Gabriella Martinelli

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M. Butterfly Review


Bad
In Mel Brooks' The Producers, the characters played by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel pay a visit to the Park Avenue home of eccentric theatrical director Roger De Bris, who greets them in a flowing peignoir. "Max," Wilder querulously points out to Mostel, "He's wearing a dress." "No kidding?" Mostel remarks dryly. Mostel may just as well be the audience surrogate for M. Butterfly, particularly for an audience with fond memories of David Henry Hwang's operatic romance and theatrical tragedy in its stage incarnation. David Cronenberg's film adaptation (with a script by Hwang) is a failure for many of the reasons that the stage production was a success, but the film is additionally hampered by Cronenberg's '90s lurch towards conventionality. Like a transvestite on a desert island, M. Butterfly is all dressed up with no place to go.

Based on a true incident involving a French diplomat who carried on an affair of 18 years with a man that the diplomat thought was a woman, M. Butterfly begins in 1964 Beijing, when French foreign service employee René Gallimard (Jeremy Irons) becomes smitten with Chinese opera songster Song Liling (John Lone). Before long Gallimard is enamored with Song Liling and they begin their Affair to Remember, but bracketed by the condition that Gallimard will not be allowed to feast his eyes upon Song Liling sans clothes. Gallimard agrees to the strictures but, as he climbs up the diplomatic ladder, the Communist government gets into the love affair, corralling Song Liling to become an informant for the government. When Gallimard's lust can no longer be contained and he demands nudity, Song Liling runs out of Gallimard's life and he becomes a lovelorn husk, forever pining for his lost love. He leaves China and accepts a two-bit diplomatic job, but then Song Liling appears again to Gallimard, just in time for Gallimard's arrest and subsequent sensational trial for treason, which exposes his affair for the sham it is.

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Tideland Review


Terrible
It's not that there's necessarily anything wrong with a film that uses the dead gas escaping from a putrefying corpse for comic effect by making it sound like flatulence. There's nothing that says a film can't find the humor or humanity in a mentally damaged, possibly homicidal man befriending a lonely pre-teen girl of dubious sanity with whom he seems to have less-than-honorable intentions. And there's nothing wrong with having squirrels or severed dolls-heads speak to that same girl in lieu of human companionship. In short, it's not the dark subject matter of Terry Gilliam's Tideland that makes it so squirmingly unwatchable, it's his callous, giggly, and monstrously tone-deaf approach.Based on the novel by Mitch Cullen, Gilliam's film is a trippy fantasia that has the feeling of a Neil Gaiman pastiche of a junkie version of Alice in Wonderland as interpreted by Asia Argento and JT LeRoy -- only worse. The rather brilliantly naturalistic Jodelle Ferland wastes her talent playing Jeliza-Rose, a young girl of uncommonly optimistic outlook whose no-good parents (Jennifer Tilly and Jeff Bridges) are squabbling junkies who barely pay attention to her unless it's to help them shoot up. Not long into the film, Tilly fatally overdoses, sending Jeliza-Rose and her dad, Noah, on the road, as Noah is convinced in his heroin haze that the authorities will be after him. They end up at his old family farmhouse, boarded up and filled with the dusty memories of his long-dead mother. Then Noah ODs, too, leaving Jeliza-Rose on her own.She doesn't seem to mind, really, as it takes her awhile to even realize Noah is dead (in the meantime, she dresses his corpse in a wig and makeup). The world through Jeliza-Rose's eyes seems a pretty wonderful place, which she fills with imaginary voices and fantastical creations. The house itself is full of undiscovered treasure and surrounded by tall, wind-blown prairie grass. Meanwhile, just down the road is another house where a crazy woman in a black beekeepers' outfit (Janet McTeer) and her younger brother (Brendan Fletcher), the previously mentioned potential psychopath who initially comes off as an innocent but seems later to take a liking to Jeliza-Rose.Tideland is obviously a story packed full of material that's best handled delicately, what with the overall fog of insanity and the intimations of pedophilia. The problem here is that "delicate" is not a word one would ever use to describe Gilliam. A filmmaker with obvious and commendable visual talents (strangely in abeyance here), his storytelling taste has always vacillated between the sarcastic and the sentimental, with Tideland being a stomach-churning slurry of the two. In a story that calls for a light hand, Gilliam uses only the hammer, smacking home each and every scene with acting best described (with the exception of Ferland) as hysterical and a sense of humor that goes beyond the merely tasteless and verges on the deranged.There's always the chance that the whole film is a great put-on, a low-budget joke of the most gigantic order -- it does literally end, after all, with a train-wreck. Anything is possible. But that may not matter in the end, because if there was ever a film to end a career, Tideland is it.The tide is high and I'm movin' on.

Between Strangers Review


Very Good
Between Strangers? Hmmm, sounds like a softcore porn movie. Turns out it's a weepy melodrama starring a generation-bounding collection of movie stars.

Ever since Short Cuts won accolades, we get a yearly version of this movie, a sometimes thoughtful collection of stories, none large enough to stand alone as a feature film, some to slight to merit any attention at all. Between Strangers mitigates this problem by focusing on the stories of three women, all wrestling with past mistakes or old regrets.

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William Shakespeare's Romeo Juliet (1996) Review


Very Good
Setting Shakespeare's tragedy of Romeo and Juliet to music by the likes of the Butthole Surfers probably has The Bard rolling in his grave, but what the hell, it's open season on the classics these days. I won't even pretend that I understand all the nuance and symbolism of Luhrmann's instantly popular retelling of the tale, but I will say that this is one of the most entertaining renditions of any Shakespearean work I've seen to date.

Closer to an update of West Side Story than anything else, what makes this rendition of the "two star-crossed lovers" saga stand out is dialogue which is largely faithful to the text set against a post-modern backdrop frighteningly reminiscent of Los Angeles. While it's a thrill to watch (if you can avoid a headache), it's maddeningly hard to follow and considerably self-conscious. Plus there's the issue of a soundtrack that's probably sold more copies than the film did tickets.... Will this version survive the test of time? Probably not, but it will forever stand out as an amazing and powerful experiment in filmmaking.

Continue reading: William Shakespeare's Romeo Juliet (1996) Review

Gabriella Martinelli

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Gabriella Martinelli Movies

Tideland Movie Review

Tideland Movie Review

It's not that there's necessarily anything wrong with a film that uses the dead gas...

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