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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, July 20, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 86

[86th of 100]. This is how I know I love this film: whenever pontificating articles [or YouTube videos] come out listing down undeserving Oscar Best Picture winners and this 1998 romantic comedy by John Madden hovers near the top, I bristle with anger. I feel bewildered over the hate because if you watch the film now, it has more than withstood the test of time: it remains a delight, a fresh take, a funny speculative historical approach to the writerly life and troubles of young William Shakespeare before he became celebrated, and set during a fraught period which finds him falling in love, and getting inspiration enough to write, with fervor ... "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter." [Laughter!] Its screenplay by Marc Norman and the celebrated playwright Tom Stoppard is still sharp -- and if you're a theatre or showbiz aficionado, the in-jokes are still golden -- and its uses of well-known Shakespearean lore and lines to suit its unfolding drama feel almost majestic in the breadth of their recycling. The performances, too, are still indelible -- perhaps the best turns yet of its leads, and in particular Gwyneth Paltrow who acquits herself beautifully as Juliet ... and as Romeo. [She deserves the Oscar win for Best Actress.] I was settling to being back home in Dumaguete after a year in Tokyo, and finding this was a godsend to my soul. This was readily my favorite film of its year, having delighted me to no end -- and when it won Best Picture, it felt like a just coronation. So what gives with the current hate? It centers, of course, on its win over the perceived would-be [or "should-be"?] champion, which was Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. The debate would have us believe that what won was frothy confection over an important wartime drama. [And then there is the usual related chatter about the disgraced Harvey Weinstein's hand in the debacle -- that he wormed his way, in the heyday of his Hollywood powers, to Oscar gold with this film.] I can only do a comparative analysis of the two films, and this is my hard take as someone whose favorite director is Spielberg: his film is fantastic filmmaking, its crowning glory being its first 23 minutes which painstakingly captures in gripping, gritty details the horrors of the Allied landing in Normandy in France, which turned the tides of World War II. The starkness and the power of that sequence cannot be denied. It demands awe and attention. But the rest of the movie -- the "saving" part of an army private named James Francis Ryan [who has to be evacuated for PR reasons because he is the last man in his family still standing, all his brothers, also conscripted into the war, having met their end -- to the abject horror of their mother, the recipient of all those condoling telegrams] -- is kinda middling in places. Still absorbing, of course, but the film borrows too much from the power of its beginning to sustain the rest of itself. But for its technical and logistical achievements, the film merits Spielberg's deserved second Best Director win. John Madden's Shakespearean dramedy, on the other hand, has a strong arc of a well-told story, consistent from beginning to end, all its other cinematic aspects well-wrought to serve its beguiling tale. But is it "important"? I find it the height of macho bullshit to consider stories of war "more important" than stories of artistic or domestic troubles. [And of course leading the charge of this unfair criticism are male critics.] But in the final analysis, there really should be no competition between these two great films; they're much too different to be put at odds with each other. I still prefer Madden's "confection," though; after having my soul rattled by the gore of Spielberg's film, watching Shakespeare pursue love and writing is a grand exhale. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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