Anonymous

Columbia Pictures

Rated PG-13 for violence and sexuality.

Intriguing Whodunit Suggests Shakespeare Was A Fraud

Who really wrote the works of William Shakespeare? That nagging question has remained the subject of speculation among academics for centuries, with authorship of his poems and plays being alternately attributed to dozens of others, most notably, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley, Sir Francis Bacon and Edward de Vere, aka the 17th Earl of Oxford.

The primary reason the Bard of Avon has been shown such disrespect is because of his humble roots and the absence of evidence that he had much of a formal education. Consequently, his detractors argue that only another nobleman would have been capable of writing about royalty in such sophisticated fashion.

Anonymous revives the controversial notion that the Earl of Oxford served as Shakespeare’s ghostwriter, in spite of a plethora a problems with that generally-rejected theory, starting with the fact that when the Earl died in 1604, 10 of the Bard’s plays were yet to be published. Nonetheless, provided you are willing to ignore an abundance of such historical inaccuracies, the picture proves to be a delightful whodunit.

The film is a bit of a departure for Roland Emmerich, whose name one ordinarily associates with bombastic summer blockbusters like Independence Day and Godzilla. Here, however, the German director tones down his act considerably in service of a multi-layered mystery given more to subtlety and insinuation than to special effects and pyrotechnics.

Narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi, Anonymous opens and closes on Broadway in present-day New York City. Otherwise, the plot revolves around the unlikely financial arrangement secretly struck between a rebellious aristocrat de Vere (Rhys Ifans) and alcoholic commoner Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) at a time when the former was a prolific, closet playwright while the latter was a struggling actor.

Thus, de Vere’s need for a surreptitious means of staging his incendiary, anti-establishment productions conveniently dovetails with the Bard’s desire for fame and fortune. But because Shakespeare is close to illiterate, the ruse is hard to hide from most of his contemporaries in the theater world.

Meanwhile, de Vere himself has a host of his own issues to deal with, starting with his not only being the illegitimate offspring of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) but possibly having fathered a child with his mom. Throw in a jealous wife (Antje Thiele) and an ambitious father-in-law (David Thewlis) with designs on the throne, and you’ve got all the fixings for a convoluted, costume drama, dare I say it, of Shakespearean proportions.

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 130 minutes.

 

My Reincarnation

Long Shot Factory

Unrated

Father-Son Biopic Follows Sojourn of Exiled Tibetan Monk

When the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1959, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche had the sense to get out of the country while the going was good. The exiled monk moved to Italy where he married a local gal and had a couple of kids, including a son, Yeshi, who was recognized from birth as the reincarnation of a renowned Buddhist master.

And while Rinpoche was building a formidable following as a spiritual leader in the West, he simultaneously tried to groom the boy to follow in his footsteps. However, Yeshi saw himself more as a modern Italian than a traditional Tibetan. Thus, during the kid’s formative years, he felt little connection to either the faraway homeland he’d never known or to the late guru whose spirit had supposedly taken over his body.

That didn’t stop Rinpoche from pressuring Yeshi to embrace his destiny and thereby keep the family legacy alive. The often-animated give and take between the two is the primary focus of My Reincarnation, a riveting biopic directed by Jennifer Fox. The award-winning filmmaker has a penchant for addressing her subject matter in unusual depth, as was the case with her previous offering, Flying, an autobiographical documentary six hours in length.

What makes this picture fascinating is the fact that she shot it over the course of 20 years, which enables the audience to witness a tremendous degree of personal development on the part of the protagonists, especially Yeshi who goes from being a rebellious teen to an aspiring musician/photographer to a settled, suburban family man in front of our very eyes. Watching that evolution, who would ever guess that he might eventually come around to giving his dad’s desire serious consideration?

An intriguing, Marjoe-esque adventure, if you remember that Oscar-winning exposé revolving around a penitent, Pentecostal child preacher who eventually ‘fessed up about being a charlatan. This variation on the theme is designed to generate similar debate about Eastern philosophy, by highlighting how a corporate position at IBM might have belatedly led a reluctant, designated-demigod down a path of enlightenment lined by throngs of gullible devotees-in-waiting.

Excellent (4 stars).

In English, Italian, Tibetan and Spanish with subtitles.

Running time: 82 minutes.

 

OPENING THIS WEEK:

 

Kam’s Kapsules

 

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing Film Fun

 

For movies opening the week of October 26, 2011

 

In Time (PG-13 for violence, sexuality, graphic profanity and partial nudity). Futuristic sci-fi thriller set in a disturbing dystopia where the rich live forever because time is literally money. It revolves around the effort of an unfairly accused fugitive of justice (Justin Timberlake) to clear his name while destroying the corrupt economic system with the help of a beautiful heiress (Amanda Seyfried). With Olivia Wilde, Matt Bomer and Aaron Perilo.

 

Puss In Boots (PG for action and mild rude humor). Animated 3D spinoff of Shrek finds the dashing feline (Antonio Banderas) teaming with Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) and a street-savvy alley cat (Salma Hayek) for a swashbuckling adventure in search of the legendary goose that lays golden eggs. Narrated by Walt Dohrn, with a voice cast including Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as Jack and Jill.

 

The Rum Diary (R for profanity, sexuality and brief drug use). Johnny Depp stars in this adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson novel of the same name set in the ‘50s about a journalist, tired of the New York City rat race, who takes a position at a newspaper in Puerto Rico where he becomes obsessed with the fiancée (Amber Heard) of a shady real estate developer (Aaron Eckart). Cast includes Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Rispoli. (In English and Spanish with subtitles.)

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