5 posts categorized "Shakespeare"

July 26, 2017


Colesmithey.comWhile I enjoyed the overall tone of the movie, and especially the super committed performances of its talented three female stars (Julia Voth, Erin Cummings, and America Olivo), "Bitch Slap" is a mess. Rick Jacobson ("Ash vs Evil Dead" series) is a very skilled director, and his ability to rev up action sequences — ostensibly on a B-movie budget — is impressive, but his screenwriting skills leave much to be desired. Jacobson steals liberally from Quentin Tarantino for this over-the-top sexploitation romp but isn't much for creating a story that sticks. Punchy dialogue only goes so far in masking plot holes a plenty, but there is some snazzy dialogue to be had.

"I'm gonna booty-bang bitch slap your fucking ass until you're just this side of salvage. Then I'm gonna ram-ride girly's show tits asunder before I plow both of you bitches under!"

Ah, what poetry.

Jacobson's time flipping device of constantly showing what happened six months ago, or two weeks ago, or 10 hours ago, wears out its welcome quick.


For all of its potentially 3D-appropriate use of flying objects and big boobies, "Bitch Slap" doesn't hold a candle to Russ Meyer's truly transgressive "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" — an obvious inspiration for this gutty little action film.

"Bitch Slap" is nonetheless ideally suited for a 3D treatment that would make it even more of a guilty pleasure. If you compare "Faster, Pussycat!" to "Bitch Slap" I think you'll find that Tura Satana, Haji, and Lori Williams create a lot more sexy heat and psycho bitch drama in Russ Meyer's classic sexploitation flick. That said, this movie lays down plenty of the heavy-handed bitch slaps that the title promises.

Rated R. 109 mins. (C+) (Two stars — out of five / no halves)

May 23, 2015


Macbeth-cotillardWhoever’s idea it was to put Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of “Macbeth” into the competition at Cannes should look for work elsewhere. The film is one of the worst adaptations of a Shakespeare play ever to be projected onto a movie screen. The actors mumble or whisper every single line, making the dialogue unintelligible. Not even hearing-aids would help. The Saturday-morning Cannes screening ended with boos. 

Kurzel’s bland sense of filmic storytelling is so vague that even audiences familiar with Shakespeare's bloody drama will be left scratching their heads about the storyline. Here is a director drowning in a story he never begins to fathom, much less master.

Forget about introducing the uninitiated to Macbeth with this version; stick with Roman Polanski’s 1971 gold standard rendering of “the Scottish play” for that purpose, and for any objective of entertainment value for that matter.

The picture's hundred-dollar set designs leave much to be desired. Amateurish slow-motion camera work only emphasizes the film’s cheap-looking production designs. Here is a poorly lit movie with no sense of visual scope or continuity. 

Macbeth (drearily played by Michael Fassbender) lives in a tent with his wife Lady Macbeth (whispered by Marion Cotillard). That's right, in a tent. The audience is afforded no sense of context, atmosphere, period, or place. Kenneth Branagh would walk out on this film in the first five-minutes. Speaking of which, perhaps this atrocity will spur the Shakespeare-master Branagh to make his own rendering of "Macbeth." Someone needs to set the record straight for 21st century audiences who might otherwise think this version to be acceptable, which it strictly is not.

As for Cotillard, after appearing in James Gray's hack period drama "The Immigrant," and now in this utter waste of filmic space, perhaps the gifted French actress will start cherry picking her roles better. She should.

MacbethMeanwhile, back to Kurzel's stillborn abomination of Shakespeare. Everyone lives in tents as if buildings hadn’t yet been invented in 11th century Scotland. 

Everything is stuck in a visual and aural drone, especially Shakespeare's famous dialogue. The actors speak in an unbroken rhythm that lacks as much dynamic logic as the film’s impoverished lighting design. There's a right way and a wrong way to approach iambic pentameter, and this is the latter.

A heavy-handed musical score comes gratis. It is a mystery as to why the Australian Kurzel would attempt Shakespeare with only one film under his belt (“The Snowtown Murders,” an exploitation true-crime B-movie) when he is so clearly out of his depth. Better to leave Shakespeare to professionals who know how to treat the Bard properly. 

Infuriating, incoherent, and unwatchable, Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth” managed to beat out Gaspar Noe’s “Love” for the title of the worst film in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. No one saw that coming. What a train-wreck. I want my two-hours back.


Not Rated. 113 mins. (F) (Zero Stars - out of five/no halves)


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September 09, 2013


MacbethRoman Polanski’s cinematic response to the shattering heartbreak he suffered after his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by Charles Manson’s cult members, is an audacious adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. Polanski 1971 take uses Shakespeare’s tale of “sound and fury, signifying nothing” to comment on man’s primitive [read senseless] bloodlust that, Steven Pinker's argument on body counts notwithstanding, seems to increase exponentially along with technological advances.

Nothing in the cannon of Shakespearean adaptations comes close to the dramatic purity Polanski achieves with “Macbeth.” Cast with an ensemble of impeccable actors —including Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, and Terence Bayler — Shakespeare’s vibrant language rings with a naturalism rarely heard by modern ears. No trace of artifice exists. Character, theme, and plot are as one.   

Benefitting from Hugh Hefner’s Playboy-empire financing, Polanski adapted the Scottish play with the help of famous theater critic-turned-scriptwriter Kenneth Turin (“Oh, Calcutta”), who also contributed to the film’s remarkable artistry.


Soaked in the mud and grime of its 15th century confines, the film opens on a extraterrestrial landscape where three witches perform a crude and diabolical ritual. The women — one blind, one young, and one matronly — dig a hole in beach sand to bury a noose along with a severed hand in which they place a dagger before pouring on a bottle of blood. The wicked seed of Macbeth’s imminent destruction is planted with their final blessing of spit. The prophecy the witches dispatch to Macbeth regarding his fate of becoming king of Scotland is a spell cast in the depths of hell.

Macbeth’s nocturnal visit to the witches’ lair later in the story gives rein to Polanski’s nefarious depiction of their nude debaucheries. The sequence gives way to Macbeth’s drug-induced hallucinations that reference the paranormal dream sequence that gave “Rosemary’s Baby” its demonic hook.    

Jon Finch’s introspective Macbeth is a brooding antihero to whom the audience is placed near enough to hear his breathing. Finch’s dark emotional range reflects Macbeth’s naiveté in the face of his wife’s unbound ambition, which proves woefully unsound for the depth of their malevolent greed. Lady Macbeth tells her worried husband, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it. Leave the rest to me.” Her words are misleading. It is Macbeth who must carry out the murder of the visiting King Duncan (Nicholas Selby) at Lady Macbeth’s behest before overreaching by killing the King’s attendant guards after the king’s corpse is discovered.


Crucial to the film’s absorbing environment is the giant Inverness hilltop castle upon which Polanski lingers in long shots, allowing the audience to assimilate the remoteness of the lives lived there. Polanski’s methodical continuity of physical context lends a concrete foundation to Shakespeare’s narrative form. There is nothing for the audience to question. 

“Macbeth” was given an “X” rating at the time of its release for a couple of nude scenes that are tame by modern standards. More explicit is the fierce broadsword battle between Macbeth and Macduff that seals Macbeth’s blood-soaked demise.

Rated R. 141 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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June 05, 2013

Much Ado About Nothing

Canned Shakespeare
Joss Whedon Falls on His Sword

Much Ado About NothingJoss Whedon’s sophomoric attempt at swimming in Kenneth Branagh’s waters of expertise — namely adapting Shakespeare plays to film — is akin to watching a wet cat lick itself dry. Curiosity succumbs to forced acting. Filmed in life-draining black and white, the acting approaches the level of a nearly competent community playhouse production. I take back everything bad thing I said about Lars von Trier’s “Dogville.” I’d take that stagey theatrically bound movie any day over watching Whedon’s disastrous version of one of Shakespeare’s fluffier plays. The irony is that Whedon, with his comic book sensibilities, has reduced “Much Ado About Nothing” to movie with a graphic-novel style of visual shorthand.

Transposing the 16th century play — set in Italy — to modern day Southern California proves troublesome for screenwriter-turned-director Whedon (director on "The Avengers"), who uses his personal Santa Monica home as the staging area for the comic melodrama to unfold. Secondary characters blend into an inscrutable background of narrative white noise as Beatrice (Amy Acker) and her sworn enemy Benedick (Alexis Denisof) vie for one another’s romantic attention while in the company of many trouble-making naves.

“Much Ado About Nothing” is not one of Shakespeare’s better plays to begin with. Still, Kenneth Branagh did some fun and interesting things with his 1993 version. Branagh’s more experienced cast — which included Denzel Washington and Imelda Staunton — were undeniably better prepared to elevate the play, but there’s no diminishing Branagh’s influence as actor and director on his adaptation’s success.

Clark Gregg leads the cast — as Leonato — with his mastery of iambic pentameter. Sadly Jillian Morgese fails to make an impression as Leonato’s ripe-for-picking daughter Hero, whose amorous suitor Claudio resides under an equally callow spell cast by Fran Kranz. The filmmaker’s amateurish attempts at slapstick humor — as when characters eavesdrop on conversations — fall flat. The cast of television actors (see “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” or “Firefly’) is simply not up to the task at hand.

The question that hovers over Joss Whedon’s half-hearted effort is why a comic-book-franchise director would challenge himself to such a self-evidently doomed proposition? Here is a rushed low-budget Shakespeare adaptation that compares poorly to the majority of other such movies. Remember Mel Gibson’s 1990 “Hamlet”? It’s pretty good. Or, what about Ethan Hawke’s 2000 take on the same play? Its experimental style is much more effective than the cloistered suburban world that Whedon attempts to pass off as some weird worm hole of America’s politically corrupt system.

Whedon bit off more than he could chew. Whatever — people make mistakes and move on. Perhaps he's merely attempting to wean himself away from Hollywood comic-book blockbusters. If that is indeed the case — as I sincerely hope it is — then there’s a chance he might just discover a genre he is better equipped to develop and execute. Only time will tell.

Rated PG-13. 109 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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January 29, 2012


Henry VIn 1989 Kenneth Branagh burst into the public consciousness with a refreshing adaptation of Shakespeare's "King Henry the Fifth." Branagh welcomed audiences with open arms into the thorny realm of the Bard with a consciously populist indoctrination. The widely acclaimed film commenced Branagh's campaign to deliver Shakespeare into the mainstream. At this writing he has directed five of Shakespeare's works including "Much Ado About Nothing," "Hamlet," "Love's Labour's Lost," and "As You Like It."

"Henry V" is no trifling affair to inaugurate such a lofty goal. The centerpiece of the story involves an enormous combat scene (the Battle of Agincourt) between King Henry's ragtag army and 10,000 French troops.


Branagh brings to bear his thorough understanding of Shakespeare's notoriously unwieldy verse, which he mastered while studying at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. It certainly didn't hurt that at 23, the Belfast-born Branagh became the youngest actor in the history of the Royal Shakespeare Company to play King Henry. It only took the ambitious writer/actor another six years to successfully reinterpret Shakespeare for 20th century moviegoers.

Playing freely with tone, Branagh announces his stylistic intentions during the film's enticing prologue, which takes place on an unpopulated film soundstage cluttered with chairs and light stands to represent the “cockpit” which will hold the “vasty fields of France.” The introductory dialogue is impeccably delivered by the one-man chorus of Derek Jacobi who Branagh has credited as being a primary inspiration for his decision to become an actor. Playing purposefully with the line between the presentational purpose of the chorus and the representational qualities of the story, Jacobi’s chorus returns with intermittent currency throughout the action to break the forth wall, albeit as a supporting actor in the play.

Toward the end of “turning many years into an hourglass,” Branagh the screenwriter condenses “King Henry the Fifth,” while adding in elements from the first and second parts of “King Henry the Fourth.” The effect is seamless. Using flashbacks as cinematic shortcuts, the filmmaker energizes Shakespeare’s massive narrative form to give the audience a sense of Henry’s background as a much-loved salt-of-the-earth character in touch with the concerns of the common man. If Branagh’s cunning portrayal at times seems patronizing, it is an affect earned through the bold example the character sets through his actions.


Audiences come away from the film with Henry’s powerful “Saint Crispen’s Day” speech ringing in their ears. Patrick Doyle’s soaring musical score creates a kind of aural staircase that Branagh climbs on toward a galvanizing plateau of united determination. “Henry V” is a joyous celebration of dynamic rhetoric in the capable voice of a natural-born leader. It is a role Kenneth Branagh was born to play.

Rated PG-13. 137 mins. (A+) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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