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Average: 33.33%
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Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Much Ado
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by hamlet3k

"A zero-budget 'Guffman' for the indie film set."
5 stars

I saw Kipley Wentz's "Much Ado" at a dinky film festival in Kalamazoo, which -- for those of you unfamiliar with the geography of Hell -- lies near the armpit of West Michigan, which is, in its own turn, the honest-to-god asscrack of the whole state. Kalamazoo=the armpit of an asscrack. But I digress. As much as that city sucked, it hosted one movie in its fest that didn't.

I loved Much Ado. Funnier than Jim Carrey getting run over by a tractor and smarter than whatever unfunny crap David Spade would scream if he were set ablaze, Much Ado succeeds in making hilarity without resorting to the tired parade of handicapable jokes and scatology so prevalent in the average modern comedy. I must admit that the movie had a fart in it, ONE fart. It was a forgivable fart, delivered so... cutely as to be huggable. As farts go.

The movie starts off with a bang. Actually it starts off with a pummeling, as some guy sucker punches some other guy -- who happens to be dangling from a tree limb via a jury-rigged harness -- and then attempts to brain the gent with a microphone fishpole, yelling about an infidelity of some sorts. Cut to different people yelling at other people, and still other people (or perhaps the same people) yelling and tearing off in vehicles... And some mysterious woman watches the whole thing, leans off-frame, and vomits on a porch somewhere. It's a disorienting way to start a movie, sure enough, and left a few people in my audience looking at each other worriedly and shrugging.

Cut to two weeks prior to the battery of the dangling man: Valerie, played with charm and exasperated sophistication by Kendra Munger, is a struggling actor/producer who has culled together her friends for yet another go at yet another independent movie, this time an adaptation of Shakespeare's silly romcom, "Much Ado About Nothing." A major snag is that she has to invite Tristan (Wentz) along, despite their mutual antagonism, as he's the writer of the company's screenplays and the designated "caterer." The only OTHER snag is that the expected director, whom everyone hated anyway, has quit and volunteered his friend Digby Wells (John Mullen) as a replacement. Digby is very model of your average post-college idiot-filmmaker. See, he makes "art films," which is a polite way of saying that he compensates for his lack of talent by obfuscating everything in symbolism so convoluted that no one would dare to follow the narrow mental footpath it would take to criticize him. I've met and worked with countless Digbies on my way to becoming a two-bit nobody actor. They're all creepy, touchy-feely and smile way too much. Mullen's portrayal is dead-on perfect. May God have mercy on his soul if the vapid, glassy-eyed smile he plastered over his rugged good looks is in any way an actual part of his personality.

To sum, the megalomaniac Wells breezes in and ruins a lot of people's days by completely rearranging the casting of the movie and reinventing the straight adaptation into one of his sillified "art films." Suddenly, everyone in the cast is wearing goofy hats and playing pantomime and mirror games, hanging from trees or making shadow puppets, hand puppets, and other things of a puppet-like nature. And as Much Ado progresses, the film-within-a-film of "Much Ado About Nothing" gets wilder and wilder, more incoherent and ridiculous, which of course is a huge selling point with a popcorn-fed culture that trusts neither genuine, artistically meritorious films nor Shakespeare.

Despite being funded on what Kipley Wentz admits as hard-earned pocket change, the movie is populated by great actors who are more than capable of delivering the sometimes wonderfully convoluted and rapid-fire exchanges of dialogue. Not the least in this pantheon of perfect performances is Wentz himself, who also wrote Much Ado and directed it. His appearance in the significant role of Tristan does not at all come off as the indulgence of an egotistical writer/director, as may be expected. Far from it; Wentz may have reserved some of the best dialogue for himself and Munger, but they both snap it out with all the precision of a Grant/Hepburn machine gun exchange. An example of the snappy repartee... During a morning jog, Val and Tristan, both heavy smokers, are last to lap around the property. They're told to hit the shower and Seth, one of the actors, suggests Val and Tristan might as well bathe together:

Tristan (lighting up): I'd rather shower with your grandmother.
Seth: Thanks man; my grandmother's dead.
Tristan (taking a drag): I'm well aware of that fact.

Worth noting in Much Ado are the clever parallels that it draws between its "real" characters and situations and the characters and situations present in "Much Ado About Nothing." When Digby takes the lead role of Benedick away from the intense, slightly imbalanced Brandon (Denney) and gives it to hot young lead Seth (Arca), it sets Brandon on a road to a vengeance that closely parallels Don Jon's duping of Don Pedro and Claudio. Love triangles and quadrangles abound as both Seth and Brandon are hot to jump in the pants of the absolutely adorable Hannah (Daiva Deupree,) Hannah wants Seth, and makeup girl Chloe (Ayers) secretly loves Brandon. Brandon uses Chloe, a video camera, and several -- shall we say -- incriminating sound bites to splice together evidence of Hannah's involvement with Tristan, who, by that time, has fallen madly in love with Val. Identities are mistaken, secret fears are seemingly confirmed, and the entire film production comes screaming to an uncomfortable halt as Seth gives Tristan a down-home whupping, bringing us back to where the film started, but now with all the back story that makes the previously incoherent jumble make perfect sense.

Technically speaking, Much Ado lacks the obvious luxuries afforded by a bloated studio budget. The editing could have suffered a modest trim on this frame or that, if you wanted to be picayune. And as near as I can tell, the production wasn't able to make use of ADR or foley. For those of you needing help with the technical terms, that means that all the sound in the finished presentation copy sounded very much like it was culled together from the shoot, not having been cleaned up with dialogue rerecording or studio sound effects. Being the veteran of countless independent productions I can attest to the difficulty of gathering clean audio in "the wild," and the film makes a pointed and hilarious reference to this bit of real-world nastiness. In a montage, the audio guy, Bob, played by the actual audio guy, Mike Cahill, calls cut a couple dozen times, announcing the source of the unavoidable audio disruption: "Plane. Plane. Car. Another car. Another plane. Car. Two cars. (sound of chainsaws) Loggers. Can we just do this shot M.O.S.?" I laughed.

I'm not saying this movie is going to appeal to everyone. I'm saying I loved it because the material hit waaay too close to home. There are definitely jokes that will whiz right over Joe Average's head or just past his ear, but for anyone who has ever worked a single day in front of -- or behind -- the camera of an independent movie, the characters and situations in Kipley Wentz's movie will seem as hauntingly familiar as your creepy gaffer friend... if only half as dysfunctional and smelly.

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originally posted: 10/04/03 01:42:30
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User Comments

3/18/14 Gmqdgbog To most effectively china channel this quarter.Finally, I would china have raised technical 4 stars
1/16/05 Tom Very funny movie 5 stars
1/07/05 Rod Foote Well constructed, intelligent writing and excellent acting! 5 stars
10/04/03 Noacat I LOVED this movie! It perfectly captured the feeling of being in an independant movie! 5 stars
10/04/03 Kendra Munger I love it! 5 stars
10/03/03 Kipley Wentz Is it gauche to rate your own film? Do I care? I love this movie! 5 stars
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  21-Aug-2003 (NR)



Directed by
  Kipley Wentz

Written by
  Kipley Wentz

  Kipley Wentz
  Kendra Munger
  Daiva Dupree
  John Mullen
  Heather Ayers
  Michael Denney

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