Whedon Remakes Shakespeare As A Film Noir

If you’re like me, you were counting down the days to Joss Whedon’s latest release, a stylistic adaptation of the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon’s previous works include Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, the cult sci-fi show Firefly (and its movie counterpart Serenity), and most recently The Avengers. His ability to transect genres is only as impressive as the fan base he’s acquired, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his version of Shakespeare contains the same wit and casual humor as his previous works.

Filmed over the course of 12 days during a hiatus he had while filming The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing was shot entirely in black and white at his own California residence. Fans of Whedon will recognize the majority of the cast from some of his previous works, including Sean Maher and Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Serenity) and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel). The difficulty in transposing a play into a film format is easily resolved through Whedon’s characteristically sharp cinematic eye. The acute angles, creative uses of shadow, and the chiaroscuro lighting give a notably noirish feel to the film, which is compounded by an exemplary performance by all the actors.

The plot follows the imminent marriage of two young lovers and the nefarious scheme of Don John (played by Sean Maher) to break it up. But layering this domestic conspiracy is the sharp-tongued witty back-and-forth interplay between the main protagonists, Beatrice and Benedick (Amy and Alexis reprising their romantic affiliations from Angel).

The choice to shoot in black and white is an interesting one considering many films are wary of it. The lack of color means that increased focus has to be put on the composition of each shot, and yet Whedon somehow pulls it off, with all the dramatic irony of the original play intact. The shot where Amy Acker as Beatrice is hiding under a kitchen counter in plain view of the maid and her cousin Hero as they talk about trying to set her up with Benedick is a perfect example – all the tension of the play is retained, and yet we buy the improbability of some of the scenes.

The other risk of adapting Shakespearian plays is to be able to convey it without it sounding overly contrived or poetic. Much Ado About Nothing is one the more prosaic plays Shakespeare wrote, but the iambic pentameter still lends itself to a pleasant cadence, and some of the exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice are both organic and believable.

There is a charm in this adaptation that goes beyond its attempt to stay true to the original play and yet give it a decidedly modern-day setting – the Victorian sentiments regarding love and relationships, although perhaps not as prevalent today, still seem to hold some sway in terms of a social commentary. The superficiality of our definitions, and the games we play, are being ridiculed, and yet also acknowledged for their role in helping us come to terms with how we truly feel. It’s a juxtaposition which feels as true now as it probably did several hundred years ago.

Simon is a writer and content specialist who is addicted to being on the front page of anything. A graduate of Dalhousie University, he specializes in using the em dash too often. Currently, Simon rests his typing hands in Vancouver, Canada. Check out his recent thoughts on gaming.

  

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Box Office Recap: ‘The Avengers’ Made a Good Deal of Money

Everybody knew “The Avengers” would make money. Everybody. They’ve been building up to it for what seems like a decade, Joss Whedon was at the helm, it sat at 94 percent on the Tomatometer, it made $185 million in its overseas debut. In so many words, all the pieces were in place. That said, I don’t know if anybody expected this.

“The Avengers” made a record-breaking $200.3 million, the largest opening weekend in history. The total trounces the previous high of $169.2 million, set by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” last summer.

Along the way, “The Avengers” toppled a number of other major records. It reached $100 million, $150 million, and $200 million faster than any other movie, set new highs for Saturday ($69.7 million) and Sunday ($50.1 million), and had the highest ever per-theater average for a nationwide release with $46,057. The only high score “The Avengers” didn’t take is largest opening day, making only $80.5 million to the “The Deathly Hallows Part 2’s” $91 million.

“The Avengers'” worldwide total of $641.8 million has already overtaken all of the team’s individual members’ totals. Coming closest are the “Iron Man” films, the first made $585 million and the second $624 million, while “Thor” made $449 million and “Captain America” took in $364 million. Oh, and for those of you counting “The Incredible Hulk” made $263 million.

The film didn’t make all that money without good reason. “The Dark Knight” may be the best ever movie about a superhero, but “The Avengers” is the best superhero movie. It played like a comic book, lighthearted and witty, but the action scenes did not disappoint. It seems there’d be a thick line between pleasing fanboys and those who have never picked up a comic in their lives, but “The Avengers” made it fine and walked that tightrope with grace. Everybody expected Robert Downey Jr. to continue to be great as Tony Stark, especially with Joss Whedon writing his lines, and he did not disappoint. But the film’s biggest question mark, Mark Ruffalo in his new role as the Hulk, stole the show.

Now, I could talk about how much all those other films made, but with these numbers it’s got to be pretty clear not many people who went to the movies this weekend saw something other than “The Avengers.” In fact, the film accounted for 82.7 percent of the roughly $242 million earned by the top 12 movies this weekend. That’s the second highest weekend market share of all time, behind only “Spider-Man 3’s” 83.3 percent.

Here are the results for this week’s top 10 at the box office:

Title/Weeks in release/Theater count, Studio/Three-day weekend total/Cume
1. The Avengers, 1/4,349, Disney/Marvel Studios, $200.3 million.
2. Think Like a Man, 3/2,011, Sony, $8 million, $73 million.
3. The Hunger Games, 7/2,794, Lionsgate, $5.7 million, $380.7 million.
4. The Lucky One, 3/3,005, Warner Bros., $5.5 million, $40 million.
5. The Pirates! Band of Misfits, 2/3,358, Sony/Aardman, $5.4 million, $18.6 million.
6. The Five-Year Engagement, Universal, 2/2,941, $5.1 million, $19.3 million.
7. The Raven, 2/2,209, Relativity/Intrepid, $2.5 million, $12 million.
8. Safe, 2/2,271, Lionsgate/IM Global, $2.5 million, $12.9 million
9. Chimpanzee, 3/1,531, Disney, $2.4 million, $23 million.
10. The Three Stooges, 4/2,174, $1.8 million, $39.6 million.

  

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Box Office Preview: ‘Avengers’ and Something About a Hotel


The Avengers

As I discussed over at Real Men Read Comics, Marvel has been building towards this one for a long time. After a long wait and perhaps too many attempts to connect the dots, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the gang are coming together on the big screen.

I’ve actually got something nice to say about a new release, maybe even a few nice things. This is groundbreaking territory.

“The Avengers” was written and directed by Joss Whedon. This is the dude who brought us “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” and “Firefly.” If you don’t know what “Firefly” is, you need to find out. It’s on Netflix instant, so go on, get. I’ll even give you the link. Like his projects, Whedon has built up quite the cult following over the years. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, he co-wrote “Toy Story,” for which he was nominated for an Oscar. That’s right folks, motherfucking “Toy Story.”

“The Avengers” has all most of the stars of the individual films back in their roles. We’ve got Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans as Captain America, and most importantly, Robert Downey Jr. in his perfectly sardonic portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man. Now, Mark Ruffalo may have replaced Eric Bana, er, Edward Norton as Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, but that’s probably a good thing. If you’re sick of all these different Bruce Banners flying your way, don’t worry, Ruffalo recently signed a six-picture deal to play The Hulk.

Let’s not forget about the supporting cast, rounding out the team are Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye. But wait, there’s more, Tom Hiddleston will reprise his role from “Thor” as Loki, the film’s main villain. Hiddleston also played a brilliant F. Scott Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris.”

One of the ways you know a superhero movie, is great is when the dialogue is better than the action sequences. This is what we got in “Iron Man,” when oftentimes Tony Stark was more gripping with his super suit off than on. You should expect no less from Whedon, and according to Bullz-eye’s David Medsker, the Joss has delievered:

Once Whedon gets the cast in the same room and gives them the chance to interact as people rather than superheroes, the movie blossoms in a strangely wonderful way, one where it’s easy to wish that they would keep talking, rather than ramping up for the butt-kicking that is just around the corner. Indeed, until the climactic battle sequence, the action plays second fiddle to the talking, and as odd as that sounds for a superhero movie, it’s the right call.

If all this wasn’t enough, “The Avengers” has been certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, sitting at a 93 on the Tomatometer. For once, I’m actually excited.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The only other film getting a wide release this weekend is “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Believe it or not, John Madden was actually able to direct a film that doesn’t star Brett Favre. Hold on. I’m getting word that it’s a different John Madden, the “Shakespeare in Love” John Madden. Oh, well things make more sense now.

Kidding aside, this is a film about a group of British seniors, including Academy Award-winners Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, who decide to “outsource” their retirement to cheaper and seemingly exotic India. When they get there, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel doesn’t look quite as it did in the brochures so both hilarity and drama ensue. The film also stars Penelope Winton, whose interactions with Maggie Smith in “Downton Abbey” are fantastic, so hopefully we get some of that here.

There’s a reason no other movies are being released this weekend, studios were scared of “The Avengers,” and rightly so. But it’s pretty clear that “Hotel” is “The Avengers'” antithesis, and so too is its target audience. That said, with its award-winning cast and 78 rating on the Tomatometer, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” seems to be well worth seeing in its own right.

  

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Pike Speaks! – Luke Perry on a Whedon-less “Buffy” movie: “No Joss, no go.”

In the midst of chatting with Bullz-Eye.com about his new Hallmark Movie Channel flick, “Goodnight for Justice,” which premieres on January 29th, Luke Perry was willing to take a moment to weigh in on the idea of a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” movie without Joss Whedon at the helm.

“No Joss, no go,” said Perry, who played the character of Oliver Pike in the 1992 film version of “Buffy. “They’d be fools to try to do it without him. They were fools to not include him as the director the first time. I hope he doesn’t feel bad about what they’re doing to his franchise, but clearly it’s not going to be the same thing without him.”

Whedon wrote the screenplay for the 1992 film. The television series based on the film premiered on The WB in 1997, then shifted to UPN in 2001, where it remained until its conclusion at the end of its seventh season.

Although the character of Pike survived the end of the film and has since reared his head in various “Buffy” comic books and novels, he never appeared in the television series. Nor – at least as far as Perry knows – was such an appearance ever considered. Perry does, however, have a theory as to why he was never invited to reprise his role.

BE: Had there ever been any talk of bringing your character, Pike, onto the series?

LP: No, I think he’s pissed at me…and I’m not sure why. But I think he’s pissed off at me.

BE: Well, hopefully, these words you’ve just said will help your cause.

LP: I hope so! I’d prefer that he not be pissed off at me.

BE: Plus, you know, he’s directing “The Avengers.” You don’t want a guy with that kind of power mad at you.

LP: Oh, I don’t give a shit about that. It’s not like he’s going to call me up and say, “Hey, Luke, you want to be one of the Avengers?”

BE: Oh, I didn’t mean that.

LP: Yeah, I just…I’d just like to think that everybody I’ve worked with had a good time. Potentially, Joss did not, and I don’t know if they treated him that well on that movie.

Check out the rest of the interview here…and don’t forget to catch “Goodnight for Justice” on January 29th!

  

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Winter 2011 TCA Press Tour: Top 13 Quotes from Day 8

No proper panels today, but we did a heck of a lot of driving around. It was TCA Day, which meant that we went to this studio and that, visiting the sets of various shows and meeting their casts and creators. It started bright and early with trips to “Lopez Tonight” and “Conan,” then it was over to 20th Century Fox, where we were treated to panels featuring stars from “Glee,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Raising Hope,” and “Modern Family,” divided up into men and women, with Jimmy Kimmel moderating the panel for the guys. After that, we hit the sets of “Cougar Town,” “Parks & Recreation,” and “Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior.” Good times all around, especially for someone like me, who lives in Virginia and rarely gets to enjoy these kinds of experiences. After that, I headed over to the Vanguard for the taping of two episodes of Season 2 of “The Green Room with Paul Provenza,” which was phenomenal. How can you go wrong with an evening that includes appearances from Ron White, Kathleen Madigan, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Richard Lewis, Jeffrey Ross, and others? Can’t wait to see the final cut of the episode. (They run 30 minutes, but the taping’s more like an hour and a half.)

But I know, you’re wondering, “Why 13 quotes?” It’s a weird number, so it’s a valid question. Originally, it was going to be 15 quotes, but for reasons unknown to me, we have yet to receive a transcription from our trip to the “Parks & Recreation” set, which contained at least two more solid quotes. Oh, well.

1. “I’ve said it before and I sincerely mean it, in the modern landscape of television there is only a few ways to stay on TV, and one of them is to be, you know, lucky as shit and have a huge giant hit, and everybody in the world watches you, and the other is to cultivate a loyal and hopefully intelligent audience that follows you around, and that is in no great part due to people that champion the show if they like it. First and foremost, I wanted to say that for those of you that don’t like the show, fuck you guys. But those of you who have really taken the time to champion the show and write about it and say nice things, I’m grateful. It’s not just for ego reasons, in this day and age it really means something.” – Bill Lawrence, “Cougar Town” (ABC)

2. “On April Fools’, I was talking to Usher, and I said, ‘You have three kids.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He goes, ‘No, I don’t. Don’t you have research people that tell you?’ I mean, and he looks at the audience, and he says, ‘You would think that a host would do his research and know facts about a guest before he asks a question.’ And then he said, ‘April Fool’s.’ He got me, yeah.” – George Lopez, “Lopez Tonight” (TBS)

3. “I’ve never considered myself particularly interested in media. I mean, I’m someone who likes to come in and do my job, and then I like to go home and play with my kids. I wasn’t used to being a media story. It was never a goal of mine. So the strangest thing about immediately after the (end of ‘The Tonight Show’) was my wife decided the next morning, early on, we should just drive up to Santa Barbara and check into a hotel and decompress for three days because she thought this guy needs to decompress. He needs to. So we got up really early in the morning. We got in our car, and we pulled out of our house, and two cars followed right in behind us and followed us all the way to Santa Barbara and then just hung outside the hotel for three days. And, you know, I’m not Brad Pitt. I’m not George Clooney. You know, I’ve been blessed with their DNA, but I just thought, ‘Who are they following?’ So that was weird.

“And there were a lot of highs. I walked into a restaurant that day, and everybody in the restaurant applauded. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s nice. This is weird. And, also, this isn’t a living. I don’t see how to do this as a job, walk around and get applauded in restaurants.’ So there was an initial sort of high, but then I went back to my house, and we had a lot of stuff to figure out. And one of the first things I did was…you know, this show and these shows have been the organizing principle of my life for such a long time that I thought, ‘I’ve got to call my assistant and get to work.’ So I called my assistant, Sona, and I said, ‘We should get together and go over all of the things we need to do.’ And she said, ‘Okay. Where?’ And my wife wanted me out of the house, and so I said, ‘Okay,’ and we decided to meet at a Marie Callender’s pie restaurant.

“I’m not kidding. I hosted ‘The Tonight Show.’ I think the last show was a Friday. I hosted that ‘Tonight Show’ on a Friday, and on Monday, I’m in a Marie Callender’s pie restaurant, and my assistant has a laptop, and we are sitting there. And there’s two other customers in the place, you know, stabbing at a pie at 11:00 in the morning, and this was now my new headquarters. And I pass this Marie Callender’s a lot, and I think about that shocking…I mean, it was just the juxtaposition of these insane images of ‘Tonight Show,’ iconic, Marie Callender’s restaurant, meeting / office. This is where I work now. And that kind of summed up the madness, I think, a little bit of that time.” – Conan O’Brien, “Conan” (TBS)

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