by Maribeth Thueson
Your faithful movie reviewer is still attempting to see all the 2021 year-end movies. Here are more reviews of some recent releases.
HOUSE OF GUCCI
Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a young woman of modest means, meets a nice guy (Adam Driver) at a party. They have a conversation and it seems like they’re getting along, starting to like each other. Then he says his name is Maurizio Gucci, and her eyes light up. It’s like you can see lasers shooting out of them that say “Money! Wealth! The Good Life!” She stalks him, setting up “coincidental” meetings, and when he still neglects to ask for her phone number, she writes it in red lipstick on the windscreen of his Vespa scooter, then sashays away. And with that, he’s a goner.
Patrizia lived the good life for the next 25 years, courtesy of Maurizio’s share of the Gucci fashion house. In House of Gucci, Patrizia is shown as an interloper who tries to insert herself into the running of the company and is rebuffed because she is an outsider and a woman. The Gucci family disputes this characterization, but the end of the story isn’t in doubt. The Gucci family loses control of the company, Maurizio leaves Patrizia for another woman, and Patrizia has a friend hire someone to kill Maurizio.
While the story is tabloid fodder, the performances are the reason to see House of Gucci. Lady Gaga makes Patrizia sympathetic as someone who loves Maurizio even as she uses him to get the lifestyle she wants. Her formidable energy only turns against him when she feels he has betrayed their bond as a couple. All the other players are good, too – Jeremy Irons as Maurizio’s father Rodolfo, Al Pacino as Rodolfo’s brother Aldo (who runs the company), and Salma Hayek as the friend who hires the hitman. Jared Leto deserves special mention for his portrayal of Aldo’s wacky son Paolo, whom Leto plays under layers of makeup. I didn’t even know it was him until the end credits rolled.
Verdict: Recommended for the strong performances, especially Lady Gaga’s.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
Say you’ve got a popular movie franchise that you reboot every few years with new actors and slight changes in the story. How do you reconcile the differences? You can just ignore them and know that audiences will go with it, having gotten used to seeing multiple Batmen, Supermen, and James Bonds. Or you can use a gimmick like parallel universes to tie everything up in a neat bow, like Spider-Man: No Way Home does.
Which is not to say that this is a bad idea. We’ve encountered the multiverse in the MCU before, in the animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) and in the Loki series on Disney+. In Spider-Man: No Way Home, the multiverse is used to connect the current trilogy of Spider-Man movies starring Tom Holland with the previous iterations starring Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield by having the villains from those movies pop into the current Spidey’s world, courtesy of a spell by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) that goes awry. The resulting events give Peter Parker a reason to stop being a kid and grow up, deepening his character and setting him on a new course. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.
Verdict: Recommended, especially for Marvel fans. Stay until the end of the credits.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
Director Joel Cohen’s version of MacBeth is stripped down in every respect. At 1 hour and 45 minutes, only the essential text remains. The sets are stark, with soaring arches, the rooms empty, the outdoors barren. Even the costumes are plain. It’s a bleak world, and yet, with the chiaroscuro cinematography, a strangely beautiful one, and there are no shortage of astonishing images, such as one of Lady MacBeth standing on a high promontory, outlined sharply against the sky, the wind blowing through her hair. Fog also blows through this world, obscuring and revealing the landscape and the circling birds, much as the characters’ motivations are obscured and revealed.
Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand are at the top of their games as MacBeth and Lady MacBeth. Casting actors in their 60s to play these parts give the characters a different set of motivations than usual; instead of being fired by youthful ambition, they realize they can finally reach heights they never thought they could achieve in their lifetimes, and they will let nothing stand in their way. The amazingly agile Kathryn Hunter plays the witches, sometimes singularly, sometimes in triplicate, her voice alternately a petal-soft soprano or a raspy bass. Corey Hawkins has a nice scene as MacDuff, when he learns his family has been killed. The way grief creeps over him is a wonder.
As if the scenic design and the performances aren’t enough, there’s also the sound design, in which knocking on the castle’s doors becomes the knocking of doom. These characters are trapped by their poor decisions and the inevitable consequences, just as they are boxed in by the film’s square-screen aspect ratio.
Verdict: Recommended. Cohen’s world is not one you’d want to live in, but it’s fascinating to visit.
So in this installment of the Recent Release Roundup, three recommendations: House of Gucci for the performances, Spider-Man: No Way Home for the sheer fun, and The Tragedy of MacBeth for the performances and world-building.