Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

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The Montagues and Capulets have been replaced by two warring gangs of young men, fighting to retain unofficial control of what is left of their neck of the woods.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.

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Filed under History, Movie Review, Movies, New York City, Politics, William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Margaret

*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. Once again, I was juggling too many writing projects.

*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 (or any adaptation). 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. Love is a wonderful thing, but it can also go wrong.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Margaret is introduced to the audience as Hero‘s lady in waiting. Unlike her proper mistress, Margaret is always down for a good joke, even if it pushes boundaries. She is also known for her honesty, which draws her into the unwitting plan cooked up by Don John. Taking advantage of her feelings for Borachio (Don John’s right-hand man), she is used to convince Claudio and Don Pedro that Hero is cheating on her fiance.

To sum it up: While we laugh with Margaret, we also know that she has been used. Though she has done nothing wrong, she is an unwitting accomplice in nearly ruining Hero’s reputation. Love has not gone her way. But still, she walks away with a smile on her face and the respect of her employer.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

This will be my last Character Review post for Much Ado About Nothing. Come back next week to find out which group of characters I will be reviewing next.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Don Pedro

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

*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. We look to our leaders for support, comfort, and advice, believing that they are almost divine like due to their position. But as much as we may put them on a pedestal, we forget that they are human and as fallible as the rest of us.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Don Pedro is a nobleman who has just led his men on a victorious military campaign. He has also forgiven his brother, Don John, for an offense whose details are not shared with the audience. Upon entering home of his good friend, Leonato, Don Pedro has a hand in two different romantic couplings. The first is between his second in commend, Benedick, and Leonato’s quick witted niece, Beatrice. The second is match is between his young protégé, Claudio and Leonato’s daughter, Hero.

At the party that Leonato is throwing in honor of his guests, Don Pedro pretends to be Claudio. His aim to confirm the his young friend’s affections are being returned and to ask for Hero’s hand in marriage. What he does not know is that Don John’s perceived turnaround is an act. His brother is going to use Hero and Claudio to take his brother down. The engagement between the young lovers goes down without a hitch, not knowing that there is a plot afoot to tear them apart.

Also at the party, Don Pedro does something is completely modern and almost unheard of during Shakespeare’s time. Instead of trying to force Beatrice into the mold of what a woman in that era should be, he acknowledges that she is more than a sharp tongued harpy. When she turns down his own proposal, he accepts her response with an understanding comes up with the idea of bring her and Benedick together.

His fatal claw comes in not questioning Don John’s motives as to why he and Claudio are being shown that Hero in unfaithful the night before her wedding. Knowing that his brother has not been the most truthful in the past, he still believes what he is being shown. The day of their nuptials, he, along with Claudio, hurl the lies that they believe have killed an innocent young woman. Even when being told of her “passing” Don Pedro still believes the slander. At the end of the play, Don John has been revealed as the villain, Hero comes back to life, and the two couples walk into the sunset. When we last see him, he is being advised by Benedick to “find a wife”.

To sum it up: No one is perfect, as much as we would love to be. There is always something that can knock us down a peg or two. In Don Pedro’s case, that would be the belief that his brother is no longer the man he was. Though he, like Claudio and Leonato, do not apologize for believing the accusations against Hero and publicly shaming her, his image as a benevolent leader is still intact when the curtain falls for the last time.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Hero

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

*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. In a patriarchal society, a women’s value is based on her virginity. If g-d forbid she is not a virgin and without a wedding ring on her left hand, her reputation (and in some places, that of her family) is in tatters. She is called all sorts of not so nice names and becomes an outcast.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Hero is one of the play’s protagonists. Young, innocent, and sheltered, she is smitten by Claudio and he is equally smitten with her. Unlike her cousin, Beatrice, Hero is beholden to her father, Leonato. She is also not so quick to make judgements about others and has yet to be exposed to the potential heartbreak that comes with love.

Claudio and Hero get engaged in a blink of an eye and if all goes well, will be married in a week. But trouble, as it often does, comes in the most inconvenient of times. Accused by her betrothed and Don Pedro of cheating on him at the height of the marriage ceremony, she faints. When Hero wakes up, Leonato excoriates her for being sexually active and unmarried. Believed to be dead by Claudio and Don Pedro, Hero returns to life when Claudio publicly takes back his accusation and agrees to blindly marry her, not knowing that she is still alive. When the curtain falls, they ride off into the sunset, with promises of what will hopefully be a bright future.

To sum it up: Hero is the moral center of the play. She is a truthteller, but innocent of the games the people play and the lies they tell. She is also stronger than she appears to be. She accepts Claudio’s apology and is willing to give their relationship another chance. While another woman may just decide that he is not worth the heartache, Hero trusts him and their love enough to put the past behind them. She also appears to forgive her father, which again for some women would be impossible to do.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Beatrice

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

*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. When the one we love walks away, the emotional wound that is created by that loss does not always close quickly or easily. It sometimes festers, creating a wall to prevent future heartbreaks.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Beatrice comes off as a confident, smart mouthed, and distrustful of romance. When she meets up with her ex, Benedick, her response is to call him on what she sees as his bullshit. While everyone around them is enjoying their banter, they do not see that she is afraid of being vulnerable, especially in front of the man who she is not quite over. When she hears that he is in love with her, Beatrice loses her armor and becomes hopeful that their relationship will begin again.

Unlike her cousin, Hero, Beatrice is not willing to submit to marry whomever her father approves of. She will only walk down aisle if she can respect herself and be in an equal partnership. In her world, a married woman is legally the property of her husband. She has no right to property, to any income, or even to her own children. The only way to remain in control of her fate and maintain control of financial and/or material assets is to remain single.

The turning point for her narrative is after the aborted wedding of Hero and Claudio. Angered that her beloved cousin’s name and reputation has been blackened, Beatrice rages that the sexist and misogynistic ideas that have ruined her cousin. Though she is unable to challenge Claudio, she and Benedick walk into the sunset. She is no longer afraid of love and more importantly, in love with a man who will not force her to submit the traditional idea of what is it is to be a woman.

To sum it up: Being vulnerable is never easy. It is harder when the person we want to be vulnerable with is the person we love most. The fear of rejection is so prevalent that the immediate reaction is to put up emotional walls and pretend that the we are fine. Beatrice’s initial reaction to Benedick is hide her heart to protect herself. But she eventually learns that putting your heart on your sleeve is not a bad thing. We just need to trust our gut and hope for the best.

Which is why she is a memorable character.

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Much Ado About You Book Review

When life throws us a curveball, we generally have two choices. The first is to curl in a ball and let the grief take over. The second is to take a chance and try something entirely new.

Samantha Young‘s novel, Much Ado About You, was published at the beggining of the year. Chicago area thirty-something Evangeline “Evie” Starling has had it. After working for the same company for a decade, the promotion she has been hoping and praying for is given to someone else. Then the guy she has been seeing stands her up. Needing a change, she replies to an advertisement for an opportunity to temporarily run a bookstore in a small town in the northern English county of Northumberland. The package also comes with an apartment above the store. Entitled Much Ado About Books ( a play on the Shakesperean play Much Ado About Nothing), this lifelong fan of the bard leaves the US for a much-needed break.

What she finds is a new career opportunity, new friends, and an attraction to  Roane Robson, a local farmer who seems equally interested in her. But Evie is not looking for romance and tries to resist, knowing that giving in will result in another broken heart. But the more she tries to ignore the feeling, the more it grows until she finally has no choice but to give in.

What I appreciated about this book was the diversity of some of the characters and the subtle nods to some of Shakespeare‘s most famous and beloved plays. But ultamitely, the narrative is nothing more than a few notches above a Hallmark Channel movie. I have nothing against these films, but they are just a little too simple and predictable for me. The problem I have is mainly with Roane. He is a little too perfect. I needed him to be just a little more human and less cut from a generic romance novel.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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Much Ado About Nothing Character Review: Benedick

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

*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. Love, as wonderful as it is, can be a bit scary. We want to put ourselves out there, but the fear of having our heart returned to us in pieces can sometimes lead us to lock ourselves away as a form of protection.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Benedick is man’s man. A respected warrior fighting under the flag of Don Pedro, he gets along well with his fellow soldiers. But there is one area in which his bravado is challenged: women. That challenge, to be more specific is in form of his sort of ex, Beatrice. When they meet again after some time apart, they are quick to play a verbal insult game of “top that”. This leads to Benedick advising young Claudio on a possible engagement to Hero, the daughter of their host, Leonato.

At the masked ball, he begs his boss to give him any job that will send him away. But Don Pedro has another idea. He, along with Leonato, Hero, and Claudio, will make Benedick and Beatrice believe that one is in love with the other. That seems to go well, until the marriage ceremony of Hero and Claudio does not go as planned. After everyone else has left, they declare their love for one another. But there is still one obstacle to their happiness: Beatrice declares that if he truly loves her, would kill the man who left her cousin defiled at the alter.

Benedick takes up this charge and the culprit, Don John is brought to justice. The story ends with two weddings, Beatrice and Benedick (who finally publicly declare their love for another another) and Hero and Claudio.

To sum it up: Benedick is a man who loves completely and is loyal to those who love him in return. But that gets complicated when it comes to romantic love and the woman who is his equal, Beatrice. Their mutual past and the internal bruises that have not yet healed hide the true feelings they have for one another, but their hearts are revealed to create a happy ending for all involved.

Which is why he is a memorable character.

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Ophelia Movie Review

The good thing about adapting a Shakespeare play is the room to find a new narrative angle. The bad thing about adapting a Shakespeare play is how quickly it can go wrong.

The 2018 movie, Ophelia is a feminist re-write of Hamlet. The title character is not the mad prince, but his love interest, Ophelia (Daisy Ridley). Raised as an unofficial daughter of Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts), she is one of the Queen’s ladies in waiting. As with the play, Ophelia and Hamlet (George McKay) fall in love while his uncle Claudius (Clive Owen) usurps his dead brother’s throne and marries his widow. As the political turmoil and and the danger grows tenfold, she must choose between the man she loves and finding a way to survive.

Ridley is fantastic in the role, proving she can play other characters besides Rey. As is Watts, who also expands her role beyond the confines of the source material. The problem is that the promise of the drama is just that. While I would give it an A for effort, I am glad that I saw it on Netflix rather than pay money to see it in the theaters.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

Ophelia is available for streaming on Netflix.

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Thoughts On the West Side Story Trailer

Among the thousands of stories that have been written throughout humanity’s history, there is a reason that some have come down through the generations while others have been forgotten. Romeo and Juliet is one of these tales.

On Sunday, the trailer for the West Side Story reboot was released.

I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but this trailer is just what I need to entice me to see the movie when it comes out in December. The colors are bright and inviting. Director Steven Spielberg was wise enough to honor the original 1961 film via some of the visual aspects and hire Rita Moreno, who played Anita. Moreno singing “Somewhere” in the trailer is the perfect link between both adaptations.

If nothing else, the release of West Side Story is timely. Given what is going on in our country and our world these days, we need a reminder that love is possible, if we are willing to do the work.

West Side Story will be in theaters December 10th, 2021.

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The Vandalization of Those Synagogues in NYC Will Not Change My Faith

Hate is akin to an insidious disease. It takes over you, changing everything about your world and how you see it.

Over the weekend, four different synagogues were vandalized in the Bronx in New York City.

Whomever these people are, if they think that this act will scare me into changing my faith, they have another thing coming. I could go on, but I am going to let two wise men speak instead. Their truths are more powerful than anything I could ever write.

Pin by Cheryl Harris-dowling on Inspirational quotes | Yoda quotes, Fear  leads to anger, Fear quotes

Though I am sure that the justice system will do it’s job, it may not be enough to change the perspective of the perpetrators. I say, drop them in Auschwitz for a night. Let the spirits of those who were murdered teach the ultimate lesson.

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