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Toni Servillo in THE GREAT BEAUTY

Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. The Great Beauty (Criterion) Paolo Sorrentino’s almost plotless portrait of the glamorous nightlife of contemporary Rome may seem on the surface to be an obvious choice for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. After all, it quite deliberately follows the footsteps of La Dolce Vita as an ode not only to Rome’s vast history, but its history of cinematic glitz. Yet there’s a great deal going on below The Great Beauty’s exquisitely realized surface. Rather than a simple 21st century upgrade of Fellini’s Rome, The Great Beauty is an existential travelogue, a decadent and detailed portrayal of a place uncertain about how to realize its future as a definitive global city in the culture so content to rest its champagne-soaked laurels on its extensive reputation. We see Rome through the eyes of Toni Servillo’s Jep Gambardella, whose failure to produce a second novel after a monumental first success sets the stage for his engrossing tour of Rome’s beguiling but hollow surfaces. While it made nary an appearance on op-ed trendpieces on the topic, Sorrentino’s film belongs directly alongside 2013’s many portrayals of excess for an era of economic uncertainty. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautifully shot and edited exegesis on the sweet life. – Landon Palmer [Blu-ray/DVD extras:  Interviews with the director, lead actor, and screenwriter; deleted scenes; trailer; an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by Philip Lapote]

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jean-claude-van-damme-jcvd12

Jean-Claude Van Damme is having a moment. I hesitate to say that he’s having a comeback, because the truth of the matter is that Van Damme has never actually gone away. The man has starred in a film almost every year since 1986 as some form of the tough-talking agile street fighter that he essentially embodies in his present form. But even though Van Damme appeared in six — count ‘em — films last year, can you really say that you saw any of them? After his recent and much-beloved Volvo stunt caused a mild national frenzy that both managed to put his name back in the spotlight and make the car company cool again (kind of) by association, it feels like we can’t escape the onslaught on new JCVD projects headed our way. Is it because we’re looking now that our JCVD-vision has been adjusted, and he’s always been there waiting in the shadows to kick our collective asses with the power of entertainment? Or was the Volvo commercial a nice little publicity stunt to direct our attention to his new movies? Either way, it’s working.

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published: 11.21.2014
D
published: 11.21.2014
B+
published: 11.19.2014
C+
published: 11.19.2014
B-, C


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