Who's In It: Helen Mirren, Jeremy Irons, Chris Cooper, Djimon Hounsou, Russell Brand, Alfred Molina, Ben Wishaw
The Basics: Shakespeare's magician Prospero is now Prospera. She's sent into exile on an island and then wizard-recipes a storm to lure her wicked brother to her banished territory. Meanwhile her servant Caliban mixes it up with kooky Italians and her daughter is falling in love with a prince. And because this is Shakespeare via Julie Taymor (Titus, Across the Universe, the stage version of The Lion King), a filmmaker whose aesthetic is "make everything huge and crazy like Baz Luhrmann's identical female cousin," there's always the implied threat that Spider-Man is going to show up and rattle off a few lines of comedy with Russell Brand.
What's The Deal: To be the audience for a cool new Shakespeare adaptation always feels like a dare you were forced to take. And if the people in charge feel like messing with the text and messing with your head then you just sit there and deal with it. Or you walk out at halftime. Taymor makes big theater, and that theatricality works well in the theater, where everyone has to play to the balcony. But in a movie that can feel like an assault on intimacy. This time out she's toned down the bonehead literalism and absurd/annoying qualities that made her manic Sgt. Pepper remake Across the Universe such a pain in the eyes and ears. But in doing that she sacrifices the cool, visionary, full-immersion trip of Titus, either. So it's all just sort of somewhere in the middle, neither hot nor cold. If you were a wizard like Helen Mirren's character you'd get busy with one of your books of spells and try to conjure up a whole other film.
Worth It Anyway For: Helen Mirren. She's never doing anything wrong, even in movies that are burning down all around her. She can save a film all by herself, or at least put you in a more forgiving mood about its problems. In that way she's something like a firefighter, climbing a tall ladder to the fifth floor and carrying down the puppies and babies.
Most Irritating Person: Russell Brand. I really like this guy. I want to see his name in the opening credits of just about anything. And somehow here his presence seems inappropriate, jammed into an already too-cacophonous blast of competing loudnesses. He sticks out like sore thumb.
Never Seen A Tempest? Watch These First: Peter Greenaway's ode to obsessive cataloging, numbering and nudity Prospero's Books is an eye-opener, the coolest and biggest of all the recent film approaches to the material. Then there's Derek Jarman's late-'70s experimental version and Paul Mazursky's midlife crisis adaptation featuring a pre-Sixteen Candles Molly Ringwald.