Rosaline Review

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most iconic stories in human history. William Shakespeare‘s tale of love, hate, and war has been told and retold across centuries.

The new Hulu film, Rosaline, asks the following question: what happened to Romeo’s (Kyle Allen) first love, Rosaline (Kaitlyn Dever)?

After being dumped for her younger cousin, Juliet (Isabela Merced), Rosaline will do anything to get him back. Adding to her troubles is Dario (Sean Teale), the guy her father wants her to marry. He is interested in her, but she only has eyes for Romeo.

Rosaline is fun to watch and entertaining. It is an interesting twist on a chronicle that we all know. Dever is perfectly cast as the title character, bringing a new perspective on Romeo and Juliet. As she does in Ticket to Paradise, she proves that has the romantic comedy chops to revive a genre that sorely needs a kick in the figurative behind.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Rosaline is available for streaming on Hulu.

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Ben and Beatriz: A Novel Book Review

Among the thousands of writers that have existed throughout history, there is only a handful who have reinvented or added to stories as we know them to be today. One of them is William Shakespeare.

Katalina Gamarra‘s new romantic comedy, Ben and Beatriz: A Novel was published last month. It is essentially Much Ado About Nothing set among a group of modern twenty-somethings. Beatriz Herrera and Ben Montgomery are as different as night and day. Beatriz is a queer, biracial Latina who can take you down a peg or two with her sharp tongue if needed. Ben Montgomery is an all-American boy who comes from a WASP 1% family whose politics couldn’t be farther from Beatriz’s.

Though they claim to hate one another, underneath that hate is an attraction that cannot be ignored. As their expectations about one another begin to dissipate, there is a question of whether they can be honest about their feelings and their future as a couple.

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I was so excited to read this book. Unfortunately, the excitement quickly turned to disappointment. The promises made by the description were not fulfilled. Though the reader is told that Beatriz is queer and trying to hide it because of the political climate, it was barely mentioned. I kept asking myself if it was just being used to pull in readers without truly exploring this part of her persona.

Though the author does a good job of balancing the original text while recreating it in our time, it cannot be overcome by the expectations that were not met.

Do I recommend it? No.

Ben and Beatriz: A Novel is available for purchase in bookstores.

Love in the Villa Movie Review

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous love stories in human history. William Shakespeare‘s tale of forbidden love set against a background of two warring families has touched generations of readers and romantics.

In the new Netflix romantic comedy, Love in the Villa, Julie Hutton (Kat Graham) is ready for the week-long vacation with her boyfriend to Verona, Italy. Instead, he decides that it is time for them to go their separate ways.

When Julie arrives in Italy, she discovers that the property she rented has been double booked. Charlie Fletcher (Tom Hopper) arrived at the home first and is refusing to find another place to stay. After they play a game of “top that” to force the other one out, they discover that they have a few things in common. Which of course, grows into a mutual attraction. But of course, there are barriers standing in their way.

Is it cute and charming? Yes. But it is also a little too predictable. That predictability comes from Julie’s GBF (gay best friend) and the return of both of their exes. I wish that the screenwriters would have transformed the narrative from hate to love a little sooner. It was also a bit too long. The last scene could have been cut down by a few minutes. I was almost wanting them to get together just so the movie would end.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Love in the Villa is available for streaming on Netflix.

Throwback Thursday: Thor (2011)

It has been said that pride goes before a fall.

In the 2011 film, Thor, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), is the firstborn son of Odin and Frigga (Anthony Hopkins and Rene Russo). The heir to the throne of Asgard, he thinks that he can do no wrong. When his arrogance gets him into trouble, Odin sends Thor to Earth (Midgard). Falling for scientist Dr. Jane Porter (Natalie Portman), he has to learn humility while saving both realms from his vengeful younger brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

This movie is so good. It’s funny, it’s charming and entertaining, and Hemsworth is the perfect actor to play the role. Hiddleston, as usual, is spot on and proves once more why he is one of the best actors around today. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the Shakespearean influence is subtle, yet powerful.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

P.S. Who else is excited for Thor: Love and Thunder. I know I am.

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Macbeth Broadway Play Review

Macbeth is a story of power, bloodlust, and the moral boundaries that will be crossed to remain in power.

The new revival of the infamous Shakespeare play opened on April 28th at the Longacre Theatre in New York City. Starring Daniel Craig as the titular character and Ruth Negga as Lady Macbeth, these two have one goal: the crown. They are not above shedding a little blood to both get to the throne and stay on the throne. As the bodies hit the floor, guilt begins to seep in, forcing the main character to question their actions.

This adaptation is not for the faint of heart, or for the Shakespeare purist. That being said, it is very well done. Set against a spare backdrop with color and gender-neutral actors wearing modern clothing, the story is as influential and potent as it ever has been. It speaks to the dark side of human nature and its consequences.

Among the lead actors, Negga’s performance stands out. Her Lady Macbeth is a woman who has the same ambitions as her husband. But because she is a woman, those ambitions must be hidden behind what is “appropriate” for a female.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Macbeth is playing at the Longacre Theater in New York City until July 10th, 2022. Check the website for tickets and showtimes.

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The Merchant of Venice Review

There is a reason we keep coming back to the works of William Shakespeare. Underneath the seemingly confusing language and 16th-century clothing are stories about human beings.

A new adaptation of The Merchant of Venice premiered at the Theater for a New Audience on February 5th in Brooklyn. John Douglas Thompson stars at the eponymous Shylock, a Jewish merchant, whose world is torn apart by two interwoven narratives. His daughter, Jessica (Danaya Esperanza) falls in love with and elopes with a Christian boy, Lorenzo (David Lee Hyunh). As a condition of her vows, she had to convert to Christianity.

Meanwhile, Bassanio (Sanjit De Silva) is in love with Portia (Isabella Arraiza). But he cannot marry her without money. Portia is an heiress whose potential marriage is tied to a challenge tied to her fortune by her late father. Bassanio turns to Antonio (Alfredo Narciso) for advice (and financial assistance) who turns to Shylock for a loan because of his own money problems.

I loved this play. For obvious reasons (ahem, antisemitism) this story is still too relevant. What made it unique was the multi-cultural colorblind cast and the modern clothing worn by the actors. The thing that strikes me about The Merchant of Venice is that if the word “Jew” is replaced by any other ethnicity, the impact would be the same. The hatred, the prejudice, and the accusations would be just as potent.

After watching Thompson play the role, I have a deeper understanding of his character. This is a man who has been verbally assaulted by his neighbors for years. The final nail in the coffin is the loss of his daughter, sending him over the edge and unable to hold in the anger that has been bubbling beneath the surface.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

The Merchant of Venice is playing at the Theater for a New Audience until March 6th, 2022. Check the website for ticket availability and showtimes.

The Tragedy of Macbeth Review

Politics and the want for power go hand in hand. Some people achieve this via hard work and making connections with those who can help you climb the ladder. Others cross moral and legal boundaries, and may even be willing to spill some blood along the way.

The Tragedy of Macbeth was released at the end of last December. An adaptation of the William Shakespeare play Macbeth, the film stars Denzel Washington in the starring role and Frances McDormand as his wife, Lady Macbeth. Returning from battle as a respected warrior, Macbeth wants one thing: to wear the crown. The first person in his way is his cousin and King, Duncan (Brendan Gleeson). Conspiring with his wife, they conceive a plan to remove all obstacles that stand in their way.

This movie is so good. Filmed in stark black and white with geometric shapes, the narrative is stripped down to its most basic premise. The chemistry is fantastic between the lead actors. I truly believed that Washington and McDormand were a married couple who are completely in sync with one another. The feeling that something otherwordly had a hand in the fate of these people was potent from the opening shot until the credits rolled.

We keep going back to Shakespeare’s work because it is timeless, universal, and thoroughly human. The Tragedy of Macbeth is just another reminder of why we return to his narratives again and again.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is presently in theaters and is available for streaming on AppleTV+

Joss Whedon Needs to Grow Up and Apologize

I’ve been a fan of Joss Whedon for more than twenty years. He is one of those writer/director types that is only bound by his imagination and his ability to create a compelling narrative.

Between Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, the 2012 Much Ado About Nothing, The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, etc, his career is nothing to sneeze at.

That being said, that does not mean that he has the right to be an asshole.

After multiple accusations of being an all-around jackass on various sets, he threw the blame back on the performers. Speaking of Ray Fisher (Justice League) he claimed that Fisher is a bad actor. If he was so bad, why did he not just fire him and recast the role? It wouldn’t have been the first time and I am sure that it won’t be the last time. The fact that he is making these claims now does not exactly hold water. At least Fisher was the bigger person, which I cannot say about Whedon.

Whedon also claimed that his working relationship with Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot went sour because her native tongue is Hebrew.

“I don’t threaten people. Who does that?” Whedon told New York. “English is not her first language, and I tend to be annoyingly flowery in my speech.”

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There are plenty of actors whose second (or third) language is English. That is no excuse for treating anyone on set as if they are an annoying fly needing to be squashed.

The key to any workplace success (regardless of where one works), is the capacity to be professional, even if we don’t get along with everyone we work with. Whedon either lacks this capacity or thinks that he is above it. Either way, he needs to grow up and apologize.

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West Side Story Movie Review

Regardless of whether or not one is a fan of Broadway musicals, they are likely to at least know of West Side Story. To make a long story short, it is Romeo and Juliet taken from Italy in the 16th century and put down in New York City in the late 1950s.

The reimagining opens as San Juan Hill, a neighborhood in Manhattan, is being torn down to become what we know today as Lincoln Center. Not surprisingly, the residents of this neighborhood are people of color, immigrants, and low-income Caucasians.

The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods. Riff (Mike Faist) is the leader of the Jets, who are all White. Bernardo (David Alvarez) is the leader of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks. Though he has a career as a boxer, he is equally concerned with protecting his family and his fellow Puerto Ricans.

Their fates are changed when Maria (newcomer Rachel Zegler) and Tony (Ansel Elgort) meet at a dance. Maria is Bernardo’s younger sister. Newly arrived in NYC, she is both idealistic and stubborn. Without their parents, the only maternal influence she has is Anita (Ariana DeBose), Bernardo’s girlfriend. Anita is spicy, whip-smart, and is eager to take advantage of the opportunities that lay before her. Tony is Riff’s best friend and his former second in command. After spending a year in prison, he wants more from life than being a hoodlum.

As the two fall in love and envision a life together, their relationship is tested by the violence around them. If they could get those closest to them to find a way to get along, Maria and Tony could have a chance at a future. But as lovely as that idea is, it will take a miracle to make it happen.

Kudos go to director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner. They took a chance on remaking a classic and succeeded. What makes it stand out from its 1961 predecessor is both the casting of Latinx actors and the understanding that socio-economic issues, politics, and racial strife is the backbone of this narrative.

The deliberate decision of seeking out and hiring performers who are from Latin America or of Latin American descent adds a feeling of authenticity that is missing from the original film. Even Rita Moreno, who is also Puerto Rican (Anita in the 1961 movie and Valentina, the co-owner of the pharmacy and widow of the late pharmacist in this adaptation) had her skin darkened.

If there is one performer who stands out, it is Rachel Zegler. In her first on-screen role ever, she shines as Maria. Her voice is absolutely stunning. Most young actors start out as background players or in small roles, slowly building up their resume. To come out of the gate in the lead role in a major movie and blow everyone away shows that she has nothing but a bright future ahead of her.

This narrative is as timely and powerful as it was sixty years ago. The problems have not changed, they just have different names and different faces. If nothing else, it reminds the audience that we have two choices. We can continue to figuratively shoot ourselves in the literal foot, or find a way to work tother.

Though it clocks in at a little over two hours, it is worth sitting through.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

West Side Story is presently in theaters.

Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Dogberry

*The schedule for the Character Review posts will be changing to Friday (or Saturday at the latest from now on).

*I apologize for not posting last week. Life got in the way and I also saw Billy Joel.

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about the characters from the William Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Read at your own risk if you have not seen the movie. There is something to be said about a well-written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front of us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations. Every serious drama needs a comedic break. Without it, the narrative could easily become emotionally heavy.

In Much Ado About Nothing, our comic relief is Dogberry. The local constable, he is responsible for the security of all who live in the area. But that does not mean that he is the most competent person for the job. Instead of leading his men and actively ensuring that all citizens and property are secure, he would rather provide the minimum amount of instructions possible and sleep on the job. Dogberry is also somewhat of a crime germophobe, preferring that his deputies catch the criminals, lest he is defiled by association.

When his men overhear that Don John is planning to use accuse Hero of cheating on her fiance, Claudio, they report what have heard. Knowing that this is his opportunity to impress his employer, Dogberry tries to explain to Leonato what has conspired. But he has both lousy timing and the inability to clearly make his case. Leonato dismisses him and prepares for the wedding that will not happen.

When Don John’s co-conspirators reveal the truth, Hero’s reputation is cleared and the criminals are brought to justice. Dogberry is honored for his work and move on with his life.

To sum it up: Dogberry is the release valve that the audience needs. Though his ability to do his job is reminiscent of the Keystone Cops, he is able to prove his worth by the end of the play. Even if we are laughing at him, knowing that the miscommunication between himself and Leonato turns this romantic comedy into a drama.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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