Friday, 21 June 2013

Much Ado About Nothing - Review

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Starring: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Clark Gregg, Fran Kanz, Nathan Fillion, Reed Diamond, Sean Maher, Jillian Morgese
Written by: Joss Whedon (with text adapted/based on Shakespeare's original work)

Rating: 8/10

This is, in fact, Much Ado about Something - more so than the 1993 version. We think The Bard would be proud. 

A brilliant showcase in exactly just what Whedon's repertoire can extend to. Shakespeare's hallowed texts have been put on by everyone from flailing amateurs to the prestige filled halls of theatre companies. There have been a fair few movie adaptations too - but, with some safety, I can, none exactly like this one. Whedon's transition of text-to-screen is a brilliant manoeuvre - the actors (none of whom probably had to undergo the massive tradition of Shakespeare that we have over here) act as if they are in any movie and the speech flows incredibly well. The inflections, the looks and the whole atmosphere help bring Shakespeare to a new generation - perhaps one not as well known with it.  Whedon filmed this over 12 days

In more than one sense, this DIY Shakespeare. It's filmed in Whedon's home, done without a massive budget, shot in black and white, created with friends of the director. But to the entire casts credit - it does Shakespeare justice, and it does so, in a modern light. While this type of modernising adaptation never works on stage, for a play that has inspired most modern day romcoms, this was a fitting tribute. Benedick and Beatrice are one of literature's greatest witty and conflicted couples. While some adaptations of the text have been over busy or overladen, Whedon's approach makes it airy, easy to approach and relatable. Which is no easy feat, especially in such a rapid project.

What is Shakespeare to those who may not have training with the Royal Shakespearean Company here? Well, it's a large number of things - but chiefly among them, is that it can be a daunting challenge. For those unfamiliar in the traditional interpretations, the numerous school readings in literature classes and the overexposure to such works - it can be quite daunting. At times, "Much Ado" feels like an amateur company whose talented actors are digging into all their reserves to put on a show with attitude - you know, that small scale show that they really want to do well. The one where they put their heart and soul into it - and put their own ingenious spin on it. And it works - beautifully. 

The story for those unfamiliar with this literary masterpiece (of which, Whedon uses the original text) starts out in the home of Leonato (Clark Gregg). When I say 'home of', I mean 'Whedon's home'. Benedick (Alexis Denisof) is returning home, with his friend, Claudio (Fran Kanz), who falls for Leonato's daughter - Hero (Jillian Morgese). Benedick has a history with Beatrice (Amy Acker), who everyone else present resolves to bring together as they have their regular fiery exchanges. Thrown into the mix are the ever 'competent' Watch, led by Nathan Fillion as the fool Dogberry, and a few villains ready to make their mark and ruin the day's proceedings. 

This film demonstrates something very special; those directors, especially those such as Whedon who have taken on mega blockbuster films, can and do return, in spectacular style to other films. Whedon is not only capable of helming staggeringly large films ('Avengers' had a budget of over $200 million), but of down-to-earth, translucent, modest and somewhat surprising, smaller ventures. Credit goes to the score, the cast and the cinematography here too.

Whedon apparently holds Shakespeare 'brunches', where they do readings of the Bard's most famous works. 'Much Ado' was borne out of one of these readings - and we're really glad. Alexis and Amy form an apt modern pairing of Benedick and Beatrice. 

Shooting in black and white not only adds the classic feel to this ever present text - it also eliminates the need for large amounts of tricky lighting that surely would have got in the way. The score, including some really mellow pieces, especially in such a short time frame, feel right at home - despite jazz not even existing in Shakespeare's time. Goodwill, tremendously good fun taken by the actors, and a whole heaping of determination make this, one of the world's best known comedies, a must-see. It's sparing minimalistic style - there's no big budget set or visual effects to distract here - mean that the brunt of the work rests with the cast and with Whedon's direction. It's becoming rarer now to see a film carried almost entirely by it's cast, and especially with such an ensemble cast that has every member putting in every inch a triumphant performance. 

What the Mr. Thought:
See this for Nathan Fillion's "Let it be known that I am an ass" scene alone. Really. Not even kidding. 
It's great if you don't have much knowledge or exposure to the original text. Even then, it's a wonderful new adaptation that doesn't labour under the typical reconstructions of such a text on film - big budgets, tedious sequences, lack of pace....

What the Misses Thought:

Hilarious! A film I really enjoyed, not only for the amusing relationship between Beatrice and Benedick but for Whedon's interpretation of Shakespeare! While some may struggle to keep up with the script, it is well worth the watch. (I just had to pay a little more attention than normal, but I enjoyed it!)

And returning this week is the 'Sis' for her second input:

What the 'Sis' Thought:

Having never read or seen ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in any form, this was an opportune chance for a first impression.

And boy was I impressed.

With this sleek modern adaptation employing the use of sharp suits and white transitions, Wheadon delivers a tonal masterpiece while maintaining the script and language of the original. Having a strong cast of actors who demonstrate such wonderful acting certainly doesn’t hurt either.
I particularly enjoyed Amy Acker (Beatrice) and Alexis Denisof’s (Benedick) performances as they practiced the art of camouflage and espionage while eavesdropping on their respective schemers/friends. Following this line of levity, I also enjoyed the performance of the incompetent Watch (especially Nathan Filion as Dogberry), the interesting choice of mask as Benedick’s disguise at the masquerade (complete with accent), and a scene that made me smile despite being a more serious part of the film involved Fran Kranz (Claudio) standing in a pool donning a snorkel and holding a martini glass (I previously alluded to my enjoyment of the absurd in the “Man of Steel’ review).
In addition, as for those who struggle with Shakesperian text, the music coupled with the actors’ inflections and body language expertly help guide and explain the situation (though I do recommend reading over the text beforehand or simply have a helpful friend explain it if you’re not particularly confident)
So, for a film shot in only 12 days at Joss Whedon’s house, it shows what a modest film with a dedicated cast (and a flaming marshmallow) can do – nothing short of a brilliant example of Shakespeare done right.

But remember, you didn't hear any of that, from us,

The Mr, Misses and 'Sis'.

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