Henry V – Shakespeare Week

One of my favorite plays this past outdoor season was The Merry Wives of Windsor. The Merry Wives was written in part because Sir John Falstaff had proven to be a very popular character in the histories. Naturally I chose to go back to one of those histories.

Henry V is currently available on instant Netflix.

Henry V (1989) – Rated PG-13

“Making his directing debut, Kenneth Branagh does William Shakespeare’s play proud in this epic screen adaptation that follows headstrong King Henry V as he leads a heavily outnumbered army into a territorial war against France.”

“And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by from this day until the ending of the world but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers, For he today who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother, Be he ne’er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin’s day! “

Above is just a part of the rousing St. Crispian speech. As with any of Shakespeare’s plays, I could go on putting quote after quote. The bard’s facility with language is enviable. Laurence Olivier filmed a wonderful version of Henry V back in 1948 but I daresay that this Kenneth Branagh version is the definitive work.

Derek Jacobi is brilliant as the Chorus and does a wonderful job setting the stage. Branagh has Jacobi flex back and forth from a modern performance of the play to the actual time period. Where such transitions would be problematic, Jacobi is only heard in voiceover.

Kenneth Branagh’s performance as Henry V is electric. He knows exactly when to emphasize and when to underplay lines. Branagh is a man who lives and breathes Shakespeare. His St. Crispian speech is quite rousing.

Everyone else’s performance is spot on. Brian Blessed gives a very nuanced performance as Exeter, not something he is known for. Robbie Coltrane is excellent in his all-too-brief role of Falstaff. Judi Dench makes a great Nell and Emma Thompson has two scenes as Princess Katherine.

The only quibble I have with the film are the battle sequences. Probably due to finances but also because of the nature of plays, the battle scenes are of a much smaller scale than was historically the case. The slaughter of the French by the English longbow (over 3/4 of Henry’s army were longbowmen) is not really given attention here. Then again the sheer will of Henry and his ability to inspire is part of the theme of the play.

Oh wait I have one more quibble. After so thoroughly enjoying Falstaff, Pistol, Corporal Nym, and Bardolph in Merry Wives, I was disheartened to see how few survive Henry V.

People Watch: We missed him entirely but we noticed in the end credits that Christian Bale played Robin the luggage boy.

Aliens Attack! Men in Black III Edition

Men in Black 3 (2012) – Rated PG-13

“Agent J travels in time to MIB’s early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history. “

“Do you know what is the most destructive power in the universe?” – “Sugar?”

A decade and a half after the very funny Men in Black and a full decade after the ‘meh’ Men in Black II, we return to very funny with Men in Black III.

The “Back in Time” tagline of Men in Black III is absolutely wonderful. It is appropriate of course because the subject matter deals with time travel. Not only that but we’re talking about the second sequel to a film made fifteen years ago. The most appropriate use of the tagline though is that Men in Black III is a complete throwback to the way the first film was made.

Honestly I just wanted to do a review that said, “If you liked Men in Black then you will like Men in Black III” but then felt that I shouldn’t give it such short shrift. Men in Black III is good but not outstanding, funny but not uproarious.

Will Smith is more firmly in control and thus receives even more of the screentime. He is looking just a little older – not quite the man who ran down an alien. He is his always likeable, wisecracking self. Tommy Lee Jones returns as the ever scowling Agent K. He does a fine job here as always.

The real star though is actually Josh Brolin. He is so good as the younger Agent K that you forget that it is Josh Brolin. It really seems as if it is a younger Tommy Lee Jones. He steals every scene away from Will Smith and that is quite a feat.

Sadly Rip Torn is not in this one as Zed. He has instead been replaced by the wonderful Emma Thompson as Agent O. She doesn’t have much screentime but is always a delight. Alice Eve plays the young Agent O.

Jemaine Clement plays our resident baddie, Boris. If you aren’t familiar with Jemaine, you will swear that it is Tim Curry from both the voice and mannerisms. The cast is rounded out by Michael Stuhlbarg as the alien Griffin but it really is just Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the present and Will Smith and Josh Brolin in the past.

There are plenty of good jokes (and the usual number that fall flat). Neither time period is fully fleshed out but neither does either overstay its welcome. There is an excellent “twist” towards the end which is wonderfully handled.

Once again Rick Baker has filled the screen to bursting with as many different aliens in the background as possible. He won Men in Black’s only Oscar, Best Makeup in 1998.

Sucker Note: Attention theaters – all you have to do to get my money is serve your drinks in sturdy plastic ‘souvenir’ cups. I paid a dollar extra (each) to upgrade to this ridiculously mammoth cup just because I could use it later as a popcorn server in my movie room. The two lovely Men in Black 3 cups will join my two Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides from last year.

People Watch: Look for a delightful cameo by Will Arnett as Agent AA.