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.

Demolition Man – The Expendables week

In honor of the upcoming Sylvester Stallone action extravaganza, this is The Expendables week. Our first star from the Expendables is Sylvester Stallone. Demolition Man is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Demolition Man (1993) – Rated R for non-stop action violence (I love that reason!) and for strong language.

“In the violent 1990s, a cop (Sylvester Stallone) catches a relentless killer (Wesley Snipes), and both end up in a cryogenic deep freeze. In the peaceful year 2032, the criminal emerges from his long chill and attacks the now crimeless California. Unable to stop the bloodshed, a “Big Brother” boss (Nigel Hawthorne) defrosts the murderers past nemesis, who struggles to adapt to the ways of a new world and a restless new partner (Sandra Bullock).”

“Dont you think…” – “I try not to – however you are young, think all you want.”

“We are police officers. We are not trained to handle this level of violence.”

Not only is this movie a guilty pleasure but it begins with a guilty pleasure. The opening sequence begins with a shot of the Hollywood sign on fire. We then track over south central L.A. under siege and our hero, John Spartan bungee jumps from a helicopter down to a rooftop.

There are a number of logical flaws in the script. The most prominent one occurs almost immediately. It is silly to think that the police could not reason out that the hostages had already been killed after discovering their bodies.

Sylvester Stallone is not only a good hero here but he also has good comic timing. He really sells the physicality of the action hero as well as the primitiveness of his methods. All this and he has the second most awesome main character name, John Spartan! (top prize still goes to Hiro Protagonist).

Wesley Snipes plays Simon Phoenix. He is absolutely gleeful in the role. Stallone wanted Jackie Chan for the role but Chan does not play villains. Snipes is a fifth degree Black Belt in Shotokan karate and studies kung fu and Capoeira. The director had to have Snipes slow down many of his moves in the film so that they could be seen.

Sandra Bullock has an early role here as a future policeman fascinated with the 20th century. She is as lovable here as she is in most of her roles. The following year Bullock would get her big break in Speed.

Comedian Denis Leary has a small but vital role. He plays Edgar Friendly, a rebel leader, and he has a hilarious Leary-esque monologue. His TV series, Rescue Me just became available on instant Netflix.

Benjamin Bratt appears as a policeman – he would later costar again with Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality. Rob Schneider also appears as a policeman and would later appear with Stallone in Judge Dredd.

Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Jack Black both appear in blink-and-you-will-miss-them roles and the voice of the computer is Adrienne Barbeau.

Product placement is hilariously rampant though not to the level of Waynes World. John Spartan requests Marlboros by name and Simon smokes them as well. Taco Bell actually features prominently in the plot and all of those sequences are hysterical.

The vision of the future given to us by the writers is not only filled with action but also pretty humorous. While there is a lot of language and violence that is at times grotesque, the humor is actually quite light-hearted in nature. This is not the dark sardonic future of Paul Verhoeven.

I heartily recommend this tongue-in-cheek futuristic romp – both for the action and the humor.

People Watch: Other Stallone films currently available on instant Netflix are Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Cobra, Tango & Cash, Rocky V, Get Carter, and Eye See You. As you can see there are quite a number of Stallone options.

Firefox – Clint Eastwood week

This is Clint Eastwood week. Firefox is currently available on instant Netflix.


PASS: Firefox (1982) – Rated PG

“When the Russians develop a Mach 5 jet with thought-controlled weaponry, the free world needs someone to go steal it from them to maintain the balance of power. Despite suffering from posttraumatic stress as a result of his Vietnam experiences, Mitch Gant (Clint Eastwood), who was once a hotshot pilot and speaks fluent Russian, is given the assignment. Nigel Hawthorne plays a Jewish dissident who aids Gant in his mission.”

“The American is a dead man, First Secretary.”

Yes, this movie is as jingoistic as that quote would lead you to believe. This movie is more groan-inducingly anti-Communist than Red Dawn but sadly not nearly so much cheesy fun.

I am very patriotic but the plot behind this movie is utter rubbish. The first two-thirds of the film involve people comically taking literal and figurative bullets for Gant to get him to steal the jet. I’ll sacrifice my life for Clint – no it’s my turn to to sacrifice my life – get out of the way!

The last third is Gant flying the plane. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to note that of course there is another Firefox (LAZY writing). A particular scene late in the film is literally lifted from Ice Station Zebra (way back in 1968). The plot is ludicrous as it is obvious to the Russians that Gant, an American, has stolen their plane.

Acting is just fine if not Oscar-caliber. Clint capably plays Gant. Nigel Hawthorne lends some weight as Baranovich and it is nice to see the fascinating Freddie Jones as Aubrey.

While Clint is, as always, eminently watchable, there is nothing special to recommend this film.

People Watch: Look for John Ratzenberger (Cliff from Cheers) as Chief Peck.