Salisbury Press

Wednesday, February 26, 2020
CONTRIBUTED Photo COURTESY SONY PICTURES CLASSICSKenneth Branagh (William Shakespeare), “All Is True” CONTRIBUTED Photo COURTESY SONY PICTURES CLASSICSKenneth Branagh (William Shakespeare), “All Is True”
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY mtuckman mediaMorris “Moe” Berg, “The Spy Behind Home Plate.” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY mtuckman mediaMorris “Moe” Berg, “The Spy Behind Home Plate.”

Movie Reviews: Shakespeare & Moe

Saturday, June 29, 2019 by Paul Willistein in Focus

“All Is True” and “The Spy Behind Home Plate” couldn’t be two more disparate films.

“All Is True” is a leisurely, mostly fictional account of the last years of playwright William Shakespeare, directed by Kenneth Branagh, who plays the Bard under extensive facial prosthetics.

“The Spy Behind Home Plate” is a bristling, well-researched documentary film, written and directed by Aviva Kempner about Morris “Moe” Berg, a Major League Baseball catcher who secretly was an international spy.

Each film is worth viewing.

“All Is True” is a must-see for Shakespeare aficionados. The film’s title is an alternative title for Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII.”

“The Spy Behind Home Plate” is a must-see for baseball fans, and those interested in Jewish heritage, World War II history and espionage.

There’s another aspect that links the two films. Each film has an identical run time: 1 hr., 41 min.

“All Is True” returns Shakespeare to his wife and family in Stratford after a fire in 1613 destroyed London’s Globe Theatre, built for Shakespeare’s acting company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

That much is true in “All Is True.”

If the screenplay by Ben Elton can be believed, and there’s considerable doubt that it can, Shakespeare decides to become a gardener, and a rather grumpy one at that. He’s vexed by the death of his son, and finds little comfort from his wife, Anne Hathaway, played with an extremely dour countenance by Judi Dench.

A visit by the Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, played with delicious bile by Ian McKellen, doesn’t go well. Shakespeare is belitled and gets his comeuppance.

Shakepeare returns to his thoughts, the grave of his son, Hamnet (1585-1596), the only son of him and Hathaway (and fraternal twin of Judith Shakespeare).

Shakespeare sees aparitions of the boy. The viewer sees the boy as if another character in the film. Hamnet talks to his father, including in iambic pentameter from Shakespeare’s own works, no less.

Branagh (five-time Oscar nominee, including “Hamlet,” 1996, and “Henry V,” 1989) is tensely graceful as Shakespeare. The mask of his fake nose, beard and hairpiece make Shakespeare all the more the actor ready to take his bow and exit depart the planet. All the world may be a stage, but Shakespeare knew when to make a good exit.

“All Is True” has gorgeous cinematography by Director of Photography Zac Nicholson (“Red Joan,” 2018; “The Death of Stalin,” 2017) of the English countryside, dimly-lit interiors of the Shakespeares’ residence (said to be lit by candlelight only during filming) and thoughtful scenes without dialogue of the main characters.

“All Is True” is a modest film of not immodest insights into the character of Shakespeare, the nature of creativity, and a consideration of how audiences the world over for centuries hold his works dear to their hearts and minds.

A coda of end credits wraps up the final days in the life and times of William Shakespeare. Whether “All Is True” is true or not, it makes for an intriguing premise for Shakespeare buffs.

“The Spy Behind The Plate” has the spirit of a good spy thriller. None other than Ian Fleming, who was in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division in World War II and created the charcter of James Bond in his novels, merits mention in what is a Moe Berg biopic, but much more.

Berg, son of Jewish merchant immigrants, played baseball at Princeton University, where he became fluent in some 10 languages, and graduated from Columbia Law School. Berg played catcher for the Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians, Washington Senators and Boston Red Sox.

The biggest recruitment in Berg’s life, however, was during World War II by the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, which became the CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency.

Berg apparently met with members of Britain’s intelligence agencies, was sent on a mission to Yugoslavia, went to Italy to meet with scientists assisting Germany in its program to develop a nuclear bomb, and traveled to Switzerland to meet and possibly assassinate Werner Heisenberg, a German scientist said to be “the father of quantum mechanics” and leader of the Third Reich’s atom bomb program.

One of the most intriguing portions of “The Spy Behind Home Plate” details a United States all-star baseball team that included Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in an exhibition games tour of Japan. With a then state-of-the-art hand-cranked Bell & Howell silent movie camera, Berg filmed scenes of Toyko, said to be helpful in Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s 1942 World War II Toyko bombing raid.

“The Spy Behind Home Plate,” meticulously directed by Aviva Kempner (director, documentaries, “Rosenwald,” 2015; “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg,” 1998), has a bevy of interviews with athletes, sportscasters, sportswriters, journalists, historians, family and none other than William Colby, CIA director 1973-1976; wonderfully-restored footage of Berg playing baseball, his tour in Japan and archival scenes of his era and of World War II, and a great soundtrack of music from the World War II era.

The film presents a view of an immigrant’s son who was quite a character and also a patriot in service to the United States. He was an unorthodox member of The Greatest Generation.

“The Spy Behind Home Plate” is not to be confused with the fictional feature film, “The Catcher Who Was A Spy” (2018), starring Paul Rudd as Moe Berg.

“The Spy Behind Home Plate” is the real thing, a documentary about Moe Berg, an enigma inside an an enigma.

Not untlike Shakespeare in “All Is True.”

“All Is True,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for thematic elements, suggestive material and language; Genre: Biography, Drama, History. Run time: 1 hr. 41 min. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The “All Is True” end credits include a lovely song, “Fear No More,” based on Shakespeare’s words, sung by Abigail Doyle. with music by her father, Patrick Doyle (Oscar nominee, original score, “Hamlet”; “Sense and Sensibility,” 1996), the film’s composer.

“The Spy Behind Home Plate,” No MPAA rating; Genre: Documentary; Run time: 1 hr. 41 min. Distributed by mTuckman Media.

Credit Readers Anonymous: The “The Spy Behind Home Plate” courtesy credits are voluminous.

Box Office, June 21-24: “Toy Story 4” opened at No.1, with $118 million, not as much as expected but it was enough child’s play to keep “Child’s Play” opening at No. 2, way back with $14 million, as “Aladdin” held at No. 3, with $12.2 million, $287.5 million, five weeks, and dropping “Men in Black: International” three places to No. 4 with $10.7 million, $52.6 million, two weeks.

5. “The Secret Life Of Pets 2” dropped three places, $10.2 million, $117.5 million, three weeks. 6. “Rocketman” dropped two places, $5.6 million, $77.3 million, four weeks. 7. “John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum” moved up one place, $4 million, $156 million, six weeks. 8. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” dropped one place, $3.7 million, $102.3 million, four weeks. 9. “Dark Phoenix” dropped four places, $3.6 million, $60.1 million, three weeks. 10..“Shaft” dropped four places, $3.5 million, $15.9 million, two weeks. 24. “The Spy Behind Home Plate” moved up 15 places, $50,150, on 31 screens, $191,456, five weeks. 25. “All Is True” moved up three places, $47,730, on 77 screens, $1 million, seven weeks.

Unreel, June 29:

“Annabelle Comes Home,” R: Gary Dauberman directs Vera Farmiga, Mckenna Grace, Patrick Wilson and Madison Iseman in the Horror film. Another week, another demented female doll is back to wreak havoc. This is no “Child’s Play.” This film is a sequel to “Annabelle: Creation” (2017), “Annabelle” (2014), and seventh in the so-called Conjuring Universe franchise.

“Yesterday,” PG-13: Danny Boyle directs Himesh Patel, Lily James, Sophia Di Martino and Ellise Chappell in the Fantasy Comedy Musical. An unknown musician is the only person who knows the music of The Beatles after waking up in an alternative timeline where The Lads from Liverpool never existed. It’s a preposterous plot, but if anybody can pull it off it’s Danny Boyle, who directed the landmark “Trainspotting” (1996) and received an Oscar for directing “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008).

“Maiden,” PG: Alex Holmes directs the Docmentary about Tracy Edwards, a 24-year-old cook on charter boats who led the first ever all-female crew in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989.

“All Is True”: Three Popcorn Boxes

“The Spy Behind Home Plate” Four Popcorn Boxes