Friday Flicks: All is True and FilmBar Film Camp

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Opening this weekend at Harkins Camelview at Fashion Square:

All is True

Kenneth Branagh is the most important popular cinematic interpreter of Shakespeare of the last thirty years at least. Since 1989 he’s given us rousing, accessible versions of Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing, an uneven but fascinating, original and underrated full-text Hamlet, and a miserable misfire of a Love’s Labour’s Lost. Not a bad batting average.

Maybe it was inevitable he would eventually try to embody the Bard himself. In this, his latest effort as a director, he also stars, under fine makeup, as Will, late in his life, leaving London after the fire that destroyed the Globe Theatre in June of 1613. It’s a retreat, really; for some reason the fire makes the playwright give up on the theatre, his colleagues, his fame, the big city, all of it. He just wants to go home to Stratford, plant a garden in memory of his long-dead son Hamnet, whose funeral he missed, and generally bask in the love of his family.

The trouble is that his family sort of hates him. Well, his youngest daughter Judith does, anyway; Hamnet’s twin sister, she assumes her father resents her survival. His older daughter Susanna likes him, but her puritan husband disapproves of the theatrical fellow. And Will’s wife, Anne (Judi Dench), is courteous enough to him, but he’s been absent from their lives so long that he’s a near-stranger to her, so she consigns him to the best bed in the house, while she keeps to the second-best.

As an onscreen character, Shakespeare is often depicted either for romance or parody. Scripted by Ben Elton, All is True (the title is borrowed from the subtitle of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII) is by far the most plausible depiction of the man I’ve ever seen, and it’s also an often painful dramatization of the hard truth that a person’s success often carries little weight within his own family. Branagh’s Will isn’t a dashing sort; he’s a sad, perplexed man. Vestiges of his old vanity surface at times, as when his old patron the Earl of Southhampton (Ian McKellan in a terrific turn) shows up to praise his verse, but even here poor Will is stung by a faux pas.

I wanted to like this honorable, sober movie better than I was able to; while Elton must, inevitably, invent a great deal to fill the gaps in the historical record, his inventions aren’t grotesque or campy. But Branagh’s pacing, intended as idyllic I guess, is glacial, and I couldn’t help but feel that Shakespeare would never have allowed a story this dreary and slow onto the stage at the Globe.

That said, the acting is magnificent, from Dench and McKellan and the other supporting players, but above all from the star. Toward the end, Branagh delivers a low-key, emotionally devastating monologue about a penknife that’s among the best pieces of film acting he’s ever done. It’s the sort of work that would get him an Oscar nomination in a saner world.

FilmBar Film Camp

Yes, you read that right. Do you have a six-year-old Pauline Kael or a 12-year-old Roger Ebert who’s looking down the barrel of a long, hot summer with nothing to do? Well, FilmBar has you covered. That’s right, this June downtown’s repertory cinema and watering hole will also become a summer camp for budding film buffs.

The half-day camp is offered for kids age 6-8 weeks one and three (6/3-6/7 and 6/17-6/21) and for kids age 9-12 weeks two and four (6/10-6/14 and 6/24-6/28). Along with screenings, activities range from “free play” and “snack” to “discussion of film genre.” And in case you’re wondering, all films for kids 6-8 are rated G, and all films for kids 9-12 are G or PG.

It’s $125 per kid per week. Space is limited; for details email andrea@thefilmbarphnx.com or call 602-595-9187.

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