Saturday, October 30, 2021

Loving Denis Villeneuve's Dune as a Theatrical Movie Experience

It was unfathomable some 16 months ago that I'd ever feel so invigorated by the simple act of anticipating going to see a big, thrilling action movie on the big screen. The prospect that I was about to see Denis Villeneuve's Dune, which had a 2020 release date postponed until 2021, made me feel elated about movies again.

Charlotte Rampling is Rev. Mother Mohiam (she has a box of pain) - credit: Warner Bros.

I felt like I was levitating six feet off the ground as I entered the elevator at the bottom floor of the mall to head up to the level for the movie theatre. I held the doors when I noticed about six to eight guys heading towards the elevator. The small group arrived. Immediately, I asked, “Are you all headed up to see Dune?” A few answered, “Yes.” I added, “Are we all ready to leave this planet, never to return?!” An even louder “YES!” answered me. I felt a rush of adrenalin; I was with my people again! Fans of epic sci-fi and action-filled drama! If I was given the opportunity, I would have stood in front of the entire theatre to do a warm-up routine and introduce each member of the cast on the poster.

I have always enjoyed watching movies in a communal environment in which the entire crowd is going through an experience with you for the first time. I saw Dune with an audience who I could feel were also paying attention. When there were quiet moments, it was a very quiet audience; no sounds of eating, not even anyone snoring! We were all so absorbed with the action and hanging on each word. The tension was apparent like during the ferocious battle -- the screams of the dying settled, and I heard myself exhale and then others. We all needed a moment of stillness -- it was heavy, not gory, but the action was very intense.

Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto (Paul's father)- credit: Warner Bros.

On the day that the movie was released widely, my co-worker informed me about her plans to see it. She, too, was seeing it in a theatre equipped with Dolby Atmos. I had originally told her the day after I attended an early preview screening to see the movie in this kind of theatre, not first through HBO Max, which was her original plan. "You'll feel as though you're inside the vehicles. It's an extraordinary immersive experience." I was so satisfied to feel she was convinced, so I just said, “Take a deep breath and just enjoy the immersion.” 

Dune has to be seen in a theatre with Dolby Atmos and should be seen on IMAX (Technical details). It is not just the surround sound, but the score by Hans Zimmer brings out the emotions that these characters are experiencing. You feel a sense of anticipation when the desert sand blows into the ship as the doors rise up. You can hear the grains of sand hitting the deck. A film score consisting of booming kettle drums and the bagpipes heighten the formality of the arrival and being greeted for the first time by the Harkonnen people. The music doesn't drown out the chants of "Lisan-al-Gaib" meaning "Voice of the outer world" and the name for "Messiah."

David Dastmalchian is Piter De Vries (his name is synonymous with devious) - credit Warner Bros.

When I finally saw my co-worker again a few days later, she said that her husband was never so happy to have gone to the theatre for a movie. He said that the sound is such a significant part of the story as much as the landscape and the characters. You get the immersive experience, which is how it was intended to be seen.

I asked her if she had known the books before seeing the movie and she had not, but now she wants to read the books. She went on to say that she has a family member with the original books who's read them quite a few times. 

I asked her which character she identified with the most and it was the Fremen servant, Shadout Mapes (Golda Rosheuvel), whom Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) was skeptical; reluctant to trust, and it was because the woman wanted to help the family that my co-worker identified with her.

Rebecca Ferguson portrays Lady Jessica - Credit: Warner bros.
Shadout Mapes portrayed by Golda Rosheuvel - credit: Warner Bros.

She and I are both fans of Jason Momoa and we discuss his work. She said that it really upset her to see his character Duncan Idaho look as though he’s been killed. I still don’t believe that he is dead. NOTE: You can easily be spoiled if you look deeper into the character of Duncan Idaho. I think Jason Momoa is going to be in forthcoming sequels.

Jason Momoa is Duncan Idaho - credit: Chiabella James/Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries where Dune filmed include Austria, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, and Norway.

Baron Harkonnen's pet (screenshot from Dune)
Villeneuve’s Dune contains several special moments that are enhanced by the Dolby Atmos sound. Of course, now I only want to see movies in that kind of theatre.
  1. feeling like I’m inside the Ornithopter!
  2. Mongolian throat singing
  3. Use of Voice for controlling people
Stellan Skarsgard as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen - credit: Warner Bros.
Director Denis Villeneuve appeared after the screening and here are notes from the Q&A.

Villeneuve read Dune when he was 13 and has known the story well for 40 years. He identifies most with Paul’s journey.

He was a student of biology and was interested in Dune’s ecosystem.

He saw a lot of elements in David Lynch’s Dune that he enjoyed, but it was not his dream of the book that he saw on screen. He wanted to focus on the book in the spirit of getting back to the images. He worked like an archaeologist to go back to the uncorrupted images and ignore the old dreams.

He picked Timothy Chalamet to play Paul because on a physical level he wanted someone who was youthful -- a 15-year-old -- yet a very mature person. It was his idea to find someone who was a charismatic “rock star” type so he needed an actor who could bring that and carry the whole movie.

Villeneuve only wanted to shoot in real environments; use reality-based angles, which is something he could not achieve on a backlot. It was important for him to embrace the nature in the story, the power of the desert in all its emotion and its spectacle. He wanted to work with several people with whom he previously worked. It was important to work with people he knew so that it didn’t overwhelm the writing process. He was able to focus on Paul’s experience. He spent time being outside. Paul’s psyche changes with the landscape on a very human level and soon he is on a deep journey.

Timothy Chalamet as Paul Atriedes - credit: Warner Bros.
Every element of the book was used to design the whole movie. Villeneuve made sure that he took his time to make and fix mistakes. He used the images from Herbert’s book from childhood. His favorite element was creating the Fremen culture.

The last part of the film he had to cut was of Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) singing, which will be moved to part two. However, this is the director’s cut, this film, and there is no other director’s cut.

Villeneuve often felt as though he went through a transformation during the making of Dune. He had a sign on his office door that read, “Adapt or die.” He experienced so many obstacles as challenges, which were quite difficult, so he kept those words in his mind.

If he was going to make part two, it would require a lot of design work. Yes, we know the “language” but technically it will be more challenging.

He wrote the beginning from Chani’s POV because he understands how the beginnings of movies are delicate. He didn’t want to get into the hardcore element of sci-fi language at the very beginning. He was faced with the problem of wanting it to be a movie that his mother could understand. It is an invitation to read the Herbert book so he wrote the beginning in a way to keep it simple and elegant. It felt accurate to start with her and it only came to him at the end of filming. He wanted the audience to experience a slow immersion into the story and that it be an audience-friendly film; a welcoming experience.

Dune part two has been announced and we can look for it in theatres in October of 2023.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Premiere of Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men #AFF28

Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men by Lorien Haynes

Poster design by Anthony Kirk: Homemade, scrapbooking elements using a familiar medium of Polaroid photographs reveal clues by way of a handwritten label nicknaming each guy. “Mr. Jung-Freud” for The Therapist, as well as “Mr. Peter Pan,” “Mr. Some-Guy-Off-The-Telly,” and “Mr. Wouldn’t Know a Nice Guy if He Slapped Me in the Face,” -- just a few of the least harmful men. The names of the directors are embossed onto embossing tape with a DYMO label maker. Anyone who was around from the 1960s-1989 would recognize it.

The film Everything I Ever Wanted to Tell My Daughter About Men, premiered on October 23 at the 28th Annual Austin Film Festival, offering live and virtual screenings. Congratulations on the premiere to all of the entire team of actors, directors, producers, crew members and composers who volunteered their time to get this film made. The film was made prior to the pandemic and has become much more relevant due to the unfortunate reports of an increase in domestic violence cases occurring during the pandemic while isolating at home. 

It opens with the filmmaker, Lorien Haynes, portraying herself, The Woman, at the point in which she is devastated, beaten, and staggering into the shower with bruises on her shoulder, bleeding from an assault. We’re drawn into wondering what happened and who did this? Her daughter (Clara McGregor) arrives to comfort her. Moments later we see her meet her new therapist. We never see his face, yet, the voice of Alan Cumming is certainly recognizable. He collects information about her history while offering support. She struggles through a traumatized memory to recall the details. Her jacket has a button that reads “I AM SURVIVING”.

Incredibly smooth editing by Matthew Cooke was key in connecting her as the survivor who is telling the story while parts of the individual short films act as flashbacks. The entire film becomes much more cohesive than if the short films were presented as individual vignettes or episodes. 

As a writer and a mother, Haynes is penning a thoughtful diary for her daughter, and offering title pages to aid in creating fluid transitions from one relationship to the next. She allows us the firsthand experience of her journey through each therapy session. 

The stigma of admitting to oneself that you need therapy is tough, so using titles in the diary pages such as, “Reasons to Go Into Therapy” or “Reasons to Not Go Into Therapy” opens the conversation; breaks down the wall. Talking about the problem you don't like talking about is a huge factor in why people avoid finding a therapist.

The diary format also is used to help her daughter learn from her “lessons”. The notation titled “lesson learned” follows the story of each relationship. 
Each story is heartbreaking, and too often painfully familiar. Hopefully, we learn to never make the same mistake twice. It is condensed in a simple, but memorable phrase. For example, at the conclusion of “Mr. Peter Pan,” it reads, “When a man asks you to babysit, make sure it doesn’t mean him.”

As discovered most often in therapy, a pattern is revealed. She admits to The Therapist, “I know there are some very nice men out there, but I just don’t want to sleep with them.” It is not solely the problem of the guy being a thief, or a bully, or an addict, it is that the men all seem to have one problem in common: that they give up on making the relationship work; it's too much work to fight for the relationship. The Woman is the only one in the relationship making sacrifices for them.

In addition to writing the film, which began first as staged readings in Los Angeles, Haynes chose to play herself. She said in the post-screening Q&A that it was important to make the woman relatable to any woman you could meet on the street. It was her intention to play herself; not adhering to the pressure of aesthetics that actresses go through of maintaining a youthful and thin appearance. She said that The Woman was not supposed to be likable in that way. In this way, she's able to allow herself to be vulnerable. She said that it was important to be as honest and truthful as she could be to remain consistent in character. 

In the pre-recorded Q&A, Haynes described how she found that each film had onset parity -- a 50/50 man to woman ratio. She witnessed female directors and female directors of photography bringing their own vision to create each story. She said that she was accepting of everyone’s vision and allowed them to take control. Saffron Burrows directed the final scenes. Haynes said that Burrows really pushed her hard in that scene to go somewhere that I couldn't have gone without her. 
 Haynes said that both Jason Isaacs and Saffron Burrows collaborated on writing “Indigo” with her and was the script that went furthest away from what she had originally written. 

"The pathos of it is that she's had so many negative experiences with men that she's not capable of having a positive one," said Haynes. In "Stonebridge" directed by Jodhi May, it was May who had the idea to increase the age difference with Issy Knopfler as The Woman and James Purefoy as Stonebridge, because originally the characters were the same age. "This gives the whole dynamic a very different feel. It was this that helped Haynes see another person's vision of her work. "It was about not being a control freak as a writer... It's tough as a writer to let go into that space because you inhibit your world, you control the world that you write, you have a reason why you're writing something in the first place... In this case, I was very lucky to be close to production and seeing something being written realized."

The experiment of writing this film further encouraged Haynes to keep writing. She said that she has wanted to write films with a social purpose and tell stories relevant to us now. She has gone on to write about climate, immigration, and reproductive rights. Haynes is working on a story about Shakespeare’s women and their story of abuse. This blog writer is looking forward to seeing more stories from all Haynes as well as all of the collaborators on this film.

All of the directors are women who Haynes knew as friends whom she encouraged to direct especially if they had never directed. Each of them has gone on to direct something else almost immediately after making their short film.

Spread the word about this important work and maybe we'll see it play more festivals, or have wider distribution.

View the PSA made during the making of the film.

The list of directors is below and is followed by the list of cast members.
Directed by 

Talia Balsam

Saffron Burrows

Fuschia Sumner...(Olivier)

Lucy Brown ...(Eve)

Gia Carides ...(Duke)

Maryam d'Abo ...(Richardson)

Kate Danson ...(Loudon)

Tara Fitzgerald...(Moody)

Katherine Flynn...(Longfellow)

Amy Gardner ...(Egerton)

Laura Merians Goncalves...(Longfellow)

Lizze Gordon ...(Elm)

Sienna Guillory...(Honiton)

Robin Gurney ...(Tully)

Susannah Harker...(Richardson)

Lorien Haynes ...(Moody and Survivors Story)

Falguni Lakhani...(Adams)

Jodhi May...(Stonebridge)

Amanda Nguyen...(Elm)

Barbara van Schaik...(The Survivors Story)

Cast, who all volunteered their time to fight sexual violence

Jason Isaacs ... Indigo

Eoin Macken ... Adam

James Purefoy ... Stonebridge

Alan Cumming ... The Therapist

Lesley Manville ... The Mother

Sullivan Stapleton ...Icabod

Jonathan Cake ... Oliver

Ben Lawson ... Longfellow

Jonathan Firth ... Egerton

Adam Rayner ... Campbell-Scott

Richard Wilson ... Michael

Alex Désert ... Loudon

Clara McGregor ... The Daughter

Lex Shrapnel ... Tully

Joe Sims ... Moody

Issy Knopfler ... The Woman

Lorien Haynes ... The Woman

Charlie Field ... Richardson

Emmett Carnahan ...Elm

John Power ... Honiton

Lyla Quinn … Young daughter

Richard Odufisan ...Opera Singer 

Sullivan, Stapelton

Travis Leete

Saturday, July 17, 2021

1st Anniversary of Amazon Original Series "El Candidato" - Will there be a 2nd season?

Today is the one-year anniversary of "El Candidato" (Amazon Prime Original), a 10-episode series created by Peter Blake. It's a gritty, edgy, narco-crime thriller. It takes place in Mexico City. 

Without knowing about the likelihood of seeing a second season, I first thought about how it could resume from where it left off after the last episode of the first season. However, as much as I really love it as an international drama, I enjoy imagining how the show could break with the format or genre, even just for one episode. 

Usually, Amazon's original series have never allowed a standalone episode, at least not that I've seen. Other shows have dared to do it and have done it well. In season 3, for example, of “Breaking Bad” with "The Fly," or Season 5 of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the musical “Once More with Feeling.” “Stranger Things” in its second season made an unpopular standalone episode mainly because it focused on new characters that didn't appear ever again. 

A change from the format also means the writers can stray from the genre, as in, introduce comedy to a drama or play with fantasy outside of the show's typical realistic style. Sometimes it works well when it explores deeper the psyche of a character especially if it can be a standalone episode to take their personality quirks to another level.

As usual, my imagination kind of runs wild, so here are some fun predicaments, some plausible and some not so much:

Referencing how they tried to cover for something happening off the books in episode one, what if Isabel Alfaro (Eréndira Ibarra) and Wayne Addison (James Purefoy) really did go to a karaoke bar? Could it really be Wayne, in tribute to Elvis, singing "Heartbreak Hotel"? Does Isa secretly film it? Yes, indeed, she does, and she posts it online for all his enemies to see. And then comes the wrath the day after. (I confess, Latino pop songs are my weakness so I imagine Isa would be  culturally appropriate in picking a song for her own karaoke spotlight.)

Isabel, aka Isa, is talked into training a rookie CIA agent, who was part of a gang of Chola girls from Echo Park in Los Angeles. Isa clashes with the rookie because she recognizes herself from 15 years ago. After Isa loses a bet, the rookie gives Isa a makeover for one day. It's definitely against the standard image of a CIA agent. (Isa talks about her dark past a couple of times in season one, so her being asked to train this girl is plausible).
Lalo (José María de Tavira), currently mayor of Mexico City, is campaigning to become President of Mexico. The campaign office's computer servers are subject to a ransomware attack in which if he doesn’t do what they say, they’ll reveal information about drug cartels who are funding his campaign. They can regain access to the servers if Lalo finds a boy who was separated from his adoptive parents at the border. The boy was fathered by narco leader Rafael Bautista, and the mother gave up the boy for adoption. He finds the boy, but the child is against being reunited with his adoptive parents and wants Lalo to be his father. (Lalo was not hip on the idea he could be a father in season one).
30-second scene #1, in monochrome. Music scores the scene like in a 1970s spaghetti western-style of “Final Duel” and “Death Rattle” by Ennio Morricone from Once Upon a Time in the West. An owl flies down to land on a Santa Muerte display. Rafael Bautista's (Joaquín Cosio) voice is calling "Wayne," from inside the skeleton. Wayne Addison walks by and hears it. Stops in disbelief. It's midnight and no one else is around. He looks at the statue and Bautista's face flashes for a second. And then Wayne, startled by the vivid dream, wakes up, and the screen switches to color and the sun is beaming into the room. He's looking for something. The camera passes over the gun on the nightstand by the bed, the empty liquor bottle, and then pauses on the honey BBQ corn chips. Wayne grins with satisfaction while reaching for the bag.

Go back to when Wayne tells Isa in the first episode to keep her hands off his honey BBQ Fritos or he'd kill her. Bautista prays to Santa Muerte aka "The White Lady" in several episodes. (NOTE: Eva Aridjis is one of the staff writers for "El Candidato" and made her own documentary about Santa Muerte that was released in 2007.)
30-second scene #2. Wayne, while recovering from his leg injury from the shoot-out at his place, receives a present, and when he unwraps it, he notices the card is signed by Nestor, thanking him for getting him a bed at a decent rehab facility near the ocean. Wayne picks up a cane from the box and pulls on the handle, revealing it is a custom-made sword cane. Why? There are not enough opportunities in TV and film for characters to use sword canes in fight scenes anymore. Once presented, it definitely has to be used later. 

Nestor is the character who was coerced to be the fake secret operative, "Penumbra." Isa has to be a badass on top of her already badass-ness to acquire Nestor's drugs so he can stop having withdrawals and suddenly he's unreliable. The eighth episode, "Fireside Chat," is so exciting and, in my opinion, exhibits superior acting, writing, and directing. It is distinctively apparent with "Fireside Chat" that James Purefoy had much more freedom to stretch in this show. It's thrilling to watch him go for it in depicting Wayne's desperation when he's in the hotel's bathroom.

I'm also a fan of the 7th episode "En la ciudad de la furia" (In the city of fury) because the history fills in why something transpired in the third episode with Ted Malek (David Fridman).

Finally, it would be amazing to pull off a crossover episode using mistaken identity between two characters working a case separately for different purposes. I've never seen it done before in which an actor has starred on two different shows years apart from each other would play two characters in merging the two shows into a crossover. The premise is that you have Hap Collins crossing into "El Candidato" territory from "Hap and Leonard" with his buddy Leonard Pine (Michael Kenneth Williams), and unbeknownst to each other Wayne Addison is working the same case as theirs, but not necessarily sharing scenes together. James Purefoy gets to portray two of our favorite crime-fighting characters! 
Imagine a scene in which Hap and Wayne almost cross paths, missing each other by two seconds. They both stop like they sensed something weird, and then shake it off and keep going forward to wherever it was they were going.

When Leonard mistakes Wayne for Hap out in public and then freaks out when Wayne says, "I've never seen you before in my life. I'm not your buddy, but I hope you find him." Hap returns from somewhere else and Leonard freaks out again. Hap suggests humorously that Leonard could have been hallucinating from something else in his pipe, and they bicker back and forth trying to make their point.

Or if Hap meets someone from the agency who mistakes him as Wayne. He has no idea of Wayne's secrets when they ask questions. It backfires so Wayne has to double back and fix it to keep people off his back.
Of course, this is most implausible, but it's really fun to write it. I admit that this is my most self-indulgent, ambitious, and risky choice. Keep it simple and focus on the comedy.

I love the "puzzles" made by David Lynch and Stephen King, yet, they tend to leave the viewer with so many unanswerable questions. There's also a tendency to over-complicate the story when involving twins, Gemini mythology, and alter-ego themes. When limited by a fixed amount of time, one can get into deep water with the overwritten psychoanalytical dialogue.

Share in the comments if you have other fun ideas for "El Candidato" or other shows you follow.


Sunday, May 09, 2021

S2 "Pennyworth" | Artwork Foretells the End

If you have not watched all of season 2 of "Pennyworth" on EPIX, please consider this a warning that there will be spoilers ahead. This post will explore the use of artwork to foretell the end of season 2 and includes an analysis of the character Capt. Gulliver "Gully" Troy.
Left to right: Alfred "Alfie" Pennyworth (Jack Bannon)
& Capt. Gully Troy (James Purefoy)
EPIX's season 2 episode 5 "The Bleeding Heart," involves a scene at the home of Capt. Gulliver "Gully" Troy (James Purefoy). He expounds on how he "commanded a thousand men in battle...sat with kings" while in the same shot is a print of a famous painting directly to his left, "The Relief of the Light Brigade, 25th October 1854," by Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927). [View a larger version here.] Intriguingly appropriate that this is the only piece of art symbolically on display next to where he leads a meeting about the job that the team will undertake in the same episode.
Next to Capt. Troy hangs "The Relief of the Light Brigade," by Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927), 1897
The artist captured the moment the British and the Russians brutally clashed during the famous battle of the Crimean War. The British cavalry, under the command of the Earl of Lucan and Lord Fitzroy Somerset Raglan, heroically charged towards the Russians who were shooting their rifles and muskets at them. It's an image depicting the soldiers ferociously charging on their horses with swords in hand into the vast landscape towards the Russian troops who inevitably slaughter the cavalry.

The appearance of Woodville's painting in "Pennyworth" hints at what is to come during the epic finale of season 2. Episode 10, "The Lion and the Lamb," provides us an exciting final four minutes in which we watch Alfred "Alfie" Pennyworth (Jack Bannon) in command of his team of soldiers supporting The English League, aka the good guys, leading their charge towards the Raven Union soldiers while shouting, "Forward!" Indeed, The League's "light brigade" possesses the same immense rage and courage as the British troops of the 19th century. It's one of the most heroic endings to a season with a super-charged weapon, that being Capt. Gulliver Troy using himself as an unstoppable, stormcloud weapon.

In addition to the Woodville painting, consider the text of the poem about the same battle. If you were one of the lucky students in grade school to be asked to read a verse from Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, it was apparent that the writer was proud of the British cavalry's act of sacrifice during this battle in the Crimean War. Here is the first stanza:
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
See more about the painting and the poem in this scholarly article, "The charge of the light brigade and the Crimean War" by Alastair W. Massie here.

Capt. Gully Troy is a lifelong, fearless, decorated, and dedicated soldier at heart. He openly admires fellow brave soldiers who served alongside him and who continue to work with him under his leadership. For example:
  • In S2, E1, Capt. Troy tells Alfie, "I love a crisis."
  • Alfie pays a visit to Capt. Troy's home in E3, "The Belt and the Welt" and the first photos on display are of Capt. Troy in uniform, and at least in one of the photos, he's aiming his rifle. More photos of him are scattered throughout the sitting room.
  • In episode 5, he recruits Alfie to help with a robbery at the arena, and we see how he loves the pressure of racing against the clock. Refusing to abandon the safe, saying, "Who dares wins, eh?" The British SAS's motto. Gully's response is, "Bad things happen in combat; we move on." 
  • In episode 7, "The Bloody Mary," he stitches the cut on his upper arm after his wife Melanie (Jessica De Gouw) slashed him up. Even in pain, he maniacally chuckles at the fact that he survived another "battle."
  • In episode 8, "The Hangman's Noose," we finally see more of Capt. Troy's playful lunacy as he calls out to Alfie while chasing after him into the forest like they're playing a game.
    "It doesn't get much better than this, does it? Just you, me, and the woods, Alfie."
    A knife fight between the two ends up with Alfie triggering the release of the Sumatran Trap. However, Capt. Troy, even while struggling in pain, expresses his admiration for the fact that Alfie learned to make the trap from him, and he learned it from the Dayak headhunter, whom he killed.
    "Had seven wives, you know? And a throne of skulls," says Capt. Troy. 
  • Excerpt from web article, "Pennyworth producers Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon felt 'lucky' to get season 2 out during COVID" by Veronica Elizabeth Bruno
    Culturess: What can you both tease about James’s character [as Captain Gulliver Troy] coming on board?
    Heller: It’s a very James Jamesy character. He's Alfie’s old commanding officer back from his fighting days. And he is one of those guys who, even more so than Alfie, is really made for wartime and has a very difficult time adjusting to the civilian world. A lot of great soldiers are, to all intents and purposes, sociopaths in, you know, the normal world and Gully Troy, who James plays is that kind of guy. Very charismatic, more than a little crazy.
from "Pennyworth" season 2, "The Lion and the Lamb"
The League's secret super-charged weapon:
Capt. Gulliver Troy (James Purefoy)
Read EPIX's press release about the new series regulars who appear in season 2. Fans are definitely watching for any news in the coming months about if we're going to get a third season of "Pennyworth." This blog will post any updates if such news is announced. In recent news, HBO Max is looking at having "Pennyworth" on its network, especially if a third season is picked up. 

Finally, as a side note, we should think about if Capt. Gulliver Troy was created with a wink to the writer and director John Milius. He wrote Apocalypse Now, and furthermore, created the character Col. Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, who possesses similar traits as Capt. Gully Troy. Milius created and was executive producer of HBO's "Rome" series before HBO hired Bruno Heller (Pennyworth's exec. producer, developer & writer) to be the executive producer. It is no surprise that Heller would have James Purefoy play Gully with knowing he was perfect in the role of Mark Antony. Would Heller have been thinking about Col. Kilgore's eccentric side, even just a little bit, in creating this new character? Certainly, this blog writer easily imagines Col. Kilgore and Capt. Troy sharing a bottle of Scotch while they exchange tales, say, in Cuba in the 1950s; Hemingway laughing with them at the table, too. Although not part of the DC Universe, I recommend to those who want to know more about John Milius to queue up the documentary about him here.
Robert Duvall as Col. Kilgore (center) in a scene from Apocalypse Now

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Film review: Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (SF FILM)

SF FILM festival offered up a documentary in their schedule called Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché. Sadly, Styrene is no longer with us. She died from breast cancer on April 25, 2011 at the age of 53. She was the lead singer and songwriter in the punk/new wave band X-Ray Spex. Her birth name, Marianne Joan Elliott-Said soon became Poly Styrene after she opened the yellow pages and saw the words. Gosling Way Estate in Vassal, London, UK, was her home but she felt like an outcast all of the time. She was a mixed-race child and was raised by a single mom. Styrene was half Somali/half British.

The doc is narrated by her daughter Celeste Bell, co-directing with Paul Sng and co-written by Celeste and Zoe Howe. Styrene's diary entries (read by Oscar nominee Ruth Negga) along with the footage of Young National Front (YNF) a far-right, fascist political party in the United Kingdom, reveals how people in the UK mistreated mixed-race people; "a threat to [England's] genetic existence." Styrene elaborates on what the half-caste label means. In the end, she sought out how her ancestors really lived. She was seeking a place to belong; she knew too well how it felt like to be treated as an alien in her own country which resulted in writing the song "Identity!" She was looking to carve her own identity as a woman of color trying to get into an industry "run by high-class white men." The narration by Bell and Styrene's sister, Hazel Emmons, is more than insightful. They lived the repression along with Poly/Marion.

The doc thoroughly explores the song, "Oh, Bondage Up Yours." It was ahead of its time with the concept of men suppressing women from having any power. Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché delves into Styrene's fashion and vocal technique especially from the perspective of other women vocalists such as Kathleen Hanna and Neneh Cherry and actor Pauline Black, Vivienne Westwood. Women were repressed. She was way ahead of her time. The Tops of the Pops footage and the record cover showing her to be slimmed down; altering her image when nothing was wrong with how she looked just to sell more records. Her voice inspired Neneh Cherry; Styrene was her role model. Cherry started singing because of her. Celeste Bell's perspective was that she was unfazed by people stopping her mom on the street when she was recognized because it was all she knew. Styrene declared that "being famous but broke was the worst of both worlds." She was confident with her looks up until she was recognized; with becoming famous, she became "insecure from the public scrutiny -- insinuating she was unattractive and overweight."

The documentary includes footage of X-Ray Spex's first trip to New York City for a residency at CBGBs  Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth said that this was one of the first new wave, punk bands to visit New York. The tape cassette label date "3/17/1977" offers a perspective about X-Ray Spex on the punk rock timeline. They were influencers before it was as known today in social media. Paul Weller of the Jam and Debbie Harry of Blondie both were in the front row cheering the band. Styrene even-handed Thurston Moore the microphone and it was like an initiation when he got to sing "Oh Bondage Up Yours." Styrene had never been exposed to the level of capitalism that she observed in the first visit to New York. She just saw everything as plastic and questioned everything after seeing all the consumerism, which impacted her creative choices. Fame was creating a lifestyle and she hated the artifice of the music industry. She had acquired a dystopian view of the future. "Burgers will be cruelty-free veggie rubber buns." She saw a lot of the dark side of New York City. The party scene was more caustic than it was in the British scene. Her insecurities about how people treated her was an additional pressure with which she struggled mentally daily. Saying, "It isn't normal for people to be surrounded by people telling you that you're great." She had to find a way to be authentic to herself and be Marion Elliott again. She was misdiagnosed with schizophrenia when she really had bipolar disorder. Maudsley Hospital became her new home until she discovered Gaudiya Vaishnavism aka the Hare Krishna movement; Hinduism.

SF Film's Q&A follows with filmmakers. Overall, as a fan who knows mostly X-Ray Spex music and little about its members, the documentary was very eye-opening. The filmmakers' intent was to keep their focus on making an intimate story about a mother and daughter. They succeeded in doing that, plus go check out the book about Poly Styrene, Dayglo!: The Poly Styrene Story, it precedes the making of the documentary. 

The film can be screened through April 18, 2021 -- tickets.