Won’t You be my Neighbor? (2018)

“If you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’. Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. Yet, it worked.” –Margaret Whitmer While the documentary itself is not particularly remarkable, the subject should never be forgotten. Yet that’s what makes its simplicity perfectly […]

Maudie (2016)

A well-meaning online discussion caught my attention: “Name a thoughtful non-romantic gesture by your significant other.” As if the two are mutually exclusive. Kindness and simplicity are vastly underappreciated. Often, excessive public displays of affection hide shallow, insecure relationships. Now we have social media to facilitate overcompensation. In contrast, those with the least appreciate it […]

Grace is Gone (2007)

When military personnel are assigned to a far-away tour, the loved ones left behind know there’s a chance they might not return. But awareness of the hypothetical doesn’t prepare anyone for reality. How do you tell your daughters their beloved mother is never coming home? How do you accept it yourself?

Return to Me (2000)

It’s unfair to judge a movie strictly by its genre; if you’re that highbrow, why bother to watch it? I’m not normally a fan of romantic comedies but I liked that this one wasn’t based on stalking or manipulation, neither of which are cute or funny. I also appreciated that it wasn’t about strangers believing their […]

Harold and Maude (1971)

How does a burgeoning screen writer turn his Master’s thesis into a full length motion picture? Set it to as many Cat Stevens songs as possible. And if there aren’t enough, have him write more. I’m hesitant to classify this as a comedy but not because dark subjects, such as the fleetingness of mortality, can’t […]

Little Boy (2015)

When most people say they’re praying in the midst of painful circumstances, what they actually mean is they’ve developed tunnel vision in light of their pain. St. Paul warned, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith…” Whether we’re already in communication with God or waiting to become entrenched in our circumstances, unwavering […]

Much Ado About Nothing (1993 & 2012)

This one’s a two-fer!

Shakespeare is tricky by any standards. Many universally human traits brought out by timeless situations are easily lost in translation from a long-gone language into modern culture. Fortunately, Billy the Bard still inspires story-tellers the world over. It continually surprises me that such a wide range of demographics appreciate his plays, though it shouldn’t, considering his original audience: the rich had plush seats up high with a stunning view of the entire stage while the commoners, who had to stand on the floor down in front got to hear all the bawdy jokes, i.e. something for everyone.

As filmmakers often attempt to adapt a classic play for the screen, it’s interesting how a scholarly approach and a layman’s view can be two sides of the same coin. When it comes to sifting through antiquated vernacular to interpret its meaning, just as much is overlooked by over-analyzing as by lack of context. With this in mind, both a classically-trained European thespian and an American Sci-Fi scriptwriter/ director have different yet complementary versions of what is widely considered William Shakespeare’s funniest comedy. Kenneth Branagh’s pre-millennium period piece and Joss Whedon’s post-millennium modern retelling (inspired by a wine-and-cheese reading party with friends) will turn anyone into a fan of Shakespeare.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Writer/ director, Baz Luhrmann, best known for his pinache, made his moviemaking debut with this one. And what a first impression! Let’s face it: regardless of medium, most first attempts are sincere but earnest and eschew anything flashy, which is understandable. Yet this gutsy storyteller somehow manages to fully develop his characters in a short amount of time. Though the movie is fast-paced it doesn’t feel the least bit rushed; Luhrmann knows exactly when and where to move the camera around his stylized set.

Though he gradually drifted into the realm of cinematic adaptations, this story is truly unique as a perfect synergy of any element you can name. I initially remembered it being a creative little daydream (i.e. a much classier version of Dirty Dancing) that someone more sentimental than I made me watch. Over the years it periodically surfaced in various conversations, referenced by everyone but cinephiles. I finally decided to rewatch it, assuming it would be a subtle precursor to Luhrmann’s hyper-stylized version of “Romeo and Juliet,” which I loved but hadn’t connected as being from the same visionary. Though many movies with vaguely similar elements came to mind, I couldn’t think of a single one to which this compares. In my humble opinion, it remains his finest work.

Look at me/ Comme une image (2004)

Despite the French title being a book around which one of the main stories is centered, all the meta occurs outside the film; American critics have absolutely no idea what it’s about, which is precisely the plot! The snarkiness that runs throughout is the symptom of a larger problem. It’s easy to give advice about a particular situation but why not follow it yourself? Likely because you hear—yes, someone is talking, blah, blah, blah—but you don’t take the time to listen to what is—or isn’t—being said. I find it ironic that some people describe the script as “too wordy.” Everyone’s talking but never really saying what they mean or how they feel. Moreover, no one is paying any attention to what’s not being said: the eye roll, the shoulder slump, the sigh, the deliberate nudge given to a supposed stranger. Yet they all desperately want to be heard. Don’t we all? In an era of information overload, the best way to know someone is to see them—not merely look at them through a media lens; to watch them in their element. Try it. You’ll be surprised. The characters certainly were.