Weather Vane

Two Critics

William Shakespeare's
Romeo and Juiliet
Bob Brenneman and Ryan Kauffman
Album Cover
Joshua Redman
Freedom in the Groove

William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

by Bob Brenneman
Gunfights, fistfights and high-speed car chases -- that's what Baz Lurhmann's new movie Romeo and Juliet delivers. Almost enough action to keep the row of sixth-graders behind us at the Regal in their seats for a whole two hours. The screenplay is dizzying. From the opening shoot-out to the final fugitive chase there is a helicopter motif that reinforces the overall Robocop feel in the screening. Lurhmann takes plenty of liberties constructing his postmodern reinterpretation of this Shakespearean classic.

 Not surprisingly the emphasis here is on spectacle rather than language. A barrage of images explode onto the screen with MTV-like regularity leaving just enough space in between for the actors to coolly recite a line or two of Elizabethan dialogue. Cinematographers use fast-forward and shaky-camera techniques to make sure no one falls asleep -- not that any such doing could occur amidst the whirlwind of sight and sound. For the setting Verona Beach provides a backdrop replete with bathing beauties and stretch limos and even offers a well-timed thunderstorm to punctuate the final fight scene. Unfortunately, some viewers may experience cognitive dissonance trying to humor Lurhmann's marriage of Shakespeare to Miami Vice.

The only missing ingredient in this '90s thriller is the profanity. Lurhmann mercifully spares us the "Romeo, Romeo! Where the hell are ya'!" (though it might have seemed more fitting) by sticking to the text during those rare moments of comprehensible dialogue. Strong acting and a worthwhile original text keep this noble attempt at contemporarization from falling flat. Besides, the screenplay is at least interesting if ill-suited to the script. And since the glory of Shakespeare comes to us through the language, Lurhmann lets us enjoy at least a portion of this classic while leaving us to form our own conclusions as to the feasibility of a quality postmodern adaptation.

Joshua Redman: Freedom in the Groove

by Ryan Kauffman

Freedom in the Groove is the new release from saxophonist Joshua Redman. Those not familiar with Redman's playing would do well to check him out, as he is one of the hottest players on the current jazz scene. Though quite young, he has long outgrown the words "rising young tenor player." Redman is a mature, first-rate musician, worthy of our ears for what he has to say. This is his fifth outing on the Warner Bros. label, and it shows some subtle, but definite progression and shaping of style. While the previous album, Moodswing, at times hinted in this direction, it still remained very much a straight-ahead effort. Freedom in the Groove is still swing-oriented, but reflects more absorption of non-jazz influences. Elements of soul, funk and other sources appear in the wide, addicting grooves laid down by a very tight rhythm section. Throughout the disc, these elements serve to add some spice, without distracting or becoming predictable. As usual, Redman's playing is superb. He introduces, then dances with, each piece with a deftness and sense of phrasing so smart it hurts. Keeping in step with the rhythm section's flavor, the blues is a bit more prominent here than it has been, but refrains from becoming a distraction (this is a jazz album). Some favorite moments are: the appropriately titled "Hide and Seek"; the singable "One Shining Soul"; the Latin accents of "Dare I Ask?"; and the infectious groove of "Can't Dance," that makes you want to even if you, well . . . can't. This is a wonderful new step from Redman, who invites us to ". . . be grounded yet still be free. With a swing. In the groove. Playing jazz. Playing music."

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December 5, 1996
© 1996 Eastern Mennonite University