on 13 June 2013
I saw this movie in the cinema, and it was more than worth the price of admission. The combination of Shakespeare, in one of his finest comedies, Joss Whedon at his best and his cast of superb actors made it sublime. The ability of Whedon to take you from hilarity (laugh out loud from everyone) to solemn drama in a moment is beautiful, aided by The Bard's words.
It took me all of about three lines of dialogue before I was captivated.
on 14 October 2013
Shot in black and white, with an indie pop soundtrack, modern dress and props, this is probably never going to be your definitive reading of Shakespeare's play. But it is a lot of fun. The words are the bard's, but the action is modern, with amusing physical gags, such as Beatrice falling down stairs when she overhears the news of Benedick love for her, and the dozy watchman Dogberry getting his partner's undersized jacket.
The cast are Josh Whedon regulars, from Firefly, Dollhouse, and the like but they are clearly having a ball here. Nathan Fillion steals a few scenes, perfectly cast as Dogberry, shown here wondering around in dark glasses like someone pretending to be a secret agent. But frankly it's a whole cast affair with Alexi Denisof and Amy Acker sparkling as Benedick and Beatrice, Sean Maher playing a menacing Don John, while Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese are sweet as the lovers whose romance is derailed by a lie.
The modern dress is played cleverly, guns for swords, maglights for lanterns, and modern zip-tie cuffs for the prisoners chains. Josh Whedon's house stands in for the palace (hell, it is a palace, I must start writing my own cult sci-fi series) and it all hangs together remarkably well.
I don't know why so many people are protesting the black and white. Critics have said it recasts Much Ado as a 1930s screwball comedy. I just think it brings out textures and gives this already anachronistic film a sense of timelessness. The picture is crisp and bright, and the blu ray allows a little extra dynamic range that shows of the pleasing contrasts.
I guess it will be mostly Whedon fans who give this a chance, which would be a shame, as it's a very entertaining movie, and a nice place to start if the idea of watching Shakespeare seems more like a homework assignment than an fun evening in. This version is light and sparkling in it's wit, dark in it's tragedy, with a genuinely moving ending.
on 19 June 2013
It is so rare that you go to see a film with high expectations only to find that those expectations did not do the true experience justice. Whedon's skill was to simplify the visual (single location, shot in B/W) but to allow the humour and brilliance of the pure Shakespearean script to bubble from the exciting, young and talented cast. Many of the actors I recognised from earlier Whedon works (such as Angel and Buffy). I can't recommend this film highly enough to the lover of razor sharp dialogue, words that 400 years and a modern setting, have not dulled.
on 4 September 2013
Saw this in the cinema and have been waiting for it to come out on DVD. The choice of black and white was surprising but SO effective! If you have a hard time understanding Shakespeare, you won't here. The actors did a fantastic job respecting the Bard's words while at the same time saying them in a natural manner. Bravo!
on 2 July 2013
This is a really thoughtful, well acted, and amusing take on the great play (far, far better than the Branagh version for example). The modern setting is not a distraction but adds weight to the story - the 'constables' as modern day security agents, the warriors are from the world of finance or business not literally army men, the ways of the modern wealthy middle class fit the story perfectly. Benedict is not the brightest person in the group and rather slow but that works well with the script, and Beatrice is a wonderfully feisty counterpart.
on 8 October 2013
Joss Whedon is simply a legend and the fact the man that can bring to us vampire slayers, Avengers and so many other wonderfully eclectic creations, can approach this with such class is incredible.
The cast is a who's who of Whedon stars and friends and this is a joy for all fans. If not a fan, you are greeted instead with superb casting.
Amy Acker is ethereal and stunning as a formidable and formidably confused Beatrice. Alexis Denisof offers us a frustratingly smug but inherently loveable Benedict whilst Nathan Fillion is the jester cop full of laughs and light-hearted relief - the Ass!
I could go on (Clark Gregg, nice one sir) but simply, watch it. Just watch it - don't be reserved by the black and white, the Shakespeare play, just don't. If you like a drama full of twists, turns, deceit, love and unexpected but well-placed chuckles, just watch it and, enjoy!
For me, Joss Whedon is one of the great Hollywood scriptwriters who has been treated badly by Hollywood with 2 unfairly cancelled tv shows after his hit Buffy The Vampire Slayer and spin off Angel is now at last getting the recognition he deserves after the hit that was Avengers Assemble and now Much Ado About Nothing. The film is shot beautifully in black and white using a cast made up of his various tv shows but who will most likely be complete unknowns to non scifi or Whedon fans and uses Shakespeare's original text but is set in present day Los Angeles. The plot for those unfammiliar despite several previous adaptions sees Leonarto the governor and his friend Don Pedro who has just returned from war plot to get the sparring Benedick and Beatrice fall in love. The cast are excellent and this is a very funny, charming gem of a film.
on 13 January 2014
This is modernised Shakespeare in a similar vein to Baz Lurhman's take on Romeo & Juliet, although on a far less grandiose scale. In fact, this was made on something of a shoestring budget. Using the original text, the actors play their parts with aplomb, and it is a testament to their skills when you consider the short space of time that was taken to film the whole thing. The cast and director manage to display comedy where the modern viewer may overlook it, and the tragic elements of the play are well and truly on show. Star turns come from Nathan Fillion and Tom Lenk as Dogberry and Verges, the night watchmen/ security guards, who steal the show with their comedic skills. Well worth a watch if you are a fan of Joss Whedon, William Shakespeare, or just fancy something different.
In the modern world Shakespeare only works if we fit the best of him to what is there,we need to cut away the great seas of rhetoric and go with the flow.Get an ensemble of working actors who are at ease with each other, working in unison on productions of different material made for TV and film(as here)and just film them over 10 days in one setting.What does Shakespeare need to be realized now and be seen by a mass audience of youth who would not otherwise see him? Why,update him and show how relevant he is.So examples we've seen like Luhrmann's Romeo+Juliet,McKellen's Richard III,Fiennes's Coriolanus,Branagh's Henry V have shown us what can be done.Are we aiming for `realism'? No.We can get to imaginative truth,say by shooting in black and white.Whedon has got an enviable experience of moulding a company of actors in his Firefly or Buffy TV productions.He's rehearsed with them many times.He filmed MAAN in his home estate,with the great help of his wife's production.Shakespeare `was not for an age,but for all time',but maybe he never wrote as if for eternity,he wrote living dramas to be performed for 1 or 2 years only before he moved onto the next one.If it doesn't live in the present it doesn't live at all.
We never fully understand Shakespeare,but we get closer to him by performing his rich tapestries of language, freighted with human emotion.The language is only archaic if its not spoken;familiarity is what we need.Whedon started filming this a week after finishing The Avengers Assemble.Directed on a low budget with a cast of friends and colleagues whom he'd got round to his house for regular readings of Shakespeare.They rehearsed this first.This romance involves a cruel con-trick and a startling murder sub-plot.MAAN anticipates the shift of tone and genre of modern cinema.This modern LA version is set in a gated community of the sparring between Beatrice and Benedict,who hate each other until he's tricked into believing she loves him,she overhears Hero and her maid discussing his love for her.The play is a template for the modern rom-com:hate,followed by shenaningans,then falling in love.
Whedon has kept the original verse.Everything is perfectly comprehensible and still funny.We could be watching a US-sitcom.It's refreshing,you can understand all the jokes here.There is a sudden change of mood,when Beatrice asks Benedict to kill Claudio,after her outrage at his treatment of Hero,to prove Benedict's love for her. Magically, Whedon's approach is effortless.He's not in awe of the text,he's known for his wit and wordplay(cf.Buffy).The film is not perfect: we're not really sure what they're doing there;you're never sure of the soldiery/war context(are they corporate bosses/mafia hitmen?).Don John is the villain and fits in with a tale of deception/double-cross in a comedy-noir in this b/w film. He is exposed by the fumbling and incompetent constable, Dogberry(Fillion,great).We don't get a sense of the whole plot as in Luhrmann's Romeo+Juliet,but this doesn't need to suck up to youth as that did.This is for the 30+ audience.Whedon is good with female characters and crafts a fluent,contemporary story in the large Spanish-style house good for visual twists and physical play with many corners and stairs.Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof are incredible as the barbed pair.Music by Whedon.
on 13 October 2013
I'm a huge fan of Whedon's work. Sadly, several years of English Lit left me rather less a fan of the Bard, but Much Ado About Nothing is one of the few plays that I have come to appreciate in later life. It's a simple enough story, with drama on the Hero / Claudio side, and razor sharp wit with the Benedick / Beatrice storyline.
I couldn't get to see this at the cinema, so looked forward to the DVD release. Much has been said elsewhere about the difference between the US / UK releases - we got a directors commentary, a trailer and some art cards, while the US got several more featurettes but had to do without the cards. I'd probably say that on balance, the US release just edged it. I'd rather see the additional features than have 5 (admittedly very nice) cards. But this is all frippery - what about the film itself?
Shot on a sub-two week timescale during the making of Avengers Assemble, at Whedon's house, using many of Whedon's regular cast members, it's a black and white, modern day take on the story, but using Shakespeare's original words. The juxtaposition of sharp suits, sunglasses and 400 year old dialogue jars briefly, but within a few minutes, it seems perfectly natural.
On the whole, I really enjoyed it - it's hard not to with such a good story. But my biggest problem was that so many of the actors were familiar from other Whedon works - often acting opposite each other, that those other roles kept intruding. For example, Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker, who played the sparring Benedick and Beatrice, were also a couple in "Angel", and more than once I found myself thinking 'Nice to see Wesley & Fred back together'. Or when the constables appeared... "Gosh! Captain Mal's put on a bit of weight." And talking of Benedick & Beatrice, I can't help but compare them with Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson, who portrayed the roles in the 1993 film, and sadly, Denisof and Acker (although Acker less so), come off second best. While the fire was there between them, they didn't have the twinkle in the eye that the roles require.
As for the rest of the cast, it was the unknowns in the smaller roles that worked best for me, while some of the main cast seemed a little... out of place. Fran Kranz just didn't work as Claudio (for me), and Reed Diamond didn't have the gravitas for Don Pedro.
All of which are relatively minor quibbles - it's still a four star film for me, and if your unfamiliar with Whedon's other shows, and therefore don't bring the knowledge of the actors other roles, you could probably add that fifth star.
If I could only own one version though?
Sorry Joss - Brannagh wins on this particular occasion.