Watch the Bard Week: Coriolanus

Coriolanus is currently available on instant Netflix

One-Line Review: Excellent updating of Shakespeare’s play.

CoriolanusCoriolanus (2011) – Rated R

Actor Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this modern update of Shakespeare’s tale about the arrogant general who is banished by the republic he has protected at all costs, provoking him to ally with former foes and wreck a bloody revenge.”

He that will give good words to thee will flatter beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you, the other makes you proud. He that trusts to you where he should find you lions, finds you hares; where foxes, geese. Who deserves greatness, deserves your hate.”

We initially started to watch Coriolanus some time ago but had to quickly stop it because of our granddaughter. We had not noticed the R rating when it came on – be assured this movie is quite violent and not for the kiddies. We finally got a chance to watch it recently, sans child.

During the 90s, Ralph Fiennes quickly shot up the acting charts, landing the romantic lead in Wuthering Heights and being nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. He received a Best Actor nomination as the romantic lead in The English Patient and this would normally have cemented him as a leading man. Unfortunately the science fiction epic Strange Days and attempted blockbuster The Avengers (1998) were complete bombs at the box office and Fiennes was relegated to smaller films, smaller roles, and voiceover work.

In 2005, he landed the plum role of Voldemoort in the Harry Potter series. Unfortunately, when he was cast as Hades in Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans, they essentially made him redo Voldemoort. Perhaps this is what caused him to move into directing with Coriolanus.

Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays. Fiennes updates it, making it a modern conflict and using the play to say a lot of things about politics and the media. In this it succeeds quite well, once again showing the Bard as relevant as ever. The combat is handled impressively, albeit on a small scale. Coriolanus has a nice crowd-turning scene a la Mark Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar.

Ralph Fiennes is quite impressive as the arrogant Caius Martius Coriolanus. Gerard Butler acquits himself nicely as his foe, Tullus Aufidius, in both the action sequences and the dialogue. Brian Cox, James Nesbitt, and Paul Jesson engage as politicians. Vanessa Redgrave shines as Volumnia, mother to Coriolanus. Jessica Chastain has less to do as Virgilia, Coriolanus’ wife.

The majority of Coriolanus was filmed in Serbia. If you read the credits, most of the non-speaking roles are filled with names ending in ‘vic’. It is somewhat ironic as Coriolanus details strife between the Romans and the Volsces. The industrial look found in most Serbian films is found here as well but it works quite well in context.

Fiennes’ direction is assured. Cinematography is excellent. Action sequences are exciting and Shakespeare’s marvelous language survives intact. This is the counterpoint to Taymor’s dreadfully campy Titus Andronicus.

Coriolanus has been on Netflix for a while so catch it before it disappears.


Tales of the Black Freighter – Don’t Get on That Boat! week

This is Don’t Get on That Boat! week. Tales of the Black Freighter is currently available on instant Netflix.

Tales of the Black Freighter

WATCH: Tales of the Black Freighter (2009) – Rated R for violent and grisly images

“This animated short — based on the story-within-a-story in the graphic novel Watchmen — follows a shipwrecked sailor as he endures ghastly horrors to get home and protect his family from an attack by the evil pirate vessel Black Freighter. But as he sails a raft made from the bloated corpses of his former crew, the young mariner descends into delusion, madness and worse. Gerard Butler narrates this companion to 2009’s live-action film Watchmen.”

“One of my crew lay ahead. Birds were eating his thoughts and memories.”

First a word of warning – this is indeed an R-rated cartoon. It is violent, grisly, and disgusting. Of course that should be obvious from Netflix’s description and my choice of quote.

In Watchmen, Alan Moore envisioned that in a world where superheroes were real, ordinary people would read comic books about pirates and horror stories like the old EC comics (Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror). His comic within a comic reflects the descent into madness of one of his characters as well as the world in which they live.

This movie is short – only 25 minutes long. The animation is done in a good clean, albeit direct to video, style. The visuals are of course based on Dave Gibbon’s original drawings. Gerard Butler’s narration is excellent and fits the tone of the story well.

My recommendation is a little bit mixed.

If you read and enjoyed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen then I absolutely highly recommend this even though the story is taken out of its proper context. Instant Netflix also has Under the Hood available which is a faux documentary interviewing the original Nite Owl and Silk Spectre. Under the Hood is not as entertaining but is free.

If you have not read the classic that is Watchmen, YOU SHOULD DO SO NOW! Barring that, this cartoon can be enjoyed on a Tales from the Crypt (minus the snarky Cryptkeeper) level. Keep in mind while watching it that this was written well before Castaway (before you notice a number of similarities especially Wilson).

People Watch: Jared Harris is the voice of Ridley. He is also David Robert Jones on Fringe and Lane Pryce on Mad Men. The song playing over the end credits is performed by Nina Simone.