Posts Tagged ‘Joe Wright’

Hayley Bennett, Peter Dinklage

“CYRANO” My rating: B (In theaters)

124 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Like the works of Shakespeare, Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” is imminently adaptable; stage directors and filmmakers can revel in its timelessness while bending and stretching the material to match the current zeitgeist.

Every generation seems to get its own version of the swashbuckling warrior insecure in love because of his monstrous nose; past Cyranos include Jose Ferrer, Gerard Depardieu and, in a comedic updating, Steve Martin.

The new “Cyrano” from director Joe Wright is the same animal — but different. It stars Peter Dinklage, so memorable as Tyrion Lannister in “Game of Thrones,” and while this Cyrano excels at swordsmanship he is crippled romantically not by his big schnozz but by his diminutive size.

Oh, and did I mention that this is a musical?

Based on a stage production scripted by Dinklage’s spouse, Erica Schmidt, and featuring songs by Aaron Dessner, Bryce Dessner, Matt Berninger and Carin Besser (of the rock band The National), this lavishly mounted movie version takes a bit of getting used to.

In fact, it took a good 45 minutes for me to feel comfortable with its ambitious conceits.

Initially the uber-realistic 18th-century settings (it was filmed in gorgeous Noto, Italy, which apparently hasn’t changed in centuries) and sometimes graphic violence are a weird fit for a pop musical. And then there’s the nontraditional casting (lots of black faces) that may prove jarring for those expecting historical accuracy.

By film’s end, though, audiences will have been sucked in, thanks primarily to Dinklage’s riveting performance, an inspired blend of physical swagger and emotional reticence, tempered by a savage wit coexisting with a poetic soul.

The story remains pretty much the same. Cyrano has long been in love with childhood friend Roxanne (Hayley Bennett), but has never expressed his yearning, certain he would be rejected for his physical peculiarities. When Roxanne falls for his comrade-in-arms Christian (Kevin Harrison Jr.), Cyrano provides the attractive but tongue-tied fellow with romantic poems and sweet nothings (better to woo Roxanne once removed than not at all).

“I will make you eloquent,” our hero advises Christian, “and you will make me handsome.”

Meanwhile our three protagonists must stymie the machinations of the entitled aristocrat De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn), who not only has eyes for Roxanne but is Cyrano and Christian’s commanding officer.

Kevin Harrison Jr. as Christian

The essential “Cyrano” story remains as seductive as ever, and the performances are spot on.

Dinklage may have the greatest hangdog eyes in movie history, and he perfectly captures the character’s conflicting emotions (a cocksure cavalier when it comes to battle, a swooning romantic who is fearful of announcing his love). He’s less a singer than a Rex Harrison-styled reciter of lyrics…but it works.

Bennet nicely captures both Roxanne’s beauty and her childlike superficiality, while offering the production’s best singing voice; Harrison walks a fine line between Christian’s sincerity and his, er, intellectual limitations.

As a musical “Cyrano” is a tad half-hearted. There are only a half dozen numbers, and many of them feel more like fragments of songs than full-blown compositions.

At its best the score has a sweeping pop feel that reminds of early Kate Bush with a dash of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The highlight is the late-in-the-show “Heaven Is Wherever I Fall” in which three soldiers (one played by “Once’s” Glen Hansard) prepare for a fatal charge by writing letters to faraway loved ones. The tune’s throat-stopping blend of heroic fatalism, yearning, and lost possibilities is simply drop-dead gorgeous.

There’s relatively little real dancing here; Wright opts mostly for carefully staged crowd and camera movement. An exception is a number unfolding in a fortress where a regiment of sword-wielding soldiers perform a grand waltz (there’s even some break dancing dropped in).

| Robert W. Butler

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Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill

“DARKEST HOUR”  My rating: B

A confession.

I’ve often found Gary Oldman  a shameless scenery chewer. Villainous roles were especially problematic; you could actually see Oldman twirling his mustache, metaphorically speaking.

2011’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” gave us a more settled, thoughtful Goldman, who portrayed John LeCarre’s good gray spookmaster George Smiley with an admirable degree of restraint.

Now, in  “Darkest Hour,” Goldman tackles the iconic role of Winston Churchill, and it’s a match made in heaven.  Sir Winston was, after all, no slouch at scenery chewing; yet Oldman’s performance here is subtle and balanced, a deft blend of  bombast and inner activity.

It’s a performance of such insight and power — abetted by David Malinowski’s spectacularly effective makeup design — that it immediately propels Goldman into the front ranks of this year’s Oscar contenders.

Joe Wright’s film centers on one month, May of 1940, when the long-out-of-favor Churchill was elected Prime Minister after the collapse of Neville Chamberlain’s ineffectual government.

The P.M. is faced with seemingly insurmountable problems. The Nazis have taken over much of Europe and are pounding the British army at Dunkirk. If those 300,000 or so soldiers are captured or killed, it will leave Great Britain defenseless.

Voices within his own party are urging Churchill to sue Hitler for peace. It’s the only way to escape a bloodbath and an armed invasion.

Churchill doubts that Der Fuhrer is in any mood to grant concessions. If only he can save the troops waiting on the French coast, galvanize public opinion, and overnight turn his country’s prevailing ethos from dovish to hawkish. (more…)

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