The latest adaptation of Romeo and Juliet gives us a traditional retelling of the well-known tale of passionate lovers... minus the passion. Somehow the film turns a forbidden love story, which is inherently exciting, into a rather bland and unmemorable take on Shakespeare's play. Lacking the intensity that the story calls for, this version of Romeo and Juliet fails to excite.
Assuming that the audience knows the play well enough, the film follows two youngsters, Romeo (Douglas Booth) and Juliet (Hailee Steinfeld), who are destined to never be together because of their feuding families, and explains little else. Director Carlo Carlei (The Flight of the Innocent) wants us to believe in their whirlwind romance, but the film is never able to successfully pull the audience into the supposedly heart-wrenching tale because of the lack of chemistry between Booth and Steinfeld. Steinfeld has difficulty pulling off Shakespeare's prose, Booth comes off as a neurotic boy-band heartthrob who speaks the dialogue well but doesn't seem to know what he's saying, and the both of them together play the part of star-crossed lovers, but with a veil of insincerity. Disappointingly, the story, which is meant to sweep us off our feet and make us believe that these two strangers love each other enough to die for the other, leaves us wondering why they're even together in the first place.
The restrained, and often times awkward romance is further watered down by screenwriter Julian Fellowes' (Downton Abbey) decision to streamline the dialogue and Carlei's lukewarm take on the tale. The intention was to stay faithful to the original Romeo and Juliet — like Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 adaptation did — and at the same time be as fresh as Baz Luhrmann's version with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio (so as to be hip with the younger generation), but instead it comes off as a dumbed-down take of the classic story.
While the film's leads lack chemistry, its older, supporting cast excels. With the likes of Paul Giamatti (Friar Laurence) and Homeland's Damian Lewis (Lord Capulet) — two actors who have had their fair share of experience with Shakespeare — gracing the cast with their dominating performances, the gap between the actors who have come ready to do Shakespeare's words justice, and those who have not, is quite clear. Save for Kodi Smit-McPhee's (The Road) endearing take on Benvolio, Romeo's cousin, the strongest performances generally come from the older cast members.
As for the scenery, Carlei chose to film the movie where it was set: Verona and Mantua. Unfortunately, the background is oftentimes so beautiful that it distracts from the acting, which truth be told, is probably not something to brag about.
With a new adaptation on our hands, it’s a shame that it doesn’t stand out from the rest. Yes, every generation deserves its own Romeo and Juliet, but if we have to wait almost two decades to see it, it better be worth the wait.
Based on Cornelia Funke’s best-selling children’s book Inkheart takes its literary inspirations literally. It revolves around a father Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser) and his 12-year-old daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) who share a gift -- or curse -- of being able to make characters leap out of the pages just by reading aloud. Unfortunately whenever they do this a real person must then be transferred into the book as a replacement. It can get complicated especially when Mo accidentally sends his wife (Sienna Guillory) into a book called Inkheart only to bring out its villains to wreak havoc on the real world. He spends the next nine years trying to find another copy of the book and bring her back while one of the book’s main characters Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) follows Mo trying to get back into the book. An adventure waiting to happen! The entire cast is wonderfully in tune with the whimsical tone of this inventive and clever story. Fraser doesn’t stretch any acting muscles but serves the film well as its central father figure and hero. Bettany (Master and Commander) as the literary sidekick Dustfinger steals the whole show giving his character heaping amounts of irony warmth and humanity. Joining them is Helen Mirren who adds an element of elegance and uptightness as the great aunt swept along for the ride. Andy Serkis (LOTR’s Gollum) is properly villainous throughout while Brit Jim Broadbent (Iris) is daffy and hilarious as the author of Inkheart who keeps complicating matters for everyone. Inkheart uses sheer imaginative filmmaking prowess with an engaging story that feels as original and fresh as it does familiar. Director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove) makes the most of the colorful European locations including the picturesque Italian Riviera transformed into storybook heaven. The film is well-paced carrying a great subtle message about the powers of reading and creative writing. Much like the Oscar-nominated The Reader -- a wildly different kind of movie to be sure -- this film shows the joys of getting lost and in this case found in the world of books.
Based on the first of Philip Pullman’s bestselling fantasy trilogy The Golden Compass follows along the same lines as the Harry Potter series. It is set in a parallel universe very much like our own but not quite in which there are witches who fly the skies armored ice bears who rule the north and individual animal spirits called "daemons" who are intricately joined to their human counterparts. And of course there is also the whole good vs. evil milieu. The bad guys in this scenario are the Magisterium a group of high-minded intellectuals running the joint who want to control all of humanity by basically eliminating free will. Our heroine is 12-year-old Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) who turns out to be the Magisterium’s greatest threat because she is the child destined to possess the last remaining Golden Compass a truth-telling device. Still with me? Her uncle the scientist Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) is captured by the Magisterium while a benefactress Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman) takes Lyra under her wing--mind you not for benevolent reasons. Escaping Mrs. Coulter’s clutches Lyra sets out to find her loyal friend who has mysteriously joined the hundreds of children currently disappearing without a trace. Her adventure takes her over sky and ocean to the north and with her band of friends and allies--and the power of the Golden Compass--Lyra will need all her skill and courage to stop the war that’s coming. Whew that’s a tall order to fill for one little girl. But don’t let the little-girl act fool you. As played by the lovely Richards in her debut performance Lyra is one tough cookie seemingly unafraid of the challenges she faces including confronting a 12-foot-tall polar bear charging at her among other things. Much like Daniel Radcliffe before her the plucky actress is quite a find and should The Golden Compass trilogy continue she’ll be an indelible part of it. As will Kidman and Craig as the yin-and-yang parental figures in Lyra’s life--particularly Kidman who doesn’t stretch much but is effective as Mrs. Coulter. The enchanting lady whose daemon is a nasty golden monkey that doesn’t talk (fits the character perfectly) really does have ice water flowing through her veins. Also good are Sam Elliott as Texan aeronaut Lee Scoresby and Eva Green as the ethereal witch Serafina Pekkala. But the character who makes the biggest impression both literally and figuratively is the armored ice bear Iorek Byrnison an exiled prince from his homeland of Svalbard who is looking for a little retribution. As voiced by Ian McKellen (who else?) Iorek is definitely a force to be reckoned with every time he is on screen. His bear-on-bear battle with the reigning Svalbardian king who kicked him out is one of the film’s best moments. Love the character names too. There’s a lot going on in The Golden Compass which might confuse the smaller ones in the audience. Pullman's books are dense much like the Harry Potter series and one must stay pretty focused to follow all the film's plot points--some of which will with any luck make more sense further down the line. And it is also at times hard to stay emotionally involved in the spectacle of it all (the exception is definitely the ice bears). But still if you allow yourself to be immersed in this fantastical purely make-believe world of gadgetry grandeur and austerity much like the worlds of Harry Potter Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia then you shouldn’t be too disappointed with Golden Compass. Even more amazing is the director who came up with the film’s vision: Chris Weitz best known for helming the little British dramedy About a Boy. Maybe not the first choice but it’s clear the director is passionate about the material as he covers as much ground as possible in the first installment. Probably the most fascinating part are the daemons who are the animal manifestations of their human counterparts interconnected in all ways. Some have smaller domestic animals such as dogs cats mice; some like Lord Asriel have big animals such as snow leopard; some even have insects. It gets your mind wandering about what yours might be.