Carlo Carlei

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If you’re a product of the public school system in the United States, then you were probably subjected to “Romeo and Juliet” at some point. For me, it was in junior high school, with the highlight being that our teacher let us watch the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version in class. And there was a double bonus when our teacher, who was instructed to fast-forward through the nude scene, accidentally stopped the tape right on actress Olivia Hussey’s breasts. These things happen. Of course Zeffirelli’s film was meant to be an earnest and straightforward adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, using the same language from Shakespeare’s original. But writer Julian Fellows, of Gosford Park and Downton Abbey, wanted to change the language for this adaptation. “We were determined not to exclude that same young audience, those same young men and and women whose discovery of love, a discovery which is new for every generation, is being examined here.” Which is pretty much just flowery words that mean, “Yeah, we pretty much rewrote this thing in the hopes of getting younger audiences into the theaters and keeping them awake.” Unfortunately, it also means that many of Shakespeare’s most famous dramatic moments have been undercut or dampened, and the end result is that the film feels more like the Cliff Notes than the play. The gist of Shakespeare’s words are there, but the life has been sucked right out of them.

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Great Expectations

Do we need new Romeo and Juliet and Great Expectations film adaptations? In a word – sort of. This fall brings two new film adaptations of classic works of drama and romance and seriously funny character names (Havisham? Come on), just in time for high school students the world over to have a shiny new version of their assigned reading to watch on the big screen (sorry, books). Mike Newell tackles Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” with his new take on the enduring novel, a “faithful” adaptation of the 1860 book about terrible, terrible, just terrible people and the havoc that class warfare can wreck on young love, which is set to hit theaters in November. Before that, however, we’ll be getting yet another new Romeo and Juliet film this October, this one by Carlo Carlei, who has reportedly maintained the Renaissance era Verona setting of William Shakespeare’s most famous play, while also jettisoning the traditional dialogue and casting a former Gossip Girl star. But which of these films – if either – is actually necessary?

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It’s tough to feel anything about this trailer for Romeo & Juliet. Sure, it’s adapted by Downton Abbey mastermind Julian Fellowes. Yes, it’s great to see Hailee Steinfeld taking on another leading role. Without a doubt, the visuals look lush and the lines are spat with intensity. But it’s also simply one more adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous work to add to the pile. Other than swapping out the players, what more can really be done that hasn’t been done already? Good thing it’s gorgeous. Check it out for yourself:

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Romeo and Juliet

Yes, Carlo Carlei‘s take on Romeo and Juliet does have a few things going for it – most notably, a stellar cast that includes Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet and Douglas Booth as Romeo, along with Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Stellan Skarsgard, and apparently Ed Westwick just for scenery-chewing funsies – but even the best cast in the world can’t avoid one major, glaring problem with this new version of Shakespeare’s classic. Namely, that this one just seems utterly pointless. Carlei’s vision is a classic one – it doesn’t have the flash of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, or the revisionist fun of something like West Side Story – but it also doesn’t even attempt to improve upon the gold standard traditionalist take of Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version. Why, exactly, is this being made now? Are kids today really in need of a just-barely-updated version of the film to watch during English class post-Shakespeare reading? Well, probably. Enjoy some, well, totally mediocre delights with the first trailer for the new Romeo and Juliet after the break.

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Does the world need another Romeo and Juliet? It’s unclear. The work is so heralded that it’s almost become a cliche, but there’s no denying the power of star cross’d lovers fighting against they’re own nature to make their secret marriage work. According to Variety, Hailee Steinfeld and Gossip Girl‘s Ed Westwick have already been cast – Steinfeld playing the iconic, title female role and Westwick playing Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin who ends up challenging Romeo to a crucial sword fight. Oscar winner Julian Fellowes is adapting the script from the play by Old Bill Shakespeare for director Carlo Carlei (who hasn’t done any directing since the mid-90s). Holly Hunter is also on board as The Nurse, so try and figure out what to make of all of this based on that list of names. It’s baffling, but sometimes that’s how great art gets made, right? Right?

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