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

Quick Reviews of Recent Views (2021-2022)

And Just Like That (2021): HBO Max

This is the much-talked about (and criticized) sequel to SATC; writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and stay-at-home mom Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) are now in their mid-50s. Of course, publicist Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is NOT on the show; many fans objected to how her character was handled. At the start of the show, ALL the pals seem happily married; we see John AKA Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Steve (David Eigenberg), and Harry (Evan Handler). Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) are married, BUT don’t look too happy. As for the teens, they’re annoying AF; Miranda’s 17 y.o. son Brady behaves V disrespectfully; Charlotte’s kids- 14 y.o. Lily and 12 y.o. Rose- are spoiled and uncompromising. Why spend SO much time on kids- it’s supposed to be about adults!? Carrie is one of the regular guests on a podcast hosted by a bisexual/non-binary comedian, Che Diaz (Sarah Ramirez).

I mainly tuned in to see Carrie’s realtor-turned-friend, Seema (Sarita Choudhury) who appears starting in E4; she’s mainly a theater/indie film actor; I saw her at a play reading in NYC in 2008 (and she is gorgeous IRL). Choudhury starred opposite a young Denzel Washington in Mira Nair’s indie/drama/romance Mississippi Masala. Seema’s mom is played by veteran/international actor/chef/author- Madhur Jaffrey. Miranda’s prof, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), and her jazz musician hubby, Andre (LeRoy McClain), are trying to have a baby w/ IVF. Lisa Todd Wexley AKA LTW (Nicole Ari Parker) is the mom of 3 young kids; Charlotte becomes her friend (after they meet while organizing school events). LTW’s hubby Herbert is played by Hamilton actor Chris Jackson; he (sadly) doesn’t have much to do. Where is the fun (I barely cracked a smile; don’t recall LOLs), fashion (Miranda’s wig and outfits don’t suit her at all), and romance!? IF you’re a fan of the original series, I suggest avoiding this one!

Bridgerton (Season 2): Netflix

Everybody (and their mom) has an opinion on the show- LOL! Almost ALL my friends (IRL/online) were talking/messaging/tweeting about it (some more than 2 wks before S2 dropped). Since I’ve gotten a LOT more active on Twitter lately (and have some new connections), I couldn’t avoid the jokes, memes, etc. You have to shut-off your brain to enjoy shows like this (NO offense); it’s been compared to Jane Austen fan fiction and an alternate universe (AU) of Regency era England. MANY women of color (of all ages) esp. liked seeing the Indian (South Asian) representation in the Sharma sisters (played by Brits: statuesque Simone Ashley and petite Charithra Chandran)! I liked the “slow burn” romance (Anthony and Kate), the fam scenes of the Bridgertons (who all have great chemistry together), and (light-hearted/funny) scenes w/ the artist/bohemian bro, Benedict (Luke Thompson). I think the acting is stronger in this season; S1 didn’t impress me that much. There is one V powerful/emotional scene (S2 E3) that is unlike ANY I’ve seen in a period drama!

The Chair (2021): Netflix

This show was tweeted about by MANY women/POC/academics I follow, so I watched it when it came out last Fall. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is the new Chair of Humanities at a small/fictional university (Pembroke); she is the 1st woman and person of color (POC) to hold this post. Ji-Yoon is single (by choice) and the adoptive mom to a bright/challenging young daughter, Ju-Hee. The “old guard” at this school are played by veteran actors: Bob Balaban, Holland Taylor, and David Morse. Ji-Yoon’s closest friend/potential love interest, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), lost his wife a few years ago and his 18 y.o. daughter leaves for college in the 1st ep.

This comedy/drama series (6 eps; 30 mins/ea.) was filmed on-location in Pittsburgh and nearby areas. To create Pembroke’s campus, the show used Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University. Annie Wyman (co-creator/co-writer) was actually an academic in an English department; she earned a PhD in English Lit from Harvard). David Duchovny (playing a version of himself) earned a Master’s in English Lit (Yale); he started (but didn’t complete) his PhD. If you (or your fam/pals) have connections to academia, you’ll esp. relate to this show!

The Gilded Age (2022): HBO Max

This is the show for ALL you Downton Abbey fans; it was also created by Julian Fellows, BUT he had several others collaborating w/ him (incl. prof/historian/co-executive producer- Erica Armstrong Dunbar). Another producer (who also directed some eps) is Salli Richardson-Whitfield; most will know her from her acting days. The setting is NYC in the 1880s where “old money” (the Van Rijans/Brooks) and “nouveaux riche” (the Russells) are nabes, BUT def NOT pals! There are MANY theater actresses (over the age of 40) who appear on this show: Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald (who I saw once on Broadway), Celia Keegan-Bolger, Debra Monk, Kelli O’Hara, and Donna Murphy. We also see more well-known movie actors (incl. Jeanne Tripplehorn and Nathan Lane) in small (yet pivotal) roles.

In his January 2022 NYT article The Gilded Age’ Finally Arrives on HBO, Dave Itzkoff reported that the long filming hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic allowed actress Denée Benton (who plays Peggy Scott) “to seek refinements of [her role] to better reflect [her] understanding of history. Benton said she urged the creative team to provide more ways to show that there were Black people like her character, Peggy, who lived in their own affluent and educated communities. I didn’t find Louisa Jacobson (who plays Marian Brook; one of Meryl Streep’s daughters) that compelling; MANY viewers agreed w/ me on this point. Peggy is much MORE interesting than Marian. I thought that George Russell (Morgan Spector- husband of actress Rebecca Hall) was better written than his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). Coon was written as TOO strident (as some viewers noted online). George’s full beard was quite popular on Twitter- LOL! This is a period/costume drama, BUT it also has some brains (and is somewhat educational also).

Mare of Easttown (2021): HBO Max

If you like domestic drama mixed w/ a cop/mystery show (such as Happy Valley or Broadchurch), then check this out! A detective, Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet in an Emmy-winning role), in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a murder of a teen girl while trying to keep her fam/personal life from falling apart. I thought almost ALL of the actors did a terrific job; they seemed like real/unglamorous/flawed people. There was even a (spot-on) sketch about the show on SNL. Much has been talked about re: the complicated relationship between Mare and her funny/acerbic mom (played by veteran actress Jean Smart); these ladies had great chemistry together! I was also impressed by Evan Peters (who plays the naive/younger cop- Colin Zabel); it’s rare to see a police officer w/ doubt and vulnerability. You can also check him out in S1 of Pose. Guy Pearce (who acted w/ Winslet in HBO’s take on Mildred Pierce in 2011) plays Mare’s love interest; he is a writer-turned-prof who is in town as an adjunct. The creator/writer of this show, Craig Zobel, also wrote the recent movie The Way Back (starring Ben Affleck); it received some critical acclaim also.

“Girls” (HBO): Introduction & Season 1

Introduction

They’re definitely based on me, my circle of friends, and combined with the lives of my staff writers.

-Lena Dunham re: the characters

“Girls” premiered exactly 10 yrs ago today (April 15, 2012)! In the last 5 mos. of the pandemic, I’ve been watching the work of Adam Driver off/on; the actor (now 38 y.o.) was a regular cast member on this HBO show. Lena Dunham’s self-financed 2010 indie Tiny Furniture (2010) served as the template for the series, which also featured two of her close friends- Alex Karpovsky and Jemima Kirke. Judd Apatow (an experienced screenwriter/director/producer) emailed Dunham after becoming V impressed w/ her movie. He later stated that he “hoped the show would provide men w/ an insight into realistic females.” Apatow’s (Executive Producer) teen daughter (Maude) w/ wife (actress Leslie Mann) appears in S5.

Girls has sometimes been referred to as the “Millennial take on Sex and the City” (SATC). The stories are (mainly) set in/around Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The apts. of the main girls are NOT spacious or decorated w/ matching furnishings. Don’t expect to see many designer shoes (i.e. Manolos), clothes, or accessories here. The show subverts traditional rom com cliches, for the most part. The twists in the interpersonal connections are sometimes quite surprising. With time, romance becomes a key part of the show. In S5, the girls are caught up in their love lives, even if their choices are NOT working out. Music is integral to the show; Dunham wanted it to “complement the show w/o being a commentary.”

TV is usually the producer’s/writer’s medium; often showrunners write the eps. HBO teamed Dunham (then only 24 y.o.) w/ the more experienced- Jenni Konner- who became the co-showrunner. Konner directed 2 eps and wrote 17 eps; the two women became close friends and even started a production company (A Casual Romance). Dunham herself directed 19 eps. In 2017, Konner and Dunham put out a joint statement to The Hollywood Reporter, defending a staff writer (Murray Miller) against sexual assault allegations and claiming to have “insider knowledge” of his situation. Dunham later apologized for this statement and admitted that she and Konner had no “insider information” (so the claim had been a lie). Dunham issued a public apology to Aurora Perrineau (the alleged victim/daughter of actor Harold Perrineau); Konner has never issued a public apology.

The Women of “Girls”

I see some of you wondering: Am I supposed to like (or relate to) these upper middle-class/white girls? No, you don’t have to like a character for them to be interesting! They often act immature, narcissistic, and entitled. While the women on SATC (in their early 30s when that show began) were looking for husbands, dream jobs, etc, these characters don’t know what they want. Dunham plays Hannah Horvath, an aspiring writer who works as an editorial intern and lives in Greenpoint. Hannah was raised by parents who are academics in Michigan. Allison Williams (daughter of newsman Brian Williams) plays her roommate/best friend Marnie Michaels. She is tall/conventionally beautiful, wants to be an art curator, and has a serious boyfriend of several yrs. If you’ve seen SATC, you’ll no doubt find resemblance to Charlotte. Dunham explained that Hannah and Marnie’s V strong (yet complicated) friendship is based on her real-life experiences w/ her BFF- Audrey Gelman. Marnie was envisioned to have a different look than Williams, BUT she and Dunham got along from the first audition.

Jemima Kirke (who met Dunham in HS) plays Jessa Johansson; she’s British, bohemian, and beautiful. Jessa also attended Oberlin, but she left w/o graduating. Dunham had to convince Kirke (who had no intention to act) to take this role; she was a new mom and working as a painter. Jessa is the cousin of Shoshanna Shapiro (a senior at NYU); they live together as Jessa looks for a job. Dunham liked Zosia Mamet’s performance so much that kept her as a regular. She is typically “girly” (w/ a poster for SATC hung in her apt), loves fashion, and struggles w/ social anxiety. Many young/female viewers connected w/ Shosh. Zosia (fit/petite) is the daughter of filmmaker/playwright David Mamet and his ex-wife- actress Lindsay Crouse. “In a way, she is the most naive character, but in another way, she’s also the wisest,” Dunham explained.

The Men of Girls

I know people come up to Adam say “you’re a jerk” on the street all the time. I feel bad for him b/c he cannot hide. There is one person on the planet who looks like that… -Dunham

One of the first things I noticed on my (re-watch) was just how tall ALL the men were- LOL! Adam Sackler (Driver- who is 6’3″) is complicated, angry, weird, and seems to have little respect for Hannah (when we meet him in S1). He works w/ his hands (carpentry), wants to be an actor, and gets some money from his grandma. Dunham originally envisioned this character to be a handsome leading man type (w/ the looks of Taylor Kitsch from Friday Night Lights). Adam Sackler was based on one of her ex-bfs from her early 20s; Dunham thought he’d appear on a few eps in S1 as Hannah’s love interest. That all changed when she met 27 y.o. Driver at his audition; they instantly had great chemistry together (and were conversing like they’d known each other for years)! Driver (the first of the cast to gain fame) was flying back and forth between NYC and London between S3 and S4 to film Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015).

Ray Ploshansky (Karpovsky- also 6’3″) is 33 y.o. (almost 10 yrs. older than the girls) and the manager of a coffee shop- Grumpy’s. He’s the “voice of reason” (as many critics have commented) in the show; he becomes interested in Shosh (who is just 21 y.o. and has a personality which intrigues him). Elijah Krantz (Andrew Rannells- 6’2″) is Hannah’s ex-bf who she reconnects w/ in S1 E3; they met in college and have a LOT of shared history. He also aspires to be an actor, BUT isn’t doing much about it. Rannells (33 y.o. when the show premiered, but looked much younger) had already appeared (along w/ Josh Gad) in the hit Broadway musical- The Book of Mormon. Dunham and Konner had loved him on stage and were V excited when he came to audition. More men will be appearing as prominent guest starts as the show goes on.

Season 1

Living the dream. One mistake at a time. -Tagline for the show

E1: Pilot

Hannah is a mix of natural intelligence and improbable stupidity. …an interesting mix of complete confidence and no self-worth. -Dunham

Hannah declares to her parents at dinner: “I could be the voice of my generation, or at least a voice of my generation.” They say the can’t financially support her anymore; her mom explains: “We can’t keep bankrolling your groovy lifestyle.” The more soft-hearted Tad (Peter Scolari, who passed away in 2020) and his stricter wife- Loreen (Becky Ann Baker)- will appear in 20 eps; these experienced actors really brought a LOT to the show. Hannah (3 yrs out of college; former English major) and Marnie wake up together in their humble apt. They discuss texting on the way to the subway; Marnie thinks is “the lowest form of communication.” Hannah is let go from being an intern; the small publishing company can’t afford to hire her F/T.

I’d say Adam is a friend w/ benefits, although the friendship part of that is not always clear. -Dunham

Hannah goes to see Adam at his apt; he was a Comp Lit major, but is trying to be an actor. He’s shirtless, wearing only jeans, and talking re: carpentry (“it’s more honest” than other work). They have a (awkward) hookup and we learn that Adam is the one who takes charge. (The partial nudity here is shot from the side.) Marnie looks bored in her relationship (of 4 yrs.) w/ Charlie (Christopher Abbott); the spark seems to have gone out (at least on her side). Later that night, Hannah’s friends are chatting and having a dinner party at her apt. Jessa arrived from her travels; she confides in Marnie that she’s pregnant. Hannah drinks a tea w/ opium pods, then goes to her parents’ hotel.

E2: Vagina Panic

When we’re together, he’s so there and so present. And then he disappears for 2 wks. and doesn’t answer any text messages, and I feel as though I invented him. -Hannah re: Adam

This ep opens w/ two scenes (shot in partly darkened rooms) which are NOT for (easily offended) viewers: Adam is saying “dirty talk” in bed (which Hannah doesn’t enjoy); Charlie is gentle/respectful (Marnie is turned off). Marnie had set up an appointment for Jessa to have an abortion at a clinic; Hannah (saying she has been w/ 2 1/2 men) wonders if she could have an STD. At her job interview, Hannah has great rapport w/ Brian (Mike Birbiglia) until she makes a V problematic joke; he is NOT amused. The girls have Froyo and talk re: men/relationships; Shosh pulls out a dating advice book (this reminded me of when Charlotte was reading The Rules early in S1 of SATC). The gynecologist who sees Hannah is played by Sakina Jaffrey (daughter of veteran actress Madhur Jaffrey- recently seen on And Just Like That). Jessa goes to a bar, hits on a young man, and learns that she’s NOT pregnant (anymore).

E3: All Adventurous Women Do

Hannah contracted HPV (which is quite common); it’s NOT from Adam (as she’d assumed). It turns out that Elijah (her bf during the last 2 yrs at college) gave that to her. Hannah meets him for a drink and learns that he’s gay- whoa! Marnie becomes interested in an up-and-coming artist, Booth Jonathan (Jorma Taccone), maybe b/c he’s SO different from that Charlie. (FYI: Taccone comes from an artistic family from California; he was once in a comedy trio w/ Andy Samberg.) Jessa starts work as a babysitter for the Lavoyts (who have 2 young daughters); the mom- Katherine (Kathryn Hahn)- is a fashion photographer and the dad- Jeff (James LeGros)- doesn’t seem to have much going on. Jessa treats her job in a laissez-faire attitude (as she does w/ everything in life).

E4: Hannah’s Diary

After getting a (shocking) photo from Adam, Hannah takes up “sexting” (though she feels weird about it). It turns out that Adam’s NSFW pic was for another girl! Marnie and Charlie are shocked and wonder what kind of weirdo would do that!? Shosh runs into a popular guy, Matt Kornstein (Skylar Astin), from their summer camp days. (FYI: Astin studied at NYU Tisch and was in the cast of Spring Awakening on Broadway.) Jessa gets distracted at her babysitting job. Ray and Charlie find and read Hannah’s diary- yikes!

E5: Hard Being Easy

Hannah pays a (surprise) visit to Adam’s apt, but he’s NOT amused. He wants his own space and time to work on whatever furniture he’s building. Jessa decides to meet w/ one of her ex-bfs; he has a new gf now, yet she has the need to run her game on him. (Their hookup scene reminded me more to what’d happen w/ Samantha in SATC.) Years later, Dunham said that it wasn’t the right scene for this show. Charlie reconsiders his relationship w/ Marnie after seeing what was in that diary.

E6: The Return

Hannah goes home to Michigan for her parents’ anniversary. She runs into one of her HS friends, Heather Travis (Vanessa Ray), who is planning to move to LA to become an actress. (FYI: Ray co-starred in the indie Not Waving, But Drowning w/ Driver- his 1st feature film.) Hannah decides to go on a to a charity benefit w/ an eager/young pharmacist, Eric (Lou Tyler Pucci). This is a view into how life could’ve been for Hannah if she’d stayed close to home.

E7: Welcome to Bushwick a.k.a. The Crackcident

The girls go to a warehouse party where Marnie discovers Charlie has a new gf, Audrey (played by Dunham’s best friend- Audrey Gelman). Wait, Adam owns a shirt? LOL- this is the 1st time we see him wearing a shirt on the show! Hannah sees Adam dancing w/ a group of his lesbian BFFs; she learns that he’s in AA from one woman- Tako (Roberta Colindrez). We get to see some wacky dance moves from the cast/extras. Jeff comes to see Jessa (dressed in an unique outfit) at this party, but ends up in the ER. Shosh accidentally smokes crack (yikes); Ray keeps watch over her.

Hannah and Adam ride off on his bike; she admits that does want him to be her bf. Adam thinks she’s too self-involved; she doesn’t ask about his life. Suddenly, he stops the bike, and she falls off. Marnie is pissed off at Adam when she comes up in a cab, BUT they all three end up riding together. Hannah has a small smile on her face.

E8: Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too

Hannah is spending more time w/ Adam than ever. She goes to the “tech” (technical rehearsal) of a play Adam is doing w/ Gavin (Henry Zebrowski). Then, Adam acts out a scene where he’s quite vulnerable; we learn something from his youth. After Gavin makes some choices Adam doesn’t like, he suddenly quits. He declares that he doesn’t want to do anything that he doesn’t believe in fully. Marnie is miserable after learning (via Facebook) that Charlie went to Rome w/ Audrey. She wonders how he can recover SO fast!? Marnie and Jessa go to a classy-looking bar to talk; they meet a lonely venture capitalist, Thomas John (Chris O’Dowd- an Aussie actor).

E9: Leave Me Alone

The girls attend a book launch for Hannah’s college nemesis, Tally Schifrin (Jenny Slate). Hannah can’t help but feel jealous; Tally passive aggressively puts her down. Hannah sees one of her former writing profs, Powell Goldman (Michael Imperioli), at this party. He praises her talent and invites her to a “salon” (reading). Hannah also tries out for a job at Grumpy’s. She and Marnie get into a huge fight!

E10: She Did

Marnie moves out of the apt- wow! She finally admits that maybe NOT having a plan is a good thing for now. Hannah considers the idea of Adam moving in; he may even be open to it. Jessa (who has been out of touch for weeks) suddenly invites them to a surprise event- her wedding to Thomas John! Their vows are unusual, yet they look V happy. Look at the friends’ reactions at the ceremony/reception; each person is feeling something different. Marnie is trying to be chill/non-judgmental. She even acts nice to Elijah, who has a new relationship w/ an older man and seems more calm. Ray decides to tell Shosh how much he likes her; they get together.

Adam (who had watched the ceremony intently) looks full of strong emotions. Then he and Hannah act playful and have a slow dance. However, after the cake is cut and it’s almost time to leave, Adam and Hannah get into a fight. He thinks his love is being rejected now, after 6 mos. of Hannah chasing after him. Suddenly, a van drives by and side-swipes Adam (who’d been standing on the street)! When the ambulance comes, he tells the EMT to NOT let Hannah get onboard b/c she’s a “monster.” Hannah gets on the subway, falls asleep, and winds up at the end of the line (Coney Island). Her purse is gone- no surprise there. Hannah walks to the beach and eats a piece of the wedding cake in the quiet of early morning.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Nightmare Alley” (2021) starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Colette, & Rooney Mara

In the late 1930s, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) buries a body and burns down a house in a rural area. Stan gets a job w/ a traveling carnival, after helping the owner- Clem (Willem Dafoe)- capture one of the escaped performers, a “geek.” This term comes from the German word “geck,” meaning fool/simpleton; it “geek” was used around circuses/carnivals to describe a wild man/woman. A typical geek show in the mid-19th c. would have a person on stage biting the head off of an animal (a chicken is seen in this case) and drinking its blood. Stan is silent (Cooper doesn’t speak until 11 mins. into the movie) and observant for a time, taking in the new environment and its inhabitants. He starts working w/ clairvoyant act of “Madame Zeena” (Toni Colette- who I wanted to see more) and her older/alcoholic husband, Pete (David Strathairn- always great in any role). He has his eyes on a young performer, Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), and approaches her w/ the idea of a 2-person act (away from the carnival). An older strongman, Bruno (Ron Perlman), is suspicious of Stan and protective of Molly.

I saw this move last week on HBOMax; it’s a mix of noir and horror (w/ a few gruesome images which may turn off sensitive viewers). Director Guillermo del Toro noted that this is NOT a remake of Nightmare Alley (1947) starring Tyrone Power, BUT a re-adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel. However, several critics/viewers commented that they saw callbacks to the original. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally picked for the lead, but when negotiations fell through, he was shortly replaced by Cooper. As one movie podcaster said: “I hope DiCaprio didn’t turn this down for ‘Don’t Look Up,’ b/c that isn’t a good movie.” I’m NOT a fan of Cooper or a hater; I don’t see the big appeal. I get the sense that his skills are suited to lighter (comedic) roles; Cooper lacks the gravitas of someone like DiCaprio. In his characterization of Stan, Power is more compelling; he’s able to convey the dangerous/dark side to his character.

I was impressed w/ the supporting actors, though Mara should’ve gotten a BIT more character development. In the original, Coleen Gray’s Molly exuded innocence/positivity; here, she is morose/jaded. Do you think Stan loves Molly or is he just using her b/c she is young/impressionable? Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) is a fascinating/mysterious character; she fits into the femme fatale role (a few critics were reminded of Lizbeth Scott re: her look). I enjoyed Blanchett’s scenes w/ Cooper, BUT it’s obvious who’s the more stronger/charismatic performer. The wealthy/powerful businessman, Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), makes a more formidable adversary than in the original.

I wanted to love this movie (as a big fan of noir), BUT this is a case of style over substance. There are some good scenes, so it’s worth a look. Del Toro creates a world that is visually V interesting. The cinematography, musical score, production design, costumes/hair, etc. suit the story well. There are a few (creepy) people and props in the carnival that will stay in your mind- yikes! There is a B&W version; I’d be interested in seeing that sometime. Like MANY recent films, the running time is TOO long. It takes more than an hour to get out of the carnival atmosphere. There are a few elements which will remain a mystery, such as Lilith’s past and her motivation for what she is doing. I just expected more from such an ambitious film!

Spoiler-Free Review: “West Side Story” (2021) starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, & Rita Moreno

I’m sure almost ALL of you know the plot, as West Side Story is a re-imagining of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy (Romeo & Juliet) set among gangs on the West Side of Manhattan in the late 1950s. The 2 gangs are the Jets (white ethnics/NYC-born) and the Sharks (Puerto Rican). The 2 teen “star-crossed lovers”- Tony (former leader of the Jets) and Maria (newly arrived to NYC)- meet at a HS dance and fall in love at first sight. Of course, their relationship will have (deadly) consequences!

There are MANY problematic elements in the 1961 movie, though it is also much-loved by audiences of ALL ages all over the world. First of all, Natalie Wood was NOT a Latina or of Puerto Rican heritage. The Sharks were made-up w/ dark foundation, though people from PR have a wide variety of skin tones. This movie was released after lyricist Stephen Sondheim died on November 26, 2021. He did see the final cut of the film and prefers this version to the original 1961 film (as he said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert).

I have been challenged by what would be the right musical to take on. And I could never forget my childhood. I was 10 years old when I first listened to the West Side Story album, and it never went away. I’ve been able to fulfill that dream and keep that promise that I made to myself: You must make West Side Story. -Steven Spielberg

The screenwriter is Tony Kushner; I think he did a fine job (aside from a couple of lines which came off as a BIT modern). The choreography (originally by Jerome Robbins) was updated by Justin Peck from the New York City Ballet. Director of Photography, Janusz Kaminski (who often collabs w/ Spielberg), went to great lengths to replicate (as much as possible) the lighting/visual style of the1961 film. Look at the way that the camera is swinging around, even from the opening number from the Jets- wow! I liked the (more realistic) sets and (colorful) costumes here. John Williams was brought in as music consultant; he was piano soloist for the 1961 movie. As many critics/viewers have noted, West Side Story has some of the best (and well-known) songs of ALL time! I’m sure a LOT of you were tapping your feet and/or singing along. This film follows the original song order of the stage musical w/ 2 exceptions: “Gee, Officer Krupke” (really liked the choreography) is moved to earlier (as the 1961 movie also did) and “Cool” (NOT impressed by new version) is sung by Tony to Riff (not sung by Riff to the Jets).

Divisions between un-likeminded people is as old as time itself. And the divisions between the Sharks and the Jets in 1957, which inspired the musical, were profound. But not as divided as we find ourselves today. It turned out in the middle of the development of the script, things widened, which I think in a sense, sadly, made the story of those racial divides- not just territorial divides- more relevant to today’s audience than perhaps it even was in 1957. -Spielberg on movie’s relevance today

When casting this version, Spielberg insisted that all Latino characters be portrayed by real Latino actors. Out of the 33 Latino characters onscreen, 20 are of Puerto Rican heritage. There is a good amount of Spanish used in this film; I was glad that I knew the language (though NOT fluent). You don’t need to know Spanish to get what’s up. Almost the entire cast is made up of musical theatre performers; veteran actress Rita Moreno (an EGOT winner; Maria in the 1961 movie) is the most famous. Except for Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler (cast straight out of HS), and Corey Stoll, ALL of the principals are Broadway alums.

Zegler has a V pure/powerful voice; she has received MANY rave reviews for her singing! Elgort (who shot this movie before revelation of SA allegations) is V tall, handsome (in a bland way), and moves gracefully (he studied ballet some). His voice is NOT remarkable in any way and holds little power; this makes “Tonight” NOT as impressive; it also puts a damper on “Maria.” Anita (Ariana DeBose), has the most interesting role; the actress has received a LOT of award season buzz! DeBose is Afro-Latina and worried that she had the “wrong look” for this role; Spielberg told her that she was “perfect.” DeBose and David Alvarez (Bernardo- older bro to Maria) also have good romantic chemistry. Of course, it’s tough to beat the (fiery) chemistry between Moreno and her Bernardo (George Chakiris- who was of Greek heritage). I was V impressed by Riff (Mike Faist); he commands the screen w/ his (amazing) dancing, but it also a fine actor. This Riff is hard-edged/volatile; this is a far cry from the (teddy bear-like) characterization from Russ Tamblyn (1961). You can now watch this movie on HBOMax!

“America” from “West Side Story” (2021) featuring Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez