It’s a rather packed week of releases, a few of which I’ve even seen, with Shakespeare, space, Loch Ness Monsters, the devil, Las Vegas, more space, tiny people, and stop-motion animation. And probably some other stuff too. Eclectic be The Shelf we have.
In between shooting and editing his monster hit The Avengers — you probably heard of it — Joss Whedon took the time that had been allotted for an anniversary vacation with his wife, got some friends and other people together at his house, and shot an adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies. He’s a crazy person, yes, but a very talented and awe-inspiring crazy person. His version of Much Ado About Nothing is one of the coolest and classiest versions of the Bard’s plays. Kenneth Branagh did a very lavish, period-set version in the ’90s, and it’s very good because he’s very good, but Whedon’s take on it is stripped down, funny, touching, weird, and in every way speaks to the way the man is with his television projects.
It tells the story of Benedick (Alesis Denisof), a soldier (in this, presented more as maybe a federal agent) who travels to his friend Leonato (Clark Gregg)’s house after the war. Leonato’s niece, Beatrice (Amy Acker), once had an affair with Benedick that ended abruptly and the two seem to actively despise one another. All this while, Claudio (Fran Kranz) has fallen in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese) and plans to marry. However, the dastardly fiend Don John (Sean Maher) plans to ruin things, because he’s a villain mostly. Skullduggery and misunderstanding come into play, as is very common with Shakespeare, and, seeing as it’s a comedy, everything ends up pretty well.
Everyone does a great job, but I’m going to single out Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, the head of Leonato’s guard, and Tom Lenk as Verges, his second in command. The two of them are the comic relief, along with the other guards, and are the Keystone-iest of cops. Their parts are very small and sort of only there to mess things up, but they all play their parts with huge amounts of aplomb, plus it’s always traditionally funny for a big guy to play Dogberry and a not-big guy to play Verges and it remains so here.
If you’re a fan of Whedon, Shakespeare, or just good movies, you’ll very likely enjoy Much Ado About Nothing. Yes, it’s done in traditional Shakespearean speech, but good actors totally convey the meaning behind the poetry. So watch it already. To read our interviews with Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion, and Clark Gregg, click on their highlighted names. That’s why they’re highlighted.
With Gravity raking it in over the weekend, it seems there’s an audience for well done science fiction that doesn’t rely on science at all. I mean, I love Star Wars as much as, if not more than, most people, but there’s never an attempt to explain how anything works, because it couldn’t. In Gravity, it’s all very much based in “reality,” though not if you listen to Neil Degrasse Tyson. It’s this same kind of real-though-heightened world of science that houses Sebastian Cordero’s Europa Report, a fictionalized account of the first manned mission to Jupiter’s fourth smallest moon. Though ostensibly utilizing the overused found-footage style, the filmmakers are able to inject tension, pathos, fear, wonderment, and ultimately discovery into what is superficially a very small and inexpensive film.
The movie shows us the mission log of the six-person crew from Earth to Europa and the hardships and struggles they encounter on the way. The whole mission (and hence the whole film) is being recorded on a series of tiny cameras set up throughout the ship to send back to Earth and there are personal logs as well from the crew members, who each have their own specialty. Their objective is to see if there is any evidence of life under the layer of ice that sits atop Europa’s surface. This is based on a real scientific theory about what kinds of microorganisms could be existing under the warmest (but still unimaginably cold) portion of the ice layer. Getting there to check might be the hardest part.
In the tradition of movies like 2001, Sunshine, and now Gravity, Europa Report is sci-fi done without laser beams, massive alien ships, or snappy action one-liners. It’s about the human spirit, the thirst for knowledge and the all-but-forgotten notion that man wants to see what else is out there in the universe.
For more on this film that I can’t speak highly enough about, read my interview with director Sebastian Cordero and co-star Karolina Wydra. It’s very fascinating.
The very final complete Doctor Who DVD in the range, “Terror of the Zygons” was held for last, because it’s one of the most popular of the bunch. The beginning story of the masterful Season 13, which was the pinnacle of the Tom Baker/Elisabeth Sladen years, it has the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, and Dr. Harry Sullivan (Ian Marter) returning to Earth to assist Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) with some highly strange goings on in the highlands of Scotland. Something is making oil rigs in the North Sea disappear completely, and there’s evidence that it has something to do with Loch Ness.
The monster that swims in the loch’s murky depths is real, but it’s controlled by an alien force, the Zygons, who are kidnapping members of the little Scottish town so they can imitate them. Anybody could be a Zygon in disguise, so no one is to be trusted. “Terror of the Zygons” is the very last regular appearance of Courtney, Marter, and John Levene as RSM Benton, and really spelled the end of the UNIT years, which had been such an enormous part of the Pertwee tenure. It’s written by Robert Banks Stewart and directed by Douglas Camfield, who did such a great job on this story, they were asked to team up again for the season’s last story, “The Seeds of Doom.” “Zygons” is really wonderful serial with excellent alien makeup and some cracking good cliffhangers. Definitely watch it if you have not.
No expense was spared in the extras department, either. This two-disc set features a director’s cut with a deleted scene, commentary, a making-of, a retrospective on director Camfield, the third and final part of the series of documentaries about “The UNIT Family,” some archival interviews with Tom Baker and Elisabeth Sladen, and a clip from an old TV show. Again, awesome. Pick it up. And, just for the sake of knowledge, the other “UNIT Family” documentaries are on “Inferno” and “Day of the Daleks.”
ALSO AVAILABLE IN MOVIES
The Hangover Part III – It’s the end of the Wolf Pack and of sanity itself.
After Earth– Remember kids: If you’re scared or show any emotion at all, the aliens can get you. To be safe, become an unfeeling robot person and everything will be fine.
The Purge – A very harrowing look at what will happen in a few years because people hate Obamacare.
Chucky: The Complete Collection – He wants to play, then he wants to kill, then he wants to impregnate a woman doll. It’s the oldest thing in the universe, man.
Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life: 30th Anniversary Edition – The Pythons’ final film tells the story of humanity from birth to death, with only a brief excursion in the middle for live organ transplants, wafer-thin mints, and a meal of philosophers.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – A single-release edition of the two-part DC/WB Animated movie, starring the voice of Peter Weller.
The Exorcist: 40th Anniversary – Fathers Karras and Merrin try to stop little Regan MacNeil from being possessed by a damn devil. She’s not nice when she’s possessed.
TV SHOWS AVAILABLE TO OWN
American Horror Story: Asylum – Never seen it, but James Cromwell and aliens are in it, so you’d think I would have.
The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset – This has nothing at all to do with the Marvel property; this is the British spy show from the ’60s, and this set features all the adventures of Patrick Macnee as the dashing John Steed and Diana Rigg as the capable, catsuit-clad Emma Peel.
Transformers Prime: Predacon Rising – The finale of Hub Network’s post-Bay Transformers cartoon. Very enjoyable.
Robot Chicken: Season 6 – The latest adventures of those mad puppet masters and their promise of making the funniest and shortest sketch comedy show on Earth. Way funnier than that 90-minute variety.
AND AVAILABLE DIGITALLY
Zero Charisma – The first film released by Nerdist and Tribeca Films is available now on iTunes! It’s the story of the gamemaster of a fantasy role playing game whose authority gets questioned when a new, cool player joins. It’s Taxi Driver for the gaming crowd.
The Conjuring – Scary
Monsters University – Wannabe Scary
Escape From Tomorrow – Weird