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Amarcord Review

The problem with puberty, above all the sexual frustration and general malaise, is that you become an unavoidable know-it-all. It's an element of discovery: Whenever you discover something for the first time, you automatically think you have it over on everyone else, until you finally realize that everyone else figured it out before you or exactly when you did. Federico Fellini's Amarcord has a deep love for that feeling of discovery, of that brash cockiness, and realizes that nothing can really subdue this feeling. Not even World War II.

In a strange little town in Italy, a pack of boys, led by Titta (Bruno Zanin) live in the eccentric world of sex, family and war. Titta's ant-fascist parents are only the tip of the Iceberg. His uncle lodges himself in a tree and cries out to the heavens and anyone listening "I want a woman!" while his friends and him pee through tubes for pranks, take part in circle jerks, and fantasize about the local beauty, Gradisca. His father gets interrogated by Mussolini's soldiers to the point where he defecates himself, and the local shopkeeper, with a bust the size of most family sedans, gives him his first sexual encounter (presumably also the strangest he'll ever encounter). I'm leaving out the peacock, the speed racers, the nympho who lives by the sea, and the plucky narrator.

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Eros Review

A triptych of short films, all on the subject of eroticism, sounds tantalizing, so it's too bad none of the shorts contained in Eros actually hits its mark. This despite the fact they were separately made by three of the most renowned directors of the past 40 years: Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. What they manage in their individual shorts in Eros are but minor variations on themes and aesthetics already well explored in their own full-length films.

Wong Kar Wai's bluntly titled "The Hand" and set in his recurring milieu of early '60s Hong Kong, follows Zhang (Chang Chen), a humble tailor's apprentice, over his years-long infatuation with a beautiful socialite-turned-prostitute, Miss Hua (Gong Li). Kar Wai's treatment is aesthetically fussy, in keeping with his well-known style, but dramatically bland. There simply isn't much at stake here as the timorous Zhang must be content with the, ahem, hand jobs (see title) he receives all too rarely from the object of his infatuation. Now, hand job scenes (even in non-porno cinema) can be extremely erotic because of what they offer and what they only tease at (for a convincer, see the relevant scene in Michael Heneke's otherwise awful The Piano Teacher. Wow!). In any case, the segment's manually operated pseudo-erotica provide the only spike in an otherwise indolent story that never substantially conveys its central concern: Zhang's steady sexual awakening and his unshakeable devotion to an unavailable woman. Still, Kar Wai's fabulously crafted sound and imagery are both par for the course for this director and his world-class cinematographer, Christopher Doyle.

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Beyond The Clouds Review

Michelangelo Antonioni obsesses on the naked bodies of a good half-dozen Euro-stars in this wandering tour of western European sexual relations in various combinations. Based on a collection of his own short stories, Antonioni connects four such tales (infidelity, happenstance, old-fashioned horniness, etc.) with the narrative of a film director (John Malkovich) who's looking for a story to base his next movie on. We find we're lucky enough if we can just get one story out of this two-hour ordeal, which wanders aimlessly in art-house hell as often as it enchants.

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L'Eclisse Review

Very Good
It's impossible not to sound like a snob when writing about Antonioni's movies -- hell, the guy's name is "Michelangelo" -- but writing about the spare L'Eclisse is the worst job of all.

Antonioni's films rarely vary from a tight thematic script that ranges from melancholy to loneliness to despair. In L'Eclisse, he focuses that beam on Monica Vitti, an almost stereotypically detached Italian woman whose engagement falls apart in the opening scenes of the film -- though it's virtually without dialogue for 15 minutes. Eventually Vitti's Vittoria hooks up with Piero (Alain Delon), and the remainder of the film concerns their relationship -- as it were, anyway.

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Identification Of A Woman Review

Michelangelo Antonioni's 1982 film Identification of a Woman never saw release... and now we know why! Making its way to video after close to 20 years, Identification is a long-winded and oh-so-serious tale of a famous film director who, after being dumped by his wife, fools around with a couple of women as he tries to imagine a way to make a movie out of his sad sad life. The problem is not only that the two woman look and act so much alike there's little to differentiate them from each other, but our "hero" is also kind of a jerk with nothing new to say about female sexuality, which is purportedly what the movie is supposed to be about. Like most of Antonioni's work, Identification is very long and doesn't stray very far from the holding pattern it locks itself into, and only die-hard fans are likely to get much out of enduring its 2+ hour running time.

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L'Avventura Review

Clap, you bastards! After the receipt of scathing reviews during its initial presentation in Cannes, the urban alienation of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura feels more prevalent than ever. Look around at society and you'll find a collection of bored automatons plugging away at jobs they hate, returning to bourgeois homes and values as a mask to disguise their malaise. If Fight Club didn't have Brad Pitt and Edward Norton smashing each other's faces in as catharsis, their lives might resemble those of Sandro (Gabriele Ferzetti) and Anna (Lea Massari), a couple who can barely make love without distraction.

In their perpetual search for fun, this unhappy pair are all giggles as they embark on a yacht trip near Sicily, swimming and exploring a nearby island. Anna finds amusement in yelling "shark" when her friends are bathing, just to see if there's any life in them. "Throw up your head and then you'll wake up in the Dawn of the Dead," indeed. No wonder Anna claims she wants to be left alone.

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Blow-Up Review

The mid- to late-'60s were a heady time for art cinemas in America. While Hollywood was still saddled with content restrictions that forbade nudity, sex, and other bankable cinematic ingredients, less puritanical cultures like those of France, Italy, and Sweden were turning out highbrow features that played to the id and the intellect at the same time. At the art house, America pondered the role of faith in contemporary society, the bankruptcy of emerging cultural mores, the meaning or meaninglessness of life, and the breasts of European starlets. A new galaxy of superstar directors was introduced to audiences, and among its ranks was Italian Michelangelo Antonioni, who burst on the scene in 1960 with an amazing debut, L'Avventura. With a name like his, the proceedings were bound to be a little arty, and indeed the film was an open-ended, nearly plotless examination of the lives of the idle rich. In the films that followed -- especially La Notte and L'Eclisse -- Antonioni's style emerged as one in which characters wandered about, mankind's deepest emotions were rendered merely fashionable, and the lives on the screen were examined with the blankest imaginable gaze. And there was the frank approach to sex, too, and that helped keep audiences coming.

Blow-Up, released in America in 1966, marked a departure. It was filmed in English and in color, and, it aspired to something like a plot: a photographer in swinging London (David Hemmings) uncovers evidence of a possible murder in the background of a series of pictures he's taken of a couple in a park. (De Palma's 1981 Blow Out is an obvious homage: A sound man records evidence of a murder on tape while recording ambient sounds.) Initially he's intrigued, since this event carries so much more gravity than the activities of his daily life, such as photographing models, driving around in a sports car, and off-handedly buying expensive antiques. But as the clues dry up, his interest does too. And having lost interest (after most of the prints are stolen), he simply throws the last print away.

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La Notte Review

Very Good
Antonioni's La Notte tells the story of a couple (Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) who essentially agree they no longer care for each other. Before the titular notte is up, those feelings will change, brought out during an all-night cocktail party and a sudden rainstorm. La Notte is a slow and methodical film, like all of Antonioni's work, but La Notte's wandering first act makes it hard to embrace all-out. A dead-on Mastroianni steals the show from Moreau and Monica Vitti, who catfight for his affections and come off as little more than ambivalent twins.

Amarcord Review

Very Good
Fellini's Amarcord is a loving portrayal of small-town life in 1930s Rimini, Italy just as he remembered it, from the perspective of a delinquent teenager. The film is full of oddball characters, busty shopkeepers, creepy schoolteachers, pompous priests, crazy family members, a trashy hooker, and of course, Il Duce. Our young hero and his friends rake the muck, naive of an impending WWII and without a care in the world. As such, it's the more fanciful and lighthearted first half of the film (obviously a big inspiration for some of Woody Allen's work) that works the best. By the time Fellini has a dwarf nun chasing an uncle up a tree, a fog-shrounded city, and a weeding reception in the middle of nowhere, the charm has worn off considerably.

The Mystery Of Oberwald Review

A minor work of Michelangelo Antonioni, The Mystery of Oberwald is not something many outside the Antonioni-obsessed will care to seek out. Shot on videotape in 1980, the movie once stood as a daring experiment in feature filmmaking by using the nascent format of tape. Today, it looks cheesy and cheap, akin to a low-budget soap opera shot in a hurry.

And soap opera isn't far from the mark. Oberwald's story, based on Jean Cocteau's play L'Aigle a Deux Tetes, involves a mourning queen (Antonioni regular Monica Vitti) whose husband has recently been killed. An assassin is on her tail as well, but when the two finally meet, she sees he has been injured, and owing in part to his resemblance to her late husband, the two fall in love, Romeo & Juliet style. Like I said, a soap opera.

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