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Review of the day for the week of December 2, 1996.

For the next four days, you can read reviews of the first four films of Kenneth Branagh. The last three days are a special Shakespeare film festival bonus. On with the show!

Monday:
Henry V (1989)

Henry V
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The best adaptation of the bard since Olivier's days, Kenneth Branagh makes the classic historical drama into a film of epic proportions that not even the stage could duplicate. Henry (Branagh) fights the French during the Hundred Years War, at the famed battle of Agincourt. And what a battle! Among his army is the brave Welsh captain Fleullen (Ian Holm), and one of Henry's old comrades Bardolph (Richard Briers).

Branagh brings new life to this outstanding play. It's a fantastic debut for actor-director Branagh. The production he undertook was superb. The acting (especially Branagh's) is excellent, though Holm brings moments of humor and a towering role to boot. But it's the battle scenes that are the most exciting. If you thought the bard was boring, see this movie and decide for yourself.

My Rating = Four Stars

Rent


Tuesday:
Dead Again (1991)

Dead Again
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A loving tribute to both Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, Kenneth Branagh and then-wife Emma Thompson portray an American detective and a woman suffering from amnesia. They both try to uncover the secret of Thompson's past and learn this past might be connected in someway-through reincarnation-to a murder that happened almost forty years earlier.

A well-made film, that is entertaining and full of little surprises for film buffs. Branagh and Thompson have superb chemistry, and the supporting cast is fine too. Derek Jacobi (the chorus from Branagh's earlier Henry V) is delightfully creepy as the psychic, who helps connect the past for the couple. Robin Williams has a humorous cameo, as a special source for Branagh and Andy Garcia, and is quite charming in this extended cameo. This is definitely for lovers of film noir and the filmakers that brought them to the screen.

My Rating = Four Stars

Rent


Wednesday:
Peter's Friends (1992)

Peter's Friends
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A zany modern-day The Big Chill, that in many ways is a lot more fun than the former film. Stephen Fry plays the title role, a wealthy lad who invites his old college friends for a New Year's Eve get-together. Among his various comrades, there is Andrew (director Kenneth Branagh) a writer for US television sitcoms, who brings his flaky American wife (Rita Rudner) home with him to England. There is Maggie (Emma Thompson), a neurotic who is secretly in love with Peter. And of course, who could forget Sarah (Alphonsia Emmanuel), a woman with a passion for many a man.

Though it's a little more light hearted than most reunion film of the past, it has a fine cast, full of hilarious comic performances. Some tend to overact a bit, like comedian Tony Slattery as Emmanuel's current boyfriend, who happens to be thinking about whether or not he should leave his wife. Still, it's very good and pleasing to people who are tolerant of light hearted comedy.

My Rating = Three Stars

Rent


Thursday:
Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

Much Ado About Nothing
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An adaptation from Kenneth Branagh of one of Shakespeare's better comedies, this is well-filmed and full of vibrant funny performances. It mainly follows the wooing of the bickering Beatrice (Emma Thompson) and Benedick (Branagh), more than it follows the love of Hero (Kate Beckinsale) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard). Among the supporting characters, it features the rivalry between Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) and his bastard brother Don John (Keanu Reeves). Then, there is the loony Dogberry (Michael Keaton) who is apparently the justice of the peace.

Branagh once again captures the flavor and the language of the bard, without making it tedious and boring. Most of the cast is excellent, with some surprisingly good acting from Washington and Keaton. If Reeves wasn't so stiff (as always) in his role, this would almost be one of Branagh's best achievements. And yet, Reeves doesn't hurt it that badly and you can still get plenty of enjoyment out of this one.

My Rating = Four Stars

Rent


Friday:
Richard III (1955)

Richard III
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Of the three film adaptations of Shakespeare that Laurence Olivier directed, this is certainly his best. We follow the life of the insane king of England, as he kills his enemies, former allies and relatives to reach the top of the heap. But evil does not triumph, thanks to the armies of Henry Tudor (Stanley Baker), later known as Henry VII (and father of the dreaded king Henry VIII).

Olivier is great in the title role and his battle scenes are the most well-staged of that particular period in cinema. It gets a little stagy from time to time, but let me say that it's rarely boring. Only Olivier and Kenneth Branagh have ever made the bard so interesting on screen.

My Rating = Four Stars

Rent


Saturday:
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)

Midsummer Night's Dream, A
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One of the least impressive adaptations of Shakespeare, this does have it's good moments. The good points are the beautiful music and the hysterical performance by James Cagney as Bottom, a weaver who is turned into a donkey by the fairies of the wood. Others, like Mickey Rooney as the mischievous fairy Puck, get on your nerves after awhile. The film is still relatively faithful to the lightest comedy-fantasy Shakespeare ever wrote. It does have plenty of warm moments from Cagney. If for mere novelty alone, you should give it a try.

My Rating = Three Stars

Rent


Sunday:
Hamlet (1990)

Hamlet
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Before Kenneth Branagh's recent heavily hyped adaptation, there was this heavily hyped one with Mel Gibson in the title role. The melancholy Dane is still angry at his uncle, King Claudius (Alan Bates), for killing his father, angry at his mother Gertrude (Glenn Close) for marrying his father's brother and angry at just about everyone else. Except perhaps Ophelia (Helena Bonham Carter), who kills herself when she believes Gibson has ultimately rejected her.

Despite all the hype that surrounded it at the time, it's actually a pretty fair adaptation of the tragic play. Bates and Carter give the best performances in the film, though Gibson pulls off the title role surprisingly well. The major miscasting of Close as Gertrude hampers the proceedings a bit, and the settings are a bit too claustrophobic to handle at times, but it stays true in many ways to the bard. It's definitely worth a look.

My Rating = Three Stars

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