that. If you decide to post this review, call me Tobby.

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