Operation Empire

This is obviously my personal site but my online content arsenal is vast. It includes Greater Gotham: Going Global, a blog about being out and about in New York City and what happens when you turn Gotham Girl lose on the UK; Fabulous Foodie, where food and food culture are served up a la carte. Last but not least, there is Modern Parlance -- home to my hard-working writer alter ego and headquarters in my nefarious plan to take over the world. It is also home to my work blog - Personal Parlance, where I hold forth on publishing, books, social media, communication, indexing, writing, education and anything else content-wise that catches my eye. 

I had wanted to call the whole thing Operation Empire but several of my friends suggested that might put people off. Upon consideration I decided that a) they were right (so went with Modern Parlance) and b) to effectively take over the world, I would need fewer friends and more minions. Applications being accepted now.

Scribbles & Notes

Of course, the word-smithing started long before the plan for world domination. At one time or another, my personal writing projects have included:

Take 2 Movie Reviews which proved indirectly that I once had a social life where as TV Rants & Raves suggested perhaps that I didn't. (I take comfort in the fact that I haven't updated it lately - which suggests that things are looking up.)

The only thing my ongoing Bibliomania ever suggested was that I needed more shelves and the patience to wait for  paperbacks. Publishing Grunt's Bible came about because working with books isn't the thrill ride that reading or buying them is. 

There were pure flights of fancy like Staving off Ennui, the Server Sees the Sights; there were answers to hypothetical questions like "what should go in a toy hall of fame and then there were the snarkathons - first site website I ever did - Alias Smith & Jones Site and the Dark Shadows Snarkathon.

Much older material is kept in the Ephemera Archives - moved to the backburner but not completely forgotten. Who knows what'll end up catching my attention next...

or Something Rotten in a the small palace an hour north of London

My friend Kelly asked why everyone seems to like Branagh's Hamlet (reviews and all) if it's so awful. My answer: Because the rabble are distracted by Robin Williams (what *was* that supposed to be, by the way? Funny? No. Predictable? Yes.) and Jack "Grumpy Old Marcellus" Lemmon? Oh and even the rabble would have complained but just then there was an Edwardian "wet T-shirt contest" And please tell me, how she managed no to swallow the key during that hosing down?

Then poor Kelly, not knowing what she was turning loose, writes: "I thought Branagh's Henry V was really good, but I wasn't thrilled with his Much Ado About Nothing or any of his recent films for that matter."

Branagh's Henry was really good. Unfortunately now *everything* is at the same level as the pep rally "Win one for the Gipper" speech at Agincourt. Dead Again, as tribute to it's genre, was also good. Sticking to films where he directed and appeared:

  • Much Ado About Nothing, at least when I saw it here, became "Much Ado Mocking Keanu". I was just praying that Don John would get away at the end so I wouldn't have to face more Keanu screen time. Still, Denzel was mightily attractive and Ken wrestling with the chair was pretty funny.
  • Frankenstein made me laugh so hard I forgot where I was. I *know* I wasn't supposed to laugh that hard but the whole thing was like a bad Busby Berkeley number. Ken strutting, peacock like, down a long, dramatically lit hall with his black leggings, boots and open flowing red robe that mysteriously disappeared to reveal that Ken had hired a personal trainer.
  • Peter's Friends I walked out on.

And now Hamlet...

I WANTED this to be good. He did it on stage directed by Derek Jacobi and according to the reviews, his madness was directly proportional to the mussed state of his hair. It made me wonder what Kenneth would do given free rein. Now I know. If you don't want to hear me rip it to shreds, bail now. :-) Otherwise, I shall share. Keep in mind - I appear to be scolding Ken but I scold with love. :-)

First, what did I like:

  • I totally support the desire to do a full text version of the play. I've always believed, contrary to popular opinion, that it was playable. I've read the play full text, I've seen the play full text, I've played the shorter versions and think the full text give you a MUCH better idea of what the play is really like. For that reason alone, I think everyone should see it. In fact, this version is the full text PLUS a bit or two from the first folio - making this the longest text version in existence. Speaking of length -- Yes the film is long. However, it does not drag. It moves along at a fairly good clip and you don't realize how long you've been there. Unless you had the super-sized soda while in line for tickets as did so many of the people in the theatre I was at -- if the fidgeting right before intermission was any indicator.
  • The film is colorful, vivid and often elegantly shot. A far cry from the moody, black and white, shadowed Elsinore we have come to expect. The costumes are wonderful, the sets richly appointed and they reveal a court in full festive swing. This serves to emphasize Hamlet and his melancholy even more. Blenheim Castle (Ken's Elsinore) is gorgeous. Wow! Nice digs. :-) The Duke of Marlborough, who's lucky enough (or if you consider the costs of upkeep and taxes, unlucky) to belong to Blenheim, appears in the film in a small speaking part as the advance man for Fortinbras' approaching army. He shouldn't count on a long term acting career but it was sort of cute to have him in there.
  • I thought Nick Farrell (Horatio) was superb. While the majority of the "Night of A 1000 Stars" cameos were pointless or irritating, I must say that Billy Crystal was great as the Gravedigger.

So you see, I don't loathe the film. I liked it...but...but...

  • Ken is buff, blond (let's talk about the hair later ) and ...bombastic. In a word, this film is loud. Patrick Doyle (Henry V, Dead Again, Much Ado, Sense and Sensibility) who's music I have enjoyed in the past -- though I find it a wee bit manipulative -- turns the volume all the way up and the music is intrusive. It is actually in the way. Dear Mr. Doyle, try decaf ok?
  • The flashbacks -- who does Hamlet think he is - Walter Mitty? I found these totally bizarre and unnecessary. In case you don't understand the scene with the gravedigger, Hamlet's "Alas poor Yorick" is spoken over a flashback of a time when Hamlet was very young (A chubby little blond boy with ringlets galore) and tumbling around with Yorick as he entertains the court. What do we glean from this -- nothing, except that Yorick needed orthodontia
  • And still on flashbacks -- Apparently, we were supposed to be so distracted by Brian Blessed (the Ghost) in the ice blue contact lenses he wears as Old Hamlet that Ken thought we needed to see his death while he described it to us. So we get to see Claudius pour the poison into his brother's ear while he sleeps. Since we see it occur, we don't have any sympathy for Hamlet later when he starts to doubt the ghost. We just want to yell "Get on with it, weren't you watching the flashbacks" It also really undercut the later bit with the players. All I could think during the Murder of Gonzago was "been there, done that". And about those contact lenses -- the reason for those was? I mean, he had them on when he was alive (in the flashbacks) so one presumes that Old Hamlet really had those color eyes. In which case, he was obviously possessed and *should* have been killed. All Hail Claudius!
  • And the eternal wrangling of "Do I or don't I -- What the heck are you waiting for. Kill Claudius already" visitation in Gertrude's closet -- becomes even more an issue since Ken has chosen to play Hamlet as this 'take what he wants, action guy'. Excuse me? If that were the case, I would have been out of there 3 acts ago!
  • Every time Fortinbras is mentioned, we have a silent but smoldering shot of Rufus Sewell (Fortinbras) preparing to march against Denmark. Was this in case we wouldn't recognize him later? Also, Old Norway appears a few times as well. That's a first. Apparently, someone told Ken that people need to be led by the hand or they won't get it. While that may be true for some, it is insulting to the rest of us who are perfectly capable of figuring it out on our own. I mean, come on -- we know the story!
  • Ken was apparently out to prove that he knew EVERYONE in the industry from David Attenborough (as the embarrassed Ambassador from England) to Judi Dench (as Hecuba in a flashback of the speech by the player KING! A play within a play wasn't enough for Mr. Branagh. He need a play within a play within a play. Ken, get a GRIP!).
  • The hair -- I cannot even discuss the hair. My eyesight is JUST getting back to normal after the glare from the hair (particularly since Ken's Hamlet went hatless in the sun so much). Perhaps later I shall dwell more on the hair -- which thankfully at least covered the ears. I cannot talk about the bad mustache or Vermeer beard either. They were TOO unflattering and I trust he has now shaved them off.

Keeping up with the Polonius family...

Ophelia (Kate Winslet), Polonius (Richard Briers), Laertes (Michael Maloney) - I really thought they were going to do something great with them when I first saw them all together. You know, where Polonius delivers the "To Thine Own Self Be True" bit. The scene is in a small, dimly lit chapel with a large iron gate as a door. Having heard his father out, Laertes leaves, once more asking Ophelia to remember what he has said. As he walks out, Polonius shuts the gate with an ominous clang and begins to advance upon his daughter demanding to know what Laertes has said. She hardly starts to speak when he has dragged her behind a screen and slammed her up against the wall to start in about keeping herself away from Hamlet. I really thought he was going to have at her. More of the flashbacks occur as he yells at her and Ophelia remembers a fuzzy focused, slow motion sex scene designed to tell us that once again, Ken as dropped 2 stone for a role he really believes in. Would you be paying attention to your father if you were flashing back to sex with buff, blond Ken? No, I didn't think so. Me neither.

Later, when Polonius is talking to Reynaldo (Gerard Depardiu in the worst cameo of all) we see a skittish (gratuitous) prostitute pulling herself together as Polonius strides around, his suspenders hanging at his sides and his bed all askew. This Polonius could have been one of the great two-faced, smarmy politicians of all time. (I think we are supposed to think they shared her but I could be wrong) but they revert back to Polonius as prattling fool shortly there after and we never see this cool evil one again. And as long as we're talking about Gerard -- look, I know he's French but he should at least try to enunciate. All that mumbling -- it was like he'd just had a tooth pulled.

Performances and endings

The end of the film, from the beginning of the duel on is...so OUT THERE! The duel starts out okay but gets chopped up as we keep cutting to scene of Fortinbras' army overrunning Elsinore (Where, where, WHERE is that in the text, Mr. Purist?) Fortunately, this invading army kills Robin Williams as Osric. Apparently, Robin thought Osric should be something out of 'The Birdcage' and in love with Laertes (or any number of other young men running around exerting themselves).

The duel ends with Ken doing the finest Errol Flynn imitation I have seen in ages. He HURLS his rapier (not an aerodynamic instrument at the best of times and not very heavy) so far and so hard that it IMPALES Claudius on the throne. Do you have any idea how hard he would actually have to have thrown that to accomplish such a thing? As it is, they use a bad special effect that Gene Rodenberry would have refused to use in the original Star Trek --home of the bad special effect. After hurling the rapier with the strength of 20 angst ridden (blond, buff) princes, Hamlet swings down on a chandelier, (all while dying of a poison that everyone else is succumbing to right and left), runs across the great hall to throw himself on Claudius and shove the rest of the poison down his throat.

As for Ken's performance itself -- he has said in interviews that he has wanted to play Hamlet since he was 11 years old. It shows. He apparently did not realize that there are other characters in the play - except for Horatio, who has a lot of screen time with Hamlet so I suppose he couldn't help but notice. If you take on these roles, there area few decisions you must make. Does Hamlet believe the ghost? When does he start to doubt the ghost? Is he really mad? Does he love Ophelia or not? etc. In regards to the last particularly -- Ken did not appear to know (or maybe he was being subtle) whether or not Hamlet really did love Ophelia and while you can pick either way - you really MUST pick one. If you don't, you leave Ophelia floundering. Speaking of which -- Ms. Winslet gave us a winsome flounder.

Gertrude (Julie Christie, lovely, true) at some point really should decide that she believes her son about the murder (assuming she had no hand in it -- but that's a whole different choice and not one I can imagine Julie Christie's Gertrude making much less Ken directing it that way). Anyway, the choice between supporting Hamlet or supporting Claudius can happen anywhere from the closet scene to the duel but it has to happen SOMEWHERE. It didn't. Something was happening between Ms. Christie and Mr. Jacobi after the description of Ophelia's death but I don't know what it was. Perhaps Gertrude was just noticing that Claudius is an unfortunate dresser. Many "faux uniform", Sgt Pepper's sort of things happening.

A lot of character-based decisions were not made and I cannot believe that such an experienced cast is wholly at fault. The director should give the cast "the bigger view" so that they can find their place in it. Ken either did not have a bigger vision or did not communicate it sufficiently. I could go on and on (I have haven't I) but I'll stop before you get impression that I really didn't like it :-). I don't HATE it. I am just disappointed.

My summation. It entertains the audience without engaging them. Like a Lethal Weapon Sequel.

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