Sunday, September 09, 2012

Much Ado About Joss Whedon

So yesterday I had the delight and pleasure of attending the world premiere of Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, at the Toronto International Film Festival. I couldn't get tickets at first, but thanks to a group of Buffy fans I've been hanging around with for about a decade, I was able to get my hands on one (thank you Alex, Cindy, and Colleen!) When I arrived, Yonge Street had been closed off for the red carpet (ie SUVs showing up to drop off the stars of the show).

The view of the red carpet from back in the line. That's Yonge
Street for the non-Torontonians, and it crosses Queen just south there.
SUVs came from the south and up the part-block and dropped them
off under the lit-up marquee.

There was a kerfuffle about 20 minutes before the movie started, and we couldn't see from way back in the line (here's a gripe for TIFF: You put the moviegoers standing in line WAY back so they can't actually see the stars of the movie they paid to see, but the fans who didn't get tickets are standing way up next to the red carpet getting photos and autographs). Luckily, we were in a group so we could send people up a few at a time. The first person came back and didn't know who it was, and showed the rest of us the pic on her camera and it was Tom Lenk and Reed Diamond. When the next kerfuffle happened, I went up, and saw the wonderful and amazing Alexis Denisof (in the Whedonverse, he's Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and the Senaterrrrrr) and Sean Maher (Simon Tam).

Sean Maher signing autographs.

Alexis signing. He did almost the entire round. 

As everyone was mooning and screaming over these two, there was suddenly screaming from behind me. And I realized that if I'd stayed in the line, I would have seen Joss Whedon nonchalantly wandering down Yonge Street, not arriving in an SUV like everyone else. Right behind him was Nathan Fillion, with Clark Gregg.

Joss as I first saw him, turning and acknowledging a fan
who recognized him right away, while everyone else wondered
who the guy in the suit and sneakers was.

Joss as he walked by me. He actually looked right at me
and waved, but my stupid camera delayed and I didn't get
that shot. 

And here's Nathan. I apologize for the extreme fuzziness, but
aside from the delay, my camera can't change the zoom from one
photo to the next apparently. (Note to self: NEW CAMERA.)
 Joss went into the building pretty quickly, but Nathan walked around the crowds and took pics with people and signed autographs in that dashing and charming way of his, completely making everyone fall in love with him again.

Nathan leaving the crowds after being told he needed
to get into the theatre.
Afterwards a few others came, but I noticed the women didn't stop outside and sign autographs at all: they went straight in. I caught a glimpse of Amy Acker, but not the rest of them. Perhaps the women had been counselled that it wasn't safe for them? Not sure.

And then the line was ushered in quickly, so we didn't get to see the rest of the arrivals. But imagine my delight when we walked in and saw this:

The media line inside the theatre. That's Alexis in the foreground,
obviously, and in the back is Nathan, and Joss is against the
doors (and that appears to be Cynthia Loyst from Space
interviewing him).
Again, as we went by I held up my camera and said, "Alexis!" and he looked right at me, paused for a moment to give me the perfect pose and my camera didn't take the pic immediately, so as he glanced to the side assuming it had been taken, I got this one instead. I'm still happy. ;)

Oh, Wesley...

Once inside, we grabbed our seats in front of the reserved section and waited a while for everyone to come in. Eventually the stars filed in from outside and it was immediately apparent that they were ALL THERE. Every last one of them. Amy Acker came by me, and I finally got to see her close up:

No, she really doesn't age.
And I even spotted someone from Whedon's acting troupe who wasn't in the film, but was probably in something else at the festival: Olivia Wiliams:

Adelle cut off all her hair! Maybe she's in hiding.
Joss Whedon then took the stage the place ERUPTED. Standing ovation, screaming, applause, shouting. He looked really floored, grinning and almost speechless. Then he stepped up to the podium and said a few things about the movie ("I hope you feel the same way about me two hours from now") and called Much Ado About Nothing "the most bipolar text on love and marriage I've ever known."

He said he's a huge fan of William Shakespeare, adding that he's written some pretty good stuff and he predicts big things for the guy (but that he's really difficult to get a hold of when you try to reach him). He promised a Q&A after the film (YES!!! I've only been to the Elgin Theatre during TIFF one other time where there was a Q&A — Michael Moore — because it's one of the few places that doesn't allow them, so I was a little worried the day before when I realized the venue.) And the lights went down, and the movie started.

I won't spoil it for you (as much as one can spoil a 400-year-old text) but I will say a few things:

The movie was filmed at Joss's house. His house is GORGEOUS.

That said... and I have to say this... I cannot describe the feeling that came over me during the scene where Benedick confronts Claudio and threatens him after Beatrice has asked Benedick to do this for him. It was shot in the study, which is wall-to-wall built-in bookshelves. I'm assuming the books on the shelves are Joss's, and you know me: I paid more attention to the background than what was happening in the foreground (I know the play, I know what's being said). And imagine my shock when I saw one particular book cover on the top shelf behind Benedick: Twilight.

Freakin' TWILIGHT. I... have no words. Was it a joke? Please tell me it was a joke.

OK, back to the film. I'm thrilled to report that it's wonderful. It's well known about Whedon fans that Joss Whedon would film the TV shows during the week, and on weekends would invite the cast over to his house and they'd all read Shakespeare and act it out. As a result, the cast of the film — largely consisting of members of Whedon's TV troupe — knows the material so well it just comes out of their mouths as easily as modern-day English does. The film is a modernized version of the play, and to be honest, I find many modern-day interpretations to be rather tedious and the contrasts clash too much to make it work. Shakespeare's language isn't what's in the way — I think his words can be translated into any setting if done properly — but sometimes the director is just trying too hard. Not so with this. Joss knew the strengths of each of his cast members, and used it. The scene where Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro all pretend to not notice that Benedick is eavesdropping while they talk of Beatrice's love for him is BRILLIANTLY handled, mostly because Alexis Denisof — who has been shown to play the deepest, saddest character imaginable — started out on Buffy by being a goofy Watcher known more for his slapstick than his seriousness, and Alexis pulls them all out here. It was like watching early Wesley again, even though for most of the movie he plays the dashing Benedick unlike any other character he's done in the Whedonverse.

Amy Acker similarly handled herself well, and in the mirror scene where Hero is tricking her into thinking Benedick is in love with her, Acker pulls off a pratfall that outdoes everything Denisof had pulled off in the previous scene.

Fran Kranz is Claudio, and we finally get to see him in a Whedon production where he isn't jittery and nerdy, but at ease with himself, albeit one who is easily manipulated. (And in case, like me, you were wondering what the heck is on the poster for the film, that's actually Claudio, super-drunk, in a pool just before Don John (Sean Maher) and Conrade begin their deceit.

Speaking of Conrade, he's played as a woman in this version (Riki Lindhome), which changes the interpretation of some of the language completely; they're not comrades, but lovers. And the way Joss plays with the language to make it suit that sort of pairing is hilarious.

I remember wondering what Joss would do with the line where Claudio insists he'll marry Hero's sister to make amends, even "were she an Ethiope." Some directors now choose to omit it, but Joss leaves the line in, and makes it laugh-out-loud hilarious.

However, pretty much everyone in the film is upstaged by Nathan Fillion as Dogberry, the bumbling detective, and his sidekick Verges, played by Tom Lenk. They are screamingly funny, and the audience was in stitches throughout (there were definitely plenty of Browncoats in attendance, for when Fillion makes his first appearance about 1/3 of the way into the film, the place erupted with screams and applause).

Check out Lenk's porn stache. 
I would watch this movie over and over if for nothing but their scenes. They were amazing, and there was one moment where I actually thought Fillion was making up lines, because they seemed too modern-day to be real. But no, he just used his body language and inflection to make them seem modern, but they were indeed word for word from the play.

And, of course, the Whedonite in me can't help but almost weep when Benedick and Beatrice finally open their eyes and get together:

I wanted to shout, "FRED AND WESLEY FOREVER!!" but didn't want to be that annoying person at a premiere. ;) But still, you can't help but watch these two together if you're an Angel fan and NOT think, "Sigh... this is what it would have been like if Illyria hadn't shown up."

After the movie (which had a long standing ovation and shouts and cheers from the audience), Joss got back up on stage, once again overwhelmed by the love (I think he might have been a little teary!)

I love this photo, because if there's anyone who embodies
"When Indie Meets Epic," it's Joss.
Then he invited his cast on the stage, and they all joined him, barely fitting up there from one end to the other.

L-R: Joss, Alexis, Amy, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Fran
Kranz, Kai Cole (exec prod and also Mrs. Joss Whedon),
Jillian Morghese (Hero), Nick Kocher (First Watchman),
Joshua Zar (Leonato's aide), Emma Bates (Ursula), Brian McElhaney
(Second Watchman, who was very funny), Sean Maher
The second half, taking a bow, and I apologize I didn't get a
better pic, but the Q&A started and I wanted to record it.
And then the Q&A started, and here it is!

Afterward, the cast went out the back door and I saw most of them again, and once again Alexis and Fran stopped to sign for everyone, while the women shot straight into a cab. (Oddly, there were no preassigned vehicles to pick them up; the volunteers were desperately trying to hail cabs for them while they waited inside the doorway).

The crowd waiting for them to come out (I didn't want any
autographs so I took pics from across the street).

Fran and Alexis heading straight for the crowd.

Fran finished, and then had to stand and wait
while Alexis took on the other side of the crowd.

Alexis being swarmed. He was on his phone
when he walked out... could he have been chatting
with Alyson? (Asks the Buffy ubergeek.)

Olivia Williams, Jillian Morghese, and Kai heading to the cab.
Kai is the one in front holding the coat.
And that was that! I hope I was able to give you some sense of having been there, and here's hoping Joss's new Hollywood clout will get this film released, because it's a wonderful adaptation.


Mockingbird said...

Grrr. Arrgh. Happy.

Efthymia said...

A gazillion thanks! No one better to describe the event than a fellow Whedonite -and not just any Whedonite!

I have very realistic doubts concerning whether I'll get to watch this at a cinema, but for the moment I'm just happy it exists and that you were there to give me a taste of it.

By the way, I think the image of mr. Denisof looking sideways might be better than it would have been had he been looking directly to the camera.

RickR said...

Olivia Williams! I saw her in London when she was doing a play with Matthew Fox, and met them both afterwards.
She was completely charming, as you can imagine.

Marebabe said...

Thanks for the detailed run-down, Nikki. I was shocked at the end of this, however, because it never for one second occurred to me that this movie might not be "Coming Soon" to a theater near me. It absolutely HAS to have a wide release!

Rebecca T. said...

I am dying to see this. DYING. Thanks so much for the pics and the recap!

Sally Sparrow said...

Olivia Williams was there for the Friday evening premiere of Anna Karenina (directed by Joe Wright), which I was lucky enough to attend. AMAZING film. And also at the Elgin. The entire cast was on the stage answering questions at the end, and Olivia just seemed to be flirting with all the hot young stars. She's gorgeous!

Megan said...

I was at this too. Wanted to say first that we were able to be at the red carpet and we saw Amy work the crowd and sign a bunch of stuff. Olivia Williams may actually have signed stuff too - we just couldn't quite see - but she was out front for quite a while. Nathan and Alexis spent the most time out there though. Watching Joss walk along the closed off street was SO COOL.

My girl got a couple of nice shots from out front

Thanks for your write-up It was an incredible day and my only sadness is that I can't watch this film over and over again and share it with all my friends! Much ado has SO much heart and I was also thinking Wesley and Fred!
I've wanted to see Amy and Alexis do Shakespeare together since hearing about Joss' readings with them in the Hole in the World commentary.

Anonymous said...

You should really check out the theatrical "Much Ado About Nothing" with David Tennant and Catherine Tate - it's available on DVD as well and it's hilarious, and when it ended, a bit like you, a part of me thought: "Well, the Tenth didn't end up alone after all.."

Nikki Stafford said...

Anonymous: They put it out on DVD?? I didn't know that!! I was actually saying the day before going to see the show that the only thing better than seeing this would be seeing the Tennant/Tate production live, which many of my friends did and I DID NOT. I will now go look for it! ;)

Colleen/redeem147 said...

I can only find a British region DVD on their amazon. :( You can download it, but it's not a version you can burn. I don't want to pay to watch it on my computer.

And I'm still not a Fred/Wes fan, but I'm all for those crazy kids Beatrice and Benedict. :)

Suzanne said...

Thanks for sharing! I really hope I can see this. I am an English professor as well as a huge Whedon fan, so this movie is my idea of heaven. The icing on the cake for me would be that Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite Shakespeare comedy.

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