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

Spoiler-Free Review: “Dune” (2021) starring Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Fergusen, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgard, & Josh Brolin

A mythic and emotionally charged hero’s journey, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, who must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence- a commodity capable of unlocking humanity’s greatest potential- only those who can conquer their fear will survive. -Synopsis from Warner Bros.

Dune (directed by Denis Villeneuve- Canadian of French heritage) is a movie unlike any other I’ve seen in recent years; I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! Its 2 hr. 35 min. run time seemed to pass by quickly, as the story (incl. stunning visuals) was V compelling. The music (composed by Hans Zimmer) adds much to the movie; new instruments and a language were invented for the score. The costumes range from practical and lightweight to intricate and decorative. This is part one of the story; it is based on the book by Frank Herbert, one of the iconic writers of sci-fi. Herbert’s work has been compared to Tolkein’s LOTR trilogy; it obviously influenced George Lucas as he created Star Wars. The planet Arakis (also called Dune) is the ONLY place where “spice” (perhaps akin to oil in our world) can be found; many factions want to control this world. The natives of Arakis are the Fremin, a tough/desert people who live in a harsh environment w/ dangerous giant worms (yikes)! The scenes on the ocean world of Caladan were shot in Norway. Much of the desert scenes of Arakis were shot in Jordan and Abu Dhabi.

Paul: [From trailer] Dad, what if I’m not the future of House Atreides?

Duke Leto: A great man doesn’t seek to lead; he is called to it. But if your answer is no, you’d still be the only thing I ever needed you to be: my son.

In a world unlike ours 8,000 yrs. in the future, we meet Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet- doing a fine job), a skinny/bright/teen. He spends his days studying and learning to fight from his older mentor/sword master- Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin). One of the early scenes where Paul and Gurney spar is V cool; the choreography (by Roger Yuan) included a type of Filipino martial arts. Another mentor of Paul’s is the warrior, Duncan Idaho (Jason Mamoa), who brings charm and humor to the story. Much is expected from Paul, as he’s the son/heir of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac- looking fab w/ gray-streaked hair/full beard). I loved the easy/warm relationship between Chalamet and Isaac. I’m surprised that Chalamet is growing on me; his naturalistic acting style, incl. ability to portray vulnerability easily fit this role. (Though Christian Bale will always be Laurie to me!)

Duncan: Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.

Paul has inherited strong powers from his mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson- a standout). She is the concubine of Duke Leto and was raised by the Bene Gesserit (a secretive/powerful order made up of all women). Chalamet and Ferguson also have great chemistry. Paul has visions about Arakis w/ an unknown/young woman (Zendaya- who appears in the 3rd act of this story). The Rev. Mother Mohaim (Charlotte Rampling- a veteran British actress) comes to see (and test) Paul on his abilities. House Atreides is given control of the desert planet from the Emperor. A powerful opponent, Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgard- menacing even inside prosthetics), wants to take control of Arakis. Check out this movie on HBOMax! I didn’t know much re: this story, aside from watching the miniseries (which co-starred a V young James McAvoy) about 20 yrs. ago.

“Tracks” (2013) starring Mia Wasikowska & Adam Driver

Some nomads are at home everywhere. Others are at home nowhere, and I was one of those.

– Robyn Davidson

In 1977, a 27 y.o. Australian woman, Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska), set out from Alice Springs (Northern Territory) to trek across 2,700 km of harsh desert of Western Australia to reach the ocean. Accompanied by her dog and 4 camels, she had NO other purpose than to find herself on a journey of self-discovery. At points along the trip, Robyn is joined by a young American photographer, Rick Smolan (Adam Driver); he works for National Geographic (which sponsored her trip). The director (John Curran) is an American; he worked on We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), The Painted Veil (2006), and various TV series. The cinematographer (D.P.) is an Aussie woman (Mandy Walker); she worked on Australia (2008), Hidden Figures (2016), and Mulan (2020).

Robyn: [in letter to the publisher of Nat Geo] I am well aware of the hardship I will be facing. I am the first to admit I’m remarkably unqualified for such a hazardous undertaking. But this is precisely the point of my journey. I’d like to think an ordinary person is capable of anything.

There were several prior attempts to bring Davidson’s adventure memoir (also titled Tracks) to the big screen; she is a well-known in her native country. Over the years, Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman were attached to the lead role. The actual clothes (skirts, blouses, flannel shirts, etc.) that Davidson wore during her trek were recreated in fine detail. Wasikowka (who is an Aussie and of Polish heritage) gained acclaim as a troubled teen gymnast in S1 (2008) of HBO’s In Treatment; she played the lead in Jane Eyre (2011) opposite Michael Fassbender. She went to a “camel boot camp” for 3 days to learn how to work w/ the animals.

Rick: I didn’t realize how big camels are. It’s like a cow and giraffe mixture. It’s crazy.

She’s an awesome, ferocious actor. She’s so present in the moment, playful, and brave. And you can’t really ask for a better scene partner, I think. -Driver re: Wasikowska

I didn’t know much re: this film until recently; I assumed it was re: a road trip starring Driver (from the few US ads and comments by his long-time fans on social media). This is more about the female character- Robyn- who is introverted/reserved (preferring animals to people). On the other hand, Rick is an extrovert/chatty (who wants to get to know people). I don’t think I’ve ever seen Driver smile so much in a role (which is refreshing)! Wasikowska and Driver (wearing wire-rimmed glasses and clothes of that era) bring differing energies to their roles; she is bemused (maybe even annoyed) by his ebullience. Driver takes on a physicality that it “a bit awkward” (as Curran commented), though it is part of the sweet/nerdy charm of his character. Both Davidson and Smolan participated w/ the filmmakers on this movie; Smolan has a brief cameo as a park ranger. You can see this (free) on IMDbTV!

[1]...the human story is impressive, showing us a side of camels that I had no clue of. Camels as other animals obviously have their own personality and their own mind, seeing this depicted in a movie like this is amazing. Speaking of amazing: It’s not only the performances of the actors that are great, but also the visual presentation of the journey we’re taking with the “characters”. Inspiring and emotional, this might be able to touch you, if you go along with it (no pun intended).

[2] Despite the fact that it is often leisurely in the telling of Robyn’s true story and that Robyn is, for much of the running time, the only person on screen, it is never less than engaging. […]

Mia Wasikowska is very good in this gently moving film, but the real stars of this beautifully photographed story are the Australian desert and the camels.

[3] …the screenplay by Marion Nelson superbly uses brief flashbacks to give a psychological depth to what Davidson is trekking over, which never over powers the spiritual and personal discover that Davidson is making on the tracks. Largely taking place in the desert, Nelson avoids things drying up by crossing Davidson’s solo walk with intersections which take Davidson out of the self-imposed wilderness,as a sweet bond of friendship builds with Smolan, and Davidson learns of a completely different culture from the aboriginals.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Last of the Mohicans” – Director’s Definitive Cut (1992) starring Daniel Day-Lewis

British Officer: You call yourself a patriot, and loyal subject to the Crown?

Hawkeye: I do not call myself subject to much at all.

In what is now upstate NY in 1757, the last members of a Native American tribe, the Mohicans- Uncas (Eric Schweig), his father Chingachgook (Russel Means- an activist in his first movie) and his adopted white brother Hawkeye AKA Nathaniel Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis)- live in peace alongside British colonists. They hunt a deer and bring it to the (log-cabin) home of their friends- the Cameron family. The two daughters of a British colonel named Munro (Maurice Roeves)- Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice (Jodhi May- at just 16 y.o.)- travel from London to visit their father. In Boston, they’re met by their friend, Major Duncan Heyward (Steve Waddinton), who wants to marry Cora. They didn’t realize that it this was a dangerous time to come to this region, b/c their father’s letters were intercepted. When Cora and Alice are kidnapped by Col. Munro’s traitorous scout, Magua (Wes Studi- a scene-stealer), Hawkeye and Uncas go to rescue them in the crossfire of the French and Indian War.

Maj. Duncan Heyward: I thought all our colonial scouts were in the militia. The militia is fighting the French in the north.

Hawkeye: I ain’t your scout. And we sure ain’t no damn militia.

The screenplay was written by Michael Mann (who also directed) and Christopher Crowe; it was adapted in part from The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757 (1826), a novel by James Fenimore Cooper, as well as the 1936 film adaptation The Last of the Mohicans. DDL (who is a Method actor) lived in the forests (North Carolina- where this film was shot) where his character might have lived, hunting and fishing for several months. The shoot employed more than 900 Native Americans from all over the US, mostly from the Cherokee tribes. Schweig (just 25 y.o.) is of Inuit and German heritage from Canada. Means (then age 55) was chosen my Mann for his role, though not a professional actor! He was of Ogala/Lakota Sioux heritage and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Duncan: You there, Scout! We must rest soon, the women are tired.

Magua: No, two leagues, better water. We stop there.

Duncan: No, we’ll stop in the glade just ahead. When the ladies are rested, we will proceed. Do you understand?

Magua: [speaking Huron] Magua understands that the white man is a dog to his women. When they are tired, he puts down his tomahawk to feed their laziness.

Duncan: Excuse me, what did you say?

Magua: Magua say… he understand the English very well.

Magua (who is a compelling villian w/ an interesting backstory) explains to Gen. Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau) that his village was burned and children killed by English soldiers. He was taken a slave by a Mohawk warrior who fought for Col. Munro (Grey Hair). Magua’s wife believed he was dead, so she became the the wife of another man. To gain his freedom, Magua became “blood brothers” w/ the Mohawk, though he “stayed Huron in his heart.” He believes his “heart will be whole again when the Grey Hair and his seed are dead.”

Cora: l don’t know what to say, Duncan. l truly wish they did, but my feelings don’t – don’t go beyond friendship. Don’t you see?

Duncan: Respect and friendship. lsn’t that a reasonable basis for a man and a woman to be married? And all else may grow in time?

Cora: Some say that’s the way of it.

On my recent re-watch (I hadn’t seen this since H.S. ELA class), I noticed the (quiet) feminism of Cora. She (gently) refuses to marry Duncan b/c she doesn’t love him; she is protective of the (more fragile) Alice (even talking a pistol from a dead soldier for protection); she helps in the infirmary at the fort; and stands up for Hawkeye (before he is imprisoned for “sedition”). Also, you have to admit that Stow and DDL look great together and have sizzling chemistry! One of the best things about this movie is its music, incl. the love theme (which was inspired by a then-modern Irish song that Mann’s wife liked).

Cora Munro: Why were those people living in this defenseless place?

Hawkeye: After seven years indentured service in Virginia, they headed out here ’cause the frontier’s the only land available to poor people. Out here, they’re beholden to none. Not living by another’s leave.

Though there is the romance between Cora and Hawkeye, this movie is also bring to mind the ideals of Romanticism, where man’s most spiritual attribute was his imagination, nature was imbued w/ the divine, and the best life was stepping to one’s personal drummer. While Duncan stands for British imperialism (the old world), Hawkeye represents American individualism (the new world). Cora admits to Hawkeye that this frontier is very “stirring” to her, perhaps revealing that she’s ready for something new in her life (love).

[1] The love story I liked better was the one played in the background, an story that is absent, yet strongly felt throughout the movie. I am referring to the love story between Eric Schweig’s character, Uncas and Alice Munro, played by Jodhi May. It is the subtleness and the overtone-nature of the love that builds in us a sense of involvement.

Wes Studi is probably the fiercest villain I have seen on screen. His mere presence builds an acute level of intimidation. The character portrayal is flawless, and the casting done is excellent.

[2] “The Last of the Mohicans” was one of the most popular and acclaimed films of 1992. Its vision of early America, as it was during the French and Indian War, is captured in its utter brutality and beauty, complete with the many driving ambitions and clashing cultures of everyone involved.

This movie has a bit of everything, including action, romance, war, and passionate drama.

[3] Yes, there are many battle scenes, great reenactment of the scenery of the novel, and villains in all camps that provide the stormy progress of the novel. But it is in the quiet moments where Chingachgook speaks about the Great Spirit, the sanctity of nature, and his waiting to join the Great Council in the sky as the last of the Mohicans that the film’s power is best communicated. The acting is very fine and the cinematography is splendid.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

“The Remains of the Day” (1993) starring Anthony Hopkins & Emma Thompson

There’s nothing to being a butler, really; when you’re in the room, it should be even more empty. -Cyril Dickman, former butler (for 50 yrs) at Buckingham Palace

In pre-WWII England, the duty-bound head butler at Darlington House, Stevens (Anthony Hopkins- age 55 and at the top of his game), meets his (potential) match in a young housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson- just 33 and already quite accomplished). Stevens oversees a staff of over 30 servants; Miss Kenton is second-in-charge (though she isn’t afraid to stand up to him when he is wrong). Stevens’ elderly father (Peter Vaughn, best known for Game of Thrones) works as an under-butler, though he is in failing health. The young nephew of Lord Darlington (James Fox), Mr. Cardinal (Hugh Grant), worries that his uncle is making the wrong decisions. (Grant once stated that this movie was the best one that he ever made.) Leaders from various nations gather at the house for an important conference, incl. the American senator, Jack Lewis (Christopher Reeve- a fine performance and looking gorgeous). The possibility of love and his master’s involvement w/ the cause of appeasement (w/ the Nazis) challenge Stevens’ orderly little world, as well as the world-at-large!

...as a bit like a priest who puts his life almost on an altar. He serves his lord unconditionally, and in this case, his lord is literally a Lord (Darlington). Perhaps it’s a mentality that we don’t know so well in the United States, except in the military, or indeed, in the priesthood. Within Stevens’ life there is a very, very small area that is his, and the rest of the time he belongs to, or is committed to, a larger idea, or ideal: that of unquestioning service to an English aristocrat: his master, right or wrong. -James Ivory, director (describing Stevens)

Stevens is a devoted man. He’s very conscientious of his duties, but he never wants to express himself too loudly. He has been trained since birth to know his place, never to speak out. That is one of the things which is sad about the film. Stevens has lost the opportunity in life. He wanted Miss Kenton, but he never could come to express his feelings to her. If you are not ready to express yourself or grab the moment, you lose out. -Ismail Merchant, producer

Did you know that many of the individuals who contributed to this film are outsiders to British high society? The author of the source novel, Kazuo Ishiguro, was born in Japan and raised in England by his immigrant parents. As a young man in his 20s, he traveled across the US, w/ the dream of becoming a singer/songwriter. Director James Ivory is an American known for his calm demeanor and low-key style. Ismail Merchant (his partner in work and life) hailed from India; he was known for his outgoing personality. Their frequent collaborator/screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is a German-born/Jewish Brit who married an Indian man and lived most of her life in India. She also wrote the screenplays for A Room with a View (1985) and Howards End (1992)- which also starred Hopkins and Thompson. Hopkins is from a small town in Wales (where his idol-turned-mentor, Richard Burton, also grew up). Reeve is American, though he attended college/trained for several years in England.

Stevens: …a man cannot call himself well-contented until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer. Of course, this assumes that one’s employer is a superior person, not only in rank, or wealth, but in moral stature.

This movie was nominated for 8 Oscars incl. Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Screenplay Adapted from Another Medium, Best Original Music Score, Best Costume Design, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (but it didn’t win in any of these categories)! John Cleese was offered the role of Stevens and loved Ishiguro’s novel. He withdrew after Harold Pinter (the first screenwriter) “took the humor out.” Anjelica Huston was being considered for Miss Kenton; Meryl Streep wanted the role, but didn’t get it (a rare case)! Jeremy Irons had also been considered for a part in this movie (I’m assuming Lord Darlington). Look for young/Irish actress Lena Headey (Cersei on Game of Thrones) as a maid who falls in love w/ the head footman, Charlie (Ben Chaplin).

Lewis: You are, all of you, amateurs. And international affairs should never be run by gentlemen amateurs. Do you have any idea of what sort of place the world is becoming all around you? The days when you could just act out of your noble instincts, are over. Europe has become the arena of realpolitik, the politics of reality. If you like: real politics. What you need is not gentlemen politicians, but real ones. You need professionals to run your affairs, or you’re headed for disaster!

I saw this movie a few times as a teen w/ my family; we tended to watch more drama than comedy (even when young). FYI: My parents lived 7 years in England in the 1970s (where I was born). I’m definitely an anglophile, as some of you have already noticed from this blog (as well as my tweets). Though this is mainly a story of unrequited love, on my recent re-watch, I noticed the importance of politics. After all, we (in U.S.) just had an “amateur” go into politics (which Sen. Lewis warned against); he even become president in 2016! Just b/c Lord Darlington had class privilege and wealth, he assumed he was better suited to make decisions than common men. In one of the deleted scenes, Lord Darlington even commented to Stevens that “democracy won’t work in England.” Compare that w/ the scene in the pub (in the final act), where an opinionated/working-class man declares: “I think any man in England has the right to be called a gentleman.”

The British Government was trying to keep England on an even keel, so that they would not have to go back to war. World War I was a terrible tragedy for that country, and no one wanted to face a war of that sort again. Historically, it seems now to have been a fruitless and dangerous kind of appeasement of a proven dictator, but a generation of young Englishmen had been recently decimated by the Germans, so it’s not surprising that figures in the British government in the late thirties tried to reason with Hitler. -James Ivory, director (on Naziism and WWII aspects of the movie)

In the 1930s, Stevens was proud to serve his Master’s cause. As the years pass, and new, more accurate information becomes available, Stevens’ pride diminishes. Lord Darlington is used as a pawn by the Nazis, because he yields to a common aristocratic urge to contribute something large to the world. He is somebody who starts off with very good and noble impulses, but because of a certain kind of naiveté, which almost all of us would share, he becomes a pawn. -Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the novel

There is some terrific acting here, from both Hopkins and Thompson; they’d previously played a romantic pair in Howard’s End (which I haven’t seen in many years). They seem to genuinely like and respect each other also IRL. The key to Stevens is restraint, though he probably feels deeply (you just see it in his eyes). Miss Kenton eventually reveals her emotions; Stevens can’t express himself to her (sadly). In the tense/pivotal scene in Stevens’ study, Miss Kenton asks re: what book he is reading. She questions/teases him until he backs himself into a dark corner. In perhaps a (masculine/penetrative) move, Miss Kenton enters Stevens’ personal space and takes the book from his hands. Their faces are very close, but (alas) there is no kiss! Some critics/viewers have wondered what exactly Miss Kenton sees in Stevens. Perhaps he is attractive b/c he is unapproachable (hard to get)?