Spoiler-Free Review: “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” (2018) starring Adam Driver & Jonathan Pryce

Toby (Adam Driver- looking tan and toned), a cynical commercial director, is in Spain shooting an insurance commercial that has a take on Don Quixote. At dinner, a Gypsy peddler has a copy of his student film for sale, a B&W adaptation of Don Quixote. Toby is fascinated by the journey back in time and decides that, since he’s staying so close to where he’d filmed this student project, he’s going to go go back for a visit. The town feels depressing; the girl (who played Dulcinea) has left, and her father is angry at Toby for it. The old cobbler (played by veteran actor Jonathan Pryce) he’d hired to play the lead has gone mad- thinking himself to be Quixote! Through a series of accidents and bits of craziness, Toby finds himself as Sancho Panza, a role he takes up reluctantly. The supporting cast include: veteran character actor Stellan Skarsgard, former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko, Spanish actor Jordi Molla, and a beautiful ingenue from Portugal- Joana Ribeiro.

Fantasy and reality begin to mix (which I learned is a common theme for director Terry Gilliam). He has also directed Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985- starring Pryce), The Fisher King (1991), 12 Monkeys (1995), and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). I haven’t yet see any of these movies. Gilliam (raised in US, but later became a British citizen) may be best known as member of “Monty Python” along w/ John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman. I watched this movie (once- so far) b/c t was on the list of Driver’s work. Fans know that Driver chooses his projects based on the director and the script. I thought the acting was (mostly) well-done, though I was confused by the presence of some minor characters and the purposed of a few scenes. Critics/viewers either loved or hated it, from what I’ve read (so far). I’ll try to watch it again and see if I can figure out more- LOL! This isn’t a movie for a wide audience. I think some of you’d enjoy the music from the musical- Man of La Mancha.

The film is dedicated to the memory of John Hurt and Jean Rochefort. Gilliam had chosen both to play Don Quixote in past versions, and both died before the film was completed. After eight attempts since 1989, production finally wrapped in June 2017; it has been called the most cursed film in cinema history! Gilliam started working on the film in 1989, but was unable to secure funding until 1998, when it entered full pre-production with a budget of $32.1M (w/o American financing), w/ Rochefort as Quixote, Johnny Depp as Toby, and French actress Vanessa Paradis (Depp’s ex-wife) as the female lead. Shooting began in 2000 in Navarre (the Basque region of Spain), but a significant number of difficulties, such as floods destroying sets and equipment, Rochefort leaving due to illness, and problems obtaining insurance for the production led to a sudden suspension of the production, and then cancellation. The original production was the subject of the documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002).

If you’re going to play with Quixote you really got to play with Quixote. And those were windmills that came along. Those were giants, they killed us once but we’re going to come back. Everybody says ‘Oh, forget about it, put it in the past. Move on.’ No, I won’t because that all sounds so reasonable and I don’t think films should be reasonable. The business we’re in is about exciting people, stimulating people, doing things, changing them, outraging them — it’s not a reasonable business. Especially when you’re spending the gross national product of a country to make a silly movie — this is not reasonable.

-Gilliam, on finishing this movie

[1] This movie is weird and wonderful. Adam Driver is absolutely hilarious. The scenery is fantastic. It’s like a story within a story within a commercial within a movie. It’s creative and wacky and fun.

[2] A metaphor. An analogy. An intricate story that blends fantasy and real, history and present, fact and fiction. […] It is similar to films such as Holy Motors (2012), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014), so if these ring a bell, please give this film a chance.

[3] As visual art, the film is superb. But as a story, it is confusing. With all its bizarre references self-reflexivity, the central story becomes a side plot. It was visually beautiful, well-acted, great costumes and music, but thoroughly disjointed and confusing for much of the time. It had me thinking “this movie wasn’t made for an audience.”

[4] I can’t shake the feeling that the movie wants to be much more that how it ultimately gets on the road. It’s treading water and not making any progress. Does the movie simply want to be funny or does it also want to depict a kind of self-discovering process? Maybe both. But here you can already see the main problem. The movie can’t decide what it wants and as a result can’t transport it to the viewer.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Re-watching Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” (2018) starring John David Washington & Adam Driver

When producer Jordan Peele first pitched “Black man infiltrates Ku Klux Klan” to Spike Lee, Lee thought it might be a Dave Chappelle skit, until Peele assured him the story was authentic. For Lee, the story was too outrageous to ignore. He had a few conditions for directing: incl. comedic elements, and drawing parallels w/ contemporary racial issues. When Lee was a young student at NYU Film School, he was so outraged that professors taught the 1915 movie Birth of a Nation (w/ no mention of its racist message or its role in the Klan’s 20th century rebirth). He made The Answer (1980) as a response; many professors took great offense and Lee was nearly expelled. Lee was saved by a faculty vote; after his success as a filmmaker, he became a professor there and also Artistic Director of the Graduate Film Department. The film is dedicated to Heather Heyer, a young/idealistic white woman who was killed in hit-and-run at the “Unite the Right” rally on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA. The film opened in the US on August 10, 2018 to mark the 1st anniversary of the rally/her death. Lee received a six-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival- wow! He also became the 2nd Black American to be nominated at the Academy Awards for producing, writing and directing in the same year.

Patrice: Are you down for the liberation of black people?

Ron: Power to the people.

Patrice: All power to all the people.

Ron: That’s right, Sista.

In the early 1970s, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington- oldest son of Denzel/former football player) is hired as the 1st Black officer in the Colorado Springs, CO police department. Ron (a real person) is a college grad from a military family who wants to make a difference in his community. He’s assigned to the records room, where he is faced w/ micro-aggressions and even openly racist remarks from others. Master Patrolman Andy Landers (Frederick Weller) is one of the uniformed cops who doesn’t hide his dislike of Blacks. Ron (who wears an Afro and knows “jive”) soon requests to go undercover. His immediate supervisor, Sgt. Trapp (Ken Garito), is supportive of Ron. Chief Bridges (John David Burke) is surprised by the bold move, but agrees. Ron is assigned to infiltrate a rally where civil rights leader, Kwame Ture AKA Stokely Carmichael (Corey Hawkins- recently played Macduff opposite Denzel in The Tragedy of Macbeth), is to give a speech. Ture was considered “radical” as he was a Black Panther; he had organized “The Freedom Rides” a few years earlier to register Black voters in the South. Two experienced undercover cops, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) and Jimmy Creek (Michael Buscemi- younger brother of Steve), listen in from a surveillance van nearby. In line for the rally, Ron meets a young woman named Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), the president of the Black Student Union at Colorado College. This is a fictional character created for the movie; she is smart, articulate, and a challenging love interest for Ron. He hears Ture’s speech (very strong/impassioned); Hawkins provides gravitas to this small role.

Sgt. Trapp (to Ron): You know the way to sell hate? Affirmative action, immigration, crime, tax reform… He [David Duke] says, no one wants to be called a bigot anymore because Archie Bunker made that too uncool. So, the idea is under all these issues… everyday Americans can accept it. Support it. Until eventually, one day he gets somebody in the White House that embodies it.

The police don’t seem concerned w/ the Klan at this time; they think there is no activity locally. One day, Ron sees an ad in the paper, and calls up the number complaining re: Black people. He soon gets a return call from KKK’s Grand Wizard- and future politician- David Duke (Topher Grace)! Playing such a loathsome role posed a challenge for Grace, leading the actor to feel depressed. The men of “The Organization” (the term they use) are archetypes we’ve seen before; they’d be the type to vote for Trump (if around in recent years). Walter Breachway (Ryan Eggold) is the genial/clean-cut guy who quickly builds a rapport w/ Flip (posing as Ron in-person). Felix Kendrickson (Jasper Paakkonen- who is actually Finnish) is the wild-eyed/hot-tempered one whose plus-size wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson- recently seen on And Just Like That and The Gilded Age) wants to get involved in his cause. Ivanhoe (Paul Walter Hauser) is the fat, dim-witted younger man (looking to the others for guidance/approval). Felix has a collection of firearms; he suspects that Flip is Jewish (raising the tension/potential for danger).

Flip: For you it’s a crusade. For me it’s a job.

Ron: You’re Jewish. They hate you. Doesn’t that piss you off? Why are you acting like you don’t got skin in the game?

One of the key themes of this movie is duality; Ron and Patrice even have a conversation re: “double consciousness” on one of their dates. Double consciousness is the internal conflict experienced by subordinated or colonized groups in an oppressive society. The term and the idea were first published in W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903). Originally, double consciousness was specifically the psychological challenge African Americans experienced of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes” of a racist white society and “measuring oneself by the means of a nation that looked back in contempt.” The term also referred to Du Bois’s experiences of reconciling his African heritage w/ an upbringing in a European-dominated society. Ron is a Black man living in a racist society; he is also a police officer (so part of “the system”). Flip is Jewish (has a Star of David necklace), but he didn’t grow up w/ the rituals and traditions (and always considered himself “white”). However, getting embedded w/ the KKK, Flip finally has to grapple w/ his religious heritage and the prejudice faced by Jewish people. Lee co-wrote the script w/ his (frequent) collaborator, Kevin Wilmott and two Jewish co-writers who served as producers (Charlie Wachtel and David Rabinowitz).

Flip (to Ron): I’m Jewish, but I wasn’t raised to be. It wasn’t part of my life, I never thought much about being Jewish, nobody around me was Jewish. I wasn’t going to a bunch of Bar Mitzvahs, I didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah. I was just another white kid. And now I’m in some basement denying it out loud. (He chuckles low.) I never thought much about it, now I’m thinking about it all the time. About rituals and heritage. Is that passing? Well then I have been passing.

He’s a beast! Game respects game. -Lee re: working w/ Driver

For Driver fans, there is much to admire: the quiet intensity, close-ups of his profile (quite striking), and his restrained swagger. His hair is longer than most cops and he wears casual clothes (plaid shirts, sheepskin jacket, and jeans). Flip is a really good shot (can handle himself in tough situations) and projects a laid-back personality. As Flip interacts more w/ the Klan, it takes a toll (focus on the eyes). There are a few light moments in the film between the cops; these are needed to cut the tension created by the serious subject material. Driver was nominated for an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. There is much more to see/discuss; check it out yourself! I saw it at a free screening when it came out in theaters, then saw it again (Amazon Prime) a few weeks ago.

[1] BlacKkKlansman, is great movie, that manages to be thought provoking and funny at the same time. The cinematography is excellent. The only issue I had with this movie was the pacing, but nothing major. Oh, forgot to mention, great ending as well!

[2] There are aspects that feels too artificial which detracts from the tension. The subject matter requires the movie to be more real. At times, Spike Lee pushes into satire territories but nevertheless, it is still one of his better recent movies.

[3] Lee’s film takes liberties with the actual true events. It starts off as a satirical drama. Lee however in unable to resist being heavy-handed with his message…

The film benefits greatly from the performances by John David Washington and Adam Driver.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Q&A w/ the cast, director, & Ron Stallworth:

“The Wedding Guest” (2018) starring Dev Patel & Radhika Apte

Jay (Dev Patel) is a quiet/mysterious Muslim man who travels from London to the Punjab region of Pakistan, supposedly to attend the wedding of a friend. He brings along duct tape, guns, several cell phones, and a plan to kidnap the bride-to-be, Samira (Radhika Apte). Despite his cold efficiency, the plan quickly gets out of control, sending Jay and his hostage on the run across the border and through different parts of India. Jay has various names and identities, so carries several passports and credit cards. He was hired by a wealthy man who is now nervous to meet up and pay. The kidnapping and fallout make international news (Samira is a British citizen). The story evolves into a road trip, but w/ settings we usually don’t see in movies.

The film (which I saw last week free On Demand) has British and Indian producers. It has some twists and turns, but isn’t a typical thriller. It seems to me like a neo noir (in some aspects). The British writer/director, Michael Winterbottom, is known for out of the box films; I’ve seen Jude and The Claim. The cinematographer, Giles Nuttgens, has shot several films in India (incl. Earth, Fire, Water, and Midnight’s Children w/ director Deepa Mehta). The music, composed by Harry Escott, is unique and helps to create tension. The attraction between Patel and Apte develops as they open up to each other (slowly); they have good chemistry together.

[1] The movie benefits enormously from Dev Patel’s excellent work. He is in virtually every frame of the movie. Indian actress Radhika Apte… turns out to be a worthy sparring partner for Patel.

[2] You’ll like this movie if you like human characters, feelings, & relationships, along with a “slice of life” style, where you witness the characters move through a time & set of shared experiences together & may end well, badly, or anywhere in between.

Patel is now a mature leading man — in this movie, a bit of a Jean Reno type. He’s deadpan, but I like it.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“Padmaavat” (2018) starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, & Shahid Kapoor

SPOILERS: Don’t read this post if you haven’t seen, or don’t want to know, details from this movie.

Set in medieval Rajasthan, Queen Padmavati is married to a noble king and they live in a prosperous fortress with their subjects until an ambitious Sultan hears of Padmavati’s beauty and forms an obsessive love for the Queen of Mewar. -Synopsis

I didn’t know I would have to suffer THIS much just to see Shahid Kapoor’s spectacular abs! Seriously, this is one Bollywood movie (directed/co-written by Sanjay Leela Bhansali) which deserved the controversy it got- it’s misogynistic, Islamaphobic, and homophobic. One army is shouting and riding through a desert carrying green flags w/ a white crescents (just like the flag of Pakistan). There is a scene of many men all wearing white thobes and turbans doing namaz (prayer), then yelling and picking up weapons to fight in the next moment. The stereotypes are so blatant, this movie could be considered dangerous (esp. given the tensions between Muslims and Hindus in Modi’s India)! For those of you who watched Game of Thrones, there is a murder scene very similar to the killing of a lesser Lannister cousin by Jaime in Season 2.

I’m sure some of you’ve heard re: the characterization of the medieval sultan, Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh); he is violent (even w/o cause), lustful (incl. for power/lands), obsessive, and animal-like (eating raw meat w/ his bare hands). In stark contrast, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), is peaceful, loving (having eyes only for his wife), calm, and honorable leader. I learned that one of my fave veteran actors (who has worked all over the world), Naseeruddin Shah, is a maternal uncle of Kapoor! Yes, the actor has both Hindu and Muslim heritage; this is not unusual when it comes to some of Bollywood’s film families.

In the early 1300s, an arrogant/confident prince named Alauddin marries his cousin, Mehrunissa (Aditi Rao Hydari), and plots to take the throne of her father/his uncle- Jalaluddin (Raza Murad). None of the Muslims in this movie are portrayed as good, aside from the luminous/sad-eyed Mehrunissa. In one memorable scene, a warrior named Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh), kills two hardened soldiers with balletic/swift strokes of his knife. Unfortunately, he spends most of the movie pining after Alauddin like a love-sick teenager.

When Mehrunissa is close, Kafur is jealous. In one scene, he is washing Alauddin while they sit in a big bathtub (talk about homoerotic undertones)! In the original story (written by a Muslim poet), Malik Kafur was both a fighter (respected general who fought in many successful battled) and a lover. In Ridley Scott’s Alexander, he has a handsome male companion who hails from somewhere in the Middle East; this was based on records uncovered by historians. In this case, Malik Kafur’s homosexuality serves as a running joke and makes Alauddin seem like even more of a freak of nature.

The princess (of what is now Sri Lanka), Padmavati (Deepika Padukone- sporting an unibrow), is first seen frolicking in the woods w/ a bow and arrow. This might bring to mind Diana (the huntress in Greek mythology) or Katniss from The Hunger Games trilogy. She attempts to shoot a deer, but ends up wounding the King of Chittor- Ratan Singh! He admits that it was his fault- he was staring at her (struck by her beauty, not just her arrow). Padmavati takes care of the king (in the cave where she lives- no reason why) while he recovers. This section of the movie reminded some viewers of Wonder Woman.

Of course, Padmavati and Ratan Singh fall in love; the actors portray this well. She gives Ratan Singh handfuls of pearls (which he had been searching for at the request of his queen). The marry and go off to his kingdom, where his first wife, Nagamati (Anupriya Genka) is put on the back bench. When the court priest- Chetan- is caught spying on the king and queen; he is promptly banished. Chetan ends up working for Alauddin, convincing him that in order to succeed, he must have Padmavati by his side! This is one character I wanted to see a bit more of, along w/ his motivations.

The middle section of this story drags on… and on; the viewer is bombarded w/ scenes of dust, desert, marching armies, as well as the opulence (of the Rajputs). Honestly, I couldn’t judge who had the better costumes- Kapoor or Padukone! Eventually, Ratan Singh invites Alauddin to share a meal and talk alone (w/o any men or weapons). When Alauddin asks to see Padmavati, Ratan Singh is deeply offended and says no. Alauddin says that he expected to meet both the rulers. Padmavati convinces her husband that, in order to appease Alauddin (and maybe save the kingdom from war), she will let him see her. Before Alauddin can get a good look, a curtain is pulled down, hiding the queen. This makes the sultan very angry; he vows to get Padmavati to come to him! Alauddin invites Ratan Singh to his tent for meal, then kidnaps him. Though Nagamati pleads w/ her not to, Padmavati insists on going to rescue her husband (w/ his two best soldiers by her side and 800 attendants).

The movie opens with some disclaimers, one being that it is not endorsing jauhar (Wikipedia: “the act of mass self-immolation by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by Islamic invaders, when facing certain defeat during a war.”) As some of you may have guessed, jauhar is closely connected to sutee (“bride burning”)- the custom of a Hindu widow being burned to death on the funeral pyre of her husband. Kaushik Roy said that the jauhar was observed only during Hindu-Muslim wars; John Stratton Hawley states it was present before them and was likely started by the actions of the Greek conquerors.

Well, in the last act of the film, jauhar is most obviously valorized! After the fight between Alauddin and Ratan Singh (where the good king is shot in the back), the girls and women (incl. ones who are pregnant) inside the fort are seen dressed in their finest (bridal) red outfits. They are led by Padmavati, who defiantly declares that Alauddin’s army will not defeat them. They walk in a slow procession for some time- too long- and bravely walk closer… and closer to a huge wall of fire. No one looks nervous, scared, or even hesitates for a second- that can’t be realistic!

Tel Aviv on Fire (2018)

FYI: This film was released in 2018 in France, Israel, and parts of Europe. It is now in theaters here in the U.S. Have you ever been a fan of a soap opera? Would you like to see a (fresh/light) take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is a certain level of camp (incl. melodrama) OK w/ you? Then this comedy (co-written/directed by Sameh Zoabi- a professor at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts) is worth a watch. It’s light and fluffy at first glance, but there is the weight of history, occupation, and everyday struggles underneath.

Salam (Kais Nashif- Palestinian-German actor seen in AmericanEast) is suddenly promoted to scriptwriter on a historically-based soap opera developed by his uncle Bassam (Nadim Sawalha- veteran British Jordanian actor/father of actress Julia Sawalha)- Tel Aviv on Fire. During a time of war in 1967, Manal (AKA Rachel) is a Palestinian spy trying to get secrets from the Israeli army. She is in a love triangle w/ two very different men- Marwan (a poetic Muslim freedom fighter) and Yehuda (a straight-laced Jewish general). Tala (Lubna Azabal from Rock the Casbah) is the lead- egotistical, glamorous, and very successful (based in France). She gives her opinions on the script, explaining that at her level, she won’t act if the dialogue is bad.

Salam (very anxious about his job) tries to find inspiration for his character- Yehuda. He is a former bartender and not gifted at writing, as Salam’s ex-girlfriend Mariam (a doctor) reminds him when they run into each other. One morning, Salam is pulled over at a checkpoint between Jerusalem (where the TV studio is located) and Ramallah (where he lives w/ his elderly mother). He meets Assi, an arrogant captain of the guard whose wife (along w/ many Israeli Jewish women) loves the show. Assi’s wife is sure that Rachel will end up w/ Marwan (her favorite character), not the boring Yehuda.

Assi (who is both funny and potentially dangerous) has opinions, incl, on how the season should end- a wedding between Rachel and Yehuda (his favorite character). Assi objects to the way Yehuda has been characterized so far- he doesn’t speak like a real military man. At first, Salam is bemused by these suggestions, then relies on Assi for dialogue. Salam also analyzes his failed relationship w/ Mariam, putting some of her words into scripts. Yehuda becomes a more authentic and sensitive character. Can a mere TV show unite two divided peoples (audiences)?