Anonymous


Anonymous

Rhys Ifans wonders if posing as Captain Morgan might not have been the best career move for him.

(2011) Thriller (Columbia) Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Joely Richardson, Xavier Samuel, Sebastian Arnesto, Rafe Spall, Edward Hogg, Derek Jacobi, Jamie Campbell Bower, Sam Reid, Paolo De Vita, Trystan Gravelle, Mark Rylance, Helen Baxendale. Directed by Roland Emmerich

The greatest writer in the history of the English language is William Shakespeare. There’s no argument on that point whatsoever. However, there are those who believe that Shakespeare, the son of an illiterate glassblower, never wrote the things he did and in fact couldn’t have.

There is a contingent of scholars, known as Oxfordians, who believe that Edward de Vere (Ifans), the 17th Earl of Oxford, was in fact the author of Shakespeare’s works. The movie takes up that cause, opining that de Vere, unable to publish his plays due to his father in law, William Cecil (Thewlis), a devout pilgrim and his wife Anne (Baxendale).

De Vere is aware that the Cecils – William and his conniving hunchbacked son Robert (Hogg) are plotting to put James, the King of Scotland on the throne when Elizabeth (Redgrave), who is aging, ill and without a will finally passes away. He believes that would be a catastrophe for the kingdom. He wants to sway the tide of public opinion in a different direction, and he notices that the wildly popular theatrical plays can do that. He enlists the young playwright Ben Johnson (Arnesto) to publish and produce de Vere’s plays under Johnson’s name.

However, things go a bit awry when Johnson, wishing to have a career of his own work, hesitates to take credit for his first produced play and an ambitious, drunken actor named Will Shakespeare (Spall) steps forward and takes credit. The die is cast therefore and court intrigue begins to swirl.

Shakespeare’s plays become enormously popular and the man, dumber than a rock but clever in a streetwise sense, extorts money from De Vere when he figures out who the true author of his plays are. In the meantime, De Vere supports the claim of the Earl of Essex (Reid) for the throne, a claim which is also supported by De Vere’s close friend the Earl of Southampton (Samuel) whose ties to De Vere are deeper than anyone supposes.

The Cecils have the aging Queen’s ear and despite her very plain affection for the Earl of Oxford, it appears she’s is going to let the Cecils seize the power in England and it will take a very bold plan and some very stirring words to turn things in the favor of the Earl of Oxford and his supporters.

Emmerich, better known for big budget apocalyptic films like The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day has long had this on the back-burner as a vanity project. This is definitely a departure for him and one has to admire his willingness to move out of his comfort zone.

To his credit, his recreation of Elizabethan London on German soundstages is incredible, from the muddy streets laid with lumber so that the noblemen may walk about the city without muddying their boots, to the magnificent estates inhabited by nobles and courtiers to the intimate setting of the Globe Theater itself.

That said, the historical accuracy here is to put it kindly somewhat shaky which writer John Orloff admits, but rightly points out that Shakespeare himself was notorious for bending the facts of history to suit his dramatic needs. Some of the facts that have been bent will only outrage scholars but there is certainly some fudging in order to make the case for Oxford.

Nonetheless the entertainment value is up there. Ifans, known for playing kind of whacky and often stoned-out roles in his career plays a literal Renaissance man who manages to keep to his conviction of avoiding bloodshed and resolving things in a peaceable manner. He is opposed by forces that are both malevolent and devious, and he is intelligent enough to sidestep most of the pitfalls, although he in the end….well, we’ll let you find out for yourself.

The British cast here have some pretty solid pedigrees, including the Oscar-nominated Redgrave and Jacobi, one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the time. Most of the rest of the cast are well known on the London stage or from television roles, although Thewlis will be familiar to Harry Potter fans.

Some might find the plot a bit murky, particularly in regards to the ins and outs of court intrigue in the court of Elizabeth I near the end of her reign. Still, while I disagree with Emmerich and Orloff’s conclusions vis a vis the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays (as do most scholars) I did like the discussion raised here not to mention the authenticity of the setting.

REASONS TO GO: A fine recreation of Elizabethan England with some solid performances all around, particularly from Ifans.

REASONS TO STAY: Takes a goodly amount of historical liberties. Twists and turns of court politics might be confusing for some.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence and a bit of sexuality, not to mention a few adult themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Redgrave and Richardson who play older and younger versions of Elizabeth are mother and daughter in real life.

HOME OR THEATER: I thought it appeared very snazzy on the big screen; Emmerich seems to thrive in the larger-than-life environment.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Rum Diary

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Gnomeo and Juliet


Gnomeo & Juliet

Featherstone engages in a little light bondage with Gnomeo and Juliet.

(2011) Animated Feature (Touchstone) Starring the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Jim Cummings, Ozzy Osbourne, Hulk Hogan, Julie Walters, Dolly Parton, Stephen Merchant, Richard Wilson. Directed by Kelly Asbury

If the play’s the thing, then Romeo and Juliet may just be THE thing. Perhaps the most famous play ever written, it has been told and re-told in all sorts of cinematic methods, from musicals (West Side Story) to epics (Zeffirelli’s 1968 version) to mistakes (Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 MTV-hip version). However, I can’t think of any version that is quite as bizarro as this one.

Mr. Montague (Wilson) and Miss Capulet (Waters) live at 2B and Not 2B Verona Avenue. They have had a petty rivalry going on over the years stemming from their gardens. This resentment has carried over to their garden furniture, particularly the garden gnomes that populate their yards. On the Montague side, Lord Redbrick (Caine) rules the red gnomes; on the Capulet, Lady Bluebury (Smith) is the boss.

Gnomeo (McAvoy) is son of Lady Bluebury; Juliet (Blunt) daughter of Lord Redbrick. The endless rivalry that goes on, largely in the form of lawnmower races between Gnomeo and Tybalt (Statham) which Tybalt cheats in order to win, has been escalating. Juliet, tired of being cooped up on a pedestal watched over by Nanette (Jensen), a frog fountain at the behest of Juliet’s overprotective dad, wants to contribute and be productive; she spies a rare orchid in the hothouse of a neighboring yard whose house has fallen into disrepair. She means to nab it for the Reds in order to put the red yard ahead of the blue.

In the meantime, Gnomeo means to exact revenge for Tybalt’s destruction of the Blue lawnmower. He and his cousin Benny (Lucas) go on a stealth mission to the Red yard, meaning to lay down some graffiti but Benny gets a bit carried away and the two are discovered. They flee and Gnomeo is forced to take shelter in the abandoned yard.

It is of course at that moment that Juliet, dressed as a ninja (okay, wearing one of Mr. Montague’s old socks) enters the abandoned yard to nab the orchid. Gnomeo sees her go after it and in the way of guys everywhere, once he sees somebody wants something he wants it too. The two of them compete for the flower in a series of martial arts-like moves until they get a gander at each other’s faces. That’s it – instant love. However, they fall into a convenient pond, washing off Gnomeo’s camouflage and washing away Juliet’s sock and they realize that they are from opposing sides.

That doesn’t mean much to true love however and they arrange a meeting in the neutral yard the next day. There they meet Featherstone (Cummings), a plastic pink flamingo who has languished in the storage shed since the owners of the house divorced and went their separate ways years ago. He is pleased to see them, particularly when they discover his missing leg. He is all about love, particularly since his own love was taken away from him in the divorce.

The two are definitely in love and life could certainly be idyllic, particularly if they follow through with their plans to run away and start a new garden in the dilapidated old yard. However, Tybalt is getting out of control and the war between red and blue is escalating and frankly, red is winning. However, the blue side looks to even things out with something called the Terrafirminator. The more out of control things get, the more likely that a tragic ending is  inevitable.

This is one of those nice occasions where my expectations were exceeded. I didn’t think much of the trailer; the animation isn’t really ground-breaking and while the whole concept is different to say the least, it is sufficiently out there that sight unseen it left me with a kind of wait-and-see attitude. Quite frankly, Da Queen was far more jazzed to see this than I was. I’m very glad that she insisted we go see it.

This is more than pretty good. There are many sly Shakespearean references (“Out! Damn spot!” refers not to a bloodstain but to a wayward hound) as well as some amazing stunt casting, like metal god Ozzie Osbourne as a sweet porcelain deer, and Patrick Stewart as a grumpy William Shakespeare. Hulk Hogan narrates an online ad for the Terrafirminator and Dolly Parton adds a turn as the starter at the lawnmower race (with an appropriately blonde and large-breasted gnome as her onscreen alter ego).  

Director Kelly Asbury previously worked on such disparate projects as Shrek 2 and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron.  He shows a deft hand here and despite an army of writers, lends a Monty Python-esque air to the proceedings.

Elton John was the executive producer of the project and most of the incidental music is themes from his hit songs done with an orchestra. That does make for a nice trip down memory lane, not to mention he contributes two new original songs (one a duet with Lady Gaga) but I would have preferred a little more original music – maybe another song or two – to balance the retreads.  

There aren’t nearly the pop culture references so prevalent in most animated features in the post-Shrek era which is kind of refreshing. It has a decidedly English feel, like the Aardman films (like Chicken Run and Flushed Away). In short, this is something completely different from the animated ranks, so much so that Disney chose to release it through their Touchstone imprint rather than the parent company where they usually place their animated features. That may backfire on them – I suspect that the film might have benefitted from the Disney marketing and brand name, but still in all don’t let its lack stop you – this is a fine animated feature that will delight children and adults alike.

REASONS TO GO: Wonderful Shakespeare in-jokes replace pop culture references. Nicely cast (and drawn) cameos.

REASONS TO STAY: Music recycles Elton John themes ad infinitum – some more original music and songs would have been welcome.

FAMILY VALUES: Suitable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart have both played Professor Charles Xavier in the X-Men movies; Stewart in the first three (and the Wolverine spin-off) and McAvoy in the upcoming X-Men: First Class.

HOME OR THEATER: Certainly the 3D aspect may work better in the theater, but this one looks just as good at home methinks.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Other End of the Line