December 22, 2010

MOVIES: The Tempest (Julie Taymor, 2010)

Like all of Julie Taymor's movies, The Tempest offers a few moments of glorious visual spectacle, but like all of Julie Taymor's movies, it offers precious little else. Many of the cast are fine actors, but not natural Shakespeareans, and they seem uncomfortable with the language; I've never seen Chris Cooper, for instance, look this awkward before.

Reeve Carney and Felicity Jones are blandness personified as Ferdinand and Miranda, and there's not a shred of romantic chemistry between them. Russell Brand is embarrassingly awful in one of the slapstick comedy roles (Alfred Molina partners him, and comes off a bit better).

Djimon Hounsou is also not at home with the language; combine that with his accent, and it's very difficult to understand most of what he's saying. And the way in which Taymor emphasizes his accent and his blackness to make Caliban seem more frightening and alien borders on racist.

Ben Whishaw does reasonably well as Ariel, who is meant to be androgynous; genital blurring notwithstanding, though, he never comes across as anything other than a fey young man. The special effects Taymor uses to emphasize the otherworldliness of Ariel -- a sort of holographic transparency and multiple appearances within the frame, as if he's everywhere at once -- are intriguing the first time, but by the end of the movie, they've become boring.

Helen Mirren gives the movie's best performance as Prospera, though I can't see what's been gained by making the character female. A few of Taymor's effects work nicely; I liked a scene in which Prospera releases three hellhounds to chase after Molina and Brand. And Sandy Powell's costumes are lovely, though horribly anachronistic (who knew that Renaissance duchesses were so fond of zippers?).

This is Taymor's fourth movie, and when a clumpy mess like Frida is the best of the lot, then I think we have no choice but to finally acknowledge that the Empress has no clothes.

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