Skip to main content

O, full of scorpions is my mind.

Macbeth
(2015)

I don’t know quite what was going on in Justin Kurzel’s head, but it wasn’t anything good. How do you turn Macbeth, the most visceral and succinct of Shakespeare’s tragedies, into something so dull, fractured and disengaged? He leaves the play hollow, disembowelled, inducing us to contemplate an edit suite’s worth of tinted colour washes, random isolated “artistic” shots and disconnected actors staring into space. Perhaps we have reached the point where any slightly different take on the Bard gets an automatic free pass, or a commendation even, but this one certainly shouldn’t.


Kurzel appears so set on creating a visual and aural ambiance, he completely loses any sense of plot, which is quite something as, of all Shakespeare’s plays, it’s probably the most difficult to get lost within. There’s an active effort to undermine the drama and dialogue at every turn, with scenes rendered inert by the performers’ lack of engagement.


His leads perversely bury their dialogue, forcing forth subdued delivery from somewhere amidst a glen in Scotland (Kurzel probably thought it was a really good idea having most of this take place outdoors, but the effect is too close to parody; you keep expecting “The Comic Strip Presents” to flash up at any moment). There’s zero sense of the coiled relationship between Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) and Lady Macbeth (Marian Cotillard), despite throwing in an extra-textual lost bibby at the outset. Their motivation in murder is purely because that’s what it says in the play, rather than through investment in the characters, and the antic dispositions subsequently afflicting them find Fassbender practically Python-ing it up with “m-m-m-mad” looks when he starts seeing spooks everywhere.


This Macbeth comes across an exercise in tonal difference, rather than the result of a desire to deliver a distinct vision of the play. It’s akin to an overly self-conscious student art project, just with striking cinematography; all distracted shots of the Fass soliloquising, intercut with rearing horses. Kurzel’s approach makes for a curiously, and bizarrely, passive interpretation. And clumsily literal at times too. Birnam Wood may not come to Dunsinane, for some unknown reason, but when Lady M instructs her hubby to screw his courage to the sticking post, they actually screw. It’s as if Beavis and Butthead were in on the script conference (“She said screw, heh-heh”).


It wouldn’t surprise me, as somehow it took three writers to adapt the play. The first half hour is incredibly ponderous, despite – or because – of Kurzel making great play at the warfare (this isn’t just limited to the nonsense of stage theatrics, you know). He only really gets a grip whenever Sean Harris enter scene left as Macduff. Harris is an inspired piece of casting, making a character who tends to be rather linear and earnest instantly wired and dangerous, long before he’s lost his precious little ones (the only Sean Harris there is wired and dangerous; you could cast him as the romantic lead in a Richard Curtis comedy and he’d still freak you out). He steals the show; it should have been called Macduff.


Harris has a relatively easy job, mind, as so little else is of consequence. The climactic battle is entirely without drama, since we never worked up any interest in the fates of Mr and Mrs Mac B to begin with; there’s no rise and fall, no escalation or tension. A solid cast has been assembled (Paddy Considine, David Thewlis, Elizabeth Debicki) but they’re immobile, taken down by the overly fussy editing, distracted stylistic flourishes and a Jed Kurzel score which, although good, serves merely to underline his brother’s disinterest in providing an immersive experience. Unless one equates superficial with engrossing. 


There are a good few film adaptations of the Scottish Play out there, and pretty much any of them would be a better bet to investigate than this one. Still, we can but hope Kurzel’s Macbeth paves the way for further tone-deaf adaptations: perhaps Michael Bay’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or McG’s The Tempest. As for what this says abut Kurzel’s forthcoming Assassin’s Creed, I wouldn’t hold your breath for the bright new dawn of computer game properties smartly translated to the big screen.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

You use a scalpel. I prefer a hammer.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)
(SPOILERS) The latest instalment of the impossibly consistent in quality Mission: Impossible franchise has been hailed as the best yet, and with but a single dud among the sextet that’s a considerable accolade. I’m not sure it's entirely deserved – there’s a particular repeated thematic blunder designed to add some weight in a "hero's validation" sense that not only falls flat, but also actively detracts from the whole – but as a piece of action filmmaking, returning director Christopher McQuarrie has done it again. Mission: Impossible – Fallout is an incredible accomplishment, the best of its ilk this side of Mad Max: Fury Road.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.