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Recent Movies: To Rome With Love; Beasts of the Southern Wild; Keep the Lights On; Live Shows: Amaluna (Cirque du Soleil) ***************

October 18, 2012

To Rome With Love

In this latest Woody Allen film, four stories are played out in modern-day Rome among Italians and American visitors and students.

The four stories have varying results.  One involves young newlyweds from an Italian small town moving to Rome and getting used to the big city.  This segment was well acted and pleasant in its farcical ways.  However, the laughs are mild as many of the gags seem to have come from old sitcoms.

Allen stars in another sequence along with Judy Davis.  Again, certain laugh-getters are repeated too often.  Also, this story’s main plot is about a singer who sings brilliantly in the shower but not otherwise.  This story-line was already played out in a superb but under-rated Chinese film “Shower” (1999).

In another sequence, Roberto Benigni plays an ordinary man who is suddenly vaulted to fame and is adored by media and the public.  Though sometimes flawed, this is one of the better sequences in exposing the vapid collective insanity of celebrity worship.

The best sequence is the one involving Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, and Ellen Page.  Like the Benigni sequence, it exposes the superficiality of a wannabe celebrity who does much of her acting offstage.  It’s sometimes hard to understand whether Baldwin’s character is real or imaginary but the rest of this segment is quite clever.

A mixed bag for sure with some sequences much better than others.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Beasts of the Southern Wild

Seen through the eyes of a young black girl (well played by Quvenzhané Wallis), a community in an island south of the Louisiana mainland struggles to get by.  The seafood is plentiful but there is trouble after rainstorms as they are on the “wet” side of the levee.

There were times it was difficult to know which part of the story was real and which was part of the girl’s imagination.  Once this became more clear, this was an enjoyable and very unique film.

Some of the highlights include the intense relationship between the girl and her father; the trouble the community has with mainland authorities; and the community working together in its impoverished daily struggles while still being able to find good times now and then.

The directing by Benh Zeitlin is mystical and dreamy – quite appropriate for the subject matter.

Rating:   * * *

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Keep the Lights On

In New York City, two young men are in an intense relationship which is made all the more intense  as one of them is a drug addict.

The film seems bleak in the beginning (though in a realistic way) with lonely men getting lost in fast sex and hard drugs.  The story, thankfully, goes beyond this as it shows some of these same people genuinely wanting to connect with someone.

Some opportunities were missed in that there were no scenes of what goes on inside a rehabilitation clinic.  This would have enhanced the story as would some exploration of the co-dependent behaviour of the non-addicted partner.  Also, an overly sentimental speech at a Christmas dinner seemed to go too far.

But these are small compared to the film’s good points.  It is very rich in exposing the ups and downs of a loving relationship that is realistically flawed.  The ending (and the twenty minutes preceding the conclusion) were very powerful emotionally. The ending doesn’t quite suck the tears out but instead leaves a deeper emotion which is very genuine.

Also, the film gets credit for avoiding bad, old cliches about gay characters.

Rating:   * * *

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Live Shows

Amaluna (Cirque du Soleil)  in the Port Lands, Toronto

The superb troupe has many thrilling acts while surrounding a story based on Shakespeare’s “Prospero” and “Romeo and Juliet”.

My first viewing of Cirque du Soleil was “Totem” performed in Quebec City.  While a second Cirque show cannot thrill as compared to a first one, “Amaluna” is still a winner in many ways.

The performers are brilliant as both athletes and dare-devils.  Leading man Edouard Doye does an act on a high pole with one stunt that could have crushed his skull.  Likewise, trapeze artists are high in the air (sometimes over audience members) ensuring there is high adrenaline in the audience as well as on the stage.

One of the most talented acts was of Lara Jacob picking up pieces of wood with her feet and balancing the pieces to create what looks like the skeleton of a canoe.  Though this act was not dangerous, it was surely thrilling as one wonders if this impossible-looking task could actually be complete.

A thrilling evening to be sure.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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