Nerdlocker – SXSW Day 2 – Much Ado

Danny Boyle and Rick Smith SXSW 2013
Danny Boyle and Rick Smith SXSW 2013

Day two was super light as far as film going went, but the caliber was incredibly high. I started out with A Conversation With Danny Boyle.  There are very few directors of whom I can say I’ve see all their feature film work AND liked all of it. Danny Boyle, however, is one of them. And each time it came around organically. I never set out to watch all of his movies, they were all recommended to me separately, or simply stumbled upon. All of them are thematically different but share technical similarities. Sunshine is one of my all time favorite films, and admittedly probably the only film in his canon I wouldn’t have pegged as a Danny Boyle film if I hadn’t known beforehand.

The conversation was simply a moderated panel where Boyle discussed his filmmaking. He brought up his longtime collaborator, friend and founder of the band Underworld, Rick Smith, whose music defines Boyle’s films almost as much as Boyle’s visual language does. They talked a great deal about their collaboration. They met for the first time when Boyle approached Smith about using and Underworld song in Trainspotting, the track that can’t be heard without conjuring the images of a heroin-addicted, tight T-shirt wearing Ewan McGregor circa 1996. The two are forever and inextricably linked. At the time Underworld was heavily involved in UK rave culture, and that culture was being unfairly painted by the media as a destructive drug culture. So incidentally Underworld was constantly being asked for licenses to their tracks to use in violent club/rave scenes, typically involving drugs. They said no every time because that was not their experience of the culture and didn’t want their music to be associated with such a negative stereotype. They were about to say no to Boyle when they were told it was a film about heroin addiction. But as we all know (at least those of us who have seen it), the film is not ABOUT heroin addition, that’s just where the characters live. The film is about hope and change and friendship, which for Rick Smith is what UK rave culture was about in the early 90’s. So he said yes, and they’ve created unforgettable cinema together ever since.

Boyle’s new film, Trance, starring James McAvoy and the sublime Vincent Cassel, appears to be a worthy addition to the Boyle canon and I can’t wait to see it. The clip they showed in the panel may have been a bit of a spoiler, but it was effective in making me interested in seeing how exactly they ended up in that crazy death-defying situation.

Watch the Red Band trailer for Boyle’s new “noir thriller” here, and be careful, it’s intense:

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker
Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker

And that brings me to maybe the most anticipated film, at least for me, of this year. Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. I’ve seen three versions of this play, and I loved every one, probably because I just love the play in general. I mean, it’s kinda great, let’s be honest. And it’s extremely accessible, even if you aren’t a Shakespeare fan. My first experience was at the Utah Shakespearian Festival when I was maybe thirteen. The second was the Kenneth Branagh version, which I love and you should all see if you haven’t (Michael Keaton’s Dogberry is amazing). Third was the staged David Tennant/Catherine Tate production set in the 1980s, also excellent.

But this, whew, this takes the proverbial cake! It’s the original Shakespeare text set in the present day. But not Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet style. This is lo-fi black and white. No glitz or crazy costumes, no musical numbers or over the top cinematography. It was shot in Whedon’s house (which was designed by his architect wife!), over a period of 12 days, on a micro budget with a small crew. It’s simple and lets the text and performances speak for themselves.

Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof finally get to be the focus of a Whedon project and they totally bring it as Beatrice and Benedick, the quick-witted and sharp-tongued adversaries who have both sworn off marriage, but are so obviously in love with one another. It’s hard to say, in a film like this, who steals the show. Everyone is so fantastic, and every part written so well (I mean, Shakespeare, duh). I’d like to say Fran Kranz‘s love-sick Claudio steals the show. This character is so different than the brainy tech-wiz from Dollhouse, and the stoner conspiracy-theorist from Cabin in the Woods. He is romantic and jealous and foolhardy and naive. I completely believed, from the first moment, that he was in love with Hero. Clark Gregg as Leonato, however, shows some serious chops as Hero’s generous and gregarious father. Sean Maher, as Don Jon, makes a surprisingly devious villain. And of course, Nathan Fillion as the baffoon-ish head of security, Dogberry, with side kick Verges, played by the amazingly funny and versatile Tom Lenk. All these people have wonderful shining moments, but it’s Acker and Denisof that stole my heart with their incredibly honest performances and completely unexpected physical comedy.

Almost all of the cast was in attendance. I’ve never had the pleasure of a Whedon Q&A, which I hear can get fairly cringeworthy with all the adoring fans that don’t really have a question, but just want to get up and talk about how much they love the Whedonverse. And there was a little of that, which the cast, to their credit, handled graciously. But my favorite moment was probably the kid (maybe twenty two years old or so) that asked Nathan Fillion, “How did you get to be SO awesome?”. To which Fillion responded in jest, “That is an excellent question!” and then followed up with stating that it really was because he was riding the coattails of people even more awesome, and the pointed to Whedon. He even admitted to trying to back out of the film because he was scared of doing Shakespeare, not having done it before. Most of the cast members hadn’t, though a few had, including Acker. It was a great moment, his admission of being scared by the material, especially after seeing how wonderfully he performed it. I got the sense that he grew as an actor and as an individual through making this film, and I suspect many of the others did as well.

Whedon Panel pic by Jose Gonzales
Whedon Panel pic by Jose Gonzales

I really can’t say enough good things about this movie. All Whedon fan’s will love it, all Shakespeare fans will love it, and all cinema fans SHOULD love it.
Watch the trailer if you haven’t already (or again, if you have!)

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I grew up on Kung Fu theater movie weekends, a lot of Top Ramen Noodles, G.I. Joe's, Evil Knivels Stunt Cycle and Stretch Armstrong. My Movie reviews and Artist Interviews have been a regular around Follow me on Twitter @arainbolt. or email me