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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God Bless America


God Bless America

WARNING: Blatant "American Idol" rip-off ahead!

(2011) Black Comedy (Magnolia) Joel Murray, Tara Lynne Barr, Mackenzie Brooke Smith, Melinda Page Hamilton, Rich McDonald, Guerrin Gardner, Andrea Harper, David Mendenhall, Larry Miller, Lauren Benz Phillips, Aris Alvarado, Mo Gaffney, Maddie Hasson, Tom Kenny, Geoff Pierson, Tom Lenk. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait

 

There is plenty of reason to be frustrated at the state of affairs in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Angry, even. Most of us keep our frustrations pretty much to ourselves however and our anger manifests it in a tendency to be more and more self-centered. After all, what can we as individuals do?

Things aren’t going so well for Frank (Murray). He lives in an apartment with paper-thin walls; the couple next door with their bawling new baby are inconsiderate at best, louts at worst. Frank suffers from terrible headaches that keep him up at night, and although he tries to be pleasant enough at work, he is grumpy as all hell and prone to snapping.

After a well-meaning but misguided attempt to cheer up a fellow employee lands him on the unemployment line, Frank gets the double whammy of finding out that he has an inoperable brain tumor that leaves him with a much shorter life span than he anticipated. Divorced from his wife (who respects him about as much as she does….well, she doesn’t respect him at all) and estranged from his pre-school age daughter who is turning out to be a spoiled child who channels Veruca Salt on a daily basis, he sits at home watching the endless, mind-numbing array of reality programming on his television.

At last he’s had enough. When his daughter won’t see him, he winds up watching a reality show starring Chloe (Hasson), a spectacularly entitled bitch who berates her doting dad (Miller) on national TV when he gets her the wrong car for her birthday (“I wanted an Escalade!!!!!” she shrieks at ear-bleeding volume when she views the offending present).

Disillusioned and with nothing to lose, Frank – an ex-military man – decides that this isn’t what he served his country for. He gets his gun and drives out to see Chloe and after a botched attempt to blow up her car, shoots her in the head. This is witnessed by Roxy (Barr), a classmate of the late reality star who is thrilled, not just because Chloe got what she deserved but also because she sees a way out of the boring life she leads.

At first Frank is appalled and wants nothing to do with the young teen but when Roxy confesses that her stepfather is molesting her on a nightly basis, Frank reluctantly agrees to bring her along. They decide to off Chloe’s indulgent parents as a message to parents who give everything to their kids except discipline. That attempt is botched as well but Roxy saves the day just when it appears that Chloe’s mom might actually get away.

Suddenly the two are sort of like a super-liberal Bonnie and Clyde, roaming the countryside to rid the land of those that Frank construes as mean, rude or oppressive. The offending parties include a conservative blowhard talk show host (kinda Glenn Beck-esque), a homophobic Christian preacher (read as Fred Phelps), Tea Party protesters and the most heinous of all, people who talk and text in movie theaters. All of them get a bullet courtesy of the two Liberal spree killers who are giving Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate a run for their money. However, Frank has his sights set on some of the worst offenders of all – a musical competition show called American Superstars, a thinly veiled version of “American Idol” right down to the graphics. He is particularly incensed that a mentally challenged young man with little talent tries out and gets ridiculed, later threatening to commit suicide.

As you might have noticed from the synopsis, this is black comedy and for director Goldthwait, a veteran stand-up comic and writer, business as usual. This is definitely a satire on American life as seen by a card-carrying leftie, and I must admit that watching a stand-in for Glenn Beck being gunned down gave me a curious sense of satisfaction – not that I’d want the real Beck to be snuffed, mind you. I wouldn’t mind an extended case of laryngitis in his case however.

Conservative sorts are going to have issues with the politics of the movie, unless they have a really good sense of humor and an ability to poke fun at themselves (which a fair percentage of them do I must admit). Liberals might just find this a bit too violent, kind of a Death Wish meets Dirty Harry with a dose of Coming Home thrown in for good measure.

Murray, whom most might recognize from his stint on “Mad Men” (and who is the brother of actors Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray), makes a fine sad-sack hero here. His delivery is dry and a bit Midwestern, giving Frank a kind of socially awkward exterior which frames a fairly decent interior (except for his penchant for putting a bullet in people he doesn’t like). For me while I kind of understood Frank’s rage, I never felt the movie explained why such a decent guy snapped so completely.

Young Barr gets the thankless job of playing a precocious teen but she does it without making her relatively annoying (and any teen who rips Cody Diablo a new one is all right by me). She makes a good foil for Murray and even though they are about as odd a couple as you can get (Barr’s attempts to flirt with a suitably appalled Frank aren’t dwelled upon and are done before it gets too creepy) the chemistry seems to be pretty genuine.

There are some pretty great laughs here, some of the sort that will have you feeling guilty a moment after expelling your guffaw. There is nothing remotely politically correct here; Goldthwait has an axe to grind and he plants it squarely between the shoulders of the Republicans. It’s certainly a bit of a one-sided world view (although Frank sheepishly admits to sharing some of the political philosophy of the talk show host – the relaxing of laws advocating gun control which figures when you think about it) but then again, I doubt Goldthwaite wants or needs to apologize to anyone.

The point here is that the movie is funny and even brilliant in a couple of places. I found the scene where the rude theater-goers were gunned down to be vicariously satisfying. When you spend as much time in movie theaters as I do, people who talk and text in theaters are on your ten most wanted list. While I don’t advocate mass murder, sometimes watching some of your favorite targets being used as actual target practice brings a smile to your face. I hope I would find the humor in watching a conservative vigilante take down ACLU lawyers, atheistic political commentators and Greenpeace activists with the same objectivity. I might wince a little more often there though.

REASONS TO GO: A clever satire of American life. Barr and Murray have surprising chemistry.

REASONS TO STAY: Seems to take great glee at skewering the conservative/tea party sorts which might offend some.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, a surfeit of profanity and a few sexual references.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Along with the Florida Film Festival, this has screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Calgary Underground Film Festival and South by Southwest.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/19/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews. Metacritic: Not available. The reviews are pretty dang positive, at least early on.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: American Dreamz

GUN LOVERS: On display is a pretty impressive variety of handguns and other weapons, from Walther PK-9s to AK-47s to a .44 Magnum.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT:Turn Me On, Dammit!

The Cabin in the Woods


The Cabin in the Woods

That's putting the "arm" in armoire.

(2012) Horror (Lionsgate) Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Sigourney Weaver, Brian White, Amy Acker, Tim De Zarn, Tom Lenk, Dan Payne, Jodelle Ferland, Dan Shea, Maya Massar, Matt Drake. Directed by Drew Goddard

 

Five friends take off for a weekend at a rustic cabin in a remote, wooded area. Sounds familiar, no? Well, I’ll admit this kind of scenario has been done before, but never quite like this.

Dana (Connolly), her roommate Jules (Hutchison) and Jules’ hunky boyfriend Curt (Hemsworth) are getting ready for a weekend away from school. Dana is suffering from the break-up of a romantic relationship she had with her college professor and Curt’s cousin has just bought a new vacation getaway in the woods a ways out of town. Along for the ride is Holden (Williams), a bookish friend of Curt’s whom Jules is eager to set Dana up with, and Marty (Kranz) the stoner childhood friend of Dana.

Stopping at a gas station on the way there, they meet the obligatory creepy old man (De Zarn) who rather than warn them not to go to the cabin drops some dark hints about the place. Not enough to dissuade them from going but just enough to be intriguing. There must be a central casting agency for creepy old men somewhere in Hollywood.

The cabin, set on a bucolic lake in the mountains, at first seems to be a perfect vacation spot. However, upon further investigation there are some troubling features. Why is there a one-way mirror between bedrooms? And why is there such a collection of arcane things in the basement?

That’s probably because the cabin isn’t what it seems. The five friends are being observed and have been since before they left the city. Two technicians, Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford) are manipulating events, forcing the five friends into decisions. What is their motivation? What plans do they have for the young people. And who is the mysterious Director (Weaver) and what is her agenda?

Forget everything you know about this sub-genre. Yes, there are elements of the supernatural but also of J-horror, science fiction and spoof as well. Goddard, who helmed the magnificent Cloverfield teams up with Joss Whedon (who co-wrote and produced this and did a little second unit directing as well) to produce what is easily one of the best horror movies ever and certainly the best so far of the 21st century. Not only that, it is one of the best movies of the year period.

It has the right mix of action, viscera, sex and comedy and timed at the right places. It’s hip and old school at the same time. For example, when the creepy old man (a.k.a. Mordecai a.k.a. the Harbinger) calls Hadley to voice his doom and gloom gospel about cleansing the sins of the young people, he breaks off to say “Hey, am I on speaker phone?” which he is. The touches are light when necessary and even goofy in places before they hit you with a big whammy.

I’m being deliberately vague about some of the plot points – I found knowing very little about the movie enhanced my enjoyment of it. Hemsworth filmed this before he became a big star in Thor and shows the kind of easy-going charm that is going to net him more earthly roles in the future. Connolly, a soap opera veteran is pleasing as the plucky virginal heroine and Hutchison is very hot as the bimbo – she has a make-out scene with a wolf’s head…well, let’s just leave it at that.

Most people are going to come off remembering Kranz as the stoner. He is comic relief initially but his role evolves unexpectedly and not only does he get most of the best lines in the movie, he doesn’t flub them either. Fans might recognize him from his previous work with Whedon in the short-lived but much-loved TV series “Doll House.”

Whitford and Jenkins are both seasoned pros who get to let loose a little bit from their normal serious personas. The two have good chemistry together and can switch from light comedy to serious in a heartbeat. For Whitford, this is his best work since “The West Wing.” Weaver gets pretty much a cameo appearance but she makes the most of it.

There are plenty of digital effects, some of which are simply amazing. I’m really glad that the film was released in 2D only because although the break-neck pace of the film lends itself to 3D, the dark nighttime settings really don’t and you would have lost a lot of the subtlety of the action sequences.

I can’t say enough about this film. It is rare to have this much fun at a movie and to not want it to end while it is playing. Those who are timid about horror movies be advised – while there are some nightmarish images, for the most part it is less scary than you might think and much more fun. While young children and those who are more susceptible to having nightmares should probably think twice about seeing it, anyone else will have a great time. This is pure and simple a masterpiece of genre filmmaking and most everyone who sees it, like me, will leave the theater grinning ear-to-ear.

REASONS TO GO: Hands down, the best horror movie of the 21st Century so far. An amazingly inventive roller-coaster ride you never want to end.

REASONS TO STAY: The gore can be excessive and some of the images are disturbing.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a good deal of gore and violence, bad language and drug use. There’s also some sexuality and a little bit of nudity as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was originally filmed in 2009 and was due to be released by MGM. The studio had wanted to post-convert this into 3D despite the objections of Goddard and Whedon, but those plans were never realized, partially due to the bankruptcy of MGM that year. Lionsgate eventually picked up the property.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/13/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 72/100. The reviews are mainly negative.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Evil Dead

HORROR FILM LOVERS: There are homages all over the place to a variety of horror movies, from The Hills Have Eyes to Hellraiser  to Creature from the Black Lagoon and on and on and on.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

NEXT: Our Florida Film Festival coverage kicks off with a review of the opening night film Renee

New Releases for the Week of April 13, 2012


April 13, 2012

THE CABIN IN THE WOODS

(Lionsgate) Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Sigourney Weaver, Jodelle Ferland, Amy Acker, Tom Lenk. Directed by Drew Goddard

A group of young people, friends all, head into the mountains to a remote cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying. There’s something strange about the cabin however and soon it becomes obvious that the cabin is not what it appears to be and neither is this movie. Produced and co-written by fan favorite Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the upcoming Avengers movie) and Goddard, who hit it big a few years back with Cloverfield.

See the trailer, clips and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for strong bloody horror violence and gore, language, drug use and some sexuality/nudity)

Blue Like Jazz

(Roadside Attractions) Marshall Allman, Claire Holt, Tania Raymonde, Jason Marsden  A young Texas sophomore at a junior college with a restrictive religious background decides to forego further piety and enrolls in one of the most progressive institutions of higher learning in the Pacific Northwest Reed College of Portland, Oregon. He finds himself among free thinkers and eccentrics, putting challenge to all of his beliefs.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material, sexuality, drug and alcohol content and some language)

Bully

(Weinstein) David Long, Tina Long, Kirk Smalley, Ja’Maya. Emmy-award winning documentary director Lee Hirsch examines the epidemic of bullying in this country and the collateral effects of it on the families of both the bullies and the bullied.  The film was initially rated R by the MPAA which would prevent the audience that really needs to see it – school kids – from seeing the movie but after a national outcry the MPAA finally relented. If you have kids in middle or high school you should take them to see this movie as soon as possible.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for language and subject matter)

Lockout

(FilmDistrict) Guy Pearce, Maggie Grace, Peter Stormare, Lennie James.  It is the near-future in America and the President’s daughter is trapped on an orbiting maximum security penitentiary with the worst scum on the planet doing time in suspended animation. The inmates have taken over the asylum and a desperate father sends the only man who can get in there and extract his daughter alive – Snake Plissken. Wait – he’s not available? It’ll have to be the other guy then.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, and language including some sexual references)

The Raid: Redemption

(Sony Classics) Iko Uwais, Doni Alamsyah, Joe Taslim, Yayan Ruhian. An elite police tactical unit infiltrates a dilapidated apartment building being used by a crime lord as a fortress is spotted and must fight their way from floor to floor to get out. This movie made a huge splash at film festivals and has gotten rave reviews to the point where a Hollywood remake has already been fast-tracked.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong brutal bloody violence throughout, and language)

The Three Stooges

(20th Century Fox) Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso, Sean Hayes, Jane Lynch. A trio of dim-witted but ultimately good-hearted orphans are released into the wild….err, civilization. There they will have to find a way to save the orphanage where they were raised from greedy developers. This one’s a definite sign of the impending apocalypse.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for some slapstick action violence, some rude and suggestive humor including language)

Woman, Thou Art Loosed: On the Seventh Day

(Codeblack) Blair Underwood, Sharon Leal, Pam Grier, Nicole Beharie.  When their child is kidnapped, a successful African-American couple suddenly find themselves under a media microscope. And as the clock ticks, old secrets that may have some bearing on their kidnapping begin to come out, threatening to tear the couple apart.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, drug and alcohol content, mature thematic material, language and violence)