It seems that the only events news worthy enough to make the front pages of the Indian dailies last week were (a) the entire Shilpa Shetty racism fracas and (b) the Aishwarya Rai – Abhishek Bachchan engagement. Terribly irritating, especially all the silly engagement interviews. More so because they all posed AB Jr. said question: Will you allow Aishwarya to continue working after marriage? What. The. Fuck. When will people learn that it’s not up to him to allow her to do anything? Oh, well, whatever.
In other news, last week was spent slacking, lazing and watching many, many movies. Three new ones, three not-so-new/old Shakespeare adaptations. So in keeping with the theme of my last two posts this one shall be about movies as well. The new ones first.
Pan’s Labyrinth: I actually really liked it. The movie brilliantly balances two worlds – that of little Ofelia’s fantasies and the reality of the Spanish Civil War. The reality of the Civil War is violent, bleak and all too real (Sergi López is excellent as the brutal, masochist Captain Vidal). While the world of Ofelia’s imagination is a refuge it is still dark and dangerous with everything and everybody seeming a bit dubious. The parallel stories play out brilliantly against each other with Ofelia, Mercedes and the rebels and their belief, idealism and rebellion serving as a foil for the Captains fascism. The ending of the movie is poignant, beautiful and unresolved, asking us to decide for ourselves what Ofelia’s fate is, what is fiction and what reality. Amongst all this Pan’s Labyrinth is also a tale about the importance of imagination and belief. If only to dull the pain of the real world.
The Queen: I highly suspect the main reason this movie was made was to showcase the awesome talent of Helen Mirren. It’s witty and insightful at times but almost all those moments are centered around Mirren. Michael Sheen is not bad as Tony Blair, once you get past his pixieish face and very white teeth. Everyone else is really quite a caricature and thank god they are usually just in the back ground. Still worth a watch just for Dame Helen. I’ll eat my hat if she doesn’t win an Oscar for it. (Though considering how the Oscars almost always muck up, I should perhaps take that back.)
Babel: Frustrating. That’s the perfect word to describe the movie. I saw it after it won for best dramatic film at the Globes. How bad can it be, I thought. Well, it’s really bad. I should have known better, especially after reading Roswitha’s post on it (and also considering that we really don’t disagree on anything). In this case though I think she’s been generous in her assessment. The theme that Iñárritu seems to be exploring is interesting, but it is also reminiscent of his earlier work, 21 Grams, which was much better (and I didn’t like it all that much in any case). Perhaps it has to do with the fact that that story was rawer, the actors were better, that it didn’t seem so manipulative. Sean Penn and Benicio del Toro have a certain intensity that Brad Pitt just doesn’t. He’s not bad, but he just doesn’t fit. I kept wondering why Gael García Bernal was in the movie – he was completely underused. The story of Chieko, the deaf girl simply disturbed me. The Japanese connection seemed contrived. Sigh, I could go on. The parts of the movie I did like were those where Iñárritu was working with local actors. They made the story more real, interesting and believable than all the star power of Pitt, Blanchett et al did. The Mexican wedding, the interaction between Pitt and his Moroccan guide, those sequences I liked. But that’s about it. And don’t even get me started on the completely stereotypical images of cultures the movie paints. Let’s just not go there.
Falstaff gives his take on the above here. He also reviews The History Boys. I haven’t seen the movie, but caught the musical on Westend when I was in London. It was excellent, highly recommended. Alrighty then. In addition to above mentioned movies I also watched three excellent adaptations of Shakespeare.
The Merchant Of Venice: I reread the play before I saw the movie. I had first read it quite a while back and it had left me confused as to what to make of it. Michael Radford does a good job bringing it to the screen. While he is quite faithful to the original text he does add a few montages before and after the main happenings that make Shylock and Jessica (to an extent) more sympathetic. (I understand that for Shylock, whose character was very well handled in the film but Jessica is such an appalling character I really don’t get why anyone would want to make her more sympathetic). I expected Pacino as Shylock to be completely over the top but he is shockingly good. Menacing, vindictive, vulnerable, passionate in his hatred – he manages to convey all that. Joseph Fiennes is suitably effeminate to make a good Bassanio. Jeremy Irons, well, I really can’t say anything bad about the man, but he manages to make Antonio more interesting than I would have thought possible. Lynn Collins, despite her perpetual breathlessness in the initial scenes, does a good job as Portia. She convincingly portrays a girl who starts of having no control over her life to one who is completely in charge of things. For me, the most problematic part of the play is the last act. It seems like such a dampener after the drama of the courtroom. Amazingly Radford manages to make that scene work, which left me very impressed. The whole the movie is less theatrical than I expected. There a lot of subtle undercurrents, a lot of close ups, a lot of acting through expressions. It is also beautifully shot – rich, luscious, and very real. On the whole the movie somehow managed to pull off the tragicomic tone of the play, which is quite a feat.
Richard III: Ian McKellen plays Richard in this version, which sets the events of the play in a 1930’s fascist England. Though the movie omits large portions of the play it works in toto. The most glaring cuts are in the lines of Clarence and Queen Margaret. Still some of the damage is curtailed by the fact that the actors playing these characters (Nigel Hawthorne and Maggie Smith, respectively) are just so fabulous that they managed to remain in my mind long after they were off screen. The movie is highly theatrical but doesn’t become overly campy. The brutality of the murders never lets you forget Richards’s villainy. McKellen is excellent of course. One half of his face perpetually droops and he excellently conveys the characters physical deformity. He drips sweetness one minute and then like a chameleon changes to ruthlessness and brutality. As the setting of the movie is different from the play it makes for a few interesting sequences. Richard delivers the first part of “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech at a gala celebrating the victory of the house of York. The remaining parts are acted out in the men’s room with him looking into a mirror and snarling, “I am determined to prove a villain; And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” Then there is Richard stuck in a car in the middle of battle screaming the famous lines “A horse! A horse! My Kingdom for a horse!” Terribly ingenious.
Macbeth: Roman Polanski’s version of Macbeth is one of the bloodiest, goriest films I have seen in a really long time. Apt, I think, the theme of blood permeates the play. I thought it was very good. It left me with the same numbness I felt when I finished reading the play. Jon Finch is excellent as Macbeth. Francesca Annis’s Lady Macbeth comes of as a somewhat sympathetic character as compared to the wily, over ambitious woman she is generally portrayed as. I did however feel that Macduff’s character wasn’t suitably developed and that as a result didn’t add enough drama to the climax. Another small irritant – I thought Polanski used too many back shots making it impossible to see the actors’ faces. Jai wrote an excellent post on the movie a while back and there really isn’t anything I can add to his analysis. Pretty much agree with him.
So, that pretty much sums up the happenings of last week. Viewing for this week includes (repeat viewings) of Yes Minister and The Lion in Winter. And….ummm…Dawson’s Creek. Sigh. And I am not even ashamed to admit that.