Independent Film Festival Boston: Part 2, by Sarah Brinks
Much Ado About Nothing
I know as a film critic I should be as unbiased as possible but the film I was most excited about at the Independent Film Festival Boston was Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. As the creative director of the film festival said in his opening remarks, “Nowhere but Boston is there likely a place where the Venn diagram of Whedon fans and Shakespeare fans has more overlap”. If the response of the sold out audience I saw the film with was any indication, he was right. Whedon is understandably busy so he was not able to attend the screening but Fran Franz (Claudio) and newcomer Jillian Morgese (Hero) were present and spoke a little about how fun, fast, and alcohol-fueled the project was. It was filmed at Whedon’s home over eleven days and it sounds like filming was a lot of fun.
A small adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is an interesting project to follow up his Hollywood blockbuster The Avengers. However I think Whedon fans expect the unexpected from him. Whedon’s sense of humor and comedic timing is a perfect fit with Shakespeare’s razor-sharp wit and dialogue. Whedon casts a familiar set of trusted actors from his previous works to great effect in Much Ado About Nothing and adds a few newcomers. The entire cast with one exception have an impeccable grasp if Shakespeare’s language and make it both accessible and relatable in a way that even non-Shakespeare fans can appreciate. Sadly the one piece of casting that didn’t work was Rikki Lindhome as Conrade. I am a big Lindhome fan especially of ‘Garfunkel and Oats’. I am also a big fan of the cross gender casting of Conrade and the way Whedon changes the “Villian and henchmen” relationship into a romantic, twisted affair between Don John and Conrade. The only issue with Lindhome is the language. She never finds the rhythm and fluidity of language that the rest of the cast does. It comes out as memorized words said in order, not a natural expression of thoughts and feelings. Whedon’s tried and tested cast members are already used to his stylized dialogue so the Shakespearean text is not a big stretch for them.
Much Ado About Nothing is very successfully adapted to a modern setting. Incorporating email, television, and the backdrop of California Whedon successfully tells a centuries old story relatably without the flashiness of aRomeo +Juliet. The film is noticeably shot in black and white, which I was a little suspect of originally, but it works in the context of the film. After a while you stop even noticing it. It also makes for some beautiful scenes such as: the reveling scene and the funeral scene.
I am making the prediction here and now that Much Ado About Nothing will be the best comedy of 2013. The audience I saw it with was laughing uproariously and even cheered when Beatrice and Benedict finally admitted their love. I did see it with a festival crowd of Whedon fans but the visual and verbal jokes in the film are so on point I can’t imagine any other film this year competing with it. Much Ado About Nothing is intellectually amusing but also has simple jokes. In the film the simple act of grabbing a cupcake after an intense emotional scene is laugh-out-loud funny.
I don’t want to spoil anything and the plot of Much Ado About Nothing needs no description, so I will simply say this: Much Ado About Nothing is practically perfect in this reviewers eyes. I worship at the altar of Joss Whedon and William Shakespeare in equal measure so take this review with that in mind. If you like either man’s work then you will likely love Much Ado About Nothing. If you don’t like either or both I think you can still appreciate the filmmaking, the skillful acting, and the success of making it a modern story. Much Ado About Nothing is a gift from Whedon to film fans and I, for one, am grateful for it.
I don’t know when the term ‘Eco terrorism’ was created but according to the Wikipedia definition the fictitious group “The East” in the film The East is a perfect example. The East is about a woman (Brit Marling) who works for a private security company who infiltrates ‘The East’ in order to protect her high-end corporate clients. Jane, undercover as Sarah Moss (Marling), is an ex-FBI agent who is given ‘The East job’ as her first big break with the security company. She successfully infiltrates this highly secretive group and finds herself getting in much deeper then she ever imagined.
Jane has objections to what “The East” is doing but over time begins to see the world differently because of them. The East raises some moral questions about what you would do in Jane’s shoes. How far would go and to what degree would you participate with them? What I like about The East is that it asks these questions in the context of a fictional thriller. It avoids being too heavy-handed about its moral stance in a way that less successful films have failed. You cannot walk away from The East with asking yourself some questions: Would I have helped with the “jams” (the attacks), who in the film do I agree with, is the system broken, am I part of the problem or the solution? I think for the majority of us the answers to all those questions are both yes and no to some degree. The film leaves it up to decide if “The East” is a cult, a modern family, or a collection of angry people hell-bent on destruction. It is no doubt that they are extremists, but they also have to live with the consequences of their actions.
Brit Marling fans will already know that she is a capable actress and writer. Marling heads the star-studded cast of The East. Alexander Skarsgård plays Benji the leader of the East. Ellen Page plays the bitter follower Izzy. Patricia Clarkson plays the power and money hungry head of the private security film Jane works for. I have never been a fan of Page I think she lacks range, but her angry hipster persona works in this film. Skarsgård is well cast in his role. He has charm and vulnerability, which makes it easy to understand why people follow him to the lengths that they do. In a scene where they play a version of ‘spin the bottle’ whenever it lands on Benji everyone wants either a hug or a kiss from him, they all want to be close to him more so than anyone else in the group.
The East is a well made, well acted, and well written film that walks the balance of not condoning the acts of “The East” by showing their side of the argument and personal motivations and also showing the sometimes deadly consequences of their “jams”. The film shows that they are extremists that are misguided but it also shows that living sustainably and more eco-consciously is a choice. The East is a little heavy-handed at times but not to the point that I wouldn’t recommend the film. The East will be in theaters May 31st.
Anyone born between 1970-1990 remembers the VHS. Rewind This is a documentary film about VHS: its effect on film culture, its life today, and much more. Rewind This afforded me one those great “festival moments”. I ended up sitting right behind the director (Josh Johnson), editor (Christopher Palmer), and producer (Carolee Mitchell), so I got to watch them as I watched the film.
Rewind This is a fun and informative film. I grew up with VHS and have many fond memories of going to the video store and finding a stack of movies to enjoy. In my college’s town there was a rental store where you could get five VHS tapes for five dollars. These types of experiences are fondly shared in Rewind This. The film focuses on many different aspects of the VHS. It delves into the history of VHS, its battle with Beta-Max, its eventual turn to rentals, and its current life as a collectable.
There is an enthusiastic group out there of VHS collectors out there who are still very passionate about the medium. Throughout the film you see many VHS collections and some clips from the “best” (often the most absurd). Many collectors explain that they still collect because of the sheer volume of titles on VHS that have never been released on DVD or Blu-Ray. When VHS rental stores became popular they needed films to fill the shelves so small production companies could crank out low-budget films on mass. Many of those producers are interviewed and share their stories.
Rewind This also examined the relationship that VHS has the adult film industry. There are some interesting and humorous interviews with Japanese and American adult film producers and distributors. The VHS allowed people for the first time to privately explore that material in their own homes instead of public adult viewing halls. The VHS also gave people the option to work out at home. Jane Fonda revolutionized the in home exorcise video industry. There is some great footage in Rewind This of different exorcise tapes that are hilarious.
If you have any interest in learning more about the VHS medium, have fond memories of renting or sharing tapes, or just like good documentaries I recommend Rewind This. It takes an in-depth look at every aspect of the VHS medium and gives it modern context. There are some very interesting, funny interviews with a wide variety of subjects on a variety of topics relating to VHS. At a time when media is changing faster then ever it is good to remember a simpler time.
After the film there was a public Q&A with the director (Josh Johnson), editor (Christopher Palmer), and producer (Carolee Mitchell). Below is a summary of that Q&A.
What was the inspiration for the film?
We were in Austin, Texas where a lot of the interview subjects live and where VHS culture is still prominent and the passion those people had for VHS prompted us to make the film. Also we were all members of the VHS generation, so we had fond memories of VHS. There is a blogger in Virginia who posts about VHS and VHS images, which we liked and helped influence the film. We were surprised no one had done a film on it yet.
What is your favorite VHS?
Palmer- Fresh Kill
Mitchell- anything about pregnant men, it is a weird subset of films, specifically Rabbit Test
Johnson- Science Crazed, I finally got a copy sent to me by someone who heard me speak about it at one of our screenings.
What was it like to interview Basket Case director, Frank Henenlotter?
We heard about him through the Frankenhooker VHS box (it had a button you pressed and the box played the titular line). He was an incredibly generous guy who we really wanted to speak to for the film. He was the first director to release a “sell through” title (Basket Case).
You spoke in the film to artists who did cover art for VHS tapes, why is there no more hand drawn cover art?
It turns out it was a push by the big retail chains like Blockbuster. They found that people would think that films with hand drawn cover art were animated films and they wouldn’t rent them.
I saw the name Panos Cosmatos in the credits, is it the same Cosmatos from Beyond the Black Rainbow? And how did you get him involved in the film?
Yes it is. He contributed to our kickstarter campaign at the executive producer level.
Was there anyone you really wanted to interview that you couldn’t get?
Johnson- I really wanted to get Bob Saget, because of the America’s Best Home Video connection. He was interested in it but the scheduling never worked out.
Mitchell- David Cronenburg was a big one. He was also interested but the scheduling never worked out. Cronenburg’s History of Violence was the last film to be manufactured on VHS for wide release before the DVD took over, so it would have been interesting to speak with him.
Why do you think that the VHS screening events that you highlighted in the film are so popular?
Nostalgia is a big part of it. Also there are a lot of titles that are hard to find and were only released on VHS so it is the only way to see them.
How much money are each of you willing to spend on a VHS if you find one you want?
Mitchell- only like a dollar
Johnson- yeah, not more then a dollar
Palmer- I’ll spend up to three dollars
What is the future of Rewind This?
In August it gets a digital release on limited screens and then On Demand.