House of Gucci

If the person who assembled the trailer above, was responsible for editing the movie, this would be a more positive evaluation. The trailer emphasizes the key ideas in the film, but does so more efficiently than the actual film does. So the trailer is more fun to watch and it moves with a sense of purpose, building to a withheld climax. The film, tells the story more completely, but it lingers over material that is not essential to the plot and the dynamics of the characters are a bit inconsistent. Director Ridley Scott seems to be aiming for an epic, when what he has is a melodrama with some goofy and off-putting characters.


The star of the show is Lady Gaga, portraying Patrizia Reggiani, a young woman who meets Maurizio Gucci, heir to a portion of the family business, and subsequently marries and manipulates him to become the head of the company, at the expense of other members of his family. She is not quite Lady Macbeth, but her ambitions are what fuels the narrative in the film, and her abilities to push in the right direction using her romantic relationship with Maurizio are the means by which she accomplishes her goal. Lady Gaga has established some creds as an actress and she acquits herself well in a role that she is properly cast in. She is youthful, sexy in a non conventional way and ambitious as hell, just as the character in the film she plays. Criticism of the accent is beside the point, the film is not looking for authenticity, the verisimilitude is provided by her smirk, eyes, and body. The dialogue occasionally contributes but the Italian Accented English is simply typical of films of this ilk. 


The cast of the film is impressive. Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons have a great scene together and the two aging lions play it more subtly than you might think. Irons is Rodolfo Gucci, father of Maurizio, and brother of Pacino’s Aldo Gucci. Rodolfo Gucci is ill and aging in the film and Irons looks like he is going through the process himself, I hope it is mostly acting and makeup that accounts for his condition in the movie. His best scene is with Jared Leto, who plays his nephew Paolo Gucci. Both father and Uncle have distain for Paolo, for reasons that are comically depicted here. The verbal takedown of Paolo by Rodolfo is the most fun scene in the movie, and oddly it generates some sympathy for the craven Paolo who is the butt end of nearly every comic moment on the film. Leto is flamboyant in the part and unrecognizable in the make up and costuming he has been given. Obviously he has been portrayed this way as a counterpoint to the taciturn Maurizio, who is brought to life by current hot actor of the moment Adam Driver. The son of Aldo Gucci, Driver plays his character almost as somnambulant in the early part of the film, and he only exhibits occasional moments of  personality when he is with Patrizia. The character is a key element in the events that takes place but Driver is so passive in the first two thirds of the movie that when his character eventually tries to switch off his wife, it comes as something of a head turner, how did he become that character all of a sudden?

Similar turns in the characters are found in other places in the script as well. Aldo goes from doting to controlling on Maurizio, Paolo goes from sniveling to conniving to repentant, and not with much explanation. Gaga’s character has the clearest path that explains the turn she makes, although to get there, she has to develop a relationship with a oddball psychic played by Selma Hayek. The climax of the film depends on the third act working, and there were some shortcuts taken that probably needed some explanation. The sudden appearance of a romantic rival, and the absence of any story concerning the developing love affair, makes the transition to the third act very jolting.  This was another opportunity to take the satiric route suggested by the trailer, instead of the epic path the film tries to follow. Scott and writers Becky Johnston, Roberto Bentivegna and book author Sara Gay Forden, insist on playing it straight when a mocking sarcastic tone would have helped make the movie come alive. 


The film looks marvelous with expensive locales and lush furnishings and artwork distributed throughout the interiors. The timeline for the story is suggested by title cards but there seem to be gaps in time that can cause confusion. The soundtrack of contemporary music used to set scenes or make transitions is fitting for the times although not necessary accurate as to when the music was released. That is a minor criticism, but those of us who lived through the era will probably be the only ones who notice it, and no one will or should care. Although based on real people, the film plays like a soap opera but does not quite embrace the high camp that can make a movie like this entertaining. This is the second Best Ridley Scott Movie of the year, but it is the one that is more successful. Sometimes it is the material rather than it’s execution that matters.

The Last Duel

I looked it up to see how it came out, Ridley Scott has directed 26 feature films, including some classics that are award worthy, and some that have been left on the curb to be disposed of. I have seen 18 of those films, so I am pretty familiar with his work, and frankly I am a fan. This movie came up and I had not heard anything about it in the production process. He has a second film that is coming in a couple of weeks that will no doubt get a lot of awards potential due to the cast. “The Last Duel” ought to have the same sort of cache because it’s cast is nothing to sneeze at, but I think because this is a Twentieth Century Films release, which means it was one of a handful of movies the Disney Company acquired when it bought 20th Century Fox, it feels like it is an unwanted child. Little P.R., no Oscar talk and it is disappearing from theaters rapidly (look for it on Disney + any time now. 

As it turns out, this film does not stack up to Scott’s best work, but it is not down at the bottom with “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, or “the Counselor”, neither of which I have bothered with since I never saw a single recommendation for either. “The Last Duel” is a very well made film, it looks great, it contains some great action sequences, and the story is intriguing. The problems with the film have mostly to do with pacing and story structure, which may be partially the fault of two of the films stars since they co-wrote the script. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have collaborated with Nicole Holofcener to bring this story, based on a book which is based on an historical incident, to the screen. Like a medieval “Rashomon”, “the Last Duel” gives us different perspectives on the same event, each one favoring the person at the center of that section. So one of the problems is that we are seeing the events again, already knowing large amounts of information that are not going to change. The smaller changes, in tone and  character  probably needed to be emphasized in shorter segments because the length of each of these chapters is tedious. The film runs two and a half hours and unfortunately, that run time is noticeable. 

Maybe this was an attempt by Affleck and Damon to answer critics who wondered how they could have worked with Harvey Weinstein and not noticed his reprehensible behavior. As a #MeToo story, Jodie Comer plays a woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted,  but in a society that treats marriage as an economic contract and the wife as property, her needs in this situation seem to be the least important. Sir Jean de Carrouges (Damon), has plenty of reasons to have animosity toward his former friend and warrior, Jacques Le Gris, played by Adam Driver. While not the most sympathetic of husbands, he engages in a strategy to clear his wife of fabricating the story and also exacting revenge on his opponent. Driver’s character on the other hand is supposedly shown in the most favorable light in his segment of the film, and Le Gris, still comes off as a cad, deserving of the dirtying of his name that he objects to. Marguerite de Carrouges (Comer) is trapped as a pawn for the most part in a misogynistic society that treats women as suspect simply for being women. The questions that get asked in the inquiry are humiliating and the “science” accepted at that time makes the process even worse for her. There is also a clear stigmatization of women as sexual beings, despite their sexuality being critical to the purpose of marriage which was to prove heirs. In a nod to some of the hypocrisy we see in the #MeToo movement of today, women are just as capable as men of bending events to their prejudices. Marguerite cannot even count on her best friend.   

All of the soap opera and segments of battle and political intrigue that took place in the first two hours is largely there to set up the climatic title moment. Scott is in his element here, having made “Gladiator” as well as “Robin Hood” and “Kingdom of Heaven”, he knows his way around brutal one on one combat. Damon and Driver go at each other both mounted and unmounted . There are staves, axes, swords, daggers, gauntlets and assorted blood sweat and tears in the arena. All the while, we are reminded of the stakes because they are sitting right there, waiting to burn under the woman in question if the combat goes the wrong way for her. This actual historical event is the last recorded case of trial by combat to determine who is the just party. Since I did no background research before seeing the film, and I did not know the outcome, that probably added to the impact the combat sequence had on me. 

So I suspect this film will soon be forgotten, but it does have some strong elements to recommend it. Affleck plays a conniving count who uses political power to protect his prized friendships, Damon builds more action hero cred with his battle scenes, Driver gets to be tall, dark, and handsome, but Jodie Comer is the one who emerges with the most credibility after our two and a half hours spent on this arcane event. 

The Dead Don’t Die

I’m going to be frank, I have never seen a film by Jim Jarmusch before. He has made a dozen films I have heard of and several that never crossed my radar. It was clear from the aesthetic I could see in promotional materials that his style is idiosyncratic and idyllic. I cannot say how representative the current film is of his movies, but I can say that if “The Dead Don’t Die” is typical, I don’t think I made a bad choice by avoiding his movies. It’s not that the film is bad, it is simply not in sync with the way I want my cinema experience to play out. I heard high praise for many of his other movies and if I come across them I might stop down and give them a try, but I will not be seeking them out.

The trailer for this film suggests a comedy full of dry wit and zombie action. They have done a good job selling this movie to an unsuspecting audience. The film’s sensibility is very different from the way it plays in the promotional material. This movie is slow moving, just like the zombies. The three main characters are so dead pan for most of the film that it is a relief when one of them finally shouts at another. This is the most passive group of police officers you will ever encounter. The zombie attacks are not particularly horrific, they are just perfunctory and slow. I suspect that what Jarmusch has done is made one of his character pieces and just hung it on the genre here to draw some interest. Well it worked, and now I have seen one of his movies.

Yes, it is a comedy, so you can expect some deconstruction of the genre as a way to develop humor, but it goes further than that. It feels as if the movie is mocking us for watching a horror film in the first place and then subverting our expectations of humor by isolating the jokes so far from anything else that is funny, that you may wonder if it really is supposed to be a comedy. There are so many “meta” moments in the film that feel like a put down rather than a wink or a nod. As the two police officers figure out what is going on by referencing the script and their lines, I began to feel left out rather than included in the joke. There are a few isolated laughs in the movie, but nothing is ever sustained for long and then there are huge passages of time where nothing seems to happen. Three kids driving in a car passing around an energy drink does nothing to enhance the story. Three other kids in a juvenile detention center appear several times in the movie and they do nothing interesting, have no relevance to the plot, and they disappear without any resolution. It certainly feels like something that would be part of an independent film project, but not the kind of independent film I’d want to go to.

The cast is one of the selling points of the film, it is large and packed with performers you might enjoy seeing on screen. The only ones who get much chance to do anything are Tilda Swinton and Adam Driver. In another one of those quirky moments that highlights that indeed the film maker himself is just a hipster from Cleveland, Swinton walks out of the story in an incongruous manner completely detached from the events of the story. The biggest laugh Adam Driver gets is when he shows up at a crime scene in his personal automobile. Meanwhile Steve Buscemi , has to play an exaggerated version of a Trump voter, Danny Glover finally is too old for this shit, and Carol Kane is a one word one joke cameo.

Maybe if you are a fan of the directors style, you will enjoy this film more than I did. I found the on the nose criticism of genre conventions to be off putting and the lack of pacing to be annoying. When the zombies do start to appear, the film picks up for half an hour or so, but then it meanders off onto paths that lead no where and a conclusion that is so self satisfying as to be a disappointment. That’s right, zombie movies usually end on a down note, so let’s ape that but make fun of it at the same time? I just didn’t care anymore. Marketing may make this film Jarmusch’s most successful box office result, but it is not a movie that will earn much love from those who see it under false expectations.

Logan Lucky

So Steven Soderbergh has returned from his self imposed retirement to add another heist film to his resume. Having already directed the three “Ocean’s” film, why he felt compelled to make another in this genre is not really clear, but we can be thankful that he made that choice, “Logan Lucky” is a cleverly structured film with a lot of humor but it is indeed a straight heist movie and not a parody. It is loaded with surprise complication, twists in the plot and enough offbeat characters for two other movies as well.

Channing Tatum and Adam driver are brothers Jimmy and Clyde Logan. They are a couple of sad sacks that have a reputation in their family for failure. Jimmy was on his way to the NFL when he blew out his knee and Clyde lost a hand in Iraq serving his country. They have some small time juvenile crime behind them, but when Jimmy unjustly gets fired from his job, he begins planning a robbery. Heist films usually develop in one of two ways, either we see all the planning and then watch the execution (usually go wrong) or we get a minimal amount of information on the plan and we see it play out in front of us, (usually with lots of surprises). This film falls into the later category. Most of what we see of Jimmy’s plan is a list of stupid things not to do during the crime. Everything else is fresh to the audience.

Because the brothers are forced to use some help that is not exactly hitting on all cylinders,  you might get the idea that they are not to bright and this is going to go in the direction of a Cohen Brothers movie, where we follow the idiots trying to make their plan work. While there is humor and some of it is based on a shortage of IQ, the main thrust of the movie is about how well planned the robbery actually is. Of course there are detours and complications, but those are the things that add to the value and entertainment of the film.

Daniel Craig steals most of the scenes he appears in. His bleached hair and motley collection of tattoos place him in a stereotype of hillbilly criminals, but it turns out he understands chemistry pretty well. One of the big laughs in the film comes when he basically conducts a lecture on explosives in the middle of the heist. If you like prison break films, this movie has a plot line that includes some clever misdirection and it gives Dwight Yoakam a chance to shine as an officious Prison warden. There are a half dozen other characters that probably deserve to be mentioned, including the cute as a button Farrah MacKenzie who plays Jimmy’s daughter Sadie. Riley Keogh is the bother’s little sister and she plays a pretty big role in the heist as well.

We are getting to the end of summer and that usually means that the films coming out are just trying to make some bucks off of the lack of competition. “Logan Lucky” does not have anything to apologize for, it is well put together and entertaining. You will care about the characters and you hope it all goes well, but what fun would there be if everything goes off like clockwork?