Review: Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

It’s an incredibly brave – or incredibly foolish – person that tries to film a Shakespeare play in under two weeks while officially on leave from work. That Joss Whedon felt he was up to the job should come as no surprise; this is a man who for years has thrived on similar challenges, be it directing a film version of an all-too-quickly cancelled TV series (Firefly) or creating a musical episode for a hit primetime show (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). As a low budget take on a familiar play, it’s an entertaining enough diversion: the low-key approach adds to much to the overall charm. But the flip side of that is there is a slimness to the end product which prevents it from being more fun that it might have been.

Full review: Much Ado About Nothing |

The Muppets (2011)

Disney reboots The Muppets with this tale of the furry friends reuniting to try and save their old theatre from demolition. It’s been many years since The Muppets last performed together, having all gone their separate ways. Evil oil tycoon Tex Richman (Chris Cooper, clearly enjoying himself – but then who wouldn’t with a character name like that?) wants to bulldoze the old Muppet Theater in order to drill for oil. Brothers and lifelong muppet fans Jason Segel and Walter (actually a muppet, though he’s oblivious to the fact) decide to try and save it by convincing Kermit the Frog to round up the old gang for one last fundraising show.

There’s a lot to like here, but it’s not quite as satisfying as it should be. Undoubtedly it’s a pleasure to have the Muppets back – not just onscreen, but back as themselves. It’s been a long time since we saw them as they were on the classic TV show, and the film is at its best when a sense of that old anarchy comes in to play as they try to put on a variety show that is plainly very very silly. Just feel the grin on your face when the old opening theme starts up.

But there’s also a love and nostalgia for the characters that periodically threatens to suffocate the film. After Kermit delivers yet another heartfelt pearl of wisdom, you may find yourself rolling your eyes. Happily it’s not too often, and though the film sags around the middle as the reunion threatens to fall apart, it picks up again in the final act. The musical set pieces are a genuine joy.

Adults who remember the Muppets from their childhood will enjoy this film the most; small fry will like it too, but will probably wonder what all the fuss is about.

[xrr rating=3/5]

Biggest is Best

I recently managed to catch the newly remastered Apocalypse Now at the cinema this past weekend. As a jaw-dropping slice of pure cinema it’s pretty hard to beat, and to me re-enforced just how much a film can benefit from the sheer scale that the big screen offers. It’s not just a question of technology; obviously the darkened theatre, larger canvass and superior sound equipment (hopefully) allow for a more powerful and enveloping experience. But the very fact that you are not in control of the projection is also, I think, a major factor.

Not having your TV or dvd remote control to hand, allowing you to pause when and for how long you like, forces you to concentrate on the film that much harder. Not being in control – to cede your authority – is an act of submission, a sacrifice at the high altar of cinema, and in return you are permitted to enter the world of the film that much more.

Of course, you could just bury your remote control in the garden to achieve much the same effect, but it’s not nearly as much fun. 

The Joy of New Discoveries (or: Why Creepshow Kicked My Ass)

One of the best things about being a film fan (or indeed a fan of books, music or most other things) is that every once in a while, you stumble across something by accident that slaps a great big smile on your face and reminds you just why you are a fan in the first place. Over the past 12 months or so I have been happily reading Ain’t It Cool‘s essays on 25 Years Ago: The Greatest Genre Year Ever. Never anything less than enthusiastic, these articles from various fans have each reviewed a movie released in the golden year of 1982, when the planets aligned, warring Gods united and Fate conspired to provides us with a generous helping of geek classics that have withstood the tests of time better than most. Sadly I was too young and sheltered at this point in my life to enjoy these greats on the big screen, save one: E.T., which my dad took me to see at the local fleapit. The others (among them Blade Runner, Poltergeist and The Thing) I eventually caught up with on TV and video, but one article centred on a film I hadn’t come across before: Creepshow.

For whatever reason, Creepshow seems to have pretty much skulked under the radar in the UK. I’m sure it has always been well known in horror geek circles of course, but in the mainstream it appears to have stayed out of the limelight. I certainly don’t recall any broadcasts on the terrestrial TV channels, though of course it might have slipped me by. This seems odd to me: directed by George A Romero (whose ‘Dead’ films still get regular airings on TV), written by Stephen King (basically as well known in the UK as in America), and featuring a strong cast, Creepshow should be much better known than it is.

Initially I ignored this article and simply presumed it to be some obscure low-budget item in the mold of Evil Dead, but eventually I did click through and read it. The great thing about these articles is their personal nature; you can almost imagine you had the same experience in your childhood (wishful thinking on my part, sadly). Halfway through the article came a bit that grabbed my attention:

“On one such outing back in ’82, we arrived at the theater and were greeted by a poster featuring a skeleton behind a ticket counter. The tagline of the film read, “The most fun you’ll ever have being scared.” Okay. I’m in, I thought.”

For some reason that pulled me in. Now, let me just put on record my geek credentials: I like a bit of horror once in a while, but I’m no gorehound. I have so far happily avoided all of the Saws and the Hostels. Give me a sci-fi horror (Alien, The Fly), or a classic horror (Dracula, Frankenstein), or a comedy horror (Evil Dead 2, Shaun of the Dead) any day. I love old-school slashers like Halloween. Beyond that I start to wimp out, I’m sorry to say. But a film that boasts about being ‘the most fun you’ll ever have being scared’… now that sounds pretty cool. Just the image of the skeleton behind the ticket counter tickled me.

So I waited for the recent SE dvd release to drop to a fiver ( if you’re interested), and took a risk. And I loved it. This was perfect Halloween-night sleepover fun (shame it’s March…). It was funny, spooky and scary, sometimes all at the same time. When it was silly, there was an edge of eeriness, and then when it was properly scary, there was a sense of gallows humour about it. Basically, this was great entertainment, expertly crafted by writer, director, cast and crew, and I want more. Now. Please.

As I said, every so often you make a new discovery that just reminds you why films are your hobby and passion. Creepshow did that for me this month. Now, do I take a risk on Creepshow 2…?