Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie Reviews: Much Ado About Nothing, Despicable Me 2

Much Ado About Nothing
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Jillian Morgese, Fran Kranz, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher

This review will include spoilers.  Because, it's Shakespeare. 

Yes, you read those credits correctly  This film was directed by Joss Whedon.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, The Avengers - that Joss Whedon.  What is Joss Whedon doing filming an adaptation of Shakespeare starring a bunch of people from his previous tv shows?  What does he think he's doing writing the screenplay?

According to IMDb, it was a labor of love for him, filmed in only twelve days during a break from filming The Avengers, using his own home as the sets and locations.   How awesome is that?

But how does it stand up as an adaptation of The Bard?  My verdict:  It won't supplant Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation in my favorite film list, but it's not bad.  The actors all managed to say their dialogue comfortably, which I think is the biggest challenge in making a film of Shakespeare, and an even bigger challenge if you're going to set the story in the present day as Whedon chose to do.  None of the modern elements seem too awkward paired with the archaic theatrical dialogue.  Horses and carriages are replaced by cars, the noblemen returning from the war carry firearms instead of swords, the constables watch the grounds of Leonato's estate on closed-circuit tv.  But none of that detracts from the story. 

In fact, the modern setting probably works better for this play because it's a comedy.  We all laughed when, just after arriving at Leonato's estate, Benedick and Claudio are put up in what is clearly a little girl's bedroom complete with Barbie Dream House in the corner.  The scene in which Don John tries to convince a disguised Claudio that Don Pedro is wooing Hero himself takes place in a swimming pool, with Claudio wearing a snorkel.  After Don Pedro and Claudio convince Benedick that Beatrice is in love with him, Benedick's next scene with Beatrice is performed with Benedick doing exercises.  At one point Benedick gives a soliloquy while jogging up and down a flight of stairs (Whedon really gives Alexis Denisof a workout in this movie).  All of this emphasizes the comedy.

Another aspect that I think was a good creative choice: the film is in black-and-white.  I suspect the modern sets in color would have been too distracting.  This way the audience is able to concentrate on the glorious dialogue and the entertaining action, instead of being overawed by Joss Whedon's gorgeous house.

While it isn't the best ever adaptation of the play, it's a fun adaptation, cleverly done.  And who wouldn't love Nathan Fillion reciting Constable Dogberry's immortal "I, sir, am an ass" speech?


Despicable Me 2
Starring the voice of Steve Carrell

Despicable Me was a surprisingly charming movie.  I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did.  The sequel manages to do something that's always hard:  It's just as good as the first film.  In fact, it's so much fun I might have to pay to see it a second time.

The premise of the film is that since adding his three adopted daughters to his life, former supervillain Gru has retired from villainy and started working on just being a good dad.  Of course, that would make for a dull film, so some trouble must come to Gru's life to create conflict, trouble that provides him with an opportunity to exercise some of his villainous muscles.  It also provides ample opportunity for the adorable minions to do cute and humorous things.  I have to admit, 80% of the reason I like these movies is the minions.

But aside from the cute factor, this move is gorgeously animated.  The colors and textures are fabulous.  I was dazzled by how good it was to look at.  It's also very funny.  I spent a lot of my time during the movie laughing heartily or smiling.  I left the theater feeling satisfied and happy.  I can't ask for much more out of a movie than that.  I don't usually go to see films to be edified or enlightened; I go to be entertained.  This film entertained me very well.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

When I Grow Up

What follows is my To-Do list for when I grow up.  I don't plan to ever grow up, but I will get older, hopefully, so I guess it's really for that.
When I grow up I will...

  Embrace change
  Try new tastes, new styles and new experiences
  Make new friends
  Visit new places
  Learn to use new technologies
  Keep only things I really need or love
  Exercise my body
  Exercise my mind
  Keep an open mind
  Remember that my generation was not better than today's generation

When I grow up, I will not...
  Wear 'granny pants'
  Keep things 'for a rainy day'
  Watch television all day
  Be afraid of my neighbors
  Constantly complain about my aches and pains
  Regret the things I never got to do



Tuesday, July 2, 2013

An Afternoon With Neil Himself

I read this tumblr post today and it inspired me to write my own post about my experience seeing Neil Gaiman.  I saw the first of the two kisses the young lady describes, and while my experience wasn't as memorable as hers, it was a very special day for which I am very grateful.

Let me start at the beginning.  Neil Gaiman is currently on what is meant to be his last book signing tour.  He has wearied of the stresses of traveling from city to city and spending hours signing his books while hordes of people wait in long queues to have them signed.  This does not mean he will never tour again, nor that he will never again sign any copies of his books.  It only means that he will not tour for that exclusive purpose.

Despite being tired of the whole process, having signed past midnight the previous night, and having traveled from San Francisco to Portland that day in a tour bus, Neil Gaiman was kind and generous when he appeared at McMenamin's Crystal Ballroom on Saturday June 29th, 2013.  He arrived during an unusual heat wave in Portland, with temperatures approaching 90 F.  The Crystal Ballroom is an old building, and it does not have air conditioning.  I overheard one of the bartenders explaining to another customer how difficult it would be to retrofit the structure for central air.  Once 900 people were packed into the space, it became even warmer.  Neil (if I may be so familiar as to use his first name) commented several times on how warm it was and that he didn't want to make us suffer in the heat any longer than necessary.  I appreciated that he put up with the heat, even though he was initially wearing a jacket when he appeared on stage.  He removed it for the actual book signing, though he had large fans pointing at him.

Those fans didn't do much good to those of us who'd chosen to sit in the balcony, but we didn't mind too much.  Neil read to us first from Chapter 3 of his newest novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which had just been released a few days earlier.   He asked us if we wanted to hear him read more, and we almost unanimously voted Yes.  So he then read to us from his upcoming book Fortunately the Milk, which is ostensibly a children's book, to be released this coming September. I will add it to my library when it is available, even though I have no children to read it to.

He is a very good reader.   Some writers are not very good at reading their own work.  Why should they be?  They are not actors; they are writers.  But Neil Gaiman is a good reader, an enjoyable reader.  I wanted him to keep reading, to read me both books in their entirety, even though I'm not particularly a fan of audiobooks.  I usually prefer the way I hear the story in my own head to the way the voice performer reads it.  But now as I am reading Ocean - which I started yesterday on the bus to work and have nearly finished, consumed in 15 or 20 minute chunks while commuting or eating dinner - I hear Neil reading it to me as he read it on Saturday. 

He took a small number of question from the audience, which were written on index cards and read to him by musical guest Jason Webley.  My friend Janet had her question read: "What was your favorite book when you were a child?".  Then the young lady in the tumblr post asked for a kiss, and Neil graciously granted her request.

Not only did he kiss her on the stage, and again later when she queued to have her copy of the book signed (we all received a copy of Ocean as part of the admission price), he also granted a similar request from my friend's daughter.  She ordinarily would have been working on a Saturday, and hadn't purchased an advance ticket - the tickets sold out on the first day.  But one of her coworkers couldn't go, and she was allowed to take time off and to purchase her coworker's ticket for a nominal price.  So she went and joined the rest of our group of friends in the balcony.  And when she went downstairs to have her copy of Ocean signed, she asked if she could have a hug, and Neil again graciously obliged.

As we went through the signing line, we gave our names to staff members from Powells' City of Books to assure accurate spelling if we wanted our books personalized.  Neil wrote a short message in each book, just a word or two.  A few days prior to the event, my husband and I had disagreed over whether we had ever seen Neil at an appearance previous to this one.  My husband insisted we had, while I recalled no such occasion.  During the Q & A, someone had asked whose fans were odder, Neil's or Clive Barker's.  When my husband heard this he realized it was actually Clive Barker we had seen previously.  As he waited to have his copy of the book signed, he told this story to Neil, and Neil laughed and in return drew a little monster on the frontispiece instead of writing a message, which made my husband very happy.  The rest of our friends and I all had the message "Dream" written in our books, but my husband had a little doodle of a monster.

Now as I'm reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I imagine that the unnamed protagonist has tousled dark hair that won't lie flat, and that when he is grown he mostly wears dark clothes and perhaps has a white Alsatian dog at home.  And is kind, and generous, and sometimes doodles monsters.  And just possibly is a writer of very good books that make people laugh and cry.