Friday, February 15, 2019

Macbeth (2015)

I've never been a fan of Macbeth.  It was a play I read in school (more than once, if I recall), one I saw performed live... but it never spoke or appealed to me.  I never liked the characters (except for Banquo), never felt any sense of tragedy, just that they were horrible people who got what the deserved and good riddance. 

That changed when I saw the 2015 version just last year.  This was the first and, to this date, only version where I could relate to Macbeth, and even to Lady Macbeth.  For the first time, I understood them and what drove them along their fateful, bloody path.  For the first time, it actually felt like a tragedy.  I liked this version well enough to buy my own copy on DVD so I can rewatch it.  It's one that gets better with repeat viewings, as I pick up on more of the subtle things they do in this one.

This is an atmospheric stylized Macbeth. The score drones on and on, but it does work within the context of the film.  The movie was filmed in England and Scotland, and it looks fantastic.  Some parts reminded me visually of Valhalla Rising (2009).  What I like about this film is precisely what some fans may dislike about it:  the Macbeths are not shown as such over-the-top flat-out evil and ambitious characters.  Both are given more human reasons for their actions, and as each act of violence steers them farther down a path they cannot return from, you see the toll it takes on them until they are destroyed by their own overwhelming sense of guilt as much as anything else.

The movie opens with a scene that is not in the play (though it could be extrapolated from Lady Macbeth's dialogue later), namely, the funeral of their young son.  This serves several purposes and for this version of the play, is essential.  It instantly gives both characters a great loss to overcome, and one that shadows both of them throughout the play.  Particularly Lady Macbeth, who reacts badly to the death of the Macduffs and, as her own complicity and guilt wrack her, she sees images of her lost child.  You get the immediate sense that had the child lived, things would have gone very differently.  But no, he died, and they are a bereft and childless couple who have nothing but their service, and little reward for that.

Even so, Macbeth faithfully carries out the king's orders in a battle in the beginning.  The King has sent him a bunch of boys to augment his army, and Macbeth reacts to their youth and inexperience with a great sadness, though he carries out his orders.  He and the older soldiers touchingly arm the younger ones for the coming battle.  He bonds with one of the young men, clearly seeing him almost as the son he might have had.  When the young man is killed in battle, it's a second blow, almost as devastating as the loss of his biological son.  This Macbeth is weary, ravaged by battle and death, but faithful to the king.

Until, of course, the witches deliver their prophecies.  There are only four of them here, and most of supernatural stuff is removed.  I like that about this version.

Macbeth makes the mistake of sending his wife a letter about the witches' prophecies, and that is, of course, when things begin to go south for the pair.  With her son taken from her, you really get the sense that she is sick of being beaten down by life, that she has nothing left to lose, that she's ready to seize whatever opportunity comes along to better their lives.  Power cannot substitute for life, but it is still a powerful drug.  With the witches' prophecy already half proved true, why not grab the crown?  I've always loved that Macbeth still tries to back out at this point.  This Macbeth knows full well it's wrong.  Without Lady Macbeth to push him, again, things could have turned out differently.  And who knows, he still might have ended up as king, rightfully, without the murders.

The movie uses the dead son and the killed boy to represent what each Macbeth craved and lost.  Lady Macbeth's famous speech is delivered to her dead son.  Macbeth repeatedly sees the young man who was killed in battle at important moments.  I liked those elements a lot.  They ground it and are quite effective at maintaining the focus.

The cast suits this version very well.  Michael Fassbender (Macbeth) and Marion Cotillard (Lady Macbeth) are excellent.  They are both far more sympathetic than the play's usual version of the characters.  It's a joy to watch them in this movie.  Macbeth descends rapidly into his own guilt-ridden madness, each act of violence pushing him further from his initial humanity.  She drives the action, until he goes even farther than she is willing to go (when he has the Macduff family burned at the stake -- again, this movie shows how much children mean to these characters) and then her own guilt destroys her.  I really love the two of them together, and when things fall apart, when they take that fateful, brutal step forward, they are engaging to watch, and they kept my interest throughout.  I also like the sort of return to dignity Macbeth has at the very end, when he knows it's too late and it's all over for him.

The supporting actors are good as well.  David Thewlis as Duncan, Paddy Considine as Banquo, Elizabeth Debicki as Lady Macduff.  I'm not as fond of Sean Harris's Macduff.  I'm not sure what I want in the role, but his portrayal doesn't resonate for me the way I want Macduff to resonate.  For me, he's the weak link in this film.

This is an R-Rated movie for a reason, and the violence is bloody and brutal.

This has been my entry for the We Love Shakespeare Week.  Thanks to Hamlette for hosting!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Announcing A Tribute to Vic Morrow blogathon

Set the date!  April 5-7, I will be co-hosting a blogathon with Hamlette dedicated to Vic Morrow.  We invite you to join us.  You can sign up here or over on Hamlette's blog, Hamlette's Soliloquy.

Vic Morrow is one of my favorite actors.  Discovering him in the television series Combat! was one of those moments of an entertainment title changing my life.  I'd watched some Combat! back in college, but it wasn't until I was into my thirties before I had the opportunity to rewatch -- and I was completely hooked.  The show holds up so well, the stories are so well written, well-acted by everyone involved -- but Vic Morrow... he was something else again.  He did things above and beyond merely acting. He embodied the character of Sergeant Saunders in such a way that the character transcended mere television.  I'm a mere spectator, watching these episodes on a television screen, and yet I feel his characters in a way I can't say I've felt with any other actor, even my other favorites.  I know I've talked about this before on this blog somewhere, but watching Vic act taught me more about how to write a story than all my college classes combined.

Vic Morrow and Combat! also brought me together with my best friend, Hamlette, and a bunch of other like-minded individuals I'm proud to call my squadmates.  And I would never have the opportunity to visit Australia if not for Vic and this show.

And Combat! is only one piece of his career.  He made a lot of movies, guest-starred in a lot of television shows, and was a fine director.  Some of the finest Combat! episodes are ones he directed.

You are welcome to write a review of a single TV show episode for this blogathon, or review a movie, or write up anything else related to Vic Morrow that comes to mind.  If you're not sure if your idea will work, just discuss it with either myself or Hamlette.

Hamlette created a whole slew of buttons for this event.  Find one you like and share it on your blog or website -- there are plenty to choose from!

Entries so far:


Sunday, February 10, 2019

We Love Shakespeare Week - Tag

So, the We Love Shakespeare week is kicking off with a tag.  Here are my answers.

1. When and how did you first encounter Shakespeare's plays?
In 7th grade, when my school showed Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet over two days on a huge screen in the school auditorium.  I was completely engrossed, and I balled my eyes out for about a solid hour after the play ended.  That particular version of Romeo & Juliet remains my favorite Shakespeare play to this day.

2.  What are your favorite Shakespeare plays?  (Go ahead and list as many as you like!)
Romeo & Juliet, Henry V, Hamlet, Troilus & Cressida, Macbeth

3.  Who are some of your favorite characters in his plays?  (Again, list however many suits you.)
Henry V, Iago, Mercutio, Hector, Banquo.

4.  Have you seen any of his plays performed, whether live or on film?
Boatloads.  I believe I may have actually seen more performed live than on film.  I have definitely seen more variety of plays live.  I had the privilege of attending the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland Oregon when I was in high school.  My best friend's family took me along, and it was wonderful and amazing.  We saw several plays there and that's where I first saw Troilus & Cressida and loved it.

I also got to see two Shakespeare in the Park productions in NYC.  Richard III with Denzel Washington was the highlight and one of my favorite live plays, though Taming the Shrew with Morgan Freeman and Tracey Ullman was right up there as well.

And then, of course, there are the myriad movie versions of various plays I've seen.

And opera versions, though these don't use the text, but Otello is one of my favorite operas, I prefer it to the play.  And it was watching Simon Keenlyside in the opera version of Macbeth that slowly made me appreciate that play.

5.  Have you read any of his plays?
Many, though mostly because of high school and college courses.  The first play I ever read was The Taming the Shrew, in a high school Shakespeare club run by one of the instructors, where we would meet at her house once a week and read a scene or two aloud, and she worked with us to both understand the words and how to speak them, and the history and social conventions of the time period.  I read Bianca's role.  The only play I've read multiple times just for myself was Henry V.  I fell in love with Ken Branagh's movie (saw it about 15 times when it came out in the theater), and I read it at least that many times after.  I had most of the play memorized, the only Shakespeare play I can say that for (though I had Ken's abridged version memorized, not the full text).  The Upon the King speech remains my favorite soliloquy of all the plays I'm familiar with.

6.  Share a dream cast for one of your favorite Shakespeare plays.
I'd like to see Othello with Idris Elba and Chadwick Boseman alternating in the title role, and Daniel Craig and Michael Fassbender alternating as Iago, so I can go enjoy both casts.

I also wouldn't mind seeing an updated version of Hamlet set in some unnamed fictional Latin country, with Antonio Banderas as Claudius, Sofia Vergara as Gertrude, Oscar Isaac as Hamlet, Diego Luna as Horatio, Andy Garcia as the ghost of Hamlet's father, America Ferrara as Ophelia, Rodrigo Santoro as Laertes.

7.  What draws you to Shakespeare's plays?  (Language, themes, characters, the fact that they're famous, whatever!)
Same thing that draws me to any story.  I have to like the plot and characters.  I have to want to be the characters, or at the very least relate strongly to them.  I find it interesting that I don't like modern comedies, nor do Shakespeare comedies speak much to me either.  I much prefer the tragedies and historical plays.

8.  Do you have any cool Shakespeare-themed merchandise, like t-shirts or mugs or bookmarks, etc?  Share pictures if you can!
Nary an item.

9.  How do you go about understanding his language?  (Do you prefer copies with translation notes, look things up online, or just read so much stuff written in Elizabethan English that you totally know what everyone's saying?)
I didn't realize it was supposed to be hard.  Maybe because I've been reading/listening to Elizabethan English for nearly 40 years?  Sure, if there were words I didn't understand, I'd look them up in the dictionary, but I have little problem understanding what is being said.  Context and action tend to make it quite clear.  You don't have to know the meaning of every single word to understand what characters are saying.  I think it's a mistake to get hung up on language and it might even take away from the experience.  (Here speaks the person who grew up watching operas in Italian or French, often with no subtitles, and could follow story and what they were saying based on limited knowledge of the language and context and action.  So yeah, understanding every single word is not remotely a necessity to appreciating Shakespeare.)  There's a beauty to listening to Shakespeare -- done well -- that goes far beyond the individual words.

(love this version of Upon the King)

10.  What are some of your favorite lines from Shakespeare?  (Maybe limit yourself to like ten, okay?)

I'm only picking lines I can quote from memory and that I actually say to myself on a regular basis, so these are not going to be displayed in proper play format. They're also going to be mostly from Henry V as that is the play I know far and away the best.

She is the fairies' midwife , and she comes in shape no bigger than an agate-stone on the fore-finger of an alderman...  (okay, this is kind of cheating, because the reason I can quote this line is not because of watching/reading Romeo & Juliet, but because Simon le Bon quotes it in Duran Duran's video for Night Boat, and I have seen that far more times than any Shakespeare play...  But still, I quote it to myself a lot, and it is Shakespeare.)

I tell you truly, herald, I know not if the day be ours or no. (Henry V)

Let's shog.  (Henry V)

And then to Calais, and to England then, where ne'er from France arrived more happy men. (Henry V)

So, if a son, that by his father is sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness by your rule should fall upon the father that sent him.  But this is not so.  (Henry V)

If the enemy be an ass, and a fool, and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass, and a fool, and a prating coxcomb? (Henry V)

De nails, madam! (Henry V)

Lay on, Macduff. (Macbeth)

To be, or not to be, that is the question. (Hamlet)