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Marco Filiberti’s
David’s Birthday (Il Compleanno)


Written by Marco Filiberti

Starring: Alessandro Gassman; Maria de Medeiros; Massimo Poggio; Michela Cescon; Christo Jivkov; and Thyago Alves

In Italian with English subtitles 106 min.

DVD Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

In David’s Birthday, Marco Filiberti examines one man’s repression and how, once those desires become overpowering, his actions have potentially devastating consequences.

Matteo (Massimo Poggio) is a therapist who is seemingly happily married to Francesca (Maria de Madeiros). They join their friends (Alessandro Gassman & Michela Cescon) on vacation along a sunny Italian beach awaiting the arrival of David, the latter couple’s stunning teen son who will be celebrating his birthday. Once David arrives, Matteo’s attraction to him begins to overtake him while David’s seeming sexual ambiguity begins to come into focus.

David’s Birthday (Il Compleanno) is a sweeping and operatic melodrama, gorgeous to look at (kudos to Roberta Allegrini’s camerawork) and listen to (likewise Andrea Chenna’s powerful score). And the entire ensemble is to be congratulated on giving nuanced and perfectly modulated performances.

Gassman is a hoot as the abrasive father. His Diego is the typical pigheaded Italian male who wants to control his wife but wants to seek out other women as well. Gassman steals almost every scene he is in with his dynamic comic timing.
Poggio strikes all the right balances of longing, tension—sexual and otherwise, dissatisfaction and, eventually, bliss. His Matteo feels intellectually superior to most others (including his patients) but he is a sexual mess. Poggio’s ogling of David as he hoses himself down is simultaneously hilarious, sad and highly seductive.

Maria de Medeiros gives a lovely and rich rendering of a woman trying her best to be the perfect Italian wife—even when being demeaned by her husband. De Medeiros gives off faint hints that she is aware something is off about her mate, but nothing too obvious.

Thyago Alves is an absolutely gorgeous male specimen. I defy heterosexual men to gaze on this god and not have a doubt or two. The wonder of Alves is that he is also a very good actor, imbuing David with just enough mystery to keep us guessing. It’s shocking that this is his film debut!

Filiberti has meticulously structured his script, down to the last detail and, at first; I was taken aback by the climax until I realized that it was the only way to show the dangers of repression. In the Italian culture there are certain things you cannot discuss. If you must do these things then you do them behind closed doors. And then you go back to your family. Or you simply deny yourself who you are and live a lie. Bravo to Filiberti for having the balls to depict this onscreen and for doing it in such an artistically triumphant manner.

The stunning photography is preserved with this DVD transfer of the original 1:78 aspect ratio image as is the camera lingering on the alluring Alves.

The film’s 2.0 surround sound is sharp and better than a lot of Italian film sound transfers out there.

The only DVD Extras are the theatrical trailer and previews of other Wolf titles. More would have been welcome.



Ryan Murphy’s
Eat Pray Love

DVD Review by Frank J. Avella

Sony Pictures

Eat Pray Love arrived in theatres this past summer to mixed reactions from critics and audiences. People familiar with the popular book and tired of the drek Hollywood was dolling out appreciated it and saw it as a refreshing tonic to the typical garbage that barrages the multiplexes. But the key demographic (young boys and men) stayed away (big surprise!) In addition, critical reception was mixed. But do the math: the majority of critics are straight men and the idea of a genre-confused film that centers on a female protagonist who isn’t 25 and doesn’t dance in her scanties for the duration of the running time (a hefty 2 hours and 20 minutes) wasn’t something very appetizing.

For those willing to open their minds and alter the way they’re used to seeing a film, the results are enthralling and yes, potentially, spiritually awakening.

Fed up with her life in the states, Elizabeth Gilbert (Julia Roberts) decides to embark on a life-journey to Italy, India and Bali. Her encounters, romantically, intellectually and spiritually make up Eat Pray Love. The film refuses to fit into one genre (meaning it isn’t even a chick flick, although I’m sure some of the more narrow-minded critics disagree).

The movie is quite personal. Depending on where you are in your own spiritual journey in life it may hit you in different ways. And if the thought of a spiritual journey is anathema to you, then you will probably all-out dismiss the film as hokum.

Directed by Nip/Tuck and Glee creator extraordinaire Ryan Murphy and written by Murphy and Jennifer Salt (daughter of Waldo, Eunice on the sitcom Soap and Nip/Tuck penner), Eat Pray Love is faithful to the book, but is also it’s own entity as a motion picture.

I loved it. And watching it again on DVD, the joys were just enhanced.

Roberts sinks her teeth and soul into the project and gives us a multi-layered character, warts and all. It’s her showcase and she eats, prays and loves up a storm.

Among the terrific supporting cast, Richard Jenkins does astonishing work and in a key scene (filmed masterfully by Murphy) he shows us a man destroyed and reborn.

The DVD gives you the choice of watching the original 140-minute theatrical version or a new 146-minute Director’s Cut. The added minutes are a wonderful gift; I just wish there were more.

In theatres, the film looked magnificent and on DVD is given a worthy
high-definition widescreen (1.85:1) transfer with locales popping nicely. It would behoove you to have some pasta or pizza ready before you hit play.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound is nicely balanced. The music is especially clear and crisp and Eddie Vedder’s closing credits song, ‘Better Days,’ is haunting and evocative.

The Extras on the DVD are pathetically nil except for a 4-minute segment called "Ryan Murphy's Journey with Eat Pray Love." Apparently the Blu-Ray edition has a slew of other bonus materials, it’s a shame they didn’t bother including them here.




Marco Berger’s
Plan B

Written by Marco Berger
Starring: Manuel Vignau; Lucas Ferraro; Mercedes Quinteros.

(Argentina, In Spanish with English subtitles. 103 min.)

DVD Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Marco Berger’s Plan B tells a simplistic story, where you can see the ending coming in the first twenty minutes. But he does it so well that you don’t mind going along for this DVD-ride.

Bruno (sexy Manuel Vignau) is upset when his girlfriend, Laura (Mercedes Quinteros), leaves him for adorable Pablo (equally sexy Lucas Ferraro). Upon hearing rumors that Pablo has admitted to gay experiences, Bruno comes up with a plan (B) where he will get Laura back by seducing Pablo, thus revealing his bisexuality and infidelity.

As Bruno and Pablo begin to bond, a funny thing happens; they discover they genuinely like one another. Bruno begins sleeping with Laura again, but much to his surprise, he has become enamored with Pablo, who it turns out has never had a gay experience but he has feelings for Bruno.

Vignau and Ferraro deliver honest and complex performances that keep the viewer’s interest throughout.

Plan B is a worthwhile purchase, although it could have used another five or ten minutes at the end to give the obvious target audience what they spent 100 minutes craving, instead of blue-balling them.

The 1:78 aspect ratio (16x9) visual transfer is decent enough with the grainy qualities of the low-budget film magnified.

The 2.0 surround sound is crisp and clear.

The only DVD Extras are the theatrical trailer and previews of other Wolf titles. Deleted scenes would have been nice here.



V: The Complete First Season

BLU-RAY Review by Frank J. Avella

WARNER HOME VIDEO

As I concluded when I watched it earlier in the year, V is a visually enthralling remake that is, initially, incredibly disappointing, but actually begins to show great promise as the season comes to a close. And for a series to improve in it’s second half is a rarity so I am looking forward to Season Two.

The original miniseries aired in 1983 and even then was pretty cheesy but—as with most sci-fi entertainment—amassed a following.

ABC decided to remake it, pretty safely at first in what seemed to be a script-by-committee manner but, mercifully, significantly lowering the cheese factor.

To pause and plot the plot for a moment, V is about “the Visitors,” who happen to be a seemingly peaceful alien race (aren’t they all) that turns out to have the most evil of ulterior motives for arriving on Earth. The series is very slow to reveal the true nature of these visitors and the first half spends way too much time on dull plot involving Morris Chestnut—who happens to be a member of the 5th Column as well as an alien and the lead’s son Tyler played by a pretty but inept Logan Huffman.

The second half, however, gives us a more daring look at a post-9/11 world where paranoia runs rampant and no one knows who he or she or it can trust.

The best thing about V is Anna, the queen of the visitors played magnificently by Morena Baccarin. The actress is simply remarkable balancing the right blend of camp with serious, down-and-dirty-survivor evil. Initially, I didn’t know what to make of Baccarin, thinking her choices were simply to play indifference but she was laying the groundwork for a character arc that is one of the best in current sci-fi TV.

Elizabeth Mitchell (Lost) and Joel Grestch should also be commended for solid work.

The twelve-episode Blu-Ray edition preserves the 1.78:1 aspect ratio (1080p video rez) and the quality of the visuals vary depending on the quality of the erratic special effects that overuses CGI, especially aboard the ship. The exterior shots, however, are well textured.

The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround audio is merely sufficient and sometimes very muddled (especially some dialogue).

The Special Features aren’t abundant but what there is can be fun to watch including featurettes (abou 15 minutes each in length): “The Actor’s Journey From Human to V,” “Breaking Story: The World of V,” “An Alien in Human Skin: The Makeup FX of V” and “The Visual Effects of V.” Of these the first is the most compelling. There is also an Episode 11 Commentary by the two Executive Producers. The best of the Extras? The 17 minutes of Deleted Scenes. Watch them right after each episode for full effect.

V doesn’t deliver on the promise of a vastly improved re-imagining of a campy old show the way the brilliant Battlestar Galactica did on the Sci-Fi Network, but the last few episodes laid the groundwork for an exciting Season Two if ABC has the guts to go the distance.



 

 


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