Glory (1989) starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, & Andre Braugher

I re-watched this Civil War drama on TCM recently; it’s one of my fave (and most-watched) films! The music is used very well; each scene is enhanced by it, incl. the battles. It was originally released in the Summer of 1989; Fathom Events will be having its 30th anniversary screening later this year in select cities/theaters. Kevin Jarre (a white man) was inspired to write the screenplay when he saw monument to Shaw on Boston Common (shown in the closing credits). Jarre’s inspiration came from two books: (1) One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment (1989) by Peter Burchard, a novel that itself was based on letters written by Shaw and (2) Lay This Laurel (1973), a photographic tribute to the Civil War sculpture of Augustus Saint-Gaudens with text by American writer/arts patron Lincoln Kirstein. Jarre has a brief (yet notable) cameo as the white Union soldier who shouts “Give ’em hell, 54!”

Edward Zwick was initially apprehensive about how his African-American cast would feel about this telling of a crucial part of their history by a young Jewish director. To his delight and relief, he found his cast to be very affable and good-humored towards him, some of them even grateful that he was brave enough to tackle such an important subject. Zwick and Denzel Washington (here in his breakout role) would continue to work together on other (successful) movies. The director later commented (during a promo tour for Courage Under Fire) that “Denzel is always doing something interesting. I don’t want to take the camera off him.”

Several of the extracts from Shaw’s supposed letters to his mother (in voice-over narration) were taken from Army Life in a Black Regiment, an 1870 book by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (who commanded the 1st South Carolina Regiment). The historical figures in this movie are: 1) Francis George Shaw, Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw, and Ellen Shaw (direct relatives of Robert Gould Shaw), 2) John Albion Andrew, the governor of Massachusetts, 3) Charles Garrison Harker and George Crockett Strong, Union generals, 4) Charlotte Forten Grimké, an antislavery activist, 5) James Montgomery, Union colonel, and (6) Frederick Douglas, former slave turned abolitionist, speaker/activist.

Any negro taken in arms against the Confederacy will immediately be returned to a state of slavery. Any negro taken in Federal uniform will be summarily put to death. Any white officer taken in command of negro troops shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection and shall likewise be put to death.” Full discharges will be granted in the morning to all those who apply. Dismissed. -Shaw reads a proclamation sent from the Confederate Congress

Zwick explained that, for the flogging scene of Trip (Washington in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning role), the actor was lashed at full contact, with a special whip, that would not cut his back, but still stung. For the final take, Zwick hesitated calling “Cut!” to signal the flogging to stop, and the result was Washington’s spontaneous tear down his cheek. The deep scars on Trip’s back were Washington’s idea; they showed how Trip was already a survivor of many lashings (being a runaway slave w/ a willful nature).

That Col. Shaw- he a hard man! -Jupiter Sharts comments, tired after a tough day of drills

He’s a boy. A scared white boy. -Trip quickly retorts with disgust

At first, the regiment is only given manual labor; this was a fact w/ the “colored” soldiers. They were also given less pay; in real life, Shaw was the one who protested this matter. As my A.P. American Government teacher commented, Shaw used his class privilege (incl. his sense of entitlement and rank) to get what is needed for his men (shoes, uniforms, and rifles); we see this in the scene in the Quartermaster’s office. Shaw is surprised at how quickly his men learn (even under their tough, racist Irish drill sergeant). Broderick’s small, youthful face and micro-expressions (when Shaw was uncertain, nervous, or looked in over his head) were played so well. Andre Braugher (currently on the comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine) has perhaps the most interesting role; Thomas is an educated, free man who has never before had to fight for his survival. Trip takes an instant disliking to Thomas; they come from such different backgrounds, though both are young black men yearning to prove their worth. Thomas was partly based on a successful freedman who owned a shop in Boston.

I ain’t fightin’ this war for you, sir. -Trip quietly explains to Shaw (after being praised for his skill in battle)

Unfortunately, most of Elwes’ scenes were cut from the film. He and Broderick did not get along, according to Zwick; I think they also had differing acting styles and personalities. Many scenes/subplots were cut from both the theatrical version and DVD; these include Shaw and Forbes attending school together and fencing one another. Nearly all of the scenes of veteran actress Jane Alexander (Shaw’s mother) were cut. Freeman (who brings gravitas to this film, being older and more experienced than his co-stars) did his own stunts, as Zwick asked of all his actors. He used his own experience (Air Force) to inform how relationships would be formed in the unit.

At the end of the film, Shaw is thrown into the mass grave with the black soldiers. Normally, officers were given formal burials, but the Confederacy had such contempt for the black regiment, that the officers were thrown in with the regular soldiers (w/ no honors). After the war, Shaw’s parents visited the site where their son had died. When asked if they wished to have his body exhumed, so they could take it home to Boston for burial, they declined. “We would not have his body removed from where it lies, surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers,” explained his father, Francis George Shaw. “We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. What a bodyguard he has!”

Related Links

Article by historian (a consultant on the film):

Fathom Events: Glory

 

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Roma (2018) directed by Alfonso Cuaron

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for the film (streaming on Netflix).

[1] …this was a very personal movie for Cuarón, a lot, if not most of the details came from his childhood. (It was based on his real life nanny named Libo…) He tried to show the struggle of domestic workers in Mexico as well as the differences between social classes that only Mexicans can understand. … for Mexicans see this film as a journey to the past and for younger Mexicans an opportunity to see the Mexico they never knew.

[2] We see so much through Cleo’s eyes, that to expand the focus would have weakened it structurally and thematically. The events were not fleshed out, because Cleo had no way to analyse or see the wider picture. For the vast majority of the population, the political events shown would also have been merely glimpsed or read about.

[3] The turmoil in the streets are a mirror of Cleo and Sofias’ inner lives. This is an honest reflection of the lives of many, many women.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio- a first time actress/former preschool teacher) is a 20-something maid in the household of an upper middle-class family in the Colonia Roma neighborhood of Mexico City in the 1970s. In this household are Sofia (Marina Tavira), her husband Antonio (Fernando Grediaga), their four young children (Tono, Paco, Pepe, and Sofi) and Sofia’s mother Teresa, along w/ another maid, Adela. The thoughtful blonde-haired youngest boy (Pepe) is a stand-in for Alfonso Cuaron (winner of the Golden Globe for Best Director). Unlike his two older brothers, he doesn’t make fun of or fight much with his sister (Sofi). Cleo shares an especially strong bond w/ Pepe and Sofi; they play, joke, and laugh together often.

Cleo’s daily life with the family incl. cleaning, cooking, taking the kids to and from school, serving them meals, putting the kids to bed and waking them up. Cleo and Adela share a room and are good friends; they sometimes speak in their own (native) language, aside from Spanish. Antonio (who is a medical doctor) leaves for a conference in Quebec; Sofia becomes quite emotional as they say goodbye. On their days off, Cleo and Adela go out to eat and to the movies with their boyfriends (Fermín and Ramón). Several months pass and the children start asking about their father; Sofia agonizes over what to tell them. Antonio is living in town w/ his mistress, having callously cast away his family. Cleo, Tono, and a cousin nearly run into him outside a movie theater one night! After some time, Cleo learns that she is pregnant; she gets no support from Fermin (who denies that he’s the father). He rejects Cleo with a rather nasty attitude (in front of his friends)! Adela urges Cleo to visit her mother; Cleo doesn’t go because she feels like it’d be too upsetting.

This is a slice of life film that has some very emotionally powerful scenes, though it starts out slow. You can see it as a women doing it for themselves film. The men are mysterious; we don’t learn much about them. Notice how Antonio (who represents Cuaron’s absentee father) is revealed bit by bit in his first scene; first we see the large sedan, then the radio, then his hand, and (finally) he emerges from the car. At times, Sofia (who has a strong personality) speaks harshly to Cleo; she doesn’t have her husband to blame. Over time, Cleo and Sofia (who come from quite different backgrounds), have to rely more and more on each other to keep the household (and family) going.

The look of this film is unique, as it is in black and white and the picture is super sharp (clear) in every shot. As one movie critic noted: “Every scene looks like a painting!” There isn’t always a lot of dialogue, but something is always going on within the frame. You hear bits and pieces of conversations, just as Cleo would going about her work. Even when revolutionaries are running the streets, this family has to deal w/ their ordinary concerns, such as furniture shopping. In one memorable scene, the family silently eats ice cream together, their heads lowered in sadness; a noisy and happy wedding party is seen in the background. The most intense scenes in the film show Cleo acting in a selfless (and heroic) manner to rescue Paco and Sofi from drowning in choppy waters of the ocean. She doesn’t know how to swim, which adds more danger to the mix! As the family (all safe) gathers on the beach and embraces, you can’t help but become emotional. I saw this film on Netflix; most critics are suggesting you see it on the big screen (if possible).

Nothing to Hide, or Le Jeu (2018) starring Berenice Bejo

It featured truly interesting characters, and dealt with a subject that most of us wonder about, but generally never act in…

Funny, realistic, well acted, emotional, and passionate in equal measure.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

To enjoy Nothing to Hide, you have to suspend your belief to enjoy the scenario. There is no way on God’s earth that a group of couples would agree to this game. -Daniel Hart (Ready Steady Cut)

Nothing to Hide certainly grows more and more compelling as the aforementioned game adopts progressively salacious qualities – which ensures that the picture’s midsection boasts a sporadically spellbinding quality that proves impossible to resist. –Reel Film Reviews

Le Jeu (“the game”) is a French film (on Netflix); it’s a remake of an Italian film. One of the ensemble cast is Berenice Bejo, the talented and gorgeous co-lead of The Artist (2015). FYI: The director of that Oscar-winning film is Bejo’s husband, Michel Hazanavicius. There is also a Mexican version of this movie- Perfectos Desconocitos (Perfect Strangers)- currently playing in limited release at U.S. theaters. To play the game, 7 close friends (3 couples) put their cell phones in the middle of the table during dinner party, and when an email, text, or call pops up, they MUST reveal who and what it was. Yikes!

The couple hosting the dinner party are a well-to-do/sophisticated professional couple in their 40s- a plastic surgeon named Vincent (Stephane De Groodt) and his psychologist wife Marie (Bejo). They have a 17 y.o. daughter- Margot (Fleur Fitoussi)- who is going to a party w/ her friends. Their marriage seems to have grown cold/distant. Somewhat neurotic businessman Marco (Roschdy Zem) and his (heavy drinking) wife Charlotte (Suzanne Clement) have been married 15 yrs; Marco’s mother lives w/ them and helps w/ their two young kids. Charlotte resents her MIL who is critical of her choices. A handsome taxi driver, Thomas (Vincent Elbaz), and his bubbly hairdresser wife, Lea (Doria Tillier), are newly married and seem VERY much in love. They can’t keep their hands off each other- it’s somewhat awkward for the others. The one single friend, Ben (Gregory Gadebois), is a gym teacher who recently lost his job and is dating for the first time (after his divorce). Though everyone was looking forward to meeting his new lady, Ben didn’t bring her (saying she had stomach flu).

We learn that the men have been friends since childhood (35 yrs); their wives seem to be close also. They drink wine, tell jokes (incl. insulting each other), and eat foie gras (which is a luxury food made from liver of fattened duck or goose) and different types of cheese. Marie proposes they play the game, which brings out secrets (big and small), lies, and drama! Ben, for a while, tries to be the peacemaker among the group. He hopes to get some photos of the gang (w/ the eclipse moon occurring that night).

This movie poses MANY questions! Are cell phones ruining interpersonal relationships? Should we accept out bodies as they are, or work to improve them (incl. w/ plastic surgery)? How well do you know your spouse/partner? If something is left unsaid, is it just as bad as a lie? How well do we relate to our children? In one (particularly touching scene), after Margot calls Vincent, he gives his daughter some GREAT advice re: her personal life.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) starring Jose Ferrer

I think MANY people already know the story: In 1640s France, Cyrano (Jose Ferrer), a swordsman/poet (who has a way w/ words and a VERY large nose) hopelessly loves his beautiful cousin Roxane (Mala Powers). His friend, Le Bret, urges him to tell her his feelings, BUT Cyrano thinks he’s TOO ugly and will be rejected. Cyrano is some years older than Roxane; they played together as kids and she trusts him totally. One day, at the bakery (owned by aspiring poet Rageneau), she confesses to Cyrano her love for the handsome/tongue-tied Christian de Neuvilette (William Prince), a new soldier in the Corps de Guards. Christian feels inadequate b/c he can NEVER find the right words to express his love. Cyrano sets out to help Christian woo Roxane w/ words (via letters/speeches). A scheming/older nobleman, De Guiche, is plotting to marry Roxane. Cyrano distracts the man while a priest secretly marries Roxane and Christian, right before the Guard are sent to fight (in war w/ Spain).

Each night, Cyrano (who is romantic and reckless) runs across enemy lines to deliver letters to Roxane. In time, Christian realizes that Cyrano loves Roxane, too. Of course, Cyrano denies it, saying that he has become emotional ONLY b/c he loves his own words. Rageneau brings food to the hungry soldiers; Roxane is w/ him (as she was desperate to see Christian). The couple is reunited before Christian is fatally wounded. As he lies dying, Cyrano tells Christian that Roxane ONLY loved him. Roxane finds a final letter peeking out off Christian’s pocket.

For the next 20 years, Cyrano continues w/ his poetry (and upsetting his enemies, incl. Cardinal Richelieu and De Guiche) and training of soldiers. One night, De Guiche’s men plan an attack (which looks like an accident); Cyrano is thrown to the ground and injures his head. The doctor tells him to stay in bed and rest, or he will surely die. Cyrano doesn’t listen and walks to the convent (Roxane’s home) to tell her the week’s gossip. She takes out a piece of paper from her locket and asks Cyrano to read it- Christian’s last letter. The words have faded toward the end. The daylight is also fading in the garden (where they sit), the nuns are gathering for evening prayers, while Cyrano recites the letter. Roxane finally realizes that he was the man who won her heart, NOT Christian! She rushes to his side, crying, and asking why he never revealed his feelings. Cyrano replies: “The words were mine, but the blood was his.” He gets up (sensing the end is near), pulls out his sword, and does “battle” w/ enemies (ideas) he hates before dying.

I’m a big fan of the 1990 French film starring Gerard Depardieu (Cyrano), Anne Brochet (Roxane), and Vincent Perez (Christian). The cinematography was amazing, as was the music. This film was made w/ a small budget; some of the action scenes are TOO dark. Though Ferrer (who was married for many years to actress/singer Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt) is VERY engaging in the title role, his co-stars (Powers and Prince) are NOT that interesting. It’s easy to buy Brochet as a sensitive/literary-minded woman; Perez is NOT only gorgeous, he brought depth to Christian. As for the swordsman-ship, Ferrer carries it off well (as do the supporting actors). Also, Ferrer has the trim figure of a soldier (unlike Depardieu). Ferrer’s voice is very confident and memorable; he really inhabits the role. In the final scene, you can’t help BUT become emotional!

Producer Stanley Kramer was VERY worried about the box-office prospects, complaining that no one would be able to pronounce the name of the hero/title or that of the lead actor (who came from the theater world). There are no huge sets or spectacular camera shots; it’s the play, performed (w/ added scenes in prose rather than blank verse translated from French). The film was a modest success, partly due to the low budget ($400,000) and to Ferrer’s (Best Actor) Oscar win. He was the first Hispanic actor (born in Puerto Rico) that won an Academy Award. Some of you may have seen his son, Miguel Ferrer, who was a highly respected character actor (and the spitting image of his father).

[1] …this film boasts what is certainly one of the greatest performances in the history of film–and especially American film. José Ferrer… gives the performance of his life as Cyrano. His portrayal is in every way the equal of Depardieu’s, and as far as I am concerned, even better. Depardieu relies on sincerity and subtle facial expressions. Ferrer also has these, but he has in addition one of the most beautiful, rich voices ever to come out of the theatre, and magnificent enunciation as well. His portrayal is more flamboyant than Depardieu, and he shows a heartbreaking sense of tragedy as he realizes that the beautiful Roxane will probably never be his. The “big moment” in the final scene is shattering in Ferrer’s hands.

[2] Jose Ferrer covers all the possible emotions an actor can in his role. He is comedic, brave, adventurous, romantic, self-sacrificing, elegant, pitiful, nimble-witted, gallant, prideful, humble, he fully recognizes his short-comings, and, most of all, he is true to his code of honor.

[3] Jose Ferrer delivers the performance of a lifetime that strikes deep into the heart. Anyone who has even been mocked, scored, or ridiculed, or simply felt unworthy of the affections of another will sympathize with Cyrano…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews


Lured (1947) starring Lucille Ball & George Sanders

In this film noir (directed by Douglas Sirk), a serial killer in London is murdering young women he meets through personals columns of newspapers. He announces each murder to the police by sending them a poem. Research carried out by Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) reveal that the killer’s verses are strongly influenced by Baudelaire who saw a link between beauty and death. After a taxi dancer disappears, her concerned American friend/co-worker, Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball), comes to Scotland Yard (the police), looking for answers. Sandra came from NYC to dance in the chorus of a London show (which closed early). After speaking w/ Sandra (a fiesty, sarcastic, and pretty young woman), Inspector Temple is impressed. He quickly enlists her to answer personal ads, in hopes of luring the killer. Sandra is given a police ID and a small handgun!

There are moments of humor in this movie (which is a remake of a French film). Boris Karloff adds humor to this (rather dark) tale, giving a brief performance as an insane dress designer. Officer H.R. Barrett (George Zucco) is the veteran cop assigned as back-up for Sandra; he and Ball make a fun team w/ good chemistry. While waiting for her mystery date at the opera, Sandra meets sauve and wealthy Robert Fleming (George Sanders). I think Sanders is fun to watch in ALL his roles, MOST notably in All About Eve. In no time, Robert and Sandra develop feelings for each other; she becomes less guarded and he drops his playboy ways. The streets are NOT safe; Sandra is put in danger more than once. Who is the killer? Could it be Robert?

[1] This is a very enjoyable film. What you get here is a lot of talk and character studies. Lured is a good, old-fashioned mystery yarn. The killer is painfully obvious about halfway through, but the actors go through the motions with obvious relish. 

[2] For a serial killer film, this one must rank as the most reserved and dignified ever made. No blood nor gore, just urbane and sophisticated dialogue throughout, and especially from the killer…

[3] The emphasis in making this film was clearly on producing an upbeat thriller which has many of the characteristics of a routine whodunit (e.g. numerous red herrings) and judged purely on this basis, it is very successful and entertaining.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews