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


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Mary Queen of Scots (NOW PLAYING) starring Saoirse Ronan & Margot Robbie

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers for the film.

Mary Queen of Scots explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart. Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I. Each young Queen beholds her “sister” in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage versus independence. Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening Elizabeth’s sovereignty. Betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each court imperil both thrones – and change the course of history. -Summary from Focus Features

While cannot highly recommend this film, it does have it’s strengths: a very fine cast, enriching music, lush set design, and gorgeous costumes.

The film is a well-intended historical drama that nevertheless falls short of expectations for a couple of reasons: first and foremost, what should be palace drama that raises the hairs on your arms, plays out meekly for much of the movie. Second, the movie’s pacing is too slow… Lastly… the movie tries to set it up as “Mary vs. Elizabeth”, yet then forgets to provide an in-depth charter for Elizabeth.

There is no clarity in why one was either Protestant or Roman would be such an insurmountable issue, partly because John Knox was so poorly written (despite having hidden the very talented and capable David Tennant behind all the hair).

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Elizabeth (Margot Robbie) were cousins and BOTH concerned w/ marriage (or avoiding it), as well as children (or succession). Mary ALSO wants the throne of England b/c she is a Stuart; Elizabeth is the (illegitimate to Catholics) daughter of Henry VIII and his 2nd wife, Anne Boleyn. Ronan (NOT yet 25 y.o.) is a FAB actress, thus capable of playing the regal/powerful Mary. The talent is NOT in question; she tries to rise above the (mostly mediocre, sometimes laughable) dialogue. The screenplay is by Beau Willimon (House of Cards) and John Guy, author of the biography- Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart. Many critics/viewers have commented on her Irish accent; it’s VERY noticeable in this film. Why did the director NOT have Ronan modify her accent to reflect Mary!? She could’ve done a Scottish accent or a French one (since Mary grew up in France). Samantha Morton (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) used a Scottish accent.

Ronan has zero chemistry w/ her love interest, Henry Darnley (Jack Lowden- a 28 y.o. from Scotland). Lowden is just TOO much of a lightweight (lacking screen presence, aside from conventional good looks- IF that’s your thing) for the role. Even in the emotional scenes, I was bored by his acting! During MOST of his romantic scenes w/ Ronan, the two desi 20-something gals sitting next to me giggled (perhaps they felt the awkwardness). Though we start out thinking that Mary and Hadley could be happy together, it’s NOT the case. Then the plot veers off the rails- MORE unexpected (and ludicrous) than I ever imagined!

In contrast to Lowden, Joe Alwyn (also in The Favourite opposite Emma Stone) as Elizabeth’s “special friend” Sir Robert Dudley seems a BIT more interesting. He also has V conventional good looks, BUT is brooding and believable. As you may recall, other Dudleys were been played by the powerhouse veteran actor- Jeremy Irons (HBO’s Elizabeth I w/ Helen Mirren)- and the dark/enigmatic Joseph Fiennes (Elizabeth w/ Cate Blanchett). Alwyn and Margot Robbie (who I hadn’t seen before) have a few moments; they relate well to each other. The main question I have: Did Elizabeth really send Dudley to the Scottish court as a (potential) husband for Mary?

Aside from Ronan, I just came away feeling V bad for the (older/experienced) actors; this includes Guy Pierce (Lord Cecil- Elizabeth’s loyal counselor), the FAB at nearly 50 y.o. Adrian Lester (ambassador Lord Randolph), David Tennant (John Knox- anti-Catholic leader), and Brendan Coyle (Earl of Lennox- Darnley’s father). Actually, Pierce does get a FEW nice moments, incl. one scene alone w/ Elizabeth. Lester (best known here in the U.S. for Primary Colors) is a tall/handsome/British theater actor who happens to be black. As in theater world (where director Josie Rourke hails from), this film uses colorblind casting for several supporting and MANY background roles. My good friend thought that was strange; it doesn’t fit w/ the historical period. I’m NOT saying there were zero POC in these royal courts. I wouldn’t have a problem IF there was a basis for it OR if the movie worked well! After all, one of my fave films- Much Ado About Nothing– has Denzel Washington as a Spanish nobleman and Keanu Reeves as his younger brother. Also, Lester has a FAB smile, BUT no smiles here!

It took me a few mins. to recognize Tennant (Doctor Who); he is nearly hidden under a long wig, heavy beard, and dark robe. His character is SO one note- it’s laughable (which is what a few in my audience did); he is TOO good for such a role! There was a LOT of anti-Catholic sentiment in court of Elizabeth (and perhaps also among MANY of the commoners), BUT why make Knox a cartoonish villain!? Even Jordi Molla’s King Phillip II (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) was more nuanced. Coyle (beloved as Mr. Bates in Downton Abbey) doesn’t have much to do, aside from looking disgusted/disappointed (w/ his son) or smirking (as he’s plotting the overthrow of Mary). Sure, it MAY be fun to be a baddie for a change, BUT this is just a waste!

The scenery is quite lovely to look at and the costumes look historically accurate, though FEW students of history objected to the use of black cloth. MOST of the men, incl. the Scottish nobles, wear black. The ladies in waiting to Mary wear black, too. Bess (Gemma Chan from Crazy Rich Asians) as Elizabeth’s confidante/lady-in-waiting wears shades of gray. Where is the tartan cloth which prominent in the Stuart family? The thick makeup and bright red wig worn by Elizabeth in the (pivotal) meeting scene reminded some viewers of a clown. We know that Elizabeth used white powder to cover up her pox scars (after being stricken w/ the disease in her late 20s). As for the action- that’s ALSO a disappointment. The military battle, where Mary’s soldiers face her older half-brother’s men, is more like a small skirmish.

Speaking of the half-brother, the actor has some potential. The men in this film are mostly drunk/useless/jokes or plotting/power-hungry; aside from Dudley and Cecil, none are loyal, thoughtful, or kind-hearted! Even Mary’s long-time ally, Lord Bothwell (Martin Compston), turns against her in the end; this is shocking/sudden. OK, that was a BIT interesting; this actor (who appeared on many TV series, incl. Monarch of the Glen) did well w/ his role. The ladies-in-waiting (incl. Chan) are a physically diverse group; they get almost zero character development. In real life, these were noblewomen who had personalities and lives of their own (aside from attending to their queens). In the eyes of MANY critics, Cate Blanchett is the ultimate Queen Elizabeth. I expected to see a BIT more of Elizabeth; Robbie did a decent job (and her English accent was good). Unless you really LOVE historical fiction, skip this film. Luckily, I saw it for free (w/ my Regal Club points)!


Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) starring Rami Malek

Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day. -Summary from Twentieth Century Fox

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.

This is one of the MUST-SEE movies of 2018 (even if you know VERY little re: this band)! Of course, you’ve heard some of their songs, even if you didn’t grow up listening to (classic) rock. My good friend and I went to see it this past WED at our local (Regal) theater; our audience had folks ranging in age from 20s to 70s. This film succeeds b/c it takes you on a journey w/ the members of the British rock band, Queen, lead by Freddie (Rami Malek- in a star-making role). Before this, I ONLY knew Malek, who is Egyptian-American, from The Pacific (a WWII HBO miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg). There is an energy that propels this film forward, mainly thanks to Malek and the (iconic) music!

The still baby-faced American actor, Joseph Mazzello (now 35), who plays bass guitarist John Deacon, is best known as the kid from Jurassic Park; he co-starred w/ Malek in The Pacific and they became friends. British actor Gwilym Lee is lead guitarist Brian May. Ben Hardy, an up-and-coming Brit, plays drummer Robert Taylor. Lucy Boynton, also a young Brit, plays Freddie’s girlfriend of 6 yrs turned close friend- Mary Austin. Game of Thrones fans will be pleased to see Aiden Gillen; he plays manager John Reid. Mike Myers (of SNL fame) has a small, yet pivotal, role as the music producer who let Queen get away- Ray Foster. Tom Hollander, a veteran Brit who has worked in both comedy and drama, plays lawyer Jim Beach.

The real-life May and Taylor served as executive producers; they had approval over the script, director, casting, etc. Thank goodness they got rid of Sasha Baron Cohen! There was an extensive search for the lead; MANY critics thought that Malek was wrong for the role. If you compare photos, Malek doesn’t resemble Freddie much, aside from the strong/square jawline and similar skin tone. However, as we’ve seen in other movies, it’s NOT merely re: looks; it’s about who can inhabit the real-life character. Freddie’s younger sister (who consulted on this film) was even impressed! After seeing the actual Live Aid performance (thanks to YouTube), I can say that Malek has transformed himself (voice, posture, body movements, etc.) The singing in the film is that of Freddie, a Canadian male singer, and Malek’s voice all mixed together.

The chemistry between Malek and Boynton is terrific; they are currently in a relationship off-screen. Freddie and Mary have a strong friendship and deeply love each other, BUT he reveals that he is also attracted to men. We also get to see a few of the men in Freddie’s life, incl. the opportunistic asst. manager, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech- a long way from Downton Abbey), and down-to-earth waiter, Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). I wasn’t sure at first, BUT there is a brief cameo from singer Adam Lambert (one of the winners of American Idol).

We get to learn re: Freddie’s family (Parsis of Zoroastrian faith expelled from Zanzibar, Tanzania), how the band got together in the early ’70s, the evolution of some (VERY famous) songs, Freddie’s love of cats, and more. Each band member has his own hairstyle, fashion sense, personality, and songs he writes for the various albums. They eventually call themselves “family,” BUT no family is w/o its problems. While the other men marry and have children, Freddie continues w/ his hard-partying lifestyle. Mary gets involved w/ another man. In the early ’80s, Freddie goes off to Germany to work on two solo albums. When the call for Live Aid comes, he doesn’t realize (at first) how important it could be to the band. Freddie knows that he may NOT have much time left, as he is experiencing symptoms related to AIDS.

Vice (NOW PLAYING) starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, & Steve Carell

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

One of my good friends/nabes (along w/ her old college pal) had tickets to this new film at AFI on Christmas; I joined them b/c was VERY curious to know more re: Dick Cheney. Also, I don’t think I’ve seen anything by the director- Adam McKay- who has worked w/ BOTH Bale and Carell in The Big Short (need to check it out on Netflix). McKay’s directing style is NOT very subtle! There are touches of humor though, BUT don’t expect a multi-layered biopic of Cheney. Also, don’t expect to root for anyone here (IF that’s what you usually look for at the movies). McKay is uber-liberal and doesn’t care who knows it; in fact, there is a mid-credits scene that explains this (my friend LOVED that). If you’re also liberal, keep up w/ the news, and LOVE Bale- this film is for you. Otherwise, you can watch it out later (NOT necessarily on the big screen).

Bale (one of my faves since Little Women) is completely transformed- weight (he gained about 40 lbs), hair, posture, and voice! He really commands the screen w/o saying TOO much or making many gestures. Amy Adams (as usual) does a fine job; I learned new things re: Lynn also, NOT just the former VP. Bale and Adams have great chemistry, so make a believable long-term couple. There is even a brief Shakespearean scene. Is it over the top and unexpected? Yes, BUT I (along w/ a few others in my small audience) were amused by it.

Speaking of screen presence, Steve Carell is getting better and better w/ age; he does a great job as the tough-talking/scheming political animal- Donald Rumsfeld. Did you know that Rummy was a mentor to Cheney starting from when he was an eager-to-please young intern? I was surprised by this, as well as their (evolving) relationship over the decades. Dubya is played (for laughs) by Sam Rockwell; he’s NOT one of my faves, BUT does OK w/ what he has been given. He does get Dubya’s facial expressions and confusion right. Just HOW MUCH power did Cheney have as VP? You MAY be shocked (or NOT) to find out!

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan (Amazon) starring John Krasinski

So you MAY have heard that this ain’t your dad’s (or grandpa’s) Jack Ryan! There are MANY negative reviews (bordering on Islamaphobic) to be found re: this new Amazon series. FYI: It has been renewed for S2. I saw the 8 eps over a 3-day weekend soon after its release; I thought it was meh (like some critics I follow). The writing is (mostly) predictable; I wanted to see a LOT more depth. You can check it out; it keeps your attention (w/ its editing/pacing, high production value, and a few unique characterizations). The action (if that’s your thing) is well-done; Michael Bay is one of the executive producers. Carlton Cuse (Lost) is one of the creators.

Jack Ryan (John Krasinksi) is a 30-something former soldier w/ a PhD working as an “analyst” (they don’t say “officer”) for the CIA. He rides his bike to work, dresses preppy (BUT has a V fit body underneath), and works in a (nice/modern) cubicle. One of his young co-workers is played by Mena Massoud (who will be star of the new live action Aladdin); he doesn’t have many scenes. Jack’s direct supervisor, James Greer (Wendell Pierce- one of my fave actors), has been aged down and is a Muslim convert divorced from his Arab-American wife. THIS is one of the points that that die-hard Clancy fans objected to in their reviews. There is a scene early in the series where we get to know a BIT re: Greer’s family life, incl. his conflicted relationship w/ Islam. He meets w/ an older immigrant man at a little cafe who says that he is missed at the mosque (masjid); I haven’t seen a scene like this on ANY (network) show!

In the Harrison Ford helmed movies, Jack is older and has two young kids w/ his eye doctor wife. Here, Jack’s future wife- Dr. Cathy Mueller- is an epidemiologist. Cathy (Aussie actress Abby Cornish) tells a work friend that Jack’s NOT like the guys she usually goes out w/; perhaps he’s more brainy, reserved, and unsure of himself (when in comes to romance). Their paths (work-wise) eventually cross; this is a staple in MANY network TV shows and movies. Some Clancy fans didn’t like this coincidence; I wouldn’t have cared IF Krasinski and Cornish had chemistry onscreen. I’m sure there are MANY other actresses who could’ve done better w/ this role.

The villains of this story are NOT cartoonish stereotypes; Suleiman (Ali Suliman), is a former banker who grew up partly in the ghettos of France w/ his artistic younger brother, Ali (Haaz Sleiman from The Visitor). As kids, they survived the bombing of their hometown in Libya. Suleiman has a young/beautiful/clever wife, Hanin (Dina Shihabi), as well as three children who live in a spacious compound in Syria. Shihabi grew up in Saudi Arabia and (quite naturally) portrays a woman who would do anything to protect her kids. I hope this actress gets more roles! There is great (familial) chemistry between the actors, making them believable as brothers. How did they become terrorists? We get to see the backstory (also unusual in a typical network show). As some viewers noted, these characters are MORE interesting than the Westerns who are on their trail.

Below are excerpts from some IMDB reviews:

The writing is far from great. This could’ve been an amazing series, but instead the writing is very TV. Also, I can’t with the love interest. Her acting is terrible and there is zero chemistry between them.

If you are new to Clancy, or the action spy drama all together, you will probably enjoy this. The acting, action, and production value will carry it a long way.

…it doesn’t break any new ground. But it provided a season of tense, tight entertainment, if this is a genre that you find appealing. There, of course, is lots of violence, some of it graphic… but I thought all of the particulars of good visual storytelling were present.