A director of box-office smashes like The Avengers, and sci-fi TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer turns out to be a closet Shakespeare fan. Not only is he a fan, but he decided to “take a vacation” and shoot Much Ado About Nothing. While the film doesn’t seem to be showing in a lot of cinemas, I caught it this weekend in London. (According to IMDB, it seems to be a failure financially, opening on only 5 screens in the US.) It’s a charming film, but flawed.
In many ways, this movie feels like a student film. Shot in twelve days in Whedon’s (capacious) home, edited on a laptop, it’s nevertheless far more adventurous than the average film-school student’s work. While these constraints do give the film a certain sincerity, I found them to prevent it from being as good as it could.
Whedon shot this in his home, with actors from his TV series, allowing him to whip together a cast he was familiar with. But the problem, for me, is that, while some of the actors slip comfortable into Shakespeare’s language, others seem just a bit daunted by the text. Amy Acker, as Beatrice, is brilliant. She has presence and spontaneity, and her lines come out nearly perfectly. But Alexis Denisof, as Benedick, comes across flat and clunky. His nasal voice sounds like a parody of a TV anchor (he sounds a lot like Brian Williams), and he seems less comfortable with the language. However, he gets a couple of physical scenes – such as when he’s in the “bower” listening to Don Pedro and Claudio discuss Beatrice’s apparent love for him. He rolls about, peeks in windows, and shows good comedic sense and timing.
But other actors don’t cut it for me. Fran Kranz as Claudio is stiff, Reed Diamond as Don Pedro has an annoying smirk on his face, and many of the minor characters – notably Spencer Treat Clark, as Borachio – just don’t have the right tone to pull off the Elizabethan language. Nathan Fillion as Dogberry doesn’t work well either, and the whole bit with the police officers comes off poorly.
In spite of these defects, this Much Ado is enjoyable. The sets are simple and effective, the use of black and white is interesting, and there’s a good feel to the production. But it seems that the lack of time – being limited to only twelve days – prevented Whedon from doing just a couple more takes of some scenes, and some of the actors needed more time to get it right. I’d like to see him do more Shakespeare, but I’d like him to take a bit more time.
Posted: 6/17/2013 by kirk | Filed under: Films & TV Tags: movies | 1 Comment »
It’d been years since I had seen Stalker, Andrei Tarkovsky’s excellent science fiction film, and I watched it last night. For a science fiction movie, Stalker is certainly an oddity. Released in 1979, loosely based on the short novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, and directed by Tarkovsky, the masterful Russian director who lived too short a life, it tells the tale of a part of Russia that has been visited by an odd event. It may have been a meteorite that fell, or it may have been an alien visitation. But the event created the Zone, a dangerous area which was cordoned off by the police, and where few could go.
A Stalker – a sort of guide who takes people through the traps in the Zone – meets up with two men who want to visit the Room, a place where wishes come true. One is a Professor, a man of reason, and the other a writer, a man of inspiration. The Stalker is a man of belief. Very little happens in the movie, which lasts more than 2 1/2 hours, except for their trip to the Room, and their discovery of what they want from it.
Stalker is science fiction only in its premise; there are no aliens, no magic, nothing that would be noticed as science fiction. It is a slow movie; very little happens, and some of the shots are several minutes long. It’s a science fiction movie as it would have been written by Samuel Beckett. Yet it’s a brilliant existential examination of the desires of men and women.
At first, the film begins in sepia-toned black-and-white, but once the three characters reach the Zone, the film changes to color. Just as Oz was in color, so was the Zone. The Zone is located outside an industrialized city, and is full of the detritus of modernity. Yet Tarkovsky films these banal, cast-off items with the plastic beauty that he showed in all his films. Some of the shots are breathtakingly haunting, yet there is nothing special in them.
In a prescient shot, near the end of the movie, the Stalker can be seen returning to his home with his wife and daughter, and, across the river, a nuclear power plant is seen. The Zone could be the area surrounding Chernobyl. There is no devastation, simply signs of nature taking over some human artefacts.
Posted: 5/7/2012 by kirk | Filed under: Films & TV Tags: DVDs, existentialism, movies, science fiction, Tarkovsky | 2 Comments »
According to an interview with the production designer, the film took two years to shoot. The first year’s footage was lost, apparently because it was an experimental film stock that couldn’t be developed. (Though that suggests that it was only sent for development after the entire film was shot, which seems at odds with the way movies were created at the time.) Tarkovsky then started over, reshooting the entire movie, over another year.
The DVD is decently produced, though the English subtitles are a bit clunky. It contains the original mono soundtrack, and also a recent 5.1 mix, which, in my opinion, ruins the movie. It is merely the mono soundtrack with added environmental sounds, trying to create “atmosphere,” yet Tarkovsky used a lot of silence in this film, and the surround mix is never quiet.
I first saw Stalker in the early 1980s at a retrospective of movies by Wim Wenders in New York. Wenders had made a selection of films to be shown with his movies, and, preceding his Kings of the Road (In the Course of Time), was Stalker and John Ford’s The Searchers. All three of these movies are quests, searches for people or ideas, and the very long program that day (more than 7 hours) was an extraordinary example of three different approaches to the quest movie. Since then, it has been one of my favorite films. It’s an odd movie, more like a Beckett play than science fiction, yet it is unforgettable.
If you’ve never seen Stalker, and this review makes it sound interesting, you should be all means watch it. It is a truly unforgettable movie by one of the great directors of the 20th century. His life and career were too short, but his films are all masterpieces.
Update: Author Geoff Dyer has written an entire book about Stalker called Zona. I haven’t read this book yet, but I plan to.