Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Much Ado About Nothing

Much ado poster

Title: Much Ado About Nothing

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Amy Acker (Beatrice), Alexis Denisof (Benedick), Clark Gregg (Leonato), Jillian Morgese (Hero), Fran Kranz (Claudio), Reed Diamond (Don Pedro), Sean Maher (Don John), Nathan Fillion (Dogberry)

Director: Joss Whedon

The Basics: This most recent cinematic version of Shakespeare’s classic comedy tells the story of two relationships: the love-at-first sight romance between Hero and Claudio and the bickering buildup of love and passion between Beatrice and Benedick. A game of matchmaking initially draws the latter couple closer together, but it’s only when Benedick sides with Beatrice after her cousin Hero is wrongly shamed by Claudio that the two fall in love in earnest. Set in modern times but told using all of Shakespeare’s dialogue (though it has been slightly condensed), Joss Whedon’s take on this story heightens all of its comedy as well as all of its tragic undertones. This film is already the stuff of legend for being shot in only 12 days in Whedon’s own home, and it deserves all the praise that can be sent its way. The cast is brilliant, the direction is smart, and the cinematography is gorgeous. In a movie season usually filled with explosions and animated characters, Much Ado About Nothing is a welcome bit of culture and substance—while still being a whole lot of fun.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): I didn’t know much about Amy Acker going into this movie: I knew her from her small roles on Alias and Once Upon a Time, and I knew she was a popular Whedonverse actress—but that was it. It took only a few minutes for me to be completely bowled over by her talents and her charm, and now I want to see everything she’s ever been in (and I want her to be the lead in many more films after this one). Acker was truly the perfect Beatrice. Shakespearean English doesn’t sound great coming out of everyone’s mouth, but each line of dialogue rolled off her tongue like she was born to play this role. She brought such a compelling mixture of poise and spunk to her performance, deftly balancing both the comedy of the part and its dramatic moments. Acker proved to be great at both physical comedy (falling down the stairs upon hearing of Benedick’s affection for her) and verbal sparring matches (with her well-matched partner, Alexis Denisof). However, I found her to be most compelling in Beatrice’s darker and quieter moments. Her delivery of Beatrice’s “Oh that I were a man!” monologue was incredibly powerful; I felt all of her pain, anger, and helplessness. And I bought every step along the way in her relationship with Benedick. Acker positively glowed in her softer moments with Denisof, creating a Beatrice who is a gorgeously multifaceted character in life and in love.

Scene Stealer: Much Ado About Nothing is first and foremost a comedy, and the funniest thing about thing about this film was Nathan Fillion’s performance as the pompous-yet-inept officer of the law, Dogberry. He played the part with a shocking amount of subtlety, considering how easy it could be to go overboard with this kind of role. And that decision made every moment he was on screen all the funnier. Fillion, like Acker, delivered each line like he came out of the womb reading Shakespeare, his smooth voice and great comedic timing working their magic to full effect. His gift for physical comedy was also on display, and those small moments—from trying to get on a suit jacket that’s far too small to locking himself out of his car at the end of the film—were just perfect. As a huge fan of Fillion’s work on Castle, it was fun to see the role reversal of him playing a cop, even if Dogberry might be the most ridiculous (and yet ultimately effective) cop in literary history.

Bring the Tissues: While there are some very powerful emotional moments, this is still a Shakespearean comedy, which means you can probably leave the tissues at home for this one.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? There’s nothing hidden after the credits for this film.

Most Memorable Scene: This film felt like a string of one memorable scene after another: the first party scene (which I found more fun and more entertaining than the first party in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby), all of the matchmaking exploits (Denisof’s attemps to eavesdrop made me cry with laughter), Hero and Caludio’s dramatic wedding, every scene featuring Dogberry, the joyous party at the end…

But if I had to pick just one scene, I think my selection would be surprisingly dramatic for a Shakespearean comedy. The scene where Beatrice and Benedick confess their love after Hero’s wedding disaster was incredibly powerful. Acker and Denisof both brought such a sense of total commitment to that scene and to each other as scene partners—it was a beautiful thing to behold. Acker’s grief was painfully palpable; I believed every tear that ran down her face. And Denisof was equally convincing in his dedication to her and his desire to do whatever it takes to make her pain end. This scene jumps back and forth so sharply between tragedy and romance that it calls for two actors who are strong as individuals but even stronger together, and that’s exactly what Acker and Denisof were in this film. This scene was the best showcase for their chemistry. Yes, I loved their bantering scenes, but this scene—with its sweeping undercurrent of passion and devotion—made me truly believe the love between Beatrice and Benedick in a way I don’t normally believe most Shakespearean love stories.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Silver Linings Playbook

Title: Silver Linings Playbook

Rating: R

Cast: Bradley Cooper (Pat), Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany), Robert De Niro (Pat Sr.), Jacki Weaver (Dolores), Chris Tucker (Danny)

Director: David O. Russell

The Basics: This unconventional romantic dramadey tells the story of Pat Solitano, a Philadelphia native (and Eagles fan by birth) adjusting to life with his parents after spending eight months in treatment for bipolar disorder. Though Pat was hospitalized following the discovery of his wife’s affair and his subsequent attack on man she was cheating with, Pat still hopes to win her back (despite her restraining order against him). But along the way, Pat meets his match in Tiffany, a young widow facing her own struggles with mental illness who shows him that life is a lot like dance—all you need is the right partner. Featuring brilliant performances, an unflinching directorial style, and a script filled with humor and heart, Silver Linings Playbook is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make nearly enough—a genuinely feel-good story about love in all of its forms and all of its messy glory.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): In order for this film to work, both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence had to turn in strong performances, and, lucky for us as viewers, they delivered the best performances I’ve seen from either of their careers in Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper was the one I was most worried about, having only known him as the lovable best friend on Alias and the arrogant pretty boy in movies like Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. Needless to say, he exceeded my expectations tenfold here. There was something so vulnerable in his portrayal of Pat, a fear of himself and his illness that only a brave actor could bring to the surface. Cooper captured every nuance with detail and care; we believe that Pat is a man who could brutally beat another man, but we also believe that Pat is a man who is capable of immense amounts of goodness as well. Pat could have been an obnoxious caricature of a bipolar man obsessed with a wife who clearly doesn’t love him. But thanks to Cooper’s depth and fearless emotional honesty, Pat is instead a character that we care about and care for immensely, the broken but beautiful soul of this movie.

Cooper needed a true match in order to bring out the best in his performance, and the filmmakers found that in Lawrence, who should find herself at the top of the Best Actress Oscar race for the excellent work she did in this film. The maturity she brings to her scenes is astounding. She’s by turns laugh-out-loud funny, radiantly charming, and brutally sad, and she balances every facet of this complex woman with a dexterity that I’ve rarely seen even in the most seasoned actresses. In order for this film to succeed, we have to believe that there is something inherently lovable in these two characters, and we have to see them recognize that something in each other. Cooper and Lawrence are resoundingly successful at achieving both of those aims.

Scene Stealer: Robert De Niro shines at Pat Solitano Sr., a man plagued by his own demons but trying his best to help the son he clearly loves. De Niro gives a warmth to this character that adds another layer of authenticity to the film. Pat Sr. is a complex bundle of neuroses, anger issues, and helplessness in the face of his son’s bipolar disorder, and De Niro finds the humanity in that bundle and brings it to life with a captivatingly understated kind of power.

Bring the Tissues? If you aren’t made of stone, then the answer is a resounding yes. I found myself getting intensely choked up on many occasions throughout the film. I was especially moved by any scene in which Lawrence showed the cracks in Tiffany’s bristly exterior. And the beautiful release of emotions I felt at the conclusion of the movie was itself worth the price of the ticket.

Most Memorable Scene: I’m not sure it gets better than Lawrence going head-to-toe with De Niro as Tiffany rattles off all of the Philly sports victories that have occurred since she and Pat started spending time together. That scene is only made better by watching Pat’s face as it starts to dawn on him just how special this woman really is.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Goes to the Movies: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Title: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

Rating: PG-13

Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan/Cullen), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Mackenzie Foy (Renesmee Cullen), Peter Facinelli (Carlisle Cullen), Elizabeth Reaser (Esme Cullen), Nikki Reed (Rosalie Hale), Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Hale), Ashley Greene (Alice Cullen), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan), Michael Sheen (Aro)

Director: Bill Condon

The Basics: Based on the second half of the fourth and final volume in Stephenie Meyer’s worldwide literary phenomenon, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, with Bella awakening to a life as a newborn vampire after the birth of her daughter, Renesmee. This half-human, half-vampire child draws the attention of the dangerous Volturi, who plan to attack the Cullens as punishment for creating what they believe to be a dangerous “immortal child” (aka child vampire). While some aspects of this film are stronger than any of the others in the series (Bella’s character most of all), the failure of the much-hyped “twist” proves that the inherent weaknesses of the source material are too much to overcome, except in the eyes of the most ardent fans, who will be especially drawn to the surprisingly emotional ending.

M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Kristen Stewart has never looked better than she did in this film, and I mean that as both a beautiful young woman and an actress. There’s a strength in her performance that was largely missing from the other four films. It seems that giving Bella a purpose and plot beyond Edward and Jacob also gave Stewart purpose in her performance. The smiles feel more genuine, the passion feels less forced, and the happiness Bella feels in her new life is palpable. The maturity she gives to Bella this time around really surprised me; I especially liked the depth of chemistry between Stewart and Pattinson this time around. There is a warmth between them that feels more interesting than the obsessive, heavy-breathing “passion” that used to pass for their relationship, and a lot of that credit should go to Stewart, who I always saw as the one dragging that onscreen relationship down in previous installments. That warmth extended to her chemistry with Foy as well; I was downright shocked at how good Stewart is at playing a mother. This film was the first and only chance for Bella to show her strength as a character, and Stewart proved herself more than ready for the task.

Scene Stealer: Billy Burke has always been the scene-stealer extraordinaire in this series, and this was no exception. His dry humor, believable warmth, and undercurrent of genuine emotion have made Charlie Swan one of the most memorable and lovable characters in the Twilight movies. All of those wonderful elements are present in his performance once again, and though his time onscreen is short, Burke makes the most of it, creating some of the most humorous and poignant moments in the entire film.

Bring the Tissues? The best way to answer that question is to answer this one: Are you a fan of the series or have you ever been a fan of it (even on just a “guilty pleasure” level)? If the answer is no, then I think you can skip packing the Kleenex. But if the answer is yes, then you’ll definitely find yourself getting at least a little misty-eyed. Even as someone whose relationship with this series has soured over time, I found myself wiping my eyes by the end.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? I honestly don’t know the answer to that question this time around. Our theater was full and the people in our row were in a hurry to leave, so I only stayed until about halfway through the credits. However, you should definitely stay for at least the beginning of the credits to see a very nice (and very comprehensive) tribute to all of the actors who’ve appeared in the films throughout this series.

Most Memorable Scene: I know most people will probably answer this with “the fight scene,” but I have too many conflicting feelings about that sequence to single it out in this review. For me, the scene with the most lasting impact—the one I’m still thinking about hours later—is the ending. As Bella lets Edward read her thoughts for the first time, we see flashbacks to the most pivotal moments in their relationship throughout all five films. The way the series is wrapped up in this final scene between Edward and Bella struck a very moving and nostalgic chord with me. (I’m also a sucker for Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years,” which was used to beautiful effect in this scene.) Then, the film concludes with a shot of the final page of the novel, which I found a very nice nod to fans that have been with the series since the books were published. I applaud the writers, Condon, Stewart, and Pattinson for creating such a fitting and surprisingly affecting conclusion to the series.

Continue reading