Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, John Leguizamo, Penn Badgley, Dakota Johnson, Anton Yelchin, Peter Gerety, Kevin Corrigan, Vondie Curtis-Hall, James Ransone, Spencer Treat Clark, Bill Pullman, Delroy Lindo, Harley Ware
Written by: Michael Almereyda, based on a play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Michael Almereyda
MPAA Rating: R for some violence
Running Time: 98
Date: 03/13/2015

Cymbeline (2015)

3 Stars (out of 4)

O, For a Horse with Wings!

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sometimes remembered for his experimental filmmaking with the Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera, director Michael Almereyda worked with Ethan Hawke on a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare's Hamlet (2000) that became his most famous film. Now the two have teamed up again for another Shakespeare, the lesser-known, late-period Cymbeline, which plays a little like Romeo & Juliet, but with a more hopeful ending.

In Shakespeare's play, updated to modern times, Cymbeline (Ed Harris) is now the king of a motorcycle club. His daughter Imogen (Dakota Johnson) angers her father by marrying the lower-class skateboarder Posthumus (Penn Badgley). Sent into exile, Posthumus meets the sneaky Iachimo (Ethan Hawke), who bets Posthumus that he can sleep with Imogen, and fakes evidence to "prove" that he did. Posthumus angrily dispatches a messenger, Pisanio (John Leguizamo), to kill Imogen, but Pisanio spares her life, and she ventures out, dressed as a boy to find her husband. Lost and hungry, she finds Belarius (Delroy Lindo), who has a shady connection to the king. Additionally, the king's new wife (Milla Jovovich) has her own sinister plans.

As with Hamlet, Cymbeline makes the most of its contemporary locations and props, with skateboards, iPhones, and iPads figuring intriguingly into the plot, and gas stations and graffiti-covered walls serving as backdrops. Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey) is remarkably good in her role, as is Hawke in the nastily playful, Iago-like role of Iachimo. Some of the other actors seem a bit awkward, and the final act wrap-up feels disjointed and rushed -- with an uninspired parking lot setting -- but on the whole, Shakespeare fans will find that the movie is very much worth a look.

Lionsgate released a decent Blu-ray in May of 2015. Almereyda contributes his first-ever commentary track, joined by friend Anthony Holden, a Shakespeare scholar, and by Hawke, whose comments are occasionally edited in. There's a 13-minute studio-produced EPK, and some brief interviews with the actors. There are also trailers for this and other Lionsgate releases.

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