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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What To Watch Next (OCT 2018)?

Colette (now playing in limited release) starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, & Eleanor Tomlinson

After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. -Summary from Bleecker Street 

First Man (opening OCT 12th) starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber & Ciaran Hinds

This is a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling), a Midwestern family man and former pilot, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon. Though it’s directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, there are NO songs or dances (no worries- LOL)! Critics are suggesting that you watch this in IMAX (if possible). 

Museo (now playing) starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Two 30-something slacker pals (living w/ parents in Mexico City) decide to pull an art heist. This is based on a true story- WOW! This film has been getting good buzz, and I’m a big fan of GGB.

The Hate U Give (opening OCT 19th) starring Amandla Stenberg, Common, Regina Hall, Issa Rae & Russell Hornsby

This looks to be an unique twist on the coming-of-age story (already being praised highly by critics). It was based on best-selling novel by a young black woman, Angie Thomas. A working-class black teen girl from the inner-city, Starr (attending a mostly white private school), experiences the awakening of her racial consciousness after witnessing the killing of her childhood best friend, a black boy, by a police officer.

Venom (opening OCT 5th) starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Woody Harrelson, & Jenny Slate

I learned that Venom was in Spider-Man 3, though this movie is considered to be outside the Marvel universe. Mild-mannered investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy), uncovers a secret government experiment and eventually merges w/ a symbiote called Venom. I’m curious to see it mainly for Riz Ahmed (who plays villainous scientist Carlton Drake).

Sorry to Bother You (2018) starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, & Danny Glover

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing in select theaters).

If you liked Get Out (where Lakeith Stanfield had a small, yet crucial role), then I highly recommend this movie. If you love to laugh (yet don’t want to shut off your brain), check it out. My friend and I got tickets to an early screening w/ Q&A by director Boots Riley and actor Danny Glover (who was a surprise guest; he was in DC for an education conference). As w/ Blindspotting (currently in theaters), Sorry to Bother You was filmed in the quickly gentrifying city of Oakland, CA. While Blindspotting is a realistic slice of life film, Sorry (written/directed by first timer Riley) is a social satire w/ fantasy/sci-fi elements. That’s NOT something you see everyday! 

Cassius Green (Stanfield) is a broke 20-ish man in need of a job to pay rent on his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage-turned-apt he shares w/ long-time girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson from Dear White People), a struggling artist who hold up signs (her day job). After some bluffing, he lands a job at a telemarketing firm where employees get paid on commission. An older co-worker, Langston (veteran actor Danny Glover; he grew up w/ Riley’s father), advises him to “use his white voice” in order to land more sales. Though skeptical, Cash gives it a try- it works! He gets Detroit and his best friend- Sal (Jermaine Fowler)- jobs as telemarketers. Along w/ new friend/co-worker, Squeeze (Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead), they plan to organize fellow employees, so everyone can get paid a fair wage w/ health benefits. Cash gets promoted to “power caller” (upstairs)- that’s when his problems really begin. 

It dabbles in commentary on media, society, race and working-class issues-so many poignant messages, some more successfully delivered than others.

I walked into this movie at an advance screening expecting something unique, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer brilliance of this satirical masterwork. Hilarious from beginning to end while also subversive…

The film brings an interesting and unique take on the world minorities live as they are forced within a socioeconomic ladder. Cassius Green, played by Keith Stanfield, is faced with selling out and abandoning his friends. Through this the audience sees he is drastically changed as his success transforms him to the very thing he resented.

This movie is strange and extremely fast paced. The directing style is unlike any movie I have ever seen, and it moves just fast enough to keep you on your toes while not moving too fast for you to comprehend. There are so many themes within this movie, and all of them are shown within either a comedic context, a darker context, or both. All in all this is a movie about capitalism and how companies are driven to make money rather than care about the well-being of their workers. This is shown through more extreme absurdist examples as the movie goes on… 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Star Trek: Discovery (Episode 11) – “The Wolf Inside”

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the most recent episode of the sci-fi series streaming on CBS All Access. 

We are still in the Mirror Universe, where the black/gold uniforms are FAB, killing your fellow Terran officers is commonplace, and Saru’s race are kept as nameless slaves. Capt. Lorca is able to withstand torture and STILL keep it together. Here the Klingons, Vulcans, and few other races (who get new looks) are the resistance, fighting against the Terran Empire. This ep starts out a BIT slow w/ a voiceover from Michael Burnham, who is complaining re: how she has to struggle to get through the days. We see her and Tyler cuddling and talking together; he refers to her as his “tether.” What did you think about this? Was Tyler being TOO needy? Or is this a sensitive and romantic thing to say? 

Sarek is called a “prophet” by the rebels, which includes Voq (called “the Fire Wolf”). As Sarek (who has a goatee a la Spock in the TOS Mirror Universe) does the mind meld w/ Burnham, we see him become fascinated w/ the alternate world he glimpses. He declares that Burnham means no harm. When Tyler sees Voq, he gets flashes back to his past, then attacks Voq w/ no provocation. Voq wonders how Tyler knows the “forgotten tongue” of his people (the Klingons). This fight isn’t that well done; it also comes off as awkward and no one intervenes to assist Voq.

As MANY of us knew, the albino Klingon warrior, Voq, and the human, Lt. Ash Tyler, are the SAME person! Actor Shazad Latif played BOTH parts, too, as others suspected. (Latif ‘s middle name is “Javid” and the actor recently explained that “Iqbal” is his  Pakistani father’s first name). I thought Latif did VERY well in this ep, incl. w/ the Klingon language (which a linguist on Facebook noted has sounds found in Arabic and Urdu, the main language of Pakistan). 

What did you think of Tyler’s big reveal to Burnham? I was really hoping for more! I was expecting her to kill, or at least shoot, Tyler/Voq right away. After all, he was acting ;ike he loved her. I liked how Latif was able to do the quick, yet subtle, shift from Tyler to Voq at various points in this ep. 

The final reveal- Michele Yeoh is back (YAY)- was rather unexpected! It turns out that the mysterious “Emperor” looks exactly like Capt. Georgiou. How will this affect Burnham (who saw her first captain as a a VERY close friend/mentor)? This show keeps on getting better and better! 

Star Trek: Discovery (Episode 10) – Top 10 Moments

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for Episode 10 (Despite Yourself) streaming on CBS All Access. 

10) Burnham (Sonequa-Martin Green- getting better w/ time) explains how the Terran Empire works, her description echoing what’s going on in modern-day U.S. (w/ the resurgence of white nationalists). 

9) In the Mirror Universe, Tilly (Mary Wiseman- nerdy/quirky/funny) has a few nicknames (incl. “Capt. Killy”)- LOL!

8) The Discovery (and its crew) go through a makeover to fit into their new surroundings. I liked the black and gold colors, esp. the bustier Tilly wears (hey, it’s great to see a woman w/ curves in the media these days).

7) Lorca (Jason Issacs) wears a leather jacket (V cool) and bloodies himself up (ouch!) to play the prisoner role.

6) Lorca speaking in a Scottish accent (a call-back to Chief Engineer Scotty from TOS) during the call w/ a Mirror Universe ship. 

5) Tyler (Shazad Latif) suffers (another) ep of PTSD while out on a mission, BUT it rescued by Burnham. 

4) L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and Tyler face-off (and nearly kiss- ewww) during their argument in the brig. L’Rell says a Klingon prayer, which deeply upsets Tyler, BUT fails to activate his sleeper-agent personality. This (almost) confirms a  V popular fan theory- Tyler and Voq are the same! 

3) Culver explains to Tyler that his body was modified, incl. his his bones and internal organs. Ooooh, and his mind was changed, too! 

2) Tyler snaps Culver’s neck in sick bay, BUT is the doc really gone for good? (FYI: No, b/c actor Wilson Cruz has hinted that his story is NOT over yet.)

1) The fight between Connor (Sam Vartholomeos) and Burnham in the turbolift is really well-done (shout-out to this ep’s director, Jonathan Frakes, who MANY of us loved in TNG).