Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Brave New World

The Sounding

by Cat McAlpine

Liv suddenly stopped speaking when she was young, and no one could determine why, not even her psychologist grandfather Lionel. Now Lionel (Harris Yulin) is at the end of his life, and he has invited fellow doctor Michael (Teddy Sears) to their small island to continue his work with Liv (Catherine Eaton).

And then suddenly, Liv begins to speak again. Instead of circling relevant lines of Shakespeare on a page, she quotes him out loud.

What follows is an exploration of language, human connection, and grief. The harder the world tries to understand Liv, the more alternately chaotic and despondent she becomes. The Sounding is both frustrating and beautiful, much like Liv herself.

Eaton and co-writer Bryan Delaney do a lovely job showcasing the flexibility of Shakespeare’s language. Their script depends on a patchwork of his quotes to achieve any depth of emotion Liv needs. Directed by Eaton, the film has a wild quality often showing a moody sea or softly lit rooms. Yes, Eaton co-wrote, directed, and played the lead in The Sounding. And she’s a true triple-threat, delivering a fantastic performance.

As impressive as Eaton’s dedication to the project is, it’s worth asking if we need another woman who doesn’t or can’t use her own voice.

Although it pulls from many of Shakespeare’s works – quoting everything from Julius Caesar to Midsummer’s play within a play – The Sounding most prominently mirrors The Tempest.

In The Tempest, Prospero and his daughter Miranda flee political persecution to a wild island. There, Prospero discovers Caliban, a native of the island, and he attempts to teach Caliban his ways. But Caliban is wild and cannot control his animalistic tendencies.

Caliban spits back at his teacher,

You taught me language;

and my profit on’t

Is, I know how to curse.

The red plague rid you

For learning me your language!

Liv parrots the same at Michael, furious that he accuses her of not having language. Through her grandfather she’s been taught to use Shakespeare to see the world. In his absence, she uses Shakespeare as much to talk to his memory as she does to speak to the world.

As an attractive white woman stepping into the shoes of a native man who was demonized by his conquerors, the beauty of Liv finding her voice is a little obscured by her parallels with Caliban. How does her damnation or freedom reflect on Caliban’s fate? Likely, viewers won’t worry themselves with the comparison. And, ultimately, it’s up to us to decide if Liv’s unique language is a triumph of a life best lived or a quirky trait that shackles her agency. Either way, she seems happy enough just being herself.

Anguish for Anguish

Measure for Measure

by Cat McAlpine

In this modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play by the same name, Measure for Measure follows a large cast of characters all tied to the same horrific event. A man high on meth goes on a racially charged shooting spree in a housing commission tower. Angelo sold him the drugs. Farouk might have sold him the gun. Claudio and Jaiwara were simply lucky enough to survive. What really connects the tenants of the dreary flats is not a single act violence, but the fact that their lives are rife with it.

Director Paul Ireland uses trauma as connective tissue, highlighting the theme with repeated showings of August Friedrich Schenck’s “Anguish.” The painting shows a ewe crying out over the body of her dead lamb, encircled by waiting crows. It is trauma, and vulnerability, like this that pushes characters together and rips them apart, with carrion birds waiting to swoop in.

The script, penned by Ireland and Damian Hill (to whom the film is dedicated), is strongest when it strays from Shakespeare. The addition of an immigrant family to the story adds dimension to the types of trauma we face and how it shapes the next generation. The love story of Ireland and Hill’s Measure for Measure is much more straightforward than Shakespeare’s. If anything, the film would’ve improved from even further deviation.

What truly carries the production are its strong performances. Hugo Weaving is great as Duke, endlessly watchable. His manic foil Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) is also fantastic, even when the script doesn’t support him. Farouk (Fayssal Bazzi) starts as a stereotypical baddie, but Bazzi finds complicated depth in him later on. Harrison Gilbertson and Megan Smart build great chemistry together as Claudio and Jaiwara, despite a bit of a montaged love story at the start.

Measure for Measure is a worthy effort to take the endlessly classic nature of Shakespeare and frame it in a modern retelling with new resonance. Its focus on loss, vengeance, and love are undeniably relatable, while still telling a fresh story in an old frame.

Something Rotten


by Cat McAlpine

You’ve probably seen the painting “Ophelia” by Sir John Everett Millais (1852). It’s one of the most iconic images born from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and one of the most well-known paintings of the 19th century. In it, fair Ophelia floats on her back in a river, surrounded by her red hair, elaborate gown, and a fistful of flowers.

This painting seems to be the sole aesthetic for director Claire McCarthy’s Ophelia-centric Hamlet adaptation, as evidenced by a horrible red wig, and the film’s open on a recreation of the painting. Also Ophelia’s quirk is she likes to leave the castle in the middle of the day and just walk into the river?

This iconic imagery is immediately interrupted with a “You may think you know my story…” voice over that immediately dashed all my hopes for Ophelia. The following film was a bizarre infantilizing of a classic heroine, already disadvantaged by her source material. Writers Semi Chellas (adaptation) and Lisa Klein (novel) navigate a series of bizarre Shakespearian fan-service plot twists that only make the story seem less grounded.

You see, Hamlet (a very good George MacKay) fell for Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) because she was quirky. The other girls didn’t like her because she didn’t have money for jewels and didn’t care to learn to dance properly.

This characterization of Ophelia is so cheap that the chemistry between MacKay and Ridley fizzles, further highlighting Hamlet’s unhinged impulses while Ophelia remains a canvas for him to project onto. Ridley surprisingly has more chemistry with charming Devon Terrel (Horatio).

Because this re-telling gets the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead treatment, flourishes to the tale only happen in the margins when Ophelia would be off stage, and the story is still bound to all the events penned by Shakespeare. This means many key plot points seem to fly in from nowhere, even for those familiar with the original play. Out of nowhere Ophelia is awoken and told “Your father is dead. Hamlet accidentally killed him.” And while we’re experiencing events through Ophelia’s lens, we’re still left asking “Wait…what happened?”

Time that could’ve been spent developing Ophelia’s character or deepening her connection to her family (familial relationships being the focus of Hamlet) is instead spent on weird through lines about witchcraft and a secret twin. And while Ophelia ends up somewhere we don’t expect with a final resilient message about valuing yourself, the ending feels almost tacky instead of triumphant.

McCarthy’s film isn’t without merit. There’s some clever weaving of Shakespeare’s text into the dialogue. The costuming is beautifully done and the play-with-a-play performance makes for powerful imagery done in silhouette. The fight choreography is beautiful, fierce, and performed with a great fluidity. In all times, when the film is following the original plot, the fevered intensity of Hamlet shines through.

I hope one day sweet Ophelia gets a good story, a method for her madness, and a resolution for her watery demise. But this isn’t it.

Countdown: Best Underseen Films of 2013

Today we pay tribute to the most fabulous movies that no one saw in 2013. If you, too, missed them, don’t be too hard on yourself. Some were hard to find, some had such short runs that if you blinked, you missed them in theaters. But here’s your chance to make amends. Seek these out as part of your new year’s resolution to watch something awesome. They are sometimes bloody, sometimes poignant, sometimes funny, always intriguing, fresh and memorable. We give you the most tragically underseen films of 2013.

5. Only God Forgives

Nicolas Winding Refn’s follow up to Drive offers a nightmarish, polarizing vision of the revenge thriller. The near-silent Ryan Gosling leads a cast of misfits and miscreants (and worse) through a bloody piece of nastiness in Bangkok. It’s a visual, aural feat of wonder creating a dreamlike hellscape. The one-dimensional characters and lurid story guarantee you will either love it or hate it, but you will not forget it easily.

4. Much Ado about Nothing

Joss Whedon proves he can do basically anything as he spins the Bard’s classic comedy. Giving Shakespeare a modern-day treatment trips up many great filmmakers, but Whedon takes it in stride, employing a game cast to create a playful, satisfying romp.

3. Mud

The forever underseen filmmaker of extraordinary talent Jeff Nichols follows up his bewilderingly wonderful Take Shelter with this Huck Finn style tale. Matthew McConaughey excels as the man-child fugitive befriending a couple river rats interested in adventure. The result is a lovely journey of lost innocence and a vanishing American lifestyle.


2. Fruitvale Station

Ryan Coogler’s impressive feature debut offers a powerful and superbly acted account of the tragic death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. Michael B. Jordan’s revelatory lead performance deserves to be in the Oscar conversation.


1. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

No one saw this movie, which is a tragedy given all the film has to offer. The aching romantic drama boasts exceptional performances from Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara and Ben Foster as well as understated writing and exquisite photography. It’s an overlooked gem of rare beauty – one worth finding.


For Your Queue: What’s With All the Ado?

Let’s class up the queue this week with a double dose of the Bard. One of the very best films of 2013, Much Ado About Nothing, drops today. 

Writer/director Joss Whedon (The Avengers, Toy Story, The Cabin in the Woodsagain shows his storytelling instincts are dead on, regardless of the genre. Shakespeare’s classic comedy about love and deception is given a present-day makeover, employing a game cast of Whedon favorites to create a playful, satisfying romp.
The wordplay is frenetic, some of the most clever Shakespeare produced, but there are also very funny stretches that rely heavily on physical comedy. The cast delivers with a gleeful enthusiasm, and Whedon adds amusing touches such as having one pivotal scene set amid snorkeling, giving it a new, Wes Anderson-esque hilarity.
Artfully filming in black and white, Whedon doesn’t shrink from the play’s dark corners, while giving the wonderfully comedic aspects a new, updated energy.

Pair that with the 2011 tribute/mystery/historical fiction Anonymous. The film takes the eons-old theory that Bill Shakespeare did not pen all those plays and turns it into a political thriller that entertains at every turn. The fact that this layered, historically savvy costume drama was directed by bombast master Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012, White House Down) may have you believing in another anonymous helmsman.