Watch the Bard Week: Richard III

Richard III is currently available on instant Netflix.


Richard IIIRichard III (1995) – Rated R

One-Line Review: Watch this outstanding movie now – the DVD is out of print.

“Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule.”

This version of Richard III is my favorite cinematic adaptation of the Bard. The alternate reality director Richard Loncraine creates for Richard III is inventive and fun. It was nominated, with good reason, for Oscars in the art direction and costuming categories. There is a wonderfully visual artistic sequence that I don’t want to spoil, save to say that Captain America appropriated it to good effect.

Ian McKellan gives a bravura, impish performance as the titular monarch. Even with later signature roles such as Gandalf and Magneto and a wonderful turn in Apt Pupil, I think this is his best performance. McKellan dominates every scene and single-handedly carries the film. He doesn’t need to though as he is supported by a stellar cast.

The cast is simply amazing. On the distaff side, Richard III stars Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, and the always wonderful Maggie Smith in juicy roles. Robert Downey Jr. is Lord Rivers and a veritable who’s who of British character actors are in support (Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, John Wood, Edward Hardwicke, and even comedian Tim McInnerny as Catesby).

People Watch: Look for a young (okay, younger) Jim Carter as Lord William Hastings though you will recognize him as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey.


Shakespeare week – Richard III

This is Shakespeare week on Instant Netflix. Another inventive adaptation of the Bard is Richard III by Richard Loncraine. Richard III is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Richard III (1995) – Rated R for violence and sexuality.

“Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeares classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule. Richard plots against his brother, Edward (John Wood), in his quest to usurp the throne, and will stop at nothing in pursuit of his goal. The film received Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design.”

“I that am rudely stamped, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world…”

For all the inventiveness of Romeo + Juliet, Richard Loncraine got there a year earlier with Richard III. Richard III begins with a teletype machine hammering out a message about the war and segues into a 1930s style war room and from there… well lets just say that that would be a visual spoiler only a few minutes into the film. Seriously though even if you do not choose to watch the film, watching the first three minutes will give you a wonderful idea of its chutzpah.

Star Ian McKellan co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Loncraine. While they have rewritten Shakespeare, fear not – The House of York speech and much of the original dialogue remains intact.

Ian McKellan is absolutely stunning as Richard. This should come as no surprise to those who have seen him steal every scene as Magneto in the first three X-Men movies or again every scene as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is practically a one-man show (as Richard III often is) and McKellan is riveting, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the camera.

McKellan is ably supported by John Wood as King Edward IV, Jim Carter as Hastings, and Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence. Jim Broadbent is very impressive as Buckingham. Robert Downey Jr. acquits himself well as Rivers but his recent performances have been more nuanced than this.

On the distaff side, Annette Bening makes quite a good American Queen Elizabeth but Kristin Scott Thomas has the juicier role as the cursed Lady Anne, a year before Kristin earned an Oscar nomination for The English Patient. She even gets to spit on Ian. It is of course a given that Maggie Smith is compelling as the Duchess of York.

While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for both Best Costume Design (Shuna Harwood) and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration (Tony Burrough). It lost both to Restoration. The set design, costuming and even the choice of setting in Richard III are fabulous as each descends into darkness and severity as Richard comes ever closer to his goal of the throne.

While there are a few niggling plot holes, due to Shakespeare and streamlining in equal measure, the film overall is quite wonderful and definitely a showcase for Ian McKellan.

People Watch: Look for Black Adder ninny Tim McInnerny as a very serious Catesby and The Wire star Dominic West (James McNulty) in his feature film debut as the Earl of Richmond.

WarGames – Weapons of Mass Destruction week

This is Weapons of Mass Destruction week. WarGames is currently available on instant Netflix.


PASS: WarGames (1983) – Rated PG.

“After cracking the security of an Air Force supercomputer, young hacker David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) moves his piece in a seemingly innocent video game and accidentally tells the computer to start preparing a preemptive nuclear strike. Driven by Cold War paranoia, director John Badhams techno-thriller follows Lightman and his girlfriend (Ally Sheedy) as they travel across the country to try and warn the military of the impending launch.”

“Is this a game or is it real?” – “Whats the difference?”

“He does fit the profile perfectly. He is intelligent but an underachiever; alienated from his parents; has few friends. Classic case for recruitment by the Soviets.”

Ah the film that began the multi-decade love affair between Hollywood and the hacker. This is the first movie to mention a firewall. As with almost all movies involving hackers or computers, the number of factual errors is enormous.

The acoustic coupler is completely unnecessary to the setup in Davids room (he has a normal modem). The autodialer cycles through phone numbers at a rate that no computer/modem of the time could possibly manage. Ditto that with the computer cycling through a brute force password hack.

Apparently David and NORAD both use the same voice synthesizer. As usual every word typed or shown on screen must be read aloud. It always makes me feel like I am wasting my time reading anything as it will be repeated soon enough. Well the important bits anyway – the voice synthesizer apparently picks and chooses what it repeats.

While there are a number of egregious computer errors, the script has a good grasp on hacker lifestyle at the time, both on the main character and on a few secondary hackers. At one point, David is shown coming out of the 7-11 with a Big Gulp – a pretty standard scene from my teen years though his goes a bit differently. The two secondary hackers are clearly social misfits as is David to a certain extent.

Badham does give us the requisite classic 80s montage. In this case it is a research montage instead of a workout one. We also get the requisite teenager who is smarter than everyone around him – ah if only the old folks would listen to him.

Much of the military is played as complete dunderheads. For example, immediately after the General is assured that the launch codes could only be used if we were at Defcon 1, he raises the Defcon level to 3 from 4. It does not appear to have been said ironically either.

Strangely this film was nominated for three Academy Awards. It was nominated for Best Cinematography, Sound, and Best Writing – Original Screenplay. It lost to Fanny and Alexander, The Right Stuff, and Tender Mercies respectively. The sound I understand but I did not find the cinematography impressive and the writing is riddled with plotholes.

I have to ask a lot of questions though.

Does NORAD really allow tour groups? Of the command center? With cameras? And where they do not know the head count?

Is it SOP for the FBI to arrest high school students in Seattle and then take them to NORAD?

Does NORAD really use Galaga sound effects? Does NORAD really use Beethovens Fifth to contact the President?

Certainly Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy are young and engaging here. John Wood is nice and quirky here and Dabney Coleman essentially plays the same character he always plays.

While this film is fun to watch, it is riddled with plotholes and errors and is very dated. I remembered really enjoying this film when it came out but I am afraid that I cannot bring myself to recommend it now. I do have to give it points for featuring Galaga so prominently though.

People Watch: Look for a very young Michael Madsen in the opening scene. Try not to picture him saying “Are you going to bark little doggie or are you going to bite?” Director John Badham is the voice on the tape recorder.