Tea with Mussolini
- Cher as Elsa Morganthal
- Joan Plowright as Mary Wallace
- Judi Dench as Arabella
- Maggie Smith as Lady Hester Random
- Lily Tomlin as Georgie Rockwell
- Baird Wallace as Teenage Luca
- Charlie Lucas as Young Luca
Franco Zeffirelli draws upon incidents from his own childhood for this semi-autobiographical, coming of age tale of a young boy whose life is influenced by many different women as Italy heads for political change and the impending knowledge of World War II. Funny, warm and boasting an array of fine performances from the talented cast, Tea with Mussolini is charming viewing from start to finish.
The film begins in 1935, Florence. Luca is a young illegitimate child whose mother has died and whose father shows little care for his upbringing. Luckily for him, his father’s secretary, the kind Mary Wallace decides to take the boy into her care. She is part of an expatriate sisterhood known as “The Scorpioni”, which consists of Englishwomen and two Americans. Populating the electic group are Arabella, the spirited art loving bohemian; Lady Hester, a rude and haughty matron who because of her late husbands political connections is a strong believer in Mussolini; Elsa, an outrageous American widow who loves to spend and Georgie, a witty and openly lesbian archaeologist. It is through this gaggle of women that Luca learns many valuable lessons about life as he grows up. But as the country heads for Italy’s involvement in the war and political uncertainty, the bond between him and the women remains strong despite the many attempts to break it. So sit back and enjoy this touching coming of age story of Luca as he grows from childhood to teenage years, instilled with the lessons of the inspirational women that surround him.
Although some of the events in the film feel a little over the top and episodic, this should not detract from the overall freshness of the story as performed by the exceptional cast. The screenplay excellently alternates between dry humour and moments of touching sincerity with deft skill. The use of authentic Italian locations is stunningly realised and shot almost like a Merchant-Ivory picture, capturing the lush beauty but also the eventual turmoil that will occur. Charlie Lucas and Baird Wallace shine as Luca at different ages, showing his emergence from wide-eyed boy to cultured young gentleman. Yet it the female cast that lights up Tea with Mussolini, creating a lively group of eccentric but caring ladies. In a role that seems tailor-made for her, Cher delivers an exciting, sensational and heartfelt performance as the extravagant Elsa, who loves to shake things up, but behind the glamour has a caring streak that becomes most apparent when it comes to Luca. Joan Plowright provides a warm but firm presence as Luca’s surrogate mother figure, her eyes filled with love and care for the boy. She also conveys a sagacious strength when situations get tough and has a quiet but disarming wit. Maggie Smith, that great dame, turns in a typically acerbic performance as the haughty and high-class Hester, blinded by her own naive tendencies. Smith has a hoot delivering the best lines consisting of withering insults and warm responses in equal abundance. That other grand dame of cinema Judi Dench adds eccentric mannerisms and bohemian freedom as the passionate Arabella, showing us her cultured sensibilities with her many recitals of classic poetry and literature. Rounding out this ensemble is Lily Tomlin who adds an arch humour and touching quality as the free-living Georgie, who isn’t afraid to voice her opinion. The film may be set during the war but don’t expect a history lesson, as the main focus is on the effects it has rather than the fighting. Franco Zeffirelli directs with a light comic air that also contains many moments of poignancy arising from Luca’s unbreakable connection with the gaggle of women who have changed his life.
Featuring a brilliant cast, stunning sets and excellent dialogue laced with humour and warmth to spare, Tea with Mussolini is simply a joy. Believe me, the cast enough is reason to see the semi-autobiographical delight from Franco Zeffirelli.
- Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood
- Kurt Russell as Drew Stephens
- Cher as Dolly Pelliker
- Craig T.Nelson as Winston
- Diana Scarwid as Angela
Based on the story of Karen Silkwood, a worker at a nuclear power plant in Oklahoma who died mysteriously whilst on her way to meet with a journalist, she was presumed to have had evidence regarding violations in the workplace. Directed by Mike Nichols, Silkwood emerges as a taut and effective, character driven drama full of fine performances.
Karen Silkwood works at Kerr-McGee power plant in Oklahoma with her boyfriend Drew Stephens and lesbian roommate Dolly Pelliker. Karen is a tough, mini-skirted, gum chewing worker who has a turbulent personal life. One day in the midst of her mundane shift, Karen is contaminated and is hosed down in a harrowing shower scene. Aware that she will suffer a slow and painful death, she investigates the plant for further evidence of negligence and calls for union. Through her work and determination, her relationships with others become strained as she strives for the truth and justice.
As well as being somewhat of a biopic, the film is also an interesting character study of one normal women thrown into an extraordinary situation. In the title role, Meryl Streep embodies the determination, strength and defiance of this woman.As the story for her struggle for truth is told, the audience sympathises with her as a result of her refusal to back down. She is offered strong support from Kurt Russell and a low-key performance from singer turned actress Cher. Both of them surprised me with their effectiveness towards their characters. Cher especially caught my attention in the role that got her noticed as an actress; as Dolly she is the wise-cracking best friend but a melancholy pervades her quietly expressive portrayal. She is barely recognizable when clad in dowdy clothing and hardly any make-up really looking the part, but her subtle emotionally earnest performance adds to this.
The main themes are the struggle for justice and business corruption, but I also thought that fear was a theme expressed throughout a lot of Silkwood. The title character fears for her life because of her dangerous work and fears that no one will listen ,Drew fears losing Karen to both the contamination and her constant union work and the lonely Dolly fears losing her friends who she considers to be her own family. There is also a reference in the contamination sensor as each worker walks through it dreading the screaming of an alarm to confirm they’ve been what the others referer to as ‘cooked’.
Although the film unravels at a slow and thoughtful pace, it is still compulsive viewing as we watch Karen’s crusade becoming more vocal and her voice being heard by authority. Only in the last hour does the film slightly lull in places, but overall the slow unravelling works to show us the extent of what is happening. Even if the story doesn’t interest or grip you or the pace seems to last forever, the fine performances from the cast, especially Streep, Russell and Cher will keep you watching until the end. A moving and engaging film, made more moving due to the basis of the source material.
- Cher as Loretta Castorini
- Nicolas Cage as Ronny Cammareri
- Olympia Dukakis as Rose Castorini
- Vincent Gardenia as Cosmo Castorini
- Danny Aiello as Johnny Cammareri
As bright and luminous as the moon that hangs over Brooklyn, Moonstruck is a delightfully funny and gentle tale directed with subtle touches by Norman Jewison and brought to life by its large cast fronted by an Oscar-winning Cher. Although I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies and the film is unabashedly romantic, Moonstruck charmed and pleasantly surprised me none the less because of its attention to characters and a certain amount of seriousness and drama to level out the comedy.
Loretta Castorini is a 38-year-old dowdy Italian American widow who works as an accountant whilst living at home with her eccentric relatives. Her boyfriend of the moment, the dull Johnny proposes to her one night, and although she is not madly in love with him, she accepts his offer as she believes it is time to marry again. Johnny however has to go back to Sicily to tend to his dying mother and asks Loretta to invite his estranged brother, Ronny. Sure enough, Loretta contacts the volatile and very angry Ronny who holds his older brother responsible for an accident years before. The pair unexpectedly fall madly in love with each other whilst Johnny is away.
The moon referred to in the title is a symbol of the complexities and finicky nature of love. Whilst Loretta and Ronny fall for each other and face uncertainty of what to do , her wry mother Rose finds out her husband Cosmo is cheating on her. This proves interesting as we watch not one but two relationships unravel in parallel fashion.
The cast is a bonus to the film, especially the supporting players who add humour and nuance to the romance. Cher is outstanding in the main role for which she won an Oscar, playing Loretta with an ease, confidence and subtlety that makes the audience feel for her. Her performance isn’t a loud, over the top portrayal, but a quietly realistic, charming and at times touching one that is all the better for it. Her scene at the opera when she cries is a touching moment especially when Ronny takes her hand and she realises how much she does love him. We all know that Cher can rock looking glamorous, but her morphing from dowdy duckling to glamour girl in pure Cinderella fashion is charming none the less to witness in the film. Cage is also funny too, embodying the wolfish charm and dejected melancholy that pervade his characters actions. Just like the many instances of opera that appear in the picture, his character is the living persona of the classic operatic hero with his over the top gestures and bold speeches about the subject of love. Credit should be given to Dukakis, as she is by turns funny and knowing as Loretta’s mother, her many instances of questions of why men chase women prove interesting viewing as well. Her chemistry with Vincent Gardenia( who is himself marvellous as her philandering husband) and Cher is an added bonus too. In a supporting part, Danny Aiello makes the most of it as the man who proposes to Loretta but is then spirited away, leaving the door open for all sorts of mayhem to occur.
While the film can be over the top at certain times and lull slightly, this should not detract from the hysterical screenplay and fleshed out characters present. Even if you don’t like romantic comedies, it is hard not to fall under the luminous spell of Moonstruck. You just won’t be able to “Snap out of it” as Loretta tells Ronny in a memorable scene.
Another question post. In this one, I’m asking which singers who have turned their attention to the big screen your favourites. There have been many cases of singers trying to act and the result isn’t anything special. But there have also been cases of singers succeeding in their attempts of silver screen stardom. So have a thing about which one’s you think have achieved this feat.
If anyone out there is struggling to think of any, here are some that have attained success in both fields;
The witches of Eastwick
- Jack Nicholson as Daryl Van Horne
- Cher as Alexandra Medford
- Susan Sarandon as Jane Spofford
- Michelle Pfeiffer as Sukie Ridgemont
- Veronica Cartwright as Felicia Alden
Battles of the sexes comedies don’t come much darker and sexier than The Witches of Eastwick. Based on John Updike’s novel of the same name, directed by George Miller of Mad Max fame and featuring an absolutely hysterical performance by Jack Nicholson, Eastwick is a wickedly and darkly comic film that slightly goes overboard with the special effects in the later parts . Regardless of this minor quibble, the film is still a pleasure and joy to watch partly because of Jack Nicholson and the three main woman who dominate the story. The score composed by John Williams adds to the devilish and lively quality of the film.
The film revolves around three single best friends in the boring, uneventful and traditional New England town of Eastwick. Although different in terms of their personalities,each has the distinction of having a man leave them in some form or another. The dynamic trio of women comprises of strong-willed sculptress Alex, shy and matron like cellist and music teacher Jane and sexy writer for the local newspaper Sukie. To relieve their boredom and feelings of loneliness,they meet every Thursday night for drinks and food. The gatherings are spent discussing what they want in a man and wishing for one to arrive in town. Unbeknownst to the trio, they in fact possess powers that can make strange things happen. After one such gathering, the flamboyant and devilish Daryl Van Horne arrives and purchases a prominent old mansion on the outskirts of town. He immediately sends shock waves through the traditional eponymous town with his brazen, over the top and deliberately lecherous behaviour. Thinking they have conjured up the man of their dreams, the women all gradually fall under his seductive spell. After gossip spreads through the town,partly because of local busybody and eccentric Felicia and strange incidents occur, the women realize that Daryl may not be what he at first seems and that they have conjured up a literal devil.
As the witches of the title;Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer are luminous and convincing as the love-starved and bored best friends who accidentally dabble in magic and get their fingers burnt as a result. The trio have a natural chemistry with each other that helps the audience believe in the friendship they share. But the acting honours go to Jack Nicholson who throws himself into the part and makes the film hysterically funny. Whether he is frantically playing the violin in order to seduce the shy Jane or dressed in a velvet robe when trying to make a move on the self-assured Alex, Nicholson is a hoot throughout. Special mention should also go to Veronica Cartwright for her supporting performance as the local gossip and Cassandra like prophet of the town who foresees the danger and debauchery that Daryl will bring to Eastwick.
Despite the sometimes overload of effects, sometimes they work within certain scenes in the movie. The funny scene that takes place in Daryl’s manor,when the girls play tennis and discover the extent of their magical abilities by using telekinesis to move the ball in their favour is well filmed and hilarious. The scene where after the women have cooled their relationship with him, he starts to bring their deepest fears to life is quite unsettling, particularly if you have a deep-seated fear of snakes. Revenge comes when the women devise an equally unsettling plan. Equally horrifying is Daryl’s revenge on Felicia, in which he causes her to continuously vomit cherry pips. If you are easily squeamish this scene may not be for you. One thing is definitely for sure, you will never look at cherries in the same way ever again.
Overall, the film is a horror comedy with elements of drama and fantasy thrown into the eclectic mix. The best way to enjoy the film is to accept it as it is and simply watch the trio of comic performances by Cher, Sarandon and Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson in a devilish and extremely memorable portrayal.