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BY Steven D. GreydanusFilm Critic
The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset (2013) PICK
Much Ado About Nothing (2012) PICK
Stalag 17 (1953) PICK
"Shakespeare knew how to throw a party," read the posters for Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, new on home video. So does Joss Whedon.
Filmed during a two-week break while making last summer’s megahit The Avengers, Much Ado is the sort of film we don’t see enough of: neither a cash grab nor an arty indie, but a movie made as a lark — a vital, spontaneous response to Shakespeare’s story of romantic intrigue, deception and happy endings. It’s essentially a glorified home movie, shot in black and white in and around Whedon’s own home, with a cast of mostly friends and colleagues in modern dress.
In an otherwise all-American cast, Canadian Nathan Fillion is especially good as Constable Dogberry — best thing in the film. Also very good are The Avengers’ Clark Gregg as Leonato, father of Hero and uncle of Amy Acker’s Beatrice, and Reed Diamond as Don Pedro, friend of Alexis Denisof’s Benedick. (One caveat: an unnecessarily provocative bedroom scene.)
Speaking of Avengers … the original The Avengers — the hip, campy 1960s spy-fi British TV series best known for its pairing of Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel and Patrick Macnee as John Steed — is newly available in a 16-disc "megaset" featuring that very duo.
This set is all about the heart of the series: the lighthearted, bantering relationship of dapper professional spy Steed, with his Edwardian formal attire, and "talented amateur" Mrs. Peel, with her avant-garde fashion sense.
Satiric takes on American TV series such as Mission: Impossible and Batman are among the series’ highlights. "Mrs. Peel … we’re needed," Steed says at the beginning of most episodes. I don’t know if they’re "needed" … but it’s nice to have them around.
Among classic films debuting on Blu-ray, don’t miss Billy Wilder’s darkly comic Stalag 17, one of the best WWII prison escape movies ever made, made less than a decade after the end of the war from an earlier play. Although the inspiration for Hogan’s Heroes, the movie’s grimly hilarious, subversive sensibility is far more poignant than the campy TV comedy.
Caveat Spectator: The Avengers: Stylized violence; occasional suggestive content and innuendo. Teens and up. Much Ado About Nothing: Mature content includes an unnecessarily provocative bedroom scene (no nudity); some sensuality and innuendo; occasional crude language. Mature viewing. Stalag 17: Wartime violence; sexual innuendo. Teens and up.