Hamlet 2

Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?

If 'twere a substance, you would, sure, deceive it,
And make it but a shadow, moron.
Reported on 30th of October, 2008

They say I’ll see anything, but actually, I have three rules of moviegoing:

1) Okay, it’s true. If asked, I will see anything. That includes, but is not limited to, a film like Nights in Rodanthe.

2) The catch is, if you ask, you have to come with me. This means you’re going to endure Diane Lane and Richard Gere discover the true meaning of love by my side. Thusly, I have never seen a Henry Jaglom film, except for the 5 accidental minutes of Eating I caught on IFC, which is referred to in the household as The Incident.

3) Once a year, I pick a film that I absolutely will not see. In years past, this has included Ed, She Hate Me and Bewitched. I usually know by the trailer.

Hamlet 2

30 October 2008 @ AMC Broadway 4

$4.50 or, if one must be quotidian, and one must... 
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


A quick scan over the new releases for the next few weeks, and it’s looking pretty bleak. The Haunting of Molly Hartley is not the one film I won’t see this year, but Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa absolutely is. Go ahead. Ask me to see it.

Ooh, wait a second, I’m totally seeing JCVD.

Anyway, given the paucity of interesting films over the next month, I am forced to revisit the past. I’ll probably do this a lot, since, like a high school running back, the best movie stories are behind me. So let’s go way, way back, to September of 2008. Sorting through my tickets, the stub for Hamlet 2 fell from the pile, and I took that as a sign. Or as an excuse, depending on your point of view.

Despite what everyone has told you, comedy is easily explained. Take, for example, this snippet overheard by John Waters in his beloved Baltimore:

“Daddy, why is Mommy crying?”

“Because you’re an asshole!”

I tried telling people that story for a while, if it’s long enough to be called one, but I gave up since I couldn’t get to the end of it without laughing, which kind of ruined the joke. That, or they didn’t think it was funny. They are wrong. These two sentences contain the crux of comedy, which is what happens when the world in your head (in this case, your loving parents) violently collides with the actual world (your parents).

Hamlet 2 works in the way that Ringu does. It’s all set‑up, so when the scary girl comes out of the TV, she better be real scary. Fortunately for Hamlet 2, the girl is real scary.

So it’s easy to be funny in theory. Point out a contradiction. But you quickly run up against the whole mystical aspect of what works and what doesn’t, the divinity of wit. For a thousand jokes, ten will make you laugh, one will make other people laugh. Except for fart jokes, which are always funny. But if it’s not a fart joke, there are lots and lots of things that would, or could be funny, and aren’t. Which leads us to Hamlet 2, a film that would, or could be, and also is, funny.

It was the third week of August, and Babylon AD wasn’t coming out for a week. What choice did I really have? I was going to say that I saw it at the Calabasas 6, but the ticket clearly states that I saw it at the Santa Monica AMC 7. I think it was the ice cream feeling, since there’s a nice gelato place right across the street from the AMC 7, and I always associate ice cream with the Calabasas 6. My body remembers the treats more than the movies.

The set up, for the film that is, involves a desperate high school drama teacher/failed actor, inspired to create a sequel to Hamlet. This presents the filmmakers with a dilemma right out of the gate: if the play is bad, you have to sit through a boring play at the end of the film. If the play is great, you’ve been relying on jokes at the expense of the characters’ banality for the first part of the film, when it turns out that they’re not that banal after all. Hamlet 2 is the latter. The first 3/4, everything leading up to the play, should be funny, and does have its moments. The last 1/4, the play itself, is just funny. This actually isn’t such a bad thing. Hamlet 2 works in the way that Ringu does. It’s all set-up, so when the scary girl comes out of the TV, she better be real scary. Fortunately for Hamlet 2, the girl is real scary.

Unfortunately for Hamlet 2, there’s everything else, which is fine, if not earth shattering. It reminds me, not surprisingly, of Team America, another great film with a strong flaw running right down the middle of it (not surprisingly, because the films share a writer – Pam Brady). Many bits in Team America rely on the absurdity that actors think of themselves as qualified to speak about political issues. Instantly, you’ve got a problem when you call an actor pretentious. This is the comedic equivalent of calling TV commercials stupid, or airlines seats small. You’re sure to get a rousing ‘feh’.

But the real problem with this running gag is that it’s not so absurd that actors think they are qualified to speak about global warming or African aid. As opposed to who? Here’s something slightly more absurd: filmmakers that think that they are qualified to make movies about actors being unqualified to speak about global warming or African aid. More absurd still, and rather unfortunately for everyone on the planet, actual politicians thinking they are qualified to do something about global warming or African aid. More absurd than that: us electing them.

And so why not make a sequel to Hamlet? Hamlet 2, the play, tells the story of Jesus, traveling up and down history in a time machine, changing the sad endings into happy ones. By preventing the Dane from killing Polonius, Hamlet and Ophelia are free to be married. Now, that’s a movie! It’s funny, and rather sweet, because the target under attack is our Shakespeare fetish, which deserves it, not some poor deluded actor, who does not. What’s so great about tragedy anyway? How is it that the two best, and most courageous and dedicated performances of the year, Steve Coogan in this, and Robert Downey Jr. in Tropic Thunder, will never make Oscar history? Another true absurdity: we take tragedy seriously, and comedy lightly.

Hazelnut and Gianduja

Hazelnut and Gianduja

Shakespeare, or rather ‘Shakespeare’ is the ominous specter of genius. We’ve all been taught about how ‘important’ he was, and been quoted at, and looked down on, to the point when the plays are the one thing that they shouldn’t be: a chore. The actual Shakespeare is pretty great. He described the unconscious 300 years before Freud (‘Methinks he doth protest too much’), and a lot more concisely at that. Plus, he invented the word ‘elbow’. Can you imagine if we were still saying ‘arm joint’? What a waste of letters!

But there’s the Shakespeare who wrote stuff, and the Shakespeare in our heads – the Shakespeare that we’re supposed to like, the one that makes us feel smart, or the one that other people use to try to make us feel stupid. Screw that Shakespeare! And with Hamlet 2, the play and not the film, screw him they did.


Making fun of Shakespeare
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