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Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
A surprising pleasure
I'll admit I never much cared for Much Ado About Nothing. Perhaps it was the dull study of the play, which seems a highlight of most Shakespeare courses, perhaps it stemmed from my fascination with Shakespeare's dramatic and historic works but my distaste for his comedic pieces.
Perhaps it was because I never saw a good version of this play until this film came along. Now, I choose to watch it because there was little else on and I was confident that Branagh would give me SOMETHING to look at, even though I was not a Much Ado fan.
And coming in, I found it quite dull, until Emma Thompson and Branagh squared off for the first time. Then I realized this was one of the most brilliant Shakespeare films yet created. Thompson and Branagh are completely ideal as opposites of one another. I found myself craving for them to be on screen when they were not, and I found myself caught up utterly in the film, even though I knew what the inevitable conclusion would be.
And afterwards, I immedietly went and ordered the film. If you're a Shakespeare fan then, yes, it is -that- good. It is a perfect example of why Branagh's works are so incredibly enjoyable. Now, it is not the spectacular unabridged delight that is Branagh's Hamlet, but it has plenty to do and see. From Keanu Reeves as the villain Don John and Denzel Washington (a very WORTHY actor for Shakespeare) as Don Pedro to the aforementioned Branagh and Thompson, this cast is finely assembled.
This is a film that I heartily recommend to anyone. If you've never seen a good production of Much Ado, or if you don't think you like Shakespeare much, I encourage you to watch this film. It may not change your mind, but boy is it ever a fun movie.
Richard III (1995)
Some people make movies, others have their visions realized
Ian McKellan's Richard III is possible one of the greatest visions of the play to be presented. Set in the 1930s, the Yorkists are clearly aligned with the Nazi/Fascist movement of the era and yet at the same time the Bard doesn't seem out of place at all in the setting.
Indeed, McKellan's script is excellently written and the director, Richard Loncraine, has done his best to turn an ideal script into an ideal representation of "history's greatest villain." The movie is not just a production of the play, it is a real world, a very real world.
Unlike Branagh productions which, while excellent films, retain a certain aloof quality that remind us we are watching Shakespeare, Richard III seems perfectly natural. And the stellar cast, some brilliant actors who deserve top billing that willingly took smaller roles, is certainly a credit to the film. And everything in the movie is meaningful in some manner, from Queen Elizabeth clearly being American, even to Clarence being a photographer. In fact, the movie is so well done that you'll have to watch it at least twice to catch all the little details they've put into it to make it a better movie.
Now, certainly this film has some drawbacks. It is not the most accurate reproduction of the play. Certainly some of the most famous scenes are intact but in order to give some perspective this movie clocks at one hour forty four minutes compared to Branagh's unabridged Hamlet which is around three and a half hours long. In respect to the written bodies, Richard III is longer then Hamlet, virtually the longest play Shakespeare wrote.
As such, this film is not the ultimate Richard III on film. It is, however, the ultimate vision of recreation on film. While this movie is perfectly capable of being enjoyed on its own (who can resist the sinister Tyrill who always seems to be present before misfortune befalls one of Richard's enemies?) as part of a study of the play, it is somewhat faulty. Some may interpret this as a poor adaptation. On the other hand, you may not wish to start with this film. Select a more accurate representation of the play, such as the Olivier version, or even better read and/or see the play performed on stage, then watch this film. It is, as I have said repeatedly, enjoyable for non-Shakespearephiles but knowledge of the play will be tremendously useful in watching this film.
Overall, an excellent film that I hardily recommend to anyone, be they Shakespeare fan or not.
The Secret of NIMH (1982)
Magical, Fantastic, a real delight
The Secret of NIMH after twenty three years is still an absolutely fantastic film. I hold it in such high regard as the even more obscure Gay Pur-ee (with the voice talent of Judy Garland, also wonderful) and Disney's Robin Hood.
Criticisms can be made of the film. For one, "faithful" isn't exactly an adjective that can be used when describing it's relation to the source material: "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH" by Robert O'Brien. However, the novel was a Newberry Award winner and it deserved an excellent film which is what it received.
The book itself had two separate story lines, one focusing on Mrs. Frisby and her plight, and the other a lengthy backstory involving the rats of NIMH. For the animated feature, Don Bluth and his team chose to focus on Mrs. Frisby's plight and for this I am grateful.
In Mrs. Brisby we have a totally unique and a truly delightful heroine. She isn't some young boy getting ready to go on a fantastic adventure or some sort of great, brave hero. She's just a mother, a mother whose first concern is her family. And she makes a fantastic hero, showing that courage isn't just involved in facing down fierce monsters (though when she has to do that she finds the courage). She never stops pushing herself and though she might be a very small mouse, she has a very big heart.
As a kid I walked away thinking how cool Justin was, but now that I'm older I have complete respect for Mrs. Brisby. It's an excellent film both for children and adults alike.
And how about Derek Jacobi as Nicodemus? Dom deLuise as Jeremy? Not to mention Elizabeth Hartman, whose short career was never-the-less magnificent. Thank god for film that we might have her talents available to us for all time!