MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (2013)

June 23, 2013

much ado1 Greetings again from the darkness. The previous movie version of William Shakespeare’s play “Much Ado About Nothing” was directed in 1993 by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed Thor (2011). This modernized, much simpler version is directed by Joss Whedon, who also directed The Avengers last year. It’s difficult to imagine a more oddball movie symmetry than that! Whedon’s production plays almost like a home movie, and in a way it is. Filmed at the director’s Santa Monica house with a cast featuring mostly a close group of his friends … those that frequently gather for Shakespeare dinner parties … this one exudes a certain joy and love of the material from all involved, with a live theatre feel.

I have always been more attracted to Shakespeare’s comedies than his more famous tragedies. His startling wordsmithing is much ado3always filled with an edge and is borne of real personalities we all recognize. Combine that with director Whedon’s love of rapid-fire, wise-cracking dialogue and we get something from the ilk of Preston Sturges or Howard Hawks screwball comedies.

The banter and battle of wits between Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof) are at the heart of the story. Their flirtations are recognizable as two who doth protest too much … as if it could hide their mutual attraction. In one of the most pure comedic roles from the pen of Shakespeare comes Dogberry, the detective on the case of the dark conspiracy occurring right under the noses of most characters. Nathan Fillion (“Castle”) plays Dogberry in such a manner that he steals every scene in which he appears … both verbally and physically. He provides some laugh out loud moments.

much ado3 You will recognize some of the others in Whedon’s acting troupe: Reed Diamond plays Don Pedro, Clark Gregg as Leonato, and Fran Kranz as Claudio. Newcomer Jillian Morgese plays Hero, the falsely-accused bride-to-be, whose misfortunes lead to the great Dogberry scenes.

The temptation here is to say that a very entertaining movie can be made simply, cheaply and quickly (12 days filming). Of course, as wonderful as Amy Acker is, the real star is the story and words from William Shakespeare … even in this modernized setting. As we all know, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Whedon and his cronies prove this.  I’m not sure this is the best indoctrination to Shakespeare, but I believe only the most traditional of Shakespeare devotees will not find some joy in this version.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of The Bard and enjoy seeing varying visual interpretations of his fantastic work

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are the firm traditionalist who believes Shakespeare only belongs on stage or on paper

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAMsDP_DMHE

 

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THE AVENGERS (2012)

May 5, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. The concern coming in was that this would be like an All-Star game, which as any sports fan will tell you, is typically a massive letdown. Assembling so many super heroes and colorful characters into one movie: Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Loki … would probably lead to either mass confusion, a 4 hour movie, or short straws for a couple of characters. Somehow director/co-writer Joss Whedon has avoided the pitfalls and delivered a huge action film that is loads of fun for everyone, including the fanboys.

Whedon does a remarkable job of giving each character their fair share of screen time, and somehow manages to make the interaction between the characters the best part of the movie. There is some terrific dialogue and the number of quick-witted exchanges are too numerous to recount. While this would be expected from Robert Downey, Jr‘s Iron Man, I must admit to being pleasantly surprised at Chris Hemsworth‘s Thor and especially Mark Ruffalo‘s Dr Banner/Hulk. I found Ruffalo’s take on the role very interesting since he is the third actor to tackle this in the past nine years (Eric Bana 2003 and Edward Norton 2008). The movie contains quite a few laugh outloud moments, which is pretty impressive in a filled theatre.

 If you are going to combine six super heroes in a movie, you need a bad guy. A villain. Actually, a super villain. Tom Hiddleston as Loki (The God of Mischief from Asgard, and Thor’s brother) is up to the task. For me, he was a weak link in Thor, but here is a full-fledged, powerful evil mastermind looking to gain power by stealing the global power of Tesseract (Cosmic Cube), commanding an alien army, and ruling earth. Hiddleston is clearly having fun and it shows. For the movie to work at all, his plan and power must stand up to the impressive line up of good guys he is fighting. That is certainly the case.

 Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow has come a long way from her brief work in Iron Man2, and we really get to know more about Natasha the Russian spy … although her accent fades in and out. Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye seems a bit out of place, but Renner is so cool, we don’t really care. Chris Evans as Captain America does a wonderful job of taking control of the band of misfits and displays the leadership expected of a super-soldier. We even get a good dose of Agent Coulson (Phil to his friends) and Clark Gregg‘s deadpan deliver is a great addition. Samuel L Jackson (as Nick Fury) will be adding hundreds of millions more to his current record of being the highest-grossing actor of all-time.

Gwyneth Paltrow is back as Pepper Potts. Since last we saw her, she has evidently been shopping for short shorts and helping design the new Stark Tower. Natalie Portman makes a creative cameo, reprising her awful role in Thor. Stellan Skarsgard is back as a believable scientist. Powers Boothe appears as a member of the Council that Fury reports to. The great Harry Dean Stanton(at 85 yrs of age) has a comical scene as a security guard who stumbles onto Hulk’s mess. And of course, Stan Lee makes his well-deserved cameo appearance – a tradition in the Marvel movies.

Much of the credit for this must go to Joss Whedon. He may finally be out of his “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” shadow, as this movie is quite an accomplishment. Entertaining and funny for the masses, yet detailed enough for the comic book fan boys. I was thinking how much fun this would be for a 10-12 year old, and how my mind might have exploded if something like this existed in my childhood. Even comparing this to the Christoper Reeve Superman movies will help you realize just how far super heroes movies have come.  There are some holes in the story and a couple of things will have you scratching your head if you think too hard … but this one’s not about thinking.  Just sit back and enjoy!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see the most Academy Award nominees ever assembled for a super hero movie OR you just want to have fun watching a big old summertime blockbuster with comedy, action and colorful characters

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have already decided you’ll hate it … otherwise, you might actually like it

watch the trailer:


THOR

May 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Upfront admission: I am not a Thor comic book expert. Many people are and I fully appreciate their take on this film will be much different from mine. I can only judge this movie on the basic background knowledge I have and the final product on the screen.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Chris Hemsworth makes a terrific Thor. If I had his looks and build, I would certainly consider myself a Nordic God. Heck, I might even carry around a giant hammer just for fun! Thor, son of Odin, is all set to be named King of Asgard until his quick temper and love of battle cause a break in the peace accord with the Frost Giants. His dad, Odin, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins is none too pleased with his hot-headed son. Not only does he renege on the promise to name him King, but he strips his power and casts him down to Earth … specifically New Mexico. For some reason, all alien portals lead to New Mexico. You can tell it’s a been a bad day for Thor because he lands in the middle of nowhere and is promptly run over by a science lab van driven by Natalie Portman.

 Other good stuff: Idris Elba as Heimdall, the gatekeeper, is excellent; there is a cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye – a teaser for The Avengers movie next year; Jaimie Alexander shows some chops as Sif; Clark Gregg is back as Agent Coulson; some of the special effects are pretty cool … the Frost Giants are very detailed and The Destroyer looks like Iron Man on metallic steroids; and lastly, Kat Dennings has a couple of sharp lines as Portman’s assistant. Ms. Dennings was superb in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

 OK, the not so good stuff: I am beginning to despise 3-D (it adds nothing, while diminishing the brightness of colors); Jotunheim (land of the Frost Giants) is plain, gray and boring; Natalie Portman, fresh off an Oscar is just terrible as an astro-physicist with a teenager-style crush on Thor; Tom Hiddleston as Loki is one of the weakest villains I have ever seen in a super-hero/comic book movie; Rene Russo must not have read the script prior to accepting her role – she has about 3 lines and is totally wasted.

Despite the weaknesses, I found the movie to be entertaining enough thanks to the scenes with Thor and Odin. The ambitious son being shown tough love by his father is a missing element in much of society today. Guess it takes a Nordic God to show us how. The scenes with Portman are painful to watch, but I believe there is enough to keep the comic book fans, and just about anyone else, entertained.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who is best known for his Shakespeare and stage work, the movie does have a little different look and feel from the average superhero movie. Still, I wouldn’t put it in the class of Batman, Spider-man, or Iron Man. We do get the expected Stan Lee cameo and the end-of-the-credits appearance of Samuel L Jackson. Up next, Captain America but for now, it’s Hammer time!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Thor comic books OR you just want to see what a shirtless Nordic God would look like OR you want to see a challenge to Elisabeth Shue in The Saint as the most miscast scientist (Ms. Portman)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer the dialogue and story to make sense OR you prefer to remember Natalie Portman as the fine actress she was in Black Swan.