Movie reviews: ‘House of Gucci’ knows how to keep its audience coming back for more

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HOUSE OF GUCCI: 4 STARS

“I want to see where this story goes,” says Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) in the early moments of “House of Gucci,” the new, dynastic family drama from director Ridley Scott now playing in theatres.

I don’t blame her. It is quite a story.

A Machiavellian mix of love, in-fighting, ambition, fake Guccis, and income tax fraud, “House of Gucci” is almost as outrageous as the accent Jared Leto adopts to play Paolo Gucci, the wannabe designer and, according to his Uncle Rodolfo Gucci (Jeremy Irons), “triumph of mediocrity,” who helped create Gucci’s famous double “G” logo.

But is the inspired-by-a-true story movie as attention-grabbing as the designs that made Gucci a household name?

The story begins with a meet cute between Patrizia, a 20-something who works for her father’s transportation company, and Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), the sweetly naive grandson of Guccio Gucci, founder of the fashion house and son of actor and designer Rodolfo.

Rodolfo doesn’t approve of Patrizia – “The Reggiani’s are truck drivers!” he snarls – but Maurizio is smitten, and, even at the risk of being written out of his father’s will, marries her at a lavish ceremony where the Gucci side of the church is noticeably empty.

In the beginning, they are happy. Maurizio, who has been disowned by his father, is as awkward as Patrizia is confident and when Uncle Aldo Gucci (Al Pacino), who owns 50 per cent of the company, appears in their life, she turns on the charm. “Strong family,” she says, “makes strong business.”

Maurizio is wary of getting involved in the family trade. He doesn’t like the pomp and circumstance that goes along with the name – “We’re not royalty,” he says – and he’s happy doing his own thing, but his wife tries to orchestrate a new era at Gucci, regardless of the strife it will cause in the family.

Soon Maurizio is in charge, the family is at war and cracks begin to show in Patrizia and Maurizio’s marriage. As resentments grows, Maurizio scolds his wife, “The only thing I need from you is to stay away from Gucci before you cause any more damage.” He also distances himself from her personally, beginning an affair with Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin). Divorce looms and, as her anger turns lethal, Patrizia hires a hitman.

“House of Gucci” is one of the rare, recent two-and-a-half-hour movies that earns its running time. Equal parts serious and satirical, it isn’t perfect, but the story of high style betrayal is entertaining. Gaga and Driver have great chemistry and anchor the movie’s chaotic plotting and flights of fancy. I’m looking at you Jared Leto, but more on that later.

As Patrizia, Gaga brings the goods. Simultaneously sweetly charming and ferociously ambitious, she is Gina Lollobrigida mixed with Lady Macbeth, and her performance provides many of the movie’s best moments.

Maurizio’s journey from idealistic to cold-hearted capitalist is handled nicely by Driver, and Pacino adds some spice to Uncle Aldo, but the performance everyone will be talking about, for better and for worse, belongs to Leto.

The Oscar winner, known for his transformational roles, is almost unrecognizable as the too- dumb-to-know-how-dumb-he-is Paolo. Looking as though he is auditioning for the Italian language version of the “Jeffrey Tambor Story,” he is heightened to the point of parody. Paolo longs to be a designer, but is stymied by his lack of talent and judgement. No one will accuse Leto of having no talent, not at all, but some may question his judgement. It may be tough to deliver lines like, “I could finally soar… like a pigeon,” but Leto digs in, chewing the scenery like every line will be his last meal. It’s entertaining, but tips the scales from serious drama to satire in a way Sir. Ridley may not have intended.

With some uneven storytelling, bigger-than-life performances and money porn, “House of Gucci” sometimes plays like a high fashion soap opera, but like soap operas, it knows how to keep its audience coming back for more.

ENCANTO: 4 STARS

Encanto

Rooted in Colombian culture, “Encanto,” now playing in theatres, is the 60th film from Disney Animation and features eight original songs from Broadway superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The tale begins decades ago when the family’s matriarch, Abuela Alma Madrigal (María Cecilia Botero), lost her husband as they, and their three children, escaped persecution. In that moment, Abuela comes into possession of a magical candle. The candle’s sorcery helps the single mother not only build a new life for her children, but also a magical home and village tucked away in the mountains of Colombia.

Cut to years later. Encanto is thriving, the candle is burning bright, ensuring the enchantment that created the house and village continues.

The candle has also imbued magical powers on to Abuela’s children and grandchildren. Daughter Julieta (Angie Cepeda) can heal people with her cooking, while granddaughter Isabela (Diane Guerrero) is the very picture of perfection, able to make flowers bloom anywhere and everywhere. Luisa (Jessica Darrow) has super strength, which comes in handy when the mules get loose or a building needs moving to another location.

All the children have powers except for youngest daughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), a spunky youngster who is as down-to-earth as her siblings are otherworldly. While the family is exceptional, she is told that she is “un-ceptional.”

When she discovers the magic of the candle may be dimming, she takes action to save her family and the village.

“Encanto’s” story is told in a swirl of primary colours. The animation is eye-popping, paying homage to vintage Disney, such as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” while updating the look with state-of-the-art computer animation. The sequences of the house coming alive, expressing a mind of its own, are playful, proving once again that Disney’s clever artists can imbue personality into almost any inanimate object.

The story is a flight of fancy that feels stretched to feature length, but the movie’s sheer exuberance makes up for any narrative lapses. Lively performances (almost as lively as the animation), upbeat Broadway style tunes by Miranda, and a beautiful score by Germaine Franco, the first woman to score a Walt Disney Animated Studios movie, all underscore the movie’s messages on the importance of family and how we are all special in some way, no matter what gifts we have.

“Encanto” is a celebration of Latin culture that stresses embracing our differences, and what it lacks in narrative propulsion, it makes up for in joy and sense of wonder.

THE BEATLES: GET BACK: 4 STARS

The Beatle: Get Back

“The Beatles: Get Back,” Peter Jackson’s 468-minute documentary on the making of the Beatles’ final album, “Let it Be,” now streaming on Disney+, asks music fans to rethink some commonly held beliefs about John, Paul, George and Ringo’s January 1969 recording sessions, and the demise of the band.

The 50-plus-year-old fly-on-the-wall footage, originally shot for Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s 1970 documentary “Let It Be,” has been salvaged, cleaned up and portrays a band that may be frayed at the edges, worn thin from years of constant pressure, and the recent loss of their manager Brian Epstein, but still able to create timeless music. The film puts to rest notions that Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles, or that George’s frustrations with his role split them apart, or that ego drove a wedge in the group, or that manager Allen Klein’s aggressive business practices were to blame.

The real culprit? Familiarity. Stress. Who knows?

What is made clear by “Get Back” is that there was no one thing that led to one of the most public band divorces in rock history.

The downer atmosphere of Lindsay-Hogg’s documentary is missing. With the restored, sparkling audio and picture comes a new, sunnier take on those recording sessions. The bond between the band members is clear, even if tensions arise from time to time.

There is a definite, family vibe between them, made stronger when McCartney’s wife Linda and daughter Heather are on the scene, playfully interacting with the most famous musicians in the world. Linda and Yoko chat, roadie Mal Evans cavorts, and Lennon introduces the band as “The Bottles” as they work their way through songs like “Get Back” (the writing of which takes up a substantial chunk of the film), “Let it Be,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” At the end of the final take of “Let it Be,” Lennon playfully says, “I think that was rather grand. I’d take one home with me.”

It is fascinating to see them take the germ of an idea and massage it into fruition. It shows the camaraderie, experimentation, tension, tedium, and talent it takes to mold a thought into a song.

Along the way there are charged moments. John and Paul earnestly discuss George’s (temporary) retirement from the band. There’s a candid conversation between Paul and the studio techs about John and Yoko’s relationship, off-the-cuff performances of old rockers from the band’s Hamburg days, like “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music,” and, of course, the climatic rooftop concert on London’s Savile Row.

Mostly though, it is an intimate window into the professional and personal world of the Beatles. At upwards of eight hours (spread over three episodes) it’s a hangout film for fans. There is no real narrative momentum — save for disagreements with Lindsay-Hogg regarding what form a live performance of the new songs will take — just a remarkable, exhaustive document that sheds new light on Beatles folklore.

C’MON C’MON: 3 ½ STARS

C'mon C'mon

In “C’mon C’mon,” a new black-and-white drama now playing in theatres, radio journalist Johnny, played by Joaquin Phoenix, says he likes to record sound because “it makes the mundane immortal.” Writer and director Mike Mills attempts to create that same kind of magic in his straightforward, unassuming film.

The soft-spoken radio presenter is travelling around the United States, interviewing children about their lives, experiences and the future, when he offers to look after his nine-year-old nephew Jesse (Woody Norman). Jesse’s mom Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) will be out of town for a week, helping her ex-husband (Scoot McNairy) get settled in a mental health facility. When she is delayed on her return, Johnny takes the youngster on work trips to New York and New Orleans. While Johnny becomes a father figure to Jesse, his relationship with Viv deepens as the long distance, shared experience of looking after the boy brings them closer.

“C’mon C’mon” is a quiet movie that speaks volumes. It asks simple questions like, “Are you happy?” and tries, often in a roundabout way, to answer them. Jesse and Johnny’s conversations, which make up the vast bulk of the movie, are simultaneously insightful, frustrating and vulnerable – just like real life.

As Jesse, Norman is a child wise beyond his years. He is a fan of conspiracy theories, asks pointed questions to adults, has a vivid imagination, but no friends. What he shares with his uncle is an emotional directness, even if he doesn’t completely grasp what he’s feeling and why.

Oscar winner Phoenix approaches Johnny with warmth, and keeps the theatrics to a minimum. They complement one another, feeling out their relationship as they go, learning from one another. It’s lovely in its ordinariness, made all the more special by the naturalistic performances.

I don’t know if “C’mon C’mon” will become immortal, it’s a little too freeform for that, but the simple human truths it essays already are.

RESIDENT EVIL: WELCOME TO RACCOON CITY: 2 ½ STARS

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

Gamers will recognize Raccoon City as the name of the once prosperous home base of pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corp. The fact that we’re talking about it on this page can only mean one thing, a new “Resident Evil” movie. The seventh film in the series, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City,” now playing in theatres, reboots the video game-inspired franchise, taking the story back to the beginning.

Raccoon City once thrived. A company town, the Midwestern city grew from the 1960s to the late ’90s, prospering as pharmaceutical giant Umbrella set up shop there, and invested heavily in infrastructure and the townsfolk who made up the bulk of their employees.

Everything changed in 1998 when a genetically altered organism named Queen Leech attacked the facility, kicking off a series of events that left the city a desolate wasteland with a zombie problem.

It’s into this world director Johannes Roberts drops college student Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) and rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy (Avan Jogia) on one terrifying night in Raccoon City. Claire has come to the dying city to locate her brother Chris (Robbie Amell). The T-virus, Umbrella’s top-secret biological weapon, isn’t much of a secret anymore, and the infected residents of Raccoon City are now terrifying zombies. Over the course of one night Claire, Chris, and others from the video game series, including Leon (Avan Jogia), Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen), and Albert Wesker (Umbrella Academy’s Tom Hopper), fight to survive.

Adapted from the first and second “Resident Evil” games by Capcom, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” returns the series to its video game roots. The previous films emphasized action over horror. This time around, Roberts reverts to the scary vibe of the video games, paying homage to both the games and vintage John Carpenter for the atmosphere of dread that builds throughout. Stylistically, as a video game tribute, that approach works quite well.

However, as a movie, it comes up lacking. Despite some good gooey and gory zombie action and some fun action scenes, it takes too long to get where it is going. While we wait for the going to get good, we are subjected to dialogue straight out of the Handbook of Horror Clichés and too much exposition.

The opening feels long-winded and the ending rushed, but, especially for gamers looking for Easter Eggs, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” has enough moments in between to satisfy fans of the series.

BRUISED: 3 STARS

Bruised film

“Bruised,” a new MMA drama directed by and starring Halle Berry, and now streaming on Netflix, punches through the usual sports clichés and training montages to tell a redemption story of a woman whose rage dominated her life.

Berry is Jackie Justice, a disgraced UFC mixed martial arts star who left the sport in shame when she vaulted out of the cage during a match. Four years later, her hair-trigger temper gets her fired from a job as a nanny and booze helps her cope with abusive boyfriend/manager Desi (Adan Canto). It was his push to take on bigger fights that sent her over the brink at the height of her fame, and now he wants her back in the ring, making money.

“I don’t want to fight,” she says, “I’m happy.” Trouble is, she doesn’t appear to be happy.

When she is spotted by fight league promoter Immaculate (Shamier Anderson), who promises to set her up with top fight trainer Buddhakan (Sheila Atim), her career looks to be back on track until the six-year-old son (Danny Boyd, Jr.) she abandoned years ago suddenly comes back into her life.

“Bruised” is a slickly produced sports flick that takes us into a rarely explored world: women’s MMA. Berry doesn’t shy away from the brutal nature of the fight game, both in and out of the ring. It paints a vivid portrait of the physical and mental toll paid by Jackie as she seeks personal and professional redemption, but often veers into melodrama. Plot lines crisscross as we follow Jackie’s relationships with her mother (Adriane Lenox), her trainer, Desi and Manny. Each thread clutters the plot with storylines that are not only predictable, but also take away from the movie’s main thrust — how Jackie’s life has been shaped by trauma and rage.

When “Bruised” focusses on the fighting, it succeeds. It is interesting to see that world from a female point of view, and about a woman who is older than what might be expected in the punishing sport. Even Jackie’s trainer calls her “Betty White.”

But as Jackie’s road to redemption meanders through a laundry list of misery, the two hour and 15 minute movie becomes weighed down by the sheer volume of story.

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