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Non-Review Review: Macbeth

Justin Kurzel understands Macbeth.

A lot of Shakespeare’s work is viewed through the lens of cultural importance, and quite rightly. His plays codified a phenomenal amount of the English language in use today, incorporation and amalgamating words and phrases that people use without even thinking. Shakespeare codified drama and storytelling in the English language, to the point where any number of his plays can be cited as the defining example of particular styles of dramaturgy. There is no other figure who can cast such a shadow over English-language culture.

A Field in Scotland...

A Field in Scotland…

However, the tendency to treat Shakespeare’s works as priceless artefacts – an attitude engrained by the (rightful) reverence they receive and the way that they are taught in schools – is to miss the vitality and excitement of his work. Shakespeare might have endured as the defining wordsmith of the English-language, but before that he was just a really popular writer with an incredibly populist touch. His plays existed as spectacle before they became holy relics. The jokes played to the galleries packed with punters wanting both high and low culture.

As much as Macbeth might be a searing and insightful exploration of the relationship between violence and masculine identity, it was also pure unadulterated pulp. Justin Kurzel plays up this pulpy spectacle, crafting a version of Macbeth that anchors apocalyptic horror in two amazing central performances. Macbeth is a joyous and horrific piece of cinema, brutal and beautiful in a way that befits its source material.

Oh I just can't wait to be king...

Oh I just can’t wait to be king…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Fascination (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, that could have been much more unpleasant than it ultimately was.

Yes, that’s damning with faint praise, but Fascination feels like a long sigh of exhaustion after what has been a tough run of episodes. The last episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to air in 1994, Fascination came at the end of a production crunch that had seen the show desperately grasping for time. Quite a few of the first ten episodes of the season had been rushed through, with varying results – from Second Skin to Meridian.

So the fact that Fascination is not a massive soul-destroying screw-up on the scale of Meridian is a good thing, even if the episode’s plot does smell a little bit of desperation.

Dax can be quite touchy...

Dax can be quite touchy…

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My 12 for ’13: Much Ado About Nothing & The Joy of a Shakespearean Sex Comedy…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 10…

I feel a little sorry for Shakespeare. The guy wrote some of the most influential and iconic plays ever composed; invented countless turns of phrase and even words; became inexorable associated with theatre and stage work… and yet he’s still hated by just about every student forced to sift through Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet or Macbeth as part of their education. While Shakespeare is easy enough to read once you get a grip of it, or once you have enough experience, forcing kids to read those plays at school is one of the most effective ways to kill enthusiasm for the Bard.

The beauty of Shakespeare is that he isn’t just an “important” writer, that he isn’t just a key part of the evolution of world literature, a formative figure in the history of narrative. Not that any of those are minor accomplishments, mind you. The real beauty of Shakespeare is that he’s actually very good. Not with qualifications like “… for his time” or “… in context.” Shakespeare remains a great writer in the most fundamental “this is actually a pretty good story well told” sort of way.

muchadoaboutnothing3

The best directors to adapt Shakespeare’s work to film realise this, and accept that Shakespeare is still a great storyteller; you just need to figure out how to translate his works properly to the screen, in the same way you’d translate a modern best-seller or a beloved cult comic book. Kenneth Branagh figured out how to do this, with his adaptations almost popping off the screen.

Much Ado About Nothing demonstrates that Joss Whedon has it pretty figured out as well.

muchadoaboutnothing5

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Doctor Who – The Shakespeare Code (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Shakespeare Code originally aired in 2007.

Goodnight, Doctor.

Nighty night, Shakespeare.

– talk about your British icons

The Shakespeare Code is the third season’s opening trip into British nostalgia, a celebrity historical where the Doctor journeys back in time to meet a famous character and to deal with alien menaces masquerading as something altogether more sinister. This time, the Doctor and Martha travel back to meet William Shakespeare. It’s a little on the nose, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. After all, teaming the Doctor up with Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw did seem a little cynical when the show opened with a gag at the expense of Margaret Thatcher.

The rather safe and occasionally quite “postcard-y” portrayal of British history aside, The Shakespeare Code is more interesting as a rather novel form of arc-building for the show. “Saxon” was the arc word for the show’s third season, but restricted to those episodes set in the present. However, The Shakespeare Code winds up offering major thematic foreshadowing of the season ahead.

Where there's a Will...

Where there’s a Will…

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Non-Review Review: Much Ado About Nothing

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has delightfully intimate roots. Apparently, the movie stems from occasions in various Whedon households where he would host “Shakespeare Sundays”, with friends and family reading through classic plays in a very cosy environment. Much Ado About Nothing represents an extension of that intimacy. It’s literally filmed in Whedon’s own home, using money saved for his and his wife’s twentieth anniversary. Whedon even wrote the music, and his extended family are heavily involved. Jed Whedon supervised the music and his sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen can be seen singing at points.

That’s the wonderful charm of Much Ado About Nothing, a movie that seems to have grown and developed out of a genuinely personal creative space, a project deeply personal and intimate to Whedon, filmed while he was editing one of the biggest movies of all time. In a way, Much Ado About Nothing feels like the most talented and highest quality student film ever produced.

muchadoaboutnothing1

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Doctor Who: The Unquiet Dead (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Unquiet Dead originally aired in 2005.

What the Shakespeare is going on?

– Charles Dickens

It feels appropriate that Mark Gatiss should script the first episode of the revived Doctor Who not written by Russell T. Davies himself. Davies wrote the bulk of the first season’s thirteen episodes, and you could argue that he occasionally spread himself a bit too thin. However, I would argue that the first year of the revived show also had the strongest string of secondary writers on the bench, including Rob Shearman writing Dalek, Steven Moffat writing The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, Paul Cornell writing Father’s Day and Gatiss writing The Unquiet Dead.

Gatiss and Moffat are two of the most prolific writers for the new series, with Moffat even succeeding Davies as showrunner. It’s also worth noting that both Gatiss and Moffat are fans of the classic show with considerable writing experience in television. It’s very clear that Davies isn’t just recruiting fans of the classic show, even those who may have written material while it was off the air (Gatiss wrote spin-off novels, Moffat wrote The Curse of Fatal Death), but recruiting those with practical experience about how television today works.

And that was a very shrewd decision.

Ghosts of Cardiff...

Ghosts of Cardiff…

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Non-Review Review: Coriolanus

I’m a big fan of Shakespeare adaptations, if done right. The proper cast and crew can serve to make the Bard easily accessible to modern audiences, allowing people unfamiliar with the tragedy in question to follow along with the work remarkably easily. Ralph Fiennes has assembled such a cast and crew for his directorial debut, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Although not universally regarded as one of the truly great Shakespearean tragedies, it does have the epic scale and grand drama of some of the writer’s best work. T.S. Elliot would consider it to be, along with Anthony and Cleopatra, to be Shakespeare’s finest tragic play. I think that Fiennes adaptation makes a plausible argument for a long overdue reappraisal of the work. At the very least, it does an excellent job bringing it to a modern audience.

Roman around…

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