Much Ado: A fangirl goes to the movies

Today, I had the absolute pleasure of seeing the newest movie version of Much Ado About Nothing, which was screened as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival.

What can I say? It was fantastic.

I’m an unabashed fangirl when it comes to Joss Whedon and his world, and the fact that so many actors from the Whedon-verse — Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, and more — had key roles in Much Ado made it all the sweeter to see.

On top of which, I’m a book geek with a fondness for Shakespeare, and although I’m much more familiar with the tragedies, I’m always up for a good Shakespearean comedy. Much Ado About Nothing happens to be one that I’ve never read and had never seen before, and I did have a bit of trepidation ahead of time as to whether I’d actually “get” it. Not to worry, though. From the opening scenes, it was easy to pick up the rhythms of the language, and it all flowed beautifully.

Filmed in black and white in a modern setting, the art direction and style of the movie is contemporary and quick. The staging allows the actors to shine, particularly in their use of body language and interactions, and their comedic timing is impeccable. Nathan Fillion in particular was hilarious, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof were sharp and witty as Beatrice and Benedick, and Fran Kranz as the love-smitten Claudio was both puppy-dog sweet and quietly dangerous. Really, I could go on and on about the cast, but suffice it to say that there was not a one that I could find fault with. Their line deliveries were as smooth as they’d be if they were, well, in some other Joss production. For the man who perfected the art of quippiness, directing Shakespeare must have been a natural fit.

Both Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof were present for the screening, both to introduce the film and to participate in a Q&A session afterward. They were funny and charming, and got Joss on speakerphone before the movie to say hi to the audience. Adorable.

So here’s the trailer:

The movie opens June 7th in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Don’t miss it!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Movie Versions of Classic Books

Top 10 Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is — well, it’s a freebie. Everyone participating can make up their own theme, so mine is:

Top Ten Movie Versions of Classic Books

I’m planning to see the Les Misérables movie tomorrow, and that got me thinking: What other movies, inspired by classic books, have I loved over the years? (Unlike most top 10 lists coming out at this time of year, my list is not specific to 2012). This is a totally subjective list, based on nothing more than my own enjoyment of the films. The only consistent criterion I’m applying here is that I’ve actually read all of the books mentioned.

So here goes:

1) ??Les Misérables??

Reserving judgement, of course, until I’ve actually seen the movie, but just seeing the trailers has blown me away. I first saw the stage version of the musical in London many years ago, which was memorable for many reasons, not least because I had last minute tickets for cheap seats about a thousand balcony levels up and found the experience positively dizzying. Following that, I decided to read the book — not an abridged version, thank you very much — and walked away from that experience in love with the characters and with a deep and abiding knowledge of Parisian sewers and convents. I’ve since seen the musical several times, have listened to the soundtrack enough to have it memorized, and may even have splurged on a French version of the soundtrack. (But don’t tell; it makes me sound obsessive).

2) Pride and Prejudice: The BBC version, of course. There are countless other versions, remakes, modernizations, and reimaginings, and I even liked the Keira Knightley version (mostly because of Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennet), but the BBC (Colin Firth) production wins hands-down for me. Although… Bride and Prejudice — c’mon, that one rocked.

3) Vanity Fair: Did anyone else read the book after seeing the movie? I loved Reese Witherspoon, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and James Purefoy in director Mira Nair’s adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel… but I ended up loving the book even more. Becky Sharp is not a nice woman, but boy, does she know how to make waves!



4) Romeo and Juliet: As with the Jane Austen books, there are countless movie versions of Romeo and Juliet, but the one that is unparalleled, for me, is the 1968 movie directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Perhaps because I first saw it at a young, impressionable age, I remember it as being incredibly sensual and beautiful and utterly romantic. I suppose I should watch it again one of these days and see how it’s held up, and then perhaps check out the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version for comparison’s sake. And if we’re talking “inspired by”, mustn’t forget West Side Story either. Oh, Tony. Oh, Maria.

5) 10 Things I Hate About You: Sure, if we’re talking adaptations of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, I suppose I could have picked the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movie (which is wonderful, by the way) or perhaps the 1953 musical Kiss Me Kate, but in my mind, 10 Things I Hate About You is tops. This charming adaptation captures the comedy of the original, and Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles are just superb.

6) Emma and Clueless: Two great movies from one great book. I really love the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma (Jeremy Northam makes a dreamy Mr. Knightly), and Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless is a pitch-perfect ’90s update.  Both movies are terrific. Don’t make me choose.

7) Dangerous Liaisons: Based on the 1782 epistolary French novel by Choderlos de Laclos, the movie was a perfect forum for a dazzling cast. Glenn Close and John Malkovich are absolutely deadly in this movie. Even Keanu Reeves was not too bad. Must. Watch. Again.

Jane-Eyre-movie-image-Michael Fassbender-Mia-Wasikowska

8) Jane Eyre: Again, another classic with many different movie adaptations. But for purposes of this list, I’m going with the most recent. The 2011 movie starring Mia Wasikowski was lovely to look at and wonderfully acted. Sure, the plot was a bit compressed at times and parts were skimmed over entirely. Still, the gothic mood of the moors was perfectly captured. My only complaint might be that Michael Fassbender is, in fact, too handsome to play Rochester. Not that that’s much of a complaint, really.

Room with a view

9) Hard to choose — pretty much anything featuring Helena Bonham Carter (without insane wigs and bad teeth) could go here. Wings of the Dove, based on the Henry James novel, was the first HBC movie that came to mind, but in the end, I’ll go with A Room With A View. So beautiful, so romantic…

much ado

10) For my 10th and final choice, I’m going with a movie that has not been released yet, but which I’m oh-so-eager to see: Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Joss Whedon, and featuring a Whedon-verse array of favorites, including Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, and Fran Kranz. The movie is scheduled for release in June 2013. Who’s with me?

So what are your favorite movies from classic books? Which Pride and Prejudice do you love best? Can you sing along with Tony and Maria on “Tonight”? And do prefer Helena Bonham Carter as a young ingenue or as a crazy minion of the Dark Lord? Sound off in the comments!

(And wishing, for one and all, health, happiness, and love during the holidays and in the coming year. May your days be merry and bright!)


This may get a bit graphic

I was shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – to discover that I’ve read 25 graphic novels thus far in 2012.

This astonishing turn of events was driven home to me the other day during family reading time, a new tradition recently instituted in my house solely for the purpose of getting my 9-year-old to read. Whether this will actually be successful remains to be seen. However, I digress. During family reading time, the kiddo and I plop ourselves on the couch with our books for a mandatory half hour or so of side-by-side independent reading. On this particular occasion, my college grad daughter joined us. As we all settled in – daughter with A Storm of Swords, kiddo with Henry Huggins – my son looked over at me, started laughing hysterically, and said, “Mom’s reading a comic book!”

My initial reaction was denial – “What? Me? No way… I’m a serious reader!” But when I stopped to think about it, I realized that I should start holding my head up a bit higher when I tell people about the amazing books that I’m reading. Yes, I read graphic novels. And yes, graphic novels can be great literature too!

I don’t remember being much of a comic book fan as a kid, although I do recall reading the Archie comics (I always wanted to be Betty, and thought Reggie was a big jerk), maybe a bit of Richie Rich here or there. No superheroes at all, I’m quite sure. Even for the comics I remember reading, I have no idea where they came from or how they ended up in my hands. I certainly never bought any myself.

Flash forward to my adult years. I read a few of the more “literary” graphic novels (Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi are two that come to mind), but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to explore any further.

I suppose I can point the finger in two different directions, if I want to “blame” anyone for my newfound interest in graphic novels.

First, there’s Joss Whedon. After falling in love with Joss’s Firefly/Serenity ‘verse, I gobbled up everything I could find that was related, including a Serenity graphic novel entitled Those Left Behind. Once I got hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer (thanks to massive DVD-watching marathons), I started reading all of the related Buffy titles, such as Tales of the Slayers, Tales of the Vampires, and Fray. When it was announced that Joss would be creating an official season 8 of Buffy in comic book format, my fate was sealed. There was no way that I could not read season 8, and for some reason, reading season 8 has really opened the floodgates for me in terms of my openness toward reading graphic novels.

Second, when my kiddo started 4th grade last year and was forced to do more independent reading, I was concerned when the book he started with was a graphic novel. His teacher set me straight, and told me that it was more important at this stage to let my son read something he enjoyed, rather than what I thought would be good for him. (Thank you, Mr. Allyn, for the great advice, BTW!). The book that my kiddo picked out was Out From Boneville, the first book in the fantastic Bone series by Jeff Smith. My son was hooked, insisted I read the books too, and I became hooked as well.

So here I am, mid-2012, with close to 25% of my reading this year consisting of graphic novels, and I thought I’d share a few of my favorites:

As mentioned:

The Bone series by Jeff Smith – not just for kids! The tale of the three Bone cousins is a mix of adventure, epic quest, and high fantasy, with plenty of humor as well. This series also features the stupid rat creatures, probably my favorite villains ever.

Stupid Rat Creatures!

Buffy season 8 and 9 – If you watched the TV show, you’ve just got to read these. The whole gang is back, and the story that unfolds in season 8 and 9 is considered “canon”.

Plus a few more:

Fables by Bill Willingham – I’m about halfway through this series, and I can’t stop raving about it (as the people around me can verify, with much eye-rolling). The story may sound simple – fairy tale characters have been exiled from their homelands and have taken refuge in New York – but the plot and character development are complex, engaging, and surprising.

N. by Stephen King – truly one of the most frightening things I’ve ever read. N. isn’t very long, but each page is packed with creepy images and a looming sense of evil. Wow.

The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman – I haven’t read the short story from which this was adapted, so I have no point of comparison, but I really liked the way the plot works in graphic novel format. Great illustrations, and the pacing maintains a sense of the mysterious throughout.

The Griff  by Christopher Moore – I’ll read anything Christopher Moore chooses to write, and this story of dragons wiping out human life on Earth featured his trademark humor, alongside heaping spoonfuls of chaos and destruction. Good times!

What’s next for me in the world of graphic novels? I’m just finishing up a small handful of Dresden Files graphic novels, and then it’s back to Fables! Volume 11 is calling my name…

What do you think? Do graphic novels “count” as real reading? What are the best graphic novels you’ve read lately? Share your thoughts and recommendations below!