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Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Much Ado About Nothing

Directed by Joss Whedon, US, 2013

“Shall quips and sentences and these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the career of his humor? No! The world must be peopled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married.”

– William Shakespeare, from “Much Ado About Nothing,” Act II, Scene III

When most people think of romance in Shakespeare, they think of “Romeo and Juliet.”  Enough ink has been spilled over the years arguing that the best example of real romance in the Bard’s work is instead in the comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.”  Indeed, thousands of college essays have been written that point out that the romance between Claudio and Hero in Much Ado is a send-up of Romeo and Juliet.  Of course, it is not Claudio and Hero, who mostly vehicles of plot and satire, that we remember from Much Ado, but rather Beatrice and Benedict.

The 1993 Kenneth Branagh version of the play is truer to Shakespeare’s vision, since it is set in the same time period as the play.  That does not make it a better film that Whedon’s version, however, especially since it is always easier to do Shakespeare as period-piece than set it in the present day. As 2000’s “Hamlet” (the one set in New York), 2001’s “O,” 1996’s Romeo + Juliet, and 1995’s Richard III demonstrate, this concept has had decidedly mixed results.

Much Ado’s snappy dialogue, however, lends itself better to a modern setting than the aforementioned tragedies and history plays.  It helps when the newer version is directed by the modern king of snappy dialogue and ensemble casts – Joss Whedon.

After remembering that it takes a scene or two for the mind to adjust to Shakespeare’s English, I thoroughly enjoyed Whedon’s adaptation.  Amy Acker and Alexis Denisoff are great as Beatrice and Benedict, a younger casting for the duo than the Branagh version which is probably more attuned with what Shakespeare had in mind (you can’t really ask him, he’s been dead for almost 400 years).

You might like Much Ado About Nothing if: You like the original play, the 1993 Kenneth Branagh adaptation, or romantic comedies in general.

You might not like Much Ado About Nothing if: You don’t like Shakespeare, but even if you don’t, you might still want to give this one a chance before leaving the Bard completely behind.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe

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Movies

Argo (2012)

Argo

Directed by Ben Affleck, US, 2012

With its recent win at the Golden Globes as motivation, I saw Argo this past weekend.  I had originally thought that I would watch the movie later on HBO or Amazon.  I’m glad that I didn’t wait that long – this is a film that is worth your $8.

There is a high bar of difficulty when re-telling a true story.  After all, the audience already knows the outcome most of the time.  Although Argo isn’t based on a particularly well known story, movie critics, usually the guardians of spoiler protection, have no qualms telling the prospective audience about the movie’s outcome.  After all, you should have known ahead of time, right?

In any event it should be noted that Argo masterfully overcomes this difficulty by providing the audience with a fast paced, well constructed thriller.  I am always skeptical about directors who act in their own movies, although some (Welles, Chaplin, Olivier), have been exceptional at both acting and directing.  In this case, Ben Affleck, who was written off as washed up in Hollywood less than a decade ago, constructs the film beautifully by emotionally investing the audience in the characters and their situation.  He also does a fantastic job in the lead role of the picture, showing maturing acting skills.

The rest of the cast is fantastic as well, with every actor succeeding at what their roles were supposed to accomplish.  That, I think, is another feather in Affleck’s hat for this film, since managing actors may be one of the most overlooked aspects of directing.

It should be noted that Argo presents only a sliver of the story of the Iranian Revolution, its motivations, and its impact.  While the introduction of Argo (a storyboard montage that appears to pay homage to Kevin Smith, who provided Affleck’s first break in show-business) touches on the historical backstory, that is not the purpose or focus of Affleck’s film.  That’s not to say that Argo lacks intellectual heft.  While it is not overly epic, it does demonstrate the power of the Hollywood myth, the consequences of intelligence failures, and the problem of institutional inertia.

Anyone looking for a film that tells the story through the Iranian perspective or details the hostage crisis should look elsewhere, as Argo is neither of these things.   Instead, it is a well constructed, thoughtful, and entertaining thriller about a small part of a large event.

You might like Argo if: you enjoy well constructed, thoughtful, and entertaining thrillers.

You might not like Argo if: you insist that every historical film dwell on the historically over-story or reject the American point of view of those stories as played out.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe

Categories
Movies

Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

United States, 1958, Color, 128 minutes

“Alright I’ll do it.  I don’t care anymore about me.”

– Judy Barton

Like many of Alfred Hitchcock’s (1899-1980) best films, Vertigo examines a man who ignores the real world in favor of what is portrayed as a fantasy world.  Hitchcock often vindicates the protagonist’s obsession, or at least explains it as being the result of mental illness.  What is most unsettling about Vertigo is that there is no such justification for the disturbing behavior of the protagonist, and we’re actually made to sympathize with him.

To begin, Hitchcock introduces us to John “Scottie” Ferguson (Jimmy Stewart), a retired detective who suffers from a crippling fear of heights. Ferguson has been hired by his friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) to follow his wife Madeline (Kim Novak) around San Francisco.  Elster suspects that his wife has been possessed by a dead woman, or at least she believes that she has, and he needs Ferguson to help him confirm those suspicions.  As he follows Madeline, Ferguson grows increasingly obsessed with her.

Ferguson appears to be the typical, everyman protagonist that Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) played in many of his earlier films.  Stewart’s performance forces the audience to sympathize with Ferguson, even as his obsessive behavior becomes increasingly dangerous in the second half of the film.  While Stewart is convincing the audience to trust Ferguson, Hitchcock is busy using every tool available to him to try to convince the audience that Ferguson is descending into madness.  As I watched, I couldn’t decide whether Ferguson was an obsessive maniac or a brilliant detective until the very last scene.

If Vertigo has a weakness, it is the somewhat stilted performances of its supporting cast.  I find it hard to hold this against the actors themselves.  Hitchcock’s minor characters are often little more than devices he uses to push his plots forward.

Still, Hitchcock was not attempting to create a richly layered world of interesting characters in Vertigo. Instead he was examining one question: how far will we go in pursuit of our fantasies?  I don’t think I like the answer.

Rating:

You may like Vertigo if: you’ve ever enjoyed a thriller in your life.

You may not like Vertigo if: you demand complex secondary characters from every movie you see, or you just don’t like movies.

(c) 2012 D. G. McCabe