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.


Watch the Bard Week – Much Ado About Nothing

We love our local Montford Park Players. They put on Shakespeare in the park every weekend from May through September. Jason Williams’ marvelous production of The Merchant of Venice just ended its four week run and this weekend starts Ken Knight’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, which he is presenting as an 80s John Hughes movie. If you are ever in Asheville, you would be remiss if you did not attend.

Much Ado About NothingMuch Ado About Nothing (2013) – Rated PG-13

“A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words.”

One Line Review: Enjoyable but for fans of the Whedonverse or Shakespeare only.

We also caught Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing in its short run. We found it quite enjoyable but a little on the slight side. He did a wonderful job with a twelve-day shoot in his backyard. The black and white cinematography is excellent.

It was really nice to see Whedon’s supporting players Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker get starring roles and I found them delightful. Clark Gregg was wonderful as Leonato. Strangely the biggest name in the cast, Nathan Fillion, severely underplayed the role of Dogberry. Our local actor Matt Tavener did a better job on Montford’s last go around of Much Ado.

I am making this week – Watch the Bard, with several tempting offerings on instant Netflix.


Montford Park Players – FREE Shakespeare All Summer


Well you guys put up with my monthly plugs of the FREE shows at the Carolina, so let me plug another FREE set of shows in Asheville. The Montford Park Players put on an entire wonderful summer of FREE Shakespeare Plays outdoors at the Hazel Robinson Amphitheater.

Rain(Waiting in the rain for play to start)
Shows start at 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, and most Sundays. Donations are solicited at intermission but it is very low-key and you don’t need to donate if you don’t feel like it. Bring a picnic lunch with a bottle of wine or buy snacks and drinks while there. They often have The Chocolate Lab selling there as well as a hot dog vendor.

This year’s schedule of FREE plays:

May 31st to June 22nd – The Tempest

June 28th to July 20th – The Merchant of Venice

July 26th to August 17th – Love’s Labour’s Lost

August 23rd to September 14th – Hamlet


Valentine’s Day – I Love My Mummy!

I love my wife dearly. We never do much on Valentine’s Day and when we do, it is often low-key or unconventional. We loathe the ridiculous crowds and jacked-up prices of the holiday. One disastrous Valentine’s Day (when we were much poorer), I took her to Taco Bell and then to see Resident Evil. That was where I first learned that my wife is terrified of zombies.

This year, I hired one of The Montford Park Players to go to her work and read her one of Shakespeare’s sonnets (#116 if you must know – the one about Love being constant). My wife made me a book of “100 Memories & Things I Love About You” – she bound it herself and included a crisp dollar bill in between each page.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Tonight we are going to the Thursday Night Horror Show at The Carolina. Ken is playing a double feature of Universal’s The Mummy’s Ghost and The Mummy’s Curse. I wonder if it will be crowded for Valentine’s Day or empty – either way we will enjoy ourselves.

The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)

“An Egyptian high priest travels to America to reclaim the bodies of ancient Egyptian princess Ananka and her living guardian mummy Kharis. Learning that Ananka’s spirit has been reincarnated into another body, he kidnaps a young woman of Egyptian descent with a mysterious resemblance to the princess. However, the high priest’s greedy desires cause him to lose control of the mummy..”.

The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

“An irrigation project in the rural bayous of Louisiana unearths Kharis the living mummy (Lon Chaney Jr.), who was buried in quicksand 25 years earlier. “

Ran – Shakespeare week

Ran is currently available on instant Netflix

Ran (1985) – Rated R

“Legendary Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa sets Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “King Lear” against a samurai backdrop, re-envisioning the timeless story through the eyes of a warlord who transfers his kingdom to his eldest son.”

“Man is born crying. When he has cried enough, he dies. “

With the explosion of the video rental market in the early 80s, I was able to finally see Samurai films and I ate them up. I adored Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Throne of Blood, and The Hidden Fortress. Much like Westerns, Samurai movies are very much men’s films. Of course at my age I did not realize that.

In 1985, Ran was released at our local cinema. This was my first chance to see a Kurosawa film in the theater so I proudly took my girlfriend Laura. To say I was blown away by the film is both hyperbole and understatement. This is not really a Samurai film, it is a visual feast.

Dramatically Ran is a wonderful Shakespearean tragedy – specifically King Lear. Kurosawa changed the gender of some of the characters, presumably to fit within the male-dominated Japanese medieval society.

Ran won the Best Costume Design Oscar in 1986 and it was very well deserved. It was also nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Direction. It inexplicably lost all three of those to Out of Africa. Yes Out of Africa looked nice but it is not the masterpiece that Ran is.

All of the visual elements of Ran are not only gorgeous but reflect on the actions occurring onscreen. The use of color is simply amazing. Color was not as well used until the advent of Yimou Zhang (The Curse of the Golden Flower). Speaking no Japanese, I believe that I could turn off the subtitles and still take quite a bit away from the viewing. Some of the kabuki additions, particularly late in the film, occasionally make Ran a bit too theatrical but it is a minor quibble.

Back to 1985: I came out of the theater thinking that this was easily the best film that I had seen all year. Immensely satisfied, I asked Laura what she thought of it. She hated it. No, not because it was a period piece. No, not because she had to read subtitles. No, not because it was too violent.

Laura hated it because she found it misogynistic. She pointed out that all of the female characters were evil, mad, or ineffectual. Yes, of course that was a big downer. Have you ever gone to a film with someone whose opinion you value and you loved it and they didn’t? Laura did have quite a point. Even though Kurosawa changed some of the genders around, the complaints are equally valid for King Lear (and for many of Shakespeare’s plays).

After that, I have always tried to vet the films I take a date to (though I did err egregiously in taking my wife to Resident Evil for Valentine’s Day). It also made me a lot more sensitive to casual and active misogyny in storytelling. I’m surprised that I wasn’t very aware of it as growing up in Miami, I have always been sensitive to racial issues.

Please accept my apologies for the digression. Watch Ran on as large a screen as possible and just soak in the visuals. The costumes took two years to create, the castle is not a miniature but was built specifically for this movie, and Kurosawa spent a decade storyboarding every shot in the picture.

Although Kurosawa made several other masterpieces, Ran could rightly be referred to as the pinnacle of his life’s work. Sadly his wife of 39 years passed away during filming.

Missing Shakespeare – Amazon Beats Netflix Again!

The Montford Park Players closed their outdoor season a week ago this past Saturday with the last performance of Mandy Bean’s Richard II. I am already missing it. They are having an indoor run of Macbeth but that doesn’t start until next month. Thankfully there is plenty of bardic material streaming.

Amazon Prime has a very nice selection of Shakespeare from BBC: Julius Caesar, As You Like It (Helen Mirren), Macbeth (Nicol Williamson), Othello (Anthony Hopkins), The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet (Derek Jacobi), The Tempest, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

They also have movie versions of Julius Caesar (Marlon Brando), The Taming of the Shrew (Richard Burton), Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead (Richard Dreyfuss), Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh), Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh), Romeo and Juliet (Olivia Hussey), Ran (Kurosawa’s King Lear), and As You Like It (Laurence Olivier).

As if that weren’t enough Amazon also has The Shakespeare Conspiracy, Shakespeare Behind Bars, Great Performances: King Lear (Ian McKellan), Shakespeare’s Globe Theater Restored, F. Murray Abraham on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Shakespeare and the Spanish Connection.

Netflix streaming has Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, two versions of A Midsummer Might’s Dream (1968 and 1996), two versions of Macbeth (Patrick Stewart and Sam Worthington), Ian McKellan in King Lear, and Shakespeare in Love.

For documentaries it has: Playing Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s Women & Claire Bloom, Shakespeare Behind Bars, and In Search of Shakespeare. There is also a BBC comedy about a Shakespeare festival entitled Slings & Arrows.

My wife bought this one-man version of Macbeth to listen to on our travels. I’ve really enjoyed but you have to listen hard to follow it because not only is Alan Cumming reading Shakespearean dialogue but he is doing it in various Scottish accents. This must have been an amazing show but it is a punishing listen.

Shakespeare week – Theater of Blood

This is Shakespeare week. Apparently when you fail to give an actor of the Bard his due, you may be in for some trouble. Theater of Blood is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Theater of Blood (1973) – NR

“Vincent Price channels his peerless talent for playing refined madmen into the character of Edward Lionheart, a proud London actor who goes dramatically bonkers when he fails to receive a coveted award. While riverside tramps foil his attempt to drown himself in the River Thames, the world believes he has met a watery end. The thespian uses this cover to exact grisly — and fitting — revenge on the critics who ignored his genius.”

“O pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers.”

The concept of having a Shakespearean actor take poetic revenge on his critics is certainly a fun one and this one is milked for all it is worth beginning on the Ides of March. The murders are quite inventive and each is taken from a different Shakespeare play. They were gory for the time but seem quaint today.

Much as Richard III was yesterday, Theater of Blood is essentially a one-man show. If you do not enjoy the theatricality (or hamminess if you prefer) of a Vincent Price performance then you probably will not enjoy this. This is not his best performance (see Witchfinder General – also available on instant Netflix) but ranks up there with Dr. Phibes as one of his most enjoyable.

Diana Rigg acquits herself well in her second billed role as Edwina Lionheart, daughter of Edward. This is probably her best role after her fabulous stint as Emma Peel in The Avengers but no one steals a scene from Vincent.

Actress Coral Browne, who plays Miss Chloe Moon here, first met Vincent Price on this movie. They were married the following year and, unlike traditional Hollywood marriages, stayed married until her passing in 1991.

The rest of the cast reads like a list of Hammer supporting players – Madeline Smith (Vampire Lovers), Diana Dors (Hammer House of Horror), Ian Hendry (Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter), Michael Hordern (Demons of the Mind), Dennis Price (Twins of Evil) and even the voice of Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out).

This film is a huge amount of fun and could be watched just for the early 70s fashion. The Shakespeare references are plentiful and much of his dialogue is included as well. Theater of Blood is a showcase for Vincent Price and he shines so watch it already. Besides which, where else are you going to see a swordfight on gym equipment?

People Watch: When Vincent Price retired from his stint of hosting Mystery for Masterpiece Theater, his co-star in this film, Diana Rigg, took over hosting duties.

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.

Shakespeare week – Romeo + Juliet

This is Shakespeare week. One of the things I most enjoy about our local Shakespeare company is the unique spin they put on his plays. One of the more unique movie adaptations of Shakespeare is Romeo + Juliet by Baz Luhrmann.

WATCH: Romeo + Juliet (1996) – Rated PG-13 for scenes of contemporary violence and some sensuality.

“In director Baz Luhrmanns contemporary take on William Shakespeares classic tragedy, the Montagues and Capulets have moved their ongoing feud to the sweltering suburb of Verona Beach, where Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes) fall in love and secretly wed. Though the film is visually modern, the bards dialogue remains intact as the feuding families children pay a disastrous cost for their mutual affection.”

“The hurt cannot be much” – “Twill serve – ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”

Right off the bat there is no mistaking Romeo + Juliet for the stately Franco Zeffirelli version (the previous gold standard for Romeo & Juliet adaptations – currently also available on instant Netflix). Romeo + Juliet opens with a TV newscaster reading from the prologue and quickly segues into a helicopter overview of Fair Verona Beach.

The hyper-kinetic stylings of Baz Luhrmann would seem to be antithetical to a proper rendition of Romeo & Juliet yet it works. The entire film can be watched just for the visuals as each scene is filled with explosions of color and music. There are many inventive modern updatings such as guns named “sword” and “rapier” and the truck called “Post Haste Delivery”.

Baz Luhrmann is clearly fond of male pecs – not only do all the young men appear partially or entirely shirtless but even Pete Postlethwaite as Father Laurence, a character one would imagine clothed in a particular fashion, is seen instructing young boys while half-naked. I will go ahead and guess that this movie predates the massive Catholic priest scandals. Juliet is also topless in a scene but only hr back is shown.

The performances are all over the map. Thankfully, Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes are wonderfully fresh faced and intense as the doomed couple. Diane Venora plays mother to Juliet quite well but her accent slips terribly from scene to scene, even from line to line. Brian Dennehy is wasted as Ted Montague but Paul Sorvino is surprisingly restrained as Fulgencio Capulet.

Many of the other actors have their performances turned up to 11. Harold Perrineau (Michael from the TV series Lost, also available on instant Netflix) does a delightful job of playing a deliriously over-the-top and seriously deranged Mercutio. John Leguizamo is filled with bitterest gall as Tybalt. Jaime Kennedy is his usual screwball self as Sampson, a “Montague boy”.

Afterthought: while I highly recommend this film, Romeo is hardly a sympathetic character. He mopes around coveting Rosaline, drops a tab of Ecstasy, crashes a party, and promptly forgets all about Rosaline when he spies Juliet. He then inadvertently causes the death of his friend, guns down an unarmed cousin of his wife, and performs a few more heinous acts on his way to the tragic finale.

People Watch: Look for currently popular comedian Paul Rudd as Dave Paris and noted character actor M. Emmet Walsh as the apothecary.