Monthly Archives: June 2013

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

I’m trying to think of the last movie I saw that was in black and white. The only thing that comes to mind is “Casablanca”. These days, most movies aren’t just filmed in color, they’re actually computer altered so that the colors are more vivid, more stunning, and, well, less realistic. So to go into a movie with no CGI, filmed in plain ol’ fashioned black and white… it’s quite a relief.

“Much Ado About Nothing” was filmed in twelve days, for the lowest amount of money that a movie can be made for– what director Joss Whedon describes as a “micro-budget”. It was actually filmed at Whedon’s own home, and the cast is made up of some very familiar Whedon alumni: Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof from Angel, Nathan Fillion (Firefly), Clark Gregg (Avengers), Sean Maher (Firefly), and many more.

The first time I read Much Ado was in university. I was required to take a Shakespeare class for my English Degree, even though my concentration was in Medieval Literature. I expected to suffer through a semester of comedies and dramas; I did not expect to fall in love with Beatrice and to cry along with Hero and to laugh at Dogberry. This play is what made me fall in love with Shakespeare.

When I heard that Joss Whedon was doing an adaptation of “Much Ado”, I was thrilled. As a member of the Cult of Joss, I don’t believe he can do any wrong, and look forward to his projects with anticipation bordering on obsessive. The fact that his next project was an adaptation of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays just made it even better.

And he did not disappoint.

Much Ado About Nothing is funny and sexy and gorgeous and brilliant. It’s a modernized telling of the play but with the original dialogue (shades of 1996’s Romeo + Juliet). While most people would have trouble understanding Shakespeare’s old-fashioned language, the actors in this movie make a translation unnecessary; their expressions and body language help us to understand where we would otherwise just be confused.

The play follows two couples: Hero and Claudio, and Beatrice and Benedick. The latter has always been my favorite couple– Beatrice is sassy and witty, and she uses her sharp tongue against Benedick, who she claims to despise. Compared to them, Hero and Claudio are just not as interesting; they fall in love, Claudio is tricked into thinking that Hero is not a virgin and leaves her, Hero faints, and it all ends happily ever after. Bo-ring! I’ll take Benedick and Beatrice and their sass any day.

Amy Acker plays Beatrice, and Alexis Denisof plays Benedick. Both appeared on Whedon’s Angel, and their on-screen chemistry is simply phenomenal. You can practically feel Beatrice’s scorn, and Denisof’s over-the-top characterization (ducking behind bushes and rolling across the lawn as he ‘overhears’ Claudio, Leonato, and Don Pedro; showing off for Beatrice) had the audience rolling with laughter.

But that’s not to say that Hero and Claudio weren’t sublime! Fran Kranz and Jillian Morgese were funny and relatable. And the rest of the cast was phenomenal as well. Nathan Fillion was the perfect casting for the incompetent and comedic Dogberry, Clark Gregg had the perfect balance of father to Hero and trickster to Benedick as Leonato, and Sean Maher was perfectly dastardly as John the Bastard.

This movie is everything you could want from a Joss Whedon film; it’s witty and funny, and even though the words are all Shakespeare’s, the script still has a distinctive Whedon feel to it. My only complaint was all the wine they drank, which made me thirsty!

I’d give it an A review, no hesitation.

[All images belong to Joss Whedon/Bellwether Pictures.]

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Armageddon Expo, Wellington, NZ

Back in April, one of my friends sent me an email: there was a rumor that a little convention in Wellington, New Zealand, was going to somehow get most of the cast of The Hobbit movies, and they already had some other super awesome guests, and did I want to go? Well, I’d just gotten back from Australia and New Zealand in February, but… yeah, I did.

That conversation turned into a two week trip to Auckland and Wellington, NZ, as well as Melbourne, Australia. New Zealand is one of my favorite countries in the world to visit, although I’d only previously been on the South Island. This would be a trip to the North Island for the first time, and also a chance to see one of my best friends who lives in Melbourne.

And the “little convention” that my friend mentioned? That’s Armageddon Expo, and it isn’t such a “little” event! The amazing staff at Armageddon Expo host events in Australia and New Zealand for fans of comics, sci-fi/fantasy, gaming, and anime, and the Wellington show was a pretty big one; thousands and thousands of fans descended on Westpac Stadium for three exciting days.

The event started Friday night with a cocktail party, which I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to. It was an intimate event where fans and guests of the convention could mingle without the chaos and noise of the convention center. I mostly stuck with my friend, but did get to meet a couple of really cool people.

Me with Jason Momoa (Game of Thrones and Stargate: Atlantis)

Saturday was the first day of the Expo, and I spent it wandering and meeting some very cool people. One of my favorites was Janet Varney, the voice of Korra from Avatar: The legend of Korra. She was beyond lovely, and took the time to have a conversation with every single fan who came up. I saw her at a panel at San Diego Comic Con last year, and told her how much I’d enjoyed the panel, and she confirmed that she’d be back at SDCC this year!

I also met Dean Rankine (a Simpsons comic artist), who I actually met at the Cocktail Party on Friday night. Not only did he remember my name for the entire weekend, but he was hilarious and genuinely such a nice person.

And of course, I caught a couple of panels.

The first panel was Sylvestor McCoy, from Doctor Who and The Hobbit. He moved around the room with such energy, going up to anyone who had a question and meeting them face to face, which I’ve never seen done at a convention before. He was so lively that I could barely grab a photo!

The second panel was Jason Momoa, who was Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones and Ronon in Stargate: Atlantis. I’ll admit, I didn’t enjoy this panel very much; Momoa doesn’t have the charisma with an audience that Sylvester McCoy does, that’s for sure!

After the Jason Momoa panel, I wandered around and checked out the exhibitors, and also some of the amazing cosplayers. I wish I’d taken more pictures of the fans… the costumes were unbelievable!

A lovely Thranduil cosplayer. The detail on this costume was beautiful!

 Some Homestuck ladies; I don’t follow the comic, but I was impressed by their costumes!

But it was Sunday that was the Big Day at the Expo. Because that aforementioned rumor of a bunch of Hobbit actors appearing? Yeah, that was true.

Somehow, through some kind of convention magic, Armageddon Expo managed to get (take a deep breath): Sylvester McCoy (Radagast the Brown), Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman), Adam Brown (Ori), Aidan Turner (Kili), Dean O’Gorman (Fili), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Jed Brophy (Nori), John Callen (Oin), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Stephen Hunter (Bombur) and William Kircher (Bifur).

That’s– count it– eleven dwarves, one wizard, and one human. Yeah. Yeah.

I’m not going to post all of my pictures here. I’ve already stuck ’em up on tumblr, and you can find them in three parts: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

The rest of Sunday was pretty hectic: autograph queues, more autograph queues, and, oh wait, a photo queue! I got a photo with me and my friend with the entire cast, and an autograph as well, which was pretty awesome.

And Sunday ended pretty fabulously: I got to meet Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson! I grew up watching The Simpsons, but my dad was the big fan, so I was thrilled to be able to meet Yeardley and get an autograph for my dad. And Yeardley was amazing! She wrote a hilarious note to my dad, and took a minute to chat with me, even though the line was pretty long.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time at the con on Monday… my flight was early (due to a screw-up with the airline, long story), so I had enough time to dash up and say goodbye to some of the amazing people that I met that weekend, and then head off to the airport.

Voila! That was Armageddon Expo for me! Wellington was lovely, and I can’t wait to go back, but I got to spend three exciting days there, and then it was off for a week in Melbourne!

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Hobbiton (aka Matamata, New Zealand)

Hobbiton is a real place. You can actually visit the Shire, have a drink at the Green Dragon, and run around like a wee Hobbit lass (or lad) under the Party Tree. Just hop a bus to Matamata, New Zealand, a cozy little town on the North Island about three hours south of Auckland.

Backstory: When the Lord of the Rings trilogy began filming, they searched high and low for the perfect place to build Hobbiton, home of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. They found it in the middle of a sheep farm, and set out to build an elaborate and realistic set, complete with dozens of round wooden doors set into the hillsides. After the filming ended, they destroyed the set. However, when they began to rebuild Hobbiton for The Hobbit trilogy, an agreement was made to leave the set up, and a tour company was established to bring fans and non-fans alike to the beautiful region. (In case you weren’t aware, I’m one of the former.)

I was lucky enough to visit a Lord of the Rings set on the South Island back in 2011; my friends and I did a tour to Mount Sunday, where the Rohan and Helms Deep scenes were filmed. The Edoras set there was destroyed, but it was still beautiful country, and we had a blast re-enacting some battle scenes:

Me and my friend Pete; October 2011.

Compared to that, Hobbiton is Nerdvana.

First, there’s the iSite in Matamata, where all tours depart from. That’s your first clue that you’re not in your average New Zealand town:

And then you hop a bus, putter your way down backroads, change to another bus (named, of course, Gimli), and into the Shire you go.

The tour takes about an hour and a half, and winds around pathways, up hills and over Hobbit holes. There’s laundry hanging out to dry, gardens full of actual ripe vegetables just waiting to be harvested, and every hole has it’s own unique mailbox, informing you of the profession of the Hobbit residing within. If you ignore the cameras and the blue jeans, you might just believe that you’ve stepped into Middle Earth.

In the distance, you spot a familiar door. A green door, round, at the top of the highest hill, with a large tree perched overhead. You can just make out a bench, sitting in the front garden. Your heart starts to race.

Bag End is fiction come to life.

(It’s also closed to visitors at the moment; with filming still being completed for the third Hobbit movie, there’s a chance that they’ll need to return to this set one last time; therefore, No Admittance!)

The path meanders back down, passing Sam and Rosie’s yellow-doored hole from the end of The Return of the King. There’s the Party Tree, with tents set up, ready for a birthday celebration.

Our tour guide leads us down a path, over a bridge, and past the water mill, where we end our walk with a cold brew from the Green Dragon. They have specialty drinks on tap, made just for this tour. Try the cider, it’s delicious!

Our tour guide poses with a couple of drinks behind the bar.

There’s time to wander around and take in the detail of the pub. It’s amazing to realize how much work went into this building; this Green Dragon is not the same one that appeared in The Lord of the Rings, and won’t (as far as I’m aware) appear in The Hobbit, so it’s existence is solely for tourism use. And yet it’s as detailed as a real pub straight out of Peter Jackson’s imagination.

(Trivia tidbit: the original Green Dragon was actually burned down for a scene in the LotR movies.)

And then the tour had to come to an end. There was reluctance on everyone’s faces; no one wanted to leave this magical place! Our guide told us a funny story about a tourist she had recently: a European gentleman, over six feet tall, arrived dressed as a Hobbit. He was such a diehard fan that he refused to leave the set when the tour had concluded, proclaiming that he had found his home. They were finally able to coax him onto the last departing bus of the day! Funny as the story was, I think we could all relate a bit; none of us would mind spending a few more hours.

We passed a few signs as we headed back to our trusty tour bus, Gimli.

And that was my journey to Hobbiton. A stunning place, and highly recommended for anyone who’s a fan of the books or the movies (or both!). In fact, there was a woman in our group who had never seen the movies (she was with her father, who was a fan), and even she agreed that it was an incredible tour. And because the company is so fantastic, and their guides are so friendly, I have to promote the company that runs these tours: Hobbiton Movie Set Tours. (If you’re on the South Island, check out the Edoras tour through Hassle Free Tours!)

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A Day in Auckland, NZ

I’ve been so busy traveling around that I’ve not had time to get a blog post together over the last week and a half. I’m currently in Melbourne, but I flew in early last week to Auckland, which has quickly become one of my favorite places in the world.

Originally I was scheduled to have two days in Auckland, before heading down to Matamata for a “Hobbit” filming location tour, and then on to Wellington. But those plans were foiled by bad weather and missed connections… so instead of the first day in Auckland, I spent six hours on the runway of Melbourne after being diverted due to very bad fog in Sydney, and then four more hours after missing my connection to Auckland.

But after much drama, I did arrive in Auckland, and got to spend one very lovely day in the city. There were two things on my “must see” list: Mt. Eden, and the Auckland Domain. Both are extinct volcanos, and the former is one of the highest points in the Auckland region.

Not only is Mt. Eden (also known as Maungawhau) a beautiful place, it also offers a stunning view of downtown Auckland.

It was a decent hike up to the top of the mountain, but nothing too difficult. A lot of people drive up to the top, but walking gives you a stunning 360-degree view of Auckland as you circle up the mountainside.

After visiting Mt. Eden, I headed back into the city for lunch, and then out to the Auckland Domain. It was luckily a very nice autumn day, and the sun was shining, so I spent the time walking around and people-watching. I didn’t really feel the need to pull my camera out here, although I did snap a couple of pictures of the changing leaves.

The park is not as elaborate as the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, but there’s a museum on one end, the Auckland Hospital on another, and lots of flowers, rolling hills, and ponds in between.

The sun was starting to set, so I headed back into the city for some wandering and dinner. The Auckland CBD (central business district) has a bit of a European feel to it architecturally, but the city is so diverse that you can find just about any type of food. And the people are incredibly nice; go into a shop and strike up a conversation with one of the employees, or find a bench to eat on and chat with the people next to you.

The Auckland Sky Tower is the tallest structure in Auckland, although I didn’t bother to go up in it.

I also found the Auckland Town Hall, which is right next to Aotea Square… a good spot to sit on the steps with a warm drink and check out some art, and watch teenagers try not to fall off their skateboards.

With an early morning ahead of me (I had an 8am bus to Matamata scheduled), I headed back to my hostel and crashed for the night. I wish I’d had more time in Auckland to explore the waterfront and get out of the CBD more, but that will have to wait for my next trip!Next post: Matamata, NZ, aka Hobbiton!

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