TV Chatter – Musings about Netflix’s ALTERED CARBON

Hello everyone! It’s been ages since I actually blogged about a TV series, but recently my hubby and I just binged on this Netflix Original Series ALTERED CARBON. As we’re waiting for Westworld Season 2 to wrap (as we prefer to binge on a series than following it week by week), we’re in the mood for a mind-bending sci-fi.

Now, the first time we watched Altered Carbon, we weren’t wowed by it. In fact, we thought it was meh. Honestly, I’m not too keen on Joel Kinnaman as the lead. He seems like a generic tall, blond hunk that’s lacking any kind of charisma while the far-more-magnetic Will Yun Lee (who’s essentially playing the same character) is relegated to a small role in flashback scenes. So it’s not until about a week later that my hubby and I decided to give this show another shot (largely because I like James Purefoy!), and by the end of episode 2, we were hooked!

ALTERED CARBON is set in a future where consciousness is digitized and stored in cortical stacks implanted in the spine, allowing humans to survive physical death by having their memories and consciousness “re-sleeved” into new bodies. The story follows specially trained “Envoy” soldier Takeshi Kovacs, who is downloaded from an off-world prison and into a combat-ready sleeve at the behest of Laurens Bancroft, a highly influential aristocrat. Bancroft was killed, and the last automatic backup of his stack was made hours before his death, leaving him with no memory of who killed him and why. While police ruled it a suicide, Bancroft is convinced he was murdered and wants Kovacs to find out the truth.

If you’re a big sci-fi fan, this show is well worth a watch. The series is based on a novel by British science fiction and fantasy author Richard K. Morgan released in 2002. In 2003, the U.S. edition received the Philip K. Dick Award (so I wonder if ppl with a middle name starting w/ a ‘K’ might be good at writing sci-fi?). The film rights for the book sold for a reported figure of $1,000,000 to film producer Joel Silver (per Wikipedia). The Netflix series’ creator Laeta Kalogridis, is one of the executive producers of many sci-fi films Avatar and Terminator Genysis, as well as TV shows (Birds of Prey and Bionic Woman).

In Wiki, there’s a quote from Morgan that I found particularly interesting… “Society is, always has been and always will be a structure for the exploitation and oppression of the majority through systems of political force dictated by an élite, enforced by thugs, uniformed or not, and upheld by a willful ignorance and stupidity on the part of the majority whom the system oppresses.”

That’s essentially is the world of Altered Carbon… set 300 years from now, in the 25th Century. It’s a rather bleak vision of our future, as well as our humanity. But my favorite sci-fi films are those that really made me think about what it really means to be human. Such as the sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner which I actually just re-watched 8 years ago and prompted me to write this post. Speaking of that film, when I first saw the pilot episode, I thought Altered Carbon is basically a rip-off of Blade Runner. But upon a second look, the story is actually very different, but just as thought provoking in that it also made you ponder what it truly means to be human.

I’m not going into details in this ‘review’ of sort, so I won’t be commenting on each episode but more about the series as a whole. Basically, I just want to talk about three aspects of the series… and what I think of the ending [obviously SPOILER territory).

The Premise 

I’m often intrigued to check out a brand new show because of the filmmaker or cast. But in the case of Altered Carbon, where there’s really no major stars in it, I was drawn by its premise. As I already mentioned above, I LOVE sci-fi films that analyze and explore our humanity in a creative way. I mentioned Blade Runner above which is about engineered droids that look and behave like humans that it’s tough to tell them apart. Altered Carbon deals with something just as eerie (if not more so), that is, digitizing the soul.

The show also has a procedural element that actually is a more typical whodunnit story, but it’s this mind-bending scifi concept that kept my interest. According to IMDb, this was originally going to be adapted as a film, but the original book’s 26th century universe was too dense to be contained into two hours. I think the story that’s wise as there are indeed SO many interesting to explore from the book that would get oversimplified (read: dumbed down) in a 2-hour film.

I find the very idea of storing one’s consciousness into a chip (stack) that can be placed into another body is extremely fascinating, unsettling and terrifying all at the same time. Does it mean one’s soul, one’s memories, basically everything about who we are as a human being, is no longer attached to our physical bodies? Many Christians have asked this question… when those who believe in Heaven die and enter God’s Kingdom, will they have a spirit body or a physical body? But in this futuristic world, there are two kinds of deaths… the sleeve death (when the fatal blow only affects the body but not the mind, so the stack still intact) and real death (when the body and stack is destroyed).

This is one of those shows where you need a cheat sheet to understand. I didn’t read it until after I finished season 1, but still helpful to read it after. Y’know the expression ‘walk a mile in her shoes’? Well, this goes many steps further that one can essentially live one’s life in an entirely different form. You could be an elderly white man in a body of a black female teen, or in the case of this show, a Hispanic grandma in a body of a big, bald, heavily-tattooed white man. It sounds cool of course, as how many of us haven’t dreamed of looking like someone else for a day? But on the show, if one is re-sleeved too many times, that person will go insane (the mind rebels, the personality gets fragmented). And that’s why the ultra rich (the Meths as they’re called on the show) would clone themselves many times so they can basically be immortal as their sleeve remains a certain age forever.

The Visuals

The reality in Altered Carbon universe is reminiscent of Blade Runner, even more so in the sequel, BR 2049. In the 25th century, supposedly there are pulsating 3D ads, prostitute holograms and super sleek flying cop cars. Heck even the police station looks state of the art, so obviously they get their funding from the Meths!

The visuals are quite stunning. Set in what’s formerly San Francisco, it’s all pops of neon lights and gritty streets, though they still look too ‘clean’ to me that it’s obviously a set. Shot in Vancouver, by cinematographer Neville Kidd, it looks properly futuristic noir.

It’s no surprise that Kidd was the cinematographer behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s gorgeous Sherlock as well as Outlander for Starz. I think he ups the ante in this scifi dystopia world and scifi geeks like me constantly gawk at the cool set pieces. I mean Bancroft’s mansion is magnificently opulent and the state-of-the-art Raven Hotel (with its hidden weaponry) is practically a character in itself.

In season 7 though, it’s nice to get a bit of respite from all that neon city to a lush forest where we get the backstory of Kovacs’ life with his Envoy group. There’s also a super cool looking interrogation room in that episode.

So yeah, this show is visually ambitious and one reviewer even said every shot seems to have been tailored for the One Perfect Shot Twitter account, ha!

The Characters

I LOVE reading articles about the show that breaks down the terminology in Altered Carbon universe. My hubby sent me this one from Thrillist explores some of the questions posed by the show. I found this interview with a neuroscientist about consciousness, memory, and what makes us who we are. This comprehensive article clearly spells out who’s who on the show. Really fascinating stuff!

I also like how diverse the show is. Though it’s improved over the years, it’s still quite rare to see Asian actors in US shows these days. So I’m thrilled to see Korean-American actors Will Yun Lee in a prominent role, as well as Hong Kong-American actor Byron Mann whom I’ve seen in a bunch of shows. Nice to see a Latina actress playing a prominent part as well which celebrates her heritage. Given the nature of the ‘sleeves’ the color of one’s skin doesn’t really matter in this universe, which gives an opportunity for diverse casting and interracial relationships.

I have to say that despite how I initially feel about Joel Kinnaman, his character Takeshi Kovacs is captivating. I was thinking perhaps if we have someone like say, Tom Hardy, the show be a heck of a lot more watchable. But hey, Joel kinda grew on me the more I watched it and the concept of the character itself was enough to hook me. Having seen Joel in RoboCop and Suicide Squad, the Swedish actor seems to have been typecast of sort in sci-fi projects. He looked ultra ripped on this show, he’s basically shirtless 80% of the time here even when he’s not doing the sex scenes! I wish he had more range though, he’s basically just all morose and sulky though I have to admit he can be pretty tender in the romantic scenes.

Speaking of ripped, I really wish they had given more screen time to Will Yun Lee who not only looked amazing physically, but he’s also got this quiet grace and soulful charisma. I’m glad he’s basically the lead in episode 7 as it plays out in flashbacks of his life as an elite soldier (called the Envoy). I like the relationship between Kovacs and the fierce Envoy leader Quell Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry), which is supposed to be the heart and soul of the show but it left me wanting more. Also, it’d have been cool to see the two ‘lives’ of the protagonist and contrast the two. [SPOILER: highlight to read] Given its trippy nature, why not have the two Kovacs (the original AND the new sleeve) intersect more somehow or maybe have Joel and Will meet and even fight each other?? That’d have been so trippy cool!

James Purefoy is nicely cast as Laurens Bancroft, perhaps the wealthiest of the Meths, who are so powerful they can afford endless backups and self cloning to live forever. The character is a reference to Methuselah, a biblical patriarch and a figure in Judaism and Christianity who’ve lived the longest of everyone in the Hebrew Bible at the age of 969.

The whole Bancroft storyline and their relationship with Kovacs held some interest at first, but after a while it gets less and less intriguing. I didn’t care for the affair between Kovacs and Bancroft’s seductive wife (Kristin Lehman). Even the gratuitous sex scene was ho-hum, and the father/son bit in this dysfunctional ‘family’ (they had 21 children!!) is meh as well. Laurens is an intriguing character on paper, and there’s a particular scene with a big crowd that utilizes Purefoy’s acting talent, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near his best role. He’s much more captivating in HBO’s ROME and fans of Mr. Purefoy would be happy to see he sort of um, re-enacted his famous nude scene from that show 😉

I have to say that one of my favorite character is Poe! A centuries ­old, highly ­evolved AI who is currently inhabiting the psyche of Edgar Allan Poe and runs the luxury, well-equipped hotel The Raven (natch!) which Kovacs often hangs out at. I was certain the actor who played him is a Brit (I usually have a good hunch about this) but Chris Conner is actually from New Mexico! I enjoy all the scenes with Poe in it, he’s kind of like Q in Bond movies but with a more biting wit and distinguished sense of style.

Like Kinnaman, it took me a while to warm up to Martha Higareda who played Detective Kristin Ortega. She seems to overact a bit in the pilot in the way she abhorred Kovacs. But I love that the show explored her Mexican heritage in her character, there’s even an extensive scene of her celebrating Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with her very-Catholic family. Her mother is especially devout and opposes the re-sleeving after the original sleeve/body dies. I thought that the whole discussion around the dinner table reveals the core message of the show’s concept and discusses what it means to ‘play God’ and messing with the nature of humanity. As the show progresses, Ortega’s character trajectory gets more interesting and we find out just why she despises Kovacs. It’s kind of predictable but there’s one particular scene between them that tugs my heart strings.

The last character that’s worth talking about is Reileen Kawahara (Dichen Lachman). I can’t talk about it without going into SPOILER territory however… so highlight to read: I was quite flabbergasted to learn Reileen is Kovacs’ sister but I guess the show has sort of hinted at it with the scenes of the two Asian siblings. At first I thought it was brilliant but it quickly descend into sentimental melodrama mixed with absolutely preposterous and hyper violent fight scenes! 

I had seen Dichen in the indie drama Too Late a few years ago and the Australian actress sure is talented. Hope she gets her own show one day, maybe together with Will Yun Lee? 😉

I have to mention briefly about Ortega’s mentor Samir Abboud (Waleed Zuaiter) who didn’t have much screen time but still memorable.

The rest of the characters aren’t all that memorable. I think my least favorite character is Lizzie Elliot, whose subplot is the most boring and has least consequence to the whole story. I was amused by her mom Ava, a Black woman sleeved in a pale, redhead white male.

How about that ending?

While the show already suffered too many plots in a single season, the finale is even more egregious in trying to solve too many puzzles in a single episode! I really think the formulaic whodunnit of ‘who killed Bancroft’ plot could’ve been resolved in the episode before that, so we could focus more on Kovacs’ story and his relationships. They’re treating it like the ‘who killed JR?’ in Dallas when in fact it’s lacking any emotional resonance. Honestly, I don’t really care who killed him as he’s not that sympathetic, nor interesting, character.  SPOILER – highlight to read: I honestly couldn’t care less about the father/daughter story of Vernon and Lizzie. It’s just boring and even silly at times, which makes Lizzie’s appearance as the ‘unlikely hero’ in the end even more pointless and irritating.

I don’t know what the budget of the show is but I bet a lot of it goes to the Head in the Cloud (aka flying brothel) set. But again, the ending veers into too much melodrama even with the intense fight scenes. SPOILER – highlight to read: The slo-mo of the entire floating house crashing down is so operatic but lacking any emotional gravitas. At this point I was also worn out by the brother & sister love/hate relationship. I feel like the show doesn’t know what to make of Reileen, the Puppet Master. Yes she seems to truly love her brother and she desperately wants to find him. But at what cost? One take away I get from Takeshi and Rei is that some people just don’t know how to love.

The parting of Kovacs and Ortega could’ve a more emotional depth, but it felt too abrupt to me. I do like the final shot of the original Kovacs with the love of his life Quell, which again, is the heart of the film for me.

A more focused plot with less balls in the air would’ve made a more arresting finale.

In Summary

It’s also one of the most violent and sexually explicit show I’ve seen. Yes granted I haven’t seen Game of Thrones yet, but a colleague who’s seen both actually said Altered Carbon is often more violent and sexually vulgar than that show! I mentioned how Joel Kinnaman is practically shirtless 80% of the time but the women had it worse. I also have issues with how much violence are directed at women here which is disappointing since it’s show-runner is a woman. In fact, this could’ve been the most expensive show done by a female creator, perhaps even more than Westworld which has a woman as its co-creator.

At times the nudity becomes almost cartoonish and all out ludicrous. From violent aerial fight-to-the-death, MMA style, Kung Fu, to nude sword fights, there’s every kind of intense fight scenes under the sun on this show. The fight scenes are well-choreographed but definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. I had to look away during most of the fight scenes, but especially the torture scenes in episode 4. It’s virtual torture but still tough to watch.

Overall though, I’m glad I gave this cyberpunk series another shot and it’s one I actually still think about, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered with this extensive post! But the series’ biggest weakness is the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink approach, cramming way too many plots in a single season. After every episode, I feel dizzy with information overload as the plot gets more and more unnecessarily convoluted. Some of the subplots are less interesting than others, in fact, some are quite irritating as they don’t seem to tie in well with the storyline we actually care about.

Will there be Season 2? I haven’t heard news about that yet but I’m only tentatively interested. Maybe if Will Yun Lee is back then I’ll be more enthused. We shall see, but I’m not clamoring for it at this point.


Well, have you seen Altered Carbon? I’d love to hear what YOU think!

Weekend Roundup: Solomon Kane, Dancing on the Edge miniseries + Casting By doc

Happy Monday everyone!

Hope you had a nice weekend. It was a nice, mellow one for me, just enjoying the last few weeks of the fleeting Minnesota Summer. We had yummy Lebanese food for dinner and took a stroll by Mississippi River just before sunset… it was a warm night with a slight breeze. PERFECT.

My hubby took this on our stroll in St. Paul at dusk
My hubby took this on our stroll in St. Paul at dusk

I did fit in a few movies, one of them I’ve been wanting to see for some time…

SOLOMON KANE

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A ruthless mercenary renounces violence after learning his soul is bound for hell. When a young girl is kidnapped and her family slain by a sorcerer’s murderous cult, he is forced to fight and seek his redemption slaying evil.

I’m not going to review it again as my pal Becky has done a comprehensive review/tribute to the massively underrated sword & sandal film. She had the dvd so I saw it on Friday night at her place, and boy am I glad I finally did. I’ve been a fan of James Purefoy since his fearless performance in HBO’s ROME, and I’m constantly astounded why he’s not more famous than he is now. The man has the looks, talent, charisma, but maybe he lacks the one thing most stars have to have that they have no control over: luck.

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Director Michael J. Bassett and the producers had planned Solomon Kane to be a trilogy. It’s a bummer that it didn’t happen as it was a darn good film, it probably just wasn’t marketed very well. It’s got the swashbuckling action that looks gritty and raw with little CGI, and the supernatural elements of the story work for the adventure fantasy story. I find the story to be emotional engaging as well, especially between Solomon and the Puritan family led by the late character actor Pete Postlethwaite. English actress Rachel Hurd-Wood is quite good in a key role in the story, and it’s also got Max Von Sydow in a brief supporting role.

If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s definitely worth a rent.


DANCING ON THE EDGE miniseries (2013)

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A black jazz band becomes entangled in the aristocratic world of 1930s London as they seek fame and fortune.

I’m glad Netflix added this recently. I think I heard about it when Jacqueline Bisset won a Golden Globe for her performance, but I kind of forgot about it. But really, with a cast of Chiwetel Ejiofor AND Matthew Goode, I knew I had to see it.

I’ve only seen two out of the six episodes and I love it so far. The 30s jazz music is fantastic, but I like the glamor of the British aristocracy of that era and the mystery aspect of it that really sucks you in. There’s also the obvious racial issues given the Louis Lester Band is perhaps the first black band to ever perform for the British royal family. John Goodman has a key supporting role as an enigmatic American businessman, I can’t wait to see what he’s all about but he’s quite sinister.

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The set design and 30s costumes are beautiful to look at. It’s definitely an ear & eye candy + a gripping, historically-tinged story. Can’t wait to finish ’em all. If you’re looking for something to watch on Netflix streaming, can’t go wrong with this one.


CastingBy

This documentary focuses on the role of the casting director in movie making and particularly on Marion Dougherty. She began work in the late 1940s sending up and coming young actors to be cast in the then new medium of television. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the contribution on casting directors was recognized in film credits and even today there is no Oscar awarded for that role in filmmaking.

If you know me at all, you’ll know how much I’d love to be a casting manager. So naturally I find this documentary utterly fascinating. I talked about this briefly here, but somehow I just haven’t got around to seeing it. Casting is so crucial and can make & break a film, so people like Marion Dougherty is really an unsung hero in Hollywood.

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Anyone who loves movies should check out this HBO documentary, as it shows how some of Hollywood legends like James Dean, Al Pacino, Robert Redford, etc. get their start. There are also stories about actors getting second chances after a not-so-memorable first start, most notably from Jon Voight and Jeff Bridges. Some of the people interviewed include directors the likes of Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Peter Bogdanovich. It also proves that Michael Eisner is a jerk, I mean he’d rather have Suzanne Sommers over Meryl Streep??! Mel Gibson was ready to drop out of Hollywood and raise organic vegetables and beef cattle before Dougherty suggested him to Richard Donner for Lethal Weapon. She also told Donner about Danny Glover… “He’s black, so what?” – Y’see, the part wasn’t written for a black actor, so obviously miss Dougherty was far more progressive than most Hollywood folks.

There’s no Academy Award category for casting director, and so in 1991, there was a campaign started by a bunch of actors to get her an honorary Oscar. Well, the fact that women mostly make up the job of casting, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they’re overlooked in this male-dominated industry.

Thanks to filmmaker Tom Donahue for shining a light on this under-appreciated profession that’s so crucial in the filmmaking process. This documentary is available on Netflix Streaming, so definitely worth checking out!


Well, that’s my viewing recap. So what did YOU watch this weekend, anything good?

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Spin-Off Blogathon: 5 minor/supporting characters I want to see a spin-off on

SpinOffBlogathon

Thanks to Margaret aka Lady Sati over at Cinematic Corner for this awesome blogathon idea. Here’s the gist:

Choose a [supporting] character (Movie or TV) that you love and would like to see as a leading character in the movie and write why you chose this character and what that movie would be like. Don’t choose leading characters or supporting characters with lots of screen time, the goal is to focus on minor characters who have between 1-5 scenes. However if you really loved a character who is on screen for more than that, go for it.

Now, there are a bunch of memorable minor movie characters that I can list here, but not all of them I want to see an entire movie on. But these five minor/supporting characters are so fascinating, in some cases even more so than the hero, that I’d be willing to pay a movie solely focused on them! I originally had only three characters in mind but I just couldn’t resist adding the last two (plus a BONUS TV character). So without further ado, here they are:

Tom Bertram (James Purefoy) in Mansfield Park

Tom is the elder son and heir of the wealthy landowner Sir Thomas Bertram who took in the story’s protagonist Fanny Price to live in Mansfield Park. He’s shown in his brief scene as a drunken and careless man who has no regard for Fanny nor to his father. He’s often away in Antigua on his family’s estate and he obviously despises his father’s business that involves slavery, but the strain seems to be deeper than that. The way Purefoy plays him is so intriguing that every time I saw this Austen adaptation, I wanted to know more about Tom and why he behaves the way he does. He’s dark, mysterious, with a seething rage that could explode at any moment. Certainly he’s a sexier and more riveting persona than the principled but dull brother Edmund.

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I’d love to see a movie, or even a TV miniseries that focuses on his character. It’d be an extension (with some artistic liberties taken) of what’s written about him in the book, recounting his younger days being taken to Antigua by his father, and his days of living an extravagant life amusing himself. In the book, it’s described that Mary Crawford, who with his brother lives in the Bertram’s parsonage was initially interested in Tom but he does not response, so I’d like to see that being explored in the film as to why he refuses her. The risque Lovers’ Vow play would definitely be one of the movie’s highlights.

It’s too bad that in Mansfield Park, Tom’s spent half his already brief screen time bedridden from his illness. He does recover eventually and later on, Fanny’s younger sister Susan comes to live with the Bertram family also. Though it’s not in the book, it’d be nice to see that perhaps Tom would finally find love with Susan.


Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) in Captain America: The First Avenger

There are barely any cinematic super-heroine in Hollywood, and I don’t mean the bad ass but cheesy warrior variety like Elektra (no offense Jennifer Gardner!). From the first time I saw Captain America, I’ve got a girl crush on Peggy Carter. She is by far my favorite Marvel female character, yes she even beats Black Widow and Lady Sif! Atwell’s performance is one of the major reasons I LOVE LOVE Captain America: The First Avenger as she’s just as fun to watch as the Captain himself. She’s beautiful, witty, and spunky. She’s no damsel in distress, no siree. She’s a trained fighter who’s more than capable to hold her own. She’s a damn good shot too, as evident in the action scene with the villain Heinz Kruger (Richard Armitage, who gets another mention below) 😉

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There’s a Marvel One Shot of Agent Carter which I have yet to see except for a couple of clips. Apparently the short film takes place a year after the events of The First Avenger, and features Carter as a member of the Strategic Scientific Reserve and dealing with the sexism of that era. Now I’d even pay to see a film version of Agent Carter. It could include with some flashback scenes of her younger years as in the comics she apparently joined the French Resistance as a teen, which was how she became a skilled gun-woman.


Col. Brandon (Alan Rickman) in Sense & Sensibility

This should come as no surprise to anyone given how much I adore Alan Rickman‘s portrayal of Colonel Brandon. He’s one my picks of Favorite Period Drama Heroes and he’s easily my favorite male character in Jane Austen’s adaptations, yes he even beats every woman’s favorite Mr. Darcy any day. He’s a far more interesting character because he has been through a lot before we’ve come to know him as a wealthy officer at 35. He’s a sensitive man, a tortured soul perhaps (oh how I love these types of characters), who’s lost his love when he returned from the army and found that the woman he loves was with child and living in a poorhouse.

His entrance in Sense & Sensibility is one of the most memorable and emotionally-charged for me… Brandon’s expression as he was transfixed by Marianne is palpable. It’s got to make you wonder, is it simply just love at first sight? It can’t just be Marianne’s beauty and beautiful voice that captured him so, there’s gotta be something deeper than that. Later on we learned that Marianne reminded him of his lost love of his youth, his father’s ward whom he was prevented from marrying. Every time I watched this film, I’d so want to see more of Brandon’s early life.

Thank you Tumblr!
Thank you Tumblr!

I’ve been wanting to pick up Amanda Grange’s book Colonel Brandon’s Diary which is part of her Jane Austen retelling adaptations. I did read the Captain Wentworth’s Diary one, now I’d pay to see that one too, but I think Colonel Brandon’s dark past would make an even more riveting period drama. Now the challenge is to cast an actor even half as charismatic as Rickman, but perhaps Tom Hiddleston or Richard Armitage would be more than up for the task? The latter has never done an Austen adaptation, that is a travesty!


Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale

As a massive Bond fan ever since I was a wee girl, never have I been so fascinated by the Bond girl until I saw Vesper in Casino Royale. Like Agent Carter, Vesper is no damsel in distress, and she has quite a mysterious past that rivals our favorite super spy. She’s obviously an intelligent woman, having been trusted by MI6 to oversee Bond in his high-stake gamble with Le Chiffre. “I’m the money,” she says, and the banter between her & Bond is no doubt one of the most riveting scenes in the movie, one I still love to watch over and over.

I’d love to see a movie on her where we get to see how she became a double agent for the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs and her former lover who gave her that Algerian love knot necklace that Bond tracked down in Quantum of Solace. I think the film would only work with Eva Green in the role though. She’s obviously extremely sexy and can make an entrance like no other (that purple dress is an utter knockout), but I think her sensuality and mystique is what made the character so beguiling. There’s something so unpredictable behind those piercing green eyes, and an icy quality about them. The scene where she professes her love for Bond is beautiful but with a tinge of mystery and even suspense as we’re not sure what she’s capable of.

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According to Wiki, in the Casino Royale novel, she was born on a “dark and stormy” night, and her parents named her “Vesper” after the Latin word meaning evening to commemorate the night. Fleming created a cocktail recipe in the novel that Bond names after her. The “Vesper martini” became very popular after the novel’s publication, and gave rise to the famous “shaken, not stirred” catchphrase immortalized in the Bond films.

It’d be cool to see Eva Green reprising her role in a prequel spin-off of Vesper, I think she’s the only Bond girl deserving of her own movie!


John Rolfe (Christian Bale) in The New World

I’ve mentioned Christian Bale‘s role as John Rolfe many times in my blog already, most recently in this Breaking Emotion post. Bale only appeared in the last 25 min or so of the 2.5 hours Terrence Malick’s retelling of the Pocahontas story, yet he’s far more fascinating than Colin Farrell in the lead role John Smith. In fact, I’d buy this film just to see him here. His chemistry with Q’orianka Kilcher is so sweet, it’s perhaps one of the most romantic roles Bale’s done, which is already so rare to begin with.

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Now, the story of John Rolfe, an early English settlers of North America might not be as passionate or intriguing as John Smith’s, but Bale portrayal made me want to see more of Rolfe character. Perhaps the film can show his days as a tobacco businessman in Jamestown, Virginia and more details on his meeting and romance with Pocahontas, as well as his life after her death.


Special TV Dream Spin-Off

Guy of Gisborne (Richard Armitage) in BBC Robin Hood

What’s more riveting than a great hero? A great antihero. And every time I saw BBC Robin Hood, I always think ‘with villains like this, who needs a hero?!’ No offense to Jonas Armstrong as the titular hero but really he’s just meh next to Richard’s undeniable charisma and sex appeal. The guy just oozes virile masculinity and pent-up passion [wowza!] Clad in form-fitting black leather from head to toe, he’s the epitome of tall, dark and dangerous, even his hair is jet black to match his dark past and personality.


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But instead of making him a straight-out villain, what’s more intriguing about Guy is the complexity of his character, he’s not just evil for the sake of it, but there’s a vulnerability to him, especially in regards to his unrequited love for Marian, once the hope to his redemption. Again there’s that tortured soul quality that I can’t resist!

I love how Richard explains his character in this behind-the-scene clip. “If he can’t be good and be popular, be bad…” YES please 😉

If they were to do a Guy-centric series or even a miniseries on, I’d have a different girl than Lucy Griffiths though, I’m not terribly fond of her. Holliday Grainger in Season 3 is quite good however, I’d love to see more of their relationship being explored in Guy’s life. But of course I’d ONLY see a Guy of Gisborne movie/series IF Richard Armitage plays him. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone else in the role who could top his portrayal.


What do you think of my picks, folks? Would you watch a movie dedicated to these characters?

Rental Pick: Gothic Fantasy SOLOMON KANE starring James Purefoy

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SOLOMON KANE (2009)

Director: Michael J. Bassett
Writers: Michael J. Bassett, Robert E. Howard (character)
Cast: James Purefoy, Max von Sydow, Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Alice Krige, Mackenzie Crook, Patrick Hurd-Wood, Jason Flemyng
Genre: Action Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Adventures, Fantasy, Action & Adventure
Rating: R
Run time: 104 minutes

Release dates: World premiere on September 16, 2009 at the Toronto Film Festival. United Kingdom theatrical release was on February 19, 2010. Limited release in US theaters September 2012. US DVD and Netflix streaming released July 2013.

Waiting for Solomon

It took three years for Solomon Kane to appear on a North American movie screen. What took so long? Really, I had this film in my Netflix “Saved” queue for three years, forever it seemed. When I checked my Netflix list last month and saw it moved out of Saved and into my live queue, without the dreaded red type saying “long wait,” it felt like Christmas in July. The fantasy-action genre isn’t usually at the top of my list, but just about everything James Purefoy does (ahem, Rome) draws me in (the major exception is the Fox TV show soon starting its second season, The Following, where JP plays a serial killer. Turns out that’s not something I enjoy viewing, even though JP is at his ‘evil’ best). I was apprehensive at the start of the film, but soon was totally wrapped up. Everything about this film is of the highest quality, even though the budget was a fairly modest $45 million.

Background

JamesPurefoySolomonKaneSolomon Kane is an epic action film based on the pulp magazine character Solomon Kane created in 1928 by Robert E. Howard. Despite optioning the rights in 1997, filming did not begin until January 2008. It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy.

It is an origin story for the Kane character and intended to be the first of a trilogy. Reception was generally favorable, with a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 65% following the UK/US release; the film’s atmosphere and Purefoy’s acting attracted the most acclaim.

Storyline

A once-murderous sea captain – Solomon Kane – is holed up in a monastery in retreat from the devil, whom he fears is coming for his soul. Kane soon learns, however, that the path to redemption lies in defending those who are weak. When a young girl is kidnapped and her family slain by a sorcerer’s murderous cult, he is forced to fight and seek his redemption slaying evil.

Character First

Fans of Robert Howard’s Solomon Kane books won’t recognize this screenplay. In Howard’s books, Solomon Kane is already a fully-formed character. But here, writer Michael Bassett creates a prequel – the character and story are his vision of how Kane changes and grows. He’s successful in laying out Kane’s background and how Kane, his family, and the destructive forces in his life come together.

Michael says, “If you’re not interested in the character, you’re not interested in the movie,” and “character first, character, character, character.” Yes, Michael Bassett really says “character” three times in a row. See for yourself. Check out this fascinating interview with James Purefoy and Michael Bassett from 2012 ComicCon:

James Purefoy

James Purefoy is the ONLY reason I wanted to see this film. I doubt if it would have even been on my radar at all if it wasn’t for him in the lead. James is simply brilliant in this role. He convincingly morphs from being a ruthless murderer to a quiet penitent in a monastery, from a man of determined nonviolence to, finally, according to James, an “early 17th Century Puritan avenger.” His costumes morph right along with him. Why do I suddenly want the Solomon Kane action figure, complete with wide-brimmed hat and swirling cloak?

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I’ve never been overly intrigued by an action or superhero (sorry Superman, Batman, Spiderman). But thanks to James, I’ve got one now. I’m completely hooked on Kane. What can you expect from the movie? Well, James manages to turn a simple answer to that question into a performance in and of itself. He tells us, in less than two minutes, at 2009 ComicCon:

Author Robert E. Howard

RobertEHowardSolomon Kane is just one of Howard’s creations. He also created Conan the Barbarian, a character whose cultural impact has been compared to such icons as Tarzan, Count Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and James Bond. With Conan and his other heroes, Howard created the genre now known as sword and sorcery, spawning many imitators and giving him a large influence in the fantasy field. Howard remains a highly read author, with his best works still reprinted. I was very surprised and saddened to find out he committed suicide at only 30 years of age, and his most success with his writing career was only about seven years.

DVD commentary

The commentary turns out to be one of the very best I’ve ever listened to, right behind Roger Ebert’s Citizen Kane (wow, two Kanes!). Writer/director Michael J. Bassett and James Purefoy are easy to listen to and are spot on discussing exactly what you’re seeing on the screen, and they let us in on some very interesting details of the film.

One of my favorites is when Solomon rides up to a destroyed and seemingly deserted chapel. Kane dismounts and tethers his horse to a post. James says he gets annoyed when an actor jumps off his horse and drops the reins without making any effort to secure them. He insisted on doing it as part of the scene. I laughed and just about fell off the couch, because I notice that behavior with horses in movies all the time… it’s one of my pet peeves too! Michael starts giving JP a good-natured hard time about it… he jokes that JP just wasted five seconds of screen time. I love it when JP reminds Bassett that those five seconds remain in the film.

Speaking of horses, there is an exciting scene (you’ll see it if you watch the trailer) where two pursuers on horseback in full gallop flank Kane on both his left and right side. As soon as they are all parallel, Solomon raises two pistols, outstretches both arms to full length and blasts both baddies off their horses at exactly the same time. I can’t recall ever seeing a stunt on a horse like that. James is brilliant for having pulled it off (he does almost all his own stunts in this film). In the commentary, he tells how releasing the reins from both hands at the same time so he can shoot, all the while racing through rough, forested terrain is quite an unnerving experience. I would say so!

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The Verdict

I whole-heartedly agree with this comment from IMDb:

Deserves much higher recognition, superb.

As an avid reader of Gothic fantasy I am not easily pleased when it comes to big screen versions of these kinds of stories. After so many disappointments in the past when stories falter or special effects either take over the screen or are shoddy and laughable I always feel as apprehensive as I do interested when I start watching a film like this.

However, I can honestly say that this film is one of the best I have ever seen. I wish I’d seen in it a cinema, but hadn’t heard of it. As soon as the final credits rolled I wanted to watch it all over again, and instantly went online and bought the DVD, something I rarely do.

Everything about this film blew me away, from the atmosphere of gritty cold despair, the incredible (British!!!) cast, to the imagery and beauty of some of the scenes. I could wax lyrical about so many parts of this film that I’d basically be commenting on virtually every scene. I don’t know where I’d start, and once I did, I wouldn’t be able to stop.

Fantastic. Just utterly made of every kind of Win imaginable.

The Solomon Kane DVD quickly became part of my movie collection too. If ever there was a trilogy I’d anxiously look forward to, it would be Solomon Kane. Here’s hoping for two more.

TRAILER:

Check out the trailer below:

fourreels
4 out of 5 reels

Special thanks to BECKY K. for this excellent in-depth review!


Hope you enjoy the in-depth review. So what do YOU think of Solomon Kane?

TV Miniseries Spotlight: The Hollow Crown

I’ve heard of it but somehow it fell off my radar. Not sure how as I’m a sucker for this kind of stories… AND Tom Hiddleston! Well, thanks to my good pal Terrence for sending me the trailer link via Twitter. What a pal he is… oh btw, don’t forget to vote on his weekly Time to Vote Tuesday. Great topic today, as always!

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The Hollow Crown is a new adaptations of Shakespeare’s tetralogy of history plays comprising the ‘Henriad’ for the BBC’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad: King Richard II; King Henry IV, Part 1; King Henry IV, Part 2; King Henry V. The plays chronicle a continuous period in British history from the end of the 14th century to the aftermath of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Together, the plays comprise a story with recurring themes of power struggles, redemption, family conflict and betrayal. (per IMDb)

I can’t friggin’ wait to see this! It’s no surprise that I LOVE all things British, including films about British monarchy, and man, I definitely would watch this for the cast!!

Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal/Henry V
Jeremy Irons as Henry IV
Ben Whishaw as Richard II
Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt

There are also notable British actors in the supporting roles: David Morrissey, John Hurt, Julie Walters, oh and James Purefoy as Thomas de Mowbray, 1st Duke of Norfolk.

Here’s the trailer:

Now, for my UK friends, this is probably old news and perhaps you’ve even seen this on BBC Two. But it’s finally making its way to our shores. It will air on PBS’ Great Performances on Friday, September 20. But if you can’t wait THAT long, it will be released on iTunes, VOD, and DVD on August 27th.

Click on each image to see a larger version

Telegraph UK has some very nice things so say in its 4.5 stars review. I particularly like what it says about Hiddleston:

Hiddleston’s performance was a clever one. He is a cerebral actor and for that reason failed to convince in his early scenes (in Henry IV Part One) as a roister-doister. It was only when his heart was heavy, meditating on his destiny in a corpse-strewn foreign field, that you realised his quiet power.

The Guardian also says that “…The Hollow Crown feels as good as TV Shakespeare is going to get.”

So yeah, I’m so game for this!! I think I can handle 500 minutes of Shakespeare with THIS cast. I hope there’s a bunch of special features in this as well. I wouldn’t mind a whole video journal just on James Purefoy getting into costume and make up 😉

JamesPurefoyHollowCrown

Well, I’m already sold on this one before I read that director Sam Mendes is one of the executive producer! Even from the trailer, this looks like an epic with lavish locations and astute details on the set pieces and costumes. This miniseries has won several awards, including BAFTAs for Best Leading Actor (Ben Whishaw) and Supporting Actor (Simon Russell Beale). It was also nominated in the music and costume design category.

The Shakespearean English might be a bit hard to follow for someone like me but I’m willing to give it a shot, especially with Hiddleston’s gorgeous voice reciting them, he’s an actor who’s born to play this type of roles! Plus, with the right technique, even this old language could have a contemporary feel.


So what do you think folks, are you up for this? For those who’ve seen this, please let me know what you think!

Small Roles Big Performances – James Purefoy + James Marsden

For this blogathon, somehow both Becky and I settled on the actor with the first name James… and both playing a Prince! It’s pure coincidence by the way, but it works out great that they’re two very different actors, one Brit and one American, but both are not only easy on the eye but very talented yet massively underrated.

Visit the main blogathon post to see the full list of participants by clicking the banner above.

James Purefoy – A Knight’s Tale  (2001) 

Genre: adventure comic fantasy romance
Character(s): Sir Thomas Colville / Edward, the Black Prince of Wales

Every time I think of A Knight’s Tale (2001), I giggle, pinch myself, then remind myself (again) that my two favorite actors, Rufus Sewell and James Purefoy, (who both happen to be English, and who both happen to have attended the same drama school in London) are actually TOGETHER in the same film. So dreams really CAN come true! Rufus has a prominent role as antagonist Count Adhemar, whereas James appears only briefly in three short, but significant scenes.
The story (from Wikipedia): 
The film follows the story of William Thatcher (Heath Ledger), a peasant masquerading as a knight, along with his companions in the world of medieval jousting. William poses as a knight and competes in tournaments, winning accolades and acquiring friendships with such historical figures as Edward, the Black Prince of Wales and Geoffrey Chaucer. The story, concisely, in just 12 words (from an IMDb review): It’s like Top Gun, but with horses and lances instead of jets.
First scene (from Wikipedia):
In this joust, William faces Sir Thomas Colville, who withdraws from the tournament after being injured by William, though they exchange a ceremonial pass so that Colville might retain the honor of never having failed to complete a match.
Second scene: 
In their next tournament together, William realizes the knight calling himself Sir Thomas Colville is actually Edward, Prince of Wales, also known (affectionately) as the Black Prince. The film implies there is a custom encouraging knights to withdraw from competition against royalty in order to cause no harm. Count Adhemar quickly withdraws as he receives confirmation that Colville is really the prince. You can see the immediate disappointment in Edward’s face as he realizes he may not be jousting this day. William is expected to withdraw also. But he has come lance to lance with Edward before and senses his eagerness to engage and doesn’t withdraw, which earns him great respect from Edward. Their match is a draw. Before leaving the field, they both recognize each other from their first meeting, and William acknowledges him as prince. Edward: “You knew me? And still you rode?” William: “It’s not in me to withdraw.”  Edward: “Nor me.”
Interestingly, Prince Edward is not a fictional character. He lived from 1330 to 1376. He was an exceptional military leader, and his victories over the French at the Battles of Crécy and Poitiers made him very popular during his lifetime. He died before his father, Edward III, which makes him the only English Prince of Wales never to be King of England. His throne passed instead to his son Richard II.
Third scene (towards the end of the film):
William is arrested for forging papers claiming he was a knight. Prince Edward seeks him out. Here, James is regal, assertive and authoritative, yet deeply compassionate. He orders William to be released from the stocks. The prince draws his sword, touches it to William’s shoulders, and thereby bestows knighthood upon him. He is now Sir William. This leaves him totally free to pursue his goal: winning the jousting championship against Count Adhemar and earning the hand of his desired Jocelyn. It is in this last scene where the noble Prince Edward (and James’ superb acting skills) shines:

I LOVE the costume designer who cloaked James in that subtly embroidered, fur-lined, full length earth-colored coat over a white, deep V-collar shirt that shows off just the right amount of… ummm, well, I think you know what I mean 😉 … I could easily get carried away here (smile). It surely helps that James is tall, dark, and alarmingly handsome.
James has had leading roles in film, but a vast amount of his work has been in television, both here in the US and the UK. His exceptional, standout role was playing Marc Antony in the HBO series Rome (2005-2007, appearing in all 22 episodes). Beginning January 2013 (in the US), he is co-staring with Kevin Bacon in the new Fox criminal thriller TV series The Following.
Spending so much time with James while writing this has left me almost breathless, and … well, you know, yes, never mind, again. But hey, I’m just taking one for the team… team FlixChatter, that is.
So, have you seen A Knight’s Tale? If so, did James’ performance stand out for you too? Let us know!


James Marsden – Enchanted (2007)


Genre: fairy tale romantic comedy
Character: Prince Edward
I don’t exactly know when I first beheld James Marsden, but I’ve always liked the guy. Not only is he drop-dead gorgeous with to-die-for cheekbones, the Oklahoma native can sing! You might’ve seen an episode where he sang You’re Always On My Mind on Ally McBeal,  and of course in the musical Hairspray. I always notice him in various supporting roles he did in The Notebook, Superman Returns and X-Men. On Superman Returns, I found myself rooting for his character, Richard White, as the nice guy who has to deal with his fiancee’s ex coming back into her life. He could’ve easily been written as a jerk but I’m glad they didn’t and Marsden sympathetic portrayal makes him a memorable character in that movie.
He’s obviously quite a versatile actor who can jump from genre to genre, doing an animated feature like Hop to dark thrillers like the Straw Dog remake in the same year! The youthful-looking 29-year-old also has wonderful comic chops that makes him perfect to play Prince Edward in Enchanted! I thought he was well, enchanting as the fish-out-of-water character from fairytale land stranded in modern day New York City. The second he popped out of the manhole complete in his royal attire, I knew he’d be the scene stealer of the whole movie! Lethargic Patrick Dempsey can’t hold a candle to Marsden’s vibrant and amusing performance, he’s just delightfully oblivious!
I love the scene in the hotel room where he mistakes the TV for being the magic mirror, ahah, and of course the whole singing thing in Dempsey’s apartment. Every time the daft prince shows up, the movie just hits a high note for me. I mean, just the scene of him walking with Giselle on the Brooklyn bridge with the Liberty statue hat is a hoot. I really don’t remember much about Dempsey’s character in this movie, but I definitely remember Prince Edward!
Here’s a clip of all Prince Edward scenes from the movie. Enjoy!


Small Roles … Big Performances Blogathon



Thoughts on Purefoy or Marsden’s performances? Well let’s hear it!

FlixChatter Review: John Carter (2012)

This is one of those movies I just didn’t really care for from the first time I heard about it, and the trailer didn’t really convince me otherwise. But my hubby really wanted to see it and I must admit I became more curious after reading some positive reviews, such as this one from my pal Terrence.

Just as I enjoyed Hunger Games more having read the book, perhaps it would’ve helped me understand the film better if I had done the same here. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventure novel was apparently massively popular and the story has inspired many filmmakers like George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and James Cameron. I heard some reviews that says the movie is ripping off Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Avatar, etc., when in fact, it’s really the other way around. Even the filmmakers themselves, even the creator of Superman, admitted that they were inspired by Burroughs’ work. Why they didn’t leverage that point in the film’s marketing is beyond me. This article even cited George Lucas describing described his Star Wars story as being set “in the grand tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars.” 

It’s the kind of review where I have to turn to Wikipedia to make sure I get the details right. The story takes place in the late 1800. Former Civil War captain John Carter somehow ended up in a cave of gold whilst on the run from a group of Cavalry officers and Apache Indians. It’s there that he encountered a strange figure whose medallion accidentally teleported him all the way to Mars. In the intro, it’s explained that Mars (called Barsoom by the inhabitants) is not a “dead planet”, but rather a dying one inhabited by warring civilizations with great airships.

The various ethnic groups of Mars

There are the four-armed green Martians called the Tharks, a White Martian called Therns and the two Red Martians cities Helium and Zodangas whose natives are akin to the Elves in The Lord of the Rings in that they’re full of beautiful people (hello James Purefoy!), except they’ve got a natural tan. So basically John goes from one civil war on earth, to another epic one in a distant planet.

In the book, apparently John Carter is described as an immortal being. I can’t remember the movie depicting him that way but for sure he’s got some great powers due to his high bone density and the planet’s low gravity (not sure how the science works out but hey, it’s a fantasy film so certain suspension of disbelief comes with the territory). What I didn’t realize from the trailer laden with strange-looking creatures like the great white apes etc., is that John Carter has got a love story at the heart of it. John Carter meets Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins), a stunning but rebellious Princess of Helium who’s apparently also a scientist (take that Dr. Christmas Jones!) It’s utterly predictable that they both would fall in love, though of course they still have to banter with each other first (a la Princess Leia and Han Solo and Na’vi Princess Neytiri and Jake Sully in Avatar).

This movie was declared a major box office bomb even by Disney itself. I think having seen it now, I gather that poor marketing was largely to blame for it. Sure, the reviews weren’t stellar, but it’s not terrible either with about 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. There are far, far worse films have made way more money than this, just look at those Transformer flicks! So perhaps it’s just really poor timing that this movie came out after 50 years of similarly-themed sci-fi movies have been released, which makes it ironically derivative.

In any case, I actually quite enjoyed this film. Actor Dominic West (who played Zodangas’ leader) told BBC  that “… the story sometimes difficult to follow, but I don’t think it was boring.” I think I’d agree with him. Though there are some slow parts and the pacing could be much improved, there are a lot to appreciate here. The movie kept me engaged for the most part, and the action scenes with all the weird-looking creatures actually don’t dominate the movie the way the trailers make it out to be. The visuals are marvelous to look at, what with all the meticulously-crafted spaceships and other flying objects.The action sequences are pretty fun to watch, though very reminiscent of The Phantom Menace especially in the pod-racer scenes.

I’d guess that a lot of the $250-million budget goes to the set pieces as there isn’t any big-name actors in the movie. The world that director Andrew Stanton built are a dazzling technical achievement, but the main problem for me is the pacing, just like any piece of music relies on good rhythm. It’s too bad because the story itself is quite engaging, and no surprise there considering Stanton has written and directed Pixar’s masterpieces like Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall*E.

Lastly, the cast turns out to be a pleasant surprise. I was quite harsh on Taylor Kitsch initially as I was unimpressed with his performance in Wolverine, but he actually makes for a pretty convincing lead here. He’s got the looks (and a nice, deep voice), as well as confidence to pull off a heroic role. Another Wolverine alum Lynn Collins is all right as the Princess, she’s obviously beautiful but can also be pretty bad ass in the action sequences. Both of them are not as experienced as the rest of the supporting cast but they’re more than serviceable I think.

The rest of the supporting cast are largely British except for the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston as the leader of the Cavalry that pursued Carter. Both Mark Strong and Dominic West are in familiar territory playing unsympathetic characters, but at least they do it well. Interesting to see James Purefoy and Ciarán Hinds revisiting their Julius Caesar and Mark Antony roles in HBO’s Rome as their characters remind me so much of the historical duo. Purefoy seems to have the most fun here, I just wish he had a bigger role in the movie.

Final Thoughts: I’m glad I was able to catch this movie on the big screen before its last week of its theatrical run. I do think it looks marvelous visually and overall a pretty entertaining fare that’s worth at least a matinee price. Definitely check this out if you’re a fan of the fantasy sci-fi genre. I skipped the 3D though, and I don’t think it’ll add that much to the movie.
four and a half stars out of five
4 out of 5 reels


Thoughts about this movie? Do you have a theory why it flopped at the box office?