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Review: Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon), posted by CJ Ovalle

You might think that on a geek site like this, Joss Whedon would just get a pass. (1) But I’m a big fan of the bard’s Much Ado About Nothing- it’s my favorite Shakespeare play- and I really did enjoy the fairly extravagant Branagh version. So, no free pass for Mr. Whedon… he’d have to earn it.

So, I won a gold badge to South by Southwest (SXSW) this year, thanks to some writing about cloud computing. For those of you unfamiliar with the event, SXSW is a giant film/music/technology/now edu/now eco festival that takes place in Austin every year. Being a local, I usually look to the time with some amount of dread, as traffic and crowds become near unbearable. (2) Professionally, I’m quite interested in the technology part of the show- SXSW Interactive- and I did get to attend the keynote and some great panels. But something interesting came up on Saturday…

So first, confession time. I feel a bit bad that I actually did get in to see famed director Danny Boyle. And I left early. I left early because I found out that Joss Whedon’s new movie, Much Ado About Nothing, was going to be playing that day. And to show you just how much I’d been paying attention to the film schedule (3), I didn’t even realize that Whedon and a lot of the cast were going to be there and do a panel afterwards, until the panel actually happened.

So I stood relatively close to the front of a very, very long line for about two hours and got a pretty decent seat (4). I had vaguely heard that Joss Whedon was doing a Shakespeare film- mainly rumors shared by our housemate (5)- that Joss Whedon had taken a bunch of his former actors to his house and make a black and white Shakespeare movie in about a week (which was a bit of an oversimplification (6)). I hadn’t seen a trailer or heard anything else about it, so I went in not knowing what to expect. Was it going to be a period piece? A Baz Luhrmann-esque re-envisioning? Set in space? Was Mal going to be in it? I had no idea.

The movie was, simply put, magical. It did justice to Shakespeare and justice to Whedon and justice to the wonderful actors and actresses and everyone else involved. If all you want is my recommendation, here it is: See it. Buy it. Watch it. Make your family watch it. Watch it again. It’s Shakespeare, with its period vernacular, in a modern setting, and it is gloriously accessible and Whedon-esque, even absent his dialog. Take our money, Joss Whedon.

So, before I get to a slightly deeper review, as it turns out you CAN spoil a 400 year old script. (7) So if you want to see it like I did, and be completely clueless… well, to be as completely surprised you would have had to have not read the last paragraph, but to avoid more spoilers stop reading here. ^_^

Much Ado About Nothing has at times been called Benedick and Beatrice, who happen to be my favorite characters in the play. Their repartee is my favorite Shakespearean dialog and is amazing by itself. And Alexis Denisof (Wesley/Buffy) and Amy Acker (Claire/Dollhouse, Fred/Angel) not only did justice to the roles but very much made them their own. The pair definitely brought incredibly worthwhile interpretations to their characters, and were just amazing. Their line delivery was superb, and their physical acting and physical comedy was terrific. Amy Acker is my favorite Beatrice, ever. (8) I cannot say enough good things about her performance. And I really want to know how many takes they made her do for some scenes, because, ow. ^_^;

Whedon did some interesting things to put his own mark on the story. The film took place at his house. Men wore suits and possessed guns. Benedick and Beatrice had some sort of physical relationship prior to the story. Conrade was female (played by Riki Lindhome of Garunkel and Oates, Cheryl/Buffy). There was definitely a stronger undercurrent of sexuality than is usually portrayed… and in at least one scene, not so much an undercurrent (9). Dogberry (the ever awesome Nathan Fillion) and Verges (Tom Lenk, Andrew/Buffy) were played as comical 80s-style cop buddies, and totally stole scenes.

Everyone was great. Sean Maher (Simon/Firefly) played an intensely villainous Don John. Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson/Avengers) played an impassioned Leonato. Fran Kranz (Marty/Cabin in the Woods, Topher/Dollhouse) acted in ways we hadn’t seen before, as the brash Claudio. Reed Diamond (Laurence/Dollhouse) played a regal Don Pedro. And Jillian Morgese, who played Hero, fit in the cast so well that I was really surprised that I couldn’t place her in a past Whedon role at all… which turned out to be (uncredited Woman in Restaurant/Avengers). I know I’m not mentioning everyone, but everyone definitely brought it.(10)

And lo and behold, as the credits rolled, the SXSW staff brought chairs to the front for a panel. I’m sure that there will be recordings of it made available online at some point, since I saw plenty of people recording it. Here are some of the questions/comments I recall:

*Lots of clapping from both the audience and the panel for an English teacher who thanked them for making the movie before asking her question.
*One lady didn’t ask a question, but who thanked Joss Whedon profusely and completely broke down during her thanks.
*One gentleman who said he stood in line thinking he’d come up with a question, but ended up asking Nathan Filion why he was so awesome. (Paraphrasing the response: First, I commend you on your taste. I ride a lot of coattails. The secret of being awesome is picking the right coattails (points to Whedon).)
*When asked how they felt about doing Shakespeare, Fillion talked about how he almost chickened out until Whedon convinced him to come back. He said that he was scared, and that he peed a little. To which Greg Clark added that he himself peed a lot. Fillion also said that after awhile you got used to the language (which was true when watching the film as well). It was just flowery… and kind of backwards, like Yoda.
*An adorable child said she loved the Firefly theme and wondered if he wrote the music, which as it turns out besides the lyrics he did.
*One of the final two questions was a guy trying to get Whedon to settle a bet… what did he think of Lost? (Answer: He’d never seen it. As it turns out, you often make tv or watch tv.)
*The last question was about whether Whedon would ever revisit Firefly. Whedon responded that he’d love to have the question from Fox/Universal or whomever has the rights.

I did think of some questions, but by then time was up. Here’s what mine would’ve been:
*How many times did they make Amy Acker fall down? ^^;
*Claudio has a racist line- while he’s redeeming himself. Whedon definitely noted the line visually. What was he trying to convey there?

So, all in all, I loved it. As a fan of Much Ado, as a fan of Whedon, it’s easy for me to love. But I’m going to guess that lots of other people will love it as well. And that’s from someone who’s touched a First Folio. (11) Much thanks to Joss Whedon and cast and crew for sharing the movie with us, and thanks for your monumental efforts of filming it all in a scant 13 days. My hat’s off to you.

Oh, yes. And we learned that Agent Coulsen lives.

(1) Chances are you’d be right. But that’s not the case here.
(2) It helps the economy, they say. You don’t need to go downtown anyway, they say. Luckily, I live in the boonies.
(3) I didn’t quite realize I had a film badge early on. :P
(4) Overheard in line: “I want to make out with someone tonight.” “X-Men First Class was a terrible movie compared to the first one.” (4a) “Is that Harry Knowles?” (4b)
(4a) That statement is completely objectively wrong.
(4b) Yes.
(5) He spends a lot of time on the Internet
(6) It was 13 days.
(7) You’ve been warned!
(8) One possible exception: my wife played Beatrice in junior high. Although I didn’t see it, I’ll bet that would be my favorite had I seen it.
(9) The Lindhome/Maher scene. Wow.
(10) It’s it.
(11) Really. And that makes me an authority on stuff or something.

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