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Matt Gerson's "Angle on Movies"

Hamlet


<< Announcer: Now our four day a week feature on AM 1310, here's Matt Gerson with his "Angle on Movies" now showing at your local theater. >>
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More Notable: Matt, the world's sentence length champion, slams Hamlet for its length!

Iím Matt Gerson with four Angles out of five and a bow to the raging manic staging of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, an awesome version too long by an hour at least of Shakespeare's entire play, which even the late Lord Olivier saw fit to keep to two hours for a movie audience and won a Best Picture Oscar, remember, for his troubles, for his intense, yet paced to a T, study of a brooding Dane, and that's what seems to be missing here--not for one moment can we imagine the raging Henry the Fifth or the ready for combat, with blood up at all times Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing, here not more than playing at required artifice.

The brooding Prince of Denmark--it just isn't his thing. He's at his best in decisive moments during Hamlet: energy, verve, action, swordfights, debating none other than himself in the mirror scene, with the King, Claudius, the murderer of his father, hearing his every mulling.

Hamlet is a study in an awesome ego, turning the profoundest, moody, and procrastinating character in all of Shakespeare into a highly-charged Eveready battery, fully ready to do battle with anyone who gets in his way, and the king, who has slain his father and remarried his own mother, an object of, shall we say, Freudian attentions repressed but bubbling over, as during the speech where Hamlet begs and torments his mother (Julie Christie) to stay away from the foul bed of Derek Jacobi, of I, Claudius renown, as another Claudius, this one a bad one, Claudius the poisoner of his own lord and kinsman, old Hamlet, played by Brian Blessed, who played Augustus, and he's famous for that, in the "Masterpiece Theater" series [garbled].

In fact, the sheer scale of Kenneth Branagh is an unimpressing figure, yet his Hamlet often blocks out, in a uniquely charged symphony of James T. Kirk size self love, the mountains of rotten Denmark, as he mulls over the upcoming war in one scene, and the twenty thousand or more dead for the nothing slice of Poland that the king of Norway is seeking, that he thinks is the issue between the fated-to-be-King of Denmark after a bloody denouement, Fortenbras, King of Norway, played by Rufus Sewell [sp?].

See if you can make out the landscape he is blocking out, like the sun god he seems in this scene. In fact, he's the center of every frame during Hamlet, lit differently with radiant light from everyone else, this outsized ego playing the role of his career, standing out by his own directorial machinations from the first. When we see his figure literally blocking out the wedding of Derek Jacobi's Claudius and his mother, so soon, weeks only, after his father's mysterious death, we know it's star power flapping its wings--that is one of the chief reasons for Kenneth Branagh's dominating every scene. (Remember Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves?) He's a superb scenemaker and composer and a better scene-stealer, as his cast is reduced to side characters, while we see him smack in the middle of every scene, practically, of this four-hour plus intermission filming of every last page of Hamlet. His obsession is obviously to be the first to thrust the rod of Denmark in lots of extra scenes with sub-characters and endless sub-plots, like the boring byplay with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, plus Jack Lemmon goes on far too long, trying heroically to play a guard at a post who sees the ghost of old Hamlet at the endless beginning of the play, then proceeds to scene after scene before he finally gets to tell his story to Branagh's hyperdrive Hamlet, starstruck and endless-detail-struck.

See if Gerard Depardieu's two-minute turn as Renaldo, with a hilariously stuffy and made into buffoon by Hamlet Polonius, played by Richard Briars [sp?] doesn't make you shake your head with wonder as to why Gerard Depardieu made the trip across the Channel to film such a nothing of consequence scene. Even Robin Williams's Ostrick [sp?] the messenger, to get Hamlet to fight Laertes and face certain death by poisoned foil, is wasted, with precious little humor to be found. But Billy Crystal, as the first gravedigger, holds his own, which is all you can do with the director in every other scene as the star and then some, and Crystal makes a New York-ish, not old York-ish, cynical and witty flowing hilarity out of the dark figure of the six feet under lord of the graves, the first gravedigger.

The first part of Hamlet is far more lenghty and stirring than part two, with Shakespeare's each and every speech, ranging from the philosophically profound and often humorous, in cutting to what it's all for in awesomely metaphoric terms, to the just plain impenetrable Shakespearian prose that includes torrents of idiomatic expressions, big in 1580 but as obscure as chimneysweeps today.

Hamlet could lose much of the subplots and less of the director as the star and everyone else just along for his ride.

I'm Matt Gerson with four out of five Angles for Hamlet.


<< Announcer (with the end music from Casablanca playing in the background): You can hear Matt Gerson's "Angle on Movies" every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday at 10:45 a.m. and 12:45 and 4:45 p.m. on AM 1310 KXAM. Thanks for listening, and join Matt again next time for his "Angle on Movies.">>
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