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Posts Tagged ‘venice’

WWII is nearing an end and Venice is still occupied. Cenzo, a fisherman from nearby Pellestrina is stunned when he is out in his boat one night and sees a young girl floating in the water. He initially thinks she is dead, but in fact the young Venetian girl, Guilia, is far from dead – she is on the run from the Nazis who have killed her family.

He decides to try and protect her, which leads both of them into dangerous adventures, where they are never quite sure who can be trusted, and their lives are always on the line.

Compared to the last book I read by Martin Cruz Smith, the more famous Gorky Park, this was a lot lighter in tone, despite the subject matter. It’s very much plot rather than character driven, with most of the characters not being particularly fleshed out. That said, I did like the world-weary Cenzo very much – drawn into all kinds of situations when he would really rather just be fishing, he had a wry sense of humour and I definitely wanted a happy ending for him.

This is no-frills storytelling – the tale is told scene by scene, with no wasted words, and for some that might not be enjoyable. I liked it; I didn’t get immersed in it, but I enjoyed it overall and I thought the ending was just right.

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This Woody Allen directed contemporary musical, which boasts a star-studded cast revolves around the love lives of an extended family, and takes place in Manhattan, Paris and Rome.

I only really wanted to watch this film because Tim Roth is in it, and I wasn’t sure whether I was going to enjoy it – I’ve not actually seen many Woody Allen films – but in fact it is utterly charming and really rather lovely.

The story is narrated by Djuna (known to everyone as DJ, and played by Natasha Lyonne). She starts by introducing the viewers to her family – stepfather Bob (Alan Alda), mother Steffi (Goldie Hawn), step-sisters Skylar (Drew Barrymore), Lane (Gaby Hoffman) and Laura (Natalie Portman) and step-brother Scott (Lukas Haas). Not forgetting her actual father Joe (Woody Allen).

While Holden (Edward Norton) and Skylar get engaged, Joe is bemoaning the demise of his latest relationship, and DJ decides to set him up with Von (Julia Roberts) the patient of DJ’s friend’s psychiatrist mother! Von is in an unhappy relationship, and Joe is determined to win her over.

Meanwhile, Lane and Laurie are both in love with the same young man, Bob is distraught that son Scott is turning into a young conservative, despite have extremely liberal parents, and DJ is busy falling in love with various young men. Things get even more complicated when recently paroled prisoner Charles Ferry (Tim Roth) turns up!

The cast mostly sing all their own songs (Barrymore is dubbed) and all the songs are well known musical classics. Obviously these actors are not professional singers, but for the most part they hold their own pretty well – in fact Goldie Hawn and Ed Norton apparently had to be told NOT to sing as well as they were able, as they were not believable as the characters randomly bursting into song which they were meant to be portraying.

There is also some quite amazing dancing, with lots of extras (obviously professional dancers) being used – and this film also contains probably the happiest funeral scene you will ever see! There is also a quite stunning dance towards the end of the film, featuring Goldie Hawn and Woody Allen – it is very cleverly and beautifully done.

The whole cast shines, but I would give special mention to Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn, and also to Tim Roth, who has a great time with his own relatively small role. Edward Norton is also terrific in a role that is very much unlike the kind of parts we are used to seeing him play.

Overall, if you are looking for a film that will make you laugh and feel warm and happy inside, I would strongly recommend you give this one a go. I loved it.

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Year of release: 1996

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Main cast: Alan Alda, Natasha Lyonne, Goldie Hawn, Edward Norton, Drew Barrymore, Woody Allen, Julia Roberts, Tim Roth, Gaby Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Lukas Haas

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This 2004 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play (originally written as a comedy, although it feels far more like a drama) stars Al Pacino as Shylock (and he is easily the best thing in this film), Jeremy Irons as Antonio, Joseph Fiennes as Bassanio and Lynne Collins as Portia.

The story, in essence, centres on a deal made between Antonio (the merchant of Venice referred to in the title), and Shylock, a Jewish money-lender.  At the time that the story was set, there was much bad feeling between Christians and Jews, and indeed Jews in Venice were required to live in a ghetto of sorts, and to wear red caps in public, to identify as Jewish.  Antonio is approached by his friend Bassanio, who has squandered all of his money on his lavish lifestyle, and wants to borrow money off Antonio in order that he can be a suitor to Portia, a rich heiress – if Bassanio marries Portia, all of her riches will be his.  Antonio cannot lend him the money, but agrees to act as guarantor if Bassanio can borrow the money elsewhere.  Bassanio does so – from Shylock, who attaches a condition to his lending, that if the money is not repaid, Antonio will have to literally forfeit a pound of his flesh to Shylock.

I have watched and enjoyed many Shakespeare film adaptations, and approached this one with high hopes – only, sadly, to have them dashed.  Unfortunately, I found this adaptation to be boring and laborious.  Joseph Fiennes and Lynda Collins were not convincing as Bassanio and Portia; David Harewood played a small part in the film, in which he was great, but sadly he is in it only briefly.  Kris Marshall and Mackenzie Crook did decent enough jobs as Bassanio’s friend Graziano, and Launcelot Gobbo (a young man who works for Shylock), but they were not enough to save this film.

I am however, going to make mention of Al Pacino’s performance, which was simply outstanding.  If the rest of the cast (Jeremy Irons aside – he did a great job) had been as good as Pacino, this film would have been fantastic and one I would doubtless have watched over and over.  Pacino stole every single scene he was in, and engendered real sympathy in me for his character at the end.  Although Shylock is often portrayed and interpreted as a villain, I felt that he was a victim of the times and culture that he lived in, and the craftiness of others.  (Much as I enjoy Shakespeare, I don’t believe that either Bassanio or Portia come acres as very decent or likeable characters in the play).

It looks luscious and colourful, but for me, this film was a case of style of over content.  It may be worth seeing for the performance of Al Pacino, but other than that, this is one I won’t be watching again.

Year of release: 2004

Director: Michael Radford

Producers: Michael Hammer, Peter James, Robert Jones, Alex Marshall, James Simpson, Manfred Wilde, Gary Hamilton, Andrea Iervolino, Pete Maggi, Julia Verdin, Andreas Bajohra, Bob Bellion, Cary Brokaw, Michael Cowan, Jimmy de Brabant, Edwige Fenech, Nigel Goldsack, Luciano Martino, Barry Navidi, Jason Piette, Bob Portal, Jean-Claude Schlim, Clive Waldron, Roberto Almagia, Irene Masiello

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Radford

Main cast: Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Joseph Fiennes, Lynda Collins, Kris Marshall, Zuleikha Robinson, Charlie Cox, Heather Goldenhersh, Mackenzie Crook

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Before anyone watches this film they should probably know that it in no way attempts to tell the story of Giacomo Casanova; instead this is a fictionalised account of a specific period in Casanova’s life.  It’s full of historical inaccuracies, but it’s clearly not trying to present any semblance of truth, and instead is more a comedy of errors, with plenty of visual gags.

In essense, the infamous seducer Casanova (Heath Ledger) is ordered to wed a virgin, or else be arrested on crimes of fornication.  He quickly proposes to a young girl who is smitten with him, but then he meets the headstrong and intelligent Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller) and falls for her.  However, she is not aware of his true identity, and to complicate matters, she is engaged to a distant relative who she has never met.  Casanova pretends to be the fiance, while in the meantime, the young girl who he previously became engaged to is the object of affection for Francesca’s brother – who also has no idea of Casanova’s real identity.  Sounds complicated, but on the screen it all plays out well, with plenty of moments of humour.  Throughout all this, Bishop Pucci (Jeremy Irons) is on Casanova’s tail and is also trying to find a famous heretical writer – but further identity mix ups get in the way…!

The film is strictly played for laughs and on the whole it works well.  Heath Ledger looks nothing like how I would expect Casanova to look, but he plays the role well and with considerable charm – and looks like he’s having great fun doing it.  Jeremy Irons seems to positively revel in playing the evil Bishop who wants to capture and kill Casanova, and Oliver Platt is also wonderful as Francesca’s unknown fiance.  Omid Dajlili plays Lupo, Casanova’s manservant, and provides many laughs.  Mention should also be made of Lena Olin, as Francesca’s mother.  She was very funny and looked absolutely beautiful.  The only slightly weak link in the cast was Sienna Miller, who was never really convincing enough as the feisty woman who Casanova falls for.  However there was plenty enough in the film to make up for that.

Venice itself looked gorgeous, and is shown off to its best effect here (it made me want to visit there!), and the costumes were also terrific.  The classical musical score, including some of Vivaldi’s work was perfect for the film, and so nice in fact that I would like to buy the soundtrack to the film.

This film is basically an old fashioned romp through 18th century Venice.  Low on accuracy, but high on laughs with a smattering of romance (although the emphasis is definitely on comedy), and a nice twist at the end.  Overall, an enjoyable way to pass a couple of hours.

Year of release: 2005

Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Writers: Jeffrey Hatcher, Kimberley Simi, Michael Cristofer

Main cast: Heath Ledger, Sienna Miller, Oliver Platt, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Omin Djalili

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As a 13 year old living in Venice in 1782, Cecilia Cornaro is seduced by the famous Casanova, and becomes a long term lover of his. Their relationship lasts until Casanova’s death. Twenty five years later, and Cecilia is a renowned and respected portrait artist working in Albania, when she meets arrogant young poet Lord Byron and the two begin a turbulent relationship. As Cecilia progresses through life, the memories of her two relationships will have a lasting effect on her.

The first part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship with Casanova. Here, the famous lothario is portrayed sympathetically, as a mischievous but not malicious man, and one who is certainly capable of feeling true love and compassion.

The second part of the book focuses on Cecilia’s relationship – such as it is – with Lord Byron. Byron comes across as a thoroughly dislikeable man, who was arrogant, childish and constantly in search of the latest depravity, with not a thought for how much his actions cause hurt to others.

The book also focuses on how both relationships affect Cecilia and cause her to know herself and examine her life.

The characters are well drawn, and I felt that Cecilia herself was easy to empathise with. The book is told mainly from her point of view (with occasional chapters narrated by Casanova’s cat(!) and a gondolier in Venice), and the first person narrative works well in this instance, especially as Cecilia’s actions may not have been as understandable if described in the third person.

The writing itself is luscious and sensual. The descriptions of 18th and 19th century Venice are beautiful and really brought the city to life, to the extent that Venice itself was almost another character in the book. The setting for the story certainly added to the enjoyment of the reading.

It is clear that the author has done extensive research into the lives of Casanova and Byron, and many true life events are incorporated into this book (although Cecilia and her family are fictional characters). I felt that I had gained knowledge through reading this book, which is always a bonus.

The only negative comment I would make is that I did feel that the story could have been tightened up a little. Some of the events felt as if they lingered on too long, and at just over 600 pages, this was a read which I felt would have been better had it been perhaps 100 – 150 pages shorter.

Overall though, an enjoyable read, and one I would recommend to others.

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