Nine
R1 - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jeremiah Chin (16th June 2010).
The Film

Bouncing back from an acting Academy Award is apparently no small feat. After previous winners like Jamie Foxx somehow decided “Stealth” (2005) was a good idea after winning for “Ray” (2004), Kevin Spacey thought the obvious successor to “American Beauty” (1999) was “K-Pax” (2001) and Charlize Theron opted to follow “Monster” (2003) with “Aeon Flux” (2005). Just a little digging brings together a long list of tour de force performances with quick blunders to follow. Now with actors as selective as Daniel Day-Lewis and as rarely seen as Marion Contillard both coming off wins in 2007 for “There Will Be Blood” and “La Vie en Rose” respectively, they decide to tempt fate together by going for a full blown musical about film. (Un) luckily enough it doesn’t live up to it’s potential with respect to being a terrible flop, but still doesn’t live up to being a great and worthwhile film either.

Essentially a musical rendition of Frederico Fellini’s “8 ½” (1963), the film follows the aging Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his attempted production of the film ‘Italia’ in the midst of a creative block. Lacking even a script, the movie is being produced on speculation while Guido’s messy life is falling apart. His relationships with the many women of his life are coming into conflict, with his wife Luisa (Marion Contillard) growing distant, his mistress Carla (Penélope Cruz) growing too close, a fashion journalist covering the production (Kate Hudson), the speculative film’s star Claudia (Nicole Kidman) with visions his dead mother (Sophia Loren) and a prostitute from his childhood (Fergie). All these relationships are confusing his already stagnant artistic process as he’s trying to craft a film while interfering with oneanother in his real life.

Rob Marshall’s knack for the huge theatrical musical segments of the film, making them big stagepieces, works at times in the film, yet his decision to separate the musical from reality, putting every song in the stage of the mind exhibits his lack of concept in the narrative segments. While seemingly tempting to blur the lines of Guido’s mentality, with his conversations with his dead mother and visions of the haunting prostitute, separating the musical world to a singular soundstage separate from the world seems to run counterintuitive to the narrative structure of the film, disconnecting the music from the story and not quite bringing the musical to full form. By separating everything into the real world and stage world, it puts so much more emphasis on each individual song that their general plainness is just pushed to the forefront. It’s almost like Marshall wants to be a regular filmmaker but is afraid to let the musical leave the stage.

The music of the film sort of lives in some already tread lines of Broadway, it doesn’t have complicated interweaves of singing or any real mass chorus pieces, just musical monologues and asides to the audience that makes it feels more like an illustrated score than a full on musical. Even here the music isn’t significantly catchy or original, great musicals should have you remembering and sticking with lyrics as you would with any good piece of music, but everything here seems just to serve the purpose of differentiating the film from a remake of “8 ½” so it doesn’t seem so ambitious as to retread film history.

Initially the casting of the film makes it almost seem like Daniel Day’s Babe Parade, plus appaearance from Fergie. While Day-Lewis is typically known for the sort of dramatic heavy lifting that can elevate any film, in this musical his talent seems subdued. The music doesn’t match his vocal range and he often has to reach too far for some of his singing parts. On the other hand Cruz and Cotillard are the definite highlights in the film, they do a good job actually singing their parts and bringing their drama to the film’s narrative sections, with their pieces “A Call from the Vatican” and “My Husband Makes Movies” being two of the better pieces in the average lyrics and score. The biggest question marks are Fergie, who not only is a terrible actrice but singer in her scenes, and Kate Hudson’s musical scene “Cinema Italiano” which may be one of the better tunes but her character just isn’t good enough and Hudson seems put into the role to try and anchor it for the general American audience.

Despite some superb actors (Day-Lewis, Cotillard and Cruz) and because of some terrible ones (Fergie, Fergie and Fergie) “Nine” never connects with it’s promise of a musical version of Fellini’s film. Everything is too cut and dry, afraid to push the borders of weirdness that the creative stagnation feels it should indicate that it becomes very plain. Marshall’s directing brings some punch to the big stagings with tons of dancers, but this seems to come easily to him and he isn’t willing to go into more interesting directing by completely separating to the narrative segments and musical segments and shooting everything narrative fairly conventionally making me think it works far better on stage than Marshall works it here on film. I never thought I would call a Daniel Day-Lewis film mediocre, but it’s being a little generous with “Nine” considering it can’t bank on the talent it brings to the table.

Video

With the DVD’s 2.40:1 aspect ratio the quality of the film’s anamorphic transfer isn’t terrible for the format, but has some variable grain that is a combination of intended texture in the black and white sequences with some of the sequences in color. The colors of the broadway sequences come through fairly well, the don’t quite pop as well as they should, but they come through well and still look nice. There are no other major downfalls, contrast and imaging seems to come through well enough and the film maintains a fairly consistent look despite a few flaws.

Audio

The lone audio track is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track, it helps bring some of the resonance of the music, but also helps to expose some of its flaws. While the transfer seems to bring clarity to the vocals and the orchestra, the unoriginality of the musical score doesn’t quite bring the greatness of a soundtrack that a musical should. The music comes through clearly and everything is well balanced, the power of the music seems subdued either due to Marshall’s style and instructions or some of the shortcomings of the soundtrack, but since it’s hard to clear it up it just makes for a somewhat lesser track.
There’s also English and English for the hearing impaired subtitle tracks.

Extras

The single disc comes with a fair amount of special features, including an audio commentary track, 8 featurettes, 3 music videos and a collection of bonus trailers.

The audio commentary with director Rob Marshall and producer John DeLuca is actally fairly insightful into the film and how they saw it, confirming some of my suspicious about his creative process that may have hindered the film. Marshall talks about people having trouble accepting the idea of the singing in real life musical these days, though I would argue that we’ve moved too far away from it. Marshall discusses his changes, but it feels like rather than blurring the lines between guido’s mind and reality he makes them far too clear. They talk a lot about transitioning in and out of fantasy, but with how much they talk about it, it becomes fairly apparent how their focus on the issue is what made everything feel so stilted and separated. Top that off with how Marshall seems to talk plainly but DeLuca seems so involved and whispers loudly all the time it’s a little comical, with a good flow. If you can handle watching the movie again and sitting through it, it’s an unintentionally insightful look on how the film went wrong.

“The Incomparable Daniel Day-Lewisfeaturette runs for 5 minutes and 13 seconds, and as the title suggests is 5 minutes of praise for DDL’s performance in the film with all the actors and crew behind the film. Theres a little bt of behind the scenes work on the film, a lot of talk on how he got involved, with bits of a press interview with Daniel Day-Lewis talking on his excitement on being involved with a musical. Not bad, but more publicity than anything else.

“The Women of Nine” featurette runs for 10 minutes and 49 seconds. Marshall talks about casting before writing the adaptation of the film, which again makes sense to how the movie was crafted and faltered, but there’s a good hearty look at each woman, their character and how they got involved in the film. Again, more behind the scenes footage and interviews with each actor and Marshall about each role. Marshall retreads, almost word for word, some of his comments from the commentary, but the best part is looking at the rehearsals that look more interesting than the film looked at rtimes.

“Director Rob Marshallfeaturette runs for 6 minutes and 28 seconds. Heapings of praise for Marshall’s directing, again showing off behind-the-scenes footage and press interviews with the actors, everyone has great praise for his musical segments of the film, but the lack of behind the scenes footage and discussion of the narrative segments of the film is a bit telling in where the real focus of the film was and the disconnect in the film.

“Behind the Look of Nine” featurette runs for 8 minutes and 24 seconds. Here’s where all the behind the scenes footage of the narrative segments come in, giving credit to cinematographer Dion Beebe, all the costume and art directors behind the scenes of the film with some looks at the conceptual art for both the soundstages and costumes in the film. These behind-the-scenes looks are typically interesting, and this is no exception, everyone gets their chance to heap praise on the behind-the-scenes workers and it’s fairly interesting at the style behind the musical side of the film.

“The Dancers of Nine” featurette runs for 4 minutes and 41 seconds, more looks at the behind-the-scenes workers in the film, from the auditioning and rehersal stage of the film, as well as giving voice to some of the dancers who made it into the film where they can tlak about their process of being a background chorus dancers.

“The Choreography of ‘Be Italian’” featurette runs for 4 minutes and 17 seconds. Here DeLuca, set designers and Marshall talk about the set design and choreography to the musical segment. They discuss the use of the mockup set and all the rehersal time involved in producing the segment, Fergie talks about what a good time she had.

“Making of Cinema Italiano” runs for 2 minutes and 54 seconds. This is the first featurette that doesn’t seem to be just based on mostly on press segments, Hudson talks about learning the song and the composition of the son, while also being in the recording studio with Fergie for some reason.

“The Choreography of ‘Cinema Italiano’” featurette runs for 8 minutes and 40 seconds, Marshall, DeLuca and Hudson talk about making a segment so based on the mod 60’s style and of course praising Kate Hudson.

There are three music videos:

- “‘Cinema Italiano’ Featuring Kate Hudson” runs for 3 minutes and 49 seconds, it seems the earlier making-of featurette was cobbled from portions of this music video, which is more just clips of the film spliced with Hudson in a studio moreso than an actual music video.
- “‘Take it All’ Featuring Marion Contillard” runs for 3 minutes and 42 seconds, and is about the same mix of clips, behind-the-scenes looks and recording studio footage.
- “‘Unusual Way’ Featuring Griffith Frank” runs for 3 minutes and 44 seconds. The first song not in the musical, and seems out of place were it not for clips of the film.

Bonus trailers include:

- “The Road” which runs for 2 minutes and 32 seconds.
- “A Single Man” runs for 2 minutes and 4 seconds.
- “Extraordinary Measures” runs for 2 minutes and 8 seconds.
- “Not the Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy)” runs for 1 minute and 59 seconds.
- “The Young Victoria” runs for 33 seconds.
- “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” runs for 1 minute and 52 seconds.
- “The Back-Up Plan” runs for 2 minutes and 26 seconds.
- “An Education” runs for 33 seconds.
- “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” runs for 33 seconds.
- “Drop Dead Diva: The Complete First Season” runs for 1 minute and 57 seconds.

Overall

The Film: C- Video: B- Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: C+

 


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