Words: Maxamillian John
The Shakespearean rule of thumb is that a story ending in death is a tragedy, while a story ending in marriage is a comedy. This week brings us the release of Joss Whedon's adaptation of 'Much Ado About Nothing' and 'Bachelorette', both of which end in marriages, and 'Sharknado', which ends in a lot of death. Guess which one emerges as the real comedy! What does Shakespeare know, right?
It actually turns out Shakespeare knows a hell of a lot, and Whedon's adaptation of 'Much Ado About Nothing' (★★★★) is disappointingly accomplished. The idea of Joss Whedon, beloved of the internet, adapting a Shakespeare comedy, in black-and-white mind you, just screams 'hipster-bait'. Shot with the aesthetic of a perfume commercial and casting stalwart Whedon collaborators such as Amy Acker, Nathan Fillion and Alexis Denisof, 'Much Ado About Nothing' has mobilised fanboys and girls from all over Tumblr to declare this the Best Thing Ever, at least for this month.
As much as I was grinding at the bit ready to hate it, everything works perfectly. All the original language is retained and delivered with genuine comprehension, something you don't often see. It's clear that even with a 12-day shooting schedule, a lot of preparation went into this. There are moments of great physical comedy that display Whedon's directorial ingenuity and his cast's inventiveness.
Almost every part is nailed: Fillion is a natural as the pompous and bumbling Dogberry, Sean Maher is a cold and scheming Don John. Although Acker is a little prone to over-emoting as Beatrice, it's not entirely out of character. I guess Jillian Morgese as Hero is kind of flat, if we're looking for things to fault. But that's nitpicking, and even approaching this adaptation with all the hostility I can muster I'm very impressed.
'Bachelorette' (★) is the 'Bridesmaids'/'The Hangover' crossover from a parallel universe where everything is made of awful. Writer-director Leslye Headland, having learned the lessons of pernicious film producer and her former boss Harvey Weinstein, takes the zeitgeisty premise of a bunch of screw-up friends walking the knife-edge of ruin the night before a big wedding, but makes the creative leap of casting hotter actresses in the lead parts than competing zeitgeisty films. What a genius.
The plot is barely a thin mist settling on your screen and the characters constitute a 90 minute tour of Headland's misconceptions about young people. Kirsten Dunst is the uptight bridesmaid trying to rein in the chaos, Lizzy Caplan is the stoner who uses sex to quell her ennui, Isla Fisher is just a mess of a character, and Rebel Wilson pulls all two of her facial expressions as the bride-to-be.
Amongst the more contemptible crimes are such gems as Dunst referring to a Chinese girl as 'Chinatown'. I'm sure we're not meant to agree with the casual racism, it's meant to be an example of the character's despicability, but you know what? It's still not okay. Her arc is such that she stays exactly the same throughout and yet we're clearly expected to sympathise with her at the end having seen how she's her own worst enemy. It's not enough.
The male half of the cast are also remarkably mono-faceted. Adam Scott mentions Facebook on three separate occasions, James Marsden is a rip-off of Roger from 'Roger Dodger' but without any of the irony. It's all so thoroughly pointless - a comedy without one solid laugh in it, a film of truly devastating tedium.
Far more entertaining, and with less right to be, is the DVD release of 'Sharknado' (★★½). This Syfy-produced film was screened on American cable in July this year, a B-movie in the same vein as 'Sharktopus' or the legendary 'Mansquito' ("Half Man, Half Squito!"). While most of these films sink silently into the soothing marsh of obscurity, 'Sharknado' was picked up by such Twitter-using celebrities as Olivia Wilde and Mia Farrow, and even the American Red Cross. At 5000 tweets a minute, it became an internet hit.
It's about a flood and subsequent tornado that picks up sharks and flings them across California. A 'sharknado' if you will. Ian Ziering stars as a bar-owner dodging sharks in the streets to rescue his family, dragging bar-refugees Cassie Scerbo and Jaason Simmons along for no readily apparent reason. Tara Reid is his ex-wife who does nothing but add a former C-list name to the credits.
The script is terrible and there are innumerable plot holes, but that doesn't matter. On a technical level the film is awful too, but that doesn't matter either. At its heart, 'Sharknado' is about the sheer, reckless audacity of the Syfy channel, and a gleeful disregard for all directives of physics and biology. People get killed often, sharks burst through windows, everybody has fun. Of course it isn't a good movie, that would defeat the point.
Since before the VHS release of 'Showgirls' in 1996, the 'so bad it's good' phenomenon has given undue legitimacy to movies that should have just died - viewers whose sensibilities are too ironic to watch something actually well made providing the oxygen of rental money. I'm not convinced it's a healthy thing, and it’s complicated by the self-awareness shown by studios in mobilising this phenomenon to excuse poor filmmaking. But I have to say, 'Sharknado' is a great film to laugh at.
If you're not watching 'Sharknado' with friends and alcohol, it's probably going to suck as bad as 'Bachelorette'. And for a guaranteed good time this week (as they say on toilet walls), you're better off with 'Much Ado About Nothing', a film with unironic laughs and the gilding of culture. So after all, the real comedy here turns out to be the film industry, because the best film this week is from the 16th century.
Read previous DVD Digests here. Find more from Maxamillian at @maxltj.