We have all met that toxic couple, so I’m sure you know the type. Maybe one or the other isn’t so bad to be around individually, but when they get together, a noxious synergy happens to transform them into some sort of unbearable hybrid. Say you’re buddies with this guy. Pretty great guy. Tends to bogart your beer and gets a little aggressive playing Call of Duty, but whatever. He hooks up with this Jersey Shore reject, and all of a sudden, his whole life is about climbing the corporate ladder at work. He stops hanging out. Takes to wearing suit jackets instead of his hoodie and loafers instead of his Chucks. Whenever you do see him, he’s checking his phone the whole time. Since you’re a pretty decent dude, you invite both of them over for your New Year’s Eve bash and they drink too much and get way too loud and make snide comments about your thrift store sofa and the size of your TV. Sure, he’s doing pretty great, and you should be happy for your friend, but you can’t help but feel sorry for him and think “what a dick” whenever you bump into him. Centuries before George RR Martin unleashed his masochistic opus on an unsuspecting yet surprisingly willing public, Shakespeare produced a little five-act game of thrones of his own. Here’s Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, just back from battling the invading hordes of Norway (wasn’t it just last month that Norway was invading Denmark in Hamlet? What’s with these Vikings and invading, anyway? How you gonna keep ‘em down on the fjord after they’ve seen Loch Ness, am I right?). Anyway, Macbeth has done pretty well for himself, even earning a new title from King Duncan. So now he’s Thane of both Glamis and Cawdor, which (I guess) means he gets to operate the giant scissors at new kilt shop ribbon cuttings and gets fully catered box seating at next year’s Bagpipe-Alooza. Or something like that. Whatever being a double Thane entails, he would probably be content with it if not for having run into the Weird Sisters on his way back from the battle. Or maybe they’re calling themselves the Wayward Sisters. Frankly, it’s hard to tell when they all talk like a drunk Sean Connery. See, these three witches (not derogatory – they have a cauldron and everything; you’ll see) plant the idea in his head that maybe being Thane(s?) of Glamis and/or Cawdor doesn’t look quite as good on a resume as being King of Scotland would. So he gets home and his wife starts in with the whole “you’re too nice of a guy” trip and before he knows it, he’s actually thinking about regicide. And then, probably surprising himself most of all, he does it. Kills the king. Sure, Duncan’s dude-bro sons could stand in Macbeth’s way for taking over the throne, but they freak out at the notion that their dad’s killer might be after them too and head for the brae. Their flight really only gets everyone thinking that maybe they were the ones who killed the king. In the end, this clears a path for Macbeth to be fitted for a shiny Scottish crown. But then, the real problem with regicide is truly all the bloody loose ends. Macbeth’s buddy Banquo was with him when he met the Weird Sisters, so Macbeth starts wondering whether his friend might link that conversation with his meteoric success. Best to have him killed, too, just to be sure. Banquo’s son, Fleance escapes the attack. And sure, that could probably come back to bite him on the ass later, but those frets will have to wait. It’s time for King and Queen Macbeth to host their first royal clambake. Meanwhile, the Weird Sisters learn they’re in the doghouse with their boss Hecate for mucking about with the poor dumb guy in the kilt. Additionally, some of the noblemen are beginning to build conspiracy theories about Duncan’s death. Macbeth sees what’s brewing. At this point, what’s a king to do? Remember when Ronald Reagan called that psychic for advice? It’s totally like that. Macbeth drops in on the Weird Sisters over their giant cauldron of entrail soup, which they probably intend to can so they can toss it in the crock pot later in the winter. The spirits they summon fill Macbeth’s head with all sorts of goofiness. So, quicker than an oboe can glissando, Macbeth starts ordering the deaths of every Scottish nobleman who could ever possibly challenge him, even going so far as to kill Macduff’s family in his absence because Macduff himself is out of town. And that’s really where Macbeth’s whole mess goes sideways. Macduff, who has gone to England to hang out at King Edward’s deathbed, learns of the murders of his wife and kids. And Macduff? He gets downright righteous about that shit. Back at the castle, Lady Macbeth is coming apart at the seams, handwashing in her sleep like a somnambulistic Howie Mandel. Sure, she may have pushed her husband to kill the king and assume the throne, but she didn’t sign up for all this violence, you know? Just about the time Macduff leads what seems like the entire British Isle (and most of a forest, to boot) to siege Dunsanane, the (not so) good Lady kills herself. Macduff, doing his best William Wallace impression, storms Dunsanane and defeats Macbeth, claiming the crown for himself. This story has had numerous classical film adaptations, which range throughout the entire history of cinema from a 1908 silent feature to a gritty 2015 film starring Michael Fassbender, including all the usual adapters along the way. There’s Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Roman Polanski… Heck, even Akira Kurosawa bent the considerable weight of his camera to film Macbeth against the backdrop of feudal Japan in his masterpiece Throne of Blood. It’s up there with Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet for most-adapted Shakespearean drama. There’s good reason for this play’s endurance. At its very core, Macbeth is the story of crime and punishment. And who doesn’t love a good crime story? In fact, it might not be much of a stretch to consider Macbeth as an elemental prototype for what would come to be commonly known as Noir a few hundred years later. Dig this slugline, gumshoe: A femme fatale spurs her reluctantly willing boytoy into committing murder, and the consequences of their actions fan the flames of their deviance until it consumes them both. I’m not sure that Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger combined could invent a more distinctly noir story than that. Scotland, PA (2001) There’s no real secret to making the perfect burger. Take a cut of shoulder and put it through the grinder. You really want that 80/20 sweet-spot ratio with the fat. Don’t give me any of that ground sirloin; get thee hence to the Burger King with that crap. Add a little salt and pepper before you make the patties. Make ‘em thick, but not too thick. Thumbprint in the middle to keep ‘em from puffing up. Maybe a bit of Montreal steak seasoning while they’re on the grill, if you like a little added crunch. Three to four minutes for each side before melting a thick slice of muenster to enrobe the top and sides. Throw a slice of crispy red onion on the toasted bun. The trick is to not overwork the meat when you’re pattying the burgers. Sure, it’s been through the literal grinder, but your hands should only touch it enough to divide it and put it into the proper shape. Other than that, just let the meat do its succulent thing. Sometimes, adaptation is exactly the same process. Assuming that what you’re adapting is strong enough, you can go ahead and put it through the grinder. But then you don’t overwork it. Stick to the source material just enough to keep it clean, but put the characters and the narrative you’ve created be free to do what they need to do. And that’s exactly what Billy Morrisette did with Macbeth when he made Scotland, PA. As the writer and director (not to mention an uncredited dog-walker in one scene), Morrisette crafted a near-perfect modernization of the Scottish play. This was his first writing credit, the only other being the screenplay for 2016’s My Dead Boyfriend, and his only feature directing credit to date. It’s the mid-70s, and Joe Macbeth (James LeGros) works the grill at Duncan’s, a local burger joint. His wife Pat (played to perfection by Morrisette’s then-wife Maura Tierney) waits tables. Meanwhile, old man Duncan, played by James Rebhorn, spends most of his time deriding his two teenage sons and sleeping in the office. Amy Smart and Andy Dick are two-thirds of the trio of local stoners whose rambling prognostications begin putting seditious ideas into Joe’s head. Pat does the rest. Before long, the Macbeths have killed Mr. Duncan and bought his business with money stolen from his own safe. Duncan’s burger joint quickly evolves into MacBeth’s Burger Drive-thru. Things begin to go south when Christopher Walken’s Lieutenant MacDuff turns up asking questions. Seriously, how can you not want to watch this movie? James LeGros might just be the hardest-working actor you don’t know about. In the past decade alone, he has played more than three dozen different roles in film and television, with nearly a half-dozen in post-production for release in 2018 at the time of this writing. His turn as Macbeth in this film appears nearly effortless, which is a sign of a truly masterful performance. He mumbles and bumbles his way through every scene, something of a victim of circumstance, even while remaining criminally complicit in every stroke of the story. Joe just isn’t really all that smart, which LeGros shows with perfect execution. The other side of this criminal enterprise is Maura Tierney in her role as the overly ambitious Pat Macbeth. Make no mistake: she runs this flick. Pat is out at the edge of every precipice of the plot, gleefully shouting “BOO!” at whoever has the misfortune of standing too close to the edge. Petty ambition overwhelms her humanity, but it isn’t guilt that brings it crashing back. It’s her dumbass husband’s fear of being caught that seeds her doubts. A splash of hot fryer oil on her hand (besides being a stroke of genius on the part of the filmmaker) serves as a constant reminder of her actions, but also a threatening piece of evidence of her participation in the crime. All of which brings us to Lieutenant MacDuff’s investigation. There is nothing this columnist could possibly say about Christopher Walken that hasn’t already been lavished a thousand times over. I spoke a couple paragraphs ago of James LeGros’ effortless performance. Watching Walken, it’s clear that he possesses the ability to overtake every scene in which he appears, but his kindness and generosity as an artist prevent him from doing so. Where the investigator in any crime story generally functions as a protagonist or at least a foil to the criminal, Lieutenant MacDuff walks an even finer line. He very nearly ingratiates himself to the Macbeths while still proving himself to be a constant source of irritation. And Walken makes it look like he’s having more fun than anyone else in the whole movie. There are other fascinating beats to this adaptation, like the conversion of the three witches to a cadre of neighborhood stoners. Amy Smart and Andy Dick are two-thirds of this triumvirate, with Smart playing an amateur fortune teller who Joe consults in his growing desperation. The late James Rebhorn is the King Duncan of this adaptation, straying slightly from the original play in his portrayal. Mr. Duncan lords over his tiny empire with little grace and no effectiveness. His teenage boys are too wrapped up in their tiny rebellions to pay him any heed, his restaurant manager is stealing from him, and he spends most of his work days asleep at his desk. The only people he feels he can truly trust are the MacBeths, but taking their loyalty for granted becomes his downfall. On the surface, this would appear to be a wild departure from the austere Scottish play, but it really isn’t. Sure, it’s set in the 70s instead of the Eleventh Century. Duncan’s Scottish kingdom is replaced by a burger joint in rural Pennsylvania. MacBeth has become the Thane of Short Orders. MacDuff is a vegetarian investigator instead of a suspicious rival. But the beats of the original story are all still there, even if the language isn’t. The changes are nothing more than necessary adjustments to accommodate the time and place. But when you get down to it, that’s really just a bit of seasoning that enhances the full flavor of the story. Sure, this interpretation allows a sense of dark levity to cover the entire enterprise, but what’s a burger without the cheese, right? It’s a truly unique way to experience Macbeth, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. Geez, I suppose I’ve stretched that burger metaphor about as far as it could go. Tune in next time when we consider whether Romeo and Juliet are more like ketchup and mustard or relish and sauerkraut. See larger image Scotland, PA. This wickedly clever spin on the Bard’s Macbeth is set in 1970s small-town America, where Joe and Pat McBeth plot to sabotage the owner of a local fast-foodery. Christopher Walken (Pulp Fiction, The Deer Hunter) does a droll turn as a cop named McDuff. The Los Angeles Times called it “one of the sharpest Sundance Film Festival movies”-high praise, given the caliber of films introduced at that prestigious annual event. 1-3/4 hours. New From: $84.75 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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