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"Shakespeare in Love"

Directed by: John Madden

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush

Rated: R

After a rather disappointing first weekend, 1999 has quickly come around and Springfield screens have been blessed with two enjoyable and watchable movies. While the "big" film of the moment is "A Civil Action," "Shakespeare in Love" and "Waking Ned Devine" are two movies that should not be missed.

In 1997, director John Madden gave us another Elizabethan tale, the most enjoyable "Mrs. Brown." He surpasses that fine work with the help of a great cast and, most of all, a brilliant writer Tom Stoppard and gives us a film that is inventive, beautiful-looking, well-acted and eminently entertaining.

Stoppard, who wrote the modern classic "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," uses more than a few Shakespearean twists in his script. If he were alive today, I'm sure the Bard himself would be pleased and amused.

The year is 1593 and a young, near-penniless playwright is struggling with a new work he's been commissioned to write. He's lost his muse and this has caused not only writer's block but a few more personal (read sexual) problems, as well. So, his new play, titled "Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate's Daughter" is at a near standstill. Theater owner Philip Henslowe is in a panic for the piece, but it just won't come.

All changes when Will meets the beautiful Viola, a noble woman with whom he has no chance of ever uniting, he being of the stage, she of nobility. Never mind, even though she knows their love is doomed, Viola falls for Shakespeare and also succumbs to her other passion: She wants to be an actor.

In those times, women weren't allowed on the stage, even in the female roles. In one of the many clever plot devices, screenwriter Stoppard has Viola disguise herself as a young man and she lands the role of Romeo in Shakespeare's production, which, thanks to his passion for Viola, is coming along nicely.

As the doomed love between Shakespeare and Viola grows, the elements are incorporated into the work, now titled "Romeo and Juliet," and the film intertwines the two tales seamlessly.

Stoppard and co-writer Marc Norman (who had the original idea) deserve an Oscar nomination for their work and will most likely get one.

There are many clever asides waiters describing the specials in a restaurant ("... a pig's foot, marinated in juniper, served on a buckwheat pancake ..."), souvenir mugs imprinted with the words "A Present From Stratford-Upon-Avon" and Henslowe's classic line re: Shakespeare, "Oh, he's nobody ... he's the author."

Add to the great writing and acting a spectacular set design and incredible costuming, and "Shakespeare in Love" is a film that really satisfies, one that can be described as a "must-see."

"Waking Ned Devine"

Directed by: Kirk Jones

Starring: Ian Bannen, Fionnula Flanagan, David Kelly

Rated: PG

In the small Irish village of Tully More, someone's just won the national lottery. Old-timer Jackie O'Shea, his wife Annie and their friend Michael O'Sullivan spend the first half of "Waking Ned Devine" trying to find out who. Rounds are bought at the local pub, chicken dinners are served and questions like, "So ... are you goin' on holiday this year?" are asked.

The trio want to make sure that whoever the lucky soul is, he or she knows just how much Jackie, Annie and Michael care about them. All of the soft soap and bribery come to no avail, but then Jackie makes a rather unsettling discovery.

He finds Ned Devine, lottery ticket in hand, dead in front of his TV. The shock of winning must have killed him right out, but Jackie and Michael have a plan. Because the ticket is intact, and the lottery people have never met Mr. Devine, who's to know that Jackie isn't actually Ned?

The plan starts to fall apart when a lottery official comes to Tully More. Through a twist of fate, Michael must take on the role of the late Ned Devine, and he and Jackie soon discover that for this plan to work, the entire village of 52 must be involved.

What transpires is heartwarming rather than downright devious, and the subplots in the film support an already winning premise.

The cast here is so natural it's hard to think of them as actors rather than the inhabitants of Tully More. The story, even when it deals with death, is sweet and well-crafted. There's not a mean-spirited bone in its 90-minute body.

"Waking Ned Devine" is going to be one of those little films that will gain a huge audience by sheer word of mouth.

Another in the must-see division, "Waking Ned Devine" along with "Shakespeare in Love" would make a great afternoon double feature.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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