Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Much Praise for ‘Much Ado’

Prior to seeing Much Ado About Nothing, it had been a couple years since I last sat down with The Bard. For a while, my life was filled with lectures, essays, and Sparknotes dedicated to the plays of Shakespeare. But as semesters passed by, so did my reference bank. I figured my failure to preserve those works would be detrimental to my evaluation of Joss Whedon‘s latest venture. Happily, I was wrong!

Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker) engage in a battle of wits. [Image: The Atlantic Wire]

Much Ado is at once classic and cutting edge, a seamless blend of style and content. Black and white cinematography lends an air of sophistication and makes the amiable cast even more attractive. The film feels indulgent and sensuous, from its dreamy, lounge-room soundtrack to its glistening scenes of revelry. In contrast, the use of Shakespeare’s original dialogue stimulates the mind. (Baz Luhrmann may have done the same in Romeo + Juliet, but Whedon handles his source material with more finesse.) The actors–most of whom are beloved repeats from the director’s previous ventures–deliver their oft recited lines with unparalleled freshness and ease.

Verges (Tom Lenk) and Dogberry (Nathan Fillion) add levity as ne’er-do-well policemen. [Image: Wired.com]

Amy Acker beautifully renders the shrew-like Beatrice into an independent, multi-dimensional woman. Meanwhile, Alexis Denisof adds equal parts swagger and silliness to Benedick, the bullheaded leading man with a sentimental streak. Whether they’re exchanging verbal jabs or tender kisses, the chemistry between these two leads is effortless,. What’s more, supporting players like Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, and Tom Lenk contribute more than their fair share of wit and wiles. They prevent the story from drowning in melodrama.

Though the film brims with stylistic and theatrical integrity, perhaps the most impressive achievement is Whedon’s ability to cultivate a sense of familiarity. As I’ve expressed before, Shakespeare can seem a bit intimidating. Accessibility and applicability to the modern viewer is always a gamble. Yet, it seems that sort of uncertainty is what fuels Whedon’s projects. After all, one might also question the relatability of vampire slayers, superheroes, or struggling villains. Whedon asserts that all of these characters have stories to tell, and those stories hold universal appeal. In the case of Much Ado About Nothing, he proves that revisiting Shakespeare is worth the fuss.

 

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Take Me to your Leader: Indulging Celebrity and Looking For Richard

When and if aliens finally make themselves known to the people of our planet, they will make the assumption that we are ruled by film actors. Can we blame them? If they peruse our periodicals and check out the things we actually do with the Internet, it would be the only logical conclusion. Aliens are pretty logical. The way that we value the opinions of film actors affects everything from commerce to politics.

When an actor reaches a certain level of celebrity, they are able to dictate the market…to a degree.

Most of us have seen a movie simply becauseLooking-For-Richard a particular actor had a role in it. The movies produced by actors who have reached this level of notoriety often involve a departure from the genre that made them famous. These projects are often produced or directed by the actor. My favorite example of this concept is the 1996 Al Pacino film Looking for Richard.

Though he began his career on the stage, Al Pacino made his name playing gangsters and cops in some of the most popular films in those genre. After a run of successes leading to the mid 90s, Pacino decided to pay tribute to his first love. He made a documentary about the work of William Shakespeare and its relevance in the modern world. Pacino produced and directed this pet project over the course of four years. Working around his shooting schedule for larger projects (evident because of hair and facial hair changes), Pacino and his famous friends set out to produce scenes from Richard III on a grand scale, shooting crucial scenes on location in The Cloisters and the church of St. John The Divine with actors like Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey working for scale ($40 per day).

Early in production, Pacino had a revelation: Filming a straight version of the play would never top the 1955 Sir Laurence Olivier version. Rather than shut the film down, Pacino went to the streets. Interviewing average people about their thoughts on Shakespeare, Pacino inter-spliced these with scenes from the play.

What makes this movie fun to watch is the lack of indulgence that usually accompanies a project like this. The conversations that erupt during read-throughs, the comparison of British-born actors verses American-born ones in explaining their ability to perform the Bard.

Once shooting had wrapped, 80 hours worth of film was  whittled down to the 112-minute release.

The film was destined to lose money, and without volunteer cast and crew, it never would have been completed. The passion for Shakespeare thatspacey each of the actors displays goes a long way in showing why his work is still so prominent today. A list of movies that borrowed from or modernized a Shakespeare plot would far exceed the space allotted.

So if aliens come looking for understanding about the human race, I hope the look past our current obsession with celebrity. I hope they somehow stumble onto the works of William Shakespeare, or failing that, Al Pacino’s film would also suffice.

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I Wanna See Daniel Day Lewis in That

Already thinking about the 85th annual Academy Awards? Well first, that is just sad; and second, let me sum the coming awards onslaught up in a single word: Lincoln!

Best picture: Lincoln; best director: Steven Spielberg for Lincoln; best actor: Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln.

Only two people in history have had more written about them than our 16th president: Jesus Christ and William Shakespeare.  I cannot think of a film that has had more written about it than this year’s Abraham Lincoln biopic. Likewise, Daniel Day-Lewis has seen more press and acclaim for his short body of work than any actor in recent history. He inhabits a role often spending a full year getting into character. Day-Lewis is 55 and has only a handful of starring roles because of his intense approach to preparation.

In honor of Day-Lewis’ coming pile of trophies for Lincoln, I give you five roles I wish he would play:

Image property of RoyOrbison.com

5.  Roy Orbison

I am a huge fan of Orbison’s work. His vocals are unmatched in the pop rock music pantheon. Few people bother to develop the range that he possessed.

Orbison was also a dark, reclusive person, always hidden just below the surface or behind his ever present dark sunglasses. Roy Orbison has yet to receive the biopic treatment; many of his Sun Records cohorts already have. Though Day-Lewis is already two years older than Orbison was when he died in 1988, I think he could pull it off.

4. The Saint/Simon Templar

Please, if you have not already, try to forget Val Kilmer and the 1997 flop of an action romance that was The Saint.

The Saint was a master of disguise and a quick thinking con man who could create an  identity out of thin air. He walked the line between hero, spy, sleuth, and criminal.

There is so much for Day-Lewis to explore in this character! He could make Simon Templar something more than a James Bond or Jack Ryan ripoff.

3. The Shadow/Lamont Cranston

A very flawed Shadow feature film was made in 1994 starring Alec Baldwin. The character of the Shadow reaches all the way back to 1931 and has been said to have helped influence the character background of Batman. The Shadow has the power to cloud men’s minds; he can make them see things that aren’t there, and he can make himself appear invisible.

Think of this as the opportunity to see an understated superhero flick; less explosions and more cerebral warfare. Day-Lewis could do for the superhero genre what Gary Oldman did for the secret agent.

2. Mike Hammer

Mike Hammer was played most notably by Stacy Keach in the TV series of same name. Micky Spillane’s private investigator has seen no shortage of screen time. Hammer is a tough, sarcastic lady killer.

Film noir is in need of a savior, and I can think of none better than Day-Lewis to rescue it…along with any damsels in distress that show up along the way. Adding depth to this forgotten genre is certain to bring about more Oscar gold.

1. Fighting Jack Churchill

Probably the best forgotten hero of WW2 is the eccentric Jack Churchill. The British soldier was known to charge into battle carrying a claymore (Scottish broad sword) and was the only person in that conflict to kill an enemy combatant with a bow and arrows. Churchill, who was no relation to the Prime Minister, often played a song on the bagpipes before charging into battle.

If Day-Lewis were ever to make a WW2 picture, he would need the outsider perspective of a character like Jack Churchill. This could be the one action film that would make sense for such a fine actor.

 

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