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Joss Whedon and ‘Much Ado’ Bring a touch of SDCC to TIFF

Fran Kranz in Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing."
(Bellwether Pictures)

TORONTO - -San Diego Comic-con has been looking a little more like a film festival these last few years, what with footage and screenings spread around the city.

On Saturday, one of North America’s largest film festivals returned the favor.

Comic-con hero Joss Whedon and about two dozen of his cast members -- stalwarts such as Nathan Fillion as well as a number of newcomers -- turned out to the Toronto International Film Festival to promote their Shakespearean (!) comedy “Much Ado About Nothing.” The crowd in the festival’s Elgin Theatre showed their appreciation by getting exuberant before the screening began.

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“I hope you feel this way two hours from now,” Whedon said from the stage, and indeed they did, cheering and laughing loudly throughout the film and coming to their feet in an ear-splitting din after it ended.

The movie is a strange mix of old and modern, and it takes a minute to get your head around it. But once you do, it’s quite charming. Basically it’s set in modern times with modern-looking actors and modern dress, but the language is heavily in the original text, and the essential plot elements of Benedick, Beatrice and everyone else are all in there.

To top if off, it’s presented in black-and-white.

Whedon shot the movie in less than two weeks shortly after he finished “The Avengers,” as a testament to a creator he called one of his greatest influences (more on Whedon and the film in the coming days). He gets a lot of comic mileage out of the delivery and the language, with numerous eye-rolls, stage-tiptoes and other manner of physical and verbal comedy. There is a spirited air about the whole thing — or as its writer-director put it, “There are certain things in this movie that only make sense if the characters are super-drunk.”

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(Incidentally, “Whedon’s “Much Ado” is a favor-return in another way: Kenneth Branagh, who directed the early ‘90’s “Much Ado,” made the crossover the other way when he took on his own Marvel project, “Thor,” a couple years back. Superhero films really are the new Shakespeare,)

Before the screening, Whedon paid homage to his inspiration. “I’m really fond of this writer … [but] he’s hard to get a hold of.” Afterward, he and the entire cast took the stage in a sort of group love fest.

The Toronto event was very much about this movie and not Whedon’s more … mainstream pursuits. (Actor Clark Gregg: “I had the good fortune of doing another one of Joss’ little projects, but we’re not gonna talk about that.”)

“Much Ado” is seeking theatrical distribution, and though it’s an odd hybrid, the comedy and the Whedon factor give it a surprising amount of upside. Would be interesting to see this one at Comic-con, though.

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Also:

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