Alistair Harkness reviews the latest cinema releases
Much Ado About Nothing (12A)
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion
* * * *
SHOT in black-and-white during a two-week break from Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon’s contemporary take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is a nifty, accessible adaptation, boasting lively performances from Whedon’s loose repertory company of actors that have worked with him on various film and TV projects him over the years. Particularly good in this respect is Amy Acker (last seen in the Whedon-produced Cabin in the Woods). She plays the emotionally cautious Beatrice, whose disdain for the verbally incontinent Benedict (Angel star Alexis Denisof) becomes the source of most of the film’s gentle laughs, particularly as each tries to deny their amorous feelings for the other. Whedon doesn’t waste a lot of time coming up with an elaborate modern-day concept to sell us on the play’s contemporary relevance; he’s domesticated it (even shooting it in his own home), which is enough to make its themes work. As for the language, while it does take a little time to acclimatise to its rhythms, the way characters volley dialogue back-and-forth is reminiscent of the hyper-literate, pop-culture-savvy interplay found in much of Whedon’s work. It’s a refreshing approach. Where most contemporary updates of Shakespeare tend to focus on the heavier side of the Bard’s work, this one unashamedly makes it fun.
Paradise: Love (18)
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Starring: Margarete Tiesel, Peter Kazungu, Inge Maux
* * * *
NEVER one to shy away from controversy, director Ulrich Seidl’s first film in an ironically titled trilogy exploring the pitiful, soul-deadened state of his fellow Austrians is pure provocation. Paradise: Love (the next instalments are entitled Faith and Hope) explores the world of middle-aged female sex tourism by homing in on the divorced, unappreciated women who decamp to a Kenyan resort to bask in the attentions of the pseudo gigolos surreptitiously plying their trade under the auspices of selling trinkets and knock-off handbags. Casually racist and given to horrific outbursts as they survey their potential African suitors, the women’s behaviour goes from bad to worse as the tricky issue of money enters into the equation and deluded notions of finding affection evaporate. As with previous Seidl films Dog Days and Import/Export, any points he’s making about the exploitative nature of his characters are complicated by the humiliating things he’s asking his actors to do – usually in long and uncomfortable scenes. Margarete Teisel bears the brunt as the film’s divorced 50-year-old protagonist Teresa whose initial refusal to fully accept the transaction-based nature of this despicable scenario makes it even more tragic and horrifically compelling.
Summer in February (15)
Directed by: Christopher Menual
Starring: Dominic Cooper, Dan Stevens, Emily Browning,
THE painter Alfred James “AJ” Munnings is best remembered these days for his vitriolic attack on Modernism while president of the Royal Academy of Art – an inebriated outburst that effectively ended his career and forever cast him as an out-of-touch reactionary who liked to paint horses. Quite why he warrants a film about his early life is therefore hard to fathom, particularly one that attempts to present him as a maverick outsider, prone to quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at length and standing up to the establishment when the truth is the art he’s producing is banal and sentimental and hardly worthy of the respect the characters frequently accord him. Then again, Summer in February (which has been adapted by Jonathan Smith from his novel of the same name) is more interested in the love triangle that emerged between Munnings (played by Dominic Cooper), his first wife Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning) and his best friend Gilbert, an Army major played with stiff-upper-lipped fortitude by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens. Alas, set against the backdrop of a Cornish artists’ colony on the eve of the First World War, the film is so unconvincing in its depiction of the tragic Florence’s romantic travails, it’s hard to care about any of this sub-soapy nonsense.
Stuck in Love (15)
Directed by: Josh Boone
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connolly, Lily Collins, Logan Lerman
STUCK in Love is the worst kind of middlebrow American filmmaking. Like the similarly themed Smart People and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it’s the sort of movie that lazily equates writers with sophistication then proceeds to smugly deliver sermons about the value of the written word, all the while pandering to every movie cliché in the book, right down to quoting a famous author’s work (Raymond Carver’s in this case) instead of actually crafting profound lines for its own supposed literary genius characters to espouse. Greg Kinnear plays one such man of letters, a successful literary novelist still pining for the ex-wife (Jennifer Connolly) who left him three years earlier. Their split has created a rift among his children. His precocious, about-to-be-published daughter (Lily Collins) refuses to talk to her mother and is working her anger out instead via a series of meaningless sexual encounters with random guys in her school. His nerdy, Stephen King-idolising son has gone the opposite way: writing bad poetry to get the girl he worships from afar to notice him. Predictable reversals and overwrought melodrama duly ensue as these supposed chroniclers of the human condition spend an age getting to grips with personal dilemmas a child could figure out.
Directed by: Paul Weitz
Starring: Tina Fey, Paul Rudd, Wallace Shawn,
ARE movies anything more than time-passing bill-payers for TV stars these days? After seven seasons fronting her wonderfully witty, boundary-pushing network TV show 30 Rock, Tina Fey is reduced to playing the one-note, highly strung, work-obsessed professional in a flatlining romcom that can’t even get the basics right.
Cast as a college admissions officer, Fey goes through the motions as her character Portia’s rigid lifestyle is turned upside down after running into an old friend (Paul Rudd). His job as a teacher at an “alternative” school brings her into contact with a bright kid called Jeremiah whom she becomes convinced might be the son she gave up for adoption when she was a student.
This unlikely conceit is really just a catalyst for Portia to start bending the rules to guarantee her offspring a place at an Ivy League university, a fairly rubbish plot kicker for a comedy, which may be why director Paul Weitz – never a particularly toothsome director – dials down the gags even further in a misconceived bid to up the dramatic stakes. This is the last thing fans of Fey will want to pay to see.