Much Ado About Nothing (2013)


There's nothing quite like a civilized after-dinner cocktail.

There’s nothing quite like a civilized after-dinner cocktail.

(2013) Comedy (Roadside Attractions) Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran Kranz, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher, Spencer Treat Clark, Riki Lindhome, Ashley Johnson, Emma Bates, Tom Lenk, Nick Kocher, Brian McElhaney, Joshua Zar, Paul Meston, Romy Rosemont, Elsa Guillet-Chapuis, Sara Blindauer. Directed by Joss Whedon  

When William Shakespeare wrote “the play’s the thing,” movies hadn’t been invented yet. I wonder if he had been born in modern times if he’d have written something different. Certainly the way that comedies and dramas are written have changed in the intervening years, not to mention how they’re performed – and received.

But some things haven’t changed – human nature, for one. We are as prone to meddling in each other’s lives as we always have been. We can still laugh at buffoonery. And love can still be found in the unlikeliest of places – and the unlikeliest of couples.

The Southern California home of Don Leonato (Gregg) is all abuzz. Don Pedro (Diamond) is coming to visit for a few weeks, his retinue including the young Claudio (Kranz), the somewhat malevolent Don John (Maher) and the soldier Benedick (Denisof). Leonato’s daughter Hero (Morgese) has goo-goo eyes for Claudio but her cousin Beatrice (Acker) has nothing nice to say about men in general but Benedick in particular. Beatrice and Benedick have a past but there is nothing but constant sniping at one another between them now.

Pedro, seeing the state of things, vows to help create a match between Claudio and Hero, who stands to inherit Leonato’s substantial fortune. On a lark, Claudio, Pedro and Hero decide to get Benedick and Beatrice together just because they think they can – only Don John has plans to sabotage everything.

Much Ado About Nothing has been described as Shakespeare’s love letter to love and it does seem to indicate that much of what is wrong with the world can be cured through the love of a good woman (or a good man). I can’t say I disagree; love is what makes this world bearable, with all the pettiness and dishonesty we all deal with on a daily basis. As human beings we are all flawed but it is in love that we find our noblest aspirations and features.

Whedon filmed this during a break in his Avengers duties and it seems to have re-energized him. He’s also been a long-time admirer of Shakespeare and conducts regular readings of his plays at his home, so the thought of a director as connected to sci-fi and comic book movies as Whedon is isn’t as radical an idea as it might seem.

Loving Shakespeare and capturing his essence are two entirely different things however. I’m definitely down with changing the setting from 16th century Messina to modern Santa Monica, and I’m even more down with filming the proceedings in glorious noir-ish black and white. I’m also for keeping the Bard’s original dialogue because you simply aren’t going to improve on that.

However, Shakespeare’s language has a certain rhythm that is very different than our own, and while I don’t think one has to be a stentorian Englishman in order to deliver it properly, you certainly have to be able to make it sound organic and authentic. Sadly, not all the actors were successful in that regard.

Fillion, as Constable Dogberry, is perhaps the most successful. Dogberry is comic relief through and through and Fillion gets the nature of the character as a bit pompous and a bit foolish but also a bit thin-skinned. He gets the subtlety of the character and so makes him the fool without making him a caricature. Acker, as Beatrice, also gets the nature of her character as well as the rhythms of the speech; while when certain actors say “How now?” with a bit of a smirk, she instead treats it as language she uses every day and that really is the secret – every word sounds natural coming out of her mouth.

 

I like the atmosphere of upscale SoCal hipster that Whedon creates here. It serves the play well, and while nearly all the action takes place in a single location, it never feels stage-y at all.  Whedon adds a lot of physical business that enhances the comedy nicely (as when Claudio intones “I would marry her were she an Ethiope” in front of an African-American woman whose expression is just priceless). Although Da Queen would have preferred a color presentation rather than black and white, I liked how it gave the movie a kind of timeless look.

Friends of mine who had trouble following some of the dialogue because it is in Elizabethan English still managed to love the movie in spite of it. Don’t let that keep you away though – I think you should be able to follow the movie just fine even if a few phrases and words might throw you every now and again – you’ll figure it out.

For those who aren’t into Shakespeare and wonder what all the fuss is about, this is a nice starting point. For those who love Shakespeare and wonder what sort of liberties have been taken, fear not – this is still the Bard, despite the modern setting which simply reminds us how timeless his wisdom and prose are. Any movie that can do both of those things for two different kinds of audiences is a winner in my book.

REASONS TO GO: Very funny in places. Some very good performances.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the actors really didn’t get the nuances or the rhythm of the language of Shakespeare.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some brief drug use as well as a bit of sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was mostly filmed at Wheden’s own home over a 12 day period.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/25/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 78/100; the critics liked this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Taming of the Shrew

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Family Tree

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Battle: Los Angeles


Battle: Los Angeles

The smog is particularly bad in L.A. today.

(2011) Sci-Fi Action (Columbia) Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Ramon Rodriguez, Cory Hardrict, Ne-Yo, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena, Noel Fisher, Bryce Cass, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Joey King, Neil Brown Jr., Roger Mitchell, Gino Anthony Pesi. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman

In any military action, it is the grunts on the ground that do most of the fighting. While most of our alien invasion movies look at the high flying pilots and the decision makers of government and the military, we rarely get to see much of the guys in the trenches trying to survive the much more advanced weaponry of a space-capable race.

It started out as a meteor shower that came out of nowhere but the attitude generally changed when the meteors began to slow down as if they were under power; infrared pictures taken from the Hubble Space Telescope indicate the presence of mechanical devices in the center of the meteors, and the fact that they were only landing outside the waters of major coastal cities…well, it’s a little bit suspicious. And what do Americans do when they’re suspicious? They send in the Marines.

Among the Marines is decorated veteran SSgt. Mike Nantz (Eckhart) who has seen combat action, but is nursing wounds that can’t be seen after a mission in the Gulf leaves him minus several members of his squad who didn’t make it home, including the brother of Cpl. Jason Lockett (Hardrict), who happens to be in Nantz’s squad.

Except it really isn’t Nantz’s squad; Nantz had recently submitted his retirement papers and was only in this squad because Lt. Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez), a bit wet behind the ears and fresh from OCS,  was down a Staff Sergeant because his was on leave. When the meteors turn out to be an invasion force of squid-like aliens who start shooting first and asking questions…ummm, not at all, they are sent on a rescue mission to Santa Monica to pick up some civilians from a police station because in a few hours, the Air Force is going to carpet bomb that part of town to keep the aliens out of the rest of it.

They manage to get to the Police Station but not unscathed; there they find a veterinarian (Moynihan), a man (Pena) and his son (Cass), and pick up an Air Force tech sergeant (Michelle Rodriguez) whose mission went horribly wrong. They are hemmed in by alien ground troops and too late discover that the supposed rule of the airspace that the humans had was a complete illusion.

It becomes obvious that they’re going to have to fight their way through superior forces to get back behind their own lines, and those lines are rapidly moving in the other direction. The Battle of Los Angeles is in danger of being lost, and it will become the crux on which the survival of the human species will balance.

After seeing last year’s Skyline I had low expectations for the genre. The trailers for B:LA made it look far more interesting and a better quality and I suppose in that sense, the trailers don’t lie. However, the movie is just as disappointing as Skyline but for different reasons.

Eckhart is a decent enough lead and makes the rough and scarred Nantz also conscientious and brave. Most of the other roles are more or less disposable and seem to have sprung from a Screen Writing 101 cliché course. The characters are rarely fleshed out and most of the dialogue consists of gung-ho lines like “Marines never quit!” and “I’m not going to leave you behind!” and “Retreat? HELL!!!”

The special effects are only okay and the aliens, when you see them, are sort of squid-like and don’t look very realistic or even threatening which would be okay except that they mostly are seen firing weapons which get more elaborate as the movie goes on. It isn’t the aliens that hold our attention but their guns and when that happens, the movie loses interest. We’re told they’re after our water and that their technology and the aliens themselves use water as a conductive device; that’s really all we ever hear about the aliens and their culture. Someday, I’d love to see an alien invasion movie that lets us actually meet the aliens. Beyond that, the action sequences can be rather nifty, and there are some very cool shots of L.A. under siege.

In fact, think of this very much as a Marine Recruiting Video mash-up with a war-based videogame and throw in some Independence Day besides. There are a lot of elements here that would normally add up to a good movie, but too many Lt. Deadmeats and way too many testosterone-fueled cliché moments make this seem like something you’ve seen before and can go a long time without seeing again, which bodes ill because there are a plethora of alien invasion movies in the pipeline. Perhaps Mars Needs Screenwriters more urgently than it needs moms.

REASONS TO GO: Eckhart is an appealing lead. Some nice video game-like action sequences.

REASONS TO STAY: Some of the worst-looking aliens in any film ever. Cliché-ridden script with testosterone fueled moments don’t a great movie make.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of foul language and a good deal of battlefield violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in Los Angeles, much of the film was shot in Louisiana with sets built to stand in for L.A. streets.

HOME OR THEATER: Definitely big screen fare.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: I Saw the Devil