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on April 7, 2003
This movie was shown to us in Language Arts to help us "understand" the play better. But it is really one of the cheesiest movies I've ever seen. Not that it's not worth seeing; it's actually quite interesting to see Luhrman's interpretation of Romeo and Juliet (modernized with gun fights, explosions, hip hop, and lots of angry people screaming and driving around cars while shooting at each other) (And did I mention that the Prince is now as far down the echelon as Chief of Police?).
The movie has its moments, but for a movie, it is pretty unevenly paced. Shakespeare intended it to be a play, not a movie! In some parts it goes way too slow, while in others it goes way, WAY too fast. And at the beginning the Montague servants are literally screaming their lines, which gets to be like fingernails on a chalkboard after you've been listening to them for several minutes.
Oh yeah, and the Shakespearean language does not fit at all, especially when Romeo and Benvolio are having the conversation at the pool table. Can you imagine to guys walking into an arcade where you are hanging out and talking up a storm of "thous" and "thys" and "thees" while playing pool? Frankly, they looked like performance artists (reenacting a Shakespearean conversation between Romeo and Benvolio while playing pool at a modern arcade... I should try that some day!).
It's not bad, it's just not good. Mediocre. Lukewarm. Like I said before: if you haven't seen it, I encourage you to rent it if you're interested. But it's not worth the price of the purchase.
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on February 10, 2002
First of all, modernizing Shakespeare is a tricky thing. Not because I'm in that camp that thinks his works are sacred and should NEVER be trifled with (Okay guys! Will was great but he was not GOD. If we can edit the Bible for TV, can't we edit the Bard? Hm?) but because it has to be done in a way that does not distract from the story, and it has to be done in a way so that you can lose yourself in the dialogue even though it does not "fit" with the time period. We'll dispense with the "bad" first.
I had several problems with this film. Many times, the actors are saying their lines and it is *painfully* obvious they have no idea what they are talking about. They will latch on to one word that they understand and emphasize it, destroying the whole flow of the line, and taking emphasis off the whole point of their dialogue. There was alot of inflection and screaming of lines that seemed.....odd. In the middle of scenes, the action suddenly speeds up for no apparent reason like we're watching on fast forward. This is not only distracting, but pointless.
My second problem: Claire Danes. Now don't get me wrong, I like Claire. I adored "My So Called Life", but her Juliet is the most lifeless, bland, and spiritless interpretation I've ever seen. Juliet is the most passionate female role Shakespeare ever wrote. She is vivacious, expressive, and madly in love. Throughout this entire film, I never see any of that from Claire. She delivers her lines like she's telling Romeo about the weather, and when her cousin is killed by her new husband her expression is the same as it has been through the whole film, like she's contemplating taking a shower or a bath! When Juliet wakes up and finds her husband dead, she chokes out ONE sob and a not very convincing one at that.
Another problem I had with the casting of Claire is that I just don't feel she was attractive enough to play Juliet, especially paired with Leonardo Dicaprio. It was a bit unbelievable that his sexy, brooding, Romeo would fall passionately in love with this rather plain, emotionless girl. Thirdly, could someone please tell me WHY Juliet's mother speaks with a southern accent?! And why are all of Juliet's family obviously of spanish decent when she, her mother, and her father are not? It was also a little hard to buy that Romeo was living in a trailer in Mantua. Did he have a velvet Elvis painting as well? Hmm....Ah well...on to the good.
The updating swords to guns worked rather smoothly and calling the guns "Sword 9mm" etc. was a nice touch. The balcony scene taking place in the pool was really quite brave and it worked well. The aquarium when they first meet was very affective and was a cute addition of "hide and go seek" as they peek through at each other, eventually culminating in Romeo knocking his face against the glass. Mercutio being a drag queen was an ingenius idea, and definitely not one I would have ever imagined. Very clever!
Paul Rudd is adorable as Paris, which is a pleasant surprise considering in most versions, Paris is usually old, ugly, and almost always has a nose of a very unusual shape (I don't know why this is but it seems to be a pattern). The costumes at the party were very cute. Romeo as a knight and Juliet as an angel. Not very original, but cute just the same. The love scene before Romeo leaves for his exile is sexy but tastefully done.
Leonardo Dicaprio plays Romeo as a misunderstood James Dean-esque rebel with a mysterious aura about him. Even by the end of the film, it feels we don't truly know all there is to know about Romeo. This brings a freshness to the character and gives him some more depth, (although Dicaprio *should* have spent more time learning to understand his lines. He is just as guilty of overemphasizing incorrect words as the others are). The ending of the film is done lavishly which adds to the inevitable climax. Dicaprio does a good job of conveying his pain and loss over the "death" of his wife.
The ending of this film is a bit different from others in that it has gleaned much from the story of R&J which Shakespeare based his play on rather than the play itself. This adds an even more tragic somberness to the ending (as if it needed it!) which is an unexpected, yet effective addition. The music chosen and scored for this film is all quite good. The use of Radiohead's "Talk Show Host" as Romeo's theme music fits Dicaprio's moody version of the character to a tee. The piano muscled "Kissing You" is a lovely song and fits well as the background to the aquarium scene.
All of that said, this film is worth watching, especially if you enjoy Shakespeare. It has many things that work, and many things that do not, but it is still enjoyable. However, if you wish to see a more passionate and conventional version of Romeo and Juliet, I still recommend the 1969 Zeffirelli version with Leonard Whiting and the incomparable Olivia Hussey. For me, it sets the standard to which all versions of Romeo and Juliet will be compared.
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on January 2, 2002
this movie must be reviewed as two separate movies. i can think of no other way that would do justice.

FIRST: as a remake of romeo and juliet. as a fanatic of romeo and juliet, and especially the 1968 zefirelli version, i absolutely hated this movie. the scenes were twisted, cut, changed and defiled until it was almost unrecognizable. favorite characters were dropped (such as the nurse who was such an important and lovable character, while in this version she is a one dimensional character who cannot speak english) or altered in horrible ways. (never have i ever pictured mercutio as a black drag queen) the roles were horrifically miscast for the difficult dialogue. this is most apparent in the first scene where a fight breaks out at a gas station. it's like watching people speaking a foreign language that they have been taught to say phonetically but have no idea what the words mean. they try their pathetic little hearts out but the end result is cringe-worthy. as a final opinion: i will never ever forgive baz luhrmann for [...messing] with the balcony scene. not ever.

SECOND: as a movie of its own. visually spectacular and nothing short of what we've come to expect of baz luhrmann and his fanciful eye for the exotic, the beautiful, the ethereal. let me put it to you this way: even cosidering the above opinions i will still buy this movie and try not cringe-- just so i can see the incredible images he creates. the soundtrack is decent and the acting is mostly passable, the best in the bunch being claire danes as juliet. i may be biased, however, by my firm belief that leonardo dicraprio should never be cast in any role with the possible exception of the portrayal of a buttrock. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of the great american buttrock, i will attempt to explain. in school plays, when you have too many actors and not enough parts, someone will have to provide scenery by getting down on all fours, with their butt in the air, and have a sheet put over them so that they may be mistaken for a rock. voila, la buttrock.
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on December 31, 2001
When this movie came out, I was absolutely in love with it. To me, it was a version of shakespear that was actually understandable. But I was young. I had a crush on a guy I didn't even talk to, and I cried because the two of them only really had three days together. I constantly related it to the feelings I had for someone else. We are so blinded sometimes that we don't even catch that romeo and juliet isn't about true love. Its not surprising that we don't catch it in this version because the director wanted to focus on selling the love story in it.
Romeo and Juliet do not have a perfect love. They are completely infatuated with each other. The one thing they have in common is that they are both very impulsive. They are constantly rushing into things, when things don't go there way "oh I must kill myself." The preist tries to tell them this, but they never listen. This is an oversimplified hollywood romance flick spin off on the play.
Its still enjoyable, however.
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on June 25, 2001
If/when a live genius elects to credit/blame a dead genius as part of the commercial naming of one of these projects, Baz Luhrmann might want to leave the nightengales/larks in place? Nevertheless, this intoxicating dramatic machine, Shakespeare's gift to the adolescent (in fact or dreams) in each of us, always WORKS, somehow, if any audience LIKES the human beings cast as leading star-crossed players. Claire Danes is a deeply attractive Juliet. Many can EITHER deliver the lines decently OR project sweet 14 graciously. Few can handle the mix as effectively as Ms. Danes. Leonardo seems functional enough as Romeo, though this judgement is best left to adolescent (& older) women, who apparently enjoy the dude? One may wish for MUCH less simultaneous &/or alternate speeding up & dumbing down of the play, regret the careless/stupid excesses of the production, bemoan the harsh fact that yes this IS a fair example of the kind of vile punky gunslinging cinema that can assist a troubled youth into murderous temptation, all that. But it was ever thus, if slightly less brazenly/obviously in 1595? This is the Teenager in Love zone. Visit (or revisit) at your own risk.
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on May 18, 2001
The contemporary retelling of Shakespeare's tale really does not work on many levels. While it's not impossible to have a high quality modernization of Shakespeare (Richard III is a good example), it is difficult. Luhrmann can't quite pull it off. Perhaps it was the attempt to really "glitz" things up or to use campy, El Mariachi style effects, but regardless of effort, R&J falls short.
DiCaprio is terrible. This is perhaps his worst performance up to this film; however, Luhrmann did well in casting him in this film, because he, like Danes, works well as naive, star-crossed lovers. It's just that he's not made for Shakespearean lines.
There are certainly some high points to the movie. Clair Danes actually performs fairly well, and she's cute as a button (which is how one should envision the 14-year old Juliet). John Leguizamo certainly becomes an ominous character of danger playing Tybalt's role.
R&J may be worth renting, but I think you should really consider whether or not it's worth adding to your collection.
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on May 6, 2000
Baz Luhrmann's ROMEO & JULIET is the kind of cultural monstrosity that Hollywood delivers every two or three years. Take a book or a play that everybody has once in his lifetime heard of but hardly has had the time to read like William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, choose a musical score that fits the versatile inclination of the 15-18 years old audience (since they are the only ones left who go to the movies, they have a huge economic power !), cast a handful of young actors the public can identify with and shake a lot !
In ROMEO & JULIET's case, the cocktail isn't so digestible. The emotion that lies in the Shakespearian text is annihilated by the hysteric editing and the Broadway-like gesticulation of the young cast. So throw away your handkerchiefs and be ready for a so-so parody of one of the most beautiful text of english literature. In this peculiar example, images have killed the words.
If you really want to discover how to adapt with success the old William nowadays, take a look at director Abel Ferrara's CHINA GIRL, you won't regret it.
Di Caprio is not credible in Romeo's role and, once or twice, image stays still during one second or so.
A "buy the book" DVD.
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on December 20, 1999
Romeo and Juliet is a great work, not because only of the story it tells, but because of the beauty of the language with which it tells that story. A Beethoven symphony is great work, not because only of the musical themes and how they are arranged but because of the perfection of the orchestration.
Now if a cast cannot do justice to Shakespeare's words or an orchestra cannot do justice to Beethoven's music, we have to consider the result a failure. I can't see any disagreement so far.
Now if Spike Jones does a spoof a Beethoven work, we laugh and accept it for what it is: a humorous attempt that uses Beethoven but does not pretend to BE Beethoven. It is not quite clear to me exactly what this movie is setting out to do. Certainly it trying to tell a timeless story set in modern times. So far, so good. Picture now a junior high school band trying to play a very difficult work. In both cases the persons involved simply cannot handle the very thing that makes the work great: here the speaking of the verse, there the playing of the music.
If the purpose of this film was to get an audience to see (at least) the story and get some idea of the language--an audience that would not ordinarily see the original--then it has succeeded very nicely. But it is not Shakespeare any more than any one of the several film versions of Dracula is Dracula, or Frankenstein Frankenstein, and so on.
It is interesting to see that many reviews that do not praise the stars are voted "not helpful." We really need a third choice: disagree.
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on October 30, 1999
This film version of a play required for most ninth grade English classes has one major attribute--its well-known, youthful cast and high energy soundtrack attract the interest of young people who would not normally give Shakespeare the time of day. I did enjoy the energy of the film and some of the creative methods employed by the director to modify the material and make it fit into a modern context. Unfortunately, Clair Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio were badly miscast. Danes has done some brilliant work in the past, particularly in My So Called Life, but here, she is unconvincing as Juliet. DiCaprio is dreadful. When one considers that the writing of Shakespeare is among the most poetic and beautiful in the history of the English language, it is particularly painful to listen to the two major characters as they mumble, mutter, and otherwise reduce most of their dialogue to near incoherence. This problem is greatly exacerbated by the fact that the sound track is FAR TOO LOUD. It obliterates the speech of virtually all of the characters. (What happened to the concept that a soudtrack is either background to the dialogue or a louder accompaniment to fine cinematography?) I love Shakespeare and really hoped to like this movie. I must say, I was very disappointed. It doesn't hold a candle to the Zefferelli version of the 1960's. My solution has been to use parts of the recent version to pull students into the story, and then after they read the play, show them the older, far superior film.
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on December 3, 1999
Baz Luhrmann's heart was in the right place by making this modernized adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. This film is an inventive way to introduce young people to the beautiful and poignant world of Shakespeare. Unfortunately I believe that he might have underestimated the attention span of today's youth by attempting to appeal to them with cartoon like visual effects and a deafening soundrack. the Bard's poetry and the relevance of this movie's modern environment should have been sufficient. Unlike most people I feel that Dicaprio delivered an insightful and moving performance as the young Romeo. Danes on the other hand was a weak Juliet and should leave Shakespeare to the pros. John Leguizamo gave us an intriguing and powerful Tybalt and this film's Mercutio is beyond compare. Sadly enough, even with these performances acting as a strength for the film, it's weaknesses and monumental cuts from the text will probably leave most Shakespeare lovers cold.
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