National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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SPOILER-FREE Review: Killing Eve – Season 1 (BBC America)

Based on the novellas by Luke Jennings [published in 2017] and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag), Killing Eve centers on two women; Eve (Sandra Oh) is a bored, whip-smart, pay-grade MI-5 security officer whose desk-bound job doesn’t fulfill her fantasies of being a spy; Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is a mercurial, talented killer who clings to the luxuries her violent job affords her. -Summary from BBC America

Remember Det. Bobby Goren’s pursuit of the literate/world-traveling serial killer- Nicole Wallace- on several eps/seasons of Law and Order: Criminal Intent? Bobby and Nicole shared a strong connection (chemistry), though they were on different sides of the law. Now you’ve got a hint of this (unique) thriller, which is mostly a character-based drama centered on a  married/middle-aged MI-5 security officer, Eve Polastri (Canadian actress of Korean heritage- Sandra Oh- best known for Sideways and Gray’s Anatomy) and multi-lingual/sociopath killer, Villanelle (Jodie Comer, a Brit from Liverpool). Oh’s character is a Brit, though raised in the US (so has an American accent).  

Though this is a drama, there is (dark) humor laced throughout each of the 8 eps, thanks to Waller-Bridge, a multi-talented Brit in her early 30s. Yes, women are at the forefront (and behind-the-scenes) of Killing Eve! I was esp. pleased to see veteran actress Fiona Shaw as Carolyn Martens, Eve’s superior officer. The man who acts as a sort of handler/manager for Villanelle is called Konstantin (Kim Bodnia, a Danish actor). Both he and Shaw have strong onscreen presences, toughness, and some (unexpected) moments of lightness/fun. Eve’s easygoing husband (a teacher) is Niko (Owen McDonnell, an Irish actor who works mainly in theater); he and Oh have the type of natural chemistry you’d see in a long-married couple. Their marriage is put under strain as Eve goes into fieldwork, dangers escalate, keeps secrets, and becomes obsessed w/ Villanelle.  

As some critics have noted, the breakout star of Killing Eve is Jodie Comer. She’s young, tall, blue-eyed, (conventionally) pretty, yet NOT skinny (athletic figure). What sets her apart are her big/bright blue eyes and luminous face (which she twists into many expressions). I see a LOT of potential in this actress. Vilanelle, like MANY real women, likes real food (ice cream, fresh bruschetta, champagne, etc.) And she has a keen eye for fashion, too. How good is this show? Well, it was picked up for a second season (even before the pilot aired), then Oh was nominated for a Best Actress Emmy (the first for an Asian-American woman). Check it out ASAP (I saw it last week at the BBC America web site)!

 

Fleabag (2016)

I watched this Brit show (on Amazon Prime) last weekend; there are 6 eps (about 30 mins long). It’s NOT for everyone (TV-MA), BUT does have some interesting/unique components. We’ve ALL seen angry/unlikable/complicated men as protagonists (incl. in comedies) over the past 10 yrs or so. However, there aren’t many female characters like Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a 20ish working woman living in London and dealing w/ grief (incl. that of her BFF/business partner). “Fleabag” is the real-life nickname of Waller-Bridge. She also created a play on which this show is based. Fleabag breaks the fourth wall (as seen prominently on House of Cards); this brings the viewer in closer to the story.
Fleabag struggles to keep her small cafe open, breaks up w/ her sensitive/songwriter BF- Harry (Hugh Skinner), then hooks up w/ different men (one of her coping mechanisms, she admits). Waller-Bridge can be BOTH beautiful and awkward at the same time; she has a flawless face and is tall and slim. Yet she also has a somewhat long/big nose (which gives her an unique look). One of her men is played by an unusually handsome actor (Ben Aldridge). Sidenote: The way others reacted to their pairing reminded me of when Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) dated character played by a soap actor on SATC.
Fleabag has an awkward relationship w/ her father (Scottish actor Bill Paterson) and hates her godmother turned step-mom (Waller-Bridge’s close friend-actress Olivia Colman). Talk about step-mom from Hell- Colman portrays a self-absorbed artist and villain V well here (a departure from her usual roles)! The MOST interesting/complicated relationship is between Fleabag and her seemingly “perfect” older sister, Claire (Sian Clifford). Unlike Fleabag’s aimless approach to life, Claire (Sian Clifford) has to control everything (incl. her own “surprise” b-day party). There is deep love between these women, though they have such different personalities. Both women wonder if they sre “bad feminists”- something V rare for a TV show! Claire is married to an American art dealer, Martin (comedian Brett Gelman), who comes off as creepy and pathetic. I think Martin provides some of the more (obvious) humor.

Re-watching Top Rated Episodes of Black Mirror (Seasons 1 & 2)

Season 1: Episode 3

The Entire History of You 

“O beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on,” the diabolical Iago warns insecure new husband, Othello, in Shakespeare’s tragedy. In this ep of the British sci-fi drama series, Liam (Toby Kebbell), suspects that something more than just a fling before they met went on between his wife, Fi (Jodie Whitaker, the next Doctor Who) and her old friend, Jonas (Tom Cullen from Downton Abbey). Not unlike Othello (a military man), Liam (a lawyer) seeks justice. Liam almost violently demands that Fi rewind her memory chip (“grain”), so that he can see exactly when and what happened w/ Jonas. Liam doubts the paternity of his baby daughter, though a few astute viewers noticed that her eyes are blue (like Jonas’); both Liam and Fi have brown eyes.

Though this ep (like almost every ep of this show) has some element on futuristic tech, at the crux is the (deteriorating) marriage between Liam and Fi. Since he keeps replaying moments of his life, Liam is socially awkward and insecure (perhaps more so than Fi’s friends at the dinner party). We all know folks like this, right? Jonas (perhaps named after the main character in The Giver) is a catalyst; he holds the memories that could unlock the truth. Liam’s obsession and jealousy drives him to attack Jonas in his own home, then force him to erase all memory of Fi. What did you think of the ending? Did Liam pull out the grain b/c his (positive) memories were too painful? Or did he want to simply erase Fi b/c of her betrayal?

The proposed film version, which is being put together at studio Warner Bros via Robert Downey Jr’s Team Downey production company… is set in the near future, and it will centre on a widower who uses similar technology to reconstruct his relationship with his dead wife until he unwittingly uncovers a vast conspiracy.

-The Guardian

[1] While I enjoyed seeing the worst of humanity being magnified by the satire of the previous episodes, here it was done with sense of humanity – a heart rather than a sneer. The relationship drama is quite engaging and he use of the technology seamlessly becomes part of that.

[2] What makes this episode so painful, is that we witness the end of a once loving relationship, in all its sad, pathetic and all too human frailty and weakness. The technology that seemed so useful and essential now becomes a curse and enhances our cruel nature. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Season 2: Episode 4 

White Christmas 

This is the Christmas special (yet NOT cozy and comfy like a typical one) of Season 2 in 3 acts, all of which feature American TV icon, Jon Hamm.  On IMDB, it’s noted that this episode uses a similar concept as Inception (which I haven’t seen yet), layering realities making the viewer question if what the character is experiencing is actually real or not. We see a kitchen in a cabin where Matt (Hamm) is preparing dinner for himself and Potter (Rafe Spall), the nearly-silent man w/ whom he’s been living for 5 yrs. Matt tries to draw his companion out w/ his warm tone and friendly manner. Potter is very reluctant to talk, so Matt tells him about his past.    

You’ve heard of the PUA (pick-up artist) culture, right? In the first act, Matt was part of a futuristic version of this, helping socially awkward young men get a date or simply hookup. These types of coaches rely on cheap pop psychology and think they can read people’s minds. One of Matt’s clients, Harry, meets a dark-haired “outsider” woman, Jennifer (Natalie Tena from Game of Thrones) at a holiday party. At first, he’s comforted by the fact that Matt (and a group of other men) are virtually there (“inside my head”) to help him out. Later, as the night goes on, Jennifer misinterprets Harry’s words and moves much faster than he expected. At her apt, Harry learns (too late) that she does have voices in her head, and wants to commit suicide with him! Horrified, Matt and the other men watch as Harry is poisoned by a drink that Jennifer pours down his throat. When Matt’s wife finds out about this event, she blocks him, then leaves w/ their baby girl.

The first guess Potter makes about Matt’s occupation is “a marketing person.” This is a reference to his character in Mad Men, who works at an ad agency. In the second act, a young woman named Ash (Oona Chaplin- also from Game of Thrones), has her consciousness (“cookie”) extracted and put into a small egg-shaped machine which will run her home. However, this cookie is very disturbed by her new situation, thinking that she’s alive and real (though considered “only code”). Matt’s job is to break down this cookie’s resistance (torture is a word some critics/viewers used), so that she will perform the duties that she was removed for in the first place. Is this “slavery,” as Potter declares w/ disgust?

In the final act,  Joe Potter’s life story is finally revealed! He was a regular guy (though maybe w/ a drinking problem) who loved his gf, Beth, who became pregnant suddenly. She was distraught about this fact, which confused and saddened Joe. (It’s rare to see a modern drama tackle such controversial issues such as abortion and paternity rights.) Beth blocked Joe, w/o much discussion, yet decided to keep the baby. Joe became obsessed w/ knowing anything re: his child, even driving each Christmas day for 5 yrs to the remote cabin the the woods where Beth spent time w/ her father. This little girl was also blocked, since she was the offspring of Beth, until Beth died suddenly in a train crash. Joe went back to the cabin, saw the girl, who looked East Asian (so NOT his child)! He realizes that it was Beth’s married co-worker, Tim, who was the real father. Tim was in the background, or side of the screen, in several scenes (BUT you won’t notice until you see this ep twice). Joe went in the cabin, very distraught, and ended up hitting Beth’s elderly father on the head- killing him. May, the girl, was hiding upstairs; she later walked out into a blizzard and died (awww). Joe was captured, BUT refused to talk until he met Matt (who was helping the police get a full confession). Well, Joe’s cookie talked, as the real him was in a jail cell. Matt is released from his sentence, though he is blocked (from everyone)- whoa! He won’t be able to have basic human interactions. 

[1] The idea of cookie is appalling. I always believe that physical existence is not the way to describe a person-human beings are their memories and minds. …It is just utterly cruel, while this episode apparently succeeded in demonstrating how technology can dehumanize people. 

[2] The episode really makes you think, its such a chilling experience. Charlie Brooker really does create some crazy worlds.

[3] The most disturbing thing, in my opinion, is how easy the technicians are able to accelerate the time for the clones, which are not really human, but react like ones: suffering, getting crazy, locked for the eternity in an egg…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews