Wednesdays With Will

Wednesdays With Will: Richard III (1995)

In 1995, Ian McKellen was not a well known actor. He had performed in a few major releases for the US market, and quite a few productions for the UK market in his 30 years of performing. 1995 would not be his breakout year (that would come a couple of years later with his critically acclaimed turns in Bill Condon’s God’s And Monsters and Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil and his star making turns in Singer’s X-Men and Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings.) But in 1995, McKellen starred in this adaption of William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

This production features lush visuals and and a 1940s setting with Nazi imagery. This works extremely well in translating Shakespeare’s classic world of greed, power, and corruption.

The film is also wonderfully cast with Ian McKellen heading things up. He is joined with Annette Benning as Queen Elizabeth, Jim Broadbent as the Duke of Buckingham, Kristen Scott Thomas as Lady Anne, and a young Robert Downey Jr as Lord Rivers. It is a true reminder of how good Downey has always been despite his personal problems he was experiencing at the time.

Richard III is currently streaming on Netflix.

Directed by

Richard Loncraine

Produced by Stephen Bayly
Lisa Katselas Paré
Written by William Shakespeare (play)
Ian McKellen
Richard Loncraine
Starring Ian McKellen
Annette Bening
Jim Broadbent
Robert Downey Jr.
Kristin Scott Thomas
Maggie Smith
Adrian Dunbar
Dominic West
Music by Trevor Jones
Cinematography Peter Biziou
Editing by Paul Green
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s)
  • December 29, 1995
Running time 104 minutes
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Wednesdays With Will: MacBeth (2006)

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Happy Halloween everyone! I hope you’re enjoying a great day of trick or treating, celebrating All Hallow’s Read, and enjoying the day.

For this inguaral WwW Halloween post, I’ve decided to review the Bard’s most supernatural play, MacBeth aka “The Scottish Play”. Why?Well because it has everything that you would for a Halloween viewing, murder, mayham, violence, death, ghosts, witches, the list goes on and on.

20121031-024925.jpgThe version I’ve chosen is the 2006 version from Australia, directed by Geoffrey Wright (Romper Stomper, Cherry Falls) and starring Sam Worthington (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) in the title role and Victoria Hill (December Boys) as his blood stained hands Lady.

Ini many ways this film could be viewed as a companion piece to fellow Australian Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet. Both were directed by Australians. Both feature their director’s sensibilities (Luhrman does a Romantic Tragedy, which he perfected a couple of years later with Moulin Rouge, Wright a horror/thriller, which is what he cut his teeth on.) Both feature a young cast, many of which would later go on to become big stars in huge movies (interestingly both feature leading men who would find success in films directed by James Cameron. Leonardo DiCaprio did Romeo + Juliet and then Cameron’s Titantic, Sam Worthington did MacBeth and then later Cameron’s Avatar, the current #1 and #2 box office smashes.) Both feature, what I would term “rock and roll” motifs and feeling So let me warn you right now, if you are a Shakespearean traditionalist or purist, stay away from this movie. Watch Orson Wells or Roman Polenski’s amazing versions that are much more in line with the traditional Shakespeare. This MacBeth takes place in Melbourne and the actors retain their natural accents (much like Luhrman did by setting his movie in America and allowing his actors to keep their accents), it features guns and knives, fast cars and motorbikes, all while retaining the Bard’s original dialogue.

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Sam Worthington does an admirable job as the title character, in fact this may be the best acting I’ve seen him do. His MacBeth doesn’t break any new ground, but is a believably tortured soul who does what he does to gain power and hold unto that power. Victoria Hill likewise doesn’t break any new ground as Lady MacBeth, playing her viciously calculating, cruel and insane. The rest of the cast, I wasn’t familiar with, but all were excellent in their respective roles.

While the acting was good, the directing left a lot to be desired. It was well done, but follows many of the action movie cliches that plague modern movies. The film opens with a wonderfully creepy introduction to our three teenage schoolgirl witches.20121031-030239.jpg

But then cuts over the opening credits to show us MacBeth and Banquo’s hedonistic and violent lifestyle as Melbourne mobsters with quick cuts, “Avid farts”, flashing lights, and shaky hand-held camera work. The action then moves to a nightclub that MacBeth and Banquo have secured and acquired for mobster leader Duncan. There, while tripping on drugs, MacBeth has his fateful encounter with the three witches who tell him his fortune. And this is where I have issues with the film. If this is, as suggested by the film, fueled by MacBeth’s drug use, then Banquo would have no idea what the witches were saying in MacBeth’s fortune. But that is a major point of Shakespeare’s original script, Banquo and MacBeth both have their fortunes told by the witches and are aware of each other’s fortunes, thus the reason MacBeth kills Banquo and is haunted by his ghost. Without Banquo knowing MacBeth’s fortune, MacBeth’s murder becomes more “crazy” and less “protective of the throne”.

This 2006 version is quite good, but I think 2010’s BBC version with Patrick Stewart is better. Both are similar in tone, with a modernistic approach, but Stewart’s version is just better overall (as it should be, I don’t think anyone is going to confuse Sam Worthington’s acting with Patrick Stewart.) Both versions are currently streaming on Netflix Instant.

Now as I wrap things up here, I do want to encourage you to head over to Smashwords and download my new 10 minute play, The Mysterious Case of Lot 249, for free. This offer expires at midnight Oct 31.

Have a great and safe Halloween

Wednesdays With Will (Thursday edition): Shakespeare High

I apologize for not posting a Wednesdays with Will recently or on time, as this weekly blog is probably my favorite of the week, but I’ve had several things going on recently that have prevented me from writing. However now things are slowly getting back on track.

This week, I’m going to review a Shakespeare film that is different then my previous Wednesday with Will reviews. This week I’m tackling a documentary, not about Shakespeare but about how Shakespeare and the arts have an influence on high school students.

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Shakespeare High poster

Shakespeare High looks at the California High School Shakespeare Festival and several schools that participate in it. If you, look me, were unfamiliar the Shakespeare Festival is a competition between high schools who are limited to present a full Shakespearean play condensed and abridged into 8-minute increments. Students are not given or allowed costumes or props other then 4 chairs, the competition picks 3 Shakespearean plays, and the schools field 3 teams (one for each play) of 4 students each. The students are allowed to interpret the plays however they wish, either classic or modern reinterpretation. Think a forensics competition that is focused solely on The Bard mixed with The Reduced Shakespeare Company (in fact Austin, Adam, Daniel, Jess, and Adam, etc that founded or make up the RSC get a nice little shout-out when a group of students perform the Othello rap),

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some of the students featured in Shakespeare High

This is an engaging documentary showing students from all walks of life, like inner city ethnic students to an all girls Catholic school to middle class white kids who still have their own problems and how the arts have shaped and changed these kids for better.We also follow them through the competition and feel their joy as they win or the pain as they lose.

Included are interviews with four famous actors who participated in this competition when they were in high school. Interviews include Kevin Spacey (Seven, The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns), Val Kilmer (Tombstone, Batman Forever, Real Genius), Richard Dryfuss (Jaws, Mr. Holland’s Opus), and Mare Winningham (St. Elmo’s Fire, Hatfield’s and McCoys, Swing Vote) and how their participation in this competition shaped them as actor. One of the best moments is when Spacey and Winningham attend their (along with Kilmer’s) Alma mater and give advice and encouragement.

One flaw in the movie, in my opinion, is that it touches on but never fully explores the issue of modernizing vs traditional explorations of interpreting Shakespeare. This is a discussion that I’ve had with some of my actor and writer friends and I don’t think we’ve ever reached an agreement. I view myself as a modernist who enjoys a different setting for the Bard’s works. However I see the argument for keeping the traditional, classical interpretation of Shakespeare. However this is a broad topic and could be explored in its own full length documentary. However if the subject is not going to be more fully explored, it shouldn’t be brought up.

Overall I recommend this fascinating and educational documentary which is currently streaming on Netflix.