Day: July 24, 2010

Hell in (Jimmy Choo) Heels: A Look at Anna Wintour in The September Issue and Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada

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The Devil Wears Prada is one of my all-time favorite films. Perhaps because it treats the fashion industry with more respect than it is usually given in mainstream pop culture. Ormaybe because Anne Hathaway is charming as a naïve newcomer at a fashion magazine. Or perhaps because Emily Blunt is so scathingly funny as the assistant to Miranda Priestly, cold and kind of mean. Wait, I know exactly why. Because Meryl Streep is amazing in it.

In the adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s semi-autobiographical novel, Meryl Streep plays the editor-in-chief of a world renowned fashion magazine called Runway. Priestly is one of the most ruthless and deadly bosses in the business, so much so that people will walk out of elevators so she can have one of her own. But what makes Streep’s performance so mesmerizing and awesome is the fact that she doesn’t make it a caricature or joke. She plays it seriously, and even gives Priestly a heart and real emotion, something Weisberger failed to show in her novel.

In the documentary The September Issue, we follow Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, whom Weisberger based her devil on. But Wintour throughout the documentary proves she’s not nearly as evil as is thought. Icy, cold, and bitchy; yes, she is. But not heartless. She’s professional about everything, even though she does remain the commander in the office.The

doc, which chronicles the making of Vogue’s 2007 September issue, their biggest ever, also provides enlightenment on how Vogue is run. We meet Grace Coddington, a former model and now creative director at Vogue. She has true fire and passion. As she tries to save her babies throughout the issue, particularly her 1920’s tribute section, which looks absolutely gorgeous.

While Anna and Miranda may have paralleling histories and behaviors, the two are very different. The actual character of Miranda is a hyped up, evil joke used as revenge on Wintour, but Streep handles the role with grace and passion, making Miranda Priestly a much more interesting and complex character. In one scene, Andy (Anne Hathaway) walks in on Miranda, wiping her tears, and we see Miranda vulnerable, watching her as she asks Andy to try to cover up Miranda’s recent divorce plans with her husband. We are shown that she isn’t a career obsessed minion of evil; she’s a human, and moreover she’s a woman who loves her children and wants to protect them from the world of hurt she knows. But what’s misinterpreted as being work crazy is merely being acceptably devoted and passionate about your job. It’s the same with Anna Wintour, who, wearing those icy shades, has been called the Ice Queen. She’s passionate about work, but she’s professional. She’s doing her job; she’s not doing it to be spiteful.

The Devil Wears Prada is both a fun film to watch on a Sunday night, but also something that can be legitimately seen as a film as opposed to a movie or chick flick. The September Issue is an engrossing documentary that shows how beautiful fashion can be and how passionate people can be about their work. And both show audiences that fashion isn’t just the clothes you buy, but that it’s actual art.

The Devil Wears Prada: A-

The September Issue: B+

The Devil Wears Prada Trailer/Excerpt:

The September Issue trailer:

Fellini Fiasco: Review for “Nine”

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According to Wikipedia, Neorealism, or Italian Neorealism, is a style of art that is characterized by portraying the poor and working class families of characters and filmed on location. Sometimes using non processional actors, neorealism portrays everyday life of poverty and desperation. One of the most famous of the Neorealist directors, supposedly (though it doesn’t really make sense” is Federico Fellini. Fellini was famous for making brooding and dark films, like La Strada and La Dolce Vita. At a time in his life where he had reached a sort of “director’s block”, he made a shocking and groundbreaking surrealistic film called 8 ½, the numbers representing the number of movies he had made thus far; eight feature length films and the ½ for a short film.

The film, famous for showing trippy and fantastical dreamscapes, was adapted by Arthur Kopit into a musical called Nine (though, I think it should have been called Nine and a Half, considering the musical was a full length production), with the score by Maury Yeston. Originally starring Raul Julia, the first production was in 1982, and it was directed by Broadway legend Tommy Tune. In 2009, Oscar nominated director of the musical Chicago, Rob Marshall, adapted the musical to the screen with a “so-starry-it’ll-blind-you” cast.

Nine is a midlife crisis movie, illustrating famed Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) going through a troubled time, trying to direct a new film while he can’t even write the first page of the script. Meanwhile, the women in his life are shaking things up, with his wife Louisa (Marion Cotillard) fighting depression, his mistress Carla (Oscar nominated Penelope Cruz) whining about not being able to be with him at all times, his star and muse Claudia Jensen (Nicole Kidman) losing faith in his new film, and his mother (Sophia Loren) being all motherly, as well and sorting out his problems with his costume designer and confidant Lili La Fleur (Judi Dench). His life falls apart, and when he tries to turn to these women, it just gets worse. Think of it as Clare Boothe Luce’s The Women in musical form, but with the main man at the front of the film.

The visual design is the film’s strong point, of course, with the dazzling Rob Marshall doing a fine job, and Oscar winning costume designer Coleen Atwood doing what she does best: creating flashy and amazing pieces. The cinematography by Dion Beebe is top notch, and the overall cinematic style is gorgeous and luxurious, like Marshall’s previous work on Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. It flows through the musical numbers easily and smoothly.

Daniel Day-Lewis’s Italian accent sounds oddly thick and cumbersome, and halfway through the film, we’re still not used to it. But, it doesn’t exactly mar the performance much. His singing ability is quite average, and he tries to make it through numbers like “Guido’s Song” and “I Can’t Make This Movie”. I kind of wonder why Marshall didn’t cast Antonio Banderas, who played Contini in the Tony winning revival of Nine on Broadway.

Marion Cotillard gives a fine performance as his wounded wife, struggling with loving Guido while he’s off philandering. Her voice, however, is weak and not meant for this role, one that belts out “Take It All” as a “lover wronged” song. Her eyes are full of emotion and she has a genuine sense of loss and sadness, but it’s a musical role and the latter half of it is not good.

Penelope Cruz is Carla, Guido’s sexy mistress. Cruz is the best of the cast when it comes to singing unprofessionally, as she purrs her way through “A Call from the Vatican”, what sounds like Maury Yeston’s answer to “When You’re Good to Mama” from Chicago. While the song, full of blatant sexual references (as opposed to “Mama’s” being subtle innuendos), may sound sexy from Cruz’s soft vice, the song itself is actually quite bland and a little vulgar. Cruz spends most of her time in the time whining, and if we’re supposed to sympathize with Carla, it doesn’t work. Marshall tries his best to play up “mistresses have feelings too”, but why should she whine when Louisa is the most hurt?

Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, or Stacy Ferguson, does a terrific job in an underwritten, almost unused character; Saraghina, the whore from Guido’s childhood, and she storms through the screen singing “Be Italian”, easily the best number in the film. Sexy and sultry, she looks great and the choreography is awesome. But Saraghina only has that one little role.

The rest of the cast, in comparison with Cruz and Cotillard, are hardly in the film. Judi Dench is divine as Lili and she does a good job singing “Folies Bergères”, but it isn’t great. Kate Hudson plays a Vogue fashion reporter who hits on Guido constantly, and while she does a good job singing “Cinema Italiano”, the version that’s featured in the film sounds flat and boring. Check out the single version, that’s on iTunes. Sophia Loren is hardly in the film, making appearances here and there, acting motherly. You’d think they would have used her as much as possible, but they don’t. And Nicole Kidman is again hardly in the film, which is a disappointment. While she soulfully sings “Unusual Way”, it’s a bit unusual that the director didn’t manage to incorporate equal amount of screen time for all of his actresses.

Nine is quite obviously not as good as Chicago, simply because Nine isn’t that great to begin with. The score is average, and the story is better told by Fellini himself than someone else. The film 8 ½ broke the fourth wall in many ways, introducing new techniques and ways to look at art. But the musical can’t deal with that. It tries to be big and huge and have as many stars as possible, but it becomes top heavy and its storyline weighs it down. Overall, Nine is enough.

Grade: B-