Monthly Archives: July 2013

July 31st and my life with Harry Potter

I was planning to do a post on the Royal Baby today, but I care far more for another British boy, and it being July 31st, I really would rather talk about him.

Happy Birthday Harry Potter!

Happy Birthday HarryAs Joyce fans line up to celebrate Bloomsday every June 16th, Harry Potter fans continue to note and celebrate Harry’s Birthday every year.  It has been over 6 years since the final book was released, but the fandom is alive and well.  Perhaps not as active as they were back in the heyday, but still there nonetheless. There’s a local fish & chip shop here doing a 2 night HP trivia competition. There are special performances of HP-related music and plays in NYC, London, LA tonight.

It should also be noted that J.K. Rowling’s birthday is also July 31st, so Happy Birthday, Jo!

To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the first book’s release, Scholastic has commissioned new paperback editions with new artwork. They just released the final cover image to celebrate today.

Deathly Hallows

So what is it about this book series that has an enduring hold on people? Who better to answer this question than me? I reread these books every year at Christmas. I would say I’ve read the first four books maybe 30 times (each).  I thought I would take today to share a short account of the difference these books made in my life.

My first exposure to Harry Potter was actually through the first movie.  There I was, firmly entrenched in the nadir of my life’s journey.

My mother died when I was 15, and that event had put me on a strange course in life, and led me to a pretty crippling bout with depression.  My aunt and uncle were appointed my guardians (sound at all familiar?), and they were the first people to ever make it clear to me that I was not good enough as I was.  They made me really feel the need for their approval, and (simultaneously) the complete absence of it.  I went to a university I didn’t care for in an attempt to please them, but my perilous emotional state made excelling (or even passing my classes) a bleak proposition.  They controlled the money, so as long as I was in school, I was under their control. So I left university halfway through my second year. I viewed this as temporary; I never wanted to not finish my degree. But life sort of spiraled after that.

So at 20, I was to be found living with a boyfriend who cheated on me, working two jobs to pay my bills, not reading or writing anymore (two activities that had truly defined my childhood), eating $1 frozen meals 3 times a day every day, wasting my entire life.  It was the worst my life has ever been, and I’m pretty confident the worst my life will ever be. Depression is a hell of a thing for making you hopeless and bleak and like you’ll never be cheerful again.

Then I went to see this movie everyone was talking about. I didn’t know anything about the story, I didn’t even know it was about magic.  I didn’t know Harry was a wizard until Harry knew.  I remember that exact moment, and a sense of wonder that broke through the haze of my own desolate mind.  Something literally clicked in my brain, and I remembered the amazing quality that stories have to take you out of your own experience and put you somewhere better.

I couldn’t afford to buy the books, as you might have guessed by the two jobs, $1 meals bit mentioned above.  The next day, during my lunch break, I walked to Barnes & Noble and sat myself down in the kid’s section and started to read.  I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next, so I actually skipped the first book and started the second right away.  I read every day on my lunch break–thank you B&N for not throwing me out–even though it was the holiday season at the Mall of America, and the crowds made me almost literally ill.

The only thing I asked for Christmas was the (then) 4 Harry Potter books.  I remember my grandmother asked me if I wanted to wait until they came out in paperback.  I laughed.  I didn’t want to wait until Christmas, let alone longer.

My family obliged, thank god.  I finished all four books in less than two weeks–impressive when you consider that I didn’t get holiday time off from either job.  Then I read them again.  And again.

At first, it was an escape.  Nothing more, really.  I could be completely immersed in a different world.  I loved the idea of fate, the humor, the fact that every new chapter could mean a totally unexpected event (I remember gasping at Ron’s flying car, and when I got to Peter Pettigrew unmasked as Scabbers, I actually turned back the pages to see if I’d read it wrong.). As an escape, it worked. I wasn’t depressed anymore; no time for depression when you have an obsession.

Over time, I found communities of other Harry Potter fans.  I found great friends (online, but still) to share this passion with. It’s a nerdy period of my life, with nerd keywords like fanfiction, chat room, role playing.  It’s also the period in my life when I found my my joie de vivre. I found my passion again. For reading, for writing, for all the things about the written word and the process of storytelling that have been so important to me since.  Not only did I read and reread Harry Potter, and read and write Harry Potter fanfiction, but I started reading again full stop. I read Jane Austen, Tolkien, Vonnegut, the Brontes, Nabokov, Dickens, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Bell Jar, Fahrenheit 451, and numerous other books that further expanded and changed my world view.  It was this period in my life that defined who I became as an adult.

My first trip to New York City came when I wanted to see J.K. Rowling speak, so she’s responsible for that too. For my first views of the Empire State Building, Washington Square Park, my first proper English beans on toast, my first subway trip.

All the reading and writing also directly led to me going back to school; this time as an English major.  It took me a long time to get back to a university that I liked, but once I did it I really did it right. I graduated with honors from one of the top 5 universities in the country. Harry Potter was the subject of my application essay.

The books led me to resume my own writing habit, and I’m now 65,000 words into my first novel.  When I finish it, I’ll know that Harry Potter led me to that moment as well.

The books led me back into university, but they also led me to study abroad in London–the best 6 months of my entire life. During that time in the UK, I saw 10 countries, 11 plays, approximately 20 museums and 15 churches, participated in a two week program backstage at the Globe Theatre, and got to go inside the Gringott’s Building (across the street from my uni.).

australia house

In fact, Harry Potter led me to my entire obsession with British culture, so it also led to this blog.  It has made an absolutely momentous impact on my life, and has shaped how I am and who I am today. No matter how long I live or how much I change in the course of my life, nothing is going to change how I feel about these books.  They saved my life.  Gave me a life worth living.

So Happy Birthday Harry, Happy Birthday Jo, and thank you both.

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Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy

tumblr_mpqc98RAda1r9a32bo1_500This show premiered last September in the UK, and I never heard of it until last week. It’s not airing on US TV, but is on Hulu. But I watched the entire first season in one day, and I feel robbed for not having known about it earlier! It’s the best thing I’ve watched in months. Good news: the second season/series starts in the UK next month, and a third series/season has already been ordered. More Martin Moone, yay!

The story revolves around young Martin Moone as he grows up in late ’80s Ireland. Chris O’Dowd plays Martin’s imaginary friend.

SNF21TV2D-620_1587704a If you’re wondering why I’m talking about this Irish show with an Irish cast on my British blog, it’s complicated. He’s Irish, but he and the shows co-creator have lived in London for a long time. He’s an actor I’ve written about before, and I think it’s okay to talk about what he’s doing that’s not set in the UK. Plus, I love this show, and really want to talk about it.

If you’re not wondering why I’m talking about an Irish show on my British blog, let me remind you that they are separate countries. Yes, really separate. You need your passport, and different money, and everything.

Anyway, back to the show. In addition to Martin and his imaginary friend Sean Murphy, there is the rest of his truly awesome family:

The Moone familyLiam is a clueless, exhausted Dad who I now have a secret crush on. Mom Debra is a smartass. Daughters Fidelma, Sinead, and Trisha are the good one, the tomboy, and my newest hero. My hero is the one in The Cure t-shirt, if you couldn’t guess. She’s like a really snarky, Irish Gabby Hoffman.

Poor Liam. One of the daughters asks him if ‘Mam has any cotton pads’ and he awkwardly asks if she means feminine sanitary pads, and said daughter responds ‘Yes, Dad, I want to wash my face with a tampon.’ Eye roll and doorslam. Ah, teenage girls. I remember being one, and am so glad I didn’t have two others in the house with me.

Other gems include Sinead finding out about menstruation. “What do you mean the moon is going to make me bleed? I’ll make the moon bleed!”

What I found so interesting about this show is the idea of a totally sweet, innocent 12-year-old boy with a cynical world-weary imaginary best friend. on his birthday, Martin watches his dad roll out his (wrapped) present, which looks a lot like a bike. Sean Murphy’s response is to say: “No! Surely they haven’t gotten you something decent. It must be a bicycle-shaped sock”.

Later, in church, Sean Murphy says “Church is no place for imaginary friends.” It took me a few seconds to get the second meaning there. It’s a lot of snarky little lines like that, they all made me chuckle.

I was about two episodes into this show when I decided that I loved it. Also, when Martin Moone grows up, I want to marry him. Adorable.

Other great characters include Martin’s best friend Padraic (also adorable!) and his imaginary friend, Crunchie Danger Haystacks, played by Johnny Vegas.

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Also, Steve Coogan makes an appearance as the single most disgusting human being that’s ever lived (outside of a Darren Aronofsky film)

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In addition to hilariousness, the show is actually really poignant. It reminded me a bit of Freaks and Geeks meets Roseanne, but Irish. Lots of coming-of-age themes, humiliating for nearly everyone, but still with a hint of respect that comes from looking back on such a terrible time in everyone’s life. Also, the music is great. The theme song is called ‘Where’s Me Jumper’ and I need to have it on my iphone ASAP.

I have no idea how I’m going to get a hold of the second season, but I will. I need more of this show in my life.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Mysterious Affair at StylesMy second Agatha Christie.  I had a yen to read her again, because the books are quick and easy, like junk food.  Being written in the ’20s means they have a bit more sophistication than your average Stephen King novel, but in truth they are the same level of book.  Enjoyable, quick, but not life-changing.

This book was no exception.  It was engaging, unpretentious, and a pleasure to read.  That being said, I must start out my review by pointing out that Mr. Hastings, the narrator of this story, is the dumbest character I have ever had to read about.  What a clueless bland bag of flour.  And this guy apparently appears in 8 other Poirot stories?  I could barely deal with him once.  Agatha, I know you’re dead, and have no reason to change your books now, but I need to give you some advice.  You do not need to make a dunce accompany Poirot in order for us to see that he is intelligent. I know Watson isn’t as brilliant as Holmes, but he’s (in the books anyway) of average, if not slightly above average, intelligence).  Hastings, on the other hand, is one step above lake algae.

Hastings is like the fat friend who makes the other girls look thinner and prettier. I am not exaggerating; I think he has an IQ below 80.  Not only is he dumb compared to Poirot, he is dumb compared to every other character in the book. If Hastings is supposed to represent the ‘reader’ as we bumble along through the mystery, then Christie thought her readers were utter imbeciles.  I recently found a website titled ‘Shut the Fuck Up, Hastings!’ so I know I’m not alone in my irritation. But I’ve now said my piece, and can move on.

This book was Christie’s first published novel, and is also the first glance her readers got of Poirot, the odd Belgian detective who would feature in some of her biggest hits, like Murder on the Orient Express.  Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, and DI Japp (apparently) all make many appearances in later novels.  Christie admitted that she based this trio on the Holmes-Watson-Lestrade relationship, and it shows.  Poirot is no Holmes, though.  He’s a short, older foppy gentleman with slight OCD and a paunchy belly. No girl is going to have a crush on Poirot, that’s for sure.

The book opens with the dimwitted Hastings home from WWI and visiting friends at Styles.  There’s his old friend John Cavendish, and his aloof and beautiful wife Mary.  The matriarch, Emily Inglethorp and her (new) second husband, Alfred. The younger brother Lawrence, the ‘ward’ Cynthia, and the secretary Evelyn. The poison expert, Dr. Bauerstein.

Within a few days, the matriarch of the household has been poisoned, and everyone suspects her new second husband.  This being a murder mystery, the action obviously does not end there. Poirot gets involved to help determine who committed the murder and how.  Was she murdered via the coffee? Her nightly cocoa?  The sleeping powders?  Who burned her newly-written will?

I thought it was a good mystery, and though not as smart as Poirot, I’m nowhere near as dumb as Hastings.  So I saw some of the twists coming beforehand, but didn’t anticipate the denouement.  I think that’s about the perfect experience for a murder mystery.  You feel smart enough since you saw some of the clues and drew correct conclusions, but you’re still surprised in the end.

I found this book, despite the lovely mystery, to be lacking in characterization.  I could see glimmerings of the truth about Mary Cavendish (who looked like Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary in my imagination) and Cynthia. I could picture the moody Lawrence or the no-nonsense Evelyn.  I could see a love story brewing here and there, but it was like looking through the haze. Hastings was stupid and dull, but as the narrator we see most of the action through his eyes.  It’s a bit like swimming through jello, trying to glean any information from his incompetent retelling. As such, I felt a bit impatient for the plot to zoom along, since characters alone were not sufficient to make this book worthwhile.

So I didn’t love it–characters are really important.  But I still enjoyed it, because Christie is really good at this murder mystery stuff.  I think next time, I just need to go for one of the stories without Hastings in it.

My previous foray into the works of Christie was soured by a lot of antisemitism.  I’m pleased that this book had…less.  A few unsavory mentions of so and so being ‘a Jew’, as if it were an insult.  A really and truly unfortunate tale of one of the people dressing up in blackface, using burned corks to color her hair dark, in order to put on what must have been an incredibly appalling skit. It’s a thin line when you read old fiction.  Shakespeare has a lot of mentions about jewish people, about black people (more than you would think anyway, given that it was the 16th century in England) and they can make a reasonable 21st century person feel a bit uncomfortable.  On the other hand, Shakespeare wrote Othello and The Merchant of Venice.  Christie’s tidbits of casual and horrifying racism/antisemitism are far more disturbing in their thoughtless inclusion where they are not needed.  They come from a place of undeniable privilege and ignorance, and betray a nonchalance that makes me a little sick.  A Telegraph article about Christie’s antisemitism had this quote: The stereotyping made me squirm. But would I erase it? Never: to see antisemitism so endemic in the works of a highly-respected and best-selling author is to understand a period of history – and its horrific consequences.

Like taking medicine, it’s important to look back and to be horrified. That’s the only way to avoid doing horrifying things again.  And judging by the comments from incensed Christie fans claiming there’s nothing antisemitic about her works, I’m guessing this sentiment is warranted.

But that article also compares Christie’s casual antisemitism to Mark Twain’s very purposeful discussion of the black experience in America during a time of slavery and abject destitution.  They are not the same.  Christie is not interested in examining these prejudices, any more than Jane Austen was interested in the plight of the lady’s maid. Her prejudices are just there, making it obvious that she thought them nothing to be ashamed of.  So my feelings of guilt at reading and enjoying Christie’s books continue.  But she seemed so nice in that Doctor Who episode…and there’s that picture of her surfing!  Disappointing.

agathachristiesurfing

 

Family Tree

Family TreeChristopher Guest’s quirky show, starring Chris O’Dowd, premiered in May on HBO. The season finale was this month. The show will appear on BBC Two this summer. No word yet on a second season, but I’m hopeful!

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Christopher Guest‘s work, you should be.  Do yourself a favor and see at least two of the following: A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap, and The Princess Bride.  Okay, in The Princess Bride, he was only acting and not one of the creators, but you should still see it if you haven’t yet.  It’s a great movie.  I think it’s important to be familiar with Guest’s work and its inherent eccentricities. Otherwise you might spend your time wondering why one of the main characters of this show spends all of her time with a foul-mouthed monkey puppet on her hand.

monkey and christopher guestBut if you know Christopher Guest’s work, then you don’t worry about that and you just enjoy yourself.

Quirky, eccentric, peculiar, etc. How many synonyms can I go through in this review? Let’s get it out of the way now: everyone in this show is utterly strange.  Chris O’Dowd’s character, Tom Chadwick, is the only reasonably normal one in a long list.  His sister, Bea, is the aforementioned puppeteer.  His best friend Pete works at the zoo and …I haven’t a clue how to describe him. Not terribly bright, for starters.  Fond of strange hats.  Inappropriate in almost every situation.

pete-stupples-1024His father has a Moldovan second wife and a penchant for terrible ’70s British sitcoms.

He lives above a man who runs a ‘bit and bob shop’. In other news, I have a new career I’m working toward, if I can just get enough bits and bobs… In later episodes, Tom travels to America and meets an even stranger assortment of creatures. Ed Begley Jr. plays a libertarian conspiracy theorist, Carrie Aizley is his hippie wife who sells flavored enemas.

The show follows Tom, who has recently lost his job and his girlfriend, after he is given a trunk of old family heirlooms.  He proceeds to track his family line back several generations, for reasons only he seems to understand.  Nothing in his family history is particularly glamorous so far–his most notable ancestor was the back half of a pantomime horse.

The journey through the past is interesting, but really it’s just a vehicle to get Tom into the most ridiculous situations and conversations one can imagine.  There were Civil War reenactments, morjgm-b781130906z.120130621144503000g861ej272.2a visit to a Native American Reservation, farming in rural Derbyshire, and the tales of the best Jewish cowboy in silent movies.  I found myself watching with a mixture of incredulity and bemused giggles.  It’s always entertaining and surprising–very rare for TV shows, in my experience. Not everything is a ‘joke’ with a punchline and a rimshot, but the humor is more subtle and less forced.  I found Chris O’Dowd to be the funniest of the cast, but Monkey was my boyfriend’s favorite.

There are some really big stars on this show, mostly from other Guest movies. In addition to Chris O’Dowd (who is becoming quite famous after being in Bridesmaids and Girls), there are Ed Begley Jr, Michael McKean, Guest himself, and Fred Willard, plus other cameos.

I can see why this wouldn’t be the best show for some people.  In my mind, they’re the kind of people that really love Two and a Half Men, and don’t find TV shows with a laugh track annoying at all.  But for anyone who enjoys a Christopher Guest experience, this show does not disappoint.  Sometimes, I think there are too many characters without enough to do in any given episode, but for the most part the large cast is balanced quite well.  The main three characters (Tom, Bea, Pete) are all very fleshed out and loveable. I really hope they give it at least one more season, as I want to see what happens next.

 

Quartet

quartet soundtrackLet me start by saying I like the fact that UK filmmakers (and audiences) are unafraid of the aged population.  There are a number of incredibly brilliant English actors and actresses that still work regularly, that are older than three Hollywood actresses combined.  Similar to films like Calendar Girls and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet celebrates and examines the lives of people (gasp!) over 50.  Compare this to US movies with older people (titles like RED and The Bucket List) and it becomes obvious that the UK versions of these movies are smaller, and spend far more time dealing with the everyday lives of everyday pensioners.  They have less glitz and more heart, and I find them far more relatable. I really look to them to gain perspective as I age.

That being said, I didn’t love Quartet. Sometimes these films are so small, so simple that I feel let down by a lack of more dramatic change amongst the characters assembled. I felt that way about this film at the end.

The story follows the lives of several retired opera singers and musicians, all of whom live in a private retirement home for ex-professional musicians.  First, I thought, what an immaculate place to spend your retirement years.  Surrounded by music and talented people.  On the other hand, several of the characters are (literally) divas, making life difficult for those around them.

Three best friends, all opera singers, have been living happily in this home for years. Billy Connolly (Brave) plays the lascivious, flirtatious, Wilf; Tom Courtenay (Little Dorritt) plays the Felix to his Oscar. Reginald is a bit uptight, but kind.

wilf and reginald

 

 

Their girl Friday is Cissy, the scatter-brained, good-natured, slightly bland friend.

Quartet_Cissy

The three have a fairly nice life.  The home is a good place to live, and they are surrounded by music.  The place is aflutter, preparing for an annual fundraising performance in honor of Verdi’s birthday. Everyone is being bossed around by Dumbledore Michael Gambon, a music director who embodies every bossy self-centered stereotype you can imagine. I mean, look at the man’s outfit.

QUARTET

 

 

Still, they are living a nice life and relatively peaceful.  Enter Jean Horton, played by the incomparable Maggie Smith.

Quartet SmithNot only is Jean a diva, but she is Reginald’s ex-wife.  They are incredibly awkward around each other, a situation made worse by Dumbledore’s insistence that this quartet perform their greatest song together at the fundraiser.

The film has a lot of good and interesting things to say about getting older, about letting go of the pressures of performance and the expectations of others.  Jean is nervous to sing again, convinced she won’t be able to sing as well as she did in her youth.  She worries that her fans will be disappointed.  Wilf informs her immediately that all of her fans are dead.

I liked the characters and I liked the story, but there was just a little too little action for the movie to hold my attention.  The acting was wonderful, the music gorgeous, but it was just a wee bit boring.  And having four brilliant actors is great, but they don’t actually do a lot of singing on camera.  They certainly do not sing the great opera song they supposedly perform at the end.  I understand why (not everyone is an opera singer; it’s not like learning to play the kazoo), but it feels like a bit of a cheat.  It feels like when you can clearly see that the stunt double is twice the height of the actor/actress they’re playing.

There was one strange bonus in this movie: Sheridan Smith, aka Rudi (Smithy’s sister) from Gavin and Stacey has shed her chavvy costume and looks like a proper professional woman in this movie?!

Sheridan+SmithI know she’s an actress, and not apparently an actual chav, but I did expect her to zoom off in her heelys at least once in the movie.  That didn’t happen, alas.

Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

muchadoaboutnothingintlposterOn this blog, I don’t get to talk much about my love for Joss Whedon.  He’s not British, and he generally hires Americans to play Brits in his shows (Spike, Wesley).  But, finally, I get a chance to write about a Joss project.  Okay, this adaptation of the Shakespeare play is made with American actors and was filmed in America, but Joss kept the original Shakespearean dialect.  And a Shakespeare remake without the writing is…well, let me use an SAT analogy.  Shakespeare : all other dialogue  as  bacon : veggie bacon.  And I say that as a vegetarian.

The film came out with limited release a few weeks ago, and I have been patiently waiting for it to arrive somewhere within 100 miles of me.  I went to see it at an independent theater in a small town near me. A good portion of the crowd looked like they were alive when the original play was performed in the late 16th century, but they were lively, entertained, and very emotive during the show.  A lot of them seemed unfamiliar with the plot, judging by their gasps of shock at certain parts. This surprised me, but if you need an easy breakdown of the story, look no further.

Don Pedro, a prince, goes to stay at the home of his friend Leonato, the governor of ‘Messina’ at his castle (in this case, Whedon’s actual home was used for filming over a paltry 1-2 weeks).  Leonato brings his friends, Claudio and Benedick, and his villainous brother Don John. As in all Shakespearean Dramatis Personae, there are a number of servants and each nobleman/woman has an entourage.

They are greeted and welcomed by Leonato, his daughter Hero, and his niece Beatrice.

muchado_02Joss-whedon

Beatrice and Benedick go way back, and ‘there is a kind of merry war betwixt Signior Benedick and her; they never meet but there is a skirmish of wit between them’.

Claudio and Hero fall swiftly in love and are soon betrothed.  Everyone plans to trick Beatrice and Benedick into loving each other through several rounds of deception.  It all goes awry with Don John’s help, as one should probably expect when bringing a villainous brother along to a party.  But, since it is a Shakespearean comedy, we know it ends with a wedding. I won’t give anything more away.

Whedon did a few things to change the play to make the movie.  Obvious changes are making the setting thoroughly modern, with cell phones and guns instead of messengers and swords.  Every Shakespeare company has done an anachronistic retelling of one of the plays, so this isn’t new, but I think it’s remarkable how well and how easily it’s believable.  I also think the black and white helps to deal with the cognitive dissonance; like we’re in another world that lacks color, has princes, values chastity, and where everyone speaks in iambic pentameter.

The actors all do an amazing job. Ah-mazing.  Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, who I loved together in Angel, are perfect for this pair.  Their wit and banter is fast, but spot on.  They both make the Shakespearean dialogue so easy to understand, so emotive.  Every time I see Shakespeare performed, I remember that this is its true home.  Why on earth do we start out reading it, rather than watching it?

Seriously, they are spectacular.  They are comedic, both in wit and physical comedy, and they handle the serious and difficult middle section of the play with real emotion and anger and resolve.  A++

Fran Kranz, from Dollhouse and Cabin in the Woods, makes a very good Claudio.  He is naively loving at first, and then turns on a dime into a truly scary being. Leonato, played by Clark Gregg (the Avengers), is similar.  A loving father one minute, a vengeful, despicable patriarch the next.

The other actors had less to work with; less rounded dramatic characters.  But there were notables.  Hero is a notoriously boring character, a stand-in for pure female virtue with almost zero personality, but Jillian Morgese does what she can to make her believable and real and she is certainly pitiable.  Nathan Fillian makes a brief but pitch perfect appearance as Dogberry, the single dumbest constable to ever grace the night watch.

1ADOMUCH-ADO-Tom-Lenk-and-Nathan-Fillion-CREDIT-Elsa-Guillet-Chapuis-2MBHe spends all of scenes smirking and making funny slips of the tongue.  He is clearly giving an homage to David Caruso (and his sunglasses) in CSI: Miami.  It’s very funny; a woman in my theater was laughing so loudly I’m afraid I missed half his lines.  Bonus: his second in command is Tom Lenk, of Buffy fame.

I’m not an expert on acting, so I don’t have anything technical or brilliant to say about what they did or how they did it. I try not to comment most of the time because I just don’t have the vocabulary to describe good acting. Still, everyone can tell when the acting is bad, even with the easiest material in the world.  This was difficult material in a short time span on a small budget, and they all did a wonderful job.  It makes it obvious to me how much people love to work for Joss, and I envy them a bit in being around and involved in such a pure creative process.  With such excellent results!

I really enjoyed the movie.  I just have one bone to pick.  Joss does one thing to alter the movie from the play that irks me.  The movie begins with a (wordless) scene of Benedick leaving Beatrice’s bed after a one-night stand. She pretends to be asleep; he hesitates, but leaves without a word or note.  This is presumed to be the start of hostilities between them.  Now, the play implies a history and maybe a brief infatuation, but no sex.  Beatrice is a virtuous woman, and therefore a ‘maid’.  At first, I thought it was just an effort to modernize the text.  After all, I don’t know a lot of virtuous maids in the 21st century.  Times have changed, etc., etc.

But this logic only works until the middle of the movie, when Hero’s virginity is called into question.  The horrendous, painful, awful response of absolutely everyone (her father included) to the mere idea that she may not be ‘chaste’ completely contradicts what Joss added with B & B.  After all, if Beatrice is not chaste, is she worthless to men? Should she die, as Leonato suggests his own daughter do?  Beatrice is horrified by what is being done to her cousin, but she does not in any way acknowledge that she is actually guilty of the sin Hero is accused of.  And she can’t, because Shakespeare didn’t write that.  It creates a schism in my head when I think on it too long, and it bothered me more and more.  It’s so uncomfortable and awful to think of women being treated this way; but it still happens in so many places.  The UN estimates that there are 5000 honor killings per year.  This play, and this movie, are absolutely talking about the same issues, and maybe Joss could have used the movie to make a bit of a statement about it. At least to shine a mirror on it.  To add that frivolous one-night stand in there is…it makes no sense to me.  It changes who Beatrice’s character is, from a virtuous woman to (by her society’s rules) to a non-virtuous one.  It doesn’t mesh with who she is, and it bothers me a lot.

That being said, I enjoyed the movie immensely.  Shakespearean comedies make you feel so much emotion.  It’s sometimes hard to see and experience the horrors of the middle and then celebrate the joys of the end.  It’s hard to forgive some of the characters their wrongs, even though you’re meant to.  I can’t forgive Claudio, or the Prince, or Leonato for what they did.  I can’t celebrate their happiness at the end.  But Beatrice and Benedick are lovely throughout, and Joss’ adaptation makes them as lovely and charming and funny as I’ve ever seen them.