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My 12 for ’13: Much Ado About Nothing & The Joy of a Shakespearean Sex Comedy…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 10…

I feel a little sorry for Shakespeare. The guy wrote some of the most influential and iconic plays ever composed; invented countless turns of phrase and even words; became inexorable associated with theatre and stage work… and yet he’s still hated by just about every student forced to sift through Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet or Macbeth as part of their education. While Shakespeare is easy enough to read once you get a grip of it, or once you have enough experience, forcing kids to read those plays at school is one of the most effective ways to kill enthusiasm for the Bard.

The beauty of Shakespeare is that he isn’t just an “important” writer, that he isn’t just a key part of the evolution of world literature, a formative figure in the history of narrative. Not that any of those are minor accomplishments, mind you. The real beauty of Shakespeare is that he’s actually very good. Not with qualifications like “… for his time” or “… in context.” Shakespeare remains a great writer in the most fundamental “this is actually a pretty good story well told” sort of way.

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The best directors to adapt Shakespeare’s work to film realise this, and accept that Shakespeare is still a great storyteller; you just need to figure out how to translate his works properly to the screen, in the same way you’d translate a modern best-seller or a beloved cult comic book. Kenneth Branagh figured out how to do this, with his adaptations almost popping off the screen.

Much Ado About Nothing demonstrates that Joss Whedon has it pretty figured out as well.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D – Pilot (Review)

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a very competent production. It looks lavish. It connects the dots. It reminds the audience that it’s connected to a string of blockbuster movies without being pushy about it. It introduces a diverse ensemble. It sets up long-running mysteries and story arcs. It’s a tight and focused, and controlled piece of television.

Perhaps too controlled. There’s something oddly restrained and oddly refined about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., feeling a little smoother and a little more polished than a pilot really should. There’s not a hair out of place, but only because everything has been so meticulously styled. This isn’t a bad thing – the pilot plays remarkably well – but it just feels a bit limp, a bit lifeless.

It’s as if we’ve tuned into a Life Model Decoy of a Joss Whedon show.

Phil us in...

Phil us in…

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Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers – Avengers Assemble (Review/Retrospective)

To get ready for Iron Man 3, we’ll be taking a look at some Iron Man and Avengers stories, both modern and classic. We hope to do two or three a week throughout the month, so check back regularly for the latest update.

How do you cash in on the success of a big-budget blockbuster comic movie? Especially a film that has gone on to be the most successful film of 2012, and one of the most successful films of all time? It’s a tough question, and I’d like to imagine that Marvel thought long and hard about how to capitalise off the success of The Avengers. After all, comics are a medium that have been trying any number of desperate ploys to maintain sales and to attract fans over the past decade, so it would be stupid not to try to turn some of the cinema-goers into comic book fans. I made the transition, so it can’t be that tough.

Avengers Assemble, an eight-issue miniseries, seems to have been created as an answer to that question. Not only does it carry the name used by the film in several international markets, it uses the iconic roster from the film, tries to tell what appears to be a continuity-light tale and comes from a high-profile creative team. Unfortunately, these factors all feel rather cynical, rather than a genuine attempt to court new readers.

Hey, it's that guy, from that thing!

Hey, it’s that guy, from that thing!

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Joss Whedon at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013

This event was part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013. It was hosted after a screening of Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

It has been a pretty great year for great guests at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Robert Towne gave an interview and a workshop of screenwriting. Danny DeVito popped along to the Jameson Cult Film Club screening of L.A. Confidential. And Joss Whedon came to Dublin, with tickets to Much Ado About Nothing selling out so fast that they almost crashed the JDIFF servers. Whedon hung around afterwards for a rapid-fire questions-and-answers session, talking a bit about the film and his future plans, as well as his frequent artistic collaborators.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

Image from JDIFF twitter feed.

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Non-Review Review: Much Ado About Nothing

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has delightfully intimate roots. Apparently, the movie stems from occasions in various Whedon households where he would host “Shakespeare Sundays”, with friends and family reading through classic plays in a very cosy environment. Much Ado About Nothing represents an extension of that intimacy. It’s literally filmed in Whedon’s own home, using money saved for his and his wife’s twentieth anniversary. Whedon even wrote the music, and his extended family are heavily involved. Jed Whedon supervised the music and his sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen can be seen singing at points.

That’s the wonderful charm of Much Ado About Nothing, a movie that seems to have grown and developed out of a genuinely personal creative space, a project deeply personal and intimate to Whedon, filmed while he was editing one of the biggest movies of all time. In a way, Much Ado About Nothing feels like the most talented and highest quality student film ever produced.

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12 Movie Moments of 2012: Throwing the Toys Together (The Avengers)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #9

The Avengers had its share of problems – it was weirdly paced; the Hulk’s character arc seemed to come a bit out of left field; Loki had no real sense of motivation; the film effectively undermined the wonderful ending to Thor; it didn’t really deal with any of the questions raised by Nick Fury’s actions; and Disney insisted that we call it Marvel’s Avengers Assemble in this part of the world, in case my grandmother might show up and wonder where “the nice chap with the umbrella” had gone. However, it also had its strengths, and these strengths were rooted in the fact that director Joss Whedon was keen not overly intellectualise the premise or the characters, and accepted the glee of knocking all those iconic toys together.

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Carrying the Banner: Why Ed Norton Remains the Best Bruce Banner…

I had the pleasure of seeing The Avengers last week. It’s a solid film, and Whedon does a great job tying it all together. What Whedon does especially well is presenting us with a live-action version of the Hulk that really works. Whedon’s green goliath is treated like an actual character rather than a special effect or a plot point, and it looks absolutely incredible, appropriately enough. However, I can’t help but feel like the movie still struggles with the Bruce Banner aspect of the character, and that Mark Ruffalo isn’t a convincing replacement for Ed Norton, who was as perfect a fit for the rage-managing monster as Robert Downey Jr. was for the redeemable Tony Stark.

Distilled Banner?

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