Much Ado About Joss Whedon

Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night are my favourite Shakespearean comedies, which means I have read them and studied them, seen them on the stage and of course watched movie versions over and over.  When I heard Joss Whedon was doing a screen adaptation of Much Ado, there was much excitement and anticipation as the peasants (that’s us), rejoiced on the slopes.

We got a chance to go see it this week, and I say, ‘got the chance’ because it’s rather hard to come by.  None of the large cinema chains are showing it at all, and it is only the Schonell cinema, at Uni, or the Dendy, at Portside, that I could find it on in the entire city. It’s nice that the big boys down town don’t think audiences are sophisticated or cerebral enough to want a bit of Shakespeare in their diet… but it’s even worse that they are probably right as far as the bulk of the cinema going public is concerned.  :(

Anyway, Whedon’s Much Ado, moves along at a swinging pace in an artsy fartsy black and white, boozy, contemporary summer house party, with a cast of all Joss Whedon’s favourite actor type buddies.  With the script being as superlative as it is, I don’t think you can go too far wrong – in some ways the Shakespearean dialogue provides the magic regardless of the sets or casting.  And Much Ado is as fast paced and saucy, and bitingly witty, yet appropriately poignant, as Shakespeare comes.  With a script like this and any bunch of half way decent actors who can deliver a line on cue, it’s gotta be hard to totally fuck it up.  I mean, the story/plot is just fabulous, and you know, I honestly believe this play paved the way and provided the basis for every ‘boy meets girl / boy and girl hate each other / boy and girl end up in love and live happily ever after’ Rom Com we’ve ever been fed in the last 500 years!

But even with such a wonderfully crafted script, full of delightfully meaty dialogue – for me the modern setting was really jarring and this entire production felt too slick by half (says the girl who still loves Lurhmann’s, Romeo & Juliet).  It’s Shakespeare, but with a quirky fly on the wall quality that puts the viewer in the position of feeling like they’ve stumbled into a reality show about a bunch of well spoken, well dressed, constantly half charged, horny, elitist snobs that are all stuck in the one large, and well appointed, house… and yeah, we already know Don Juan is going to be the first voted off the island.

Much-Ado-About-Nothing-swimmer

Beatrice, beautifully played by Amy Acker (Dollhouse, Angel, Person of Interest etc), came across as intelligent, feisty and fun, just as a good Beatrice should.  However, I feel she totally overshadowed the completely forgettable dude that played Benedick, Alexis Denisof (of The Avengers, Buffy, Angel and other shit), who really needs to leave an equally strong impression on the audience.  As for the rest of the cast, were they even there?  They were a bit like suits delivering their lines to allow the movie to move on – bit harsh perhaps but I felt they left little to no impression on me at all.  Even Natan Fillion (of Firefly and Castle fame) who I was so looking forward to as Dogberry, somehow fell flat – such an awesome comedic character and yet, it just felt like we got a befuddled Richard Castle with a hangover or something. *shrug*  Unremarkable.  Still, in spite of Benedick’s failings and Dogberry’s lack of any presence, I did actually enjoy this hip and happy, bubbly, cocktail party sort of version of the play.

much-ado

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There is one thing though that bugged me through the whole film.  You know that feeling you get when you have a favourite playlist (or for those of us old enough to remember – a favourite mix tape) and you hear a certain song and immediately expect to hear the usual ‘next song’ come on directly after?  Well, I had that feeling throughout this entire film!  No doubt… no doubt, this is the direct result of having watched Kenneth Brannagh’s Much Ado About Nothing on DVD, more times than I could count, and as such expecting various lines of dialogue to be delivered in a certain way.  I couldn’t help but hear the lines in my head, before the actors had uttered them and would then be taken aback or disappointed even when they were delivered ‘wrong’ or somehow not in the ‘usual manner’.

Overall, if you’re a Shakespeare aficionado… yeah go see it.  If you miss it at the cinema, don’t panic, it’s not really a big screen film anyway and won’t lose anything in translation to your 40 or 50 inch TVs.  To me, it was a bit of self indulgent fluff from Joss Whedon that felt like he was trying to get ‘the old band back together’ to do something with a bit of weight behind it.

I like large parties. They’re so intimate.

Last time I even remember thinking about The Great Gatsby was for an English exam back in Year 11 or maybe Year 12 of high school.  We were given chapters to read each week and then discussed it in class, and I vaguely remember never actually getting around to reading any of the novel – but paying attention in class was enough to get a grasp of the major themes.  So when the exam rolled around and we were given the questions two days in advance to prepare for an in class essay exam, I found it a piece of cake.  The real reason I remember this particular bit of tedious high school trivia is due to what happened when we got our grades back… I was walking out of class feeling pretty happy with myself and a fellow student asked me how I went.  I smiled and laughed and said ‘Great!  Got 32.5 out of 35, and I didn’t even read the book!’

To which my classmate promptly burst into tears.  :(  Turns out she had read the book.  Twice.  She wrote and re-wrote her essay out, and tried to learn it off by heart, and had received a 28 out of 35 for about ten times the effort I put in.  Yeah I felt bad, but it’s not my fault that written expression is something that always just came naturally to me and that I’ve always possessed an above average vocabulary which easily impressed my high school teachers.  If it makes anyone feel better – I can’t do maths for shit!  But… I digress.

Yesterday, I went to see latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby and want to start by saying:  Wow!  Just wow

the-great-gatsby-poster-1With his, now trademark, over the top, larger than life, flamboyant and theatrical style, Baz Luhrmann‘s version of The Great Gatsby literally swept me away!  I once read Luhrmann’s style described as ‘cinematic gluttony’ and while viewers and critics alike, often love or loathe his unmistakeable style of direction, this epithet most certainly applies to this film… it was a gluttonous epicurean feast for the eyes.

dancing party sceneIt’s a roller coaster ride of visually arresting party scenes at Long Island, sparkling and debaucherous adventures into city speakeasies, thrilling and improbable car rides in fabulous 1920s roadsters and gritty and grimey industrial views of the Valley of Ashes set to an ever changing, yet strangely accessible, soundtrack of contemporary jazz interspersed with modern day rap!  The lavishly detailed and sparklingly gorgeous art deco sets and glamourous costumes display the decadent lifestyles of Daisy and Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby in full Bazamatazz Tehnicolour, and provide a veritable plethora of visual stimuli.  While it’s patently not going to be everyone’s ‘thing’, I for one, loved every carefully coiffed scene of it!

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The-Great-Gatsby dancing

Leonardo Di Caprio (previously teamed up with Baz Luhrmann for Romeo + Juliet in 1996, shit that makes me feel old!), did a fabulous job with Jay Gatsby… I was a bit dubious at first, but it was deliciously amusing to watch him playing the usually stoic, calm, confident and supremely self assured Gatsby, turned into the bumbling and awkward beau as he waited to see Daisy for the first time years.  And equally enjoyable to watch the tension rising and rising until his explosive outburst of temper at the Plaza that is completely congruous with a the character of a man used to getting what he wants by any means necessary.  Di Caprio seems to be getting better as he gets older, if this and Django Unchained are anything to go by.  So much so, that the rumours of him playing Hamlet in the near future are not as alarming as they might once have been!

The-Great-Gatsby-by-Baz-Luhrmann Leo

The-Great-Gatsby tea

Carey Mulligan (who I’ve only ever seen in An Education but it turns out she has quite an impressive resume already) made a wonderful Daisy, even if she does look remarkably like Katie Holmes’ little sister throughout this entire film!  She’s equal parts shallow, doe eyed, self absorbed and ever so slightly soul destroyed.  Her indecisiveness regarding Tom Buchanan and Jay Gatsby, which as most know drives the entire plot, is conveyed perfectly by Mulligan who portrays her inner conflict while looking amazing in ’20s flapper style everything, with a razor sharp blonde bob and smokey retro make up.  She’s covered in diamonds and bling and crystals and feathers and furs and I know not what!  Kudos for the costume and set designers all round.

The-Great-Gatsby Katie Holmes

the-great-gatsby rendezvous

Joel Edgerton was positively unrecognizable as the muscular, arrogant and imposing white supremacist, Tom Buchanan.  Strangely enough I spent most of the film thinking the character of Myrtle was actually being played by Amy Adams for some bizarre reason when it was actually Isla Fisher, (I make no apologies for not being up to date on my Hollywood starlets, and am actually secretly proud that I rarely know who all of them are!). They were both well cast and well played for characters that are intrinsic to the plot but are effectively supporting actor parts.

Gatsby Image 10-Tom Myrtle Apt

Which leaves the only major other major player left in the script – Nick Carraway.  Played by Spiderman, err, I mean the unfortunately named Tobey Maguire (Tobey?  Who’d name their kid Tobey?).  It’s always interesting to see how directors handle first-person narrators from screenplays adapted from novels, and Baz Luhrmann doesn’t try and downplay Carraway’s narrative contributions at all.  Instead he embraces it, turns it into a plot device and has Carraway effectively writing the novel within the film.  I’m not fond of Maguire though and felt he didn’t quite convey the easy going optimism of Carraway, instead he just came off as awkward, and most of the time incredibly naive and out of his depth… but then again, maybe Carraway was all those things too.

gatsby tobey maguire speak easyOverall, there is so much that can be (and has been) said about The Great Gatsby that I could go on for ages.  I love Bazzle’s interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel and I just really love his style.  I definitely think it’s a big screen production and well worth seeing in the cinema.  In fact I if I find the time, I’ll probably go see it again.  But with one proviso – I saw it in 2D and there’s no way would I want to see this in 3D!  So many Baz trademark sweeping camera shots, fast car movements and rapid zooms that I think the 3D would give me a headache!  And his artistic vision is so in your face… that I don’t think you need the novelty and distraction of 3D anyway!

the-great-gatsby-podcast-e1368812928411PS: can I get one in Cherry Crush?

 

The Clayton’s psychopath.

Went to see The Call starring Halle Berry (sporting the worst haircut ever – seriously, she looks like a poodle!) which is about a 911 operator who makes a mistake on the phones one night with a caller who had an intruder in their house, that, potentially cost the caller her life.  Several months later she takes a call from a teenage girl who has been abducted by a psychotic serial killer, and she tries her damnedest to locate the missing girl and save the girl’s life. That’s the Readers Digest version of the plot anyway.  It’s had mixed reviews from cinematic critics but has been quite well received by audiences, so we thought we’d give it a burl.

the call operator psychopath

I found the movie to be exactly what it was supposed to be, a suspense thriller that had enough twists and turns to keep you interested, and plenty of ‘oh shit!’ moments to make you jump in your seat.  Only throughout the whole thing, something wasn’t quite right… I found myself thinking – there’s something wrong with their serial killer/psychopath antagonist dude (played by Michael Eklund).  I mean, he was plenty menacing and pretty unhinged, but there was something about the character that just didn’t add up. It took me a little while, but I think I figured it out.

I recently read a book called The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Professor Kevin Dutton which explores the personality traits of people with psychopathic tendencies and what divides those people who score high on psychopathy scales form being serial killers or becoming world class surgeons.  Yes, apparently these two ‘professions’ are intrinsically linked… along with CEOs, astronauts, fighter pilots, military special forces guys and finance/stock market traders.  They all share similar traits with psychopathic serial killers… charismatic, ruthlessness, opportunistic, calculated impassivity and most of all, unnatural calm under extreme pressure.  Literally, these people have lower physiological stress responses (lowered heart rate, less perspiration and zen like calm) when faced with situations that would have the rest of us shitting out pants and crying for our mothers!

kevin dutton serial killers psychopaths

The serial killer in The Call was initially depicted as methodical and organised, having successfully planned the abductions and murders of several teenage girls, while compartmentalising his psychoses and having the life of a regular Joe, whereupon no one suspects his criminal homicidal tendencies and obsessions.  Yet, as the film progressed and he was put in situations of extreme pressure, the serial killer in this film does not display calculated psychopathic calm and composure… this psychopath loses his shit.  He acts without thinking, doesn’t calculate the consequences, he’s unsure of himself, completely reactive and seems to be winging every move once he got off script.  He totally can’t keep his shit together, sweats like a motherfucker and ends up floundering about in desperation.  And from what I read in Dutton’s text, desperation doesn’t really figure highly in your average psychopath’s modus operandi… fear, anxiety, uncertainty and desperation are emotions completely foreign to most psychopaths.

serial killer psychopath

So yeah, while it was an entertaining film with a solid enough plot… the serial killer annoyed the hell out of me, as his actions became increasingly incongruous with the character they were initially attempting to portray.  But if you can get past the psychopath you have when you’re not having a psychopath, and the poodle hair bit… it’s worth a watch on DVD.  :)

Appreciation is not the same thing as enjoyment!

Many, many, many moons ago, way back before the days of Youtube movie trailers at your fingertips, that takes some of the hit and miss out of movie going…  Myself Mr K, Eduardo, and my little sister went to see a movie called Breaking the Waves that was getting great reviews in the newspapers.  We could only find it playing at a strange little independent theatre in East Brisbane (that place is some sort of martial arts dojo now) as it wasn’t showing in any mainstream theatres in the area.  My elder sister, BigSal and her boyfriend at the time, Woliver, were supposed to have joined us but had cancelled at the last minute… lucky them!

poster movie promo

We bought our cokes and popcorn and found some uncomfy chairs and then sat through THE most tedious three hours of cinema of our entire lives!  Well, some of us did, Eduardo had the good sense to fall asleep by about the third ‘chapter’ learning on my shoulder and occasionally snoring.  It was, and remains, one of the most bizarre films I have ever seen.  My recollections were of a disjointed and jarring narrative featuring an extremely annoying and naive quais-bipolar girl who was fond of talking to herself, that marries an indifferent, crude sort of man who works on oil rigs in the North Atlantic somewhere and is gone for long periods of time.  Readers Digest version of the plot is – he ends up paralysed and starts making unusual sexual demands of her to satisfy his lack of ability to perform for his young bride.  She in turn being very malleable and well, stupid, goes about looking for random men to fuck so she can come back to his beside and report her antics.

Being such a hideously tedious film and seeing that a misery shared, is a misery halved; we, four of us made, a pact to tell BigSal and Wolliver that the film lived up to it’s critical acclaim and was ‘amazing and unbelievable’ and that they ‘simply had to go see it’… largely because we could see no reason why we should have been tortured thus and that they had fortuitously managed to escape the horrid experience!  The following week they went to see it in due course, and apparently spent the entire duration thinking, ‘Hmmm, it’s okay… but we don’t quite understand why the others were raving about how good it was’.

Yes, it was a bit of a cruel joke but, it simply had to be done!  When we finally caught up after they had seen the film, their thoughts were roughly, ‘Well, we thought it was good… but we didn’t enjoy it as much as you guys obviously did’.  At which point we blurted out how much we hated it!  And oh my God, how tedious were the ‘chapter’ breaks that broke up the segments of the film with oddly quaint static landscape views set to ’70s rock anthems that all seemed to play just a little bit too long?!


Some fan (read: weirdo) has put the ‘chapter’ breaks together in a compilation on Youtube… that, even taken by itself, is kinda window-lickin’ special.

Ever since, Breaking the Waves has become the common benchmark around here for being THE WORST FILM EVER in our collective memory!  A film to compare all other crap films to, and an in-joke that has been periodically trolled out when occasion warrants.  Anyway, a few months ago we thought that maybe we should give it another chance (yes, this may have been an alcohol fuelled decision!).  We are all 16 years older, and hopefully wiser, so perhaps we’ll have a greater understanding and appreciation for Von Trier’s vision by now.  So we organized a movie night and decided we were going to sit through the whole thing over again, come hell or high water!  And we discovered a few very interesting things –

1) Absolutely NONE of us had any solid recollections of the storyline or the plot or any understanding whatsoever of what was driving the plot, nor could any of us even remember how the damn story ended!

2) We had little to no recollection of the background of each of the main characters, the motivations for their various actions and had completely judged all the characters totally differently back then than we did on this more recent viewing.

3) None of us remembered the heavy religious overtones of the film, instead thinking of poor Bess as some sort of brainwashed borderline personality, schizophrenic type. Rather she is someone who knew no other way of life than her heavily indoctrinated religious cult thing, AND she probably has a borderline personality disorder and schizophrenic tendencies!

4) And the most alarming discover of all… Wolliver (and to a lesser extent, Mr K), have a mysterious and inexplicable ‘thing’ for gold lame hotpants, which do NOT feature in this film in any way shape or form!

Viewing this film for a second time, with the benefit of maturity, hindsight and experience, we found ourselves coming away with a greater appreciation for the film’s complexity and the nuances of its flawed characters.  We also concurred that Emily Watson’s portrayal of Bess was actually due the acclaim accorded to it at the time, as it seems a challenging role to play someone so damaged, slightly psychotic and yet naive and sheltered in a film filled with challenging sexual practices and perceptions.

Having said all that… it remains, in my humble opinion… still RIGHT UP THERE IN THE WORST FIVE FILMS OF ALL TIME!  And I have now devoted nearly six hours of my life to it that I will never get back!

Great. Let’s go kill ourselves a witch!

Took the Small Child to see Oz, the Great and Powerful this afternoon at the cinema, anticipating a great family film, and we weren’t disappointed.  The story starts out with a carnival charlatan who is predictably swept up into a tornado and lands in Oz and eventually becomes the famous Wizard we all grew up with.

james franco michelle williams

‘The Wizard’ (played by James Franco) is a self involved, egotistical, materialistic and superficial prat who goes about using those he encounters to meet his own ends… we could say he’s displaying psychopathic tendencies  but that’s probably overstating it a little as we all know that he’s going to ‘come good’ in the end – it’s that kind of film.   The witches, the Good, the Bad and the (eventually) Ugly… are portrayed the gorgeous Michelle Williams, the elegant and beautiful Rachel Weisz and the oh my god, your complexion is stunning and you have eyes for anime, Mila Kunis!  Together they did a bang up job for a family film… but if you’re wanting to see a little more menace and a little less Disney in your witches, you’ll be sadly disappointed.  Personally, I think the Ursula the sea witch from The Little Mermaid was more convincing than these girls in the evil department.

The good…oz great powerful good witch michelle williams large

The bad… and the (eventually) quasi-ugly.
oz great powerful mila kunis rachel weisz witches bad evil

The most adorable characters in the whole film have to be China Doll (voice by Joey King) and Finley, the helper monkey (voice by Zack Braff).  Finley, because he reminds us so much of the lovable Puss in Boots of Shrek fame, with his adorable anthropomorphism and quick one liners, and China Doll who is probably the one character in the film most likely to universally affect audiences (says a lot considering she’s digital!).

high res poster helper monkey simpsons

The director, Sam Raimi (awesome director of too much cool stuff to list!) has done a great job with an interesting back story to the much beloved 1939, Wizard of Oz film (though I don’t know that many of us have ever sat around going… ‘Hmmm, I wonder where the Wizard actually came from?’) and blends together some seriously impressive special effects, with a very moralistic Disneyesque storyline about teamwork and redemption, starring an inherently flawed man who eventually finds some intestinal fortitude and strives for greatness.  Overall it is a great family film – vivid, enchanting, beautiful to look at, delightful costumes and characters, but I wouldn’t expect to see any of them on a podium for it any time soon.

PS:  I want a helper monkey like Finley!