6 posts categorized "Literary Adaptation"

October 22, 2018


OpheliaAlthough hindered by a lack of variety in its pacing, this fragrant imagining of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” as lived through the being of Hamlet’s love interest Ophelia, carries significant dramatic weight. There are plenty of juicy surprises to savor along the way. Naomi Watts and Clive Owen share every bit as much chemistry here (Watts as Queen Gertrude and Owen as the incoming King Claudius), as they did in Tom Tykwer’s “The International” back in 2009. Talk about a winning duo, Owen and Watts are as good as it gets.


What Tom Stoppard did for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with his 1967 post-modern play (“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”), young adult novelist Lisa Klein has done for a beguiling character whose personal tale of woe in the Middle Ages clearly deserves its own telling. Semi Chellas’s script adaptation flirts with the intrigue of Shakespeare’s language with a refreshing sense of modern English. The dialogue rings like a bell.


Enter director Claire McCarthy (“The Waiting City”) to helm a brilliant cast in the service of the romantic period drama at hand. Daisy Ridley inhabits Ophelia with an inspired canniness and earthly grounding that places her as an equal to George MacKay’s Prince Hamlet. For once we see Hamlet as the teenage boy that Shakespeare intended. MacKay’s youth informs the role with the energy and naïveté that supports his hot tempered nature.  

For her part, Ophelia keeps a level head in the face of much cruelty and abuses of power that attack her wherever she turns. If the movie resonates with current social and political conditions in America and abroad then so much the better for the audience to contemplate the story’s many implications.    


The filmmakers do a good job of isolating the action within the boundaries of Elsinore’s remote mountain top village where there is truly “something rotten in Denmark.” We get the contrast of the gritty atmosphere outside the castle walls where civility dares not frequent without reliable accompaniment. Although ostensibly made on a considerably smaller budget than anything Hollywood produces, David Warren’s production designs provide an authentic backdrop to the action.


The incestuous nature of the relationship between Hamlet’s power-hungry uncle Claudius and Gertrude is clarified in an appropriately furtive scene that Ophelia witnesses through a window. One of this film's joys is the way characters eavesdrop or spy on others. Suspense and mystery attend violent outbursts, frequently involving swords.

Naomi Watts savors her dual role as the witch Mechtild who Ophelia visits to procure drugs for the Queen. Still, you can help but wish that Watts had taken advantage of the opportunity to chew the scenery more than she does.     

Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 2.34.02 PM

Daisy Ridley’s Ophelia invokes strains of Kiera Knightly’s feisty naturalism even if only for similar facial expressions the two actresses share. “Ophelia” is a refreshing addition to the bold sub-genre of Shakespeare-inspired plays and films that weave in and around the prolific English playwright’s esteemed works. The movie accomplishes that most coveted of dramatic goals of leaving the audience wanting more. So be it, let’s more of these female-centric genre explorations; they are a dozen times more compelling than the Star Wars films that squander the talents of such compelling actresses as Daisy Ridley.


Rated PG. 114 mins. (B)

Three Stars

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

July 09, 2015


Mr. Holmes Thirty-five years after retiring from his career as the literary world's most illustrious sleuth, a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) spends his twilight years keeping bees in a remote country house overlooking the White Cliffs of Dover. It's 1947 and World War II is over, but its wounds are still fresh. Mr. Holmes keeps an arm’s distance from his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), but can’t resist the intellectual curiosity of her energetic 10-year-old son Roger (Milo Parker). Perhaps Roger is fated to become a detective.

Such is the set-up for director Bill Condon’s version of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel (“A Slight Trick of the Mind”). Condon, who directed McKellen in the Oscar-winning “Gods and Monsters,” correctly keeps the focus on his main character.

Missing are most of the famous affectations that we associate with Sherlock Holmes. It’s revealed that Sherlock smoked cigars rather than a pipe and wore a top hat rather than the deerstalker cap written about in novels, which Mr. Holmes attributes to his deceased partner John Watson as the books’ author.

Mr-HolmesThe old man does, however, walk with a cane. The ravages of senility are taking a toll on Holmes’s memory in spite of brain-healing experiments with Royal Jelly and Prickly Ash, a citrus shrub he has recently traveled to Japan to procure. Reminded of the last case he worked on, the one that sent him into retirement, Holmes now searches his memory for what he did wrong. His is a personal journey of closure.

Roger peppers his elderly mentor with questions about the case, which involved a distressed husband’s attempts to discover the truth about his depressed wife’s activities with a suspicious woman who teaches her to play a glass harmonica. Forgery and poison play into the mystery.

Surprisingly, the usually reliable Laura Linney is off her game, or more accurately miscast, in a role that could have been elevated in the hands of a capable British actress; think Marion Bailey (“Mr. Turner”). Aside from her wandering accent, Linney falls short during a particularly emotional sequence that doesn’t quite gel.

Mckellen-mr.holmesOf all the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes on the screen over the many decades since the first silent-era adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic character in 1916, Ian McKellen’s incarnation of the fictional London detective will go down in history as the most enjoyable. At 76 the infinitely gifted actor has aged like a fine wine.

Even if “Mr. Holmes” is not much more than a picturesque showcase for the actor to mesmerize us once again, that is enough. So perfect are McKellen’s tender gestures and graceful expressions that regardless of this film’s less-than-ideal narrative aspects, we are rapt with delight at the privilege of witnessing his performance. There’s an old expression that one could listen to a gifted actor “read from a phone book” because he or she is so talented. Certainly, that is the case with Ian McKellen.


Rated PG. 104 mins. (B) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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October 04, 2014


Blowing It
Paul Thomas Anderson Strikes Out, Again

Inherent-ViceThere’s no way to sugarcoat it; Paul Thomas Anderson has made two duds in a row. If his lackluster half-film “The Master” didn’t you put you off the director responsible for such instant classics as “Hard Eight,” “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “There Will Be Blood,” then his latest effort will make you doubt if he is capable of ever returning to the height of his former glories.

Based on Thomas Pynchon‘s 2009 novel about the adventures of Doc Sporetello (Joaquin Phoenix), a stoner (“hippie”) private detective living in a fictitious L.A. town, “Inherent Vice” is a tweet-tweet-arf-arf movie for stoners. The film seems custom-made for dope-smokers to watch while amending their vapes with an occasional line or two of cocaine. There really isn’t any other way for said potheads to stay awake for the film’s occasional (read rare) flashes of humor, sex, and violence that intersperse the movie, without a few snorts of amphetamine. The rest of us can take a nap.

Katherine-waterstonCertainly, when Phoenix’s lethargic, facial-hair-obsessed, Doc is finally spurred into erotic action by his horny submissive ex-girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston), the momentarily pleasant event arrives as a literal and figurative climax. After Shasta plays with herself for an extended period of time, she lays nude across Doc’s lap before he finally gets the message. Doc spanks Shasta’s bare butt like an amateur dom before slamming her from behind to give the movie more narrative meaning than it expresses before or after the pornographic scene.

Having not read Pynchon’s novel I can’t speak to the book’s ostensibly satirical implications. However, if they exist in Pynchon’s original text, any such methodical social commentary is noticeably absent from Anderson’s politically evasive film. “Inherent Vice” also fails as a comedy, and as a would-be neo noir. Even you attempt to imagine “Inherent Vice” as a ramped-up version of “The Big Sleep,” whose MacGuffin was merely an excuse for Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to heat up the screen with their real-life romantic chemistry, you will be sadly dissatisfied because Joaquin Phoenix is perpetually incapable of sharing onscreen chemistry with anyone, male or female. 


Anderson continuously wheels out outlandish characters inhabited by objectively competent actors. Josh Brolin is endlessly watchable as lunatic LAPD lieutenant detective “Bigfoot” Bjornsen. Bigfoot is a reliably unreliable cop who is just as likely to go on a Bad Lieutenant spree as he is to carry on a civilized conversation. Benicio Del Toro is squandered in a poorly defined supporting role as Sauncho Smilax, a maritime attorney who comes to Doc's rescue at various times. Del Toro's portrayal reminds us of the Oscar Zeta Acosta character he played in Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (adapted from Hunter S. Thompson's famous book) — a far better film that made far better use of Del Toro's immeasurable gifts as an actor. To that end, give me Hunter S. Thompson over Pynchon any day.

At two and one half hours, “Inherent Vice” wears out its welcome before the halfway mark arrives. A parade of characters prattles on in endless monologues and off-hand comments that are simultaneously colorful and utterly meaningless.


Empty plot machinations swirl around Shasta’s involvement in a scheme to swindle a billionaire real estate magnate out of his fortune by committing him to a mental institution. ‘70s era trappings of free love, drugs, and endemic corruption add up to a recipe for irrelevant narrative chaos. The ‘70s era dead-end characters in “Inherent Vice” are representative of a long-dead-gone generation. The best thing the movie does is that it reminds us that we too will wither and die — some sooner than later. Eat some pizza. Smoke a bowl. Have some hot sex. Any of those experiences will far surpass the one you will have watching “Inherent Vice.”

Rated R. 149 mins. (C-) (One Star - out of five/no halves)



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