Combustible Celluloid
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With: Daniel Day-Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Stacy 'Fergie' Ferguson, Ricky Tognazzi, Giuseppe Cederna, Elio Germano, Andrea Di Stefano, Roberto Nobile
Written by: Michael Tolkin, Anthony Minghella, based on the Broadway musical by Arthur Kopit, Maury Yeston, Mario Fratti
Directed by: Rob Marshall
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and smoking
Running Time: 118
Date: 12/03/2009

Nine (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Be Italian!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Director Rob Marshall is just as clueless as ever in his latest musical. He has taken Federico Fellini's 8 ½ (1963) -- a film about being lost and confused and indecisive -- and turned it into a problem to be solved. And hence we actually get a happy ending! Moreover, in a film about "being Italian," he has cast only one real Italian actor (Sophia Loren), much as his Memoirs of a Geisha used mostly Chinese actors (And of course, the movie is in English). Aside from all that however, Nine has an appealingly nutty energy that plays out with more clarity and purpose than the choppy, frenetic Chicago.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as Guido Contini, which was also the name of the fictitious Italian director played by Marcello Mastroianni in 8 ½ (as well as an obvious stand-in for Fellini himself). Set to roll on his ninth film -- following a series of flops -- he has absolutely no idea what kind of movie to make. He begins to look to the females in his life for guidance and inspiration, including his wife Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his mistress Carla (Penelope Cruz), his costume designer Lilli (Judi Dench), his feisty frequent leading lady Claudia (Nicole Kidman), an American journalist (Kate Hudson), the ghost of his departed mother (Loren) and "Saraghina" (Fergie, from the Black Eyed Peas) a legendary, voluptuous creature from his past that lived in a clay hut on the beach and did sultry dances for horny boys with spare change.

Whereas Fellini's film was dreamlike, Marshall's seems to move with the fluidity of exhaustion and despair, which allows for both realistic sequences as well as more sudden, drastic transitions. The musical numbers are inspired, even if the songs aren't especially memorable. For me, Cruz was the standout. She uses her firebrand persona to brilliant effect here, both playful and tormented at the same time.

A bit of trivia: this movie features no less than six Oscar winning actors -- Day-Lewis (My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood), Kidman (The Hours), Cotillard (La vie en rose), Cruz (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Dench (Shakespeare in Love) and Loren (Two Women) -- as well as one nominee (Hudson). Someone else will have to take the time to check, but I'd wager that this is a record.

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