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27 out of 32 people found the following review useful:
A great cinematic introduction to Shakespeare, 17 July 1999

Early Hollywood wasn't known for its high-brow culture, and this film was an important step in enriching the cinema. The opening titles reveal how proud Warner Brothers were to have done it, and what a production it was indeed: all the top Warner's stars, the best technical support in the world, a top composer of the day in Erich Korngold, ballet choreography by Nijinska, and the highly respected Max Reinhardt as director. You couldn't have asked for more in those energetic movie days.

And, happily, it works! It's still beautiful, exciting, technically enthralling--and very funny! There are too many great performances to single out even one; but as an ensemble, the "players" are marvelous. No one seems stilted; everyone is right at home; even though most of these individuals hadn't been trained to the classical stage--they were just good! and, incidentally, it just goes to show the timelessness of the play itself.

Some scenes today seem overlong, and I think someone should have toned down little Mickey Rooney a good bit, but all in all it's a triumph. Midsummer or not, it's a sweet interlude.

An entrancing telling of this sweet dream, 17 July 1999

Nothing is better on screen or stage than good Shakespeare, and this film will take its place as one of the best. Lush, beautiful Italian scenery and sets; great music including some well-placed opera arias; strong direction and camera work; and a natural dreamy tone that tops it all to make a wonderful adaptation. And with all that, the "hard-handed" "players" are a scream! We laughed along with the Duke at their most lamentable comedy, "very notably discharged." (That must have been a lot of fun on the stage of the Globe Theater, too.)

Some actors must be mentioned, and it was a nice blend of British and American talents, too. Michelle Pfeiffer outdid herself as the sensuous Fairy Queen, and was matched by her powerful Fairy King in Rupert Everett--these two aren't cute little fairies by any means! Stanley Tucci wasn't over-cute as Puck, either, but caught the necessary impish quality instead. Calista Flockhart was quite appealing as the hapless, love-struck Helena. But of course the amateur players are the stars; particularly the great Kevin Kline, still one of our most under-rated American actors. It's not fair to compare him to James Cagney in the first version, but it's hard not to, since he under-played it rather than over-playing it as Cagney did so well. (That's still well worth watching!) He interpreted the part as a bit of a rouge rather than a buffoon, and it comes off great.

Again, it's a wonderful production, a real treasure. This is the way to do Shakespeare.

19 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
A bravura vehicle for Olivier, 23 June 1999

Many great actors made their names with this Richard, and it turns out to be Olivier's greatest Shakepearean role as well. He captures the whole production coiling his way around the Crown of England: his asides to us through the camera are lovely. They say all actors love to play a villain. Well, it works for me.

The movie is beautiful, rich; the costumes are awesome; and the dialogue, of course, is wonderful. He patches in that great speech from Henry VI, part 3: "Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile . . .": and the movie wouldn't be right without it.

The other actors, Britain's elite of the time, seem to be tyrannized by the boss; and the text should have been edited better, because if you don't know the play and practically the whole history you'll get lost. Not to worry, though; the subplots here aren't really important (but they should be), and the thundering battle at the end will leave you satisfied. Special mention of Sir William Walton's music, the vibrant colors, and of course, England itself.

King Lear (1983) (TV)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A bit sentimental, far overplayed, but works overall, 19 June 1999

Many positive comments to be made here: a courageous effort of Lord Olivier, playing Shakespeare's most difficult protagonist at the proper age for it. Surely most other actors would have passed that opportunity. And there's still a great deal of fire here; but there's no doubt that he, like the character, was nearing the end of his vitality. It was also a bold production, though taped from a staged version, basically; and looking amateurish by today's standards. The technical aspects are, in fact, very distracting. I suppose I would sum it up by saying I haven't seen a definitive Lear production yet, but I couldn't ask for a better Lear.

Othello (1965)
12 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
A dark, brooding masterpiece., 13 June 1999

Olivier is truly awesome: I invite you to read his biography by Donald Spoto to see what went in to this characterization. Surely this is his best Shakespeare role, but must admit I wish he could have filmed Macbeth. Another especial comment on the direction--it couldn't have been easy to bring this from the stage to a video version, but I feel it came off beautifully. This was film Shakespeare at its best--until Branagh's Hamlet.

4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Some bright moments, but overall just doesn't come off, 13 June 1999

Pros: sets, scenery and costumes, and indeed all the technical aspects; supporting cast; dialogue; adaptation; and most of all direction. Cons: Burton. He tries to get back to his roots, but appears so alcohol-soaked his timing is all off, he mumbles those magnificent lines, and he seems dazed by the size of the production. Only Zeffirelli's masterly hand pulls him through. Taylor is as beautiful as ever, but her pace is also a bit off, and after all the hype it's hard to take her seriously as a Shakespearean actress.

Hamlet (1948)
12 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
The film that set the standard for cinema Shakespeare, 13 June 1999

This version has been topped now, but it's still not to be missed if only for nostalgic purposes. The setting, lighting, and cinematography are wondrous; the acting is superb (though by today's standards Olivier perhaps chews the scenery a bit much); the tone is somber and Gothic. And, I feel the tragedy every time I see it. I personally feel too much was cut, and I find fault with Olivier's interpretation: but then again, it's everybody's part now. Ambitious, effective, and just good theater.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The best Shakespeare comedy on film, 13 June 1999

Wonderful! Delightful! Completely entertaining. Guess that about covers it, but not to miss is the Tuscan scenery, the jokes, the comic timing, the music by Patrick Doyle, and of course Branagh's acting. Don't know if this will rouse comment, but don't we feel he tops Olivier by now?

Othello (1995)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A mixed bag, 13 June 1999

Laurence Fishburne is a fine actor, and deserves respect for trying this, but he is not in a class with the great Shakespeareans like Olivier and Welles; and he further suffers from Kenneth Branagh. This Irishman, always brilliant, cleanly steals the show away. Olivier recognized that potential in his production, and cast Iago with someone he knew he could upstage. I didn't nearly realize the possibilities of Iago, Shakespeare's most evil character, but Branagh shows us the depths. Nice to see the views of Venice, too.

Hamlet (1996)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Will everybody else please do Shakespeare this way?, 13 June 1999

I'm generally opposed to trifling with Shakespeare: didn't care for Olivier's modernizing The Merchant of Venice, for instance. But I must say this treatment in Blenham Palace works completely. It's a mesmerizing version, at the top of the heap. At first I thought Branagh was throwing the part away, perhaps too burdened by his production responsibilities; but then I realized he was just playing it straight. And how welcome! All our great actors have to color the part somehow: Geilgud's melancholy, Olivier's indecisiveness, Gibson's bravura. But Branagh finds the emotions already there; and he takes the immortal prince and makes him believable, and eminently human. Be prepared for weeping that cleans the soul by the time Placido Domingo gives us the final solo. A classic, in every sense of the word.