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In 'Amarcord,' a reminder of Fellini's greatness

Also reviewed: 'Fuel' and 'Polanski: Unauthorized'

February 13, 2009|Kevin Thomas; Gary Goldstein; Sam Adams

Federico Fellini's "Amarcord" ("I Remember") is a ravishing memory film in which reminiscence, rumor, legend, local history and male sexual fantasies flow into one another with the ease and grace for which Fellini was justly famous.

It is a reminder too of the formidable evocative powers of two key Fellini collaborators, composer Nino Rota and cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, who supervised this new 35-millimeter restoration of the 1970s film.

The story, set in the 1930s, centers on teenage Titta (Bruno Zanin), functioning here as the director's alter ego, and his volatile yet loving family. A central figure is Gradisca (Magali Noel), a sultry beauty salon proprietor, a sexual magnet who nevertheless finds love elusive.

As it passes from one spring season to the next, "Amarcord" unfolds as a pageant, a fresco, in the splendid Fellini tradition that embraces the fantastic, the hilarious, the grotesque and the unexpectedly beautiful. But Fellini does not overlook the era's brutal Fascist rule, satirizing its absurd pomposity and the naivete of Mussolini machismo worship. Yet he leaves us with the hope that the human comedy just may be able to survive everything.

"Amarcord" is in striking contrast to the also semi-autobiographical "I Vitelloni" (1953). Fellini, in the earlier film, revealed his need to escape the indolence and self-delusions of his friends, if he was ever to make something of himself. Two decades later and long-celebrated as a great director, Fellini was able to revisit his youth with a lighter yet just as clear-eyed a spirit.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Amarcord." MPAA rating: unrated. In Italian with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. At the Nuart through Thursday, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.

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'Fuel' to the fire of oil addiction

"Fuel" is a vital, superbly assembled documentary that presents an insightful overview of America's troubled relationship with oil and how alternative and sustainable energies can reduce our country's -- and the world's -- addictive dependence on fossil fuels.

The film's structure is built around director-narrator Josh Tickell's personal journey of enlightenment, which started in childhood after moving with his family from idyllic Australia to murkier Louisiana, where he came to realize the oil-rich environment was being ravaged by the omnipotent petrochemical industry. Later, as a young adult, he spent 11 years crossing the country in his vegetable oil-powered "Veggie Van," promoting biofuels and compiling footage for what would become this impressively comprehensive film.

The events of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina factor in both visually and thematically, providing provocative anchors for the movie's indictment of what Tickell believes is the Big Oil-cozy, ecologically indifferent Bush administration. Johnny O'Hara's WGA Award-nominated script doesn't dwell on muckraking, however; it's more focused on broadly inspiring viewers than preaching to the converted.

Interviews with a wide range of environmentalists, policy makers and educators, along with such "green" celebrities as Woody Harrelson, Sheryl Crow and Larry Hagman offer serious fuel for thought -- as well as for action. Smartly animated interstitials, memorable archival material and a lively soundtrack round out the fast-paced proceedings.

-- Gary Goldstein

"Fuel." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; AMC's Loews Broadway 4, 1441 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica. (310) 458-6232.

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Devil of a time with 'Polanski'

Roman Polanski has been accused of many things, but Damian Chapa's biopic, "Polanski: Unauthorized," is the first to accuse him of double-crossing the devil. If only that were as low as this thoroughly disreputable movie sank.

Chapa, who usually directs and stars in Z-grade action movies with titles like "Mexican Gangster" and "Chicano Blood," brings the same level of craft and good judgment to Polanski's life story, unsurprisingly zeroing in on the most salacious aspects.

There's the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate (Brienne De Beau), and his illicit liaison with a drugged-up 13-year-old (Leah Grimsson), each role played with vapid "omigod!" accents; his childhood in Nazi-occupied Poland; and the death of his mother (Silvia Suvadova) in a concentration camp. It's all here, chopped into time-scrambled bits for maximum gawkability and minimum insight.

Chapa, who plays the lead and co-wrote the script, has none of his subject's ratlike charisma. (He looks, for one thing, to be at least twice Polanski's size.) And his movie shows no interest in getting under Polanski's skin. Chapa chalks Polanski's string of troubles up to his decision to engage a real-life Satanist (Thomas Druilhet) as a technical advisor on "Rosemary's Baby."

The leering, goateed figure haunts Polanski forever after, suggesting that it was, indeed, the devil made him do it.

Considering the disturbed undercurrents of movies like "Repulsion" and the overlooked "The Tenant," there's no need to turn to the supernatural to plumb the depths of Polanski's soul. But then, it's clear from "Polanski's" cramped frames that Chapa knows as little about filmmaking as he does his subject.

-- Sam Adams

"Polanski: Unauthorized." MPAA rating: unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (323) 848-3500.

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