The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare
His friends called him "Billy-boy". Maybe.

[There are loads of adaptations of this play – the version I watched is detailed here on the IMDB and here at Wikipedia]

The what now? That sounds like a Shakspeare play or something. Which it is. And this is the film review category which means I must have watched it. Which I did. Which is weird. Which it is.

That’s a lot of whiches. More, perhaps, than Macbeth. Watch it, though, I did.

Like it? Kinda.

I have a deep-seated loathing of Shakespeare. It’s nothing personal. I didn’t know the guy and he didn’t seem to stand for anything I disagree with. It’s predominantly to do with the complete ****er of an English teacher I had at school. The man had the ability to take something you held dear and make you loathe it with a passion simply so that you wouldn’t agree with him.

Imagine the sliminess that exudes from Nick Griffin. Put it into a character who looks more like a stretched tall English butler and you have an idea of what I’m getting at.

As a result, I built literary brick walls between myself and the Bard. And Chaucer as well, but in fairness that really is gobbledygook. This is a shame as, despite being in overly-flowery language, Shakespeare’s not that bad. You’d be amazed how many turns of phrase we use regularly that come from his plays.

One prime example – as it’s from The Merchant of Venice – is “a pound of flesh”. This is the payment that Shylock (itself a generic term for “Jew” which is somewhat less commonly used now) demands of Antonio should he default on a loan. We don’t use it for quite the same reason in the modern day, but the fact that a phrase used by a playwright over 400 years ago is still coined today – and by people who won’t have even heard of the work, let alone read it – is pretty impressive.

Now I’ll be honest. While watching the film, had I not been given a rough idea of the storyline and had a (prospective) English teacher sat with me pointing things out I would have missed a lot of the detail. The story itself isn’t too hard to follow, but for the uninitiated Shakespeare’s flowery dialogue (I guess scholars would call it “detailed prose”) is still hard to follow.

What this did allow me to do was something I don’t often manage – to concentrate on the performances. On how the words were delivered. Given that it was often hard to grasp their meaning, it was left to the actors to convey the emotions.

For that reason, this has to be one of Al Pacino‘s finest displays. I’ve always rated him. Like Morgan Freeman, he can be in a complete dud but you’ll always remember the parts with them in as they’re simply superb actors.

He plays Shylock in the adaptation I watched – the 2004 film directed by Michael Radford. Pacino’s monologue (“If you prick us, do we not bleed?” – that one) was positively wonderful. Jeremy Irons as Antonio is, again, a great actor though he really comes into the limelight during the final courthouse scene.

Would I go out of my way to watch another Shakespeare adaptation? Or even pay £30 or so for a theatre ticket? I don’t know. I still like my entertainment to be “easy”. I don’t mind thinking about something while I’m watching it, or afterwards. But having to read or be told about what happens prior to viewing so you can follow it still seems like too much hard work.

I have to thank Kat for convincing me to watch this one, if for no other reason than the aforementioned Pacino scene. It’s certainly given me a little more respect for the little bald guy with the ruff (Shakespeare, that is), and I’ve enjoyed doing some reading on Wikipedia about the play. I still think, though, I prefer my dramas in modern language.

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Film Thursday

9-movie-official-poster-fullsize 400x592

My last “Film Thursday” for 6 weeks as I’m on placement from Monday. Argh. It wasn’t as busy as I was hoping, with only three films making the “can be arsed going to see” category.

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant

The trailers for this looked good and it didn’t disappoint, despite almost being an overlong trailer for an upcoming series in its own right.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Two best friends end up becoming vampires by different mean; one a “good” vampire, the other a “bad” Vampaneze. Begin Blade-style “them against us” plotline.

Having had a quick scan through the related Wikipedia articles, there are definitely some differences between the film and the two source novels by Darren Shan. In fact, the two books which give up most of their content to form the plot for the film are Cirqu du Freak and The Vampire’s Assistant. They in turn are the first two books in a trilogy, itself the first of four such trilogies. So you can see that Hollywood would be begging for the rights with so much pre-written story to adapt.

As I’ve not read the books I can’t comment on how “good” an adaptation it is, but as a film in its own right it’s certainly enjoyable. There is enough revealed about the background world in which its set to certainly get the imagination going and I do hope they start work on a sequel or three. Mainly as I don’t have the time to read another twelve novels.

It is a little violent and there’s a smattering of bad language, but it’s suitable for the young teens and up in my opinion. The humour is quite dark (as it should be) with some good slapstick and gruesome effects.

Oh, and Salma Hayek is still hot, even with a beard.


Coincidentally, the second film of the day shares an actor with the first. Mr Crepsley from Vampire’s Assistant and “Number 5” from 9 are both played by John C. Reilly. However, in this wonderfully designed animated feature only his vocal talents are used.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: The world has been destroyed and all that’s left are some little sentient dolls and a very scary mechanical dog. But what happened? And why?

I was really, really looking forward to 9 and I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Mainly in the story which just doesn’t seem to be deep enough. Visually, however, it is a complete and utter treat. It’s not been so much sketched out and drawn, but mechanically designed. This very much appeals to my inner geek.

It is still a very moving film with some wonderful characters and a lovely ending. The journey to that ending is superbly crafted, but it just seemed to be missing a little something for me. I couldn’t tell you what, annoyingly enough.

There is no denying the Tim Burton influence in the freaky designs, though there are even shades of the scary hybrid toys from the first Toy Story movie. Only with engines and snippy bits and laser eyes and stuff.

For the pure visual wonderfulness, I would recommend 9.

Fantastic Mr Fox

I am so going to get it in the neck for this one, but I have my issues with this film… like 9 it is beautifully made, though the animation is far more simplistic. The voice acting if pretty good, though I think 9‘s was better (and yes, that’s even taking into account George Clooney). It’s the story, of all things.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: A fox family move into a shiny new tree, but soon find themselves the centre of a pest-control war waged by three mean farmers.

So what’s my problem with the story? Bear in mind that I love Roald Dahl and everything he stood for, but for a kids’ story the morals on this are all messed up. The foxes start off fine. Mr Fox decides he wants to steal loads of stuff, which he then does. The farmers get a bit peeved at this and decide they don’t want him living next to them – who would?

But guess who wins?

Yes, kids. Steal stuff, annoy people… and you’ll get away with it if you have a cool (read “annoying”) trademark whistle and a way with words. Actually, in fairness it worked for our politicians for long enough.

I have to confess I’ve never read the book. It was one of the ones I just didn’t get round to as a kid. I couldn’t tell you how many times I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I absolutely adored them, but now I feel almost glad that I didn’t read Mr Fox as it actually seems a bit weak.

Please tell me that the book didn’t have the “whistle-click” trademark in it? That’s just awful. As is some of the dialogue. I’m really hoping it’s just been destroyed in adaptation as I can’t believe Dahl would have been so trite in places.

But as I said: it looks fantastic. However overall it’s more kind of “Passable Mister Fox”

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In Bruges

Film poster for In Bruges - Copyright 2007, Fo...
In Bruges

Just to warm you up for Film Thursday tomorrow (or whenever I post the related blog article), here’s a quickie about In Bruges. This is a dark comedy. Think inky black. With quite a bit of bloodshed. And some weird bits. Including a dwarf in school uniform.

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Two Irish hitmen hide in the Belgian city of Bruges after an assassination goes a bit wrong.

Don’t watch if you’re offended by bad language, brutal shootings or people critical of beautiful Belgian cities. This is a very dark film as well as being very funny. Strangely, the last time I saw a film remotely like this, it was the Belgian movie Man Bites Dog – itself about a murderer.

The cast are superb. Colin Farrell deservedly won a Golden Globe for his part as the guilt-racked younger gunsmith. He’s also remarkably funny in his rants about how much he hates Bruges. For the record, I’ve been there – though I was about 12 – and I seem to recall it being pretty nice. Mind you, I didn’t have a psychotic Ralph Fiennes looming over my shoulder.

It’s unusual for a film to encompass to many emotions. Giggling till your sides hurt, revulsion at a gruesome scene, sadness at a poignant event. In Bruges manages it wonderfully.

Most definitely worth 107 minutes of your time.

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A soccer ball that is "thermally bonded"
Kick this - not my shins!

After many false starts and things not being organised, I met up with some of my fellow students for a kickabout in the park after lectures this afternoon. In all, there was a whacking four of us. And the other three were girls.

I will no longer call women the weaker sex. Fairer, certainly – but only when we’re talking about looks as this lot cheated. I have the bruises on my shins to prove it. Catherine, I’m looking at you. Through the tears in my eyes.

In fairness, I’m flipping unfit. The most exercise my legs get is shifting between the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals. This, of course, is no excuse for taking advantage and kicking me in the legs every time I walked past. Next time I’m taking my shinpads.

The conditions certainly didn’t favour football either. We were on soft grass and it was quite cool. The last time I played a full match, I was on an all-weather pitch in 35-degree heat at 8:30 in the morning. Admittedly in Hanoi. This obviously suits me much better.

So aside from the pain, battering, humiliation, wheezing, and the fact that I got caked in mud… I had a pretty good time. Thanks to Catherine, Laura and Mhara (I think I have the names right) for sorting things out and not hurting me too much. Good luck on your placements, ladies!

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Just a couple of things that are a little too long to be posted in the 140 characters that Twitter allows. The silly bird-based website has become my outlet for a lot recently.


You can tell you’re getting old when your film references fall flat. Being near an ill person, I held out a paper cup and said “If you’re going to spew… spew into this!” and was met by a completely blank stare.

It was at this point I realised I am at university with people who had only just stopped crapping their own nappies when Wayne’s World was out. For some reason this scares me.

The cold

I am overjoyed at getting onto my first choice of “additional module” next term – Teaching in the Outdoors. I actually get to go hiking and stuff as part of my course.

Of course, I reckoned without the fact that I’m studying in Scotland. And this will be January-February. I will, therefore, freeze my knackers off.

I may invest in thermals. And a large hip flask.

Other stuff

I’m glad to say that everything else seems to be going swimmingly:

  • I just found out I get paid significantly more for my probationary year than I was expecting
  • My placements for next year could be in Perth which means staying with the ‘rents – and therefore being able to waste all the spare time I won’t have on my PS2 again
  • I start my first “proper” placement next week and I’m alternating between excited giggling and nervous pant-wetting
  • It appears there may be a new lady in my life. Await further announcements. Early, very tentative steps and no more as yet.

One may even go so far as to say *whoop*. But I’m an old crusty so I won’t.

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