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MAAN — The Write Up

Last night MiAmor, McDiva, and I attended the San Francisco International Film Festival screening of Much Ado About Nothing. I will attempt to contain myself but it was freaking awesome!!! quite good.

Full disclosure: I first saw the play when I was a wee thing, and it must have imprinted or something, because it’s still one of my favorite Shakespeare plays. I tend toward the comedies, which will surprise approximately none of you. ;-) That said, the play is problematic for a modern audience, and I have seen plenty of versions that I didn’t much like. The BBC “Shakespeare Retold” version, for instance, was not my cuppa.*

Joss Whedon’s version is delightful. It’s beautifully filmed, almost every shot adding layers to a tale that can be oversimplified. There is so much rich character stuff going on every second. There are little glances and gestures in unexpected places that suggest a whole back story of warm affection between Hero and her father Leonato, between Claudio and Don Pedro, between Dogberry and Verges, his shadow. The evil Don John (the bastard!) and his crew get lots of time to demonstrate their villainy in fun new ways.

Fran Kranz makes a fantastic Claudio, and had me rooting for him from the first shot. Tom Lenk is more brilliant than ever as Dogberry’s sycophant. That man is just incredible. ♥ Amy Acker is quite wonderful as Beatrice, as you might imagine, bringing a fragility to her “that I were a man” speech. Alexis Denisof didn’t make me see Benedick in a new light or anything, but jeez: it’s Benedick! How could he go wrong? He doesn’t, of course, and his was a solid performance all around, with lovely comedic touches. Hero is always a bit of a cipher, and that’s somewhat true here, but as I said, the unspoken business brings interesting nuance to many characters, including hers.

MiAmor noted that it’s great to see old friends looking so well and doing great work. I think that our attachment to these actors probably adds shading to the performances. We bring certain expectations of what Nathan Fillion, et al, will do, and he can either meet them or confound them, and either is a lot of fun. Apparently, Nathan didn’t have as much stage/Shakespeare experience as some of the other actors, and was very nervous about doing the project at all — until after he’d shot his first scene. Dogberry is a departure for him, and while I don’t know that he’s my favorite ever (that would be Michael Keaton), it’s great to see him go there, along with the whole Whedon posse. The whole undertaking raises the bar for home movies.

So, yes, the movie is a Good Thing, and you must all see it at the earliest opportunity if you have the slightest inclination in that direction.

But, it being the Film Festival, we had special guests! Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof introduced the film and did a Q&A afterward. *flail* So adorable, and not just Amy! In their intro, they called Joss on speakerphone — in a less successful variation on the scene from Cabin in the Woods — and slightly staticcy bon mots were exchanged. The Q&A was gorgeous, though. As many of you already know, the genesis of the film was the long-standing tradition of Shakespeare readings Chez Joss. Friends and family would gather, drink wine, skip the boring parts and just read through whichever play seemed like fun that day. Apparently, they steer away from the histories. “Sorry, Bard,” said Alexis. In the lull following the wrap of "that other art house film" The Avengers, Joss’ wife, co-producer Kai Cole, suggested that they skip a family trip to Italy to instead make a movie.

Alexis said that the first he heard of the “official” project, was when Joss called him from the airport and asked if he could stop by to “talk about something”. Alexis says he knew it had to be bad, if Joss had to deliver the news in person. “Aly, I think I’ve been cut from The Avengers,” he said. Heh. (He verified that it was indeed him in all those prosthetics in the middle of the film.) Instead, Joss asked if he’d be interested (duh!) and said to start learning his lines because it was going to happen soon. Alexis says that he didn’t bother, but the “soon” part was absolutely true. Amy said nobody had time to panic, that way.

The whole thing was filmed in 2-1/2 weeks at Joss’ house. According to the actors, there would be a scene shooting in one place, while performers read lines and worked out rudimentary blocking in another place. According to them, the Whedon-Coles just left the door unlocked in the run-up to filming so that participants could drop in and rehearse their scenes.

All the costumes were from the actors’ existing wardrobes, although Amy said that costume designer Shawna Tripic dropped by to go through her closet and pick the outfits and accessories she thought would work best. “Lucky you,” said Alexis, who thinks he wore the same suit through the whole thing. (I seem to remember a few changes, though, so he might be misremembering.) I’m not sure how much set dressing went on, but the house really does act as another character. Sometimes the result is hilarious, but I’ll not spoil anybody for the visual jokes on display.

There’s lots of drinking going on in the course of the film, which makes sense as a lot of it takes place during parties, dinners, weddings, and wakes. Also, as Amy said, “Certain scenes make a lot more sense when the characters are drunk.” So true. Amy fessed up that all of the wine and spirits depicted are colored water, but Alexis said that most of the real drinking went on after wrap and before morning call. A slumber party was implied. Alexis said, “I’m making it sound like total debauchery. It was…slight debauchery.” \o/ Oh, and he recommends that you never invite drunk people to your film shoot.

The final point Alexis wanted to make is that the film is a successful combination of the immediacy and freshness of live theatre with the precision and potential of film. I’ve got to agree.

* Conversely, the BBC Shakespeare Retold version of Taming of the Shrew is one of my favorite things ever. Ev. Er.

This entry was originally posted at http://rebcake.dreamwidth.org/30235.html. Please comment here or there using OpenID.



( 21 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2013 01:41 am (UTC)

But also incredibly happy you got to go and glad that it's going to be good. The one with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson is my favorite Branagh Shakespeare plays, but I'm pretty sure this one will top it.
Apr. 29th, 2013 02:06 am (UTC)
Yep, the Branagh one had Michael Keaton as Dogberry and Ms. Thompson is a treat, always. I do think this improves on that in some ways, though not all. It's its own thing, of course. It's more personal, is the best way I can put it.

You should come up to SF for the June 7 opening weekend. Alexis says it's only opening in SF, LA, and NYC, and whether it ever gets wider release will depend on how well it does here/there.
Apr. 29th, 2013 02:13 am (UTC)
Thanks for the heads up! I might actually be in LA that weekend, but I'll definitely go and see it by myself!
Apr. 29th, 2013 04:57 am (UTC)
That sounds like a good plan!
Apr. 29th, 2013 01:49 am (UTC)
I'm looking forward to the movie.

I have to admit - I always wonder what James Marsters did to be excluded from the Shakespeare/Whedon Possy. It just seems like something JM would have loved to be a part of....
Apr. 29th, 2013 01:57 am (UTC)
So true. I think he'd have been splendid as the villain Don Jon, and he certainly has more of a physical resemblance to Reed Diamond, the guy who played Don Pedro, than does Sean Maher. But they way it played out, Don John is younger and it would have been kind of intensely creepy with JM in the role if everything else had been exactly the same. He probably would have been pretty fun as the Friar, though. Missed opportunity, in my opinion.
Apr. 29th, 2013 02:06 am (UTC)
I just get the impression that there is no or bad relationship between Jm & JW - which bodes poorly for JM's career. I'd love to see him on tv again - Whedon has a lot of casting power....
Apr. 29th, 2013 04:50 am (UTC)
It's hard to tell. He's definitely getting cast by other Buffyverse writers as they become showrunners, like Jane Espenson on Caprica and Drew Greenberg on Warehouse 13. I'm not sure when he'll strike gold again, but I have hopes that he will. I suspect that his availability was a bit limited while he was raising his kids, but I think they're the same age as McDiva, which means college is looming in the next year or so. Fingers crossed.
Apr. 29th, 2013 02:31 am (UTC)
What fun! I hope it comes to my city, although sadly I'm sure it will be without Amy and Alexis.
Apr. 29th, 2013 04:56 am (UTC)
According to Alexis, it's opening in NYC, LA, and SF on June 7, but it may not open any wider than that unless it does great business. I plan to see it again then, so I'll do my part to get it to you! I do love the many film festivals we get here, because of the fun talks you sometimes get. Alan Cumming was wonderful the year he brought a film he directed. You also get to see things that you might not otherwise, though it's getting easier to see obscure things with all the new distribution methods. Plus seeing something with a crowd is usually a blast, even at Comic-Con.
Apr. 29th, 2013 10:45 am (UTC)
We had our international film festival during the last two weeks. I go to it every year, and throughout the year probably about 80% of the films I see are somewhat on the obscure side. Hopefully Much Ado About Nothing will make it out this way. I'm really happy you enjoyed it so much, and thanks for the review.
Apr. 29th, 2013 03:12 pm (UTC)
I was sort of surprised MAAN wasn't a part of more festivals. It wasn't in Portland, for instance, which Dear Old Dad attends all day, every day, for weeks on end. Oh well. I hope the film makes it to a wider release — it deserves to.

You're welcome for the review, such as it is. I'm really the target audience for something like this, so I doubt that I've been hugely objective.
Apr. 29th, 2013 05:53 am (UTC)
That sounds like so much fun! I actually read through a page on buzzfeed earlier today about (much of) the cast taking a bus from LA to SXSW for some kind of promotion. Tom Lenk was a hoot!

And I love Michael Keaton's Dogberry. GOod to know that Nathan is in the running though!

And I notice Seattle isn't on the list of cities. Bummer. Have to hope it does well!
Apr. 29th, 2013 06:57 am (UTC)
I'll have to read that! Linky?

Tom Lenk is fast becoming one of my favorite celebish guys. Seeing his one-man show a couple of years back put me firmly in his camp, and his little bit in "Cabin" and speaking hilarious truth at a couple of panels I attended have only made me love him more. This, though, makes if official. Tom Lenk is a comedy genius. Trufax.

I'll do what I can to help the film do well enough to make it to the PNW. It'll be my pleasure! \o/
Apr. 29th, 2013 07:07 am (UTC)
See? I knew there had to be reason I can't seem to sleep tonight!

Much Ado About Tour Buses

I highly recommend clicking on Tom Lenk's "Dance Pants" video. Hee!
Apr. 29th, 2013 08:53 am (UTC)
Wow, that's a very fast shooting schedule, lol!
Apr. 29th, 2013 02:56 pm (UTC)
One of the audience questions was about "guerilla filmmaking" and Alexis really seized on that. It probably wouldn't work for every project, but it definitely did for this one!
Apr. 29th, 2013 01:42 pm (UTC)
I love that play - I've taught it a dozen times and directed it twice. I really enjoy the Branagh version apart from Michael Keaton and Kianu Reeves - Keanu just doesn't get his lines at all, while MK seems to dismiss Dogberry as a loony who does bizarre things for the sake of it - for me he is a "Mr Pooter" sort of person - utterly convinced he is a vital cog in the machine, important, knowledgeable and worthy of respect, and thus constantly on the edge of fury because he doesn't get that respect and doesn't understand why. When he rants about owning two gowns that sums him up for me - his horizons are just so limited.

I am dying to see this - I have no idea where it will open here, but I'm praying the Arts Centre at our university will get it. I would travel a fair way to see it - I'd have gone to Glasgow but it sold out so fast. So far I don't think it's made it to England. :-(
Apr. 29th, 2013 03:04 pm (UTC)
You'll probably like the Fillion Dogberry, then. I don't think he expresses the rage you're talking about, but he certainly gets the puffed up confusion aspects. He and Tom Lenk together are a joy every time they are on screen. Although I can see your issues with Keaton's interpretation, I like his delivery: he gleefully seizes on anything as a triumph. That's the thing about Shakespeare: there is never a "perfect" version, because the material is just so complex! I can easily live with lots of really great versions, instead.

I do hope it comes closer to you! Or, failing that, there's a DVD before the ice caps melt.
Apr. 29th, 2013 06:37 pm (UTC)
This was such a great write-up. Thanks for taking the time to review in such detail. I'm planning on being 'horribly in love' with this thing and now I'm more anxious than ever.
Apr. 29th, 2013 07:11 pm (UTC)
Oh yeah. Such a quotable play. There's so much to love. I'm glad you liked the write-up! I think of it as more "general praise" than a real review. I don't want to say too much, because — hard as is might be to fathom — there are people who aren't familiar with the play. A couple of McDiva's friends also went, and while one was fully conversant, having seen the David Tenant/Catherine Tate version in London, the other kept going on about how she wanted to be surprised. Hee.
( 21 comments — Leave a comment )



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