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My 12 for ’13: Much Ado About Nothing & The Joy of a Shakespearean Sex Comedy…

This is my annual countdown of the 12 movies that really stuck with me this year. It only counts the movies released in Ireland in 2013, so quite a few of this year’s Oscar contenders aren’t eligible, though some of last year’s are.

This is number 10…

I feel a little sorry for Shakespeare. The guy wrote some of the most influential and iconic plays ever composed; invented countless turns of phrase and even words; became inexorable associated with theatre and stage work… and yet he’s still hated by just about every student forced to sift through Romeo & Juliet or Hamlet or Macbeth as part of their education. While Shakespeare is easy enough to read once you get a grip of it, or once you have enough experience, forcing kids to read those plays at school is one of the most effective ways to kill enthusiasm for the Bard.

The beauty of Shakespeare is that he isn’t just an “important” writer, that he isn’t just a key part of the evolution of world literature, a formative figure in the history of narrative. Not that any of those are minor accomplishments, mind you. The real beauty of Shakespeare is that he’s actually very good. Not with qualifications like “… for his time” or “… in context.” Shakespeare remains a great writer in the most fundamental “this is actually a pretty good story well told” sort of way.

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The best directors to adapt Shakespeare’s work to film realise this, and accept that Shakespeare is still a great storyteller; you just need to figure out how to translate his works properly to the screen, in the same way you’d translate a modern best-seller or a beloved cult comic book. Kenneth Branagh figured out how to do this, with his adaptations almost popping off the screen.

Much Ado About Nothing demonstrates that Joss Whedon has it pretty figured out as well.

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Doctor Who – The Shakespeare Code (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Shakespeare Code originally aired in 2007.

Goodnight, Doctor.

Nighty night, Shakespeare.

– talk about your British icons

The Shakespeare Code is the third season’s opening trip into British nostalgia, a celebrity historical where the Doctor journeys back in time to meet a famous character and to deal with alien menaces masquerading as something altogether more sinister. This time, the Doctor and Martha travel back to meet William Shakespeare. It’s a little on the nose, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing. After all, teaming the Doctor up with Queen Victoria in Tooth and Claw did seem a little cynical when the show opened with a gag at the expense of Margaret Thatcher.

The rather safe and occasionally quite “postcard-y” portrayal of British history aside, The Shakespeare Code is more interesting as a rather novel form of arc-building for the show. “Saxon” was the arc word for the show’s third season, but restricted to those episodes set in the present. However, The Shakespeare Code winds up offering major thematic foreshadowing of the season ahead.

Where there's a Will...

Where there’s a Will…

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Non-Review Review: Much Ado About Nothing

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has delightfully intimate roots. Apparently, the movie stems from occasions in various Whedon households where he would host “Shakespeare Sundays”, with friends and family reading through classic plays in a very cosy environment. Much Ado About Nothing represents an extension of that intimacy. It’s literally filmed in Whedon’s own home, using money saved for his and his wife’s twentieth anniversary. Whedon even wrote the music, and his extended family are heavily involved. Jed Whedon supervised the music and his sister-in-law Maurissa Tancharoen can be seen singing at points.

That’s the wonderful charm of Much Ado About Nothing, a movie that seems to have grown and developed out of a genuinely personal creative space, a project deeply personal and intimate to Whedon, filmed while he was editing one of the biggest movies of all time. In a way, Much Ado About Nothing feels like the most talented and highest quality student film ever produced.

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Non-Review Review: Julius Caesar (1970)

Julius Caesar is a very ropey production. Produced by Commonwealth United Entertainment and American International Pictures, it doesn’t stand up as an enduring adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy. While quite a few of the essential ingredients are lacking, Charlton Heston actually does a fairly good job as Marc Anthony – it’s just that he’s never quite as good as Marlon Brando had been in the role back in 1953. On the other hand, Jason Robards is woefully miscast as Brutus, transforming “noble Brutus” from the most honest man in Rome to the most sinister of assassins. The production values are fairly decent, but Julius Caesar perhaps provides evidence that these sorts of historical epics were already on the way out by the start of the 1970s.

Friends! Romans! Countrymen! Lend my your expensive set designers!

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Film Adaptation of the Play “Kursk” Streaming at the Space From Tomorrow…

Every once in a while, somebody passes on a bit of information to the site that I think is worth sharing, just because it’s kinda a little bit cool and a little bit fascinating. In May, the British Arts Council and the BBC launched The Space, an on-line hub for the arts – available to stream on-line for free. It’s an absolutely fantastic way of sharing the arts with people who honestly wouldn’t get a chance to see them otherwise. (Especially at the moment, when the economy is the way that it is.) Starting tomorrow, The Space will be streaming a film adaptation of a play Kursk, based around the infamous Russian submarine disaster.

Image: Kursk Photographer: Keither Pattison

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Non-Review Review: Coriolanus

I’m a big fan of Shakespeare adaptations, if done right. The proper cast and crew can serve to make the Bard easily accessible to modern audiences, allowing people unfamiliar with the tragedy in question to follow along with the work remarkably easily. Ralph Fiennes has assembled such a cast and crew for his directorial debut, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Although not universally regarded as one of the truly great Shakespearean tragedies, it does have the epic scale and grand drama of some of the writer’s best work. T.S. Elliot would consider it to be, along with Anthony and Cleopatra, to be Shakespeare’s finest tragic play. I think that Fiennes adaptation makes a plausible argument for a long overdue reappraisal of the work. At the very least, it does an excellent job bringing it to a modern audience.

Roman around…

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Non-Review Review: The Tempest

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

I have to admit that I have a soft spot for Julie Taymor’s Titus. It was a punk rock adaptation of perhaps Shakespeare’s trashiest play, and it was a fusion which just worked. The Tempest, on the other hand, is a very different beast. Far from being one of the Bard’s more easily forgotten plays, it has been one of his most highly regarded since its revival in the nineteenth century. It is, despite some outward cynicism, a far more optimistic and (dare I say it?) lighter piece than the orgy of death and destruction in Titus Andronicus. So Taymor’s skills aren’t quite as perfectly in step as they might be. That said, she’s still a remarkable director with a keen visual sense, and the movie manages to be engaging and entertaining, despite a few missteps.

It's a kinda magic...

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