Whedon Remakes Shakespeare As A Film Noir

If you’re like me, you were counting down the days to Joss Whedon’s latest release, a stylistic adaptation of the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon’s previous works include Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, the cult sci-fi show Firefly (and its movie counterpart Serenity), and most recently The Avengers. His ability to transect genres is only as impressive as the fan base he’s acquired, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his version of Shakespeare contains the same wit and casual humor as his previous works.

Filmed over the course of 12 days during a hiatus he had while filming The Avengers, Much Ado About Nothing was shot entirely in black and white at his own California residence. Fans of Whedon will recognize the majority of the cast from some of his previous works, including Sean Maher and Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Serenity) and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof (Buffy, Angel). The difficulty in transposing a play into a film format is easily resolved through Whedon’s characteristically sharp cinematic eye. The acute angles, creative uses of shadow, and the chiaroscuro lighting give a notably noirish feel to the film, which is compounded by an exemplary performance by all the actors.

The plot follows the imminent marriage of two young lovers and the nefarious scheme of Don John (played by Sean Maher) to break it up. But layering this domestic conspiracy is the sharp-tongued witty back-and-forth interplay between the main protagonists, Beatrice and Benedick (Amy and Alexis reprising their romantic affiliations from Angel).

The choice to shoot in black and white is an interesting one considering many films are wary of it. The lack of color means that increased focus has to be put on the composition of each shot, and yet Whedon somehow pulls it off, with all the dramatic irony of the original play intact. The shot where Amy Acker as Beatrice is hiding under a kitchen counter in plain view of the maid and her cousin Hero as they talk about trying to set her up with Benedick is a perfect example – all the tension of the play is retained, and yet we buy the improbability of some of the scenes.

The other risk of adapting Shakespearian plays is to be able to convey it without it sounding overly contrived or poetic. Much Ado About Nothing is one the more prosaic plays Shakespeare wrote, but the iambic pentameter still lends itself to a pleasant cadence, and some of the exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice are both organic and believable.

There is a charm in this adaptation that goes beyond its attempt to stay true to the original play and yet give it a decidedly modern-day setting – the Victorian sentiments regarding love and relationships, although perhaps not as prevalent today, still seem to hold some sway in terms of a social commentary. The superficiality of our definitions, and the games we play, are being ridiculed, and yet also acknowledged for their role in helping us come to terms with how we truly feel. It’s a juxtaposition which feels as true now as it probably did several hundred years ago.

Simon is a writer and content specialist who is addicted to being on the front page of anything. A graduate of Dalhousie University, he specializes in using the em dash too often. Currently, Simon rests his typing hands in Vancouver, Canada. Check out his recent thoughts on gaming.

  

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Mixed reviews for “Anonymous”

The reviews are pretty mixed for “Anonymous,” the new drama that tells a story of how Shakespeare wasn’t the guy writing all those plays you had to read in high school. The critics on Rotten Tomatoes only give it a 43% positive rating as of today, though the readers liked it more.

Bullz-Eye’s David Medsker liked it and gave it 3 stars out of 5:

On the surface, “Anonymous” appears to be a radical departure for director Roland Emmerich, who has made his bones destroying the world by way of natural disaster and alien invasion. Look closer, though, and you’ll see that “Anonymous” boasts many of the same qualities of his action-driven work. It’s bombastic, needlessly complex, and about as historically accurate as “2012” or “The Day After Tomorrow” are scientifically accurate (which is to say, not very). As a work of historical fiction, though, it’s quite entertaining, and Emmerich coaxes some remarkable performances from his cast. It’s all a bit ridiculous, yes, but one should never let facts get in the way of a good story.

It looks like something worth checking out.

  

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A roundtable chat with Kevin Kline of “The Extra Man”

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A highly accomplished stage actor, trained at Julliard under the tutelage of such exacting instructors as the legendary John Houseman, Kevin Kline pretty much started his film career as one of the best of the best, a genuine “actor’s actor” and also something of an old fashioned movie star with the presence to match. His first movie role was opposite Meryl Streep in Alan Pakula’s 1982 Oscar-winning film version of “Sophie’s Choice.” That was followed by Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated ensemble dramedy, “The Big Chill,” and a leading role opposite Denzel Washington in Richard Attenborough’s portentous 1987 apartheid drama, “Cry Freedom.”

Though that was followed up by a part in Kasdan’s lighthearted homage to classic westerns, “Silverado,” Kevin Kline’s comic gifts remained under-recognized until his utterly ingenious, deservedly Oscar-winning turn as the murderous and hilariously insecure and pretentious Otto in the farce classic, “A Fish Called Wanda.” After that Kline became one of the screen’s most reliable comic leading men with parts in such high-quality mainstream comedies as “Dave” and “In and Out,” was well as the occasional part in such hard-edged tragicomic dramas as “Grand Canyon,” again with Lawrence Kasdan, and Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

Kline, who recently completed a successful stage run in Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Jennifer Garner, has — like other outstanding actors of his generation — gracefully moved from the A-list to the art-house. Though once noted for turning down movie roles in favor of stage work — John Stewart reminded him of his “Kevin Decline” nickname on his recent “Daily Show” “Colbert Report” appearance — Kline has been a busy and hugely reliable film actor for decades. More recent roles include the screen’s first correctly gay Cole Porter in the 2004 musical biopic “De-Lovely,” Garrison Keillor’s radio detective Guy Noir in Robert Altman’s 2006 swan song, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Jacques in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and the 21st century’s version of Inspector Dreyfus opposite Steve Martin‘s Inspector Clouseau in the rebooted “Pink Panther” series.

Add to those the role of the suave but irascible platonic male escort Henry Harrison in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s adaptation of the Jonathan Ames novel, “The Extra Man.” Taking in a confused and nervous younger protegee (Paul Dano of “There Will Be Blood”), Harrison is an utterly reactionary self-made throwback to another time and place, and an ideal role for an actor gifted with the finest of old fashioned acting virtues.

Kevin Kline and Paul Dano in

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What am I going to miss next?

I missed yesterdays big geek news of the upcoming Guillermo del Toro doing his “one for me” project with a long delayed adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “From the Mountains of Madness” with a little help from James Cameron. Bummer, but we’ll survive that tragedy together.

And then Mike Fleming, and every fanboy on earth it appears, found that the Comic-Con trailer for “Thor” had magically appeared on line, Wikileaks style. Anyhow, just as I had prepared this post, the folks at Marvel who apparently have a control issue with their marketing plan much as the U.S. government would rather you didn’t know too much about civilian casualties or the like, pulled it. I mean like seconds ago — it was there and I was ready to go and then it was gone. If you didn’t see it elsewhere, it was all Shakespearian and stuff and had more than a touch of “King Lear” to it, which makes sense as it’s directed by Kenneth Branagh.

So, since I don’t have the Thor trailer, here’s not one but two trailers. The first, a bit of Branagh directing actual Shakespeare and the probably never to be rivaled best ever quasi-Lear in cinema history. Enjoy, as you taste my bitter fanboy tears.

You know, I love Shakespeare and all, but his stuff is so full of cliches. Well, you’ll see none of that from Kurosawa-san.

  

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It’s time for another end of week movie news dump. Yay.

Yup, with Cannes going on and the early-early summer movie season happening, things are hopping.

* Nikkie Finke broke the news this morning of the latest chapter in the never-ending tale of the battle over the rights to the character of “Superman.” It seems DC is countersuing lawyer Marc Toberoff on the grounds of conflict of interest. Sure does sound like “hardball” but that’s what happens when millions of dollars are at stake.

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* It never ends. It just never, ever ends. A new alleged victim has come forward claiming that Roman Polanski raped her during the eighties when she was sixteen. (The terms used in the article are “sexually abused” in “the worst possible way” — I have no clue how that could not be rape, at the very least, if true). The woman is being represented by, naturally, Gloria Allred.

At this time, there’s no corroborating evidence beyond the charges. If there is, I think it’s curtains for Polanski and he’ll find himself suddenly and justifiably all-but friendless in Hollywood. It’s one thing to have one extremely nasty episode in your past, it’s quite another to be a serial sexual predator.

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