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Men of Respect (1991)
Macbeth — robbed of its Shakespearean dialect — becomes a rote mob drama in this movie starring John Turturro. Turturro isn’t playing a Scottish warrior aiming for a throne. Instead, he’s mafia hitman, Mike Battaglia.
Damning review: “Talent abounds in Men of Respect, but it seems misdirected, defused, wasted.” — Michael Wilmington, The Los Angeles Times
Before Sam Worthington starred in Avatar, he also took on the Bard’s murderous striver. This Australian film gave Macbeth an emo haircut, employed all too much shaky camera action, and dressed its witches in schoolgirl uniforms. It strives, painfully, for coolness.
Damning review: “Unfortunately, Romper Stomper director Geoffrey Wright’s take on the play fails to do it justice: both lumpen and flashy, it convinces neither as drama nor as stylistic exercise.” — Ben Walters, Time Out
As You Like It (2007)
Kenneth Branagh is widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s best interpreters of Shakespeare. However, his take on the delightful cross-dressing comedy As You Like It was not very well-received. Branagh decided to stage the action in colonial 19th Century Japan. Curiously, he cast no Japanese actors in the lead roles.
Damning review: “Mr. Branagh has teased out every manly rivalry and preserved every hey-nonny-nonny of the kooks in the Forest of Arden, but slashed passages of the repartee that defines Rosalind.” — Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times
The Tempest (2010)
Helen Mirren as Prospera (rather than Prospero) is an inspired choice. But reviewers concurred that Julie Taymor’s tendency for visual excess got the better of her here. Take for instance, the corny, rock driven sequence when a fiery Ariel (Ben Whishaw) describes creating the titular tempest.
Damning review: “The special effects are intrusive and anything but magical and the text is rather curiously edited.” — Philip French, The Guardian
Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
It’s Romeo and Juliet — with gnomes and Elton John music! Honestly, this one deserves props for the puns alone, but the happy ending is really disappointing. We're holding out for the dark and gritty Gnomeo & Juliet reboot.
Damning review: “Gnomeo and Juliet isn't exactly the worst movie to ever get a theatrical release, but it is one of the most mystifying, combining Shakespeare references, slapstick and Elton John's back catalog in a way nobody ever expected or asked for.” — Katey Rich, CinemaBlend