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.

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+

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: 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.

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.

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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