Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Bard's Arcade

I admit I have been influenced by award winners and just overall buzz in my DVD picks recently. So yesterday I saw King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and the HBO film As You Like It. Kong was getting good buzz, and Kevin Klein won the SAG award and Bryce Dallas Howard was nominated for a Golden Globe for the Shakespearean update. I'll talk about the one I liked first. In general Kenneth Branagh has not been particularly successful bringing Shakespeare to the screen. Personally, I think he's only batting .250 (which I know is a good batting average, but it's bad for film quality). Hamlet, Love's Labours Lost, and As You Like It weren't successful in achieving his reinterpretation of classic Shakespeare. The one I really like and will watch repeatedly is Much Ado About Nothing, but that's barely reinvented and is probably the reason it still works. The newest, As You Like It, tells the story of a duke overthrown by his brother and sent to live in the forest. As the new duke fears his niece, Rosalind (played brilliantly by Bryce Dallas Howard), she is banished as well. The new duke's daughter, Celia (Atonement's Romala Garai) decides she will leave the court as well. Just before leaving, Rosalind falls in love with Orlando, the youngest brother of a bad guy in cahoots with the new duke. Rosalind, Celia, and the court jester (Alfred Molina) flee to the forest to find the overthrown duke. Rosalind pretends to be a man (often called "pretty youth") and convinces Orlando that she/he can help him woo Rosalind. As in all Shakespeare, mistaken identity and chance meetings often result in love and marriage, so Celia marries Orlando's older brother, the real Rosalind comes out from her man clothes and marries Orlando, and Alfred Molina marries a woman they find in the woods. The original language is very well spoken throughout and the acting is incredible. Howard is wonderful, which is good as she's the leading character and speaks the most. The one thing that puts this play in league with the bad Kenneth Branagh pics is that it's set in feudal Japan. There seems to be NOTHING adding to the story or being more interesting by being set in Japan. Rather than just wrestling, Orlando sumo wrestles for a minute. Otherwise it could be set in any forest anywhere, and the dresses could be standard English fare rather than pseudo kimonos. Finally, where does Kevin Klein's SAG award fit into this? He plays "Mr. Melancholy", the character that mixes all the stories together as he travels between them. He's very versatile, and integrates the stories with his knowing nod to all the characters that tells us that all will work out fine in the end. He's great, but I'm not sure award winning. Overall 3 of 5 stars. Good, but not great. If you like Shakespeare, it's terrific, if not, skip it, there's nothing new to see.

Now, here's why you should really think through why you rent movies. Renting something only because the hype is good should not supercede your inner monologue that says "will I like a movie about Donkey Kong?" My answer was probably not, but some reviewers had said there were great things about it, so I decided to give it a shot. It's about a man who dedicated his leisure life to setting the high score in Donkey Kong arcade game. It means overthrowing a 20 year old record held by a strangely unappealing guy. They have to get scores approved by an "independent" agency that doesn't seem to like having long-term scores reset, which is an odd trait in an independent agency. Basically the previous record holder plays a little dirty beating the new high score by sending in a tape of his really high score after it's been reset by our underdog. The underdog never gets to go head-to-head in public with the "bad" guy and then the film ends. It's boring, slow and never really appeals to a general audience. It definitely appeals to anyone particularly interested in video games, but the people involved are carefully pigeon-holed into good guy and bad guy. It's so artificially done that you start feeling sympathy for the "bad" guy because he just wants his high score to stand and make his real business successful. I didn't like it at all, and don't recommend it. 2 of 5 stars.

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