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Discussing 'Much Ado About Nothing' with Joss Whedon and Cast


Much Ado About Nothing Director Joss Whedon with Amy Acker

As a fan of writer and director Joss Whedon (pictured above on set) and his recurring ensemble of talented actors including Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg, I was intrigued to hear about Whedon's thematic version of a classic Shakespeare comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. I saw this darkly humorous film at SXSW this year (Don's review) and participated in a roundtable discussion with director Whedon and several members of the cast -- Denisof, Fillion and Gregg. The movie is now in theatrical release and will open in Austin on Friday.

Whedon successfully delivers a dark and humorous portrayal of lovers at odds due to misunderstandings of their own making as well as from outside forces. I strongly agree with Don's observation that "with its cast of stars from Whedon's hit films and shows, it may also introduce an entirely new audience to the wonders of Shakespearean theater."

Whedon's direction stays true to Shakespeare's language, with a modernization in the setting "princes" of industry within a house in Santa Monica designed by Kai Cole, Whedon's spouse. The use of windows and doorways to frame scenes as well as long tracking shots effectively keeps the audience engrossed within the story as well as if portrayed onstage. Whedon stated that he chose to film Much Ado About Nothing in black and white to capture both a comedy noir and "give it an elegance" that is more affordable than in color.

Austin Superhero Experts Check In on 'Man of Steel'


By Nico Chapin

In Bryan Singer's 2006 film Superman Returns, Lois Lane won a Pulitzer for an article entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." With Zack Snyder's reboot, Man of Steel, which opened last Friday, it becomes an interesting question. Since 2006, audiences have seen the Avengers assemble and the Dark Knight fall, then rise. They've watched the Spider-Man trilogy completed and then rebooted, and movies like Green Lantern fail to take flight. One then has to wonder: Is there any place left for the original superhero?

Certainly there's no denying his historical importance. Gesturing at walls lined with stacks of comics, Eric Burke, co-owner of South Austin's Tribe Comics and Games put it simply: "Without Superman, there wouldn't be any of this."

Yet it's been seven years now since the movie Superman Returns came out and by then, 19 years had passed since the dismal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Meanwhile, since DC rebooted their comic line in The New 52, Superman has seen its sales drop from 118,376 when it debuted in September 2011, to just 52,572 this past November, and Superman Returns maintains a mediocre 72 on the online score aggregate Metacritic.

Review: Man of Steel


Man of SteelAt long last the highly anticipated return of America's favorite (and first) superhero has arrived. Scripted by David S. Goyer from a concept he developed with Christopher Nolan, the movie Man of Steel is a retelling of Superman's origin story that draws familiar elements from a number of the comic's modern print storylines. Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) is no stranger to comic-book adaptations, but this is by far his best work and will prove to be the summer film to beat.

Henry Cavill dons the tights this time around, but not before a couple of steamy scenes showing off a physique that is nothing short of... well, super. Though Snyder's film is in many ways the strongest adaptation of the comic books, Cavill is the most realistic portrayal of Supes as a young man, torn with indecision, largely directionless, and unsure of his potential.  He still has the unerring moral compass, but his invulnerable skin can't protect his psyche from the emotional pain every time he is ridiculed for being different.  

And there is no question he is different. Rather than the perfectly anonymous Clark Kent that might have grown up in 1950s Smallville, the realistic take in Man of Steel shows there are some things just too difficult to hide completely. Everyone knows he's different, but nobody suspects the true story. His early years are played out in nostalgic, contemplative trips he takes down memory lane whenever he is knocked out. Snyder uses this technique to bookend his action sets and provide insight on Clark's mood.

Into this world pops Lois Lane (Amy Adams), likely the strongest example of female empowerment in all comic-book filmdom. Already a Pulitzer Prize winner, the character is an investigative reporter who will put herself in harm's way to get a good story. Finally, we have a Lois who is in character every bit as strong as Superman, a woman who knows the danger she faces and still volunteers for the mission, and who is pivotal in the outcome of the movie's plot. There should be some kind of award for Lois Lane in this movie. Adams is strong but never hard, capable but not forced to fight for recognition. She never has to trade on her looks to get what she wants, and there is never a hint that she would need to.

Review: The East


"The East" Movie Still

Yes, I agreed to cover the red carpet of The East, this year's SXSW closing-night film, for my campus radio station because I wanted to meet actor Alexander Skarsgard (Eric Northman on True Blood). And it's tempting to go on about my reaction to meeting Skarsgard briefly and shaking his hand and how I made him laugh, but I'll spare everyone the details. I wasn't so much there on the red carpet to profess my like for him as I was to watch The East, in which he plays Benji (yes, like the dog, and with his Jesus-like beard throughout much of the movie he doesn't look that different), the charismatic leader of the eponymous group out to give corporate America the finger through "jams" -- targeted eye-for-an-eye-style attacks on the people they feel are responsible for destroying the environment.

Corporate negligence aside, I'm one to believe that not one, two or even a handful of people are to blame for, say, pollution of a community's water source that may have caused or been a cause of a person's cancer diagnosis. Members of The East have complicated rationales for their crimes that contradict their actions, and much of the dialogue incorporates fallacies that would make even philosophy majors balk. But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

The East is actress/writer/producer Britt Marling's sophomore effort with writer-director Zal Batmanglij (whose brother is the keyboardist for the band Vampire Weekend). The duo previously collaborated on 2011's Sound of My Voice, which explored similar themes about Stockholm Syndrome and cults.

Review: Midnight's Children


Shahana Goswami and Ronit Roy in Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children is based on a novel by Salman Rushdie, who also narrated, wrote the screenplay and executive produced this film by Deepa Mehta. Canadian director Mehta is known for her emotional elements trilogy (Earth, Fire and Water) depicting the lives of women in her native India. This new film aspires to be epic in scope, and lacks the intimacy and depth of her earlier works.

The movie's title refers to the children who were born at the stroke of midnight on the date of partition in 1947, when Pakistan and India split. Because of their auspicious birthdate, these kids have powers which cannot be understood by others. The story is told by Saleem (played in the last hour by Satya Bhabha, New Girl) -- from the first meeting of his grandparents in 1917 Kashmir through India's 30th anniversary in 1977. 

Review: This Is The End


This Is The End Still PhotoIt's the end of the world as we know it, and at what more fitting location than a drug-and-booze-filled housewarming at James Franco's fortress in the Hollywood Hills would the damned be found? Based on their original short film, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, writers Jason Stone, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen expand on how Rogen and pal Jay Baruchel -- playing characters named Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel -- come to terms with one another during the Apocalypse in the bromantic comedy, This Is the End. Only this time, they are holed up and trying to survive on the last Milky Way and crackers with James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, while also dealing with the likes of Danny McBride and Emma Stone (all also playing "themselves").

You don't have to be a fan of these celebrities to enjoy this scary rollercoaster ride, but you do need a strong constitution for the explosions of profanity, nudity, gore and bodily fluids. With that said, I found This is the End to be a sidesplitting raunchy ensemble piece that draws strength from a cornucopia of humor ranging from immature to witty self-referential, as well as razor-sharp timing of physical jokes.

This Is the End begins with a simple premise -- in Los Angeles for a visit, Jay just wants to hang out with pal Seth at his place, playing games and smoking weed like old times. However, Seth insists on meeting up with his new group of pals including James, Jonah and Craig. Jay reluctantly goes to the party full of celebrities, which includes a coke-infused, butt-slapping Michael Cera, as well as Mindy Kaling, Emma Stone, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and many other familiar faces from the big screen and comedy stage.

Review: The Purge


The Purge posterProducers don't often become big figures in the public consciousness of moviegoers unless they are doing truly great things. Jason Blum is doing those great things. He is the man behind the Paranormal Activity franchise, Insidious, Sinister, Dark Skies -- pretty much any great (and original) horror film that's come out in the last few years, he's probably behind it.

The Purge is Blum's most recent movie. It's got an admittedly ridiculous premise, one that could justifiably be mocked and therefore dismissed. In a utopian and not too distant future, crime, unemployment and poverty are virtually wiped out in America due to an incredibly ambitious new law that allows for any and all crime to be legal for a period of 12 hours. This is called the annual purge, and it is a ritual that the entire country takes very seriously.

As with any government initiative, there are detractors and advocates. Some think the purge is a way to legally eliminate the poor since they cannot protect themselves. Most of the time, however, they actually take care of each other while the rich lie safely in their well equipped and armored homes. One such family is the Sandins. James (Ethan Hawke), Mary (Lena Headey) and their two kids, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane), live in a lavish house in a nice neighborhood. It's a gated community and the neighbors are neighborly if a little gossipy. The Sandins prepare for the purge like they always do, but as kids get older and question things, it's obvious that this night is not going to be like other annual purge nights.

The fascinating concept lends to mind the possibilities of so many scenarios -- not just a plain old home invasion, a completely unoriginal horror film subgenre. As tired as this plot is, though, The Purge makes this situation feel like a completely original concept as a whole. It goes places you don't expect, and there's never a dull moment, even in the first act . It's such a deep film, it fills in the gaps of the conflict that is the debate of whether or not an annual purge does any good.

What makes this movie pop is the amazing acting from Hawke and Headey. An even more important performance in the movie is the kind what makes horror films what they are. The faceless villain eventually has a face and although he isn't representative of the purge as a whole, his reasoning and need to kill makes you side with him (slightly). Plus he's incredibly creepy. That helps too.

Review: The Internship


The Internship Still Photo

Actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson pair up for the first time since their wildly successful 2005 movie, The Wedding Crashers, in The Internship, which opens in wide release today. The onscreen team that prefers to play by their own rules has gone from chasing skirts to competing for a coveted job at one of the largest tech vanguards, Google. What results is a fairly lighthearted comedy that attempts to transcend the transgenerational gap by including current pop-culture references alongside outdated ones from the 1980s. Rather than bridge that gap, these references provide an opportunity for The Internship to be appreciated by a broader audience.

The premise of The Internship is built on fairly simple principles: The digital age is no place for watch salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), with everyone dependent on their smartphones to check the time of day. When the boss (John Goodman) closes up shop without warning, the pair must find a way to start anew.

Nick reluctantly accepts a job at a mattress store owned by his brother-in-law (Will Ferrell in a cameo), but Billy has bigger dreams. Billy gets lucky when he discovers that Google is interviewing for their summer internship program. The pair are then on their way to Mountain View, California, to the Google campus where they are faced with job competitors half their age and exponentially more tech-savvy. They must collaborate with their team of misfit geeks if they want to win new jobs.

Review: The Kings of Summer


The Kings of Summer posterWe all remember those moments from our childhood when we wished we could run away from home. We didn't know what we would do, or how we would survive. We just knew we were smarter than our parents, and we had to get out. That thought is what drives the main characters in The Kings of Summer. The indie darling that delighted fans and critics at Sundance (when it was called Toy's House) opens in Austin theaters on Friday, and it offers lessons and laughs that could benefit and amuse both teenagers and parents.

Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) and Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso) are your average everyday high-school freshman. They have chores, are interested in girls and are extremely annoyed at their parents pretty much all the time. Joe's conflict stems from living with his father (the great Nick Offerman) in the wake of Joe's mother's untimely death. Occasionally, his sister Heather (Alison Brie) comes to visit, and Joe begs to leave with her. Joe and his dad are both very headstrong, and neither is willing to budge on their point of view.

Patrick is more submissive and obedient -- his issue is that his parents are just plain annoying. That feeling you used to get where you wished you could shrink yourself and not be seen every time your mom or dad said something embarrassing is evident on Patrick's face whenever his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are onscreen.

When the two friends have had enough, they decide to run away to the woods and build a home and live off the land with their strange new friend Biaggio (Moises Arias).

Where The Kings of Summer excels is ... pretty much every aspect of the film. Robinson as Joe perfectly embodies the broodiness of an angsty teenager who for all intents and purposes has grown up to be a good kid. He's clearly very mature for his age, and his dad just doesn't know how to handle it. Offerman is as hilarious here as his turn on TV's Parks and Recreation. As a chop-busting father, he's got some excellent one-liners from Chris Galletta's very well-written script.

Review: Frances Ha


Frances Ha

The trope of Two Girls Together in New York is one that permeates both juvenile literature and grown-up pop culture. Watching Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in Frances Ha, however, I didn't initially think about the dramatic and sometimes grim looks at women in the city -- everything from Valley of the Dolls to Sex in the City to recently, Girls.

No, what the two twentysomething friends reminded me of was classic young-adult-lit characters like Betsy and Tacy, teenagers dreaming about moving to New York and living together after their trip around the world. Or Daisy Fay and her friend Pickle imagining their cosmopolitan future in Manhattan. Young female friendships that inspire dreams of the future that include those friends.

Somehow Frances and Sophie call to mind these characters, if they'd grown up and actually made it to New York together as they planned. The two women in their twenties share a tiny apartment while Frances tries to land a spot in a dance company and Sophie starts to make her way up the publishing ladder. They're downright cute together -- a banjo soundtrack accompanies their antics around town, oddly reminiscent of Girl Walk // All Day in sight if not sound.

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