Projections - Movie Reviews

Titus Titus

The play Titus Andronicus was adapted to the stage by Julie Taymor in New York prior to making magic with stilted menagerie in her production of The Lion King.  Now, she takes perhaps Shakespear's most perverse and bloody play to the screen.  And it proves shocking for plenty of moments in its epic running time.

In this time-warped new Bard film just called Titus, a collision of The Road Warrior with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a paper-bagged helmet on a boy, conceals the identity of a make-believe war game with toy soldiers on the kitchen table.  Suddenly, an explosion leaves the room burning and a behemoth escorts him back to Rome's 1st Century, as Taymor cleverly sets out her parallel action-packed worlds.

The coliseum has its gladiators strutting in it with the filthy spoils of victory looking like pumped-up super-heroes.  The titular character is played by Anthony Hopkins in a manic mode, not looming throughout as the central figure.  But, the straight-faced leader seals a victory over the Goths by having the firstborn of their voluptuous Queen Tamora offered as slaughter for the Roman tradition.  But, the Roman general sees his life turned upside down once his rival, the corrupt Saturnius, (Alan Cumming) looking like Pee-Wee Herman in drag, weds Tamora (Jessica Lange).

Saturnius wreaks of the contemporary forces that bring political clout as he is seen whisked through Rome in a bubble-top limo and Titus's daughter Lavinia (Laura Fraser) pays a huge corporal price for her father's deed, thus turning a seemingly laudable warrior into a driven, sadistic man in a viscerally, escalating depiction of brutality that is often frightening.

This ancient story is given a post-modern face lift by Taymor who has many of the Goths tattooed including Tamora and her lingering black lover, Aaron the Moor (Harry J Lennix).  This wicked midsummer's night dream or nightmare includes a hip concert at Saturnius' revelry and AC/DC- music for the Goths as the forest becomes bestial to say the least.

Titus, of course, isn't a consistent guilty pleasure throughout, but Taymor adorns the proceedings without stripping it of the emotion veracity which borders on absurdity near the climactic banquet concocted by the gruesome general, as Hopkins tilts his angry father in grand Hannibal Lecter fashion that elevates the temperature of vengeance.

In a movie that may revile the Bard's purists, Lange brings much depth to her part as the regal Tamora burns with carnal passion and rage.  Cumming shows a preening ego and Lennix is surprising as the dastardly schemer.

Not as sexually graphic as Caligula, nor as vigorously rapturous as Richard III, Titus nonetheless takes you through its striking images and piercing dialogue in an elaborate, unconscionable manner that is always astonishing, right up to its final course.


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