Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Taymor's THE TEMPEST opens theatrically in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco

What a beautiful piece of filmmaking -- and how true in spirit to Shakespeare's great play -- is Julie Taymor's renditon of THE TEMPEST. When TrustMovies first viewed the film (during the FSLC's New York Film Festival last September), he noted that you may want to see it prior to reading much about it. Not that there is much to spoil for buffs of The Bard, but Ms Taymor (shown below) has indeed made a few interesting changes in her paired-down, theme-heightened version -- chief among these is the casting of Helen Mirren as Prospera (yes, that's an "a" at the end). And why not?

If The Great Shake were around today, he'd embrace the rise of women. He was too smart not to, but being of his time and knowing quite well on which side his bread was buttered (and by whom), he played along regarding his view of the "fair sex," just as he did about most else -- but always with his keen intelligence, gift for language and understanding of the vagaries of human nature fully intact.

Taymor's casting of Mirren (center left, above, and below, left) is no stunt, either; she's equal parts moving and commanding in the role. And hearing much of the play's words out of her mouth (as well as that of others in this fine cast) is a pleasure. Other than Prospero, The Tempest tends to live or die by its Caliban and Ariel.  Yes, certain other characters in certain productions stand out now and again, but as this is a play about justice and the uses of authority (via magic), audiences tend to look first to its most magical and/or strange characters -- Prospero, Ariel and Caliban -- for their thrills, joy and understanding.

Ms Mirren makes the most of her "wizardess," imbuing Prospera with strength and kindness, the latter shown mainly to her daughter, Miranda (played nicely by Felicity Jones, above, right). There is also a strong sense of vengeance present (understandably so, given the character's history), which Mirren smartly lets us see as occasionally getting the upper hand. But it is her understanding and communicating of Shakespeare's words that prove most important, and here she blesses us.

Djimon Hounsou makes a spectacular Caliban. He is such a handsome, full-bodied actor, and his rich voice has seldom been put to better use. With make-up and costume that manage to accentuate his blackness and whiteness (you'll see), not to mention his sexuality (in a smartly-directed comedic scene with Alfred Molina -- shown below, right -- and Russell Brand, below, left), he becomes a slave whose enormous possibilities lie just beyond our ken -- and beyond his own ability to tap into them. Caliban is one of Shakespeare's strangest creations, and Taymor and Hounsou make the most of this. They don't (and we can't) explain Caliban -- this marvelous "other" -- but we also can't take our eyes off him. We are fully engaged, as we should be, by who he is and, at the film's moving conclusion, what might become of him.  The last shot of him, and his reaction, speaks volumes -- though it says not a word.

As Ariel, Ben Whishaw adds another feather to his growing cap. Androgynous and beautiful, fairy-like and asexual, alternately powerful (frightening when need be) and pliant, the actor is a great choice for this role.  Granted the role is half special effects, but Whishaw's skills are such that his performance and the effects seem joined at the hip, the brain -- and everywhere else.

Also in the well-chosen cast are Tom Conti (we haven't seen much of him lately), Chris Cooper (above, left -- a fellow we don't often get to hear reciting the Bard) and Alan Cumming (above, right).

The movie's special effects (and there are lots of them -- as you'd expect from Taymor) are first-rate, and the location shots -- the movie was filmed in Hawaii -- range from occasionally gorgeous and verdant to surprisingly stark.  Either way, they're a treat to view. The Tempest begins its run this Friday, December 10  in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.  Click here and then click on GET TICKETS (to the right of the screen), scroll up to see theaters, and then click on your choice to view screening times and purchase opportunities.

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