Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Case for FilmFest 2013 Weekend 3

The final two films in my 2013 Film Fest feast list were ones I approached with a little bit of trepidation, not because they looked at all odd or uncertain, but because I went in with expectations I was a little worried they would not meet.

First off was a Friday night Embassy screening of a Joss Whedon film, his rendition (aided and abetted by some of the talented actors he has come across in his many years in film in television) of Shakespeare’s classic, Much Ado About Nothing.

While the setting was Los Angeles (Whedon’s house, I think) and the budget paltry (it was done as a project more than a big budget film, I believe), the lack of dynamism or exotic locations didn’t really detract from the work of the Bard and from the incredibly performances of most (if not all) of the collaborators.

Leading the charge was the stunning Amy Acker, per pencil thin beauty lending itself both to the steely determination and caustic wit of Beatrice as well as the more fragile aspects of the role.  As her beau to be, Alexis Denisoff was a little less successful in balancing the anger with the comedic aspects of the role of Dominic, but this may have had more to do with the direction and the script than his performance, and most of his pratfalls elicited a laugh or two.

These two were surrounded by faces familiar and otherwise from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly, the Avengers and other Whedon productions, all speaking Shakespearean prose and obviously enjoying themselves immensely.  There are a few bum notes amongst the song, and an atmospheric party scene came across to me as a bit David Lynch-lite, but overall (and once I was used to and thus able to wrap my head around the dialogue), it all flowed well, some of the innuendo in the banter only really noticeable in the hands (well, mouths) of the incredibly gifted cast.

The film was prefaced by a short film called The Captain, shot in the airplane down area of Universal Studios that I had visited earlier this year.  I have seen a few shorts as part of my Film Fest experience (Tuffy was another), and I don’t think I really appreciate the form very well, but the budget for The Captain came across as pretty impressive if nothing else

Verdict:  There’s not a lot to dislike about Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.  It may not be all flash and sunny Tuscan fields (it is in black and white too) and the limitations of the size and layout of the house are apparent too (if occasionally used to good comedic effect), but it is fun, well acted, and with a great sense of humour, only part of which Shakespeare intended.

The next day, my final film was another documentary on liberal thinker, Gore Vidal: United States of Amnesia

I had known a little about Vidal before I went to the film: that he was influential in artistic and liberal circles, that he bemoaned the end of the American Republic and the start of the American Empire, and that he had been around a long time.  The documentary showed me how much more there was to the man, both in the size and scope of his circle of friends an influence, but also in the size and scope of his political ambitions.  He knew the Kennedy’s well (related by marriage) but was a sharp critic of JFKs record; he made a lot of money in Hollywood but never really considered the television and film industries serious art; he owned an incredible cliff side mansion where he would entertain the Robbins/Sarandon family, with Sting and Bruce Springsteen dropping by at the same time.

As a wit and intellectual, there were a few memorable quotes that punctuated the flow of the movie.  But as harsh as some of them sounded (such as “Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little a little”), overall Vidal seems to have had a lot of time for “the common folk”, though not quite as much time as he had for the limelight.  Some of his debates during the Viet Nam War are legendary (the tension between Vidal and William Buckley was so palpable I was expecting a brawl to break out on the set), and his view of the American political system did not win him many friends there, though his connections and success meant that his opinions were not completely ignored. 

The little Te Papa theatrette was filled with people in the “Upper Middle Age” bracket, and from the way the person decided to mutter under his breath when Obama came on screen and Vidal’s disappointed face reacted to it, it was fairly apparent that the audience for this film was made up of those who shared Vidal’s views (I think I am one of them as well, mostly).  It was a little odd when, once again, the finishing of the film brought a round of applause – who was it for, I asked, as Vidal, as a “devout atheist” would not have believed in an afterlife where he could have been viewing and appreciating it. 

In any event, the main purpose of the movie was to get me to think, and it succeeded wonderfully.  Those thoughts may have been fairly pessimistic, considering the general flavour of Vidal’s ideas, but it was incredible to “experience” the man’s life, and to see how his views were shaped by some incredible people, like his blind grandfather who served in the Senate and ended up poor as he never took bribes, as well as the “love of his life” whom Vidal lost in the Second World War and whose writings from that time seemed to make Vidal bitter with the American government.  

Verdict:  Gore Vidal: The Unites States of Amnesia is an incredible film really, with interviews with the man himself, and footage from a life that was regularly captured by the media. The title of the film itself was more of a puzzle, with the “American Amnesia” only really concerning a small part of the film, but the film informed and enlightened (or burdened, from a certain point of view) and kept me talking for ages afterwards.  9 Italian hideaways out of 10.

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