I Get No Kick From Champagne

August 16, 2010 at 8:56 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , )

I get no kick from Champagne, but I get a big ol’ kick out of Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 version of Love’s Labour’s Lost. It’s set in 1939 France. World War II is looming and we’re updated several times during the film with faux newsreel footage. But everyone is quite stylish and elegant in Navarre. And the music is good. The music is very, very good with all those great Depression-era show tunes.

Okay. Let’s be honest. The BBC took Shakespeare’s play at face value and delivered a true-to-the-text (and therefore very wordy) version. In stark contrast, Branagh throws caution (and maybe common sense) to the wind and delivers a trippy, giddy, easy-on-the-eye dreamscape of a musical. This is Shakespeare Lite. Emphasis on Lite.

I didn’t analyze how much of the text is missing, but it’s significant — like all the boring parts! Really, you don’t get any sense at all of the wordplay and self-conscious erudition that permeates the original. It’s nearly pedantless! This is all fun and games. Heavy on the wooing, lite on the wit.

Does it work? I find this film much easier to watch and more entertaining than the BBC version. Is it all good? I wouldn’t go that far. I actually hate Alicia Silverstone as the princess. She is just awful and barely delivers her lines. She’s the low point for me. And, well, I watch a lot of Scooby at my house, so it’s hard for me to see Matthew Lillard (who plays Longaville) and think of anything but Shaggy. Yet, it sorta works in this movie. Longaville = Shaggy. Go figure.

What’s good here? I love Nathan Lane’s Costard. And by far the trippiest character is Timothy Spall’s amazingly bizarre Don Armado. Wow, is all I can say there. Fun to watch. Weird, though.

Really weird. I think my favorite scene is Don Armado singing Cole Porter’s “I Get A Kick Out of You” and sneezing cocaine all over another guy’s face, followed immediately by the princess and her ladies goofily waking up with their teddy bears in their tent and then going for a synchronized Esther Williams-style swim while singing Irving Berlin’s “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)” from Top Hat with Fred Astaire.

Yeah. I have to say I really don’t get this play (I mean Shakespeare’s version). I’m going to read it again before I post about it. But whatever is in Love’s Labour’s Lost is surely lost in this film version. The play is about wordplay and satire; that is completely absent from this film. Yet, the film is entertaining — for sheer cheesy weirdness, really, more than great song and dance.

Okay, enough of the hallucination. I’m going to get back to the text. I will report back. Hopefully, I’ll find it more readable on the second pass. Wish me luck!

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Sigh No More, Ladies

May 20, 2010 at 1:35 am (Film Adaptations, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , )

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more,
Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
Into hey nonny nonny.

These lines from Balthasar’s song in Much Ado About Nothing have always cracked me up. Kenneth Branagh’s wonderful 1993 film adaptation begins with Beatrice (played by Emma Thompson) reading these lines to her picnicking friends on a sun-drenched Tuscan hillside. Why can’t I be there? After several chilly, rainy spring days here, there is nothing much that looks better than drinking wine on a sunny Tuscan hill while listening to someone read silly poetry. Yes, please.

I have to make do with living vicariously through film. It’s okay. This film is so much fun. It’s light, it’s playful, it’s full of wit and charm. I love this movie. The backdrop is no small part of the charm here… seriously beautiful landscape in every direction. Fantastic gardens and a wonderful Italian villa—the perfect locale for flirtations and intrigue. Why can’t I live there?

It’s beautifully acted, for the most part. There’s witty chemistry between Beatrice and Benedick (Thompson and Branagh were married at the time this movie was filmed). Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard) are a sweet young couple. Denzel Washington is good as Don Pedro. I also enjoy the small, but pivotal, part of Margaret (played by Imelda Staunton, who keeps showing up in great roles in these films… the nurse in Shakespeare in Love, Polly in Shakespeare Retold’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). I also enjoy glimpses of Emma Thompson’s future face (her mother Phyllida Law plays the small part of Ursula, and I think the two look exactly alike).

I’m not a fan of Michael Keaton’s weird Dogberry character. He’s so gross. Funny, yes, with the silly mannerisms and pretend horses clopping away. But he’s too over the top for me. I also dislike Don John, as played by Keanu Reeves, but that’s my personal issue; Reeves is permanently typecast in my mind as Ted on an Excellent Adventure. He always seems uncomfortable with his lines and well, unable to act. It’s just my personal issue with him.

You know what really surprises me? This film received no Oscar nominations and very few awards of any kind (nominated for a Golden Globe… oh and Reeves was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Supporting Actor—I guess I’m not alone!). It’s too bad it was overlooked for awards; I think it’s really well done.

Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream provided me with many film adaptations, but I’m afraid the pickins are getting slimmer as I move through the reading list. I have only a handful of film versions of Much Ado About Nothing to watch. Actually, two versions I’d really like to see seem to be unavailable. If anyone knows how to get the original (maybe unreleased?) BBC version with Michael York as Benedick, I would love to see that. Ditto Zeffirelli’s version with Maggie Smith as Beatrice?

I plan to watch Branagh’s version again after I read the text. Of course, it has nothing to do with wanting to look at the Tuscan countryside some more. Why can’t I be there?

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What Should I Watch?

February 19, 2010 at 6:50 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations) (, , , , , )

I’m thinking ahead about which film versions of each play I should watch. Please give me your suggestions.

The Wikipedia article looks pretty good, so I’m using that as a starting place. I think I am going to focus on the more recent films, although I will consider going back further (like the 1960s and maybe even the 1950s) when there are films that are really must-sees (like West Side Story and Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet).

I plan to watch all the BBC productions. I’m looking forward to seeing Roger Daltrey in A Comedy of Errors!

I’ll watch Franco Zeffirelli’s films and anything Kenneth Branagh touched, as well.

So, I feel like I have a solid foundation on basic productions. Any other suggestions? What about the old ones directed by Laurence Olivier—are they good? What else? Help me.

I also want suggestions for good or interesting adaptations. Thanks to Renee who commented about loving adaptations like West Side Story and listed several others.

Here are a few I’m considering:

Henry IV: My Own Private Idaho

King Lear: A Thousand Acres, Ran

Macbeth: Scotland PA, Throne of Blood

Othello: O

The Comedy of Errors: The Boys from Syracuse

The Taming of the Shrew: Kiss Me Kate, Ten Things I Hate About You

The Tempest: Prospero’s Books

Twelfth Night: She’s the Man, Just One of the Guys

Renee and everyone—help me fill out my to-watch list and please warn me away from losers. 

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