TIFF 2012 – Much Ado About Nothing and The Secret Disco Revolution Reviews (Kirk Haviland)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Much Ado About Nothing

Starring Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Jillian Morgese, Fran Kranz, Reed Diamond, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, Riki Lindholme, Tom Lenk and Ashley Johnson

Adapted by Joss Whedon, based on the play from William Shakespeare

Directed by Joss Whedon

Claudio (Kranz) and Benedick (Denisof) have just returned home to Messina after a successful campaign abroad. When Claudio confesses his adoration for the lovely Hero (Morgese), daughter of Messina’s governor Leonato (Gregg), Don Pedro (Diamond) vows to woo Hero in the vocally clumsy Claudio’s stead. Benedick’s scorn for love is matched by that of his long-time nemesis and verbal sparring partner Beatrice (Acker), Leonato’s niece. Determined to ruin the affair is the villainous brother of Don Pedro, Don John (Maher). As the love-struck Claudio and Hero make plans to marry, Benedick and Beatrice resume the “merry war” of insults they have long waged all while Leonato, Pedro, Claudio and Hero plot to couple the pair together. As Don John’s plots unfold it’s up to Inspector Dogberry (Fillion) and his deputies to find the truth.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Shot in gorgeous black and white at Joss Whedon’s own home, Much Ado brings together a plethora of Whedon’s talented friends to shoot the film in just less than two weeks on a break from shooting The Avengers. Using unique staging and different interpretations of the text to update the work to work in a modern setting, Whedon does not change a single word of text. The unique staging allows comedic opportunities for the talented cast to seize upon that may not have been read into the original text. Denisof and Acker are the standouts here as both deliver fantastic performances. Denisof’s comedic timing is on full display. Staged and shot with a small dedicated cast and crew, the insular production adds to the quaint feel of the film, though the film is not quaint in impact. Easily one of the best films I have seen at TIFF 2012, Much Ado About Nothing is a definite recommend.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Secret Disco Revolution

Written and Directed by Jamie Kastner

In The Secret Disco Revolution, director, Jamie Kastner tries to produce a documentary that legitimizes disco as a cultural revolution responsible for the liberation of African Americans, Gay Pride and Women in North America. He tries to do this by producing a straight documentary while inserting fictional characters known as the “Masterminds”. While I am a fan of directors trying to play around with the structure of a typical documentary, this inserting of fictional characters meant as stereotypes as we have a female, a gay white male and a black male, never works at all. Giving these characters credit for a so called manifesto, that in Kastner’s mind is the real reason behind the disco movement, further muddles and drags down the film.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

Where the film works is through interviews with music industry veterans, DJs, academics, and such disco legends as Gloria Gaynor, The Village People, Anita Pointer and Thelma Houston. The interviewees provide the only real revelations in the film, talking about the disposable one hit wonder nature of the industry and how it churned through performers like livestock. Now if someone decides to make that documentary then I’m lining up first day. But alas we get this story instead, and the ridiculousness of the fictional sub plot is made all the worse by the awful production and performances involved with it, that barely scratches the surface of the real story. Perhaps this could be used as a prologue for a good film about the disco generation, such a vibrant and decadent time in our recent history deserves more than this to represent it. Secret Disco Revolution is a definite not recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Avengers Review (Matt Hodgson)

Three months in France and 10 days in Italy; I can’t even remember the last time I had an opportunity to see a new release in a movie theatre that wasn’t the victim of a coldly indifferent dub job. Luckily, Rome seems to be a little more conscious of preserving film experience, and this past Thursday I had the opportunity to check out one of the most hyped and successful films of recent memory – The Avengers.

Now being in Europe the theatre experience was a whole different beast than I was accustomed to – in fact I could probably write a review just on Italian theatres! For example, seats were assigned for each ticket holder, and at roughly the middle-point of the film the projector was shut off and the overhead lights unceremoniously turned on to make way for an intermission accompanied by a popcorn vendor trolling down the aisle. But I’m not here to review the Italian cinema experience, rather one of the most enjoyable action blockbusters to come out of Hollywood in a long, long time.

In case you’ve been living in a pre-Y2K underground shelter, The Avengers is the cinematic version of the comic book of the same name. The Avengers is comprised of some of the most popular superheroes in the Marvel universe, and the film version casts similarly popular Hollywood actors in the roles of these heroes: Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Mark Ruffalo (The Hulk), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Samuel L. Jackson as Samuel L. Jackson Nick Fury.

As a boy and an avid comic book fan I was certainly aware of who The Avengers were, but in the 90’s they hardly seemed like a hot Ticket. The X-men dominated the marvel universe, while the skin-deep coolness of the Image universe was temporarily stealing fans from ‘classic’ superheroes like The Avengers. Since then we have had a plethora of superheroes movies, and despite being a previous comicbook fan, I have to admit that Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ version of Batman was the only one that seemed to resonate with me. This has definitely changed with the release of The Avengers.

Joss Whedon the writer/director of the film has chosen and depicted the perfect subject matter for a superhero film; the fate of the world is threatened by an alien god (Hiddleston), threatening an alien invasion – nothing more, nothing less. The heroes, earth’s only hope for surviving this ordeal, are introduced throughout the beginning of the film, and the issue quickly becomes whether or not these extraordinary individuals can overcome their differences and work together as a team. A simple concept, one that could even work on TV’s ‘The Office’, but when you have a egomaniac-playboy-billionaire with a nearly indestructible suit of armour, a super-soldier from the 40’s, a Norse God, and anger management’s least successful participant, getting along and working as a team seems barely short of infinitely impossible.

The Avengers can be charged with some sloppy dialogue at times, not the fault of the Whedon, but of Jackson and Johansson early on in the film and some of the secondary actors. However, after about 30-40 minutes the script and the actors begin to work wonderfully together and there are some truly hilarious lines and moments, not to mention REAL superhero dialogue. Also, the action sequences will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat, your support firmly behind one of the combatants, but still worried about their fate despite their superhero status. A particular action sequence in the first half of the film with Thor, Ironman, and Captain America is as close as Whedon could have hoped to approach perfection.

Robert Downey Jr. is an absolute scene stealer with his deadpan delivery of comedic dialogue that we’ve become so accustomed to. Also, it may sound strange, but the filmmakers really nailed the appropriateness of the special effects. The effects rarely seem to be too much for the subject matter (an issue that I think many Hollywood movies are struggling with nowadays, studios often blowing viewers away resulting in stimulus overload), that said, the film is still packed with some crazy visuals!

Finally, the reveal at the end of the credits left me wanting to walk out of The Avengers and directly into Avengers 2. Rarely have I been this satisfied with a Hollywood movie. The Avengers is a must see for anyone with a sense of adventure or a desire to meet some of earth’s greatest heroes.

The Cabin in the Woods Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams, Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker.

Written by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard

Directed by Drew Goddard


Let’s face facts right up front here. Cabin in the Woods was shot in 2009 and finished in 2010. Hearing this you may feel this is yet another movie dump like the Eddie Murphy vehicle from earlier this year, A Thousand Words, which like most movie dumps was terrible. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Cabin in the Woods was slated for a late 2010 release until MGM filed chapter 11 and pulled everything from their release slate. Through negotiations Lionsgate acquired the finished film for release and then tinkered with a 3D post conversion, against the strongly expressed wishes of writer/producers Whedon and Goddard.  Thankfully we finally get to see this film, non-3D conversion, in theaters starting this weekend. What we get is a brilliantly conceived interpretation of the genre as a whole, a genius view of the contentions and as the Scream movies point out “The Rules” of the genre and how there may be more behind what we really are seeing than we previously may have thought. But before I go any farther, a warning: if you want to see this movie and have not yet, and you really should, STOP READING NOW. I know shocking right? Do not continue to read if you want to go in to the movie unspoiled, because even with me trying not to spoil, it will be spoiled. Go in knowing as little as possible and you will be very thankful you did. Then come back and read this and let me know what you think.

YOU WERE WARNED! We open in a vaguely developed government facility with Sitterson (Jenkins) and Hadley (Whitford) discussing the upcoming mission in broad terms with Lin (Acker) and relating the failings of other outposts around the planet. We then are introduced to Dana (Connolly) and Jules (Hutchison), 2 college roommates who are gearing up for a trip to the titular Cabin under the assumption that Jules’ boyfriend Curt’s (Hemsworth) cousin has recently purchased it. Dana has recently broke off an affair with her professor, something Jules is determined to get her past by setting her up with Curt’s book smart / lacrosse playing friend Holden (Williams). Also along for the ride is the resident substance abusing sidekick Marty (Franz) and his amazing smoking utensil, a joke I will not give away here. We soon learn all things are not as they seem as the government officials have a very detailed amount of information at their disposal about all of these students and seem to be in control of each move they make. We start to realize there is much more at stake behind what is happening as the group ends up deciding their own fates, literally. There is also much more going on in the government facility and we find out just how connected to the events of the weekend they really are.  Twists and turns abound as the film builds to a unpredictable climax with deadly implications.

Cabin in the Woods is blessed with a brilliant script and vision that Goddard and Whedon have fought tooth and nail to protect. And the audience is the benefactors of their passion. An amazingly original take on a whole genre that feels fresh and new, while paying homage and borrowing from the past, Cabin succeeds where so many others have failed. The cast works well together, Whitford and Jenkins are brilliant in their government bunker overseeing the activities with Acker trying to be a voice of reason in the background. Hemsworth and Williams both show why they have achieved their levels of success outside of Cabin. Connolly and former Power Ranger Hutchison, in a role extremely far removed from her children’s show beginnings, work well as the female leads. Franz brings the caustic wit he brought to his character in Whedon’s Dollhouse to the role of Marty, who like Acker, is one of a few of Whedon’s regulars peppered throughout the film.

The way Whedon and Goddard play with the stereotypes and conventions of traditional slasher fare and the manipulation of such with respect to the story is such a brilliant concept it begs the questions as to why it took so long for someone to think this up. I’m just glad that Whedon and Goddard have finally figured a way to play with these traditional slasher roles in a whole new way and present a daring and original vision along the way.

Easily the best film I’ve seen this year and I’ll be surprised if it’s not in my top 10/15 films by the end of the year. Get out there and see this, then come back and tell me what you think.


Til Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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