Rented: Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing (2012) by Joss Whedon

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I’m not sure if I told you how I came to love Shakespeare. I had tried to read Macbeth at some point and labored through three pages of it before throwing it into the corner not to pick it or him up again for years. And then I watched Much Ado About Nothing – Branagh’s version – and fell in love.

muchado2It’s still my favorite movie version, it’s still one of my favorite plays, it’ll always have a special place in my heart. And I would probably not have endeavored to watch a different version if it hadn’t been for this addition to the title: A film by Joss Whedon.

And then, of course, there was the casting of Amy Acker as Beatrice. One of my favorite actresses playing one of my favorite Shakespearean characters? Count me in.

And now I’ve watched it. In fact, I’m at this moment watching it a second time in one day. Oh, my goodness, what a ball, a blast, a festival of wit and comedy and noir elements that make this movie not better than Branagh’s, but different and wonderful.

I must confess that I couldn’t imagine anyone playing Much Ado differently, in each and every scene I had a flashback to the ’92-version. But slowly the actors of the Whedon-verse acted themselves into my conscious and I couldn’t resist their charm. I’m fascinated, I’m stumped, I can’t stop watching. And how do you even begin to resist Amy Acker?

Let me tell you something about Acker – she’s genius. In every part I’ve ever seen her, she not only amyacker2convinced me, she awed me with her talent. I loved her as Doctor Saunders/Whiskey in Dollhouse, and I’m madly in love with Root in Person of Interest. She’s just so special in every role, she’s amazing.

But she’s not the only one in this brilliantly cast Whedon-family adaptation of Shakespeare. I never liked Alexis Denisof better than when he played Benedick, he’s earnest and smart and comical when he’s told that Beatrice loves him. Such an honest performance. I loved Fran Kranz in Dollhouse and I love him as Claudio. And then there’re Nathan Fillion as Dogberry and Tom Lenk as Verges and, hell, they’re the funniest thing – yes, funnier than Michael Keaton and Ben Elton even.

muchado4I guess, I have one thing to criticize, though. While I first thought it refreshing to see Riki Lindhome cast as Conrade, I feel that casting Conrade with a male actor in this version would have been even better. Making Don John (Sean Maher) a gay villain – not a caricatured man who is evil because he’s limited to his gayness, but just a villain who happens to be gay… That would have been even more interesting than having a Shakespeare character emasculated.

Apart from this, I simply love Whedon doing Shakespeare. But then, has there ever been a thing Joss Whedon has done that I didn’t love?

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From my DVD collection: The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon (1941) by John Huston

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Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet in John Huston’s adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same title. It certainly makes for good entertainment but there’s more to it than that:

Sam Spade (Bogart) gets hired by Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Astor) to find her sister who is seeing some shady character named Thursby. Spade’s partner Archer (Jerome Cowan) jumps in to shadow Thursby but by early morning themaltesefalcon2they both turn up dead. As it turns out, Spade was seeing Archer’s wife on the side and thus becomes the police’s no. 1 suspect. But Spade isn’t a killer, he’s clever enough to find out that the whole plot of the damsel in distress is a decoy and everything really revolves around a black statuette of a falcon which is supposed to be of great value. Several parties want it but it turns up on Spade’s doorstep in the hands of a dying man. Plot is spun and the main players – besides Spade and O’Shaughnessy there are Joel Cairo (Lorre) and Gutman (Greenstreet) – finally meet in Spade’s apartment where they’re waiting for the falcon to arrive via Sam’s assistant Effie (Lee Patrick). It turns out the statuette is a fake and the parties part ways. But Spade is not one to be played with – as his new lady love has yet to discover.

themaltesefalcon5This is not exactly film noir. Yes, the plot lends itself to the genre but the finesse of the later murder mysteries is missing here. This is a solid story, the men talk tough, the women lie through their teeth but there’s no playing in the shadows. Bogart’s Spade is almost too upfront a character who does the detective work the old fashioned way: by foot and brain. He’s certainly not fancy but, as Gutman assures him repeatedly, he is a character.

I love old movies, yes, but this one is a rare pearl. It is very fast paced, changes location often and the dialogue is just as fast-paced as the plot. You have to pay attention to what is being said or you miss a point, miss what is happening. The themaltesefalcon3acting is spot on and the direction brings everything together for a surprising but necessary end. Yes, it is a character study of Spade, but the other characters don’t have to hide behind this larger-than-life figure and the plot just helps everything along nicely. It is a truly magnificent film to watch, never boring, never not entertaining. Go, watch.

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