Adapt and Make New – Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Much Ado – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon (screenplay) and William Shakespeare (play)
Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg, Jillian Morgese.

There is something about Shakespeare’s comedies that make for good adaptations. 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man, O, The Lion King, etc, have all taken on new looks of Shakespeare’s plays. And then there is the cinematic versions of the plays such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999), Othello (1995) etc. A good adaptation can be one that is true to the original text, or one that develops the ideas and narrative into a new setting. Joss Whedon has done both with his version of Much Ado About Nothing.

The film opens with a single piano note. A note that tells the audience that love is a thing that will cause both joy and sadness. It is with this simple note that the entire mood is set for the film. The film is shown in black and white, preparing the audience to see the blurred lines of grey in all the lies the characters tell one another, whether for good or for evil. And with the opening scene of Beatrice and Benedict as lovers you know you are in for an interesting take on Shakespeare’s tale of love, deception, rumours, and purity.

The best thing about this adaptation is Joss Whedon and the cast’s comedic timing. Much Ado is meant to be funny. It is a battle of wits between Benedict and Beatrice but here you see so much more of the comedy as played by all the characters. From little moments like Leonato (Clark Gregg) falling asleep/hung over in the kitchen and then being knocked awake and into speech, or Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) standing creepily at the end of Don John’s bed. The comedy in this film is exceptional.

The way the film is shot is really interesting because of the different camera angles. The shots looking down from heights to where the characters are creates a voyeuristic feel. The audience is another member of the party and is privy to closed door conversations and monologues of characters. It feels very much like an amphitheatre at points, providing the film with visual cues back to the original play.

There are just some films that grab you from the first moment and don’t let you go until the credits roll. Much Ado held me through the laughter and the tears and made me want to revisit Shakespeare with a new passion. This film will make you laugh; it will make you question how you talk of others; it will make you question why you listen to rumours; and above all it will make you want to fall in love with innocence and joy.

5/5

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How important is the ending of a film? – World War Z

World War Z - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

World War Z – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

World War Z (2013)

Director: Marc Forster
Writers: Matthew Michael Carnahan (screenplay, screen story), Drew Goddard (screenplay), Damon Lindelof (screenplay), J. Michael Straczynski (screen story)
Stars: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Daniella Kertesz

Zombies have never really been my favourite monster. They are just creepy, not scary, just oozy and icky. But when Brad Pitt is in a film you know it should be of some quality at least. And it was quality for the most part.

The story begins with an outbreak of a disease, or infection, or virus, or whatever it is, we don’t really know, but it is killing people and turning them into ravenous bodies for other humans. It’s everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. America is not the only place hit with this cursed disease thing. But don’t worry, because the only man who could find out what is causing this genocide is Brad Pitt. The rest of the film unfolds as Pitt’s character, Gerry, travels across the world trying to find out what caused the zombie infestation and how to control, kill, and eradicate the zombies. The storyline is smart enough to keep you interested. It’s not a straight line to the solution for Gerry and he has to deal with friends dropping left, right, and centre. Clues are slowly revealed, but quite obviously explained for those audience members you don’t really get it the first three times you’re shown the clue. Gerry finds himself following a tough path to solve the zombie problem in the world.

The suspense of the first three-quarters of the film builds quite nicely… until the last 15-20minutes of the film. At which point they ruin all trust and sincerity that they built with me with one scene. It’s probably safe to say that it’s the worst product placement in the history of film, or at least for this year. Brad Pitt standing in front of a vending machine full of Pepsi taking a long drink from a can. Yes, actually. From that moment onwards the filmmakers lost me. I gave up caring about whether Gerry lived or died, I kind of wanted the human race to all become zombies at that point because nothing could be worse than having to sit through a 2-hour film only to realise that you hate our economic system, hollywood, and consumerism for ruining what had been a perfectly adequate action flick up to that point. And then they go and close the film with a bad monologue and montage.

If there is one thing we can learn from World War Z it is that the ending of a film is just as important as the beginning, if not more. It is the end that will be remembered more than the beginning or the middle. Every moment counts in a film and if you have bad product placement and tacky monologues at the end of a film you will be doomed to be ridiculed by everyone in the world, or at the very least, me.

2/5 – would be 3.5 if the ending wasn’t so loathsome.

Just a good ol’ uplifting film – The Internship

The Internship - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Internship – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Internship (2013)

Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Vince Vaughn (screenplay and story), Jared Stern (screenplay)
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne

I’ve seen a lot of bad films in my time. I’ve seen a lot of good ones too. It’s always seemed to be a subjective matter of what is good and what is not. What one person finds funny may not be funny to someone else. And this is what I find interesting about a film like The Internship. I was in a great mood when I sat down in the cinema. I had been laughing with a friend beforehand and I didn’t have high expectations for the film. I was just there to have a bit of a laugh and to see Dylan O’Brien (Stiles from Teen Wolf) in a film. But The Internship surprised me. I mean, yes it is a big walking and talking advertisement for Google, and Google really doesn’t need advertising, it’s a verb. I’m not a huge fan of either Vince Vaughan or Owen Wilson, and together they have no appeal for me. But they do both have that charm of being funny american men. And as much as I would like to say that this film was as bad as I expected, it really was a delight.

The story unfolds as two older gents, Billy (Vince Vaughan) and Nick (Owen Wilson) in a crisis a lot of people are facing – no jobs, no savings, no prospects, and no skills in a technological age. It’s your usual triumph of the little guy over the bully kind of comedy. It is funny, light-hearted, and entertaining. The misfit interns that we get to know and love along the way are thrown together in a group that has to compete for the opportunity of getting a job at the end of the summer intern. They are a weird bunch but they charm their way into the audiences hearts through quirks and humour.

It always fascinates me how the way you view a movie can be determined by the attitude you enter the film with. I’m not sure that The Internship is a good film or whether I was just in the right mood. But I can definitely say that it wasn’t a bad film. It was a good laugh and a great time.

3.5/5

Director: Shawn LevyWriters: Vince Vaughn (screenplay), Jared Stern (screenplay), 1 more credit »Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne | See full cast and crew

The wonder of opulence, the sadness of greed. – The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann (screenplay) and Craig Pearce (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (based of the novel by)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, and Jason Clarke.

Who is Gatsby? The question that haunts and taunts throughout the novel and throughout Luhrmann’s film. Firstly, I have to admit that I love Fitzgerald’s writing but hate the story of Gatsby. It took me a long time to pick it back up after reading the first chapter and I struggled to get through it because I despised the characters, even Nick Carraway. Their selfishness, opulence, disregard for life and love, and use and abuse of the people around them made me sick. But that is what Fitzgerald intended to some degree. He slowly reveals our darkest secrets and shows us our reflection in each of the characters features and flaws. I was anxious going into the film. With Baz Luhrmann’s reputation for over the top theatrics and in your face metaphors it was hard not to be really, especially after watching the trailer for the film. And yet, from the moment the lights dimmed in the cinema and that title sequence began I knew it would all be okay.

The Great Gatsby is a film that transports you back to the mid-20s whilst keeping your feet firmly planted in 2013. The atmosphere, the light, the music, the sounds, everything screams at you with a haunting whisper of our reality. Gatsby (DiCaprio) is the ever hopeful and Carraway (Maguire) is the witness to the demise of hope and innocence. DiCaprio is brilliant. He shines so brightly and broods so grotesquely that there is rarely a moment that you can not believe that he is Gatsby. He is the lost soul who is trying to grasp something he never had a chance of possessing. Carey Mulligan is teamed with DiCaprio like the second side of his coin as the foolish Daisy Buchanan. Her flittering eyes, constantly on the verge of tears, and vacant looks convey the truth of Daisy.

But the man who really steals the film is Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s racist, bigoted, cheating husband. The slow brewing act of Tom is built throughout the film until the moment he takes Gatsby down in a small room of a hotel in New York. Edgerton’s performance is stunning. You are both repulsed by and drawn towards him like Daisy. You want to hate him but you know that in some small way that he is right about Gatsby, and you can’t fault him for that. Everything else, sure, he is a douchebag 100%, but he is right about Gatsby, and Joel Edgerton plays the balance remarkably.

The trailer to this film shows the opulence, the extravaganza, the pomp and ceremony of Gatsby, but what it fails to show is the great moments in between which make this film fantastic. It is the moments of slowness, the moments of Carraway’s reflections, the glimpses of Gatsby’s past, the brokenness of life in the world, and the calm before the storm that make this film great. Baz Luhrmann has managed to give life to Gatsby and Carraway’s friendship and to provide a film that shows both the wonder of opulence and the sadness of greed.

4/5

Into the darkness with beaming luminescence – Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Star Trek Into Darkness – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci (written by) & Alex Kurtzman (written by) & Damon Lindelof (written by) and Gene Roddenberry (television series “Star Trek”)
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban.

I have been putting off writing this review. Simply because I have no idea even where to begin or what to focus on. I try to have a general direction with these reviews. Star Trek Into Darkness has made all the rationale words of a writer and reviewer disappear from my head. All I can think of to say is: “IT WAS AMAZING! YOU NEED TO SEE IT NOW!”.

But that would not be helpful. So here I go. Trying to describe this epic film in a few hundred words.

Visually this film is stunning. The graphics are simply breathtaking. From the very first moments of the film you know that the film is going to be a visual onslaught of beauty. The techniques Abrams adopted to shoot the first Star Trek film in 2009 are evident with lens flares galore. And sometimes you notice the visual cues that are cleverly adopted to salute to the old series, including a red shirt gag. Abrams has succeeded once again in using the screen, the set, the camera, and the lighting to tell a whole narrative alongside what is said and done on screen.

What is said and done though is just as great as the visuals. Benedict Cumberbatch has made it known that he is a formidable actor in a lot of different films and TV series, and as the tormented villain of this instalment his presence seals this film with a fifth star.

Narratively this film is quite similar to the first. Captain Kirk is faced with tough choices and with his comrade of Spock by his side they battle together with their differences clashing and complimenting each other. The emotional journey of these characters is always quite interesting as the ideas of what it means to be human are explored. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are fantastic lead actors but it is really the secondary actors of Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and Karl Urban that make this film that little bit better than other action sci-fi films. The comic relief, the emotional support, the friendship and the conflict that these characters bring to the film makes it fun, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining.

I loved this film, as you can probably tell, and will see it many more times to come. It is one of those films that will make me giddy with excitement and make my heart race every time. Perfectly paced, this film doesn’t drag you along for the ride but welcomes you on to the bridge and gives you a seat just behind the captain’s chair.

5/5

PTSD and the objectification of women – Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3 - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Iron Man 3 – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Iron Man 3 (2012)

Director: Shane Black
Writers: Drew Pearce (screenplay) & Shane Black (screenplay), Stan Lee (comic book) and Don Heck (comic book) and Larry Lieber (comic book) and Jack Kirby (comic book)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley and Don Cheadle

Iron Man 3 was always going to have to compete with the success of Avengers and I for one was hoping it could live up to my incredibly high expectations. Avengers was my favourite film last year and after the bomb of a film that Iron Man 2 was I was hesitant to want to expect too much of this next instalment. But if there is one thing the Marvel Universe know how to do it is to rise to the challenge and defeat the bad guy of negative reviews. This film was incredible.

Iron Man 3 focuses on Tony Stark after the events of the Avengers film. Tony is back in his lofty life as a billionaire, play boy, philanthropist but is having troubles adjusting after saving the world by traveling through a portal into another part of the universe with a nuclear missile on his back and then falling back down to earth. And thank goodness they brought that up because if he had just gotten back on the horse after that film then he wouldn’t have been a man any more. He would be something other than the Iron Man we know and love.

Of course you have your psycho villain who wants to destroy the world again, now in the form of the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and the ever so helpful rival scientist mad man of Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who team up to create a formidable opponent. There are a few nice little twists to the villain which provide some good entertaining scenes, especially between Ben Kingsley and Robert Downey Jr. The expected epic battles, the near indestructible villain, and some very high tech special effects create a fast-paced and action packed ending.

But I want to talk about the middle of the film.

Tony Stark is stuck in Tennessee with a ruined suit and some kid who keeps triggering his newly discovered panic attacks. Now you would think that if Tony needed to find technology, computers, etc, then there would be a logical place to find these things, but the makers of this film have decided that a T.V. station van outside a beauty pagaent in the middle of winter when the ladies are in bikinis is completely logical. This scene infuriated me, as did the lack of any substantial female parts apart from Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). The reason it got to me was because comic hero films have an opportunity unlike most films to really portray all people equally awesome and with intelligence and substance, but Iron Man 3 has decided that there will be many scenes with skimpily clad ladies just standing around the men who do all the work and all the action. And I know what you’re probably thinking, “chill out! It’s just a film, it was just a small part of the film, there are strong women in the film like Pepper and Maya Hansen.” But it still bugs me and it is what I left the cinema thinking about. I want female characters I can look up to and aspire to be like. Pepper Potts is the typical damsel in distress for the majority of this film and yes Tony is a mess for most of it as well, showing the depth of character that we want. After Avengers I wanted more female leads, they started well and could have improved their rep even more, but alas it wasn’t so.

Okay, feminist rant over, now onto Tony’s PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of those things that I’ve never really experienced but seeing it on screen makes me happy that it is getting more publicity because so many war veterans suffer from it, as do those who have been through major trauma. Robert Downey Jr may not have got it bang on but Stark’s humour and flippancy are powerful contrasters for his panic attacks and especially with the kid beside him. You see Tony struggle and become powerless in his fight against the stress. The increased depth of character is something that really made this film for me. It’s balanced with the action and fits well in the plot line and pushes the character of Tony Stark to new levels.

All in all I loved this film. I will see it again and again and apart from that little issue of bikini clad women through the whole film, I really do think this is one fine comic book hero film.

4.6/5

The story of how one man can make a film mediocre – Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Oz the Great and Powerful – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: Mitchell Kapner (screenplay and screen story), David Lindsay-Abaire (screenplay), and Frank L. Baum (“Oz” works).
Stars: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff and Mila Kunis.

The Wizard of Oz has been, and will always be, one of my all-time favourite films. Judy Garland was my hero when I was young and the film inspired me to become obsessed with movie making. The transition from black and white to colour is astounding and wonderful in the original film and the songs and story are classic. This new addition to the Oz franchise of  takes some of the wonderful elements of Frank L. Baum’s world and brings them to life. The colours, the landscape, the creatures, the nature; all of the visual elements of this film soar to great heights and lift the story out of the books and onto the screen.

The story would be good too if only they hadn’t given the role of Oz to James Franco. It’s hard for one actor to ruin an entire film but Franco manages to make this film mediocre rather than magnificent. However the women in this film balance out the overplaying of Franco. Rachel Weisz is stunning as the guardian of the throne in Oz. Mila Kunis’ transformation in character is flawless. And Michelle Williams couldn’t have done a better job of holding this film together as the fierce witch of the south. These three female leads, plus Zach Braff’s performance as the monkey Finley, really work hard to hold this film together. It’s not that Franco is awful or anything, it’s just that he is creepy and over acts in moments but fails to convey any truth of character on screen. I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Franco since he played James Dean in the TV movie, but he has failed to impress as Oz.

I went in with low expectations for this film and if the ending hadn’t been as great as it was then I probably would have hated it but the cinematic elements of the film are what make it worth the watch.

2.5/5

Immersive and all consuming – Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Cloud Atlas – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Cloud Atlas (2013)

Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski »
Writers: David Mitchell (novel), Lana Wachowski (written for the screen by), Tom Tykwer (written for the screen by), and Andy Wachowski (written for the screen by)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant

The thing that makes this 3 hour extravaganza captivating and able to hold one’s imagination and attention for such a lengthy period of time is the perfect balancing of story peaks and troughs. Through each scene there is a sense of intrigue, mystery, and interconnectedness that helps you piece each story together. Not knowing how each will end but wanting to know how each life affects the others is part of the journey of this film.

I haven’t read the novel but I intend to. Mainly because I’m fascinated to see how the tension is built in written form because it works so perfectly in the film. The Wachowski’s and Tykwer have taken Mitchell’s story and transported it onto screen so that it stands alone as a fascinating visual journey. Through editing, careful scripting and the soundtrack scoring, the peaks are powerful and come at the perfect moments in each sequence. The audience isn’t treated as unintelligent and being pushed and prodded through the complexities of the story. This film seeks to challenge our thinking. It is the reason why I think people won’t like Cloud Atlas, but I hope my pessimism is proved wrong because the challenge is worth the work.

There have been few moments in my life when I have been so captivated by a story in film that my entire body reacts to what is happening on screen. I can watch a film and do twenty other things at the same time and be able to tell you what it was about. But this film, oh my, this film transported me. It immersed me so fully and completely in its world that my mind, body, and spirit was involved in this film to the extent that I was left at the end of the film with an emptiness I can hardly describe. I wanted to watch it again immediately. I wanted to explore the world more fully, I wanted to know the characters more completely, and I wanted to escape again into the world of Cloud Atlas.

I could talk about the actors, the great prosthetics, the fantastic special effects, the comedy of the old people, the language of the tribal people, but I would be here all day. Instead I would like to leave you with the desire to see this film because of the experience I had in it. I know that everyone’s experience with this film will be different. It’s like the first time you hear that song that transfixes you and you replay it over and over because you’ve fallen in love with it, but you’ll never reclaim that first imagining, that first experience. Cloud Atlas is an immersive and all consuming cinematic experience that you should experience for yourself. Be captivated.

4/5

When a film just whelms – Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters - Official Poster from IMDB.com

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters – Official Poster from IMDB.com

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013)

Director: Tommy Wirkola
Writer: Tommy Wirkola
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare

There has been a definite revival of fairytales over the years. Snow White, Cinderella (oh so many), Peter Pan, etc etc etc. Hansel and Gretel is one of those fairytales that I’m never sure how to feel about. It’s about a couple of kids being deserted by their parents because they can’t feed them, a witch captures them and then they kill the witch. How is that a kids story?! Well the new rendition of the Grimms Brothers fairytale definitely isn’t for children. The updated and expanded story of Hansel and Gretel all grown up is not a great film. It has it’s good moments but it really is just another supernatural action film. The only reason I went to see the film was because of Jeremy Renner, and it was worth it for that. It isn’t a bad film, but neither is it a good film, which makes me wonder how to review such a piece. The action sequences are brilliantly choreographed and the humour is pretty great. The stand outs of the film is Thomas Mann who plays Ben, the witch hunters little fan boy, and Derek Mears who plays the troll Edward. Ben and Edward provide humour and heart to a film that is just about beating up witches and shooting old school big guns. Edward the troll is possibly the best admission to the story as it provides a different kind of look at a beast that is so awful in other stories. Edward is your big, friendly, witch protecting, morally good troll. He is bound by his task to protect witches, but is able to decide how to go about that task. And then there is sweet but tainted Ben who has followed the stories of Hansel and Gretel and dreams of being a witch hunter like them. Ben is sweet and starry-eyed and provides a great comedic relationship between himself and Hansel.

I saw this film in 3D and for the first time I regretted seeing a film in 3D. It was a little unnecessary and would’ve been as good, if not better in 2D. I felt a little ill in parts because of the quick movement of the camera in the fight scenes and it was hard to watch at points. I also had a moment of my inner feminist coming out in a scene with Hansel and Mina as the filmmakers decided that it was fine to show the female character undress but didn’t show the male character do the same, which is just silly and sexist (and who doesn’t want to see Jeremy Renner strip down?! So disappointing…)

All in all I wouldn’t necessarily ever recommend Hansel and Gretel but it was still a fun film to watch.
2/5

Here take my hat – Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Jack Reacher – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Jack Reacher (2012)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writers: Christopher McQuarrie (screenplay), Lee Child (book)
Stars: Tom Cruise, Rosamund Pike and Richard Jenkins

Tom Cruise may be a little crazy in the real world but on screen he does shine. However, he does have a habit of picking strange scripts to work from *cough cough Rock of Ages cough cough*. Jack Reacher is basically a visual narrative when it comes down to it. There is some basic delivery of lines to set up the important information that every story needs, but the narrative is told through the lens, not through speech. It isn’t a fast paced action thriller as you would expect after Cruises’ Mission Impossibles. The use of close ups and geographic settings plays a large part in the story-telling. It is like the director wants to make sure we catch every little thing that will be important. It’s almost like Christopher McQuarrie watched Sherlock (BBC) and tried to do what Moffatt and Gatiss did but took out the cleverness of the mystery. The problem with Jack Reacher is that you basically know what will happen if you’ve watched the trailer. There aren’t many surprises or unseen twists and although there are some one liners that rival the cheesiness of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, it falls short of being a good action thriller, let alone a great one. There are questions I had during the film that were still unanswered at the end of the film which drove me a little crazy but five minutes after leaving the theatre I had forgotten why I had thought it was so important. The more I think about the film the less I like it. I enjoyed the experience in the cinema but it just a fun film to fill the time and nothing more.

2/5