Posts tagged ‘Shakespeare’

July 24, 2012

Anonymous (2011 – Blu-Ray)

“All art is political, Jonson, otherwise it would just be decoration… and all artists have something to say, otherwise they’d make shoes… and you are not a cobbler, are you Jonson”

The idea of making a movie positing the idea that it wasn’t really Shakespeare that wrote all those plays was a fun idea. But somehow it never quite tempted me to catch 2011’s ‘Anonymous’ at the cinema but during bouts of watching the Beeb’s superb new ‘The Hollow Crown’ Shakespeare film quartet I fancied giving it a go.

First off here’s the negatives; The whole film was shot 90% green-screen à la George Lucas and despite ebullient comments by Director Roland Emmerich on the Blu-Ray extras, you can tell a mile off. Some of the illusions to Shakespeare are a bit clunking, such as having the pale-faced baddie walk around dressed in black sporting a hunch simply so when ‘Richard III’ ‘Drops’ it can be framed as immediate political satire. This also leads onto the chief problem, that the idea that the plays are being released to stir up a revolution being barely credible.

On the plus side; Emmerich made the wise choice to have the great Sir Derek Jacobi book end the film with a Shakespeare style address to the audience, giving everything in between an RSC air of authority. Star Rhys Ifans gives a powerful performance as the troubled Earl of Oxford, the supposed true author of the plays.  The best thing though is the staging of the plays’ key scenes being some of the most visceral, full-blooded performances of the bard’s work ever committed to the screen.  These qualities make ‘Anonymous’ well worth catching despite its many flaws.

May 17, 2012

Chimes At Midnight (1965 – DVD)

“I know thee not, old man, fall to thy prayers… how ill white hairs become a fool and jester”

It’s been a long while since I started my mission to view all of Orson Welles feature films, after watching half of them I ran out of the more easily available DVDs but now I’ve finally acquired them all. So over the coming days and weeks I’ll be giving you my thoughts on 1952’s ‘Othello’, 1955’s ‘Mr. Arkadin’ and 1962’s ‘The Trial’. I already owned Orson’s 1965 Shakespeare adaptation ‘Chimes At Midnight’ aka ‘Falstaff’ on a DVD from Cornerstone Media but the image and sound quality were so bad that I decided to not even watch it, lest my first impression of this renowned masterpiece be mired. But the other day I saw the new DVD from Mr Bongo and thought I’d give it a punt. So back at home I pressed play while uttering a few prayers to the gods of cinema under my breath and was relieved to be greeted by this beautifully restored presentation.

‘Chimes At Midnight’ was Welles’ own personal favourite and although he died a full twenty years after it was released, it would sadly be his last completed full length narrative film. The script was based on a stage production that Welles had mounted in 1939 focusing on the story of Sir John Falstaff, the peripheral roguish character from a number of Shakespeare’s history plays. Welles himself plays the rotund Falstaff with all the growling, drunken corruption that he brought to his portrayal of Captain Quinlan in 1958’s ‘Touch Of Evil’ although Sir John is an entirely loveable, lecherous and boisterous character (Unlike the wicked Quinlan). Keith Baxter plays the young Prince Hal with a wonderfully cheeky air but also displays a mercilessly regal power as he gains the throne at the end. The coronation scene between a towering Baxter and a weeping Welles is one of the most powerful of all his films. The great Sir John Gielgud plays Henry IV and bestrides the screen like the seasoned RSC peacock he is, delivering several passionate monologues.

The composition of Welles’ shot are as immaculate as ever, ranging from intimate closeups capturing every nuance of his actors performance to huge scenes at the palace drenched in ominous shadow and angelic shafts of sunlight. The groundbreaking battle scene employs bewildering fast cuts and documentary camera techniques to convey the mud splattered confusion and animal savagery of medieval warfare, clearly inspiring films like Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator’. I implore you to go get a copy of Mr Bongo’s release of ‘Chimes At Midnight’ and I urge the authorities to destroy all other available editions. Welles said of ‘Chimes At Midnight’, “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that’s the one I’d offer up”.

Here is an image of the Mr Bongo DVD… be warned, avoid all other editions!:

April 20, 2012

Henry V (1944 – Blu-Ray)

“Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France, or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?”

Another BFI top twenty Brit flick down in the shape of Laurence Olivier’s 1944 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.  I rented it on Blu-Ray from LoveFilm knowing that it was a forties Technicolor film which I adore as they usually look eye-popping.  The radiant colours of the costumes do indeed look magnificent, especially the fiercesome reds and electric blues of the knights pageantry.  Unfortunately the image restoration seems to have employed a little too much smoothing, leading to a noticeably flat look on the actors faces in the mid ground shots.

The possibilities of Technicolor were used by Olivier to try to re-create the look of medieval illuminations moving in three dimensions, including their odd skewed perspectives.  This is mostly used in the second third of film creating some truly unique and magical images.  But I found this admittedly dazzling technique combined with the novel stage-bound intro to be interesting but ultimately alienating when trying to simply get involved with the story.  At the mid-point the style settles down a bit starting with a powerful scene following the king as he walks unrecognised through his nervous troops as they wait together for the dawn to come.  The light comes up almost imperceptibly during the extended sequence and the sun comes out on a new realistic looking landscape. Olivier populates this vista with what looks like thousands of soldiers and shoots the battle with huge sweeping camera moves and tracking shots of charging horses.  Olivier’s commanding delivery of the two big speeches are rightly praised and at the time it was released it must have delivered his desired uplifting patriotic message to war-weary brits. I’ll have to have a watch of Kenneth Branagh’s controversial 1989 version for comparison while this is still fresh in the memory.

March 24, 2012

Ran (1985 – Blu-Ray)

“Don’t cry, its how the world is made. Men prefer sorrow over joy, suffering over peace”

I’ve been meaning to see Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 film ‘Ran’ for some time, in fact since I saw his previous film 1980’s ‘Kagemusha’ a good few years ago.  They are very much companion pieces, both are epic tales of political intrigues and bloody wars between feuding Daimyo and their Samurai retainers during Japan’s Edo period.  Also they both boast the brooding screen presence of Tatsuya Nakadai in the lead roles, who I’ve recently seen starring in Eureka! Film’s eye-popping restoration of  Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 Chanbara film ‘Harakiri’ (If you haven’t already, go get a copy so you can see what Blu-Ray is truly capable of!).  The title ‘Ran’ roughly translates as ‘Turmoil’ or ‘Chaos’ (Both political and mental), as it chronicles how a great clan is torn apart when it’s aging patriarch Hidetora relinqishes his command to his three sons.  Two of his sons scheme and betray him while he banishes his third and only loyal son, a series of events that lead him to madness.  This is of course inspired by Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ just as Kurosawa’s 1957 film ‘Throne Of Blood’ had been inspired by Macbeth.

The Blu-Ray transfer is nice but not as striking as I imagine it could be, lacking detail and clarity, but this is made up for by a wealth of extras.   Including  Documentaries about Kurosawa and a featurette about Samurai including a reverential demonstration of a Katana being forged.  The greatest aspect of ‘Ran’ is the cinematography and design with the three warring factions armours rendered in the three primary colours.  This use of colour is used to stunning effect in the first battle scene as nearly all the colour is drained from the faces of the Samurai making them look like cadaverous walking dead  This then magnifies the garish red rivers of blood staining the battlefield which is made even more harrowing by Kurosawa’s choice to play it silent save for Tōru Takemitsu haunting score.  Mieko Harada steals the show as the deadly Lady Kaede who’s ruthless quest for vengeance drives the film.  Of all the Kurosawa films I’ve seen so far (And I’ve only seen about third of his filmography) ‘Ran’ is his masterpiece, which the great Director himself described as “A series of human events viewed from heaven”.