Monday, September 23, 2013

Resurecting Romeo and Juliet

After only three years, a new film adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragic play of star crossed lovers is returning to theatres.  The story is timeless.  Two feuding families from Verona experience reconciliation that is only achievable through the deaths of their own children.  Mixed with complications, miscommunication, and classic lines, this play is one of the scripts with the highest rate to be turned into films.  
In the past, there have been countless film adaptations of this play.  Here are some of the past adaptations that have stood out compared to others:
Romeo and Juliet: This multi-Oscar nominated film was directed by George Cukor in 1936.  It had only become a true consideration after seeing how successful Warners’ adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was.  The film features the talents of Leslie Howard as Romeo and Norma Shearer as Juliet, and also featured John Barrymore as Mercutio.  The film received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Art Direction.  Producer Irving Thalberg's stated intention was "to make the production what Shakespeare would have wanted had he possessed the facilities of cinema.”  Elaborate research on Verona and Shakespeare’s time was done to make sure this film would avoid being anachronistic.  Overall, the film received indifferent feedback.  Although not too many people disliked this adaptation, many people didn’t love it.  Cukor even said in an interview 24 years after the film was made that if he could go back in time to change any film, this one would be it. 
Romeo and Juliet: This 1968 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli is a classic, and probably the best one.  Unabridged and staying true to Shakespeare’s air, this accurate adaptation is a true masterpiece.  It is the closest film to the play that we have.  Zeffirelli is also known for his adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”  Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey starred as the young lovers, and it made an impression at the Academy Awards.  The film won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, and also received nominations for Best Director and Best Picture.  This film is definitely the best adaptation to check out if you are too lazy to read and is looking for something accurate to the play. It is a complete feast for the eyes.
West Side Story: This play tells the tale of Tony, a “Jet” and native New Yorker, who falls in love with a Puerto Rican lady, Maria.  Their love ensues, and they cannot be together because of cultural difference.  Set in the West side of Manhattan, the two social groups are unable to coexist peacefully, as gang fights erupt and the plot  follows the events our two lovers of Verona become entangled in.  Filled with music, dance, and passion beyond the norm, “West Side Story” is an effective adaptation.  The storyline stays the same, as two opposing forces can’t be together without pleasing everyone else.  The film adaptation of the play came out in 1961 starring Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony.  Even though the dialogue isn’t early Modern English, the dramatic changes of incorporating song and dance turn this piece into an entirely different animal. 
Romeo + Juliet: This 1996 film was aiming to please the “MTV generation.”  The only reason this film is mentioned on this list is because it stood out in such a horrific way.  Baz Luhrmann took this classic Shakespeare play and tore it apart with his modernization.  Taking place in contemporary Verona Beach, Florida, this version does very little to foster the spirit of Shakespeare’s time.  The film tore apart Mercutio, one of the key players, and everything else going on distracted from the beautiful language. Gang fights isn't what we think when Shakespeare comes to mind, and unfornatelty Luhrmann makes this so.  However, we do need to give credit where credit is due.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes played the pair of lovers, and their performance would have been enough to appreciate without all the dumb show Luhrmann creates in the background. 
Gnomeo and Juliet: One cannot set their expectations high for a Disney version of a Shakespeare film. If you are looking for an accurate adaptation, here is not where you would find it.  Especially 3-D animated ones with talking lawn decorations.  In this adaptation, two neighbors, Mr. Montague and Ms. Capulet absolutely hate each other.  Their hate spreads to their garden gnomes, as the opposing yards dislike each other.  This 2011 film is cute, but it is no more than dumb show.  The cast includes the talents of Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine and Maggie Smith.  Filled with the musical talents of Sir Elton John, this film is lighthearted and very whimsical.  The last thing you should do is take this film seriously, as the ending has been altered along with significant plot details. 
These notable adaptations have taken Shakespeare’s tragedy into many different directions.  Though the story is still the same, the environment in which the players interact varies.  We go from Shakespeare’s time in Verona, Italy to Verona Beach in the 1990’s and even to front lawns with garden d├ęcor.  In this latest adaptation, director Carlo Carlei sets the scene in Renaissance era Verona.  However, this film is unlike any other that has been done in the past.  The language used isn’t the same as what Shakespeare has written.  The story line stays constant, but that’s about it.  This is controversial because the film may lose meaning overall.  It will go from Many critics believe that this film has the potential to be unsuccessful.  However, it can go really well.  By maintaining the plot-line and incorporating tasteful contemporary elements, the play may have a successful adaptation.  This will be something for critics (such as myself) will have to look into. 
We can only hope that Carlei does this screened-play justice.  This is the first time he is taking on the silver screen in over 20 years.  The cast includes Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth as the infamous pair, along with Paul Giamatti as Friar Lawrence.  As we await its release on October 11, we should mentally prepare ourselves for a modest attempt at Shakespeare, for “there has never been a tale of more woe, than that of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Successful Films and Fabulous Soundtracks

The soundtrack to a motion picture can make or break the work a director and his team scrambles to put together.  There are many films out there that have perfect music to go with the film and its ideas that are being conveyed.  On the other hand, many films fail to have music that reflects what is going on, whether it is anachronistic or just doesn’t fit the tone presented.

Without soundtracks and music in film, it is difficult to comprehend the overall feel of a piece.  I find that when I listen to the soundtrack alone and then go back and watch the movie I become more attuned to what is going on.  It makes for better interpretation of the story of a motion picture, along with the work as a whole. 

Here are some films that have soundtracks that are perfectly coordinated for the films they are coupled with:

“The Aviator” (2004): Probably one of my all-time favourite movies.  Even though Howard Hughes’ struggle with OCD isn’t exactly a feel-good film, the biopic is a cinematic masterpiece in every aspect.  The soundtrack is perfect for conveying the mood of the 1920’s into the post-war 1940’s.  Artie Shaw’s “Nightmare” was a recurring piece, and it was perfect for the mental deconstruction of Hughes.  Upbeat jazz pieces, even though performed by our contemporaries, were incorporated into this film’s music as well.  Just because they are modern artists, however, doesn’t mean that they lost the flare for the Roaring Twenties.  Even though this film may be on this list because of my passionate feeling for all things 1920’s, this soundtrack really does make the film.  If you don’t believe me, just watch the movie and stay attuned with the music. 

“When Harry Met Sally” (1989): This movie is beyond heart-warming.  The story of two best friends who slowly fall in love may be chick-flick in nature, but it is first and foremost a romantic comedy.  Harry Connick Jr. sets the mood for this film with his solo piano pieces, vocals and the accompaniment of a big band.  The music in this film gives off warm vibes.  The big band version of “It Had to be You” gets you off your feet to dance around your kitchen.  On the other hand Connick’s piano rendition of “Winter Wonderland” is soft and delicate, like snowflakes falling in Central Park.  If I had to give it a season, I would make it an autumn-into-winter soundtrack.   

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986): There are very few places where you will get eclectic eighties music in a good film.  There is no better place to find it than this John Hughes classic.  As soon as I managed to put together the songs onto a CD, I drove around blasting it, celebrating the care-free attitude that Ferris has.  Originally, John Hughes didn’t want to realize a physical album, because he thought the music didn’t “go together.”  However, that is the beauty of these one-hit wonders being combined into one killer soundtrack! If anyone is looking to Save Ferris, I highly recommend checking out IMDB for the full soundtrack list on this movie’s page.  It is still one of my favourite albums to jam out to.

“Gangster Squad”(2013): Alright.  Although this movie was a lot of dumb show, violence and Ryan Gosling’s face, it did have a fantastic soundtrack.  Featuring the talents of Peggy Lee, Mel Tome, and Johnny Mercer, the music here is phenomenal.  The pieces chosen definitely set the mood well for the crime scenes, mob fights and momentary positive vibes.   It is anything but anachronistic, and I was pleased to find that if any contemporary artists were featured, they once again kept the spirit of 1950’s Los Angeles alive.  Much better than certain films that incorporate rap into the 1920’s (Jay-Z, cough, Gastby). 

“Ocean’s 11” (2001): David Holmes compiled a fantastic soundtrack for this film.  As though the talents of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and many other A-Listers weren’t enough, the music makes the film even better.  The tone Holmes sets is perfect for the heist of a Las Vegas casino.  Reminiscent of a James Bond soundtrack, the music here is great for driving around on a mission, whilst wearing ultra-slick sunglasses.  The same goes for the soundtracks of Ocean’s 12 and 13.  Good films and good music overall, completely worth the watch and listen. 

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001): John Williams has done it again.  The composer of the iconic “Raider’s March,” Star Wars theme, and Jurassic Park piece gives us one more reason to love him.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else writing pieces for the films of the beloved Harry Potter series.  Slowly, “Hedwig’s Theme” has become more and more iconic overtime.  This piece is the sound of Harry Potter, as far as this generation is concerned.  All the films in the series have excellent music, even though it isn’t for everyone.  My personal favorite is the soundtrack to the third film, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” It is the transition of darker aspects into this magical series, and the music follows this trend with intense pieces. 

“Sherlock Holmes” (2009): There is little I dislike about the latest Sherlock Holmes films.  They have an all-star cast, great scenes and locations to film at, and awesome music.  Quirky in nature, composer Hans Zimmer understands the mysterious feel and unorthodox personality Robert Downey Jr. brings to the silver screen.  If anyone is looking to unlock their inner Sherlock, you should definitely check out the soundtracks to these films. 

“Big Night” (1996): This film has everything; Italian people, Italian food, Italian Italian.  Most importantly, its soundtrack.  Pieces by Louis Prima, Rosemary Clooney and Matteo Salvatore highlight the music in this film.  Music that is stereotypically Italian is a major part of the film, especially since the film revolves around the premise of Louis Prima (a Sicilian musician) is supposed to come to the restaurant where the bulk of Big Night takes place.   If this music doesn’t sweep you off your feet to your kitchen to make a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs straight away, I’m not sure what will!