Anonymous stars Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave; Roland Emmerich directs.
The Setup: You have to put history aside when you watch Anonymous. Yes, there are some historical touchstones in the film -- the members of the royal family and certain events we know to be true, but for the most part, Anonymous is speculation. The plot centers on William Shakespeare...or should we say Shakespeares, plural. One, Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), supposedly wrote the plays and poetry attributed to Shakespeare. The other is an imposter, supposedly forced to stand in for the Earl, who, for political reasons, can't publicly admit to being a writer.
The Execution: Your enjoyment of the film depends directly on your ability to separate facts from fiction -- and then completely disregard the facts. This is not hard history, it's a leap into fanciful fiction. It swirls with devious royal court politics, betrayals, double crossings and too many secrets. Look at it as a costume piece with characters who just happened to be named Queen Elizabeth and William Shakespeare, and you're fine. Expect to learn anything about history, and you'll be lost from the opening scene.
The Extras: The DVD version includes commentary by director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter John Orloff, as well as a Who Is the Real William Shakespeare? featurette. On the Blu-ray version, there are two more making-of featurettes.
The Sunset Limited
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stars Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel Jackson; Tommy Lee Jones directs.
Also worth your notice is The Sunset Limited. A white man who is about to jump in front of a train is saved by a black man standing nearby. "Saved" might not be the right word, since the white man seems pretty upset his plan has been delayed. The two men end up spending the night talking in the black man's shabby apartment. Nothing can change the white man's mind about committing suicide, especially not when the black man starts to talk about Jesus. "Don't you believe in angels?" the black man asks. "I believe in the Sunset Limited," the white man answers evenly.
The film's claustrophobic setting adds to the emotional intensity. It's just two men, talking in a ratty room. There isn't much physical action, but the two cover lots of ground in their conversation.
Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses) wrote the play and the screenplay. HBO was clever enough to leave the play alone for the most part, making just the necessary changes to transfer The Sunset Limited from stage to screen.