Looking Back on the Best Films & Filmmakers of 2013 Thus Far

I’m not quite sure which cinematic hole of sand I have been burying my head under, but it appears that 2013 is already halfway behind us. And although many of the films which had their premieres at this year’s festivals that have been lauded as the best of the year have yet to be released, the movies that we have been enjoying in theaters since January proved pretty damn incredible. From Shane Carruth’s confounding metaphysical beauty Upstream Color and Harmony Korine’s Skittles-lit nightmare party Spring Breakers to Richard Linklater’s decade-spanning classic love story Before Midnight and Joss Whedon’s absolutely charming take on a Shakespearean tale Much Ado About Nothing, there was surely something for every cinematic appetite. So as we await the next six months of premieres, let’s take a look back on my picks for the best films of 2013 thus far, plus, read our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the picture. Enjoy.

 

1. Upstream Color, Shane Carruth

I love narrative and how it exists and why it exists and how it’s meant to be used. You can come up with a paragraph full of some truth, something that’s universal, some exploration, and it can be really informative, but it’s likely to not be that interesting. But you can spin a story, you can tell a narrative, and you can infuse it with this stuff, and if you’ve done your job right, you haven’t just captured somebody’s attention long enough to take them on this journey, you’ve also figured out something about the exploration through the act of the story because that’s what we key into. So I love narrative and I think that film is the height of narrative, and I don’t know what 100 years from now looks like, but from right now, to be able to communicate non-verbally but still explore, I don’t know what would be better than that. That’s what I love about it. It’s like you’re feeding right into the main line of how we experience things. READ ON

 

 

 

2. Simon Killer, Antonio Campos

We knew we wanted this very brash, loud soundtrack to the movie and it was part it from the beginning—it was always going to have these musical interludes following Simon. Then the score came about when we felt like the soundtrack needed a counterpoint—something more primal and stripped down, whereas the soundtrack was so spruced and poppy. Design-wise, we do this quite a bit: getting tones that capture something about the character. We tried to give those visual interludes a sound that was more of a frequency or a pulse. But it was all, again, a way to get closer or inside Simon’s mind without every directly saying it. READ ON

 

 

 

3. Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really a first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.

   

 

 

4. The East, Zal Batmanglij

We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when  ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. READ ON

 

 

 

5. Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine

I never try to do anything or speak to anything specifically; I never try to prove a point. But at the same time, it’s definitely of that world. It’s the idea of that world, that sort of post-everything. I wanted the filmmaking style to be very much of that. There was no real conscious referencing of other films, just more the idea: now things just live inside of me and of people and images and sound coming from all directions and falling from the sky. I wanted the film to never stop moving; I wanted it to be floating and falling and breaking apart and coming together and then smacking the shit out of you and then disappearing. And at the same time, there’s a world that’s created—the way things look and feel—that I want people to identify with that and say, "I’ve been to those places and have experienced those things." READ ON

 

 

 

6. Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon 

We were certainly not attempting something highbrow and sophisticated, this was not a reproduction of Elizabethan theater, and we’re not attempting to present poetry to people. We wanted to get under the skins of these charters, and bring them to life, and find a journey through these relationships, and bring a real contemporary authenticity to it, but still respecting the fact that this was written 400 plus years ago. Some of it is very poetic, but we wanted to let the audience find that poetry rather than present it to them. So it’s very conversational and we took a very relaxed approach with the language. I think the roots go back to the readings at Joss’ house where we would have fun with plays and you could do whatever you want and weren’t’ necessarily cast in a role that you would ever play—but who cares, it was a reading and a glass of wine. READ ON

 

 

 

7. Mud, Jeff Nichols

But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts." READ ON

 

 

 

8. Sun Don’t Shine, Amy Seimetz

Sometimes you get in situations where love seems like the most important thing, whether or not it’s hard and upsetting, and you suddenly feel like it needs to be solved right now. You’re stuck with this person or you want to figure it out with this person, and so the voiceover is another metaphor. I know they’re trapped in the car most of the time and they’re trapped it these situations where it’s just them, but its also like in love. There’s this idea that as long as you just don’t leave the bed or the bedroom that you guys are going to be totally fine, and then once you start thinking about society and introducing all of these other elements and these other people into the equation, it starts to unravel. READ ON

 

 

 

9. Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas

The early ’70s in France—the way I experienced them—were obsessed with politics, it invaded the whole space. There was very little left for anything else, even when you were a teenager or a kid there were questions about your place in the world. Of course it has to do with France because of the aftermath of May ’68; because that was a historical event, it was something that exploded like a bomb within the fabric of French society and it echoed profoundly. It was a failed revolution in many ways in the sense that it didn’t overthrow the government, there was no major change overnight, so it was perceived as a failure. But again, there was a sense that a successful revolution would be coming. And although that revolution never happened, the echo completely changed the values in French society. Kids are extremely sensitive to change, sensitive to what is happening in the present, they are like echo chambers. So yes, now it seems crazy looking back how focused we were on politics and how much we knew about politics. We really were extremely educated in Marxist theology and we knew about the social history of the 20th century. I don’t think it was good or bad but an interesting factor, and I don’t think anybody really ever made a movie that even remotely tried to capture that. READ ON

 

 

 

10. Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan

I do believe a relationship is a mix of the relationship you have with your parents and the relationship you have with your best friends. And for me, the way to have access to relatable truths is to base it on some of the closest relationships I had to my best girlfriends or best boyfriends, as well as the tenderness of a mother to her son. I think the goal of Laurence Anyways is to invite the audience in the story and because it’s so long and spans a decade, to make people feel like they’re part of that love story. So that’s why they’re introduced to so many things about these characters and their rituals and inside jokes. And then sometimes there are bigger cinematic manifestations of those rituals, as if it took such volume and importance and the life itself was acknowledging their love and granting them permission. READ ON

 

 

 

11. Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

I’m interested in how psychology becomes behavior. Takes Frances. What she accomplishes at the end of the movie, out of context, is relatively minor in that she takes a desk job and she finds an apartment. But in the context of the movie, it’s kind of heroic. And, to some degree, it’s always trying to find the context for these things, these little movements we make in life. Like the end of Greenberg, where he goes and picks her up at the hospital, this sort of little thing for these characters means a lot. I’m always thinking of those things as cinematic and big and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be.  READ ON

 

 

 

12. Leviathan, George P. Cosmatos

It’s sort of a 90-minute blow up of all the fear and trembling and beauty that we ourselves witnessed, but not in a narcissistic way. It’s an experience that we had and we shared but we also felt we shared with the fisherman, even though they had a much more long-standing experience than we’ll ever have. So I don’t think there’s an easy way of dissociating our experience from their experience but we didn’t ever have the presumption that we’d come up with some dispassionate portrait of their experience that was disassociated with ours at all. And I think we always constantly improvising and experimenting with technology and style and how can we do justice to this world.  It’s a world in which we had our experience, the fisherman’s experience, the fish’s experience and the—completely overwhelming acoustically as well as visually overwhelming—unremitting presence of the boat, the noise of the boat, you cannot get away from the boat. You’re out there in this sublime seascape, you’re in the middle of the Atlantic at night, and you suffer from agoraphobia in the unbelievably claustrophobic space of the this boat. So we wanted to bring into play— everything: the elements, the birds, the fish, all of the crustatians, and all of the death and blood. READ ON

 

 

 

13. Stoker, Park Chan-wook

Yes, absolutely. The fact that Stoker is a coming of age story about a young girl, it’s actually an extrapolation or a continuation of the themes I explored in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. Also, the fact that I have a daughter that’s exactly the same age as the protagonist, and as a father, that has to be a subject matter that sparked my interest in the first place. And because of this, I actually focused more on this aspect of coming of age and expanded it from what he had found originally in the script. But rather than to say that I was interested in sexual awakening itself, in this film India’s sexual awakening is very much linked to her violent urges and what this has to do with, you know this cathartic feeling of allowing yourself to be drawn to something that’s evil? That’s acutely true of those young girls and boys who are going through their teenage years and he wanted to depict and describe the kind of chaotic state that you go through. READ ON

 

 

 

14.  Room 237, Rodney Ascher

It’s one of the big questions of the movie and I don’t think 237 set out to answer that but how much of this is intentional—of course a fascinating question but unanswerable. I think he was trying to do something much more ambitious than the story of three people trapped in a haunted hotel but he would also never want to explain that kind of stuff in an interview. But some of the research he did and the places he went, like Freudian ideas of the uncanny and the research he had already done about WWII and themes, moments in The Shining that seem evocative of his earlier films—the ghosts seem to have a kinship with some of the characters in Barry Lyndon or Paths of Glory and that sort of corrupt ruling class. But since he would never explain it in an interview and if he said something it might not always be thoroughly reliable. People can often work subconsciously, make a thousand little decisions without ever exactly thinking why—I get kind of lost in exploring the area around it. READ ON

 

 

 

15. The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance

I couldn’t make Blue Valentine for 12 years and I just sat on the bench and thought about what kind of films I wanted to make and thought about the failings of my first film. That was a very formalist film; it was very much, look Ma, no hands!  It was very fancy and tricky and in those 12 years, in order to keep moving as a filmmaker, I started making documentaries. And in doing so, I just fell in love with people and embraced true characters, human beings. In that time, I was able to formulate a new way of seeing movies—which was to try to approach them with just an honesty and approach every one of my characters as a human being and every one of my actors as a real person, not as an actor, but the same way I would treat someone I was shooting a documentary about. So when I make films, I’m trying to make pure, human, honest, stories that get at some sort of emotional truth and respect the audience. I’m trying to challenge too. Structurally, what this film is doing, it’s definitely trying to tread new ground. I think part of the job of the filmmaker is to tell new stories in new ways and provide new images and ways of seeing things. READ ON

You Want More ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Footage? They’ve Got It!

We’re pretty excited about Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, playful with its modern dress and staging and gorgeous in black-and-white. And lest we forget, the idea of Nathan Fillion playing a character named “Dogberry” is probably the making of many an Anglophile fan’s deepest and darkest fantasies.

The film, which is in limited release now in select theatres in New York and Los Angeles, will be in UK theaters before you know it (starting this Friday, actually), and throughout the rest of the States on June 21st. If you’re not in any of those places and just can’t wait that long, though, three new short clips from the film are available via the Much Ado UK Facebook page. This is also a friendly reminder of how many characters Much Ado and most Shakespeare plays have, as there are a lot of similarly clean looking dudes in suits and ties and they are all different.

In one clip, Claudio (Fran Kranz) paces around a child’s bedroom while Benedick (Alexis Denisof) sits by the dollhouse, and their conversation escalates pretty quickly until Don Pedro—sweet, goofy Don Pedro—interrupts. Elsewhere, behind what appears to be a quaint suburban home, Dogberry and Verges (Tom Lask) inform Lenato (Clark Gregg) of their findings of some “errant knaves,” and Verges seems pretty urgent about the whole thing, but Dogberry is encouraging him to just chill, bro, or at least that’s how someone trying to be really cool while teaching a freshman English class would explain it. In the third, poor Beatrice (Amy Acker), takes a bit of a spill. Watch below. 

 

Watch Joss Whedon Talk ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and Much More at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Last Friday, Joss Whedon’s absolutely delightful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing finally had its theatrical premiere. The black-and-white comedy about a merry war betwixt lovers is a fresh, sexy, charming, and energetic revisiting of the classic story that took Whedon out of his massive budget studio film world. Shot over the course of twelve days  in his own home, his Much Ado is populated with brilliant actors from Alexis Denisof to Clark Gregg and Amy Acker who we’ve seen rotating around his universe of television and film for years now.

And last week, to celebrate the release, Whedon took to The Film Society of Lincoln Center to talk about his fantastic new project. If you were lucky enough to have been in the audience, the floor was open for questions, which Whedon happily answered wonderfully—but if not, now you can watch the 36-minute conversation online. So whether or not you’re a scholar of the bard or just the biggest Firefly fan, check out Whedon’s evening at Film Linc and head to cinemas now to see Much Ado
 
Enjoy the conversation below.
 

Alexis Denisof on Reawakening the World of Shakespeare in Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

When it comes to cinematic preferences, I lean toward the darker side, falling for films that make me ache—in the best way possible. More often than not, it’s the more haunting, dramatic features that evoke the physical reaction I so yearn for. But on occasion, a film comes along that’s so absolutely delightful, so pleasurable in every aspect that I cannot help but find myself in a state of utter glee, completely tickled with what’s happening before me on screen. It’s a rare occurrence, but with Joss Whedon’s contemporary retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, I found myself transfixed in the allure of his black-and-white world. 

Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters. 
 
Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast. 
 
Peppered with members of Whedon’s world, from Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg to Reed Diamond and Fran Kranz, the film stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as its main pair of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. With an instant and palpable chemistry between the two, we see them verbally spar their way into love in the tale that goes as follows:
Leonato, the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John. Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero, while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies: Conrade and Borachio, plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins.A series of comic and tragic events continue to keep the two couples from truly finding happiness, but then again perhaps love may prevail.
No stranger to Shakespearean text, actor Alexis Denisof takes on the role of Benedick with a mix of humor and sensitivity. Beloved for his roles on Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse, here we see a new side to Denisof that’s as endearing as it is hilarious to watch. So with the film’s premiere this Friday, I got the chance to speak with him about stepping into his leading role, his natural chemistry with Amy Acker, and the passion behind the picture.
 
You’ve been traveling around a lot with the film, bringing it to different festivals and premieres. I imagine this is a pretty amazing group of people to be doing this with.
It’s very true. We are genuinely friends, so it didn’t feel like work when we were making it and it doesn’t feel like work when we’re promoting it. All of it has been a huge amount of fun and that’s the best kind of work there is. If you can make it fun, then it doesn’t feel like work.

I absolutely loved the film. I can’t remember another recent film where I found myself just grinning the entire time.
Oh good, that’s a perfect way to say it.

What I loved about it was that it felt like a very indie 1990s chamber comedy, like The Anniversary Party, with Shakespeare as the vernacular. The combination of those two things is probably my ideal film.
Yeah, that’s very well put. I’ve seen it a few times now and each time I get a slightly different feel and I see more of the references that Joss is inserting here and there. I love how it all pulls together even though it’s 400 year old language, two-year-old suits and ties, mid-century black-and-white, and cool jazz.

The jazz was a great element and gave it that extra bit of play.
And yet somehow it all pulls together into one experience that just flies by. I normally find it difficult to watch films or television shows that I’m in because I pick them apart, but with this one, I just get carried away and remember how much fun we had making it . I think almost all of that fun is on the screen.

As someone who loves Shakespeare it was obviously enjoyable, but what’s great with this is that it feels much more accessible than a lot of other adaptations of the work.
I agree. If you love Shakespeare and you’ve seen Shakespeare, I think you’ll go to this movie surprised and delighted at this fresh interpretation. I think people will watch this movie and feel good that you understood it and enjoyed it. It’s accessible and it’s fun and hip and sexy and cool, and it’s very hard not to like it. The movie is not trying to scare you off or make a statement about Shakespeare or become a polemic about the Bard, it’s just these people brought to life in a way that the directors and actors felt were right for them and creating a world that we believed in. And we tried to make it fast and fun.

How did you find yourself cast in the role of Benedick? You’ve worked with Joss in the past.
I have been fortunate to collaborate with him quite a few times over the years. Before Much Ado, the last time was on The Avengers, in which I had a small part. So I saw him in the middle of shooting that huge movie and when we wrapped principal photography, I got a call at home asking where was I and if he could come see me. I told him he could come over right now and I hung up the phone and said to my wife, "Oh dear, I think he’s coming to tell me that the footage we shot of me in The Avengers was terrible and they need to recast and reshoot, and wants to break the news in person." And she told me to relax and see what he wanted to say. So it was a double surprise when he arrived and plucked the script for Much Ado out of his pocket and said, "So I’ve got a couple weeks off and my wife has suggested that instead of the European vacation we planned, that we shoot Much Ado at my house. It starts in three weeks and we have twelve days to shoot it." I said yes before he’d even finished the question, and thankfully didn’t have enough time to freak out. A couple weeks isn’t much time time to prep for that kind of role, and 12 days is certainly not a lot of time to shoot that kind of film, but everybody involved has worked with each other either directly or knew each other socially, and we had pretty much all worked with Joss, so we had a rapport and could work quickly with each other— that was a key element. And most of us participated in casual Shakespeare readings at Joss’s house just for fun from time to time, so that created a springboard as well and all that conspired along with Joss’s extraordinary vision for the film. 

Did he say right away that he wanted you for Benedick? 
He did. When he first proposed it, he said that he was thinking me for Benedick and Amy for Beatrice—for me, that’s the holy trinity: Joss, Amy Acker, and myself. I couldn’t be happier than when I’m working with those people. We just have a very special chemistry, the three of us, and it’s always challenging and exciting. We feel relaxed and free to play. If you really boil it down, whether it’s comic or tragic, it’s all play in this movie-making, television, or theater business—it’s complicated versions of playing and I think Joss and Amy and I play well together. 

The scenes between you and Amy were certainly my favorite, whether it was a dramatic moment or the many moments of comedy, you two have such a wonderful chemistry together that was befitting of your characters.
I do appreciate it and I want to speak frankly about my feelings about it, but at the same time, I’m not trying to give myself compliments. I agree, I feel we have a chemistry but it’s up to everybody else to agree that the chemistry is working. I feel like in this case we hit on something special.

The film was shot at Joss’ house and on a very small scale, yet it still felt so polished and the cinematography was beautiful.
Yeah, if you were just told about a black-and-white movie shot in 12 days at his house, you would immediately think it sounds down and dirty and it’s going to look down and dirty and be all that shaky camera kind of hand-held flip cam style of shooting that’s become in vogue—but it’s not that. It’s very luxurious to look at and very sensuous and sexy, and I think the black and white lets you ease into it comfortably, and the language is not intimidating. Anybody that has spoken to me about the movie, all of them have said, "It’s so strange, after a couple of minutes I didn’t realize it was Shakespeare anymore, I understood what people were saying." So it is beautiful to look at, and I knew Joss had fallen truly in love with this movie when he told me that he was composing the score. Once he starts to hear music when he’s working on something, then it means his heart is in it, it’s taken him over. By the time he was in editing and post-production, he was having to do that on his own free time from post-production of The Avengers. So that meant occasional late nights during the week and occasional late hours on the weekend on his laptop and yet, that’s the kind of talent he is: from the moment he conceived his vision of this movie, to the final note on the bass and treble clef that he wrote, it was one fully-realized vision that was slow and extremely challenging, but nevertheless beautifully extracted from him.

My first thought when hearing about the film was that doing something like this so passionately in such a short amount of time, and so cheaply, it must have been a wonderful revitalizing breath of fresh air for him.
You don’t have to know anything about movies to conceive what it must be like to shoot a $200 million movie. It’s just painstaking minutia, thousands of decisions, and many, many people involved in every aspect of the film. So a movie like The Avengers is a military operation, and I think he wanted to go back to grass roots and let things fly a little and get back to that feeling of being in a rip-roaring collaboration with people that he loved to work with and just see what happens. So with low or no expectations—which was what we all had—you’re free really to do whatever and that’s one of many strengths of Joss as a director: he creates an atmosphere in which you feel absolutely safe and free. I think that’s a perfect balance when you’re in a creative process—safety and freedom.

With such short time shooting and in prep, did you and Amy have a chance to rehearse a lot together, or did your relationship develop more on set?
The rehearsals were grab them when you can. Amy and I called each other immediately after Joss dropped this bombshell and said, "How soon can you get together?" And the three of us would meet whenever possible before shooting began, and Amy and I would work on things ourselves and bring Joss in when we could, or he would pull us aside when he could. That was a process, and that continued throughout the shooting. If we were in a lightning turn around, we would walk off and take a look at things and map them out. And of course it’s his house, so he has the advantage of knowing every nook and cranny and has total comfort in the space, in terms of what it is and what it can do. And while shooting in a real location confines the cast and crew into small spaces—which a film stage doesn’t—a real house gives you that authenticity that supports what you’re doing. There’s something about real walls as opposed to flimsy painted canvas walls that give you reassurance, and if I open the fridge in the kitchen there’s actually milk and eggs and the kid’s lunch because it’s his house. All of that lent itself to the movie.

And just as a play, Much Ado offers itself so well to physical comedy, and with something like this where you’re able to see small details closer than you would on a stage, you were able to play more with that and it really added to the entire film.
That’s a good point. Joss wanted to have a feel of live theater in this to some degree, but at the same time, because it’s film and there’s a camera, you can direct the eye more than you can in a theater. He took long takes when he could and shot things a little bit wider so that you could see everybody that was in the scene in the room. That pulls the audience into the room, and if it’s a party scene you really are in the party, and if it’s a love scene, you’re comfortably close to the lovers. This film is as close to merging film and live theater as anything I’ve seen successfully. Of course if you were just to put a camera on sticks and shoot a theatrical performance, it’s very tedious, it just doesn’t translate and it rarely works. You’ve got to get the cameras in closer and you’ve got to have cut-aways and close-ups —you just have to because the screen is a different visual medium. Somehow this is a successful merger of the two.

I feel like so many Shakespearean adaptations nowadays are either the very grand, romantic Kenneth Branagh-type pictures, or the more veiled, contemporary re-imagining of the text. This, to me, felt like the perfect merger of both those worlds.
I would agree with that. We were certainly not attempting something highbrow and sophisticated, this was not a reproduction of Elizabethan theater, and we’re not attempting to present poetry to people. We wanted to get under the skins of these charters, and bring them to life, and find a journey through these relationships, and bring a real contemporary authenticity to it, but still respecting the fact that this was written 400 plus years ago. Some of it is very poetic, but we wanted to let the audience find that poetry rather than present it to them. So it’s very conversational and we took a very relaxed approach with the language. I think the roots go back to the readings at Joss’ house where we would have fun with plays and you could do whatever you want and weren’t’ necessarily cast in a role that you would ever play—but who cares, it was a reading and a glass of wine.

Did those readings happen often?
Well, they were in a nice groove during the Buffy and Angel days when Joss was on a TV schedule. Now that the shape of his career has changed and there’s much more of a movie schedule to his life, it’s been difficult to get together and read the plays as of late. But it’s always a possibility and they’re always spontaneous. He’ll think of it on a Wednesday and call a bunch of people, then email a bunch of people on Thursday, and if enough people say yes, then he sends out a list of parts on Friday or Saturday, and then you show up on Sunday and read the play. I know it’s not everybody’s idea of fun…

Are you kidding? I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.
Well, clearly you would find this great, and for people who have an interest in the plays, it is fun. I think what this movie has done is take the fun that we all have in the reading of the plays and brought it to life in a very vivid way. We’ve committed to it whole-heartedly here, so now with this movie, you could like the plays or not like the plays, the movie stands on its own as the story—a complex story about two pairs of lovers clearly meant for each other but instead are quarreling and resisting each other. The other pair are on the opposite end of the spectrum and are models for Romeo and Juliet and the whole cosmopolitan political world in which they’re set, and all of the wonderful characters that weave through the whole story. The bottom line with this movie is that it’s an indie. There’s no big studio behind this, we want to get it out to people, and we’re lucky that LionsGate picked it up and people will get a chance to see it. But it’s only people like you and people who tell their friends about it that creates the demand that will give it a shot to get out to a broader audience.

[More by Hillary Weston; Follow Hillary on Twitter]

Getting Excited for Our Most Anticipated Summer Films

With Memorial Day sneaking upon us this weekend, summer is right on our heels. And as is traditional for the cinematic season, our theaters are about to be inundated with a slew of big-budget blockbusters, dominating the box office and luring in crazed audiences around the world. But if that’s doesn’t seem to tickle your film affinity, between the cracks of massive Hollywood studio pictures, are some of the year’s most-anticipated and brilliant features from Xavier Dolan and David Lowery, to Joss Whedon and Pedro Almodovar, to Sofia Coppola and David Gordon Green—to name a few. So as we get closer to June, July, and August’s wonderful releases, let’s get excited about what will be premiering this summer. Enjoy.

Mucho Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon

Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan

I’m So Excited, Pedro Almodovar

Dirty Wars, Ricky Rowley

Violet and Daisy, Geoffrey Fletcher

The Bling Ring, Sofia Coppola

Berberian Sound Studio, Peter Strickland

The Way, Way Back, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash

Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler

Only God Forgives, Nicolas Winding Refn

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery

Prince Avalance, David Gordon Green

Watch a New UK Trailer for Joss Whedon’s ‘Mucho Ado About Nothing’

When it comes to cinematic preferencs, I usually tend to favor things that make me a bit ill. Well, not always ill but elicit a strong reaction, some physical response that tells me, yes this is working. Usually it’s tears, but rarely do I absolutely fall in love with a film that made me smile for its entirety. And with Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Billy Shakes’ merry war betwixt lover, Much Ado About Nothing, I found myself absolutley delighted throughout. 

Starring Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher and Reed Diamon, Whedon’s black and white adaptation provides a respite from his usual Hollywood blockbuster pictures and shows the pleasure and fun in his minimalistic dramam efforts. He gives us a modern look at Shakespeare that feels at once feels homespun yet crafted with the hands of someone who truly knows the ins and outs of the classic text. And in case you’re not familiar, the film goes as follows:

Leonato, the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John. Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero, while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.
 
In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies: Conrade and Borachio, plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins.
 
A series of comic and tragic events continue to keep the two couples from truly finding happiness, but then again perhaps love may prevail.

We’ve seen a first theatrical trailer for the film, as well as posters and stills, but today, distributors have released a new UK preview. Personally, I prefered the snappy, upbeat jazziness of the first but this one’s not too shabby and highlights the more dramatic elements of the comedic film which premieres June 7th. Take a look below.

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See a New Poster for Joss Whedon’s Wonderful ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

If you’re not already excited for Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, you certainly should be. Truly delightful, charming, sexy, and smartly done, Whedon breathes new life into the classic tale of a merry war betwixt lovers. Shot in his own home over the course of ten days, the black and white film plays out like a welcome respite from major Hollywood studio pictures, allowing Whedon the freedom to let loose with an absolutely enjoyable mix of refinement and playfulness. Speaking to the film, he’s said that his adaptation is a "love letter, to the text, to the cast, even to the house it’s shot in. All [involved are] dedicated to the idea that this story bears retelling, that this dialogue is as fresh and intoxicating as any being written, and that the joy of working on a passion project surrounded by dear friends, admired colleagues and an atmosphere of unabashed rapture far outweighs their hilariously miniature paychecks."

Starring Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher and Reed Diamond the official synopsis of Much Ado reads:

Leonato, the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John. Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero, while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies: Conrade and Borachio, plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins.A series of comic and tragic events continue to keep the two couples from truly finding happiness, but then again perhaps love may prevail.
And whether you’re a Shakespearan scholar or an Avengers lover, or hell, both, Whedon’s film is sure to charm you when it hits theaters June 7th. In the meantime, check out the new poster for the film and watch the trailer one more time.
 
much ado

Watch the First Trailer for Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Is this 1996? It looks like 1996. Am I into this? Yes, very. This looks like the Billy Shakes version of The Anniversary Party. You know, when I hear black and white Much Ado About Nothing adaptation shot for little to no money in someone’s backyard with Clark Gregg, honestly I’m all over that. But in what world would you ever guess this would be Joss Whedon’s post-Avengers film? I mean, I’m sure creating something massive and heavily dictated by studios is exhausting and this must be a welcome breath of air for the director.

Speaking to the film, Whedon has said that it’s “love letter, to the text, to the cast, even to the house it’s shot in. All [involved are] dedicated to the idea that this story bears retelling, that this dialogue is as fresh and intoxicating as any being written, and that the joy of working on a passion project surrounded by dear friends, admired colleagues and an atmosphere of unabashed rapture far outweighs their hilariously miniature paychecks.”

Did I mention that I’m excited? Well, in case you aren’t someone who does one woman performances of Shakespearean comedies in your bedroom for fun, here’s the official synopsis of the film that stars Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Jillian Morgese, Sean Maher and Reed Diamond:

Leonato, the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John. Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero, while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies: Conrade and Borachio, plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins.A series of comic and tragic events continue to keep the two couples from truly finding happiness, but then again perhaps love may prevail.

And after opening at TIFF last year to favorable reviews, the film is set to roll out in theaters June 7th.  Check out the first trailer for Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing below.

much do

Pop-Culture Parody Musicals Are as Meta as We Get

Growing up in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, I had really weird taste in music. Sure, I liked whatever the Top 40 pop hits were, but I also belted out showtunes, and I had every word memorized of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song parodies. Through his ode to food “Eat It,” I learned how badass young Michael Jackson was. Likewise, I would never have known what “MacArthur Park” without the cheeky "Jurassic Park.”

In a 2003 interview with NPR, Yankovic mused on how his fellow artists would respond as he prepped each album of song parodies. “At this point I’ve got a bit of a track record,” he said. “So people realize that when ‘Weird Al’ wants to go parody, it’s not meant to make them look bad… it’s meant to be a tribute.”

While it seems as if “Weird Al” has hung up the accordion for the time being, there are plenty of creative teams who have adopted that same motivation of writing silly lyrics to poke fun at pop culture and elevated it to the next logical incarnation—the musical. In the past few years, more and more pop culture parody musicals have popped up on the Internet, in universities, and even off-Broadway. They’ve launched the careers of stars like Darren Criss (who played the starring role in A Very Potter Musical), and even famous folks like Joss Whedon (with Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) have joined in.

Pop culture has passed into an incredibly self-reflective and meta phase. We can’t watch a TV show or political debate without immediately reacting through GIF form and then scrutinizing our reaction. We’re compelled to interrogate the highbrow and especially the lowbrow works that capture our attention. But it gets boring and one-dimensional to use the same medium that we’re discussing in our analysis. We’re constantly turning our opinions over and over, seeking out the smart new angle that someone hasn’t thought of. Enter this new breed of musical.

We’re lucky that many of these productions have tested the waters in New York City, where you can stage an outrageous parody for even just a weekend. In the past year, I’ve taken in four shows that probe the boundaries of good taste and challenge the books, actors, and even religious institutions they mock. Last Christmas, I joined the throngs of theatergoers laughing so hard they were crying at Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon. Since the, I’ve also giggled my way through song-and-dance parodies of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, its offspring Fifty Shades of Grey, and the ‘90s thriller The Silence of the Lambs.

Whether each show’s attack is sweet or snarky, there is indeed that sense of tribute that Yankovic mentioned—cheeky nods to the genre of musical theater itself, or a hat tip to the impact Clarice Starling or Anastasia Steele has had on pop culture. In fact, 50 Shades! The Musical pokes fun less at Ana’s whirlwind romance with Christian Grey, and more at the way Americans have gobbled up E.L. James’ erotic fanfiction.

“I think anything that is so popular that everyone knows about it, you can start to home in on certain details,” said Emily Dorezas, one of the 50 Shades co-writers. “That’s why, as soon as the presidential election starts, everybody can laugh at the same things about the different candidates. Fifty Shades of Grey is just this brand that doesn’t go away. Even if you know nothing about it, you know everything about it. Part of what we’re doing is making fun of the phenomenon of it. [Audiences] can laugh at that because they’ve seen it in their house, with their wives and girlfriends.”

Twilight: The Musical employs a similar shorthand: They’re betting on audiences’ familiarity with the movies so that they can skewer not only Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, but also Robert Pattinson’s insanely dramatic delivery and Kristen Stewart’s penchant for lip biting. The more layers you can work through, the better you’re rewarded, like when Edward and Bella’s literary contemporaries Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger pop in to declare a wizards-versus-vampires war.

When you’re addressing the young adult fiction booms of the past fifteen years, of course you have to poke fun at the consumers who waited in line at midnight for the new books and movies. But how do you mock a solid film classic from the ‘90s that’s entirely straight-faced and even rather terrifying? You make it self-aware.

What most struck me about Silence! The Musical (which has existed online and onstage since 2002) is that it follows the movie beat-for-beat. I was especially aware because I had watched the film for the first time just a few weeks prior. Aside from the addition of a lamb chorus—paralleling the ancient Greek chorus and performing the same duty of commenting on the action onstage—the musical starts and ends where the movie does. Watching it, you’re delightfully surprised to realize that it is kind of ridiculous to start a movie with Jodie Foster huffing and puffing through the woods near Quantico, and that most of Anthony Hopkins’ dialogue is snarky one-liners. The cast turns even the most innocuous phrasing into a punchline; currently, Pamela Bob amps up Clarice’s unfortunate lisp to an art form.

The decision to do a shot-for-shot spoof had less to do with the movie itself and more with how co-writers Jon and Al Kaplan write all of their parodies. “We’re very detail-oriented,” the brothers said of what began as a collection of songs and evolved into a screenplay. “We focus on details and blow them up. It’s meant to be a love letter to the movie; we want to tailor it to people who are big fans.” It helped that Hunter Bell, who wrote the book for the stage show, and original director Christopher Gattelli had the same M.O.: “They love the movie and wanted to focus on the details—sometimes different details [from us].”

To be fair, the brothers were wary of audience reaction to some of the songs. But when the original movie brings Lecter and Clarice together after another inmate comments on her vagina, how can you not give Lecter a love song called “If I Could Smell Her Cunt”? However, it wasn’t until Book of Mormon opened in 2010 that the Kaplans felt more secure about their bawdier musical numbers.

“I think we’re proudest of Lecter’s song,” the Kaplans said. “It’s not the typical song you would expect from him, the ‘liver and fava beans’ number. It’s the moment where the audience really has to buy into the concept or not buy into it. It has to be well performed; Lecter has to really sell it as a love song. We’re also proud of Buffalo Bill’s song ‘I’d Fuck Me’ because it came late in the game. We felt like we had already written our Buffalo Bill songs.”

”I’d Fuck Me” represents perhaps the closest adherence to the source material. Our audience was on the edge of their seats during this swirly burlesque number because we all knew the iconic sequence from the film and were waiting with bated breath to see if David Ayers would attempt the infamous dick tuck. When he did, that prompted the most cheers out of any point in the show. Honestly, we wouldn’t have respected the creative team if they hadn’t included that moment.

Each of these shows has unlocked a new take on the source material through the medium of the musical. The visual nature of a stage show has been most beneficial for 50 Shades! The Musical. One of the book’s most ludicrous elements was Anastasia’s “inner goddess,” the subconscious manifestation of her repressed horniness. Sadly, she was absent from the New York production, but Dorezas said that she showed up in Chicago in “a scene with Christian and Anastasia, [where] the inner goddess comes in and basks to have this whole moment to herself,” and that she’ll appear in future iterations.

Some of the most fun that the 50 Shades! The Musical cast and creative team had was subverting the audience’s expectations of the characters’ appearances. For the past year or more, fansites have cast achingly smoldering types like Ian Somerhalder and Alexis Bledel for Christian and Ana, but what makes Chris Grace and Amber Petty’s portrayals so refreshing is that neither are stereotypical beauties. They play up the comedic contrast between the prose and their onstage looks and behavior.

“It was totally a conscious decision,” Dorezas confirmed. “I don’t think anybody’s gonna be 100 percent satisfied with whatever Christian Grey they choose [for the movie]. We just wanted to go the complete opposite direction, but Chris plays it so sexy, and he owns it! There’s a certain point where it’s like, ‘This is our Christian Grey, and everyone in the audience is sold on it.’

”It’s always my favorite when he walks onstage for the first time, ‘cause you see the audience pointing at each other like, ‘Oh my God, this isn’t what you said!’ I know they think Ryan Gosling is gonna come out there. I think in Chris’ mind, he thinks he’s Ryan Gosling. And Amber as Anastasia—she’s so funny. We wanted it to be more of a wink at these characters, not the actual characters. I think if we went for super hot and sexy, we’d lose funny.”

Similarly, the writers grappled with the first draft because if they gave in to the temptation to absolutely skewer James’s admittedly ridiculous novel, they wouldn’t be able to keep an audience. “I think the first round, we felt like there was just too much punch and not enough heart to it,” Dorezas said, citing their shared experience in the comedy world. “We wanted the audience to want these two people to be together outside of a bondage/S&M situation.”

The parody can’t just be about the content; the creative teams must also consider conventions of musical theater itself. One of the first big laughs in The Book of Mormon is “Hasa Diga Eebowai,” a seemingly joyous African chant that brings to mind The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata” but actually translates to “Fuck You, God.” Mocking religion was one thing, but dragging the esteemed medium of musical theater into the mix? That’s when audiences realized that no one was safe.

In the New York production of 50 Shades! The Musical, the inner goddess got sacrificed in favor of a big, Les Miserables-esque ensemble number. “We just had to find another place for the inner goddess, ‘cause we all were like, ‘Ah, we want this moment where everyone’s having doubt and not sure what to do,’” Dorezas said. “There’s a nod to Phantom of the Opera in the show, as well. We definitely put little things in there that even if you’re not a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey, if you’re a fan of musicals you’ll appreciate the moments as well. If some of the moments are too insidery—you don’t know who Jose is when he walks in, you don’t know Christian is against type—there’s still something for you.”

The Kaplan brothers’ nods to musical theater occur more in the fabric of the musical’s choreography: “It’s just integrating little homages here and there. There’s A Chorus Line in ‘In the Dark with a Maniac,’ [with] the dance move that Clarice does before she shoots Buffalo Bill. There’s also [elements from] The King and I.”

Now, a lot of the musical theater greats are dead and can’t defend themselves against this mockery. But how about the creators of the books and movies parodied? Despite the hard-R nature of Silence! The Musical, the Kaplans said that several of the people involved with the movie found it uproariously funny.

For one, director Jonathan Demme decided to celebrate his twenty-year crew reunion by going to the show. “We sat behind them, and they were laughing their heads off,” the Kaplans said. “It was a real kick… We thought he was gonna be a really serious guy, just sitting there scowling, but he’s got a real sense of humor.” They can’t vouch for Jodie Foster’s reaction, since she attended a different show. However, “Anthony Heald, who played Dr. Chilton, was very enthusiastic, said he would love to play his character in a future reincarnation of the show. Anthony Hopkins, as far as we know, hasn’t gone.”

”We did look toward Silence! The Musical a little bit in terms of what they were able to get away with,” Dorezas said. Because the original production of 50 Shades! The Musical debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they’ve been caught up with UK copyright laws, combined with the reaction from James’ people. “For the UK opportunities that we are currently discussing, we could change some things around with the show that would make it fall under safe parameters,” Dorezas said. “If the parody laws change in our favor, then we would not have to do that. We have an idea of what we can do, but we’re kind of waiting to see how it changes.”

Musical parody reinvigorates seemingly played-out stories because it’s such an unexpected medium. It’s likely that the first time you saw Clarice Starling or read about Christian Grey, you never dreamed that either would break into song. These pop culture parody musicals crack these seemingly solemn characters and give them the added dimensions to ensure their endurance in the zeitgeist, whether they’re twenty or two years old. As the Kaplans confessed, “We never thought we’d be talking about this eleven years after the fact.”

Follow Natalie Zutter on Twitter.