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Pedro Almodóvar's
Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Revisiting Broken Embraces is like getting together with an old friend who you didn’t realize you missed so much until you reunited. And watching it on Blu-Ray made it a better experience than seeing it in its initial run on the big screen (a rare thing) because of the high expectations any Almodovar film brings with it the first time around and because the transfer is so exquisite.

Pedro Almodovar’s film oeuvre is highly personal. The sheer pleasure one derives from experiencing an Almodovar ‘pelicula’ is in knowing the world you are about to abandon yourself to is a fresh and invigoratingly novel one-- a celluloid treasure trove of images and dialogue that are specific to the auteur. Like the works of Fellini, Bergman and von Trier, appreciating Almodovar is allowing his work to wash over you like waves on a beach. His technologically savvy, splendiferously colorful visual feast caressing you. His pretentiously jaw-dropping plot reveals slamming you. The sheer lunacy of it all deviously carrying you out to sea—before you even realize it’s happening.

Broken Embraces is the helmer’s 17th feature and, like many of his best films, deals with love, lust, betrayal and the wonderful insane world of filmmaking. And like much of Woody Allen’s best work, is also a valentine to films—and, running the risk of hubris, Almodovar films, in particular.

Blind screenwriter Harry Caine (Lluis Homar of Bad Education) used to also double as celebrated screen director Mateo Blanco, that is until his sight was taken from, him fourteen years earlier, in a tragic auto accident. Harry must now write with the aid of handsome young Diego (Tamar Novas), who is the son of his former production manager Judit (Blanca Portillo). The death of a former producer and the appearance of a mysterious gay guy calling himself Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano) rattles Harry and when Diego almost dies of a drug overdose, Harry decides to revisit the haunting past that has web-like implications for each and every character.

The story moves back and forth up to this point but now grounds itself in the past for a while as we witness Harry/Mateo making his film Girls and Suitcases, and falling in love with the exquisitely gorgeous and cine-chameleon-like Lena (Penelope Cruz). Unfortunately for the lovers, Lena is in a relationship with elderly producer Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) who keeps a dangerously watchful eye on her every move.

The maze-like plot twists and splashes until the consequences of this ill-fated romance are fully revealed as only Almodovar can reveal them.

Almodovar master blends fifties noir, melodrama, comedy and the suspense/thriller to give us a rich, dazzling and spellbinding homage to many a 50s and 60s picture (Sirk, Rossellini and many more), while Cruz evokes Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Ingrid Bergman.

Cruz continues to prove she is an acting force. As Lena she is elusive and fascinating. It’s a lovely and delicate performance.

Almodovar reworks his own gem, Women of the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and weaves it into Broken Embraces in a clever and charming way. Connoisseurs of the director’s body of work are given a cherry-on-the-film-cake feeling of joy that provides deeper meaning to the work and reveal his mad love for the art form.

The production values dazzle. Rodrigo Prieto’s camera work is particularly sumptuous and the extreme close-ups of Cruz are alluring and enticing. And as mentioned earlier, thre transfer pops magnificently. His dazzling visual style is the reason for Blu-Ray discs! The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 is perfectly preserved.

The film’s audio is presented in its original Spanish on a six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD MA soundtrack.

Fun extras include: 12 minutes of enjoyable "Deleted Scenes"; a lunatic short starring Carmen Machi titled "The Cannibalistic Councillor"; a 6-minute chat with Cruz (should have been much longer); Pedro Directs Penelope—which is 6 short minutes of just that, a way-too short New York Film Festival snippet and the trailer.

More would have been appreciated but the visual allure of the film is enough to sustain this title.


Daniel Day Lewis and Marion Cotillard in Nine

Rob Marshall’s

Written by: Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis; Marion Cotillard; Penélope Cruz; Sophia Loren; Nicole Kidman; Judi Dench; Kate Hudson; and Stacy Ferguson (Fergie)

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Sony Picture

I am in a minority, at least in this country, but I feel that Nine is a better film than Chicago. And watching it again on DVD I was taken with how well executed the film really is. I was also alerted to some of the flaws that probably led the haters to hate so vehemently.

Based on the stage musical that was based on the Federico Fellini film masterpiece 8 1/2 (Otto e’ Mezza), Nine is set in 1960s Roma and follows one auteur on the verge of a breakdown as he tries to balance the women in his life while trying to figure out how to say something new in his work.

Nine is a dazzling, mesmerizing musical homage to Fellini and to all artists who have trouble living in the real world because his/her bubble world are where they truly feel alive. Daniel Day-Lewis’ remarkable performance (another intrepid immersion for him) as the tortured Guido Contini anchors the work while the sensational Marion Cotillard leads the supporting cast of lovelies as Guido’s loyal wife Luisa. Cotillard’s performance should have been Oscar nominated and would have been were it not for the Weinstein Company erroneously deciding she should be placed in the lead category. Penelope Cruz was justly nominated for her role as Carla, Guido’s hot mistress.

Dame Judi Dench pops in and out as Guido’s confidant, cleverly quipping about. Nicole Kidman portrays Claudia, his muse. Kate Hudson (surprisingly good) and the great Sophia Loren round out the thrilling cast.

Since this is a musical let’s get to it:

Daniel Day Lewis is not only a believable Italian but also a decent singer, handling his two numbers very well. Cotillard kills both her songs—especially the newly penned and Oscar nommed, “Take It All,” a physical and psychological strip-tease.

Cruz sizzles in her sultry “A Call from the Vatican.” And Hudson rock/pops it out with “Cinema Italiano.” Loren’s “Guarda La Luna” is the most disappointing number…it just lays there (originally the mother sings the gorgeous title song but Loren did not have the vocal chops to deliver it so they wrote something less vocally taxing.)

By far the best moment in the film is Fergie’s tour de force “Be Italian.” It makes the viewer long for more Fergie.

As a matter of fact, my main complaint about Nine is there wasn’t enough of it. Not enough Kidman. Not enough Fergie. Definitely not enough Loren. Never enough Cotillard. And while we’re on the subject of what the film lacks…

The movie could have been more psychologically complex (perhaps if the market research-happy Harvey wasn’t the producer) and should have been longer and included more musical numbers (see Harvey again). In addition, Marshall does copy a lot of what worked for Chicago, but he is smart enough to appropriate the best of his labors.

As it stands, Nine is a fascinating tale of a megalomaniacal, sex-obsessed man (could have been ripped from the 2010 headlines) who is searching for inspiration…and it’s a damn good one!

The production values are top notch across the boards.

The anamorphic widescreen presentation (2.35:1 aspect ratio) rocks with the flashy musical numbers coming alive and the gorgeous country of Italy popping spectacularly. I can only imagine what the Blu-Ray must be like.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital sound mix is crisp and aurally exciting. Crank it up and enjoy!

The Extras seem like a lot but in the end, it’s a very slim offering for such a whopper of a film.

The feature length audio commentary with Marshall and producer John DeLuca is a treat and the guys go into technical detail about all aspects as well as providing background about bringing the film to the screen.

There are seven featurettes, the longest being “The Women of Nine,” at 10 minutes. There are brief segments on Daniel Day Lewis, Marshall, the Dancers, choreographers and three music videos as well as an 8-minute behind-the-scenes look at the film. Most of these are strictly puff pieces where everyone raves about everyone else and how they all got along!

The Blu-Ray has a lengthy Q & A with the cast and director but the DVD does not.

Also Marshall mentioned a cut musical moment, “Being with You,” sung by Guido and featuring Carla, Luisa and Claudia. No sign of it here. Perhaps a special edition is being planned. One can only hope.

Years from now, I believe this film will get the recognition it deserves. This DVD should help make folks aware of just how good the movie is.



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