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Lady Gaga, Adam Driver

“HOUSE OF GUCCI” My rating: C (In theaters)

167 minutes | MPAA rating: R

We’re all familiar with cinematic sagas of backstabbing among the filthy rich. Entire TV series have grown around that idea.

In fact, we’re so accustomed to the wealthy misbehaving that any example of the genre trying to capture our time and attention had best come up with something — an approach, an edge, an attitude — that sets it apart.

This is precisely what Ridley Scott’s “House of Gucci” fails to do.

This is a multi-character epic of greed and power that is intermittently intriguing but which overall suffers from a bad case of meh

The screenplay by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna (based on Sara Gay Forden’s nonfiction book) lacks a point of view or even an obvious purpose.  The story is based on facts, but the telling is satire- and irony-free, a bland recitation of events with no attempt to analyze or interpret.

In a shorter film this might have been finessed, but “…Gucci” runs for more than 2 1/2 hours…by the halfway point a viewer’s attention span starts to wander as it becomes clear we’re not going anywhere.

And director Scott’s heart clearly isn’t in it.  This effort lacks even his trademark visual pizzazz. 

The film is strongest in its early passages, when we’re introduced to Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), who works as a secretary for her papa’s Milanese trucking company.  Gaga once again establishes her bona fides as a genuine movie star…here she seems to be channelling Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobridgida, a potent mixture of sex and sassiness. 

Out partying  one night Patrizia bumps into a rather shy but charming young man who introduces himself as Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver).

He describes himself as a humble law student, but Patrizia recognizes that this is one of the heirs to the Gucci fashion empire.  She starts stalking Maurizio, plotting an “accidental” meeting.

Is she a gold digger?  Well, Maurizio’s uber-cultured father (Jeremy Irons) certainly thinks so, but the film declines to pass judgment.  Patrizia is in some ways solidly plebeian (she doesn’t like reading) but she’s no shortage of ambition, something that gratifies her to Maurizio’s uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), who runs the Gucci empire from a New York high rise.

Under his new wife’s insistent prodding the laid-back Maurizio is slowly sucked into the firm’s management, undergoing a bit of a personality change in the process.  Power corrupts, don’t cha know?

In fact, Patrizia makes such a pest of herself, meddling in Gucci business, that divorce rears its ugly head. In a plot development that beggars the imagination (but which actually happened), she befriends a TV psychic (Salma Hayek) and together they put together a hit on hubby.

That’s the main plot thread of “House of Gucci,” but it’s only one of many.  

Jared Leto

The film jerks to life every time Jared Leto makes an appearance as Aldo’s son Paolo, a wannabe designer utterly lacking in taste and talent who owns a big chunk of Guggi stock but is considered an idiot by one and all.  

Leto is unrecognizable beneath bald pate, scraggly hair and double chin…his Paolo is like a parody of every hapless loser you’ve ever met.   You’re almost tempted to feel sorry for him, but the guy is so clueless and irritating we practically take pleasure in his humiliations.

(Some smart grad student in psychology is going to do a thesis on why one of the most handsome actors in Hollywood insists in role after role on uglying himself up beneath layers of grotesque makeup and prosthetics.)

There is no shortage of betrayals here.  Patrizia and Maurizio learn that Uncle Aldo has been cheating on his America taxes and turn him in so they can take over the company.  Then they must face a coup engineered by the CEO of Gucci America (Jack Huston).  

While Patrizia stews in divorcee hell, Maurizio cavorts with a thin French friend (Camille Cottin).

Damn, but these rich folk push the envelope.

Truth be told, most of the performances here are just fine.  It’s the storytelling that lets us down, keeping us at arm’s length and ultimately leaving us without any character to care about.

| Robert W. Butler

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martianMV5BMTUxODUzMDY0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDE0MDE5NTE@._V1__SX1377_SY911_“THE MARTIAN” My rating: A

141 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

With “The Martian” director Ridley Scott and star Matt Damon deliver an almost perfect piece of popular filmmaking, an intimate sci-fi epic that is smart, spectacular and stirring.

This big screen adaptation (by screenwriter Drew Goddard) of Andy Weir’s best-seller about an astronaut stranded on Mars has just about everything — laughs, thrills, visual splendor and a rousing endorsement of the brotherhood of man.

It’s the least pretentious and most wholly enjoyable film of Scott’s extensive career (which includes  “Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise” and “Gladiator”) and pushes Damon’s acting talents to the max.

The premise melds elements of 1964’s “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” and “Apollo 13” (earthbound scientists and engineers invent ways to help their desperate colleague).

Matt Damon

Matt Damon

And nestled inside this riveting adventure is a sly commentary on bureaucracy.

Set in a near future in which the American space program is thriving (the film’s most patently fantastic assertion), “The Martian” opens on Mars, where a team led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is wrapping up a month-long scientific mission. A fierce sandstorm catches the astronauts out in the open, and they barely make it to the Martian lander that will return them to the orbiting mother ship.

But one of them, botanist Mark Watney (Damon), is literally blown away by the raging wind. Believing him dead, Lewis has no choice but to take off without him before the storm makes liftoff impossible.

But Mark isn’t dead. He awakens to a beeping alarm in his helmet telling him he’s almost out of air, struggles out of the sand in which he is half buried and discovers that he’s been skewered by a shard of wind-blown metal.

He barely makes it into the now unoccupied housing module where he performs a bit of surgery on himself and takes stock of his situation. (more…)

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Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Rhamses and Moses

Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as Ramses and Moses

“EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS” My rating: C

150 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Ridley Scott’s “Exodus: Gods and Kings” runs for almost 2 1/2 hours — and that still isn’t enough time for it to figure out why it’s here or what it wants to say.

It’s based, of course, on the Old Testament story of the exodus of the captive Hebrews from Egypt, but the filmmakers are obviously ambivalent over matters of faith. Heck, they explain away the story’s supernatural elements as the result of a bump to Moses’ noggin.

This is the second monster-budget biblical epic of the year (it follows Darren Aronofsky’s over-produced and over-thought “Noah”). If Hollywood doesn’t believe, why does it bother?

In a word: spectacle. Scott and his visual wizards pull out the stops to create the thriving Egyptian capital of Memphis, the parting and unparting of the Red Sea, a slam-bang  battle with an invading army.

But on a spiritual and dramatic level “Exodus” is a creaky affair.

Most of us are familiar with Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 “The Ten Commandments,” an alternately silly and awe-inspiring affair. DeMille may have had the dramatic instincts of a snake oil salesman, but he was a fierce believer in his own showmanship, and if you can ignore the absurd emoting, his epic remains ridiculously entertaining.

Scott, on the other hand, delivers a film that is, well, grumpy. For all the f/x wizardly, there’s not much joy or discovery to be had. “Exodus” feels like a paint-by-numbers job assembled by an indifferent committee

(more…)

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