Cyrano

Posted on January 31, 2022 at 6:48 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some strong violence, thematic and suggestive material, and brief language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Sword fights and battles, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie, but transphobic humor
Date Released to Theaters: February 4, 2022
Date Released to DVD: April 18, 2022

Copyright 2021 MGM
Cyrano” is a gorgeous film, a true labor of love. The basis, of course, is one of the great classic plays of all time, Edmond Rostand’s 1897 Cyrano de Bergerac, inspired by a real soldier/writer. Jose Ferrar won an Oscar for his performance as the title character in a 1950 film. The story of the man who cannot tell the woman he loves how he feels because of the way he looks has been adapted and rebooted many times, with probably the best known Steve Martin’s Roxanne and most recently set in a high school in “The Half of It.” Everyone can identify with a character who is afraid to approach the object of their affection and everyone would like to identify with a character whose wit is as ready and sharp as his sword. In the original and the Steve Martin version, the main character’s rapier-like comebacks to a thoughtless bully are a highlight.

In the original and “Roxanne,” the impediment is a nose so big that the Cyrano character believes no one can see him as a romantic partner. In this swooningly romantic new version, set, like the original, in the 17th century, the physical obstacle is size. Writer Erica Schmidt adapted the play as a musical to be performed on stage by her husband, actor Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) as Cyrano, and ravishingly lovely Haley Bennett as Roxanne. They play those parts in this film, directed by Bennett’s significant other, Joe Wright (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice”)

Roxanne is loved by three men: Cyrano, the handsome but better-with-a-sword-than-with-poetic-love-letters Christian (Kelvin Harrison, Jr. of “Waves”), and the selfish, predatory De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). Cyrano has been her closest friend and confidant since childhood. De Guiche is pressuring her to marry him. Her maid reminds her that she has no money and no other options for supporting herself. But one night at the theater, she glimpses Christian, a newcomer to the military unit where Cyrano serves, and she loses her heart to him. Cyrano agrees to ghost-write love letters from Christian to Roxanne. He pretends it is to help the new recruit but in reality it is to have his one chance to tell the woman he loves how he feels, even if the letters are signed by someone else.

In a way, Schmidt is giving her words to the man he she loves so that we can see him the way she does, gallant, mordantly witty, a brilliant actor, and a person of deep and generous humanity. A scene where he is almost about to dare to hope that Roxanne will say she loves him, the emotions that flicker across his face as he is almost successful maintaining his composure is one of the most touching moments on screen this year.

With Schmidt and Wright creating the words and images for the people they love, in spectacularly beautiful costumes (Massimo Cantini Parrini and Jacqueline Durran) and settings (Sicily filling in as 17th century France) with music and even some dance numbers, the unabashed romanticism almost bursts out of the screen. Bennett makes a lovely Roxanne, clever and spirited but allowing her own romanticism to blind her to the love that is already hers. Mendelsohnn seems to specialize in bad guys these days, and this is another strong performance, De Guiche’s brutality glimpsed under a very thin veneer of suavity. Harrison makes a gallant Christian. But it is Dinklage who is in every way the heart of the story. Just as we get to see Cyrano finally use his own words under cover of darkness to play the part of the man whose outside matches his inside, in this film we get to see Dinklage take center stage, with a performance of heart-stopping vulnerability. Rostand would be proud, and so would the man who inspired the play that continues to capture us more than a hundred years later.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language, sexual references, sword fights, and battle scenes, with characters injured and killed.

Family discussion: Should Cyrano have told Roxanne how he felt? If so, when? Is there a time when you misjudged someone based on looks or when you were misjudged?

If you like this, try: “Roxanne” and the Ferrar and PBS versions of “Cyrano de Bergerac”

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Trailer: Cyrano, Starring Peter Dinklage

Posted on October 7, 2021 at 9:56 am

This new version of the play about the man who can only woo the woman he loves through letters signed by someone else looks gorgeous, and swooningly romantic. For earlier versions, see Jose Ferrar in “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Steve Martin’s modern update, “Roxanne.”) Peter Dinklage has all of the dash and world-weariness we want to see in the character and up-and-coming stars Hayley Bennett and Kelvin Harrison, Jr. look like they will cross over into well-deserved mega-stardom from this film. Can’t wait.

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Anna Karenina

Posted on November 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Director Joe Wright and his favorite star, Kiera Knightley (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement”) have produced a ravishing, highly theatrical version of Leo Tolstoy’s classic “Anna Karenina.”  It is deeply romantic but has more focus on the social and political context than many of the previous versions of the story.  It literally opens with the rise of a curtain over a grand proscenium stage, and throughout the film the story flickers from movie-style reality — not documentary but an integrated dramatic narrative — to something resembling a live production of a play or ballet.  At one intensely dramatic moment, the story literally and metaphorically spills over the edge of the stage for a shocking denouement.

Anna (Knightley) is a young mother married to the stiff but not unfeeling husband Karanin (Jude Law).  He cares for her but is very caught up in legislative and governance issues.  When we first see her, Anna is preparing to leave her home in St. Petersburg to go to the aid of her brother, Stiva (Knightley’s “Pride and Prejudice” co-star Matthew MacFadyen) and his pregnant wife, Dolly (“Boardwalk Empire’s” Kelly Macdonald), who is devastated when she learns he has been having an affair with the governess.  Anna hopes she can help the couple reconcile.  And she is not unhappy about spending time in Moscow, going to parties and concerts and mingling with members of society.

There she meets the dashing officer Count Vronsky  (Aaron Taylor-Johnson of “Kick-Ass” and “Savages”).  Vronsky is a bit spoiled by a life in which everything has come easily to him — good looks, money, women.  He is flirting with Dolly’s sister, an innocent young princess named Kitty (an excellent Alicia Vikander).  Stiva’s close friend Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), a shy but true-hearted landowner, loves Kitty.  He proposes, but, believing Vronsky will ask her to marry him, Kitty turns down Levin’s proposal.  Vronsky has just been flirting with Kitty.  He is drawn to Anna.  She is drawn to him, and returns home to put some distance between them.  He pursues her, and finally, she is overcome.  Besotted by him, she is overcome in every way, breaking every rule, ignoring every convention, the freedom as heady as the romance.

Like too many lovers before her, she believes that love is enough, that the world will support her, that nothing else matters.  She once counseled Dolly to rise above Stiva’s infidelity.  But she does not have any sympathy for Karanin’s humiliation or any gratitude for his willingness to stand by her, even when she is pregnant with Vronsky’s child.  Vronsky genuinely cares for her and does his best but he is out of his league.  When Anna realizes that society has no place for her anymore, she is devastated.  Tolstoy’s focus on the reunited Levin and Kitty, far from the glittering parties and gossip, contrasts the hypocrisy, artificiality, and sterility of the upper class with the authenticity and humanity of the people who work the earth and care for the sick.

Wright has a magnificent gift for images and a remarkable fluidity of camera movement (remember that bravura sustained shot on the beach in “Atonement”), all used in service of the story and characters.  The camera circles as the story does, with rings of parallel but contrasting stories.  Watch Anna’s costumes, elaborate, constricting at first and then simpler.  In the midst of her passion for Vronsky, they both wear white, as though they are removed from the rest of the world.  Later, she’s swathed in black.  Watch for images of omens, and images that compare or contrast the human world and the animal world, the fake and the real.  By embracing the artificiality of the form, Wright illuminates not just Anna’s anguish but Tolstoy’s vision.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and situations with some explicit images and suicide and a brief shot of a mutilated body.  Characters drink and abuse alcohol and drugs and there are tense and unhappy confrontations.

Recommendation: Mature teens-Adults

Family discussion: Tolstoy famously begins this book by saying that all happy families are alike but each unhappy family is different in its own way. Do you agree? How does the theatricality of the setting affect the story?

If you like this, try: the other versions of the story, especially the movies with Greta Garbo and Jacqueline Bisset, and the book by Tolstoy

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Interview: Director Joe Wright of “Anna Karenina”

Posted on November 14, 2012 at 8:00 am

I spoke to one of my favorite directors, Joe Wright (“Pride and Prejudice,” “Atonement,” “Hanna”) about his sumptuous new film, “Anna Karenina,” starring Keira Knightley.

One of my favorite scenes in the film reminded me very much of one of my favorite scenes in “Pride and Prejudice,” using intricate choreography of dance and camera movement to tell the story. So tell me a little bit about how you put that together.

I really loved doing the dance in “Pride and Prejudice” and I haven’t had an opportunity to do it again and perhaps, further what I did in “Pride”—so I really took this film on as an opportunity to kind of create a ballet with words. And the dance in the ball especially, I wanted to push further than I had. With “Pride,” some things happened by accident, the moment where everyone disappears in the dance and Elizabeth and Darcy dancing by themselves was an accident.  So there were lots of things that happened there that I kind of had touched upon that I wanted to return to and explore more fully. I like dance a lot and I go and see a lot of dance in London, and one of the choreographers I most admire is a guy called Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, who’s a Belgian/Moroccan choreographer. I’m a huge fan of his work, and so I asked him to come and collaborate on this movie, and really handed certain sections of the film over to him.

We had a three week rehearsal period and probably a good week of that (if not two) were spent doing physical workshops and thinking about the performance and the characters and the physical context. So all of that I found fascinating and then Labi and I worked on—well, he worked on the choreography for a long period and I’d go and visit him in Antwerp and we’d discuss. One had to be kind of telling that story. One couldn’t just kind of go off into pure formalism, it had to be at the service of the story. So I was always keeping an eye that were were telling a story, and he was coming up with his gorgeous ideas.

A lot of the music was composed prior to shooting, music that is involved in the dances but also what would be called the score, and so it allows the performers and the camera operators a sense of the rhythm, and I particularly asked Dario Marianelli, also, to reference Stravinsky and the composers who were more influenced by Eastern atonal harmonies and stuff, partly because I have a love of that music, but also to give a sense of the breadth of the nation, of something not entirely what we think of as being European.

The costumes are not just beautiful and very striking and distinctive.  They help to define the characters.

You know, the first thing that Jacqueline Durran and I decided was that we weren’t particularly interested in creating historically accurate costumes. I like the silhouette of the 1870’s dresses, the big bums at the back and all of that stuff, but I didn’t like the detailing of them. They’re very fussy and prissy, lots and lots of lace and lace and lace and ribbons and all of that stuff—which I find I don’t like very much. So we took the silhouette but we also looked at, in particular, some Christian Dior dresses from the 1950s and noticed that the silhouette was very similar. So we really kind of created a style of dress that was somehow working with both of those influences. And obviously with Anna, you wanted a sense of her wealth and her sophistication.  Keira is a little bit younger than Anna is described as being in the book, here, I think, 26 or 27, Anna is 28 and Anna is a mother so we wanted to kind of give her a status in the costumes as well, a little bit of age. And also this sense of—I like the kind of drapery of it, the dresses are quite draped, they feel like they could kind of almost fall off on any moment. And you also work with what an actor has got, and Keira’s got this exquisite back, and so the green dress in “Atonement” and the dresses here show off her back.

We wanted to avoid the scarlet woman so we didn’t use too much red in her costumes. She becomes more flamboyant as the affair goes on, and so do her clothes. It’s almost like she gets involved—I kind of think of Princess Betsy, Vronsky’s cousin, as being like the Kate Moss of the period. So although she’s been moving in this very kind of high society prior to her affair, it’s the society that’s almost like a political society, it’s quite a conservative society that she’s been moving in. So it’s almost like she’s been hanging out in Washington and suddenly discovers New York club scene or something. And so she becomes more kind of flamboyant and risky in her costume. So, you know…I also really love in the film what Jacqueline did with the costumes of the lower-class characters. A lot of those are influenced by quite Eastern design, sort of even as far as India, and that, to me, we did that to suggest the breadth of the country as well, of Russia at the time, so you had the Parisian influence with the high-society dresses but also the Eastern influence with some of the peasants.

I liked your more nuanced portrayal of Vronsky, who is often seen as just callous and superficial.

Vronsky’s one of the only characters in the book whose age isn’t specified, but he’s described as being a kind of boy soldier. He’s described as a kind of golden youth, and the way in which he falls in love is a very young kind of way. It’s very kind of, sort of puppy-doggish almost and reckless and open. He declares his feelings straight off. He’s never been hurt by love. And so it seemed appropriate to me to cast him younger than Anna, so that he’s, you know, 20, 21, and everything is fine until it’s not, and when Anna becomes frayed, he gets out his depth, you know? He doesn’t know how to handle this situation, it’s beyond his experience and his abilities and so he can’t really help much. Needless to say, though, he does love her, and he is honorable and he doesn’t leave her, you know? He sticks with her and personally, my opinion, he’s not having an affair with the princess. I think he probably thinks about it, but doesn’t, which is probably more honorable than not even thinking about it. And so I think he’s a good man, I just think he’s out of his depth.

The theatricality of the film is so well handled, illuminating, not distracting.

Thank you. The theater concept gave me a limitation and I find limitations quite liberating, creatively.  At the end of the day, this, as much if not more than any other film, relied on the close-ups of the actor’s faces, and when you’re in close-up, it doesn’t matter where you are, you know? The background is soft focus, and you’re engaged directly with the emotions of the characters…and I think probably 50 percent of the film is told in close-ups.  It feels to me like we’re in a period of new romanticism, where emotion is prized above all else.  Sometimes I like to have my critical faculties engaged when I’m watching a film, and people kind of, often studios, really, think that if you take the audience out of the emotion, then that’s some great taboo that you’re not allowed to do, that they have to have their suspension of disbelief there at all times. And I’m not sure that’s true, I think that’s underestimating an audience. I think an audience enjoys something perhaps a little bit more playful.

 

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Hanna

Posted on April 8, 2011 at 7:15 am

Director Joe Wright is fascinated with Saoirse Ronan’s blue eyes, entirely understandable. Her cerulean gaze is so pure, so clear, so direct, and at the same time knowing and innocent that it is perfect for the role of Hanna, a 16-year-old girl who has been trained as an assassin by her father, Erik (Eric Bana) and lived since she was a baby. They live in a frozen and remote corner of Finland, eating the wild deer and wearing skins to stay warm.

When Erik gives Hanna the choice to leave, here is what she knows: several languages and more than several ways to kill people, to be on guard even when she is asleep, that people will try to capture or kill her, and a fake backstory complete with the names of her school, best friends, and dog. Here is what she does not know: tea kettles and ceiling fans, music, other teenagers, families, small talk, and whether there is anyone she can trust.

She also knows that she is ready to leave Finland and ready to stop pretending to defend herself and do it for real. So Erik puts on a suit and walks off into the snow, leaving Hanna to be captured and fight her way back to meet up with him. Wright, known for classy literary adaptations “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement” makes this a thinking person’s action film with stylish fight scenes and a “Bourne”-like existential core. Hanna’s age and inexperience make her vulnerable despite her training. And like all teenagers, she is thrilled and a bit terrified by her discovery that her father did not tell her everything and does not know everything.

Only someone who has spent the past 15 years in a remote, snowed-in corner of Finland will not figure out where this is all going, but there is much to enjoy along the way. There’s a Luc Besson-ish detour as Hanna meets up with a traveling English family and is as flummoxed by their bickering and cultural references as she is beguiled by the song they sing together as they drive. We get our first look at Hanna’s nemesis, CIA hotshot Marissa (Cate Blanchett) in her apartment, all in shades of pewter except for her red hair, brushing her teeth with a ferocity that shows us her steely resolve, as slender and focused as a whippet. Marissa brings in a kinky free-lance agent played by Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins in Wright’s “Pride and Prejudice”).

Wright sets actions scenes on a loading dock and in a fairytale amusement park. A Hansel and Gretel candy house is a literally upside-down version of the snow-covered cabin she shared with her father. The references to Grimm work as well as the gritty chases and hand-to-hand combat. It’s a stylish thriller with a lot to watch and a lot to ponder.

(more…)

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