Yesterday had many lows but one enormous highlight, which occurred when my companion referenced “like, the telephone switchboard scene in that weird 50s movie.” “Aha!” I said, and, fingers snapping, belted out a stanza of “Telephone Hour” from Bye Bye Birdie: “WHAT’S THE STORY, MORNING GLORY? WHAT’S THE WEEEERD, HUMMINGBIRD? DID YOU HEAR ABOUT HUGO AND KIM? DID THEY REALLY GET PINNED? DID SHE KISS HIM AND CRY? DID HE PUT THE PIN ON? OR WAS HE TOO SHY?” His dismay, which grew palpable as I went on to joyously warble the whole score, only increased my joy. Musical theater nerdery requires no external approbation. Good thing, too.
It’s that time of year, at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The days are long, the weather is glorious, and gardens are overflowing with bounty that hasn’t yet over-ripened on the vine. In short, it’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream time, that moment in the year that inspired Shakespeare’s most joyously subversive comedy. About four Athenian lovers, six amateur stage actors, and the fairies who control them during a magical night in a forest, Midsummer is an oft-quoted yet oddly underestimated meta-play about the intersection of romance, gender, identity, power, performance, and fate – ideal fodder for Hollywood adaptations, in other words, though the quality of those adaptations is markedly uneven. Here’s our oh-so-subjective list of the best Midsummer-inspired films; suffice it to say it doesn’t include the hamfisted 1999 adaptation starring a deer-in-the-headlights Calista Flockart, the 2001 “10 Things I Hate About You” knockoff “Get Over It,” or this winter’s buffoonishly wrongheaded “Strange Magic.” Continue Reading →
“Cymbeline” may be the red-headed stepchild of Shakespeare’s plays. Theoretically, it’s got it all: a scheming queen, beheadings, mistaken identities, battlefields, magic potions, a girl passing as a boy. But with a labyrinthine plot, unaccommodating verse, and oddbot allusions to the Bard’s earlier works, it defies categorization, let alone easy analysis. Who but a director like Michael Almereyda – best known for his modish, moody 2000 adaptation of “Hamlet” starring Ethan Hawke – would dare tackle such fare?
I’m glad he did. Shakespearean adaptations are a dime a dozen but most are “as inspired by the play by William Shakespeare” affairs like “10 Things I Hate About You” or Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” (though the former is a solid 1990s Heath Ledger vehicle). Movies that really honor the playwright’s spirit are rarer birds, and with a languid playfulness, Almereyda has made exactly that. He also has shown us that “Cymbeline” is a play whose time has come again.
Like Almereyda’s “Hamlet,” this film is set in modern times but preserves an unusual amount of Shakespeare’s original speech. It is a study in sly casting, too. With his unhappily darting eyes and small shoulders squared in a leather jacket, Ed Harris is perfect as Cymbeline, the king of a motorcycle gang – as is Milla Jovovich as his second wife, a queen so cruelly beautiful that her tiara doesn’t even seem ironic. (More than any actress of her generation, Jovovich has always seemed born to play cruelly beautiful middle-aged women.) With saucer eyes and the smoothest of skin, Gossip Boy Penn Badgley plays the skate-boarding Posthumous, Cymbeline’s favorite disciple until he falls for Imogene (Dakota Johnson), the biker king’s daughter. Though lovely in a new-millennial-doll sort of way, she widens her eyes and mealy-mouths her dialogue as if nothing more could be required of a third-generation scion of Hollywood sirens (her mother is Melanie Griffith; her grandmother, the swoony Tippi Hedren). Such reacting rather than acting works here, though, as she mostly serves as the object around which all the real action rotates. Continue Reading →