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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (8/13/13) 12:50am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
TV:  Playing Shakespeare
Books:  <none>
Other:  Zero Punctuation

Much Ado About Nothing (2012)
This is the film version of the Shakespeare play that Joss Whedon shot at his house over a couple of weeks.

I expected to have stronger opinions about this one, being a big fan of Joss Whedon's work, and having appeared in now three productions of the play. But oddly, I came away from this movie thinking little more than, "Well. Uh. That was fine."

On the one hand, I approached this with about as much goodwill as possible. The actors in the Mutant Enemy stable, none of whom I have met, feel like old friends at this point. Watching Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker play characters who fall in love hearkens back warmly to Angel, and the rest of the cast is full of Whedonverse regulars, most notably Nathan Fillion as Dogberry. So regardless of what happens, I'm not going to have a bad time here.

And the production hums along nicely. I envied every single one of the cuts that they made. Much Ado has some monologs that seem almost willfully incomprehensible, and each of those has evidently disappeared in repeated Final Draft select-cuts. And that leaves us with a Much Ado that moves along nicely, without getting stuck in Labored Elizabethan Pop-Culture Reference #573. Yet at the same time, it feels like some of the richness of that world has been sacrificed so that this leaner, simpler Much Ado can propel itself along.

And I suppose it's obvious the film was shot on the cheap. Honestly, that's something I can never perceive directly -- it only comes through as a vague feeling that the world depicted doesn't extend beyond the visible frame. Beyond that kitchen counter, there must be a row of bored PAs, and as soon as a character walks over there, s/he vanishes from existence.[1]

The film had a number of clever ideas. It was pleasant to see some of the tricks for making the show modern-day -- nothing on the level of Ian McKellen in his jeep, tires spinning uselessly in the mud, shouting "My kingdom for a horse!", but it was fun to see (say) Leonato reading off of his smartphone as he discusses the letter about Don Pedro's approach. The Dogberry scenes as 2000's-cop-procedural were good fun. The movie tacks on an opening scene depicting an awkward "morning after" between Beatrice and Benedick which... I'm okay with. It didn't hurt the show for me (beyond a bit of "hey this isn't in the play" weirdness), but it didn't help matters for me either.

I also have to give the production credit for making the language comprehensible. But then, that's balanced against the feeling that none of these characters feel like they really *enjoy* getting to talk in Shakespearean language. Instead, it feels like the odd language is something they can't really avoid, so they might as well deal with it, make the words clear to people, and keep their eyes on getting to the next plot point.

The world of Messina will always be a bewildering one for me. Apparently Claudio and Don Pedro are indistinguishable once they're wearing masks, which makes one wonder if Shakespeare knew how masks worked. Benedick responds to seeing his friends approach by immediately hiding himself in an arbor and spying on them (who *does* that?) -- and apparently his friends think that's, like, totally normal behavior. And I always feel like Claudio is sort of an open sore of misogyny, symptomatic of a much more serious systemic problem in his society's bloodstream.

Fortunately, this is all what the TV writers would call 'fridge logic' -- the sort of thing that you only call into question after the show, when you go to the fridge for a midnight snack and wonder, "Hey, wait, what about...?" In the moment, well, that's just how Messina works.

But in the end, it's funny where it's supposed to be funny, and warm-hearted where it's supposed to be warm-hearted, and so it serves as a pleasant little movie-that-could. (And hey, the critics absolutely love it, so more power to them.)

Playing Shakespeare
This is the 1980 British documentary series in which RSC co-founder John Barton works with a murderer's row of RSC to explain his take on how to play Shakespeare.

It's hard to have much to say about this series. I appreciate that it focuses on specifically playing Shakespeare -- that is, how playing Shakespeare is different from just acting in general -- so it zooms in on scouring the verse for ostensible hints on how to play the scenes, and it emphasizes the places where our traditional, modern acting style can actively get in the way of effectively playing a Shakespeare scene.

Barton himself is a genial, avuncular presence among his fellow Shakespearean luminaries, and some of the best parts of the series have, say, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen thoughtfully discussing their opinions about how to play a particular part.

Really, there's nothing to dislike here, and plenty of fascinating things to learn. Also, there are 1980-era fashions, which really must be seen to be believed.

Zero Punctuation
This past week, I've gotten myself badly addicted to Zero Punctuation, the webseries in which Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw reviews video games, his voiceover accompanied by crude animations.

So here I am, watching this webseries's backlog all the way back to 2007. Almost all of these reviews are for games I will never, ever, ever play. But I basically have to watch all of these, because this might be the first thing I've seen since Blackadder that turns exasperated sarcasm into such an art form. There are no simple similes -- it's not "like a bad day", it's "like a day where your intestines somehow got attached to a ceiling fan on its 'maximum spinniness' setting", with crude MSPaint-ish graphics to match (most likely with the animated figure remarking, "Well, this seems biologically improbable.").[2]

Honestly, it's made me realize how much I hold back in my writing, and how little I delight in language just for the sake of language lately.[3] In any case, I'll probably just keep watching this until I finally catch up to the present day, or until I reach some sort of saturation point of delightful wit, or until my eyes finally fall out.

[1] ... that said, it's a really nice house -- a thought which intruded itself repeatedly into my brain.
[2] ... or, like that, only a lot better. I made up an example that's not in the actual webseries because it's late and I'm too lazy to look up a real example.
[3] Also, there are dick jokes.

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