2 posts categorized "Shakespeare"

October 22, 2018



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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ColeSmithey.comAlthough 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.     


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.

Three Stars

Cozy Cole


June 03, 2013


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.

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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.

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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.

Cole smithey

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

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