You don’t have to be a Shakespeare buff to enjoy Joss Whedon's modern adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Filmed at Whedon’s house in only 12 days with a cast of his friends from various past projects, the movie stays true to the playwright's comedy, but places his prose in a more relatable setting. Unlike another Shakespeare adaptation that keeps the original language but uses a modern setting, Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, Whedon's black-and-white interpretation is more casual and subtle.
Although the dialogue may be a bit hard to follow for those who aren't familiar with the play, the actors deliver their lines in such a way that makes their intent clear. You can understand when they are teasing, when they are fighting, and when they are being sarcastic (and there is a lot of sarcasm). They aren't giving dramatic performances on a stage; they are having normal conversations with each other that just happen to be spoken in flowery language.
As it turns out, many of today's romantic comedy tropes are found in the 400-year-old text. Full-of-himself playboy Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and independent, quick-witted Beatrice (Amy Acker) despise each other and are constantly bickering. Even if you haven’t read the play, I think you can guess what happens between them. The plot also includes a called-off wedding between Beatrice's cousin Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). Of course, there are elements of the story that wouldn't make sense in contemporary society, like Hero faking her death due to some big blow-up that arose because she might not be a virgin. But while there isn't always a happy ending in Shakespeare, for this rom-com, it's basically a given.
Much of the cast was already quite familiar with Shakespeare, because Whedon has hosted many readings of his plays over the years (one of which inspired this version of Much Ado). It's as though the audience was invited to one of Whedon's get-togethers... only there are also trapeze artists there for some reason. For Whedon fanatics, it's fun to see who the director rounded up to star in the film. (Look, it's Wesley! And Mal! And Agent Coulson!) Denisof and Acker pull off some physical comedy as they eavesdrop on conversations about each other, and Nathan Fillion is great in a small part as police officer Dogberry. It's obvious that the cast, as well as Whedon, have a sincere appreciation for Shakespeare's original work, but also had a fun time giving it their own twist.
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Fun Size may be the only production from kid-centric studio Nickelodeon to also feature underage drinking (complete with red solo cups) and boob groping. The murky demographic for the movie ends up hurting the well-intentioned Halloween flick — it's not quite suitable for the young ones nor is it funny or wild enough for the Gossip Girl crowd which director Josh Schwartz (creator of the show) knows well. Instead we get a floundering trick or treat adventure that reduces the colorful twisted holiday to a meandering situational comedy.
Nick TV grad Victoria Justice (Victorious) stars as Wren a high school "geek" who finds herself unable to bag the guy of her dreams (who adores her) but finds a glimmer of hope in the big cool kids' Halloween party. Ready for a night out with her best friend April (Jane Levy) Wren thinks life is finally going her way until her Mom (Chelsea Handler) sticks her with her troublemaking little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll) for the night. If chaperoning Albert wasn't already the worst thing in the world Wren finds herself in an even bigger dilemma when her brother wanders off into his own night of mischievous debauchery.
The "one crazy night" formula fits perfectly with Halloween but Fun Size struggles to find interesting material for its eclectic ensemble. Unlike many of the young actresses who have previously collaborated with Schwartz Justice seems unable to crack his voice and comedic style. She's too hip to too aware to play someone struggling with high school. The material doesn't serve her or Levy either; off-color jokes and a bizarre sense of entitlement turn them into two people you don't want to see succeed. Luckily for the audience during their sweeping search for Albert Wren and April cross paths with two true nerd-looking boys: Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Peng (Osric Chau) who along with feeling like real teenagers actually land a joke or two.
Interwoven into this speedy adventure — Fun Size clocks in at a little over 75 minutes giving little time to flesh out our teenage heroes — is Albert's encounter with a convenience store clerk named Fuzzy. The adults of Fun Size see the ten-year-old Albert as a parter-in-crime rather than a lost little boy. Fuzzy recruits him for a raid on his ex-girlfriend's house; after running away he meets a lady who brings him to a nightclub. At one point a sleazebag kidnaps Albert and locks him in his bedroom. If Fun Size were madcap it may all make sense. Instead things just happen — and it's not hilarious scary or even deranged.
Nick's '90s sitcom Pete & Pete created an amazing sense of weirdness and heart in its exploits of two teenage brothers. Anyone could watch and enjoy it. Fun Size has a beautiful look (the colors of Halloween are mesmerizing) and Schwartz as always has impeccable soundtrack tastes but when it comes to telling a story that feels both relatable and wonderfully weird — what Pete & Pete did so well — the movie falls flat. It's stereotype humor (the movie packs many a fat and gay joke) doesn't cut it — when paired to Nick's best efforts the movie lives up to the title: a bite-size portion of a bigger better cinematic sweet.
James Marsden of X-Men and Straw Dogs fame will be making an undoubtedly awesome guest appearance on the wonder that is 30 Rock. Tina Fey's series may be a bit past its prime days, but it is still one of the funniest things on TV, and still not without hard-hitting episodes. Marsden is on board for a six-episode arc during 30 Rock's upcoming sixth season. Such a lengthy stay for a guest star indicates that his character will be pretty significant. Perhaps he'll play a love interest (ill-fated, of course) for Liz Lemon? A potential replacement for Jack Donaghy as he begins to focus his time more on raising his daughter? Or someone from Kenneth's mysterious past. Any of these would be fine. 30 Rock will return to NBC as a mid-season replacement in 2012. -THR
New Girl has a very interesting philosophy to wrangle in viewers—get awesome people to be in it. It's kind of unorthodox, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Joining the must-be-hiding-a-dark-secret-because-NO-one-can-be-that-likeable star Zooey Deschanel is Party Down's super-snarker Lizzy Caplan. The mighty Caplan will enjoy a three-episode arc on New Girl as a cool, intelligent academic who wins the affections of Nick (Jake Johnson). New Girl airs Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Fox. -TVLine
ABC's sinfully underappreciated six-friends-with-nothing-to-do comedy Happy Endings will be roping in a guest actress to play an ex-girlfriend to one of the central characters. It's not Brad, not Dave, not even Jane (who made mention of an extensive "experimental phase in college" last week). It's actually Max (Adam Pally), who fans of the series know is gay. We've gotten enough glimpses into Max's past to know that he didn't completely come to terms with his sexuality until some time in or shortly after college, so it makes sense that his high school days might have involved a girlfriend or two. Playing Max's ex will be Riki Lindhome (Gilmore Girls, Million Dollar Baby). Happy Endings airs Wednesday nights at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC. -Vulture
Better With You was a romantic comedy series on ABC that ran for one season, terminating in May of 2011. The series starred JoAnna Garcia, and was created by Shana Goldberg-Meehan. ABC is in talks with the duo for another project: a series (again, starring Garcia and created by Goldberg-Meehan) about a newly married woman who moves in with her husband and his family. The network has agreed to produce the pilot, which, like Better With You, will be a multiple camera-style sitcom. JoAnna Garcia has had a pretty hefty sum of success in television acting: she might be best remembered for her roles on Reba and Party of Five, but two of her most awesome exploits were with Freaks and Geeks and Are You Afraid of the Dark? Goldberg-Meehan worked as a writer and producer for Friends and its spinoff Joey. -Deadline
Yet another in a continuing line of dismal Dane Cook so-called romantic comedies (Good Luck Chuck Employee of the Month) My Best Friend's Girl can’t seem to decide exactly what kind of movie it wants to be landing somewhere between gross-out humor and silly relationship dreck. Tank (Cook) is a moronic commitment-free sex-addicted loser who offers up his services to guys in need of keeping their girlfriends from jumping ship. The solution? One date revolving around Tank’s intentionally repulsive antics and they will come running back no questions asked. So when his roommate and best friend the love-struck Dustin (Jason Biggs) finds his new girlfriend Alexis (Kate Hudson) isn’t ready to marry him after just one month he turns to Tank to work his disgusting mojo on her. But it backfires when Alexis turns into a drunken sex-starved slut on their first outing to a strip bar thoroughly impressing Tank. The complications pile up as the mismatched pair fall in love and Tank begins second guessing the new relationship he has created behind his buddy’s back. Cook has now been down this road so many times it feels like yesterday’s warmed-up oatmeal. There’s no doubt he’s got comic talent and even a kind of oddball leading man appeal--but over and over he is asked to play the same garish guy an expletive hurling sex machine with no sense of social decorum manners or even common sense. He’s the poster boy for beer guzzling dunderheads who want jump into bed with no questions asked. He has a moment at the end of Best Friend's Girl in which he finally get the laughs but a little too late. Hudson is also apparently determined to take any script that comes her way floundering helplessly as the sexually confused Alexis who can’t seem to decide what she wants in a relationship: the good boy or the bad. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to have any chemistry with Biggs--or for that matter Cook. All they do is shout at each other repeatedly using some form of the word “asshole” over and over. Biggs as the third wheel just doesn’t have anywhere to go with this role basically serving as an annoying plot device to get the two leads together. The only one who survives with any dignity is Alec Baldwin as Tank’s unapologetic womanizing father who offers up advice to his son that is blissfully politically incorrect. Sure Baldwin can do this kind of thing in his sleep but he does it with style even if wasted on this sorry enterprise. Eighties teen movie veteran Howard Deutch (Pretty In Pink) finds his career literally in the tank (pun intended) trying to unearth a romantic comedy from material that just doesn’t give him much to work with. Deutch is so divorced from the concept that it looks like he just turned the cameras on and let his stars improvise for the most undemanding moviegoers imaginable (even though there is a credited script supposedly written by Jordan Cahan). To top everything off he shoots most of it in unattractive poorly lit close-ups that do no favors for anyone particularly the usually bright and fetching Hudson. This looks like one of those movies in which everyone is having such a good time on the set they forgot to let the audience in on all the “fun.”
Even if you’re one of the 19 other people in a competitive internship at Dean Witter with Chris Gardner (Will Smith) you gotta root for the guy. Life’s beaten him up but not got him down. He lugs his computer-monitor-sized bone density scanner all over San Francisco hoping to sell just one to make ends meet for his family—but nobody’s buying. As his wife’s (Thandie Newton) discontentment nears a boiling point Chris accepts an internship at financial institution Dean Witter—six months without pay and only one of the 20 applicants will ultimately get a job out of it. This sends her packing. She leaves Chris and their son Christopher (Jaden Smith) to fend for themselves at which point they get evicted. It’s the tip of the iceberg because over the course of Chris’ penniless pursuit of the Dean Witter job (and “happyness”) he and Christopher will get by sleeping in homeless shelter--and even in train-station bathrooms. Chris had always vowed to never leave his son and he keeps his promise but there’s no guarantee that his perseverance will pay off. Except for the fact that Happyness is “INSPIRED BY A TRUE STORY”! Will Smith is getting all the awards buzz but it’s his real-life son Jaden who transcends all expectations in Happyness. Jaden’s never acted in a movie before and it’s safe to assume that because of his father's long-running movie stardom he could not have grown up in a more different environment than that of his character. Which makes it all the more amazing for this 8-year-old Hollywood tyke to grasp even if coincidentally the plight of a nomadic urban child. The best part about little Jaden is that his performance doesn’t seem robotic like so many child actors who are already too "seasoned" for their own good. Aside from the expected cutesy laughs there’s genuine spontaneity in Jaden’s performance obviously thanks to the fact that he’s acting opposite his dad. Papa Smith gives what’s probably his best performance to date although he's had a career of primarily action roles that weren't exactly conducive to a skills showcase. He delivers the goods here—as seen in the tear-rific trailer—as a man whose whole life is his child but frankly the tears evoked might be too few for Oscar’s liking. Newton (Crash) in a small role is terribly miscast but Mr. and Mr. Smith dominate the screen anyway. Even with the studio flaunting the movie’s "Inspired by a true story..." tagline like a badge of honor—as studios tend to do—and this being the holiday season and all Italian director Gabriele Muccino expends way too much effort into the crowd-pleasing/feel-good aspects of Happyness. The happy ending everyone already knows about should be saccharine enough. Granted this is why a studio loves true stories—one that begins on a low note ends on a really high note and fluctuates all over the radar in between—and it may make the film more pleasing to its targeted mainstream audiences but Muccino and writer Steve Conrad (The Weather Man) really take the gloss factor much too far. In this case they essentially try to tell us a mostly sad story but will not let us feel sad. For instance during what could be very dark reflective scenes potentially connecting with viewers who have struggled through similar problems music befitting a children’s tale overtakes the would-be drama so we don’t ever feel too badly for Chris. It’s nice that the director cares so much for us but oftentimes the best directors are the ones who show an audience tough love.
Two cops arrive at an abandoned house where they've heard screaming. They find a woman hunched over and her eyes are plucked out. A seven-foot monster Jacob Goodnight (Kane) then hacks one of the officers in half and cuts the other officer's arm off--but not before he shoots the maniac in the head. That officer Frank Williams (Steve Vidler) recuperates and four years later is assigned to a youth detention program. His first job is to escort some delinquents to an abandoned Blackwell Hotel where a little old historian Margaret (Cecilly Polson) needs volunteers to help her tidy up. Instead one by one the young people become part of the eyeball collection of the psycho who was traumatized by an over-religious mother. Aren’t we all? Yes there is acting in this including from the World Wrestling Entertainment bad-boy Kane who could develop a Freddy Krueger-like franchise as this homicidal religious freak. He grunts and huffs but also sobs and shows a conscience at crucial times. And he's scary not laughable which is always a danger in these kind of films. With what little they have to play off of the supporting team is good especially Craig Horner as an ambitious thief who has maps of all the secret corridors in the hotel. Among the delinquents are streetwise Christine (Christina Vidal) an a--hole bully Michael (Luke Pegler) a tattooed beauty Kira (Samantha Noble) and a seductive shoplifter Zoe (Rachael Taylor). Taylor’s Paris Hilton-like persona makes her one of the victims you can't wait to see get it. Some of the others hardly last long enough worth mentioning even though many of them have characters that are surprisingly fleshed-out before they become popped-out eye candy. See No Evil offers plenty of jump moments squirming gross-out scenes and hide-your-eyes shocks with a plot reminiscent of any of the Friday the 13th or Saw movies. Some of the gore is particularly gruesome and if you don't know what an eyeball looks like when it pops out of your head then you'll certainly have an anatomy lesson here. First-time feature director Gregory Dark known for making music videos utilizes those fast-cut edits muted colors and washed-out tones to create the horror. The camera closes in on bugs flies and even dives into the eye socket of a hollowed-out face. It follows a line of booby-traps in the hotel a jiggling arm that's cut off and even into a hole in the psycho-monster's head which is filled with maggots. Dark is never shy about any of it and gore fans won't be disappointed.
P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan follows J.M. Barrie's story almost to the letter. A girl on the brink of womanhood Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) loves telling her brothers John (Harry Newell) and Michael (Freddie Popplewell) stories of dastardly pirates as they sit in their nursery under the watchful eye of their St. Bernard Nana. Her 19th-century Londoner parents however believe the time has come for the young girl to grow up especially her father. Then a cheeky wild-haired boy named Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) flies through the nursery window one night with his trusted yet jealousy-prone fairy Tinkerbell (Ludivine Sagnier) telling Wendy he can take her to a place full of adventure where no one ever has to grow up. She readily accepts the offer and with a few happy thoughts some fairy dust and her two brothers in tow she flies off to Neverland. (Not the ranch…the real place.) Once there Wendy encounters mermaids Indians and the Lost Boys (who refer to her as "mother") and gets the whole pirate experience in Peter's ongoing feud with arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs). But Wendy soon becomes conflicted because on the one hand she likes hangin' with hottie Peter but on the other she misses her mother. She decides it's probably best to go back and grow up but in her hurry to leave she ends up in Hook's clutches. A rescue ensues. Swords clash ticking crocodiles are fed and fairies are saved as our clever fly boy zooms Wendy and company back to London on a giant pirate ship. But does he stay and grow up himself? Hell no he's a Toys 'R Us kid forever!
All the kid actors in Peter Pan are highly watchable and appealing with angelic faces peaches-and-cream complexions and pouty cherry lips. This is the first time Peter is being played by a real-life boy a fact much hyped by the filmmakers and 12-year-old Sumpter (Frailty) does his best to live up to the expectations. (He's soon to be swoon-worthy material for sure.) He's got a mischievous gleam in his eye and a great sly smile but he really lights up when he's looking into Wendy's adorable face. Hurd-Wood the first-time actress who plays the spirited girl earned her role after a long and involved casting process it's well deserved; she fits the typical English-girl profile perfectly and gets the hang of her craft quickly infusing the character with a natural cheerful energy. It's also refreshing to see the young actors play up Wendy and Peter's feelings of first love which prior films always hinted at but never fully realized. Isaacs in a dual role as the firm-but-loving Mr. Darling and the frightening comical lonely charming needy reprehensible Captain Hook draws on his experience at playing exquisitely awful baddies (The Patriot Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and really sinks his claws into Hook. In a stand out supporting role French actress Sagnier (Swimming Pool) is really fantastic as the vivacious non-speaking Tinkerbell portraying the fairy's conflicted emotions with a silent-film over-the-top technique.
Director/writer P.J. Hogan (My Best Friend's Wedding) and his team try to distinguish their film from the other Peter Pans of the world by using all the technical and special effects wizardry at their disposal. Hogan says his Peter Pan is the way its author Barrie intended to be when he wrote it as a play over a 100 years ago--full of fantasy and wonder. In a way he's right and production designer Roger Ford and visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar take his vision and run with it giving audiences a very lush Neverland with waterfalls fluffy pink clouds crystal-blue waters and a gorgeous fairy world. But despite the bells and whistles there really isn't anything original and different in this Pan. Even its look at the dark side of Neverland has been done in Steven Spielberg's 1991 semi-sequel Hook which showed the dangers of Neverland. In this version lives really are at stake and the pirates are not cute and fun. Even the mermaids are mysterious and malevolent with scary faces and murderous intentions a far cry from the beautiful if somewhat mean-spirited creatures of the 1953 classic Disney animated adaptation another inescapable influence on the audience. When the crocodile draws near for example tick-tocking away the croc's signature tune from the Disney film comes immediately to mind. People may love those Disney films for those cutesy catchy songs but Peter Pan really is a good story. Heck it's a great story. But it's just been done.