Tag Archives: Film Review

Review: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Some might call Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy, filmed in just 12 days at his own house using a smattering of actors from his previous work, “rushed” or “American” or “irreverent.” I’d call it “light” and “fun” and “charming.” Definitely “enjoyable.”

There may not be a lot of weight to Whedon’s adaptation, but there doesn’t have to be. Shakespeare’s comedies were just that, comedic. Silly more often than not. They ended in weddings and the tragedies ended in deaths (no, I didn’t spoiler alert you, there’s a statute of limitations on spoilers and its not 400 years).  Yes there’s drama and sometimes you may think the lovers won’t work it out, but of course they do.

Although Much Ado is not my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies (see As You Like It) I really enjoyed this adaptation. It’s dressed down and casual in every sense. And after your ear becomes accustomed to it, it’s easy to forget that the language is Shakespearean. That the film is in black and white helps; the colors would be distracting. Shakespeare is regularly set outside its Elizabethan roots, and modern-day SoCal is no better or worse than any other setting. While the majority of actors are not Shakespeare veterans, they all have the necessary chemistry and good direction working for them. And they embrace the airy tone of the film so that the language seems natural rolling off their tongues.

While some of Shakespeare’s witty dialogue is lost on a modern audience, Whedon compensates by ramping up the physical comedy and visual gags. Amy Acker (Beatrice) and Nathan Fillion (Constable Dogberry) are particularly good at this. In one memorable seen Acker, eavesdropping on a conversation, falls, crawls, and bumps her head in the space of a minute, but it’s never cheap or cheesy. Acker shines in general in the ensemble film, showing the greatest command of the language and of her character. She dominates every scene she is in, and weaker characters, like newcomer Jillian Morgese’s Hero, suffer when they share the screen with Beatrice. Although Clark Gregg, as Beatrice’s uncle Leonato, is memorable in his own way, delivering some of the funniest and most dramatic moments of the film.

Shakespeare is really hard to do onscreen, since by definition his work belongs on stage, but Whedon does a remarkable job making his version of Much Ado accessible to an average moviegoer, as well as enjoyable to a Shakespeare aficionado. You probably won’t cry but you’ll definitely laugh.

Review: Seven Psychopaths

If you’ve ever seen or read anything by Martin McDonagh, you know that things never go very well for anybody in his movies or plays. The Irish writer/director tends towards darkness, violence, and general absurdity, as exaggerated (and often very mentally unstable) characters clash and the story unfolds. It’s not so much a formula as a very distinctive style, and it’s never been better than in his latest feature, Seven Psychopaths.

The set up concerns a screenwriter named Martin (played by Colin Farrell, it seems that McDonagh has a very good self-image) who has the title of a film he’s trying to write, “Seven Psychopaths,” but no idea what he’s actually going to write. His best friend, Billy (the ever-delightful Sam Rockwell) tries to help him out by placing an ad in the paper calling for psychopaths. Billy also happens to kidnap dogs with his friend Hans (Christopher Walken). When they kidnap a dog from a real-life psychopath, the line between fact and fiction blurs, and Martin is pulled into the violent world he is trying so hard to write about.

The film succeeds in that, despite the sheer amount of violence and darkness, it’s one of the funniest movies I’ve seen all year. Where McDonagh’s first film, 2008’s In Bruges, focused more on the darkness and less on the comedy, Seven Psychopaths does the opposite. The darkness informs on the comedy and the comedy informs on the darkness. He strikes the perfect balance, with instances like Woody Harrelson alternatively cracking jokes about fat people while holding one at gunpoint. The cast is fantastic, each actor perfectly falling into his role and creating something fantastical and realistic. The film’s only real problem lies (which it usually does with McDonagh) with the women. Abbie Cornish and Olga Kurylenko may be on the poster, but their role in the film is as small as the poster itself. Their characters are interesting and I would have loved to find out more about them, but McDonagh never lingers on them, deciding instead to go with his psychopaths.