Wednesday, October 29, 2014

3 Reasons you should be watching Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet

I was flipping through a list of movies added to Netflix streaming this month, when I came across the 1996 Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo + Juliet. Immediately it was high school all over again... and while I still felt the familiar feeling that Claire Danes is, was, and will be the fox that she is now; I couldn't help shaking the dreaded feeling that it was time to go to school, I had a report due in AP English, and my poor 486 was long in the tooth. Then I remembered that its 18 years later, I have a job, and my computer is fine... and so I breathed a sigh of relief.

If somehow you missed this gem when it was in the movie theatre, and you're wondering, "Why should I watch an 18 year old Leonardo DiCaprio film?", then let me try to help you.

1. The cast... oh, the cast

You have the two you know; Claire Danes as Juliet Capulet, and Leonardo DiCaprio as her Romeo Montague. Did you know that Brian Dennehy and Paul Sorvino play the heads of these two families? What about Paul Rudd as the doofus Paris, or Pete Postlethwaite as Friar Lawrence? A then-unknown Harold Perrineau Jr. as one flamboyant Mercutio, before he got Lost on some island? Jesse Bradford a year after trying to impress his Hacker friends, and a few years before he tried to Bring it On with Kirsten Dunst?

Almost everyone in here feels well-cast. DiCaprio, as much as I want to hate on the guy, turns out a pretty good performance. Just remember, it's a play about a couple of fickle teenagers who meet, fall in love, get married without really a first date, and then die. Sorry, should've said "spoiler alert" there.

2. A feast for the eyes

If you've not watched Strictly Ballroom or Moulin Rouge, then you're not acquainted with the over-the-top visual style that Baz Luhrmann brings to the table. This film keeps the original dialog of the play, but sets it in a modern setting. Two great families in old Italy are transformed into two rival corporations. Verona goes from being Italian countryside to big city, complete with the run-down end of the block where you tuck your money in your shoes.

To call the movie and its visuals stylistic or stylized would be an understatement... everything is packed with detail, most of it reinforcing the original Shakespearean dialog. When characters are being spoken of without name, it is written nearby. When  gangs of men looking for a fight speak of drawing swords, the camera makes sure to give you a shot of the sides of their gun with the model, "Sword 9mm Series" so that you know what's up. Billboards in the background advertise bullets with the slogan "Shoot forth thunder!", and nightly news talking heads inform us that the Capulets are throwing the costume party of the year.

Similarly the costumes tell a story. The Montague boys run around in Hawaiian shirts unbuttoned, exposing their holstered guns. The Capulets wear brightly colored vests depicting the Virgin Mary sans shirts, and ooze latin machismo. It makes it easy to tell a Shark from a Jet without monotone colors and snapping songs.

3. The soundtrack

The score of the movie, composed by Nellee Hooper, Craig Armstrong, and Marius de Vries, mixes the musical styles and themes of the non-score music into character, setting, and scene themes that help add life to the movie. Radiohead's "Talk Show Host" is slowed down, mixed with strings, and turned into Romeo's theme. Kym Myzelle's "Young Hearts Run Free" bounces you into the Capulet party and will conjure images of a cross-dressing Harold Perrineau dancing as the center of attention in the sparkliest white dress you've ever seen. The standout for me has always been Quindon Tarver's boys choir style cover of Prince's "When Doves Cry", the wedding theme of the start-crossed lovers.

If you end up liking it in the movie, I heartily recommend picking up the soundtrack, especially Volume 2.

So, if you haven't already, go and watch; it's streaming now on Netflix streaming. You may be surprised... you may like it. If you do, and even if you don't, let me know in the comments.

Happy viewing!