Combustible Celluloid
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With: Helen Mirren, Djimon Hounsou, David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, Chris Cooper, Ben Whishaw, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Felicity Jones, Jude Akuwidike, Reeve Carney
Written by: Julie Taymor, based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Julie Taymor
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some nudity, suggestive content and scary images
Running Time: 110
Date: 09/11/2010

The Tempest (2010)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Island Girl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 1999, director Julie Taymor delivered a dynamic, exciting version of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (simply called Titus), but here she seems a bit less focused.

Years ago, the duchess of Milan, Prospera (Helen Mirren), was overthrown and exiled with her young daughter on a raft. They wound up on a desolate island, where Prospera managed to enslave the sole resident, a creature called Caliban (Djimon Hounsou). Years later, Prospera causes a tempest that destroys a ship and brings her spiteful brother (Chris Cooper), the king of Naples (David Strathairn), prince Ferdinand (Reeve Carney), and other key players, to the island. She proceeds to carefully plot her revenge, which involves, among other things, romantically linking the prince with her pretty grown daughter (Felicity Jones).

Taymor's idea to change Prospero into a woman is a good one, but it doesn't really add up to much. Other ideas are likewise underused, such as the casting of the African-born Hounsou as the slave Caliban, or matching the playful comedy of Russell Brand to the role of Trinculo. The production features a visual effects-driven Ariel that dashes to and fro and changes into a scary, dark avenging angel. Other effects, and the bizarre costumes (made with an endless array of zippers), feel flat and are not particularly fitted to the material. Carney in particular gives a pathetic, marble-mouthed performance as the prince, but many other actors are terrific, including Mirren, Hounsou, and Alan Cumming as the sniggering, selfish Sebastian. Overall, even if it doesn't completely mesh, there's still much to like here.

Miramax and Touchstone released a deluxe Blu-Ray with lots of interesting extras. It comes with rehearsal footage, a Russell Brand riff, a music video, an hour-long documentary about the making of the film, a Julie Taymor commentary track, and a commentary track with Shakespeare scholars Virginia Vaughn and Jonathan Bate.

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