Watch the Brilliant First Clips from #Macbeth with #MichaelFassbender!

Macbeth, Michael Fassbender, movie, poster, Marion Cotillard, Justin Kurzel, Shakespeare, Scottish play

Justin Kurzel‘s Macbeth will have its (eagerly awaited) world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival tomorrow (May 23), as the final film in the main competition. (Bit of trivia. While it’s the third* film version of Shakespeare’s play to appear in Cannes, it is  the first to screen in competition.)

To celebrate, StudioCanal has just released two clips. At the risk of appearing to be a Fassbender fan site (since my last post was also about a Fassy film. What can I say, he’s about to have a HUGE year), I have to share them. Sweet baby jeebus, please let the rest of this film look as good as these tiny snippets!

The first clip, the appropriately titled “Battle” shows Michael Fassbender as Macbeth, with his friend and ally, Banquo (Paddy Considine) on one side and Jack Reynor as Malcolm on the other, as they prepare to fight in service of their king, Duncan (played by David Thewlis).

The mist shrouded Scottish Highlands are certainly used to good effect. The clip also reminds us that in those days, if you were tall enough to hold a sword, you were old enough to fight, as there seem to be a lot of teenage boys in the mix. As for the style, personally I can’t wait to see more. I like Kurzel’s choice to intercut the adreneline fueled, angry rush of one fighting force toward the other, with a silent, slow-motion, almost balletic clash. A battle scene shot like that (which, granted has been used poorly in less subtle ways since Zack Snyder made it popular with 300. I don’t anticipate cartoonish splatters of blood to fill the screen) makes the fight more personal, the combatants rendered individually rather than an angry, noisy clash of swords and bodies, where it’s impossible to tell who’s doing what to whom.

Speaking of 300, is it just me or is Fassbender’s leap an Easter Egg for fans who remember Stelios’ athleticism?

Stelios, 300, Michael Fassbender, Macbeth, photo, athleticism

The second clip, “Coronation” gives us a brief glimpse of the gorgeous (even under a veil) Marion Cotillard as Lady M, Sean Harris as Macduff and Elizabeth Debicki as his lady:

Even in that brief look, it’s clearly evident that the Macduffs are not happy with the precedings. But the biggest take-away for me is that stunning opening shot to this clip. I have rewatched it several times now and I’m just in awe of the way Kurzel and his director of photography, Adam Arkapaw (who worked with the director on The Snowtown Murders**), used the rays of the sun streaming through the cathedral windows to such great effect. They create a cross-hatch pattern that naturally blurs the background which makes the figures surrounding the throne stand-out in bas relief, despite the fact that they are in shadow.

Both of these snippets are short, but full of foreboding, the tension high, especially in the latter.

Macbeth, a duke of Scotland, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, Macbeth murders his king and takes the throne for himself.

Macbeth will get a UK release on October 2 (which curiously predates the opening of the BFI London Film Festival by five days. This seems like a natural choice. Oh well. No one asked me.). No US dates announced yet, but Harvey Weinstein won a bidding war for the rights and he’s already said he’s positioning it for an awards season push. Expect it in November or December.

*after 1971’s version directed by Roman Polanski and director Claude d’Anna‘s French version in 1987.

**The Snowtown Murders is on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, you need to.

Jude Law Gets Hilariously Filthy in Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway, Jude Law, movie, poster, Richard Shepard, Richard E. Grant

Poster for dvd release of Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway with Jude Law

Dom Hemingway, a movie I’m almost certain you missed in the theaters, is out now on dvd and blu-ray. It’s about a Cockney safecracker of the same name, zealously played with bawdy, psychotic, raunchy, balls-out , go-for-broke bravado by Jude Law like you’ve never seen him before – and not just because he gained thirty pounds to play him. Dom is Bricktop from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (sans pigs), if Ritchie were Francois Rabelais channeling Mickey Spillane.

Actually, Dom Hemingway sprang from the talented and slightly twisted mind of writer/director Richard Shepard, whose last movie, 2005’s The Matador, gave us Pierce Brosnan strolling across a hotel lobby in a Speedo and ankle boots.

After spending 12 years in prison for keeping his mouth shut, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed.

The story begins as we listen, likely in slack-jawed wonder, watching Law’s face in close-up, as Dom addresses the audience and delivers an ode to his favorite part of his anatomy. As the camera pulls back we realize he’s talking all the while being “serviced” by a faceless someone whom we come to recognize as a fellow inmate. It is a truly awesome monologue, an efflux of Shakespearean proportions, both epic and surreal, funny and jaw-droppingly filthy.

jude law, shirtless, movie, photo, dom hemingway

That stunning scene pretty much tells us what we’re in for as we follow this violent, poetic, hilarious, anachronistic gangster on his quest to get the money owed to him for not ratting out his boss… plus a present.

Then there’s Dom’s best friend, Dickie, played by the under-rated Richard E. Grant, as a toff in leisure suits and aviator shades, with a prosthetic hand. Dickie is at Dom’s right hand, observing everything and responding with a verbal or literal eye-roll, but we know instantly that this is just par for the course and there is deep affection between the two.

Dom: Fontaine better have a well-stocked bar.
Dickie: He was raised in a Russian orphanage and kills people for a living. Of course he has a well-stocked bar.

In fact, all of the characters, from the double-crossing Russian mobster Mr. Fontaine, played Demian Bichir (!) to Melody (Kerry Condon), whose life Dom saves in a rare moment of unselfishness, to an unrecognizable Emilia Clarke as Dom’s estranged daughter Evelyn, are very well drawn. The problem is that Dom is such a BIG character that everyone around him is dwarfed.

It’s a story we’ve seen play out countless times before with varying degrees of success, but a character like Dom, rarely. Shepard’s twist is the humor with which he tries to balance his main character’s amoral behavior. However, that we are not repulsed by Dom is, of course, down in part to the clever things Shepard has given him to say, but mostly it’s all Law, who manages to remain as charming as ever. He embodies every aspect of Dom, from the way he walks (more like swaggers bow-legged with hips thrust forward like a cowboy or porn star, usually with a cigarette plugged between his teeth), talks, swears, drinks, laughs, and cries with every bit of the bold presumptuousness needed to make the character come to life.

The movie ultimately can’t decide what it wants to be. Instead of letting Dom just “be”, Shepard sees the need to add a redemption plot to his otherwise slight tale of an ex-con looking for payback. Dom’s efforts to repair his relationship with his daughter, despite how good Clarke is, and how good Law is in the scenes with her son, feel tacked on. It really wasn’t necessary to give Dom any redeeming qualities when the reprobate is so much fun.

Dom Hemingway as a whole should not work, but amazingly it does, for the most part – including the striking and vibrant color palette, the soundtrack full of instantly recognizable classics by The Alarm, Primal Scream, Big Country, Pixies, Godfathers, Motorhead, and Citizen Cope, as well as a very sweet version of The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” sung by Emilia Clarke, and a truly memorable car crash sequence – as long as you don’t ask too much from it.

If for nothing else, though, I recommend the film for Jude Law, who at 41 has eschewed “pretty boy” status for good and Dom Hemingway finds him at his very best.

Red-band trailer:

Dom Hemingway, written and directed by Richard Shepard, with Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon, Jumayn Hunter and Madelina Ghenea, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013 and is on dvd and blu-ray now.

#ForbiddenLove: A New Version of Romeo and Juliet

poster, Romeo and Juliet,  Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth

Amber Entertainment/Relativity Media

I am always in favor of a new version of a Shakespeare play hitting the big screen.  I loved Mel Gibson’s Hamlet almost as much as Kenneth Branagh’s version. While they were wildly different, both were beautifully filmed and featured extraordinarily gifted casts. And both, I have no doubt, brought new appreciation for the original texts upon which they were based. That, in my humble opinion, is the point.

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has already been filmed more than 30 times, including alternate versions like West Side Story and the animated, Gnomeo and Juliet. It is, arguably, THE classic tale of star-crossed, ill-fated love and everything else is just some form of imitation. Having said that, I believe that every generation deserves it’s own version of this tale, “that of Juliet and her Romeo”. It’s a story of young love, first love.  While the themes will forever be fresh, the presentation should bear the faces of its current audience. (Believe it or not kids, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet was 17 years ago.) This is the first Romeo and Juliet for the internet generation, so of course it’s being advertised with a poster that contains a hashtag, #ForbiddenLove, for Twitter users. No Facebook page, although there are pages dedicated to both the 1996 and 1968 versions (as well as the play itself), but I have no doubt one will soon follow.

I was already half in love with this new version, adapted by Julian Fellowes of Gosford Park and “Downton Abbey” fame, from the first still I saw of Douglas Booth. It’s not that I have some sort of unhealthy crush on this preternaturally pretty English actor, it’s that he looks so much like Leonard Whiting, the actor who played Romeo in Franco Zefferelli’s version in 1968. I grew up watching countless repeats of that one on television. Nothing has ever induced a squishy, girly, bosom-heaving sigh-inducing romantic feeling in me like the love theme, “A Time for Us” used to. I wanted to learn to play the piano so that I could play it.  An aunt had the sheet music and the soundtrack LP so I used to sing it into a hairbrush.  So while many of my fellow internet scribes may picture Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, when I think of Romeo and Juliet, I picture Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting.

I hear a chorus of owls at those two names. Olivia Hussey was only 17 when the movie came out and is still acting, although her most recognizable post-Juliet roles came in the 70’s with Black Christmas and Lost Horizon. Her Romeo fared less well. There’s not much of note on Whiting’s resume other than 1973’s Frankenstein: The True Story (a tv movie with Jane Seymour) and the fact that he sang back-up and did voice work on two Alan Parsons Project albums.

I think Hailee Steinfeld, who replaced Lily Collins, and Douglas Booth will fare much better. Steinfeld, of course, received an Academy Award nomination for her first film, the Coens’ remake of True Grit. She’s got two other films due out in 2013 as well: the possible franchise starter, Ender’s Game, and Can a Song Save Your Life with Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knightley. Next year should see Tommy Lee Jones 2nd directorial effort, The Homesman with Hilary Swank, with four other films in various stages of production.

Booth beat out Sam Claflin, Josh Hutcherson and Logan Lerman, but is still probably best known as Pip from one of the two versions of Dickens’ “Great Expectations” produced last year. He appeared in the BBC/PBS version with Gillian Anderson as Miss Havisham and Ray Winstone as Magwitch. You can also find him as Eustace in reruns of Starz’s Pillars of the Earth (and if you have to, with Miley Cyrus in LOL). While the success of Romeo and Juliet may earn him a break-out role, it may also sentence him to a life in period costume.

If a new version of a Shakespeare play isn’t “updating” as in Luhrmann’s 1996 film set in Verona Beach (or Branagh’s Hamlet set in the Napoleonic era of the early 19th century) then I want faithfulness. I don’t expect anything from this new version of Romeo and Juliet, directed by Carlo Carlei (who has been toiling in Italian television since his last feature, 1995’s Fluke) and filmed in the actual gorgeous medieval towns of Verona and Mantua, Italy, other than sumptuous costumes and a faithfulness to the spirit of the thing with as much of the original text as possible.  Judging from this first trailer, I think that’s what we’ll get:

MTV has posted a new version, for the US market, that’s essentially the same. You can find it at the link.

In addition to the two leads, there are truffles like Kodi Smit-Phee and Ed Westwick. The pretty teenagers (okay, Westwick’s not a teenager. Work with me here) can lure the youth market. A beautiful, well told love story aimed at their hearts and minds is a rare thing these days.  (The key words being “well told”. This is Shakespeare. There be no brooding, sparkly vampires,  werewolves with six-pack abs, witches on the edge of the dark side or aliens in need of eviction here.)  For the adults, there is Mr. Fellowes’ screenplay, plus the rest of the cast is chock full of talented names like Stellan Skarsgård, Damian Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Lesley Manville, Tomas Arana, and Natascha McElhone… and Tom Wisdom (Astinos! Where have you been? 40 and still looks 22).

Romeo and Juliet, which debuted at Cannes last May, gets a (limited) US release on October 11. No word yet on the UK or anywhere else.

Will you see it? Do you agree with me, that the world continues to need fresh new versions of Shakespeare’s plays or are you of the “seen one, seen ’em all” school of thought?

Could ‘Coriolanus’ Be the Next ‘The King’s Speech’?

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On Monday February 14, Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut, Coriolanus, a modern day interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, will have its world premiere at the prestigious Berlinale (the Berlin Int’l Film Festival.)

There has already been considerable industry buzz for this film. The expectations for the first turn behind the lens of an actor of Fiennes’ caliber are high, even if it is Shakespeare, and indeed it is the only British film in competition for a coveted Golden Bear.

It is also scheduled to open the 39th Annual Belgrade Film Fest at the end of February. (The movie was filmed in Belgrade and the surrounding area in April and May of 2010.) There are rumors circulating that Fiennes also plans to bring it to Cannes in May 2011.

In addition, there has now been a report that the Weinstein Company is interested in distributing the film.  I can’t help but think that, if true, this is not just very good news, but another vote of confidence in the film. 

The Weinstein name on a movie is something of a stamp of approval or legitimacy. It has a certain cachet within the industry. Weinstein backed films tend to be of a certain class or caliber and historically, they tend to be the types of films that garner awards attention. 

Just look at a partial list from the last two years (with a smattering of their awards & nominations:)

 

·  The Reader (2008) *Best Actress Kate Winslet* (co-starring Ralph Fiennes)

·  Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)*multiple Guild and Critics Association awards nominations*

 ·  Inglourious Basterds (2009, co production with Universal Pictures and A Band Apart) *Best Supporting Actor Christoph Waltz*

·  A Single Man (2009) *Best Actor nomination Colin Firth*

·  Nine (2009)*nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Supporting Actress Penelope Cruz*

·  Le Concert (2010) *nominated for Golden Globe Best Foreign Language Film, nominated for 6 Cesar Awards incl. wins for Music & Sound*

·  The Tillman Story (2010)*won Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize*

·  Nowhere Boy (2010)*nominated for 4 BAFTAs and 5 British Independent Film Awards incl. a win for Best Supporting Actress*

·  The King’s Speech (2010) *most nominated film of this year’s Academy Awards*

·  Blue Valentine (2010)*Best Actress nomination Michelle Williams*

·  The Company Men (2011)
 
Not only have all of the films listed been nominated for awards, but most are small little art-house movies that without the backing of a distributor with the clout of the Weinsteins, or perhaps even Sony Pictures Classics, behind them, they probably could have gone straight to dvd without a theatrical release.

Whatever else can be said of the Weinsteins, Harvey in particular, they do know how to market a film.  This year’s current top contender for the Oscar for Best Picture of the year, The King’s Speech, is a case in point. While it helps that the movie is just that good, without the backing of a company that knew what to do with it, it could easily have languished under the radar. Instead, with an aggressive campaign that created a demand for the film before it was widely released, including a media blitz that embraced the burgeoning bloggisphere and made good use of new social media outlets (ironic given its chief competition for the year’s big awards), it is on track to become one of the most successful independent films in history and has made back its modest budget many times over. Now, of course, they have all of those awards and nominations to use to keep it in the public eye until the big dance on February 27th.

This is what I want for Coriolanus. 

While Mr. Fiennes is accustomed to attracting attention for his acting prowess, as is a majority of the rest of the ensemble that comprises his cast, it would certainly be a grand achievement if he were to earn it for a film he directed as well.  He has earned the respect of his peers and the industry in which he toils (and they appear poised to embrace his next efforts as well.)

This is what I want it for Gerard Butler.

Some really impressive promo shots from this film have just been released and I wanted both an excuse to post them and to use them as an excuse to talk about the film.

I’ve read the play (although it has been many years since I have done so.) It is a story filled with passion and violence and politics and themes like ambition and familial devotion, friendship, and betrayal. While some may instantly grimace at the idea of sitting through a filmed version of a Shakespearian tragedy (and I fear some of those people will never be able to open their minds to the possibility,) there are parallels to be found in current world politics and if done right, will resonate with a modern viewer.

Judging from the stills alone, this film will showcase the gravitas that Ralph Fiennes possesses in spades. I was hoping Mr. Fiennes would be able to impart some of that to his co-star, an actor he hand-picked based on the qualities he exhibited in a little movie called ‘300.’  Gerard Butler as King Leonidas delivered a performance with a stillness that suggested power and strength beyond the 8-pack abs, qualities that Fiennes wanted for Coriolanus’ arch enemy, Tullus Aufidius.  Judging from the stills alone, he seems to have gotten what he asked for.

It is my hope that this film will not only serve to prove that Ralph Fiennes has successfully joined the ranks of a mere handful of actors who have transitioned from in front of the camera to behind it and back again, but also to prove what a small but vociferous bunch of us have known for a long time, that Gerard Butler is a very talented actor.  More talented than his recent foray into romantic comedy and action adventure would have indicated; the talent that seemed evident in much of his earliest work and seemed to want to break out of the constraints of a caged serial killer.

It is my hope that Coriolanus will be Butler’s entrée to the real A-list, the small list of actors like the Colin Firths and the Ralph Fiennes of the world who are offered the meaty dramatic parts that showcase and challenge their talents, not just their abs or their gorgeous mugs.

It is my hope that filmgoers will be able to get past their prejudices against watching Shakespeare on film, let alone a film by an actor who thinks he can direct and yes, even get beyond their prejudices against Gerard Butler as a serious and talented actor long enough to just watch the damn movie.





Forget it’s Shakespeare, forget it’s Gerard Butler, forget everything you think you know… and let his face tell you the story

*Immeasurable thanks, as always, to my editor, Connie!