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By Jeffrey Sanzel

Cinderella has long been a cinematic staple, with various versions on the large and small screens. The story traces its roots to both Charles Perrault (1697) and the Brothers Grimm (1812), though the former gave us the glass slipper.

America’s sweetheart, Mary Pickford, appeared in the earliest known adaptation, the 1914 silent film. None is more beloved than the 1950 Disney cartoon, loosely remade as a live-action version in 2015, with a luminous Lily James. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has gone through three television incarnations, with Cinderella portrayed by Julie Andrews (1957), Lesley Ann Warren (1965), and Brandy (1997). Add to these the many appearances of the character in modernizations, sequels, spoofs, and revisionist fair. 

In addition, Cinderella has appeared in operas, ballets, and stage productions, including the 2013 Broadway production and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s current West End vision, replete with a Goth heroine. 

Kay Cannon, best known for the Pitch Perfect series, has written and directed the latest incarnation. The musical follows the basic plot: With the aid of a fairy godmother, an orphaned waif (put-upon by her stepmother and stepsisters) catches the eye of a prince and lives happily ever after. 

Utilizing pop hits, Cannon has created a peripatetic world in Candy Land colors and clashing patterns. The opening number, a mashup of Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Desirée Weekes’ “You Gotta Be,” plays like Beauty and the Beast’s “Belle” on speed. It is explosive and joyfully aggressive, setting the tone, more The Greatest Showman and less Disney. (Both pieces share the athletic and often delightful work of choreographer Ashley Warren.) Other numbers include “Somebody to Love,” “Material Girl,” and “Perfect,” all fairly well integrated.

Where this Cinderella departs is in its feminist viewpoint. Cinderella’s greatest desire is to design dresses for her own shop. Forbidden to pursue her dream by her stepmother, she also faces the town’s prohibition on women owning businesses. Cinderella’s quest is not for a man; it is for independence and a sense of self. Much of this is presented on the nose and succeeds because of a charismatic star. 

Singer Camila Cabello holds center as a strong, funny, and intelligent Cinderella in her acting debut. She also composed the movie’s (oft-repeated) “Million to One,” a predictable if tuneful number. Nicholas Galitzine’s Prince Robert has almost as much screentime. In line to be king, Galitzine alternates between traditional Crown Prince and frat boy. He is “charming,” if a bit bland, due to his ambivalence to his eventual succession. Unfortunately, his passivity makes him less engaging and no match for Cabello’s feisty, forward-looking Cinderella.

The rest of the all-star cast mostly triumphs over uneven material. The marvelous Idina Menzel, who has the film’s strongest voice, struggles with finding Cinderella’s stepmother Vivian’s center. She ranges from comic villainy to severely cruel, with peaking glimpses of humanity. Instead of creating dimension, the character feels unfinished. Maddie Ballio and Charlotte Spencer are hilarious and a pure delight as stepsisters Malvolia and Narissa. They deserved more screen time and a number to themselves as they become sidelined. 

The royal family features Pierce Brosnan as a king who is more bluff than gruff, Minnie Driver as his better half, and Tallulah Greive as the mildly scheming princess who aspires to rule. There is so much going on and yet very little result. Like with the stepsisters, Greive warranted a bigger presence. All three performances are good if incomplete.

Billy Porter is the Fabulous Godmother, and Fabulous he is. Porter should appear in every new movie, if not by his choice, then by Act of Congress. He brings hilarity, sensitivity, and depth to his five minutes of screen time.

The ensemble is composed of wonderful dancers who land the handful of lines peppered throughout the larger scenes. Cannon has corralled the company nicely — though she failed to mine a very funny piece of business with a royal choir. 

Ultimately, the entire movie is entertaining if unfulfilled potential, with the scales tipping back and forth. Five-note range generic pop songs follow clever lines. Spectacular dance numbers spell stretches of declarative dialogue telling us the ideas of equality rather than showing them. Cannon struggles to find a consistent writing style. Some moments swipe at a period quality. Other scenes aim for a tough, clear reality (a particularly awkward exchange between the monarchs that borders on embarrassing). But mostly, the dialogue is contemporary “sass,” which is what serves its cast best. It aims for “poppin’” (as one character states) but often tries a bit too hard.

While this Cinderella will never achieve status as even a semi-classic, it reflects its time. And, with a message of self-actualization, the solid cast is up to the telling. Like its prince, this Cinderella might not be Mr. Right — but it’s Mr. Right Now.

Rated PG, Cinderella is playing in select theaters and on Amazon Prime.

Peter Goldstein, staff pharmacist at Jones Drug Store in Northport. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Amazon says it can save people money on their medications, but local pharmacy owners say there’s a big problem with that: There won’t be that human element customers get from a pharmacist behind the counter if they order from behind a computer screen. 

This week the online retailer announced new pharmacy offerings to help customers purchase their prescription medications through Amazon Pharmacy — a new store on the website that provides an entire pharmacy transaction through an Amazon account. 

Mike Nastro, owner of Fairview Pharmacy in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“People like their community pharmacy,” said Mike Nastro, owner of Fairview Pharmacy & Homecare Supply in Port Jefferson Station. “I take care of the specialty patient populations that require intimate service — hopefully that will sustain me.”

Amazon Pharmacy states that by using a secure pharmacy profile, customers can add their insurance information, manage prescriptions and choose payment options before checking out. Amazon Prime members will receive unlimited, free two-day delivery on orders through the online shop.

But this announcement isn’t new, according to Nastro.

“They’ve been talking about this for a while,” he said. “It’s going to hurt the industry a lot. It may hurt the chains more initially, but it’ll hurt the entire brick-and-mortar industry.”

Two years ago, Amazon purchased PillPack, an online pharmacy startup, in a $753 million acquisition. 

“As more and more people look to complete everyday errands from home, pharmacy is an important and needed addition to the Amazon online store,” Doug Herrington, senior vice president of North America Consumer at Amazon, said in a statement. “PillPack has provided exceptional pharmacy service for individuals with chronic health conditions for over six years. Now, we’re expanding our pharmacy offering to Amazon.com, which will help more customers save time, save money, simplify their lives and feel healthier.”

Local pharmacies might be in danger with Amazon’s new pharmacy service. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Nastro said that there are many benefits with personal pharmacy service like privacy and face-to-face communication.

“We keep people out of the hospital by intervening, and by knowing the person and seeing what medications they’re on,” he said. “It’s an important role, and if that’s obliterated it will have an adverse effect on the medical industry.”

Peter Goldstein, a staff pharmacist at Jones Drug Store in Northport, said in the 30-plus years he’s been in the industry, Amazon will not be able to help patients like he and his colleagues do.

“I will put my service against any mail order or Amazon any day,” he said. “We know the patients, especially in the community. We know their family history and there’s so much that goes into it, that quite frankly people will miss. What will you do if your insulin gets sent to the wrong site?”

Goldstein noted something like storing medications at the required room temperature is an issue if it ends up sitting in a mailbox. 

“It’s personal touches that we take for granted,” he said. 

And one of those personal touches is quick delivery that Nastro’s store has been doing all along.

“We’re not there in two days,” he said. “We’re there in two hours.”

Michael DeAngelis, owner of Village Chemists of Setauket, said his family has owned their store since 1960. DeAngelis and his father saw the changes in pharmaceutical care throughout the years although this is a whole new level. 

Michael DeAngelis, owner of Village Chemists of Setauket. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“We managed to survive Genovese, Eckerd, Rite Aid and now Walgreens,” he said. “[Those stores] even sent people here to solve a problem or order something they couldn’t get.”

While COVID-19 has conditioned people to stay indoors more, DeAngelis said contacting a pharmacy store is a different experience.

“If you call the Village Chemists, you will not get a machine that makes you listen to an endless menu,” he said. “You will get a human being who will be more than happy to answer any of your questions.”

These local pharmacists want people to know they are here for them and will be, despite the larger competition coming their way.

“Community pharmacists are really your advocate,” Nastro said. “With Amazon, what you’re not going to have is that personal service. It’s not just buying goods — we both have medication — there’s a service that comes with that medication and that service keeps people out of the hospital. It keeps people alive.”

By Jeffrey Sanzel

Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables is not another remake of the Victor Hugo novel, nor does it have anything to do with the musical blockbuster or its clumsy cinematic version. In fact, it only nods to the original source in slight but ultimately important ways.  

This Les Misérables is set in the French commune of Montfermeil in 2018. In the novel, Montfermeil is where Jean Valjean rescues the abused child Cosette. In addition, the title has been translated as The Miserables, The Wretched, The Miserable Ones, The Poor Ones, The Wretched Poor, The Victims and The Dispossessed. Any of these would apply to the denizens of the contemporary Montfermeil.  (Contrary to various sites, Hugo did not write Les Misérables in Montfermeil, but rather when he was in exile, living in Guernsey.)  

The film opens in Paris, just after the French victory at the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It is a scene of celebration and harmony, where people of all ethnicities joyously connect. This is the sole moment of unity to be seen in the next ninety minutes.

Quickly, the action shifts to Les Bosquets, Montfermeil’s most notorious and crime-ridden social estate. Police officer Stéphane Ruiz, an emotional and moral core as played in a brooding, heartfelt performance by Damien Bonnard, has arrived for his first day, having been transferred from Paris, to join the anti-crime brigade. He is placed with the high-strung, abusive, and sadistic Chris (Alexis Manenti, dangerously mercurial) and the more laid-back Gwada (understated but wholly engaging Djebril Zonga), who grew up in the neighborhood. 

Chris and Gwada have been working this area for the past decade. At one point, the hairpin-triggered Chris states,“I am the law.” It is horrifyingly comic and twistingly reflective of how this community functions. It is just as skewed as Hugo’s wrongheaded but self-righteous policeman Javert.  (However, it should be noted, Javert is many things but crooked is not one of them.)

The plot centers around a teenager, Issa (a piercing Issa Perica), who has stolen a lion cub from a Roma circus and posted a picture on Instagram. This causes great unrest in the already volatile zone, divided by race and religion.  

Stéphane, Chris, and Gwada attempt to locate and return the cub, revealing the corrupt and cruel underpinnings of the area, ruled over by a mayor (played with a sly, controlled charm by Steve Tientcheu), an arch and accomplished manipulator. 

Confrontations ensue with the citizens of both African and Arab decent; the Muslim Brotherhood, run by former felon Salah (the subtlety dimensional Almamy Kanoute); drug dealers; and hordes of almost feral teenagers.  

Even after they locate Issa, it is an act of violence — revealed to be not as accidental as it first seems — that drives the latter part of the film. From then on, it is a race between the police officers and the various residents to track down the video from Buzz (wide-eyed and fearful Al-Hassan Ly), the boy whose drone recorded the incident. It all builds to a showdown that is both a literal and figurative conflagration.

The film depicts a wide range of abuses against poor citizens. To label them all as victims is to oversimplify and to take away the social and fiscal complexity of the issues. Many of them are held back by conditions beyond their control; but their reactions are often brutal and disproportionate, fueled by a distrust and deep-seeded anger.  

This is a world of temporary alliances but no allegiances. Amongst themselves there is hierarchy but no respite or solace. It is a constant struggle for survival through power and dominance and unflinching brutality. And, at the bottom, there are the disenfranchised teenagers of various ethnicities, portraits of seething unrest.

The film quotes Hugo: “Remember this, my friends: there are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators.” It is a reminder that this actions are the consequences of societally-made circumstances.  

Ladj Ly has directed this film with a relentless anxiety. Every moment is tension-filled; even in stillness, it holds its breath. The clock is always ticking and the countdown is to another moment of destruction in a sphere that is wracked by crime and poverty.  

One thing this Les Misérables shares with the original is its look at the law — not in black and white but in shades of terrible grays. But this is to be expected in a universe where an eye-for-an-eye can become literal. If you were looking for a film with clear good and bad and right and wrong, this is not it.  But if you want to be challenged, Les Misérables will resonate with a unique and unsettling power.

The final moment is the perfect metaphor: a Molotov cocktail burning down. Where it lands, remains to be seen.

In French with English subtitles, Les Misérables (Rated R) is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Photos courtesy of Amazon Studios