As I mentioned earlier, "Never Say MacBeth" is an ultra-low budget movie that came out on DVD a couple weeks ago, coincidentally right about the same time "Hamlet 2" hit the theaters. A comparison later, but first things first.
"Hamlet 2" is a pretty funny movie. In fact, it's almost a very funny movie. Steve Coogan is funny as the lousy actor turn barely paid drama teacher in Tucson, AZ. Elisabeth Shue is a trouper as Elisabeth Shue, former actress turned sperm clinic nurse (because the acting business was too demeaning), showing a self-deprecating humor that made me remember John Malkovich in "Being John Malkovich". What keeps it from being really great is that it's slow--much slower than the trailers let on. That is, it's slow until the play within the movie, then in the final 20 minutes it really cooks. This is the perfect example of a movie that plays great in a film festival, where weary audiences can discover it without too many preconceptions. But after an advertising blitz showcasing the best parts, the movie itself just doesn't rise to the expectations. However, I should reiterate that the play within the movie is awesome. Funny, with all the energy missing from the rest of it. And yes, offensive songs. "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" plays in all the ads, and I figured that would be the one I would be humming on the way out of the theater. And it almost was. But if you stick through the credits like I did, you'll be treated to "You're as Gay as the Day is Long" which was even funnier and more offensive. I assume it's from a scene that was cut out of the final film. Which just underlined my main response--pretty good, but I'd rather watch the entirety of the play within the film. Hopefully a bonus on the DVD? Or better yet, I hope someone actually puts it on stage!
Oh, one final bit of trivia. There's a minor reference to Burning Man in there. They use an old abandoned warehouse/party space to put on the play because the owner's at Burning Man. This happened to open just as I was on my way to Burning Man (hence I didn't see it opening weekend). It made me wonder idly if they were savvy and planned the release during Burning Man just for that purpose. I doubt it, but if true (or if they even realized this worked, even if it was a coincidence), then it's pretty cool.
Okay, now "Hamlet 2" is an "independent" film (and darling of the Sundance festival this year), but "Never Say MacBeth" was made for about 1% of its budget. I rewatched it today and I can say it holds up relatively well to multiple viewings. It suffers in some predictable ways for no-budget film. The special effects serve their purpose, but are pretty transparent. Some of the actors you could charitably say are still perfecting their craft. But the story is fairly engaging. The second time through I appreciated the love story more. A bit of a spoiler alert--first time through, I thought the love interest (the woman the hero travelled cross-country to be with) was kind of a bitch. Second time I realized she was supposed to be kinda bitchy and you shouldn't root for them to get back together. The slapstick created by people interacting with ghosts only they can see still makes me laugh (actors can only see the ghosts after they say "MacBeth" and come under the power of the curse). And, as a scientist and a patron of the arts, I really enjoyed the mix of the two (and that in the end science saves the day, even if it's pretty elementary science).
And now I realize I haven't compared these two movies at all, I've just reviewed them back-to-back. I guess that's because other than both referencing Shakespeare titles, they really have nothing in common. Oh well, this was still fun.