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Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

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    lawless

    I saw Joss Whedon’s delightful modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, which he filmed at his Santa Monica home on a shoestring budget in the course of twelve days between principal photography and post-production on The Avengers. Actors Whedon’s worked with before, some of whom had participated in Sunday afternoon table readings of the Bard during the later seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, were cast on short (less than a month’s) notice.

    Whedon cut about 1/3 of the text, but every line (with the exception of one he modified) delivered is straight from the Bard. There are no interpolations and the dialog is not modernized, although Whedon added a dialogless prologue, puts a fresh spin on the staging, and changes the gender of Conrade, one of Don John’s conspirators. The film was shot in black and white using a handheld camera (no budget for dollies or cranes), which gives it a timeless, almost noir quality and echoes the screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, and it looks gorgeous. Shooting in black and white also gave Whedon more leeway when it comes to props and costumes – no need for color matching. Whedon also composed the music for the songs, which are performed by his brother and sister-in-law.

    All of the actors currently work in TV or film, and few of them had previous stage experience or experience with Shakespeare. Amy Acker, who plays Beatrice, and Alexis Denisof, who plays Benedick, are the only ones with prior Shakespeare experience; Acker played Much Ado’s ingenue Hero shortly after graduation from drama school, and Denisof began his career appearing in a minor role in Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company after graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. As a result, the dialog is conversational, not declamatory, all of it with American accents, even Denisof, who was an American expat living in London in his early career and portrayed a British character when he appeared on Buffy and Angel.

    I knew going in that Denisof and Acker, who played star-crossed lovers on Angel, had good chemistry. Acker is terrific; Denisof, less so, although he’s not terrible. I think part of it is due to my exposure to him on Angel; I expected him to speak more like his character did there. I connected more with the pratfalls and physicality and less with his line readings. Part of it may be that he has a couple of long monologues that don’t completely come off convincingly in a movie set in the present day.

    Some of the actors in minor roles are unconvincing or otherwise come across as artificial (Borachio, Conrade, the maid Margaret, the two watchmen), and I have quibbles with a few in major roles (Hero and the portrayal of Don Pedro later in the movie), but Sean Maher as the villain (and bastard — literally) Don John, Nathan Fillion as the hapless constable Dogberry, Clark Gregg as the host and Hero’s father Leonato, and Fran Kranz as Hero’s intended, Claudio, are all terrific.

    I’m going to spout heresy and say that another reason this is not a completely successful movie is the source text. I’m not even talking about those things in it that are problematic in a modern day adaptation, like the slut-shaming of Hero (which reads more as a concern that Claudio’s been cuckolded before his marriage than as a concern over Hero’s virginity), but the insta-love and abrupt tonal shifts. Some of the settings are not completely convincing, like the office where the watchmen meet and where Borachio and Conrade are interrogated; more time and/or a bigger budget could have fixed that. And seeing the maid who’d helped cause Hero’s problems with Claudio dancing with the other guests at the party that ends the movie was jarring.

    Altogether, though, this is a sprightly and hilarious movie (except when it isn’t and shouldn’t be, like the scene where Claudio rejects Hero), and I recommend it. A list of locations where it’s playing can be found here; it’ll be in three theaters in Dublin beginning on June 14th. So far, though, all of the showings are in English-speaking countries. Those of you who live elsewhere may have to wait for the DVD. 🙁

    A few reviews can be found here: New York Times (includes a short anatomy of a scene video); New York Post; IGN (includes the trailer and a short clip from Dogberry’s “I am an ass” speech); New York Magazine. Also, for the film geeks among you, here is an interview with cinematographer Jay Hunter about the filming process.

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    Ugetsu

    Sounds really great, Lawless, although I must admit to knowing almost nothing about the play, I’m intrigued to see this version. I was thinking of going tonight, but there is a free showing of Rashomon here today!

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks, lawless!

    I had already decided to skip this one as it unites three things that I don’t particularly like, one of which is low budget hobby Shakespeare projects, another being Joss Whedon who (I’m sorry to say) I don’t find all that interesting (not that I have watched much of his stuff), and finally Much Ado About Nothing itself, to which and to whose popularity my reaction is quite identical to the play’s title, despite my overall adoration of Shakespeare’s works.

    But the film has gotten good reviews, and with your recommendation also in mind, I think that I will keep my eyes open for it, if it happens to come my way!

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – And here the marketing had led me to believe that everyone in the UK and Ireland was super-familiar with Shakespeare. 😉 Of the two Shakespeare comedies with a “war between the sexes” theme (The Taming of the Shrew is the other), this is the one that doesn’t overtly favor one gender over the other. At any rate, the movie is being marketed differently in the UK and Ireland than it is in the US, as proved by the differences between the official US trailer and the official UK trailer.

    More seriously, I understand the allure of a free showing of Rashomon. I hope you get a chance to see Much Ado, though.

    Vili – I’m curious. Where else have you run into low budget hobby Shakespeare projects — on stage? I can’t think of any others on film. I’m also curious what of Whedon’s you’ve seen and found uninteresting. If you don’t like genre sci fi/fantasy, allegory and archetypes, or pop-culture heavy material, though, you wouldn’t much like his stuff. For me, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are among the best things ever done for TV and I enjoyed Dollhouse very much despite its flaws because of what it had to say about the nature of identity, memory, and morality. But I never got into Firefly, haven’t watched Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog or The Avengers, and thought Cabin in the Woods worked better as a deconstruction of the horror genre than as a movie.

    As for Much Ado About Nothing — it’s often the one Shakespeare comedy taught in high school. Why it and not Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, or Twelfth Night, I don’t know, except maybe gender issues are a part of it. Beatrice and Benedick come across as fairly modern and arguably are the progenitors of every loving bickering couple in plays, movies, and TV ever since. Also, apparently the play’s title is an Elizabethan double entendre.

    I don’t know if it will come to Hungary, but I just saw an announcement that it’s being screened in Germany (apparently in its original version, so no subtitles). Sorry, I don’t remember the location.

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    Ugetsu

    I’ve just been to see it and I really enjoyed it, although not having seen any other versions I’m not really in a good position to judge how good a job Whedons done with it. I don’t usually like contemporary settings for Shakespeares plays while keeping the dialogue, it doesn’t make much sense for me, but I thought it was ok with this film. Some of the performances seemed a bit uneven but the good ones were great (especially Amy Acher). I have to say though that I don’t think she and Denisof really had as much chemistry as they should have had.

    I find the different trailers for the US and UK markets really interesting – I wonder if that is based on assumptions about the audience or on research? The US one would have intrigued me more I think. I note though that UK and Irish reviews have been a bit more lukewarm than US ones (although some have been very positive).

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I’m glad you had a chance to see it. Probably the best known film version (for all I know, the only prior film version) is Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 movie, which is set in 19th century Italy. Trailer here. (The men’s costumes look pretty silly to me, frankly.) For the sake of comparison: Branagh and his then-wife Emma Thompson star as Benedick and Beatrice; Denzel Washington is Don Pedro, Kevin Briers (whoever that is) is Leonato, Robert Sean Leonard (better known as Dr. Wilson of House, M.D.) is Claudio, Keanu Reeves (!) is Don John, Kate Beckinsale is Hero, and Michael Keaton is Dogberry.

    I’m a big fan of Emma Thompson — her script for and acting in Sense and Sensibility is divine — and think Branagh is generally too full of himself (his appearance as stuck-on-himself Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter films amounts to typecasting, except Branagh is skilled and Lockhart is not), but based on the trailer, I think Acker’s actually a better Beatrice (which is actually a bit of a surprise) while Branagh is a slight improvement over Denisof as Benedick. (He’d be more of an improvement if he wasn’t so full of himself.)

    I’m sure Washington is great; after all, he is one of the greatest actors of his generation and has a broad range as well. What we can see of him in the trailer is impressive, but it’s very short. Kate Beckinsale is probably a better Hero than Jillian Morgese, and Robert Sean Leonard is perfect for the part of Claudio. However, I’ll bet anything that Reeves and Keaton are outmatched as Don John and Dogberry, respectively, and I find it hard to believe that Briers is a better Leonato than Clark Gregg. Where Branagh’s production may shine in comparison is in the minor roles like Borachio, Conrade, the night watchmen, and the various maids.

    I agree with you that contemporary productions using the original language can seem a bit off, but this one works better than one would expect. There were times when I wished Whedon had used a more modern idiom, but more often than not it was to improve understandability so the lines had more oomph than it was to improve plausibility. Other times the language did come across as artificial. But it was such a magical, otherworldly setting that most of the time the use of the original text worked.

    I absolutely adore Amy Acker’s Beatrice. I probably see the movie a little differently from you because I’ve seen her work with Denisof on Angel, where, as I said, they played star-crossed lovers. I’ve read at least one review of Much Ado that claims that they act as if they were in different films, and I can see that. Denisof relies more on physicality and his voice sometimes grates or sounds artificial; of everyone, he comes the closest to declaiming his lines, and his Benedick is bumbles too often and is less suave than he should be. Acker’s Beatrice, on the other hand, comes across as close to 100% natural.

    Since this was made on a shoestring, meaning there’s not much of a marketing budget, I’m fairly confident the differences between the UK and US trailers were based on assumptions about the audience and/or the distributor’s past experience than on targeted market research. I have to confess that I cherry-picked the reviews; while there were no shortage of other enthusiastic reviews, some were lukewarm and at least one (by Wired) ripped it to shreds. But mostly I chose the reviews because they reflected how I felt about the movie (NY Post and New York Magazine), had useful information or video (IGN), or because it appeared in the newspaper that is more or less the top US cultural arbiter (New York Times). (Plus the Times review has that Anatomy of a Scene video commentary)

    BTW, it was Whedon who insisted on including a break between production and post-production of The Avengers in his contract and he and his wife were supposed to visit Venice then to celebrate their 20th anniversary. But about a month before, his wife urged him to take out the Much Ado adaptation he’d talked about making for the last ten years, the text of which he had stashed away, and actually make the damn film as a palate cleanser from his work on The Avengers. That’s in large part how she wound up as the film’s producer. It also helped that they already had a production company set up for small-scale small-budget films like this.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: Vili – I’m curious. Where else have you run into low budget hobby Shakespeare projects — on stage? I can’t think of any others on film.

    Each year, numerous Shakespeare adaptations are released, most of which don’t really make much noise. By and large they tend to be low budget television adaptations or experimental short films. My curiosity towards all things Shakespearean has on occasion lured me into watching them when given the chance. Not all of them are bad, but few of them are very good.

    IMDb for instance lists at least three Much Ado adaptations from the past year or so alone.

    lawless: I’m also curious what of Whedon’s you’ve seen and found uninteresting.

    Let me preface this by saying that I’m sure that Whedon is very good at what he does and that his works really speak to the audience that he has. It just seems to me that things that he does in no way resonate with me. I don’t intend the following as a personal attack on anyone, least of all Whedon. Anyone who gets where he is has my respect.

    Anyway, there was a period of time in the late 90s when every channel seemed to show Buffy the Vampire Slayer whenever I turned on the television. I consequently ended up watching a few episodes, but the show just didn’t interest me. It seemed very silly and childish.

    Some years ago, I watched about half of the Firefly series until I gave up. Many of my friends insisted that I would love it because of my interested in science fiction and westerns, but unfortunately they were wrong. Everything about it felt very wooden and forced, and I couldn’t force myself to finish the season.

    I got quite excited about Dollhouse before it premiered, but gave up halfway through the pilot, disappointed. I don’t actually remember why, or indeed anything about the pilot. I think it just was silly and wooden again, and I may also have been influenced by the reviews that I knew were quite lukewarm already before watching.

    I was also curious about The Cabin in the Woods but was left quite baffled about its 92% Rotten Tomatoes rating after watching it. It’s not terrible, but the humour didn’t resonate with me at all. And, again, it was very silly and felt forced. For me, it didn’t work as a satire or a dissection of the horror genre.

    Finally, I thought that The Avengers was an extremely generic superhero romp that proceeded through a list of genre clichés on autopilot. Even Robert Downey Jr wasn’t able to save the film, although he was quite fun to watch, as he usually is.

    The bottom line is that I feel like I should be an American teenager to understand Whedon and the worlds that he creates. I also think that those worlds and the characters in them are very thin and uninteresting. But, as I said, I guess I’m just not on the same wave length with him, and I guess that’s ok. This may also be made more annoying for me as we clearly do share similar interests, and so often when I hear about his projects I get excited, and then very disappointed when I realise that his style is very different from what I had hoped the end result would be.

    I didn’t actually realise Whedon was behind everything that I have listed above, until I checked his filmography. I didn’t for instance realise that he write and produced The Cabin in the Woods before you mentioned it! I knew that he was the guy behind Buffy, and Firefly, of course.

    Ugetsu: I find the different trailers for the US and UK markets really interesting

    Me too! The US trailer definitely got me more interested in the film than the UK one.

    Ugetsu: I don’t usually like contemporary settings for Shakespeares plays while keeping the dialogue, it doesn’t make much sense for me

    For me, the best thing about Shakespeare is the language, so I tend to be disappointed when it gets changed or modernised. It can still work, of course, especially if it’s something very different, like what Kurosawa did.

    But I could listen to the iambic rhythms of Shakespeare (and some of his contemporaries) forever and ever. It’s just so brilliant. Lights up my brain. If well delivered, of course.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    For me, the best thing about Shakespeare is the language, so I tend to be disappointed when it gets changed or modernised.

    I agree of course the language is central to Shakespeare. Its just that I find the structure of the plays and the form of the language that for me it simply doesn’t match modern dress or situations. I think that if the director wants to make us see the ‘contemporary’ relevance of Shakespeare, it is better to draw that out of the play itself, rather than fit the actors into modern clothes. Whedon’s Much Ado is an example I think of where this doesn’t work. At first it looks like there is a relevance to everyone dressed in sharp suits and the Californian locations, but when he insists on maintaining Shakespeares psuedo Italian references, for me it just gets confusing and distracting. Plus, I like funky old costumes.

    As for the general point on Joss Whedon, I must admit to knowing very little about his work. I don’t own a TV and when I did most of his TV shows were on satellite here and on a point of principle I refused to make Rupert Murdoch even richer by subscribing to his channels. So I’ve seen maybe a couple of episodes of Buffy and liked it, but I wasn’t able to follow the longer term plot threads so I guess I missed most of what made fans love it so much. I only saw the film of Serenity and I enjoyed it a lot, I liked his light touch and the neat inversion of genre tropes.

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    lawless

    Vili: Each year, numerous Shakespeare adaptations are released, most of which don’t really make much noise. By and large they tend to be low budget television adaptations or experimental short films. My curiosity towards all things Shakespearean has on occasion lured me into watching them when given the chance. Not all of them are bad, but few of them are very good.

    IMDb for instance lists at least three Much Ado adaptations from the past year or so alone.

    O.o I have to admit, I was only thinking of commercial theatrical film releases, of which only Messina High (in post-production and not on my radar, admittedly) seems to be the only other recent one. The other two I saw were what looked like a college production that was televised and the Globe on Screen, so not movie adaptations in the strict sense.

    Vili: The bottom line is that I feel like I should be an American teenager to understand Whedon and the worlds that he creates. I also think that those worlds and the characters in them are very thin and uninteresting. But, as I said, I guess I’m just not on the same wave length with him, and I guess that’s ok. This may also be made more annoying for me as we clearly do share similar interests, and so often when I hear about his projects I get excited, and then very disappointed when I realise that his style is very different from what I had hoped the end result would be.

    I think you’re right that being an American (all of us were teenagers at one time) helps, but I’d also point out he has a pretty devoted following in the UK and his interest in turning gender tropes upside down has landed him a sizeable female following. BTW, Whedon spent his teen years in the UK, not the US; his mother was teaching in England at the time and he attended Winchester. He has stated that there’s a little bit of him in all of his characters, but he most particularly related to Xander, the everyman geek.

    Based on the timing, you saw Buffy when the characters were still in high school, and Whedon was deliberately mining teenage angst and using the monsters as metaphors for it. The show was also less arc-driven and more monster-of-the-week back then. Although season 3 (her last year of high school) is probably the overall favorite of Buffy fans, the show wasn’t as complex then as it became later on, and you’d probably like seasons 4 through 7 (or maybe 6) better. Of all the things Whedon’s done, the one I suspect might be most congenial to you is Angel, which is highly noir-influenced (repentant vampire private eye in LA, hello!) and takes on more “adult” themes without some of the underlying confusion as to premise that Dollhouse suffered from.

    Vili: Finally, I thought that The Avengers was an extremely generic superhero romp that proceeded through a list of genre clichés on autopilot.

    Superhero movies, especially those with teams of superheroes I’ve had no previous exposure to, don’t ring my bells, so I didn’t watch The Avengers, but I’ve seen enough about it come across my Tumblr dash to say that I’d probably feel similarly but express it less strongly than that. I would at least expect it to be more coherent and logical than, say, Star Trek: Into Darkness, which I saw for the sake of Benedict Cumberbatch and enjoyed but which lacked both coherence and logic. Sometimes Whedon will elide logic for emotional impact, but that’s not really what happened in ST:ID either.

    BTW, Cabin in the Woods is actually more Drew Goddard’s baby than Joss’. Drew co-wrote the script and directed the movie. But Joss was the first person to hire him to write for TV; he worked on Buffy and Angel, then moved to Alias and Lost. He also wrote the screenplay for Cloverfield and is one of a number of writers credited for World War Z.

    Ha, my reaction to the trailers was the almost the opposite of the two of you. The UK trailer is definitely too lugubrious, but it also has longer scenes and may be a fairer depiction of the movie overall. I dislike the US trailer’s quick cutting (that’s a particular pet peeve of mine in general) and the “pow pow” effect of all those words coming at you at once.

    I wonder if one reason Vili doesn’t like Much Ado is that it’s not written in verse? I think that also means it’s not written in iambic pentameter.

    Ugetsu: Its just that I find the structure of the plays and the form of the language that for me it simply doesn’t match modern dress or situations. I think that if the director wants to make us see the ‘contemporary’ relevance of Shakespeare, it is better to draw that out of the play itself, rather than fit the actors into modern clothes. Whedon’s Much Ado is an example I think of where this doesn’t work. At first it looks like there is a relevance to everyone dressed in sharp suits and the Californian locations, but when he insists on maintaining Shakespeares psuedo Italian references, for me it just gets confusing and distracting.

    And here’s where I stake out a middle ground. I feel like the names and references in the text needed to be rationalized for their new setting. Are the characters Mafia? High-level movie producers? What war is it that Don Pedro and his crew are coming from, and what kind of battle was there between him and his half-brother? I can even live with keeping the place names — Santa Monica, where the shoot took place, is Spanish and could be Italian, after all, and Venice Beach isn’t far away, and Messina and Aragon could be the names of fictional locations in California even though we know they’re not. But the maids need to act like maids, which means no dancing with the partygoers at the end in party clothes, and the function of the night watch needs to be rationalized — are they private security for a gated community, the neighborhood watch, Leonato’s private security detail, or what?

    Other than a few more instances of rationalizing/modernizing than took place, I’m okay with keeping the language otherwise, although I wish the actors didn’t speak quite as fast as they do. I’m also okay with modernizing, but I’d keep as much of Shakespeare’s text as I possibly could in that case.

    Ugetsu: I liked his light touch and the neat inversion of genre tropes

    His wit and inversion of genre tropes is a huge part of his appeal. To that I’d add his ability to draw out emotions in his characters and his audiences. He is renowned for killing off characters and messing up their love lives.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: I’d probably feel similarly [about The Avengers] but express it less strongly than that

    I may indeed have come across a little direct in my post above, and can only repeat that I didn’t intend it as an attack on anyone, or as a judgement of anyone’s tastes or preferences, least of all yours! So, when I for instance wrote that Buffy was silly and childish, I fully meant (and mean) it as my own personal view, and not as a statement of universal fact. You hopefully understood this from my post, but I just wanted to clarify so that there is no misunderstanding. 🙂

    I also admit that I have not seen enough of Buffy to form a very informed opinion of the whole series, and you may well be right that what I saw was from a season less attuned to my personal tastes. I may well give Angel a try one day.

    It’s funny by the way that you should mention Star Trek: Into Darkness, as I almost wrote a bit about J.J. Abrams earlier, who is very similar to Whedon in how I get excited about his projects and then feel let down when the final result is not something that I like. Although I must say that in this particular case, I quite liked Intro Darkness, partly because of Cumberbatch (brilliant as usual!) but also because it was miles better than the first film in the new series (again, just a personal opinion). I didn’t actually think that it lacked cohesion and logic, at least not more than say The Avengers, but it may well be that I just turned my brain off for Star Trek, as I think you should. 🙂

    lawless: I wonder if one reason Vili doesn’t like Much Ado is that it’s not written in verse?

    This is something that I have never considered, but maybe you are right? I guess I need to watch another Much Ado just to make sure. I think I’ll wait for Whedon’s to land here.

    Ugetsu: I agree of course the language is central to Shakespeare. Its just that I find the structure of the plays and the form of the language that for me it simply doesn’t match modern dress or situations.

    Me, this doesn’t bother at all. This got me wondering if the difference of our reactions could at least partly be explained by the fact that English is not my mother tongue (although it certainly is my first language these days). I have also read Shakespeare and his contemporaries in the original pretty much as long as I have successfully been able to read any English, so I don’t consider the language of early modern English drama that strange, just another form, like Victorian (literary) English or contemporary African American Vernacular.

    Although I also admit that there is something that really lures me in when Shakespeare is reimagined into another time and place. Ian McKellen’s 1995 Third Reich inspired Richard III is one of my favourite films, and I also admit to having a (very) soft spot for films like the 1999 Titus or of course Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. If well done, I have no issue whatsoever with the inconsistencies, anachronisms or other challenges that direct Shakespeare adaptations with new settings introduce. I suspend my disbelief, no problem.

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    lawless

    Vili: It was clear from your original post, which is why I decided not to address it, and I can understand why the first three years of Buffy, which aired from 1997-1999, might not have appealed to you. I was just trying to show that our view of the Avengers is probably pretty similar except I’d probably give Whedon more credit for working imaginatively with the material he was given, as he was already limited by what had gone on in a number of previous films. From what I can tell, he made a movie about a team of superheroes that highlighted all of them and their abilities rather than favoring one over the other, and that’s probably the best that can be expected. Also, by playing to the crowd (i.e., using those genre cliches), he made the third-highest grossing movie ever, which gives him more clout and freedom when he’s doing his own projects. He’s no longer a cult TV writer/director.

    Vili: I almost wrote a bit about J.J. Abrams earlier, who is very similar to Whedon in how I get excited about his projects and then feel let down when the final result is not something that I like.

    I feel that way about Abrams too to the point where I react cynically when I hear he’s working on something. The problem with Abrams is he starts things and then leaves them for others to deal with (I’m thinking of the first two seasons of Alias vs. the rest of it); he’s not as integrally involved in everything that’s going on as Whedon (or at least that’s my impression), and (imo) not as consistent. He’s more of an action movie fanboy than a sff fanboy like Whedon and he doesn’t have as strong an inclination to upend genre cliches (even though it apparently didn’t happen in The Avengers) or traditional gender roles or expose male privilege.

    I agree with you, though, that ST:ID was better and more interesting than the first reboot movie. But I saw Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan when it first came out and this movie paled next to that one. Wrath of Khan might have been more naively sincere, but the plot and dialogue had more depth and made a lot more sense. Cumberbatch doesn’t have the kind of gravitas to pull off Khan as a character. The difference between him and Ricardo Montalban is something like the difference between Nakadai and post-Red Beard (or maybe Yojimbo) Mifune.

    I didn’t realize Much Ado wasn’t written in verse until I looked at the Wikipedia article on it, but once I thought about it, it clicked.

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    lawless

    I saw this again today and liked many of the performances better than the first time around. It helped that I realized that there were two maids with speaking parts, not one — they look similar enough to be nearly indistinguishable on first viewing.

    I think the problem with Alexis Denisof’s Benedick is that he plays the comic parts too broadly, without the necessary subtlety and complexity. His performance improves once they get to the aborted wedding and he aligns himself with Beatrice and Hero. It’s very affecting when he stays behind after the rest of Don Pedro’s posse leaves, and he does a good job of playing off of Amy Acker’s anguish and demand that he kill Claudio, which he turns into an offer to challenge him to a duel. I have a hard time imagining how a modern day adaptation could improve on the way Whedon’s handles Claudio’s problematic rejection of Hero and their eventual reconciliation.

    Reed Diamond as Don Pedro does the opposite of Alexis Denisof as Benedick: He’s great until the initial wedding sequence, during which his performance becomes less complex and layered and doesn’t entirely recover until the end.

    I saw the first ten minutes of Kenneth Branagh’s version courtesy of a LiveJournal friend, and based on that clip, Clark Gregg’s Leonato is much better. I also like the staging, blocking, and cinematography of Whedon’s movie better; Branagh’s movie reminds me too much of PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre or some other BBC-made miniseries, and the soundtrack was way too busy and bombastic. Whedon wrote the score for his and other than the songs whose lyrics appear in the play, it’s pretty unobtrusive.

    But I liked what I saw of Emma Thompson’s Beatrice, and I suspect Branagh (as Benedick), Denzel Washington (as Don Pedro), and Robert Sean Leonard (as Claudio) equal or outact their Whedon counterparts. On the other hand, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts that Nathan Fillion is a better Dogberry than Michael Keaton, who I’ve heard chews the scenery, and Sean Maher a better Don John than Keanu Reeves, who I’ve seen described as maintaining a single somewhat blank expression throughout the entire movie.

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