Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: Shakespeare Adaptations

"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? / 'Tis the east and Juliet is the sun. / Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, / Who is already pale with grief / That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she." (Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2)

The metaphor within a metaphor, the iambic pentameter, the painful foreshadowing, the tragic loss of innocence, of love. This is why I studied English in college, why I thrive in a life of other narratives, why I love literature and film.

I'm back at this Thursday Movie Picks thing, after being away a spell, and I'm not sure how regular I'll be at it, but I like this one, and I want to pay tribute, for Valentine's Day, to the original English romance...in several iterations.

Here are my picks:

West Side Story
dir. Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, 1961

The most iconic romantic drama as the most iconic Broadway musical. Verona is New York City. The Montagues are a white street gang called The Jets. The Capulets are Puerto Rican immigrants trying to make it in the face of intolerance. Romeo is Tony. Juliet is Maria. "Somehow, someday, somewhere..."

Romeo + Juliet
dir. Baz Luhrmann, 1996

The language of Shakespeare unchanged, the setting still Verona (but not actually), the swords are guns, the family name's the same. Two of the hottest young stars of the time (Leo and Clair) in Baz Luhrmann's sweaty Shakespearean fever dream perfect for the MTV generation. And damn entertaining. "Love me, love me, say that you love me..."

Romeo Must Die
dir. Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2000

Jet Li is Romeo. Aaliyah is Juliet. I don't remember anything else, but I remember seeing this randomly when I was in high school, a trip to the mall with Mom, my Litter Sister's choice, and I freaking loved it.

Bonus Pick

Shakespeare in Love
dir. John Madden, 1998

Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes), a blocked up, penniless playwright in London, meets Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), then her alter ego, a young male stage actor, in a simultaneous play on Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet, all the while Will finds the will to write his greatest sonnets and this the greatest tragic romance. The screenplay by Tom Stoppard is an English major's dream, complete with the lore, the wonderings, and the period detail. It won an undeserved Best Picture Oscar (which should've gone to your favorite of the two WWII films), but it's a great film nonetheless.


18 comments:

  1. Poor Shakespeare in Love, forever known as the film that robbed Saving Private Ryan lol.

    I should watch Baz's Romeo and Juliet again. I remember everyone going crazy for it, but back then I was in the camp of "Leo isn't even that hot" lol

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    1. Saving Private Ryan is clearly better, especially in the long run, but Shakespeare in Love is a cool, funny movie. Sometimes the crowd pleaser beats the epic.

      Leo was and is definitely hot. Lol.

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  2. I've seen all of your picks except for Romeo Must Die. Of the ones I've seen, West Side Story has to be my favorite. Shakespeare in Love follows after that (it was great, but not Best Picture-worthy, but more on that later), & then Romeo + Juliet (I liked it, but it was a little polarizing for me).

    Shakespeare in Love definitely shouldn't have won Best Picture. Saving Private Ryan, while not my favorite film of 1998 (that title belongs to The Big Lebowski, & Saving Private Ryan is my #2 of 1998), was the best of the Best Picture nominees.

    My picks for this week are West Side Story & Romeo + Juliet.

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    1. You get no argument from me. The Big Lebowski and Saving Private Ryan are the shit. Rushmore is my favorite movie of 1998.

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  3. I haven't seen any of them except for Shakespeare in Love - had to watch that during freshman year of high school because it's our introduction to Shakespeare. It was all right but I don't remember much of the events, only the gist.

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    1. It's a good movie. Worth a re-watch, especially if you're into Shakespeare or an English major nerd like me.

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  4. I will not hear a single word against the pure joy and sweeping romance of Shakespeare in Love. It's not easy to make a film that fleet and enjoyable that also digs deep into artistry and matters of the heart. It shows just as much mastery of craft as any of the other films nominated for Best Picture that year, and has a better screenplay than any of them (although if The Truman Show had gotten the nomination it deserved...).

    Luhrmann's R+J is so wild and crazy, one of the most stylized Shakespeare adaptations. I'm SO glad you used a picture of the fish tank scene, which is my favorite in the whole movie and just as perfect as movies get.

    R+J was the first Shakespeare play I ever read, and the one that turned me on to the Bard. I have the entire balcony scene memorized even though I've never gotten to play it - the whole thing is so beautiful, just perfectly written, along with the nightingale/lark post-coital scene.

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    1. The Truman Show is a totally unsung masterpiece. Right up near the top of my list for 98, higher than Saving Private Ryan. I don't have anything against Shakespeare in Love, other than it beat the most badass movie I'd ever seen up to that point when I was 14 and didn't give two flying shits about some Shakespeare movie. Years later, Saving Private Ryan is the better movie for me still.

      Romeo and Juliet, I haven't read since 9th grade, but I dug it, and our teacher showed us the 1968 film and the Luhrmann film as well, or at least parts of both... I'm an Othello guy.

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  5. I really like Shakespeare In Love and found it witty, original and fun. Saving Ryan's privates was excellent at the beginning but I am not a lover of that film so i was happy it didn't win. Love West Side Story although the tough and rough gang dancing in the street and flecking their toes always makes me giggle. I haven't seen the other 2

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    1. It is all of those things. Saving Private Ryan was the best movie I'd seen up to that point (I was 14, so...). It's still a favorite 20 years later though. Giggling about West Side Story is the best part.

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  6. I've only seen Shakespeare In Love but I don't remember much.

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  7. Shakespeare in Love totally deserved that Oscar.

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  8. Like that you went with three all based on the same source but radically different.

    West Side Story has so much to it aside from the basic story, the music is just amazing..Somewhere is a truly haunting song but the entire score is special. Then there are most of the performances, Beymer as Tony tries-and he's certainly good looking-but the role is beyond the scope of his talent and I'd never nominate George Chakiris for an Oscar let alone the win though he does well by the role but Bernardo is eclipsed in impact by Riff and Russ Tamblyn's charisma. However despite the fact that she doesn't do her own singing Natalie Wood brings her special radiance and vulnerability to Maria and towering above them all is Rita Moreno-she's a FORCE in this. Wonderfully directed and fantastically choreographed it's simply a great film.

    Luhrmann's R&J isn't something I return to frequently if at all but he did a great job at realizing his vision of what he wanted to put on screen. The DiCaprio of this period did little for me but he makes a good Romeo.

    I did not love Romeo Must Die but as a different angle on the well-worn story it comes across as quite fresh.

    I'm in agreement on Shakespeare in Love's undeserved Oscar win, and the GOOP chick's best actress win makes my eye twitch to this day, but it is a very charming film just not the best of its year. Joseph Fiennes is magnetic and Ben Affleck's performance a merry highlight. Like I said I like it but think its win damaged it reputation more than enhanced it.

    I tried to go with two that are less discussed but expected my first pick to show up at least once which it hasn't so I'm doubly glad I chose it now.

    Hamlet (1996)-Kenneth Branagh adapted, directed and stars as the tortured Dane supported by a cast that is drawn from the cream of the British acting world with a few choice American stars pulled in for good measure. What makes this version stand out from the myriad others is Branagh’s decision to pull the play out of the dingy and poorly lit 14th century to the lush baroque 19th, resulting in deserved nominations for Art & Costume design, making it a far more vivid experience. That’s a great help since he has also chosen to present the entirety of the play’s nearly four hour run time. In a cast that includes Derek Jacobi, Julie Christie, Robin Williams, Gerard Depardieu and Judi Dench among so many others it’s difficult to choose any MVP’s aside from Branagh but Kate Winslet as Ophelia and Rufus Sewell as Fortinbras, the crown prince of Norway are memorable. It’s a challenging view but worthwhile.

    Joe MacBeth (1955)-Updating the Scottish play to the criminal underworld of 1930’s America this violent take on the tale (it begins with the title character blowing away a crime boss then going directly to his own wedding) is an inventive twist on the material. Excellent work by Paul Douglas and Ruth Roman as the murderous mobster and his rapacious Lady M hold you rapt as the homicidal pair climb the ladder of success over an ever increasing pile of bodies.

    Kiss Me Kate (1953)-The Taming of the Shrew moved into the world of the modern theatre and musicalized by Cole Porter. Famous stage star Fred Graham (Howard Keel) tries to dissuade his equally famous ex-wife Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) to postpone her upcoming marriage so she can co-star with him in a musical updating of The Taming of the Shrew. She agrees reluctantly since their relationship post-divorce is as combative as their married life so it’s not smooth going. Add in several flies in the ointment including second lead Lois Lane(!) (Ann Miller) and some mobsters who are mistakenly putting the squeeze on Frank for a debt Lois’s boyfriend owes and it’s a wacky time backstage. Onstage though there are some amazing dance numbers performed by four of the best dancers of the 50’s (Miller, Carol Haney, Bob Fosse and Bobby Van) and great music sung by all including “It’s Too Darn Hot!” and “From This Moment On”. One of the great musicals.

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    1. I have always wanted to see Branagh's version of Hamlet. The runtime always deterred me. I'll definitely watch it one day. I don't go back to R+J or Romeo Must Die either. Liked both though for sure. West Side Story is etched in my brain. I love it.

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  9. Great picks! I like the fact that you did a sub-theme, choosing adaptations of the same play.

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    1. Thanks! I like to do that sometimes. Though Romeo and Juliet would be the best.

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