Category Archives: movie reviews

The Tourist – A Movie Review

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Now I know that this movie didn’t get very good ratings – they said it was slow and predictable – but I have to say that I quite enjoyed it. I guess I’m not that much of a movie critic and I much prefer an easy to understand plot with great scenery! After all, I like to watch movies to be entertained and not to have to put on my thinking cap for too much analysis!

Angelina Jolie was absolutely stunning in this movie – from her hair, to her make up, to her wardrobe – she was so elegant and beautiful!

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She is always a very pretty woman, but in this movie, I think she was the prettiest I’ve ever seen her! Johnny Depp was entertaining as always – even though he wasn’t as good looking as he usually is! He was a bit disheveled but I guess that was the point!

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The scenery in Venice was incredible! I had to notice, though, that the director used some creative license in filming locales. The Hotel Danieli’s lobby was truly the real hotel’s lobby, but the dockside entrance was another hotel altogether. The Hotel Danieli does not have a dockside port on the Grand Canal but a side entrance along one of the little canals instead. The movie also made a plug for SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) properties when it was mentioned that the 3 most elegant hotels in Venice were the Hotel Danieli, The Gritti Palace, and the Westin Regina (all SPG properties!). Maybe SPG was a secret sponsor of the movie? Hmm….

If you want a great location movie, then I would highly recommend this one – the scenery will not disappoint at all!

An Oldie…And Definitely a Goody

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I can’t believe that I had never seen this classic film, shot entirely on location in Italy, until last week. This movie is always at the top of any list involving movies shot in Italy, therefore it was a shocker that I’d never seen it before! Well, I had to quickly change that by renting it on Netflix! The film I’m speaking about is Three Coins in the Fountain, the 1954 blockbuster!

It’s the story of 3 American secretaries that are sent to Italy to work for an American company…and in the interim, they fall in love!

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The story line is simple…the plot is simple…the entire movie is simple…BUT it is amazingly entertaining! It’s sometimes a refreshing experience to watch a happy movie that doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out. It’s simple entertainment and a good way to get whisked away to Italy for a couple of hours, while watching some incredible scenery!

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The scenes from Rome and Venice are truly beautiful, and I loved the fashionable clothes worn by the actresses as well…especially that chartreause polka dot dress with the mustard colored belt and sweater worn by Jean Peters in her role as Anita! Can you tell I liked that dress? I would definitely wear it, even in this day!

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Great movie! Great scenery! Great fashion! What more do we want in a movie?

Casanova 70…A Silly Plot but Still Entertaining

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In my quest to watch Italian movies, I found Casanova 70 on Netflix and decided to watch it. Released in 1965 and directed by the famous Carlo Ponti, it seemed like a good choice. It starred Marcello Mastroianni as a NATO officer who had a particular problem when it came to romance – he was unable to perform in bed unless he was put in a dangerous situation! This resulted in many adventures which got him into heaps of trouble. Yes, the plot is pretty stupid but the film was, nevertheless, quite entertaining especially because it was filmed on location in various parts of Italy. From running over the rooftops of trulli in Puglia, to seeing the grandeur of the fancy Italian auction houses where priceless treasures are sold to the aristocracy, made the movie watch-worthy! Marcello’s handsomeness, as well as the beauty and fashion of his female “playmates”, put 60’s glamour on full view in this film! For a lighthearted romantic comedy with some great Italian vistas, I would recommend this movie! It’s fun to watch and will put a smile on your face.

Valentino….One of the Kings of Italian Design

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I recently watched Valentino, The Last Emperor – a documentary that chronicled “the dazzling and dramatic closing act of the last true couturier’s celebrated career” and touched upon the history of this great designer of haute couture.  Of course, I had always heard of Valentino, but honestly, I don’t think that I ever really knew any of his pieces.  His style was elegant – it was unique – and it was beautiful.  His use of fabrics, and the way he created those one of a kind touches on each of his creations, definitely put him at the top of the fashion design world.  His creations were very dressy and very formal, but also very wearable.  When someone needed an elegant outfit (without regard to price), Valentino could deliver!

The fashion house still exists, but it is corporately owned (and actually has been for a very long time, even when Valentino was still designing).  Among his most notable clients was Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  This is the incredible wedding gown designed for Jackie!

The movie touches on the relationship between Valentino and his business and lifetime partner, Giancarlo Giammetti.  The two have been involved romantically and in business for over 50 years, and it was the combination of the two together that created the great Valentino name.  Valentino was the artist and creator, while Giancarlo was the anchor that held the company, and Valentino, to the ground.

La Prima Cosa Bella…A Movie Review

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La prima cosa bella

che ho avuto dalla vita

e il tuo sorriso giovane…

The first beautiful thing

that I’ve had in life

is your young smile…

Last night, the Italian club in San Jose treated us to a special filming of the 2010 hit movie La Prima Cosa Bella, directed and produced by Paolo Virzi.  This film has not been released in the USA yet, therefore it was extra special to be able to see it.  The movie was a candidate for an Academy Award for best foreign film, but sadly, didn’t make it to the finals.  Irregardless, it was a great movie – both a poignant drama and a light comedy.

The story is of a young mother who, in 1971, won the contest for Miss Mamma Estate (Miss Summer Mother) at a beach resort.  She had two beautiful children, but winning this contest brought out a jealous rage in her husband.  The marriage began to fall apart, leading to an eventual separation and divorce.  Through it all, Anna did everything to try to create a normal and happy life for her children.  Despite tears and rejection in her adult life, she always put on a happy face for her children – leading them in song and carrying on with frivolity and fantasy.

The movie jumps between the past and the present where her children are all grown up and she is living her final days.  Even though she is in her final moments of life, she still finds the joy of life and laughs and sings with them.  Throughout the movie, the flashbacks help us to understand her life as well as the development of her children and why they have become the adults that they are.  Her final words to her children moved me to tears when she said to them….”Abbiamo avuto una bella vita insieme, bimbi miei” (we’ve had a beautiful life together, my children).

The movie stars Micaela Ramazzotti as the young Anna and Stefania Sandrelli as the older Anna, Valerio Mastandrea as Bruno (her adult son), Claudia Pandolfi as Valeria (her adult daughter) among others.  It won numerous awards and accolations, among them  David di Donatello and Nastri d’argento.

When and if this movie becomes available in the USA, I can highly recommend it!

Little Known History of Italian POW’s

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Courtesy of Camilla Calamandrei

Prisoners in Paradise, a documentary film by Camilla Calamandrei, is about Italian POW’s in America during World War II.  I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t know this very poignant and important part of my Italian heritage.  I was not aware that so many Italian soldiers (51,000!)  were interned here in the USA during the war. Because my parents immigrated so many years after the end of the war, this subject was never discussed in my family and I didn’t know any of these stories on a personal level.  But after watching this film, I learned so much and actually found out that my mom knew all about this from her neighbor whose sister used to date some of these POW’s!

The film shows some great footage of Italians in North Africa during the War and also footage of their times in the internment camps strewn all over the United States.

It follows the stories of six POW’s and their personal experiences.  One of the most memorable lines in the movie is from a POW who said that while he was fighting in North Africa he was hungry and living in horrible conditions. But after his capture by the Americans and shipment to an American POW camp, he felt like he was in Paradise  – he was fed abundantly, given a pack of cigarettes a day, and slept in warm barracks!  Even though he was a prisoner of war, the Americans treated him with kindness and respect.  The hardest part for him was not having any notice of his family back home.  His letters home went unanswered, and he had no news for the remainder of the war.

The story continues to explore the change when Italy surrendered and switched alliances. These Italian POW’s were given the choice to join forces with the USA to provide assistance to the war effort.  Many decided to cooperate and were given considerable freedoms.  They were allowed to socialize with the Italian-American families already settled here, and many met and fell in love with their future brides.

Several of these war brides were interviewed in the film and just hearing about their experiences brought tears to my eyes.

When the war ended, these Italian POW’s were freed and sent back to Italy.  Their excitement at being allowed to go back home quickly became horror as they entered the port of Naples to find it completely destroyed.  Their homeland was in shambles and they were devastated and scared to find what their homes would be like.  They knew that they would have to work hard to rebuild Italy once again.

Meanwhile, those young American women who had fallen in love with their Italian POW’s were also at a loss.  Their loves were sent back to Italy and could not return unless they were married.  Many of these girls hopped on ships and sailed to Italy to claim their husbands.  They married in Italy and came back with their Italian husbands.  But, I can just imagine how many never saw their loves again….

The end of the movie touches upon the tender memories of the POW’s who have made America their home for many years now.  They tearfully mention that America has given them everything, but that a big part of their hearts still belong to Italy.

I can highly recommend this movie – it is available for purchase at www.prisonersinparadise.com.

Below is a very informative essay written by Camilla Calamandrei and she has given her permission to post it to my post – thank you, Camilla, for all the hard work you put in on your research into this very important part of our Italian heritage.

Italian POWs held in America during WW II:
Historical Narrative and Scholarly
Analysis

by Camilla Calamandrei

From
June 1940 through May 1943, hundreds of thousands of Italians were sent into a
war for which they were ill equipped and about which they understood little. By
the end of 1943, over six hundred thousand Italian soldiers were taken prisoner
and, of those, 51,000 were brought to America as enemy prisoners of war.

The documentary “Prisoners in Paradise” traces the journey of six young
Italians: from their entry into the war; to internment as prisoners in a country
with a level of abundance and wealth they had never imagined possible; through a
decision that would change not only their experience as prisoners in the United
States, but in many cases, lead them to a second decision that would change the
course of their adult lives.

The first period of critical decision making for Italian POWs began on
September 8, 1943, with the announcement of the signing of the armistice by the
Badoglio government in Italy. Now that Italy was officially an ally of the
United States, Italian POWs were faced with the dilemma of whether to “
collaborate” (i.e., perform war related work) with the nation that had, until
that moment, been their enemy captor. To understand how confusing this concept
was at that time, it needs to be noted that during this same period Northern
Italy was still occupied by Germans who managed to free Mussolini on September
12th, and place him at the head of a newly declared fascist republic. If these
simultaneous contradictory scenarios are confusing for us to follow with fifty
years of hindsight, one can only imagine how shocking the shifting alliances
must have been for young Italians who had only recently been pulled from combat.

Looking at the data, it seems clear that Italians POWs in America were,
overall, sympathetic to the Allied cause. Almost 90% of the Italian POWs agreed
to support the U.S. war effort by joining what would be called Italian Service
Units. This summary view unfairly disguises, however, the difficulty, and in
some cases trauma, of being asked to make this kind of decision. If these men
had gone to war with the understanding that they didn’t have to believe in the
war–they only had to believe in the greatness of Italy–then what did it mean
now to change loyalties? Did this constitute further loyalty, in obeying the
government of their homeland? Or, did it constitute a pathetic move to avoid
being associated with the losing side? For young enlisted men there were all
these questions as well as: the fear of being sent back into combat–possibly
this time in Japan; fear of helping supply munitions that would be used in Italy
where their families might be in harm’s way; and fear of some kind of
retribution against their families if it became known that their sons were
helping the Allies. For Italian officers, who tended to be more indoctrinated in
the ideology of fascism, changing sides was incomprehensible because it meant
that there was no such thing as the courage of one’s convictions. Finally, for
some individual enlisted men and officers who had fought side by side with
Germans for two and a half years, there was also the simple question of loyalty
to fellow soldiers.

Italian POWs were right to view the decision to support the U.S. war effort
as a serious one. It would dramatically affect the quality of their experience
as prisoners in the U.S. And, in turn, for those who would become immersed in
relationships and the abundance of life in America, it would lead them to the
question after the war of whether they should live in Italy or seize the
opportunity to build a new life under the flag of another nation.

The almost 45,000 Italian POWs who eventually agreed to join Italian Service
Units were relocated, almost immediately, to coastal and industrial sites across
the United States. They worked with American civilians and military personnel in
combat related work for the remainder of the war. By contrast, non-collaborating
Italian POWs were kept in highly isolated camps in places like Texas, Arizona,
Wyoming and Hawaii.

In addition to having jobs and earning money, men involved in the Italian
Service Units were given increased freedom of movement and as a result, incre
ased interaction with American civilians. Across the country, there was an
outpouring of interest on the part of Italian Americans who were looking in the
Italian POW camps for relatives, family friends or simply people from their
hometowns. As a result a number of Catholic parishes in many states arranged to
host dinners where Italian Americans could meet and visit with Italian POWs.
These courtesies were extended almost exclusively to POWs who had agreed to
support the war effort and even the freedoms granted these Italian Service Unit
members varied greatly depending on where they were situated in the U.S.

Comparing and contrasting the experiences of Italian POWs on the East Coast
with POW experiences in the mid-West and on the West Coast reveals that, while
their lives inside camp walls were quite similar, surrounding communities had a
strong influence on how much freedom POWs had to move outside camp boundaries.
It seems that community responses varied by region according to immigration
patterns prior to the war, local politics, regional economic realties and
involvement and/or perspectives on the war. For example, one might assume that
the East Coast, because of its old world, European connection and large Italian
American communities, would have been the place where Italian POWs were received
most sympathetically but this was not necessarily the case. While there were
many Italian Americans who wanted to retain contact with the prisoners (by
travelling to visit them on Sundays) it was generally accepted that this should
be a relatively reserved activity. The fact that these Italian POWs were
contributing to the war effort did not erase the knowledge that Italy had
contributed to escalating the war in the early years.

In contrast in the middle of the country, in states like Utah, Michigan, and
Ohio, Italians serving in Italian Service Units had some modified privileges and
an unofficially sanctioned freedom of movement. POWs could be escorted out of
the camp by U.S. soldiers (which usually required a bribe) or POWs could sneak
out of the camp and sneak back in, under an unofficial agreement by which
American soldiers would turn a blind eye. In Ogden, Utah a local church held
chaperoned dances each weekend for the POWs and Italian American families could
visit POWs on Sundays.

Finally in California, where the war was palpable through to the end of 1945
because of the intensity of fighting in the Pacific, Italian POWs working in
support of the war effort were actually received most enthusiastically. While
local West Coast Italian Americans had felt some tension in their neighborhoods
early in the war (i.e., that they should not too openly be supportive or
concerned about Italy) once Italy switched sides community animosity turned more
consistently to the Asians. As a result, Italian POWs had a rather significant
amount of freedom in the camps in California. The most amazing story being that
of the Italian POWs stationed on Angel Island who held regular dances in a hall
in San Francisco that they rented with their own money. In addition, Italian
American families in California could, with official permission, take Italian
Service Unit members out of POW camps for picnics and outings. It is important
to note that immigration patterns during the 20’s- 30’s in California set the
stage for a sympathetic reception of Italian POWs. Italians in the preceding
decades had immigrated in large numbers and established themselves as fisherman,
farmers and winemakers. In this state, heavily populated with immigrants from
all over the world, by the 1940’s Italians were seen as relatively established
–especially in contrast with Asian laborers who were seen as a threat to the
local “white” labor movement. Racism towards another group took the edge off
racism or fear of the Italians. A point which actually refers to a larger
transition that was occurring for America during this period: the change in the
perceived definition of who was a true American.

During WWII white ethnic Americans (e.g., Italian Americans, Jews, Irish
Americans) were drawn into a more integrated, accepted status as they were asked
to go to war for their country and as they had the experience of forming bonds,
while in the army, across ethnicities and class. Early in the war Italian
American communities were fiercely divided as it became clear that some were
embarrassed by Mussolini’s actions and others were still sympathetic to the
fascist regime. In families where perhaps only the father had become a citizen
when they first immigrated, wives and children quickly moved to establish their
American citizenship. With this as the backdrop, we see how Italian POWs and
Americans were each facing their own questions of personal identity, loyalty and
nationality during the period when they were called upon to work together for
the larger Allied cause.

In addition to the stories of Italian POWs interacting with Italian
Americans, there were numerous situations in which Italian POWs developed
relations with Americans of diverse heritages (e.g., Italian POWs in Colorado
and Nebraska were sent to do farm work for German American farming families; in
California and in New York POWs were guarded by Irish American guards). In a
remarkable number of instances, the human impulses towards connection and
camaraderie allowed the labels of “enemy,” “prisoner” and “foreigner” to fade
away and be replaced by life long bonds of friendship and love. This was credit
to both the Italians whose vitality and good will flowed freely and to the
Americans whose curiosity and humanity led them into vibrant, warm relations
with the Italian prisoners.

By the end of the war in December 1945, Italian POWs had contributed millions
of hours to the war effort. When they were repatriated in January 1946, a number
were leaving significant relationships behind—hoping, but not sure, that they
would find a way to stay connected. Their joyous return to the homeland was, of
course, tempered by the devastation evident throughout Italy and the realization
that opportunities for young men returning from war were few. For Italian POWs
who had not collaborated with the U.S., the return to Italy also meant coming to
terms with the fact that in many cases friends and relatives had in the end
decided to support the Allied war effort, and the non-collaborating position was
no longer a popular one either officially or unofficially.

In the years following the war, some of the couples who had met in America
did decide to marry. In order to do that the American women had to go to Italy
and marry there (because of quotas restricting immigration into the U.S.). Most
often, due to financial difficulties in Italy, these couples would return to
raise families in the United States in the areas where the women had lived and
where they still had jobs. We don’t know, officially, how many ex POWs chose to
come back and live in America—but a number of them do now live as American
citizens in the towns where they were first enemy prisoners of war. Others
(especially officers from the “fascist” camp in Hereford, Texas) have written
books and created art about their experiences in America, and have returned to
visit periodically. Clearly the experience of being a POW had a big impact on
the 51,000 men who were brought here. And, they–in turn–had a big impact on
all the lives they became part of, whether it was for the war years only or for
the fifty years to follow.

copyright 2000, Camilla Calamandrei

Enchanted April

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Thanks to my friend Vicky from Spirit of Italy Tours for telling me about this endearing movie about….what else…ITALY!  The story takes place during the 1920’s, when a group of four women from London decide to rent a villa (or castle, as they call it) along the Italian Riviera for a month.  The ladies do not know each other prior to their trip, but their differences become inconsequential after a few weeks together.  It is the story of Lottie – a kind- hearted woman who is always trying to please her husband without receiving any appreciation in return; Rose – the “disappointed madonna,” as her husband calls her; Caroline – the young, rich beauty that is tired of being the object of men’s attentions solely because she is wealthy and beautiful; and Mrs. Fisher – an older widow who lives in the past remembering her famous dead friends.

The story begins when Lottie finds an ad in the paper advertising a one month stay in an Italian castle and decides she needs to get away for awhile.  She, in turn, puts out an ad advertising for some travelling companions.  The four women meet each other in San Salvatore in a gorgeous villa overlooking the sea.  The place is so beautiful and this idyllic location inspires each of the women to look within to find themselves.  The end result is that each of the women finds her own happiness from their personal experience here.  The movie touches on several themes:  love, self esteem, and inner reflection.

This film is definitely a “chick flick”…but a charming one at that.  It has a wonderful moral:  Go to Italy and all your problems will be solved!!!  Perhaps the Italian Tourist bureau should use this film as a good form of propaganda for an Italian Holiday!