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