Tag Archives: review

Much Ado About Whedon

23 Jun

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Or…

“A Quietly Lovely Study Of The Bard, By Some Friends.”

Listen.

…I’ve only been waiting to see this freakin’ movie for over a year is all.  Ever since the first whispers started to gather about the “maybe perhaps” possibility that, “one of the many informal script reads at the Whedon house,” frequented by what has come to be known as his “company,” was at some point, going to be “put on film.”

Then: we were told it was Shakespeare, and who was playing whom, and the torture of the wait really began.

Tonight, after matinees and friend times, it was finally seen. 

It did not disappoint. 

…And not because of gimmicks, explosions, sex scenes, or technical wonders.

It was a quiet film, with focus on the text and relationships, in a very contemporary reality. The script was adapted and directed by Whedon, trimmed by one-third from Shakespeare’s original, filmed in twelve days, in the Whedon household, between wrap of “Avengers” and the beginning of it’s editing.

Branagh’s “Much Ado,” it ain’t. 

It isn’t suppose to be. 

Do yourself a favor and DON’T go to compare.

…There is plenty of room in your home library for both.  And you should want them.  Side-by-side. To show the range and possibility that can be lent to a text that needs but a cast of dedicated actors to make it work. This sounds simple, but is very rarely the norm.

It’s the argument I will always back, that though not EVERY classical piece of theatre lends itself to changes of theme and period, Shakespeare does. Because unlike all classical pieces of theatre, Shakespeare wrote of universal truths: Humanity, at cross purposes of love, hate, jealousy, sex, politics, and war.

…This is why his writing will ALWAYS be releveant. And why his words will work today, tomorrow, three hundred years from now, or even in three hundred centuries. So long as you place it with purpose, and invest your emotions in the text, it can take place in Messina, 1612, or Joss Whedon’s kitchen, last year.

…THAT, my friend, is good fucking writing.

…And Joss’ friends, are good fucking actors.

…These things go well together…and while on Holiday, they made a simply lovely baby, in a labor of love.

As an Actor, I adored watching seasoned family-friends, working together in new capacities, with undeniable joy spilling out all over the screen.

…As a film lover, I adored the simplicity where the story seemed to unfold as if by accident, with no worries of magnificents in technical prowess, just as if the camera were another character cast within the play, who happened to be there at the time, overhearing and seeing whatever conversations seemed to be happening.

I loved the new Benedict and Beatrice history add, and how Acker used it to deepen her work in a new direction of a character rarely seen in such vulnerable light.

…I loved the simple shock and awe of a boy come home a man, seeing a girl now turned to woman, without heaps of dramatics, concentrating more on the wonder of love’s slap across an unsuspecting face, as shown by Kratz.

…Gregg, as Leonato: a delight…that always adorable smiling face, infused with so much trust and affection, such a doting papa, a loving uncle, turned betrayed man of sorrow, but never quite losing the faith in humanity, which infuses the final act of sorrow with an underlying friction of hope despite all.

Diamond: a worthy Prince with a sparkle for mischief played exceedingly well with the text, and in building a delightful kinship with Gregg and Franz, was nicely counterbalanced by Maher as villian Don John.

…And Fillion, of course, was a comedic delight as Dogberry, having a lark making fun of his “Castle” world, as well as reunting with Buffy alumni along the way.

…In fact every role, (down to the smallest speaking feature), was placed in loving hands, surrounded by trusting family members, and simultaneously made the most of, while playing it with a soft touch so as not to break the delicately simple world as created.

…There was only one exception, for me.

…A mountainous surprise of one, in fact.

This Benedict, a long-time alumni of the Whedon tribe, (and proven chemistry-maker with Acker), seemed to be playing at a different sport than his fellow castmates.

There was no question of his understanding the text, or delivering it to a purpose, but the emotional connection with the words and his fellows, seemed lost in translation somehow. Most noticibly (oddly enough) when with Acker…whose alernate emotional working of Beatrice’s usually constant joviality, ached for deeper stuff than surface matters, when in banter.

…It was a surprise to watch her do the emotional lifting for two, not because she wasn’t good for it (tiny though she may be, she is fierce with her intent), but merely because…I know I can’t be the only one who has been so very much anticipating this “Wesley” and “Fred” reuniting on screen once again. It’s been a long, long ache of a wait. And though the final coupling manages to deliver the goods, the road to get there had missed opportunities of intimate wonder, which where certainly set up by Sir Joss, and Acker but never seemed to get picked up along the way…hungry though his co-actor seemed to be to coax, tempt, poke and play with it.

…Analytical much on this one? YES! You. Fucking. Bet.

The Whedon team is Master-class time, you guys. Even in a twelve-day shoot. Even when it (rarely) falls short of the actual spike-mark. These people are artists…they LOVE what they do, they LOVE their fearless leader, they LOVE their extended and ever-growing family.

They LOVE making movies.

And it shows. Pure and simple. On all of their faces. Total, absolute, childlike, joy.

…These are the kids that played with super-8’s filming action figures, and lip synced to records, and made faces in mirrors just for practice. These were the kids who read comic books, and then drew their own, and wrote stories, and did theatre, and doctored other people’s scripts just so they could work somehow, somewhere, in the business. These are the Indie film nerds, who though now juggling multi-million dollar budgets in film and TV shows, managed to still keep their souls and not forget why they started doing this in the first place.

They love what they do. And they love it even more when doing it with friends.

It’s deliciously infectious.

…And I’m not overselling it a bit. I promise you.

Find it. See it. Smile. The end.

~D

Pick-Ups

18 Apr

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Oie. I need a freakin’ break.

…No lunch, no time away from the computer screen, and tiny-tiny numbered reports.

So this is me: breathing for a bit. 

Back in the saddle for shows in our second weekend, starting tonight.  No pick-ups, and early Thursday performances, so we’re on our own to run lines…prob’ly while driving, or setting our hair…to make sure we remember what the hell we’re doing. 

Early Thursday shows make “sense,” but I still hate early call. 

…Because of it, I’m floored for time, and have not only none in excess, but less than average for eating, travel and prep to begin with…thus zero time at all to run scenes with people to iron out all the brain burps that being dark for three days can do.  And this ain’t exactly an easy show to just jump into, cold.

Living on stage the whole time means there isn’t a single moment to run and check your script to remind you of things that one sometimes needs their scripts to remind them of…like the exact word right there that you can’t seem to remember, only know begins with an “M”…or what follows the first night scene…or which props need to disappear at which time, in which blue-out, as we quick-change.

…Significant details.

Think I’ll just have cereal for dinner tonight so I won’t take up all that time cooking things. Like an egg. Which gives me an extra 90 seconds to actually review the script, live.  Or maybe I’ll skip the shaving my legs part (yay for dancer tights, and Europeans!) and just do the necessities…that’ll buy an easy 3 minutes right there…

…It’s all about time management, you see.  The infinitesimal kind.   

Where you have to multitask eating and burping simultaneously…just so you won’t waste all that optional line reciting time on breathing.

~D

Mr. President

13 Dec

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Having the night off from rehearsal, I thought I’d go n’ visit our little Arthouse, The Grand, and geek out on some study time.  Just me, n’ a couple of my teachers…namely Daniel Day-Lewis, Stephen Spielberg, Sally Field, Hal Holbrook, and Tommy Lee Jones.

…I picked well.

“Lincoln.”

…The screenplay: far less epic in content, the costumes and sets: less opulent than Hollywood has always previously shown us to expect of the period, the battle scenes: awkward, and chaotic…equally that in the House, with its members in full head-on debate, and quiet scene after quiet scene of a man whose face you could never mistake for anyone else’s: hair in an unruly coif, sunken cheeks amidst angular bone structure, with deep-set, hooded eyes wearing the weariness of War, and fast-approaching end of his first term of Presidency.

It took me a bit to understand exactly where they were going with all this.

…Not the “story line,” mind you, but the way in which they were telling it.  And why. 

…The point being: we already know the history, what was fought and won on the battle field, and in the House. But suppose we put all those high stakes and risks, and political choices into a different perspective, by remembering for a moment, that this person who made it all happen was not “Abraham Lincoln” as we know him to be. 

…Suppose we follow him into his bedroom, overhearing his interpretation of the days events while his stockinged feet are propped up on a sofa leg, with his wife’s discarded evening dress hanging before him.  Suppose we watch this giant of a man (in form and in legend), shuffle in slippers, to his son’s playroom, work his way to lay on the floor beside him, just to get on his level to look in the small face and give it a kiss.  Watch him give piggyback rides, like every dad does…share inside jokes and bitter fights with his wife, tell epic stories in inappropriate moments to his employees…sport a funny high-reed of a voice, that rasps after often great lengths in oratory…and see how he seems to have one speed at which he walks, talks, thinks and decides things…which is conservatively specific and frustratingly, painstakingly, slow.

…Think of him not in the “Sit Room,” discussing War and political strategy, but in the cellar of his kitchen — sinks full of dirty dishes and counters full of used wine glasses and platters–trying to coerce an ali, while a gala party goes on without him upstairs.  Think of him not addressing crowd after crowd giving any number of the speeches we all know by heart, but keeping company with a few soldiers on a battle field, or on a front porch with his general and friend, Ulysses S. Grant, puffing on a cigar beside him. Think of the privacy of a Parent’s grief at the loss of their son and how they share in deaths of everyone else’s son’s by extension.

…Think of him, just as a man.

Because: he was.

Albeit a remarkable one…but we already know that.

I think the point of this “study” on film, is not so much to look at the legend he was to become because of who he was…but to see that BEING who he was, MADE him into this remarkable legend.

And it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t obvious choices and fire-fueled debates and banners of glory, backed by a thankful Nation. He was actively hated by half the country, blamed for the War that slaughtered millions, turning brother against brother…had a split House, was trying to pass a radical new Amendment into law, just prior to beginning his second term in office, while dealing with an emotionally unstable wife, a son wanting to enlist, his Party threatening to turn their backs on him, his own Cabinet split in their support of his next plans of attack, a Southern delegation for peace on it way, which could entirely screw up his Emancipation Proclamation, and the knowledge that timing is everything…and what must be done, must be done NOW or NEVER.

…So, no pressure or anything.

What I loved about this whole approach was the constant, specific, reminder that our greatest moments in History are not the sure-fire wins we know in retrospect, them to be. What makes perfect sense and could never possibly happen in any other way (in hind sight), absolutely could have been crushed coming ’round any of the 45 corners along the epically painful obstacle course set out in real-time when History was busy being “current” and in-the-actual-making.

…They had no real way of knowing “how” or “when” or “why” or “if.” They had no idea the repercussions or what would branch and build out from them. They were our “Forefathers,” sure…but they were just men. Sometimes one or two, sometimes by the room full. We know their names from class text books and for what they’ve put their names to. We know them by their resumes. But this film was a chance to get a peek at this entirely different aspect of their lives and battles and weaknesses and private strengths.

…Then to sit there time after time and be gobsmacked by the turning of Party lines as a House of Republicans fight to put equality to law, Democrats fighting tooth and nail to oppose them, directly after an election 147 years later, where the same damn fight just took place in my own state backed by opposite parties, in a freak 180 degree turn of total irony.

It’s sorta mind-blowing in a million quiet, specific, painful ways.

…Ultimately, of course, the guy was eloquent, and brave, and hopeful, and trusting, and wholly without thoughts of spite or revenge: our “Mr. President.” Perhaps more than we deserved, but sometimes faith in people sorta forces them to rise to the occasion. Or, better put, a good example put before us, inspires us to greatness, respect and humaneness.

M’favorite part of the entire film, in fact, was one quiet moment in an empty telegraph room, save for a young engineer, the telegraph boy, and the President.

…He has to send a cable in response to Grant’s notification. There are Confederate delegates ready to meet in a peace talk that could now end the war. Meanwhile, up on the hill, lobbyists are fighting tooth and nail to secure the votes he needs to pass the 13th Amendment into law. If he ends the War before the vote: he could lose them altogether, and thus this certain perfect window of time to abolish slavery. If he doesn’t end the War, he might lose the vote anyway, and have the blood of how many more sons and brothers and fathers, killed in that time, on his hands? He has a choice to make, and has given it, but hesitates when the telegraph boy asks him if he authorises transmit.

…He sits there for a long while, just thinking…running everything through his mind. Eventually he turns to the young Engineer and begins to relate to him, “Euclid’s Theory.”

…No clip on YouTube or snippit of script I could find, leaves his spur of the moment History lesson on mathematics in tact as the movie has done. So go: pay the bucks…sit in the seat…watch the work of this man, and get to that scene….where I think Tony Kushner (Pulitzer winning author of “Angels in America”) has his finest, quiet moment in the script.

Just a man and two boys, (and whole Nation) waiting for an answer to one simple question. And keeping to character, the man (as we now know him), chooses that moment to launch on into a (seemingly) totally inappropriately timed story.

…It comes, partway in, at:

“…Euclid’s first common notion is this: Things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other. That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning and its true because it works – has done and always will do. In his book Euclid says this is self evident. You see, there it is, even in that 2000 year old book of mechanical law it is the self evident truth that things which are equal to the same things are equal to each other…”

Almost 150 years later, and we’re sadly still trying to get that through our damn heads.

…”Math doesn’t lie, so fuckin’ DEAL with it!”
~ Another inaccurate but closely (at least) related quote on the internet, attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

~D

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