“Nine,” “Elektra” less-than-stellar new releases

By Christopher Smith,
Posted April 30, 2010, at 5:19 p.m.

“Nine”

DVD, Blu-ray: Rob Marshall’s “Nine” is as much a curiosity as it is a disaster. Presumably, it’s about Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis, wasted), a smoky wreck and famous Italian director not unlike Federico Fellini who, in 1960s Rome, is about to follow two recent flops with his new movie, the aggressively titled, “Italia.” Trouble is, much like Marcello Mastroianni’s character in Fellini’s “8 1/2,” which inspired “Nine,” Guido is crippled by the prospect of failing. Without a script or an idea for a story, he has no clue what “Italia” even looks like. When it comes to “Nine,” the same can be said for Marshall (“Chicago”). Watching his film unfold in its belches of choppy extravagance, you can’t help wondering whether the director himself had a clue how to approach this former Broadway musical and turn it into a movie. Initially, it’s easy to be charged by the award-winning cast. Joining Day-Lewis are Judi Dench, who adds pluck as Guido’s disenfranchised costume designer; Nicole Kidman as a pretty icicle with coifed hair and parted lips who plays a popular actress we never come to know; Penelope Cruz as Guido’s saucy mistress who somehow finds a personality within the thin material; Kate Hudson as a reporter eager to know more about Guido’s new film and how fashion plays a role in it; and then there’s the biggest waste of talent of all, Sophia Loren as Guido’s mother, apparently here only to stretch out her arms. There are others, specifically Marion Cotillard as Guido’s wife, Louisa. She once was a leading actress in Guido’s films, but she hasn’t worked since marrying him, and she’s well aware how often he has deceived her with his affairs. You feel for her, which is a good thing because she’s the only character in this movie who elicits an emotional connection. Finally, there’s pop star Fergie, who looks like a bloated cherub with a frizzy fright wig on her head and who delivers the best musical performance in her slutty rendition of “Be Italian.” Each actor is offered the opportunity to sing and dance in separate stage productions that take place in the cobwebs of Guido’s mind, but good luck finding a cohesive storyline. Instead of informing the movie with some semblance of a plot, most of the performances feel stapled to this musical because, well, it’s being billed as a musical. Some of the productions are fun to watch (Cruz, Dench, Hudson), but these show-stoppers don’t move the story forward as they did in Marshall’s “Chicago.” They’re just here, the cinematic equivalent of roosters flapping their clipped wings at center stage. Such is the movie. Poor Guido. Poor Marshall. Poor viewers. Rated PG-13. Grade: D

···

“Elektra: Director’s Cut”

Blu-ray: The first time we saw Jennifer Garner tarted up as Elektra, the brunette bombshell in the sadomasochistic superhero suit, it was 2003, she was slicing and dicing her way through “Daredevil,” Ben Affleck was just her co-star and not her husband, and her character had a last name: Natchios. Elektra Natchios. Since that sounded to many like a high-voltage Mexican appetizer, this movie from Rob Bowman shrewdly drops Elektra’s last name. It also drops Ben Affleck from the story, a masterstroke and a blessing in a movie that ironically forgot to supply the electricity. The film behaves as if “Daredevil” didn’t exist, which is understandable considering that that movie was such a dim bag of assorted chicken parts. Still, in ignoring that movie, you also must ignore the ending in which Elektra died. For Bowman and his writers, that’s about as much of a problem as it is for daytime soaps that have been resurrecting the dead for years. In “Elektra,” they just bring her back to life, in this case thanks to the help of Terence Stamp’s Stick, an all-knowing, blind martial arts master whose skin is such a fluorescent orange, there are moments he looks like an Oompa Loompa. Though the movie improves as it unfolds, what “Elektra” can’t escape is the feeling that Bowman shot the rehearsal. The actors deliver their dialogue with all the passion of a line reading. This is especially true of Garner, a normally charismatic actress whom Bowman has reduced to a furrowed brow and a long face. She’s allowed none of the snap Elektra enjoyed in “Daredevil,” none of the playfulness. Instead, she’s the glummest of superheroes, which kills the fun and pulls the plug on the movie. Rated PG-13. Grade: C-

···

“K-19: The Widowmaker”

Blu-ray: Fresh from her Academy Award-winning success for directing “The Hurt Locker,” Kathryn Bigelow is sandbagged by the Blu-ray release of her submarine thriller, “K-19: The Widowmaker.” Oh, Hollywood — love ’em and kill ‘em. The film is set in 1961, one of the hottest points of the Cold War, a time when the Soviet Union and the United States were in such a bitter nuclear showdown, the world could have ended at any moment in a sudden bouquet of mushroom clouds. As the film opens, audiences are given this information in a series of title cards drummed onto the screen with the help of Klaus Badelt’s masculine score. We’re told that the film is about the first Soviet submarine to carry nuclear weapons and is based on true events, a period in history kept so secretive by the Soviet government that it took 28 years and the collapse of communism before those who lived through it could make it public. Why the embarrassed silence? Apparently, the Soviets didn’t want the world to know that they’d hammered together an untested bucket of bolts that was such a jokeavitch, it’s no stretch to say that the submarine in question was a sinking coffin. In spite of this intriguing opening — and the formidable presence of Harrison Ford as the K-19’s new captain, Aleksei Vostrikov, and Liam Neeson as the sub’s former captain and now second-in-command, Mikhail Polenin, who see eye-to-eye on nothing — the film runs shallow alongside such submarine classics as “Run Silent, Run Deep” and “Das Boot.” The problem is that Bigelow, while effectively capturing the claustrophobia inherent within a submarine, only occasionally realizes the drama within the film’s premise. The film does generate some heat when the ship’s nuclear reactor springs a leak midway through, but as Vostrikov and Polenin come to throws over how to deal with the unfolding crisis, which allegedly could have started World War III had the bombs gone off, Bigelow loses her grip, favoring moments that sink into cheesy melodrama and tacking on a forced ending that never offers the emotional punch it seeks. Rated PG-13. Grade: C+

···

“Saving Private Ryan”

Blu-ray: At the beginning of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” scores of American soldiers, some vomiting into their helmets, others closing their eyes against the growing thunder of German gunfire, are seen storming toward Omaha Beach in a battalion of landing boats. The footage is as rough and as grainy as a newsreel. The tension created runs high. It’s discomforting, nearly hallucinatory but real. Spielberg’s camera, shaking as violently as a soldier’s hand, skips from man to man, capturing for an instant the deep fear and dread on each man’s face before slowly bleeding the color from the film, a haunting effect that gives each soldier the premature pallor of a corpse. With little warning, the gates of the boats fall open, ushering in a hail of German artillery that slams hard into the hearts of men too stunned to move. One by one the men drop in a shocking cascade of flesh. Those who do make it to the water are eviscerated by bullets. Those who somehow reach the shore are blown apart by bombs or burned alive by flamethrowers. That anyone survives this merciless attack is not only astounding, but humbling. Yet the attack continues, 24 minutes of it on film. The men, led by Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks), eventually claim Omaha Beach as their own, but look behind them. Look at the red sea lapping against the red shore. Look at the men lying dying, wounded or dead among the scores of dead fish. Listen to the cries coming from the unimaginable silence. Without question, this is among the most astounding re-enactments of war ever brought to film, and Spielberg continues to best that moment as the movie pushes forward. In spite of its cheap ending, “Saving Private Ryan” is a classic, remaining as magnificent as it is important. Rated R. Grade: A

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/04/30/living/nine-elektra-lessthanstellar-new-releases/ printed on November 25, 2014