Tag: Julie Christie

Blu Tuesday: Hamlet

Running just over four hours in length, Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 production of “Hamlet” isn’t exactly the kind of film that the casual moviegoer pops in on a rainy day, but is instead tailored almost exclusively to cinephiles and diehard fans of Shakespeare. That’s because unlike previous film adaptations of the famous play, Branagh’s version is the first (and probably the last) to utilize the full text, resulting not only in one of the most ambitious studio movies of the last 15 years, but also the most complete film adaptation to ever be made. It just so happens to be one of the best, too, thanks in part to Branagh’s skillful direction, a treasure trove of fantastic performances (including Derek Jacobi as Claudius and Julie Christie as Gertrude), and gorgeous cinematography that benefits from Branagh’s decision to shoot the movie in 70 mm.

It’s completely coincidental that “Hamlet” was released around the same time as the formative years of my literary studies, but although I was already quite taken with Shakespeare’s play by the time I stumbled onto Branagh’s film, it only further deepened my appreciation for the work. And once you see his version of “Hamlet,” it’s really difficult to accept any other. I’m certainly not alone, either, as many people had been clamoring for the film to be released on DVD for years before Warner Bros. caved in with a belated 10th anniversary special edition. (And on my birthday, no less.)

Thankfully, we didn’t have to wait nearly as long for the Blu-ray, and the fact that it’s being released the week after my birthday makes me believe that, in some cosmic way, I’m somewhat responsible. So if you’ve been counting down the days until you could experience Branagh’s “Hamlet” in high definition, you’re welcome. Unfortunately, while the film looks brilliant in HD, there are no new special features to speak of. Granted, the ones that appeared on the two-disc DVD were already pretty good – the commentary by Branagh and Shakespeare scholar Russell Jackson is entertaining and insightful, and the making-of documentary “To Be on Camera,” although a bit dated, features some nice interviews with the cast – but surely they could have dug up something from the archives. Not that it will matter. Anyone that owns the DVD will want to pick up the Blu-ray strictly for the technical upgrades. And when you’re dealing with a movie with such lush production values, it’s more of a necessity than a luxury.

New York, I Love You

Composed like a mini festival of short films on the subject of love, “New York, I Love You,” the second installment in the city-based anthology series, starts off strong before coming to a screeching halt. A majority of the best segments not only occupy the first half of the film, but they also have the most star power, including one by Jiang Wen starring Hayden Christensen and Andy Garcia as two men vying for the attention of a beautiful girl (Rachel Bilson); Yvan Attal’s playful two-parter (featuring Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn) about flirting with strangers; and perhaps most surprisingly, Brett Ratner’s charming tale of a young kid (Anton Yelchin) whose last-minute prom date (Olivia Thirlby) turns out to be more than meets the eye. Mira Nair’s segment about a Jain gem merchant (Ifran Khan) and Chassidic dealer (Natalie Portman) haggling over the price of a diamond (and bonding over religion) is also cute, but it probably would have made for a better full-length feature.

Portman also directs a segment that is easily one of the weaker entries in the anthology, while Shekhar Kapur’s story about a retired opera singer (Julie Christie) just doesn’t fit tonally with the rest of the film. The same can be said about Scarlett Johansson’s contribution, which was deleted from the theatrical cut and appears only as a special feature on the DVD. It’s probably a good thing it was removed, because with the exception of a hilarious final segment starring Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as an old married couple making their way to Coney Island for their anniversary, the second half of the film is a bore. It’s also a little strange to see Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee sitting on the sidelines, because no one knows New York better than these guys. Maybe the producers will be smart enough to recruit them during their next visit to the Big Apple.

Click to buy “New York, I Love You”

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