Love's Labour's Lost
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With Kenneth Branagh (WILD WILD WEST, CELEBRITY), Alicia Silverstone (BLAST FROM THE PAST), and Nathan Lane (AT FIRST SIGHT, MOUSE HUNT) leading a stellar ensemble cast, Stanley Donen and Martin Scorsese present a sexy, glamorous, and fun 1930's-style musical that's earned terrific critical acclaim! The King of Navare (Alessandro Nivola -- MANSFIELD PARK, FACE/OFF) and his three best friends think that they've sworn off love in the pursuit of intellectual enlightenment. But when the Princess of France (Silverstone) and her beautiful attendants arrive for a diplomatic visit, their high-minded plans are turned completely upside down! Then, as war rages and secret passions burn, loyalty and devotion are tested like never before! Also featuring hilarious Matthew Lillard (SHE'S ALL THAT, SCREAM) and the classic songs of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, and more -- go back in time and allow yourself to be swept away by this wonderfully entertaining motion picture treat!
Having taken Shakespeare at his word on Hamlet (i.e., not cutting a single syllable out of a very long play), Kenneth Branagh selects a more radical approach with Love's Labour's Lost. Here the prolific director-star weeds out much of the play's dialogue and adds songs and dances of a decidedly modern bent. The King of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola, Nicolas Cage's wacko brother in Face/Off) and his three comrades (Branagh, Matthew Lillard, Adrian Lester) take a vow: no womanly distractions while they pursue their studies. Ah, but at that very moment, floating down a magical studio-built river, is the queen of France (Alicia Silverstone), accompanied by three ladies-in-waiting. You do the math. Branagh has set the tale on the eve of the Second World War, which allows for the inclusion of vintage pop songs, including "Cheek to Cheek," "The Way You Look Tonight," and a rousing chorus of "There's No Business Like Show Business," led by--who else?--Nathan Lane. The fact that most of the cast members are not accomplished song-and-dance folk is clearly meant to charm, but the results are spotty at best. Perhaps the most dynamic performer is Natascha McElhone (memorable from Ronin), whose aristocratic bearing and bottomless eyes lend a gravity to the material that is otherwise absent from Branagh's twinkly staging. The play contains some of Shakespeare's loveliest paeans to the language of love, yet Branagh seems to be in a hurry to juice everything up lest the audience lose interest. The labor shows. --Robert Horton
- Deleted Footage
- Making Of
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Some moments of comedy, and how they are staged, left us howling with laughter, literally belly-laughing. Enough so to make our children come running, asking if we were alright! The cast is delightful, even if some can't handle the dialoigue quite professionally. The trick is, Branagh has decided that this would make a good 1930's Musical. !!! So he adds songs and dances! Using song by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, beautifully chosen to highlight the text and bring it out.
The cast is marvelous! Richard Briers is his classic self, Timothy Spall has a comic tour de force as Armando, and Geraldine McEwan is delightful! But Nathan Lane about steals the show! You've never seen him this good!
Branagh has that marvelous ability to make sure his actors bring out the text perfectly, as if we were all used to hearing this language of Shakespeare's, though it's 400 years old! You are absolutely clear as to hwat's being said, what's happening, at all times. A rare gift indeed! And for comedy, indispensible.
Then the ending. Oh my! The end of the play by Shakespeare is unusual - and brief! There is a sequel mentioned in history, but we don't have it. So Branagh, by setting it in the 1930's, gives us an ending which is beautiful, heart breakingly lovely and splendid - it brings me to tears every time! WIthout a word of extra text, just gorgeous music by Patrick Doyle it continues the storyline in a very unique way, and it is moving beyond compare.
It's not quite up to the 5-star quality of _Henry V_. But that was a tour de force that'd be hard to repeat. If there were a place for 3 1/2 stars, I'd probably give it that, but I'll let the fourth one slide by on benefit of doubt.
The high points? A novel idea, to be sure. Reasonably good choreography given that none of the stars is really cut out for dancing. And again, a good edit of the original work on Branagh's part.
The lows? It was about one musical number too long. I'm not sure which I'd have cut, but I'd have let one of them go. I might not be saying that had anybody had a voice powerful enough to carry the tunes. But when you know them all and you've heard them done by Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, etc., nothing done by actors who are actors first and singers second is likely to stand up.
The acting? Again, Branagh is superb. On her looks alone Natascha McElhone could read the phone book and I'd be at rapt attention, so it was all the more pleasant to find out that she actually could carry Shakespeare. But Alessandro Nivola's performance was touch-and-go, and Alicia Silverstone struck me as being a little out of her depth. Not as far out as Keanu Reeves was in _Much Ado_, which I'd drop from five stars to four on the basis of that casting blunder alone. But as far as having a uniformly solid cast of the kind in _Henry V_, this production came up a little short. If I could have swapped Brain Blessed and Derek Jacobi into this production in a role here or there, I'd have done it.
Was it worth the $7 I paid for a used DVD? Well, considering the trash that regularly goes for $8 a seat at the local Cineplex, the answer would have to be an emphatic yes. Even 3 1/2 star Shakespeare is better than five star _The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas_ (if there is such a thing).
I'd say buy it, try it, and don't feel guilty if you hit the fast forward button through one or two of the musical numbers. If I watch it again, I almost certainly will.
Through the years, however, I have relented and come to realize that even in Shakespeare's day plays were edited for the audience at hand, and even he prepared the script according to where and to whom it was to be shown.
Liberties have been taken in this production of Love's Labour's Lost, but they have been taken with tastefulness and knowledge by the preeminent Shakespearean actor and interpreter of our day. The production never fails to put a smile on my face; once again genius has smiled on a Branagh production. Do yourself a big favor and acquire one of these still available copies. It is out of print and not likely to be reproduced, so it is quickly becoming a rare collector's item.
A more strictly interpreted BBC version is available from Ambrose Video, and it is good. But for a rare treat that will approach your sensibilities with mirth, watch this film!