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Posts Tagged ‘Amy Acker’

For a two-screen independent cinema dwarfed by the major chains around it and not exactly in a prime spot (off Leicester Square itself and well on the way to Chinatown), the Prince Charles has acquired a massive reputation as a place to watch and otherwise enjoy films. I think this is partly because the place is clearly run by people who understand why people still go to the cinema and what films they are prepared to pay and watch over and over again: on the schedule just this week are quotealong showings of Anchorman and Flash Gordon, a free-beer-and-pizza revival of Terminator 2, and a whole bunch of shrewdly-assembled double-bills – RoboCop and Dredd showing together, for example.

Despite the fact that one of the screens is really tiny and has hugely inadequate legroom for someone my size, I regret not being able to go to the Prince Charlie more often. I have very fond memories of watching The Wrath of Khan there two years ago, and had a fairly good time the other day watching the new version of Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon.

muchado

Low-budget black-and-white modern-dress Shakespeare adaptations not featuring anyone you could honestly call a star name do not usually get the kind of release, or indeed media attention, that this one has drawn. Then again, the average low-budget black-and-white Shakespeare adaptation not featuring anyone you could honestly call a star name is not adapted and directed by the creative brain responsible for the third highest-grossing film of all time. That sort of thing gets you noticed.

On the other hand, I suspect the new Much Ado would have been guaranteed at least cult hit status regardless of the existence of The Avengers, for such is the effect of being touched by the hand of Joss Whedon. Let’s be straight about this: Whedon is a brilliant writer, director, and producer, and his career is littered with deservedly-celebrated films and TV series from Toy Story to Cabin in the Woods, taking in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its spin-offs and Firefly along the way. No argument there.

However, I’m a bit less comfortable with the cult of adoration that seems to have developed around Whedon himself as an individual: several people I know are wont to publish gushing blog posts about the formative influence Whedon has had on their lives, and in the same way members of the faith tend to refer to him simply as ‘Joss’, as though he really were the intimate personal friend they clearly wish he was. I am very wary of this sort of thing.

Nevertheless, a built-in cult following does help when it comes to getting films financed and released, and I can’t help but suspect this has aided Much Ado along its path to a theatrical release. Still, one gets the sense that simply making a film as simple and intimate as this one was its own reward for Whedon: it was shot in and around his own house and the cast is largely comprised of people he’s worked with in the past.

The plot of the film is… quite famous and widely available on-line. But go on, I’ll spoil you anyway (not that this is likely to stop members of the Cult of Whedon coming round the garret with axes). Hey ho. Members of the household of prosperous gentleman Leonato (played by Agent Coulson from The Avengers) rejoice when popular nobleman Don Pedro (Dominic from Dollhouse) comes to visit with his retinue of followers. Romance blossoms between the young count Claudio (Topher from Dollhouse) and Leonato’s daughter, which inspires everyone to bring about a rekindling of romance between Pedro’s associate Benedick (Wesley from Angel) and Leonato’s niece Beatrice (Fred from Angel). Doing his best to scupper these matrimonial machinations is Pedro’s wicked brother John (Simon from Firefly). Will true love win through? Not if they have to rely on moronic local policeman Dogberry (Mal from Firefly) for help, that’s for sure…

Now, it doesn’t seem that long since the last film of Much Ado About Nothing – the Ken and Em version which came out in 1993, which I remember quite well. On the other hand, I’m currently working alongside people who weren’t born back then, so possibly another new take on the play is justified. Whedon’s version is distinctly different from Branagh’s, anyway: Branagh’s was very jolly, colourful, and straightforward, while Whedon’s is much cooler and more ‘classic’ in its look and feel. The Branagh film was mocked at the time for its endless choruses of hey-nonny-nonny, but a few of these (in an appropriately jazzy arrangement) have crept into the new version, too: clearly they are integral to the text.

For a while it looks like the stylisation of the new film is going to get in the way of Whedon’s take on the story, with only his most obvious directorial choices making it through to the audience. First and foremost, where the potential for slapstick comedy in the tale is concerned, Whedon goes for this in a big way: people falling down stairs and so on. Nathan Fillion’s performance as Dogberry is pretty broadly comic, too – but then, as I recall, so was Michael Keaton’s in the 93 version, and Fillion is at least less manic.

However, on reflection, suggestions that this is a feminist take on the play do not seem to me to be entirely unfounded. There seems to me to be an implicit critique of the differing positions in society of Beatrice and Benedick – the two are well-matched, equals in every practical way, and yet Beatrice is forced to ask others for assistance simply because there are some things a woman is not permitted to do. The crushing effect on a woman of acquiring a ‘reputation’, whether deserved or not, is also explored. All in all this isn’t much, and given that Whedon leaves Shakespeare pretty much as he finds him, it’s mostly grace notes anyway. But it’s a valid take on the play.

The film looks good and is impeccably put together, and the performances are fine as well: Shakespeare’s verse comes to life, which is a good sign. But I laughed at it a lot less than most of the other people at the showing I attended, and I couldn’t help thinking that this was a clever and admirable film rather than a really good one. If I had started watching Much Ado About Nothing on TV I’m not sure I wouldn’t have bailed out before the end. In the end, it seems to be the case that left to his own devices, Joss Whedon makes remarkable, hugely enjoyable films about hot, wise-cracking chicks battling armies to a standstill – but in association with the greatest writer who has ever lived, he just comes up with something which is interesting and fairly clever. Much Ado About Nothing is a nice little film – but for sheer entertainment value, give me something with the Hulk in it any day.

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