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HISTORY Offers Up the New Intense Drama Series with KNIGHTFALL
Speaking with Tom Cullen
The History Channel has once again brought amazing story telling and on December 6th you will experience a story of the Knights Templar and the Holy Grail with KNIGHTFALL.
During the Middle Ages, the Knights Templar were an order of men with one goal – the protection of a prized relic known as the Holy Grail. An order of warrior monks, they will do what ever is required to carry out their duty.
Landry (Tom Cullen) is such a warrior monk along with Godfrey (Sam Hazeldine), Tancrede (Simon Merrells) and Gawain (Padraic Delaney). After an attack on their stronghold, they are all forced to flee and fifteen years later find themselves in Paris.
Now a friend to King Philip IV (Ed Stoppard), Queen Joan (Olivia Ross) and Princess Isabella (Sabrina Bartlett), Landry visits much to the hostility of William De Nogaret (Julian Ovenden). The brothers gather to discuss how to do what is right by the all the people they vow to serve. That brings discourse when Landry wants to know why they have not spoken of returning to the Holy Land.
Godfrey leaves to handle business outside Paris and asks that Landry be in charge which makes him instantly suspicious. Parsifal (Bobby Schofield) witnesses what happens on the open road and is given a mission that will cost him dearly.
When a Jewish businessman kills another man in the square in broad daylight, the King orders that the Jewish people must evacuate. What he doesn’t know is that there are others within the palace walls that have more frightening plans. In the chaos, there is a hint that the Holy Grail might be closer than any of the Knights Templar could have hoped bringing Pope Boniface VIII (Jim Carter) to their door.
With this news brings hope of a return to the Holy Land and the Holy Grail!
I had the opportunity to conference call with Tom Cullen, the actor who marvelously portrays the role of Landry. Having spent my Sundays with Downton Abbey I was drawn to see Cullen’s performance in Knightfall and equally thrilled to talk to him about it.
Jeri Jacquin: Hello Tom, thanks for talking with us today.
Tom Cullen: Thank you too.
JJ: Can you tell us about your experience filming Knightfall?
TC: This is the kind of project I’ve always dreamt of being involved in ever since I was a little boy. I grew up in Wales and I grew up next to a castle. That kind of history is really woven into the fabric of my DNA like I think it is in many European’s DNA. When I was a kid, my dad gave me this wooden sword and shield and I used to go up there with my mate and we just used to run around pretending to be knights and warriors. I think that the older we get the more baggage we carry and I know that I spent a lot of time pining after that kind of innocence. This job really opened up the gateway to accessing the kid again and it felt like every single day I had little Tom next to me swinging a wooden sword around with his mates in a castle in Wales. That was my favorite thing about the job; being able to have as much fun as I had while filming this show and I loved it.
JJ: Besides your informal and very cool childhood training, did you more intensive training?
TC: In drama school in the UK we do a lot of fight training. I’d done a lot of sword training prior and I found that I had the propensity for killing people, ironically. *laughs* I hadn't swung a sword in about eight years, so it was all very new in many respects. The stunt team that we had was led by an amazing Frenchman, Cédric Proust. He is a top stuntman and fight choreographer. He really put us through it and we had a great swordsman named Roman. The entire team wanted us to be at a very, very high level. So every day on set they would drill us and I did about three months of physical training beforehand to get myself and my body ready for the fighting portion of my character and the series.
Working on Knightfall was a full-on experience because the team wanted it to look authentic and real, and when you watch the fights they are absolutely incredible. I'm so proud of all of the actors who've participated in the battles because we've really done a great job and the stunt guys have really trained us well and they're epic battles and muddy and gruesome. And they feel very real, which I think is something I’m very proud of.
There is an incredible battle sequence in the final episode which is the biggest thing I've ever been involved in. We had like 400 guys on a battlefield fighting for about two weeks. It's epic, amazing and the real geeky nerd in me – because I am one – just can't believe that I’m in it. I’m extremely proud of it.
JJ: How did you react to getting the role of Landry?
TC: I genuinely love to do stuff that is different from the last thing that I did, and something that really scares me and something that is new. Knightfall was truly a dream come true for me. It's something that I've always dreamt of doing since I was a kid. I grew up on films like ROBIN HOOD - Prince of Thieves and BRAVEHEART and those films had a huge influence on me as a kid. When I read this script it was like my dreams were coming true. It’s really amazing to be a part of a project like this one.
JJ: The Knights Templar and the Holy Grail are fairly known because of documentaries, film and television. I have to say I’m also drawn to that mysterious period of time. Did you research yourself?
TC: Yes. I wanted to know as much about the crusades and about the politics at the time. Not just the politics in Europe or in the Middle East but also Mongolian politics because they had a huge influence.
You just need to immerse yourself in the world and know everything that these men would have known, understand every single and the political permutation that is affected where they reach –where they are at this point and what drives these men and women to do the things that they do. I think that's something that you have to do.
You take history for granted and history should never be taken for granted because it's essential for us furthering ourselves as a society and as a culture, because the one thing that history teaches us is that it's cyclical. So yes, I read a lot and we had a fantastic historian on set. His name is Dan Jones. He’s just released an amazing book that you must read called The Templars which is on the New York Times Bestseller’s List; it’s brilliant. He was there on hand at all times feeding into us and making sure that what we were portraying was as accurate as possible.
So anything that would come up in the script that we didn't know, we would use him as a source of knowledge and he would say, “Go and read this, go and read that,” or just tell us because he he's a real fountain of knowledge. That wasn't just the access that put me in the world of the Knights Templar.
The costume design, the art direction, the production design, makeup, etc. it was all so dense and real that you're feel like you’re right in it as soon as you turn up on set. It's just all there for you, you know, and you can really immerse yourself into the world.
The days we spent on set were amazing. We filmed on the biggest sets in Europe at Barrandov Studios. They built medieval Paris. I've never seen anything quite like it and in the show I have to do this shot where I'm riding down this nearly 200-meter long street that they built. There're 350 extras and each extra has a job, each extra has a name. It is a real world and you just forget that the cameras are there because it's so extraordinary.
Our costume designer, Diana Cilliers, was amazing. I remember the first time we did our screen test so they can see what it looks like on camera with the makeup and the hair. I remember putting the costume on, the chainmail and everything, and it weighed 50 pounds which was like an insane amount of weight. I struggled to walk down the corridor to get to the studio to do the screen test.
I was like, “Guys, why is the costume so heavy. How are we supposed to move and fight in this?” The answer was that Diana tried out lighter material such as plastics and other materials but they just didn't look authentic. So they put us in the most authentic costume that they could and we just had to deal with it. We got bigger and we got stronger, and so very quickly we were able to run and jump, get on horses in the 50-pound costumes and do everything that we needed to do to play our parts.
You can see the difference in way that the costumes move and the way that your body moves in them. It's just authentic and I think it makes for a very real experience when watching the show.
JJ: The relationship between Landry and Godfrey is such a mystery. Can you tell me more about that?
TC: The relationship that Landry has with Godfrey runs throughout the entire first season. In Episode 1, Godfrey is Landry's surrogate father. Landry was an orphan and Godfrey essentially took him in and saved him from this orphanage. Because of the promise Godfrey saw in him, Landry became a Templar at the age of 11 which is very, very, very rare.
One of the Templar rules is that you must become a Templar of your own volition because it's such a monastic lifestyle where you do things like eat your food out of the same bowl as another man. There's no vanity and no possessions. It's completely monastic so it's very rare for a young boy to join the Templars like Landry did.
In Episode 1 there is a truth revealed to Landry about Godfrey that he didn't know. Landry, like a classic hero that we all know as the protagonist, he hunts and searches for the truth at all costs. He is like a boar who gets physically beaten, emotionally beaten and he just gets back up by himself and charges towards the truth.
Godfrey is pivotal in that circle of truth that Landry is striving towards and it isn't a very easy journey for Landry to go on throughout the first season. It's a very satisfying journey for the viewers. Every time the scripts would come in there would be a new revelation and it would be a new shock, a new turn and it was very cool to read and really fun to play. I hope that the audience enjoys it as much as we enjoyed making it.
JJ: The Knights Templar have very strict religious views that is talked about in detail in Knightfall, how do you reconcile that with their mysterious history?
TC: The one thing that history will always do is prove itself cyclical and that human beings have very short memories. We forget very quickly what we've already been through and we tend to make the same mistakes. I think it's really important to remind ourselves of those mistakes.
Of course Knightfall is a show that is about the Templars and you'd be remiss to not talk about the holy wars; though the show actually doesn't take place during that period of time, it takes place 15 years after the holy wars. The show is about the Templars being disbanded and rounded up. That's essentially what the show would be over three or four seasons.
The Templars were a very interesting group of men because they were founded to protect pilgrims on the road and that was their purpose. Not to fight wars but to protect people who were going to pray and they were very respectful of all faiths. There is a very famous story of being held captive in the Templar temple. They made space for them so that they could pray with ease and they gave them their space because they respect faith.
I think the show touches on what faith is and how faith can be manipulated to one's own needs and how faith is often used for political games which is something that has nothing to do with religion. The Holy Grail in our show is used as a pivot of power in which people circle around it and use it in order to gain political favor.
That for me is really a very interesting world to live in. It doesn't pit religion against religion but it talks about how religion can be manipulated to man's want and need for power.
JJ: You have touched on just about every theme regarding the Knights Templar. How do you think this will reach the viewers?
TC: I think what I'm very proud of in the show is that you can kind of look at Knightfall objectively from the outside having not seen it and say, “Oh, this is about guys swinging swords and that’s what the show is about,” but the show is so much more than that. The show is about politics. We have a lot of stuff that takes place in the French Court at the time, dissecting, and breaking down the politics and the machinations of political interplay, which I just love that kind of stuff.
It has a fantastic central spine through the show; an amazing love story which I'm surprised at how strong and moving that story was as we were filming it. It kind of grew into this thing that we had no idea it would become. The show talks about revenge and betrayal, brotherhood, loyalty, faith, humanity and mortality.
I truly believe the show has something for everybody. I think that it is by no means a gendered show. I think that women would love it as much as men will love it and that is something I'm really proud of too. It has fantastic strong female characters. They are actually probably stronger than all of the male characters and they're just as complex and rich as the male counterparts, and it's very moving. I've watched the last episode three or four times now and I've shed many tears every single time. It’s a great rollercoaster.
JJ: Is there anything that makes you nervous about your role in Knightfall?
TC: There's so much that scared me about this role. The size of it and the responsibility of playing a lead in a show as big as this, it was terrifying. Also just the physical and emotional commitment that was required to make this show work. If I wasn't committed 100% to the show, it wouldn't work. They really, really put me through it in the best way possible making sure I became the best Landry I could be. That was a terrifying challenge and terrifying to have to pull off.
I was learning new skills like horse riding and fighting. The biggest thing that was terrifying for me was that – and this is something that I've been dealing with my entire life – I was doing something that I love. I read the script and I wanted it so badly because I thought it was so good. That really terrifies me.
I'm much more comfortable in that way. I come from a poor area of Wales where I'm much more comfortable with rejection than not. What terrified me was that I wanted to do it and doing something that you love and that you want is often the scariest thing that you can do because if you fail at it, that’s a big journey to go on.
JJ: Is there something in particular that drew you toward the medieval era?
TC: I’ve always been obsessed with the medieval time period because I think it’s a time that we can look back on and learn from. Actually 800 years isn’t that long ago and that this is the time really when the world that we live in today was created and formulated. We’re still feeling the repercussions of the actions and choices the people made in the medieval period today.
It’s also a period that is grimy and dirty and dangerous. The line between life and death is so thin, it’s really interesting to learn about. I think that’s a fantastic place to make a drama in. It’s a very rich world since life and death was so next to each other and it’s world rich in terms of human wants and needs.
Nowadays our lives are reasonably comfortable for certain people, especially in America. We typically don't have that kind of life and death threat every single day where we are going to drop down with scurvy or have to go into battle.
Our choices aren’t as drastic but if you have a lifespan of 35 years, every choice you make is loaded. I think that the world of the medieval period is one of very high octane and people making life and death choices every single move. That for me is an exhilarating period of time to make a drama in.
JJ: The costume designer Diana Cilliers has done some amazing work. Can you talk about the garments and some of your favorites?
TC: Yes. Unfortunately, I only ever had one costume really which is either with chain mail or without chain mail but most of the time with chain mail. But Diana made it so that it was completely authentic even in terms of the undergarment underneath the chain mail. We had a very, very thick heavy muslin underneath like a linen dresser with leather underneath and the same on our bottom half as well. The chain mail was real metal and so it gave that kind of weight and movement to it.
The tunics were made in the same way that they would have made the fabrics back at the time. Things like the crosses they spent a lot of time discussing what cross to use. Templars used many different crosses depending on where they were based, and later in the series, we meet another group of Templars and they have a different cross than what you see me wearing.
Diana talked about how they would have died, the wreaths, the crosses and how they would have stitched them and sewn them on, and how the draper would have done it. They stitched in the same way that they would have stitched then. They had a huge workshop at our studios, Barrandov Studios in Prague, with the most incredible costume teams who worked tirelessly. I don't think people realized how much work it took because I certainly didn't realize it.
When you have 400 extras on set, the costume team starts work at 2 o'clock in the morning to start dressing all of these men and women so that we're ready to start filming at 7:00 am. Then they wash all the costumes and they go to bed at an insane hour and they do it in shifts. The work that goes into making 400 beautiful costumes is unprecedented. In terms of the court costumes, I was really jealous because their costumes were incredible.
Queen Joan and Princess Isabella played by Olivia Ross and Sabrina Bartlett, their costumes were inspired from real medieval images and fabrics that they had used and they are just unbelievable. Like every time I saw Olivia, she was in this new extraordinary costume that Diana fashioned and created out of seemingly thin air in no time and they're just stunning works of art really.
What is amazing is that the way they were made is the way that they would have made them back then. Diana was really collaborative as well. I think each of us wanted to have our own unique way in which we wore our costume or we wore our belt or the color of our cross and so she allowed me to choose the color of my cross and how I would have dyed it. All of that really detailed history and information about The Templars is fascinating and we loved going there and making it as authentic as possible.
JJ: Landry is such a complex character from childhood to when we are introduced to him. How do you think becoming a Templar at the tender age of 11 shaped him?
TC: I think that when we first meet Landry at the top of Episode 1 he is 20. He is brash and young –he is a maverick, incredibly cocky and is kind of emboldened by the fact that he has God on his side and he thinks that he's invincible, which I think a lot of 20 year olds think, regardless of whether they have God on their side or not. I know I certainly felt like that.
What we see at the top of Episode 1 is his entire life flipped upside down when they lose Acre, the last Templar stronghold in the Holy Land and they lose the Holy Grail. We flash forward 15 years and when you've been brought up as a as a warrior, and that's all you know, everything you know, it’s a tough reality to deal with. He's like a caged animal, unable to fulfill what he thinks is his only purpose and duty which is to fight.
When we meet him, he is this very, very complex, pulled apart guy in Episode 1. He is battling with his humanity and he is secular yet he is also still mentally devout. He is very loyal to his brothers, his family yet he is lying to them. He is having an affair with a woman yet he is a monk. He is the bravest, most fearless warrior yet he's starting to feel a sense of his own mortality.
I think that’s why he kind of falls in love with this woman. It’s not that he's doubting God or that he’s doubting the Templars or religion, but that he's doubting himself. He is in a conflict, in a battle with himself, which are the stories that I love to watch where your hero is so full of contradiction and battle and personal complications. Throughout the first season, we see him work through that and battle through that and try and find out who he really is. It's an awesome journey for me to play and to take viewers on.
JJ: Talking about more seasons, do you know where Landry and the show will go?
TC: We love the show and we really hope that we can continue making it for as long as possible because we're a real family and we're very, very proud of it and we love making it. There’s also still a lot of the Templar history that has yet to be told. We have an idea of where the show will go and where it will take us. What actually happens is that while you're making a show it becomes this dialogue that happens between the writers, the actors, directors, the costume designers, the art director, the production designer, makeup artists, etc. where you're constantly kind of feeding into this pot which is the show.
It evolves and changes and moves in ways that you would never expect it to. It's like a living organism but that surprises you. Though we have an idea of where this is going, actually the truth is that we don't in many respects. We have the structure of history and what actually happened which we have to stay with but in terms of the characters, and their fuels and wants and needs and how they navigate their way through that history is something that we're constantly being surprised by with the characters. That's a really exciting place to work with.
Especially as an actor, I don't want to know where the character is going because in life I have no idea what I'm doing tomorrow or how it's going to pan out. And so I can only be in the present and I can only make choices in the present, and so that's what you want your characters to do. The writers actually withheld scripts from us and didn't tell us what was happening later in this first season so that we could be surprised in the moments whilst we were making the episode, which is a really fantastic and authentic way to work.
Once we get the script we kind of talk about them and collaborate on them. Dominic Minghella is an incredible show runner. He is a force of nature and an amazing man and a brilliant writer, and he really values the actors’ input. He is always very good at fielding ideas and whether he takes them or not is up to him but it feels like a very collaborative process where everybody is feeding into it and we all have ownership over the show and that's really exciting.
JJ: I won’t deny that I am and always will be a huge Downton Abbey fan. How was it for you getting together with a few of your DA costars?
TC: I was so happy to work with Jim Carter who plays Mr. Carson on Downton and Julian Ovenden who plays Charles Blake on Downton Abbey, because they are just unbelievable actors. And I think that the caliber that they have only reflects so well on Knightfall, you know. The cast that we've assembled on Knightfall is one of the best that I've ever worked with. They are really amazing actors and amazing sponsors.
To have someone like Jim Carter who is a multiple Emmy nominated actor and the fact that he was so excited and hungry to do our show, I think is really a testament to the scripts of Knightfall. We hope that everyone likes it as much as we do.
I can confidently say that the History Channel’s new series Knightfall will be a series that will have viewers coming back for more. There is a complexity to these characters that challenges their humanity and power against the history of the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and Kings of other country’s involved in it all.
There is intrigue that tests loyalty and a brotherhood that is going through pains of its own from inside their own house. Bringing it all together with fantastic costuming and set design, Knightfall draws the viewer in and takes us on an adventure through the medieval era.
Dan Jones is the New York Times best selling author who is also responsible for Summer of Blood: England’s First Revolution, Magna Carta: The Birth of Liberty, The Plantagenets and The Wars of the Roses as well as The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors.
There is plenty of time to learn all you can about Knightfall and the History Channel has made it even easier. Go to http://www.history.com/shows/knightfall/pages/dan-jones-knights-templar to see stories and videos including Pilgrims, Warriors, Heretics: Who Were the Knights Templar?, The Templars’ Crusader Origins, From Pilgrim Bodyguards to Master Warriors, How the Templars Made and Lost a Fortune, How Religion and Greed Toppled the Templars, From Medieval Myths to Modern Mystery and Were Crusader Knights Really Protecting the Cup of Christ?
The History Channel brings more stellar successful series to television with The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer, The Curse of Oak Island, The WarFighters as well as the continuing series such as American Pickers, Pawn Stars, and Ice Road Truckers. Let us not forget the absolutely stunning series VIKINGS that returns November 29th.
Knightfall premiers Wednesday, December 6 at 10PM ET/PT on History!
TOP TEN FILMS OF 2017
The year is drawing to a quick close and so are the films that are being offered up by studios. Having spent a large amount of time in theatres in 2017 I have seen the good, bad and more ugly offering up my opinion on what is worthy of your hard earned dollars.
It has been another rough movie year to be sure with films that gave us promises and then didn’t quite deliver, quiet films that made their way into theatres and surprised us all and head scratchers that were far more confusing than they needed to be.
My top ten are from all genres with stories that made the biggest impression on me. There will be a few jaw droppers as films you might expect to see won’t be there and films you might not have heard of are worthy of a second chance look.
So here are my Top Ten of 2017!
10. STAR WARS: The Last Jedi – The wait to see where the story of Luke Skywalker is finally here. The rebellion is attempting to escape the First Order while Rey tries to enlist the help of Skywalker. My 1977 self loves the opening music and yellow scroll preparing for another epic adventure. That being said, it will be interesting to see where the story goes and I am looking forward to the Han Solo film. (PG-13 from Lucasfilm and Walt Disney Studios)
9. THOR: Ragnarok – This was an unexpected pleasure for me this year because the tone changed to make it a really good time filled with action and laughs. Thor and Loki aren’t about to take any cosmic nonsense from Hela and it all works beautifully. (PG-13 from Marvel Entertainment and Walt Disney Pictures)
8. LAST FLAG FLYING – Starring Steve Carell, Laurence Fishburne and Bryan Cranston, the story is three men who served in Vietnam and coming to terms with where they have been and helping their friend deal with the death of his son. Have tissue for both the laughter and the tears. (Rated R from Amazon Studios)
7. THE POST – It is the story of The Post owner Kay Graham and editor Ben Bradlee when dealing with a war cover-up and the four U.S. Presidents that kept it going. When the White House discovers missing papers, they attempt to do everything to stop the American people from reading about it in the papers. Steven Spielberg brings his spin on history in an epic way. (PG-13 from Twentieth Century Fox)
6. BABY DRIVER – Perhaps it was a frakken fantastic soundtrack that pushed this film to amazing heights and even if so I’m okay with that! This film is fast paced and filled with twists and turns and I’m not just talking about from behind the steering wheel. Ansel Elgort takes the film from beginning to end – well done young man. (Rated R from TriStar Pictures)
5. THE HERO – Dear Sam Elliott, thank you for reminding me why you are such a treasure, not that I really needed reminding. This is the story of a man clearly stuck and when life comes seriously knocking, he must find the joy in life that he has been hiding from. Elliott brings his southern drawl, sparkling eyes and no-apology wit to this role that is absolutely stunning. (Rated R from The Orchard)
4. THE SHAPE OF WATER – Director del Torro has brought a haunting beauty to a story that has moments of brilliant silence and moments of pure love followed by seconds of insanity. All of this wrapped up in the stellar performance of Sally Hawkins and fish man Doug Jones being watched over by Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and the deliciously evil Michael Shannon. (Rated R from Fox Searchlight Pictures)
3. VICTORIA & ABDUL – I am clearly a fan of period pieces but this film is just beyond amazing. Judy Dench once again portrays Queen Victoria who is clearly in her later years and can’t find anything to be excited about. When Abdul comes to court, she begins a friendship that isn’t to the courts liking or her un-princely like son. The onscreen chemistry between Dench and Ali Fazal is every bit worth each frame of film. (PG-13 from Focus Features)
2. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI – Frances McDormand gives the performance that will stay with me playing Mildred, a mother who is coming to terms with her daughters death. When she doesn’t feel local law enforcement are doing enough, Mildred finds a way to motivate them. Also staring Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, this is a film that screams must-see! I am cheering for McDormand come Oscar time! (Rated R from Fox Searchlight Pictures)
This is where you should be hearing a drum roll as my number one for 2017 is:
1. DUNKIRK – Christopher Nolan has brought a film that is not just a story about a moment in history but a film that is an experience. On the beaches of Dunkirk, Allied soldiers are surrounded by the Germans from land, sea and air in 1940. Nolan gives the audience the perspective from all three angles without much useless dialogue. Instead, he invites viewers into this world of war and all of the emotions that brings. There isn’t a character in this film that doesn’t bring every ounce of themselves to the story. (PG-13 from Warner Bros.)
My yearly bonus of number 11 is ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD – Director Ridley Scott takes us to 1973 Rome as J. Paul Getty’s grandson Paul is kidnapped and held for ransom. Mother Gail must go up against kidnappers who don’t believe she isn’t rich and Getty’s refusal to pay anyone any dime of his. Mark Wahlberg is hired to help to find the boy before there is no turning back. Christopher Plummer is eerily creepy and I loved it. (Rated R from TriStar Pictures)
I also had a few guilty pleasure films this year that stand out including JOHN WICK 2 but then again anything with Keanu Reeves busting heads works. There is the very funny TABLE 19 as Anna Kendrick leads a group of wedding attendees who are stuck in the back of the room with a table of issues. KINGSMAN: The Golden Circle is a return of the well dressed agents who know you can fight evil and look good doing it. Every list should have a shark film and 47 METERS DOWN is going to be my pick that has bite, head slaps and yet I still love it. Finally, THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD – Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson…need I say more?
Are there disappointments? Absolutely and the list feels endless! KING ARTHUR: Legend of the Sword gives us a Charlie Hunnam and that’s absolutely it. ALIEN: Covenant is the next installment yet feels like bloody confusion, literally. Of course there are the ridiculous that don’t need any explanation with BAYWATCH, TRANSFORMERS: The Last Knight and VALERIAN and the City of a Thousand Planets. Idris Elba has a busy year in 2017 but THE DARK TOWER isn’t high on my list so I’ll just keep happy thoughts on his other works. Finally, JUSTICE LEAGUE – I know I’m going to get grief for it but there wasn’t anything about the film that makes me want more.
There you go, my best and worst of 2017! This has been a year of either hit or miss and not much room for anything else in between. Theatre goers aren’t being fickle in what they are looking for when they spend their hard earn bucks and they shouldn’t be.
In 2018 there are remakes, return of the wizarding world, more frights with what has become our favorite insidiousness, a group of maze runners finish off their adventures, the final chapter of those shades in the fifties, more from the comic book world, family and animated films and finally SOLO, SUPER TROOPERS 2 and DEADPOOL 2 might make it all bearable!
Thanks for being a part of our 2017 at the theatres and we look forward to joining you in the theatre seats with a bucket of popcorn in 2018! Happy holidays to you and yours and a safe Happy New Year from all of us here at Movie Maven.
Reimagined for a new generation and bursting with songs, color, laughter, and thrills, this witty, wondrous version of the classic family adventure includes new chapters you’ve never imagined. Carved by a lonely woodcutter longing for a real son, playful Pinocchio is eager to do good and become human — but he keeps getting distracted from his quest. Constantly captured by con men, creatures, and constables, he finds rescue courtesy of the helpful souls who recognize the wooden puppet’s kind heart.
THE 15:17 TO PARIS Brings the Real Heroes onto the Silver Screen
Speaking with Spencer Stone, Alek Scarlatos and Anthony Sadler
Coming to theatres from legendary director Clint Eastwood and Warner Bros. is a film about adversity, courage and being on THE 15:17 TO PARIS.
It made the news around the world when, on August 21, 2015, a terrorist attacked a train heading for Paris with 500 passengers aboard. The event could have had life shattering consequences but for three men – Airman Spencer Stone, Specialist Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler.
These three men took it upon themselves to rush in while others were rushing out. What makes these three even more outstanding is that they have been friends since childhood. That’s where the story begins, Spencer and Alek are having problems at school as teachers and administrators see them as needing medication to keep them in line.
Not about to have it are their mothers Joyce (Judy Greer) and Heidi (Jenna Fischer) who are not about to be told how to parent – especially out of a medicine bottle. It is in school that they meet Anthony and a bond is formed out of mutual acceptance. Although they each have to go their separate ways, that bond becomes stronger as they grow up.
Spencer decides he wants to join the military but soon discovers that the job he wants is not where the military sends him. Struggling with studies and keeping up, he becomes frustrated which makes things even harder. Alek is over seas when, along with Spencer and Anthony, plans are made to see the sights of Europe.
Reunited once again, Spencer, Anthony and Alek become tourists going from place to place enjoying their freedom. After visiting Italy and Amsterdam, they board the Thalys train #9364 for Paris where the lives of everyone aboard will change.
I had the amazing opportunity to speak with Spencer, Anthony and Alek who director Clint Eastwood decided would portray themselves in the film. Let me say first off that I found these three young men to be exactly how I expected them to be. They are very welcoming, funny and with a laid back ease I so enjoyed.
Jeri Jacquin: Hello gentlemen, it’s such a pleasure to meet you.
Spencer Stone: Oh, I think we are missing one. Alek will be back in a sec.
Anthony Sadler: If we let him back in the room.
(they immediately start laughing and I sense a plot forming)
JJ: Well, lets hit the ground running before he gets back then.
JJ: First of all, it’s so weird; I mean you look exactly like yourselves.
Anthony: (laughing) I know right, I get that a lot.
JJ: I saw the film and I have to ask you, is it very strange when you watch it? Because it is like you are watching yourself doing something you have already done.
Anthony: It’s weird on so many levels. It’s our story on camera with music with Clint Eastwoods name on it and it’s also weird watching how accurate it is because we lived it. It isn’t all Hollywood’ up so seeing us doing what we did two years ago is strange for us as well.
JJ: I felt like I was intruding almost while watching in a way.
Spencer: Yes, that’s exactly what it feels like putting it out there.
Anthony: We hope that people like it and it spread like wildfire. We want the audience to feel like they are there and see exactly how it happened and who it happened to. It’s not documentary and I know it gets tagged that because we are not actors but it’s not that. It’s like you are literally there.
JJ: Even more so for you.
(we are rejoined by Alek Skarlatos and immediately Spencer and Anthony give him a good natured hard time with lots of brotherly joking)
JJ: Hello Alek, I’m Jeri.
Alek: Awwww man, you started without me?
JJ: It’s not that we don’t love you or anything but the clock is ticking.
Anthony: Yea dude, we have things to do. (again they start laughing at each other)
Spencer: Back to the question Alek (chastising as only a brother can do), you have to be okay with everyone knowing everything about your life. Not everything in detail but a majority of it out on a big stage with Clint Eastwood. It’s a scary decision but an exciting one.
Anthony: We are a week away from release and we have shot the movie, promoted it, wrote a book about it and have talked about it all over. At this point it is so weird to be in this place because millions of people are about to see it. It’s just an interesting time and pretty surreal and we are excited for everyone to see it. I just really want to know what everyone thinks of it actually. I want to know how it touches them and makes them feel.
JJ: When you were first approached, did you think the film was going to go as far back into your life as it does? Because you are dealing with a 94 minute film but going back to when you were kids.
Anthony: When Clint picked it up the book I knew there was a strong possibility and I was wondering how much of our childhood he was going to show because I didn’t know how relevant it was. We were all three discussing it amongst ourselves wondering what was relevant to the story and what’s not. It’s weird because when I read the script I wondered why some scenes where there but when I watched the finished product I thought – he’s such a genius. Every scene in there had a theme in it that set up the bigger picture.
JJ: Oh absolutely.
Anthony: No matter how trivial it looked, like going to the principal’s office because that speaks to a bond that we shared even as children. Ever scene mattered and only Clint Eastwood would have a vision like that.
JJ: Did he tell each of you why he decided to use you instead of actors?
Spencer: Not directly, the information we had was of interviews he has done talking about it.
Alek: I’m so glad he did though because the first time we watched the film with our families and having our relationships on camera – the way we talk to each other – even they could tell that’s really how we act. We weren’t being different people so the film really shows that that is who we really are and it’s very accurate.
JJ: Earlier you said that some people were hinting the film was like a documentary and I can see why they might say it even though they are pretty much wrong (the laughing commences again). When you are speaking to each other on the screen there aren’t ‘characters’ acting like you – it’s you three being –well, you three! Again, there is that eavesdropping feeling.
Anthony: Clint didn’t want us to act either. He didn’t want us to…
Alek: …do too much.
Anthony: Yes, do too much. We were trying to be ourselves and not overplay it. He took the weight of a motion picture out of the situation. He said be friends and forget what the script says. He said, ‘you were here and you know how it was, do that and I’ll capture it’. The trust goes both ways because we trusted him to tell the story and he trusted us to just be ourselves. His trust was huge and we didn’t want to disappoint him. We wouldn’t have trusted anyone else to be so personal with our story and when we saw the picture we just wanted to be happy with it and we are. We are thrilled that he did the film justice.
Spencer: I don’t think we would have been happy with the film if it was anyone other than Clint Eastwood.
Anthony: He gave us the confidence to try. We thought if Clint sees something, I don’t know what it was but if he sees something then we will do it.
JJ: Clint always does stories that share something of a character, but here it is the three of you so it is much wider of a story being told.
Anthony: We are all so very different as well.
JJ: Yes, you certainly are.
Anthony: The movie will show that we are three very different individuals. Typically you wouldn’t think we would be friends and not only friends but life long friends. We risk our lives for each other and that’s a huge theme of the film.
JJ: I think you literally proved that.
Spencer: I guess we did.
JJ: One scene that touched me was your troubles Spencer growing up and struggles with the military. I recognize that in you, I can’t exactly say ‘your character’ because it’s you! Did you ever in a million years think all those struggles would be called upon in a fraction of a second?
Spencer: Absolutely not, I felt like even all the way up to the train attack I was feeling very unfulfilled and kind of angry because I felt like that’s all I ever wanted. I felt like joining the military was the first time I ever truly applied myself just to have it stripped from me. It was devastating for me. Then to be put in another career that I wasn’t too excited about and to fail out of that just felt like a huge waste of time. It’s just funny how I would be pushed away from the things I wanted and guided towards the things I needed in my life. I think that wasn’t something I was able to fully comprehend until I went through this experience. Now having that perspective in my life it has much improved how I see things in a hundred different ways. It is something I can carry throughout my life in any situation and just feel calm and at ease and pretty much know that I am here for a reason, I don’t know what that is but I need to trust.
JJ: Life is busy chugging along while you are busy making plans?
Anthony: That’s perfect!
JJ: So Alek, I heard people refer to you as ‘the quiet one’, is that true?
Alek: I mean…depends on the context.
Spencer: It depends on who is around.
Alek: Yea, it does depend on who is around. If it’s these guys then I’m not but other people I might be quiet.
Spencer: If there was a cute girl he would be all chatty.
Alek: Yep, that’s right.
JJ: I kind of got that feeling with the scene in Rome.
Spencer: Oh look at the pretzels!
(a joke that took these boys almost to the floor laughing)
JJ: So Alek, seeing yourself on screen did you see anything about yourself that you didn’t notice before?
Spencer: Oh, good question.
Alek: I think how ridiculous I look sometimes. If you add up between the pretzel scene and me drinking the baby soda it’s like wow, I’m kind of stupid. That’s very accurate to who I am but you don’t notice those idiosyncrasies in an objective manner until you see them on screen.
(Spencer and Anthony are cracking up at Alek’s answer so the Mom in me steps in)
JJ: Stop teasing your brother!
Spencer: (explaining the laughter) Every time we hear a good word we bank it so that we can use it next time. Now we have to look it all up.
Alek: Google it!
JJ: You guys are too much. Okay onto a serious note because we have to go there. Watching the attack scene the train begs the question for you Spencer of how do you manage to do that again? Your face is so focused.
Anthony: You put anything in slow motion and add music to it; it’s going to look good.
(They have fallen out cracking themselves up again)
JJ: Now you will go through the rest of your life putting music and slo-mo in your head to everything you do.
Alek: (still laughing) Right?
Spencer: We have to give the entire credit to Clint and his whole crew. They went into such detail and as far as having the same exact clothes we were wearing that day, the same luggage, being on the exact same train going to Paris – it’s insane. We had Mark and his wife and everyone else there.
Anthony: People think it’s traumatic for us.
JJ: I think that is how most people would see it.
Spencer: Clint knew that we didn’t have much experience and that he was going to do this in a positive way. Being back in the moment for us, Clint made it easy to get back to that moment.
Anthony: The first 24 hours after the attack we went back to the hotel while Spencer went to the hospital. All we wanted to do was to see Spencer, that’s all we wanted. Finally the next day we laughed for like twenty minutes in the car saying ‘can you believe that happened?’ This is the day after!
Alek: I mean we are drinking champagne as the Ambassador’s house talking about a terrorist attack.
Anthony: We are just a bunch of young guys living the dream. Clint Eastwood came along and put the stamp of ‘badass’ on it all for us.
Spencer: I mean if Clint Eastwood says something is badass, then its badass.
JJ: When the attack scene was made, did the adrenaline flow? You can not walk away from that and now feel something about it.
Alek: I would say that while we were shooting the scene the adrenaline absolutely did because those feelings came rushing back. It was very realistic like Spencer said but after it was over we were chilling with the gang again.
Anthony: People expect so much, it’s not that deep, it’s pretty simple. We are pretty simple guys.
Spencer: Not going through something this crazy before and I’m sure there are people who have gone through crazier things in their life before, I feel like we have been able to cope with it very well. It’s not that we aren’t affected by it; it’s just that we have been able to deal with it well.
Anthony: We’ve had the luxury of talking about it on such a large scale whether it’s the initial media frenzy or the book or the movie process. We have talked about it so much.
Alek: We’ve dissected it.
JJ: You have been each other’s therapist.
Spencer: Exactly, that’s why talking about it has been so helpful and therapeutic.
Anthony: We’ve been able to share and it’s out there.
Spencer: Even now we’ve done about 200 interviews and we get to talk with other people and each other in a way that means something to us.
JJ: So being together has made all the difference.
Spencer: Absolutely it has.
Alek: Always together. Whenever one is uncomfortable we have the other to make it easier and joke around like we do. We have three brains. If it had been just one of us on that train we would have been all alone in it.
JJ: Nobody else would understand it.
Alek: Yes, no one would be able to understand it and couldn’t make jokes about it.
Spencer: They would look at you like you were crazy.
Alek: Exactly. Going through it with these two has been fantastic.
JJ: Here is the final question.
Alek: Ut oh!
(Spencer and Anthony laugh with Alek)
JJ: You have said that about a lot of my questions Alek.
Spencer: Getting all serious on you now Alek.
Anthony: Just when we were having so much fun.
JJ: Oh it’s not that tough of a question. Okay, here it is, what would you like the audience to talk about after they see THE 15:17 TO PARIS.
Alek: I would just like them to remember that if they ever are in a situation where they can help – then help. You really don’t have to just stop a terrorist attack to contribute positively to society. If you see a car accident and you don’t know first aid you can call 911 and find someone who does. You can always help by doing something positive. It’s rare because people seem to want to just whip out their cell phones and watch instead of doing something. Also, remembering the importance of friendship.
Spencer: It is important to show how God has played a factor in our life and this is a good way of showing that on such a big stage. Terrorist attacks and things like that we have been asked ‘what advice would you give me to stop an attack’ and I can’t really give you advice because nothing is the same. You are probably more than likely not to be on a train where a terrorist who has a gun that doesn’t go off on you. Nothing is the same but the only thing we can offer as advice without putting someone in a bad position because I’m not telling anyone to run toward a loaded gun. I would never tell anyone to run toward a man with a loaded gun so just ask yourself what you would do and have an answer. That’s all you can do. We have talked about it so many times before it actually happened so something engrained in our minds.
Anthony: I just hope it inspires people. People think there is something special about the three of us and say ‘what do you three have that’s so special’ and I think the movie shows that we are just three guys. Maybe someone will see something of us in themselves and be inspired to know they are capable of being extraordinary themselves and overcome adversity as well. It doesn’t have to be a terrorist on a train, just any obstacle and they need to know that they are on a journey and capable of being extraordinary. It’s not just us.
And that ladies and gentlemen is why I love what I do. These three men shared a moment of time with me and will forever be in the hearts of those they saved. I thought it extremely important to share their playfulness because it is a bond created by their friendship that endured the difficulties of childhood up to the most important moment of their lives.
Yet, it didn’t change their friendship; in fact I see how it made them even closer than can be imagined. Their belief in one another and the ability to not to take life so seriously is the lesson created in childhood and the lesson they take with them from their experience.
That is not to say what happened hasn’t had an effect on their life at all, of course it has, but as they all agree that having their friendship and the ability to lean on each other has made all the difference. We should all be so blessed to have friends like that in our lives.
Experience the journey as director Clint Eastwood brings THE 15:17 TO PARIS to theatres this Friday.
BLACK PANTHER Follows the Marvel Super Hero Formula
The story is ready to be told as director Ryan Coogler, Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Pictures brings the tale of BLACK PANTHER.
The death of now King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returns to his kingdom of Wakanda in Africa but not before making a pit stop with General Okoye (Danai Gurira) to pick up ex-love Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o).
Standing before the other factions, Zuri (Forest Whitaker) asks if there is anyone who would challenge for the throne. After a brief altercation with M’Baku (Winstone Duke) it becomes clear that T’Challa would rule Wakanda. His mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and technology wiz kid-sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) join in the ceremony as they watch T’Challa’s victory.
But there is something that needs his immediate attention when friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) wants the capture of Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who has stolen some of Wakanda’s source of technology. Klaue however is not alone as Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) has a score to settle with Wakanda.
Looking for Klaue as well is CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) and isn’t happy when he sees T’Challa, Nakia and Okoye at a sting operation in an underground casino in Asia. Trying to strike a deal on who gets Klaue, chaos breaks out and the chase is on.
It soon becomes clear who Killmonger is when he makes his way to Wakanda with one goal in mind – to get backing which he finds in W’Kabi and to take the throne. When the challenge goes horribly wrong, Nakia, Shuri and Ramonda are on the run and find an ally in the most unlikely place. Now the tribes begin to see the destruction of their world!
T’Challa learns that all families have secrets but that secrets don’t always stay hidden and sometimes it is the sons that pay the price!
Boseman as T’Challa aka Black Panther carries himself with the elegance that makes it totally believable that he is royalty. Trying to keep the traditional and secretive ways of Wakanda, especially about the unearthly vibranium, he becomes conflicted when it is suggested by ex-love Nakia that they could do so much more for the world. Unfortunately that falls far down his royal agenda as conflicts and bad guys need to be taken care of to stabilize the country and tribal factions. Boseman wears the suit and the position well.
Gurira as General Okoye is the only lady that could pull of a fight scene while wearing a stunning and flowing red gown. What I’m saying is that if I ever get into a fight in an underground dressy casino – I want Gurira on my side. Okoye is loyal but certainly conflicted. Nyong’o as Nakia wants to do as much as she can for the world outside of Wakanda much to the dismay of T’Challa. Don’t let the fact that Nyong’o’s character is quiet in nature because when she needs to talking isn’t necessary – action does!
Jordan as Killmonger is the man with the attitude and it’s not a good thing. Dealing with the death of his own father, he becomes a highly trained killer with only one goal – make everyone pay for what has made him hostile. Jordan gives every ounce of a bad guy in his performance. Kaluuya as W’Kabi is the friend you don’t ever want to deal with. It seems there is a strong bond between he and T’Challa yet when things don’t go in his favor he flips the script and Kalyyua makes it stick.
Gollum and Bilbo are reunited for another round of good vs. evil! Freeman as the CIA Agent wants to help the people of Wakanda and definitely gets his chance. He might be a mild mannered agent but stands up for his new friends. Serkis as Klaue gets to be as evil as he wants to be and nothing seems to bother him and I have to admit to chuckling once or twice.
Whitaker as Zuri has a story to tell and I’m going to let him be the one to tell it so no spoilers from me. Bassett as Ramonda is the Queen who sees the kingdom in turmoil but would throw it all away for the safety of her family and people. Duke as M’Baku is big, bad and knows that things are changing and he must choose.
Special shout out goes to Letitia Wright as Shuri! She is her own brand of bad ass being smart, beautiful and very funny. She is the technology of Wakanda and Wright gives this character everything and then some. I just enjoyed what she brought to the story and embracing her characters dedication to family, country and science. There is more to her story as well but you didn’t hear it from me.
Other cast include Florence Kasumba as Ayo, John Kani as T’Chaka, David S. Lee as Limbani, Nabiyah Be as Linda, and Sterling K. Brown as N’Jobu.
BLACK PANTHER is the reason fans flock to the theatre to experience an adventure, good story and characters that have jumped from page to screen. I have no doubt that Marvel fans are biting at the bit to be the first in the theatres and I am secure in saying they will get their money’s worth.
That being said (here comes the screams), BLACK PANTHER falls absolutely into the Marvel universe. The formula of conflict, family, bad guys and loyalty is found in every Marvel story and BLACK PANTHER follows it to the letter. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the film; on the contrary, it was what we all go to the movies for right? Popcorn, friends and fun – well on that note BLACK PANTHER delivers.
Is there anything that absolutely blows me away about the film? Not really but let me say that isn’t necessarily bad. It just means I saw exactly what I thought I would see and other than the ethereal Lion King moment I went for the ride. It has action, adventure, tekkie stuff, special effects, music and eye candy for all so take that and run. The cast bring the story everything it needs to crowd please.
So pack up the gang and make it a great Marvel/Disney night at the movies!
In the end – long live the king!
Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, King T'Challa(Chadwick Boseman) returns home to the reclusive, technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country's new leader. However, T'Challa soon finds that he is challenged for the throne from fellow tribes within his own country.
When two foes, Ulysses Klau (Andy Serkis) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan)conspire to destroy Wakanda, the hero known as Black Panther must team up with C.I.A. agent Everett K. Ross(Martin Freeman), his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Wakandan royal Guard (Danai Gurira) to keep his people safe, his country at peace, and throne out of the wrong hands. Black Panther is a film that has been a long time coming.
Born out of the summer of ‘66 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created a character to inspire and represent the black community in a time of civil unrest. The film does a beautiful job of explaining the history of Wakanda as well as the mantle and history of the Black Panther. From the mining of vibranium, the heart shaped herb, to the royal laws of the country, detail and love was put into this film by its writers and director. Technology is advanced in this nation and the story makes sure you know it.
Explaining how the suit works, the effects of the metal, to the mining trains, the use of technology is believable and cool. On the other side is the spirituality and minor mysticism of the people and their traditions. Ancestor worship is a big part of the characters, a little reminiscent of The Lion King.
Boseman has great command and presentation as T’Challa, you believe his sincerity and nobility. The supporting cast around him help to elevate his performance. However, the stand out is Michael B Jordan. Finding redemption from his stint in Fantastic 4, Jordan is a villain who is neglected by his own people early in life and only wants the fair chance of claiming his birthright.
Having him grow up in the real world, feeling the oppression on his community, and wanting to even the odds with the advancements of Wakanda, he is an understood villain. Relatable and current to the times, Erik Killmonger stands out as one of the better adversaries of the MCU; up there with Loki and the Vulture.
While the movie visually cool and the fights feel fresh and new, the overall structure of the story is very familiar. Acts of the story are almost parallel to previous entries, your hero has to fall in order to rise and be truly worthy of his title. I do wish more time had been spent on the monarchy of the country, the burden a son has in carrying the name of their father, acceptance of ones faults.
Overall, Black Panther is a lot of fun, excellent popcorn fodder. However in the pantheon is the MCU, it’s not as great as the Winter Soldier, nor as forgettable as Incredible Hulk. It simply is a good film.
On a side note, while much has been made of this being the first Black superhero in the MCU, he certainly is not in the history of film. Others have come before, with far greater impact in more difficult times. This one just happens to be a king.
THE DEUCE: The Complete First Season Brings the 1970’s New York to Bluray
HBO has brought a stellar look at the raw and grit of New York in the 1970’s story of THE DEUCE: The Complete First Season coming to Bluray.
Vinnie Martino (James Franco) is a bartender who is about to change his life. Working several bartending jobs and trying to keep the family together, the cost is his marriage. Wife Andrea (Zoe Kazan) isn’t exactly making things easier with her own wanton ways and bored homemakers life. If that isn’t enough, he constantly is mistaken for his twin brother Frankie (also James Franco) who has wracked up large gambling debts all over town.
Frequent visitors to Vinnie’s bar are pimp C.C. (Gary Carr) and his girls Ashley (Jamie Neumann) and new girl Lori (Emily Meade). A few more pimps include Larry (Gbenga Akinnagbe) who has the very sweet is Darlene (Dominque Fishback) and Ruby (Pernell Walker), Rodney (Method Man) and Reggie Love (Tariq Trotter).
One prostitute who doesn’t have a ‘man’ is Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) or Candy as she is known on the street. Making her money without any interference, she sends what she can for the care of her young son. The police also know what is going down on the streets as Officer Alston (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) keeps his eyes open and knowledge to himself. Even when Abby (Margarita Levieva) is brought to the station, Officer Alston knows she is a college student who has just done something stupid.
Brother-in-law Bobby (Chris Bauer) works construction and when an opportunity arises to make a few extra dollars, he and Vinnie find themselves working with Rudy Pipilo (Michael Rispoli) who is part of the Gambino family. Rudy is impressed with Vinnie and decides to bring him in on the way he wants to change the streets. He starts by starting a bar called the Top Hat and gives Vinnie full control of how it is run. Everyone follows Vinnie to the new place and it is a hit.
Eileen is also trying to make changes in her life as standing on the street corner is getting to be more and more dangerous. Learning that a man named Harvey Wasserman (David Krumholtz) makes porno films, she seeks him out to learn more if it will get her off the streets and making more money. She is quick to learn and isn’t about to let anything stop what is to come.
Seeing that the Top Hat is doing well, Rudy decides he wants to expand his business into the Massage Parlor trade which is nothing more than getting the girls inside. That means less police harassment but the pimps aren’t happy about it.
All of this comes under the watchful eye of reporter Sandra Washington (Natalie Paul) who wants to do an expose of what goes on. Seeing how the girls are treated and the police basically hauling them in and letting them out along with payoffs from corrupt cops, she seeks out Officer Alston’s knowledge.
Each has a story to tell, each has a path and each live in a time of excess, corruption and using the oldest profession as their path to more money than they could have imagined. What they haven’t learned is money can bring out the worst in people and those who have it – rule.
Welcome to New York of the 1970’s!
Franco as Vinnie and Frankie and although they may look a like, clearly want different things. Vinnie wants a successful business that he can be proud of and Frankie wants everything and doesn’t care how he gets it. In that lies the problem for Vinnie who is constantly trying to protect a brother he obviously cares about. Playing both the roles is stellar for Franco as the duality is not being twins. Vinnie is the emotional one and Frankie is the ‘let the chips fall where they may’ brother. So well done!
Gyllenhaal as Eileen/Candy is a woman who makes her own way even if it is prostitution. The other girls know she doesn’t have a man and, in their way, respect her for it. The pimps however aren’t as happy about it as they don’t want their girls to get any funny ideas. Once Eileen/Candy realizes there might be a less dangerous way to earn money off the street she knows it’s just geography yet see the potential for so much more. Gyllenhaal is completely free with her portrayal of this character in every aspect and so much so that I believe her performance completely.
Levieva as Abby is a young woman who comes from an affluent family but is breaking away and still not knowing where she wants to be. Vinnie catches her eye but seeing The Deuce world affects her in ways she doesn’t expect. Levieva doesn’t say a lot and observes everything while clearly learning the New York ropes. Bauer as Bobby is a hard working brother-in-law that wants to work less hard and make more money. He talks Vinnie into helping that happen and the double life begins. It’s interesting to watch his morals change when money is no longer the issue in his life.
Carr as C.C. the pimp is no one to be trifled with and the girls know it. Once he brings Lori into the group, previous favorite Ashley is on the back burner. Carr may seem caring but underneath that pimp like exterior of flash, he will cut you. Akinnagbe as Brown is the middle ground of the pimp-group meaning not as scary as some but scarier than Gentle Richie.
Meade as Lori catches onto everything quickly; she caught on to C.C. and what she came to New York for. Rising quickly, she sees the world for exactly what it is and plans to make sure she gets her share of it all. Paul as Sandra wants to report the bigger picture and finds tension at her paper. Getting involved with Officer Alston irritated me a little because, well, come on – using people never works out well.
Speaking of Officer Alston, Gilliard Jr. is the eyes and ears of the street both inside and outside the precinct. He knows so much that I’m actually scared for his character! To much information isn’t always a good thing, especially when you don’t know who to trust. I do love his smooth tactic and non-judgmental attitude towards the ladies.
Rispoli as Rudy Pipilo is another character that presents himself so calmly yet, anyone with an understanding of the times, place and name knows not to underestimate him. There is a scene between Rudy and Vinnie where he tells him off and my jaw dropped yet the character of Rudy just stands there calmly with no anger what so ever. I loved that scene! Rispoli gives his character strength of knowing who he is and how fast he can squash someone with a word.
My two shout outs go to Fishback as Darlene who pulled at my heart constantly! She is so endearing and knows that life has so many possibilities but I feel is stuck out of fearing those possibilities. Fishback is stunning, beautiful and amazing. Walker as Ruby is the gem of street walkers with her wit, twisted wisdom and understanding that this is her life. There is surrender about Ruby in that she knows this isn’t the life she wanted but it is the life she has and in that is a sadness that is even more heartbreaking than Darlene’s situation. These two women have given their characters a deepness that I bow to. Well done to you both!
Other cast include Don Harvey as Danny Flanagan, Michael Kostroff as Rizzi, Mustafa Shakir as Big Mike, Anwan Glover as Leon, Garry Pastore as Matthew Ianniello, Caroly Mignini as Joan Merrell, Finn Robbins as Adam, Kim Director as Shay, Olivia Luccardi as Melissa, Matthew Ballinger as Gentle Richie, Kayla Foster as Barbara, Gino Vento as Carlos, Aaron Eisenberg as Todd Lang and Chris Coy as Paul Hendrickson.
HBO Home Entertainment has an extensive array of critically-acclaimed and groundbreaking programs found on Bluray, DVD and Digital HD. They have provided viewers with some of the most amazing programs with huge fan bases that include the shows True Blood, Sex and the City, The Sopranos, True Detectives, The Wire, Entourage and Game of Thrones. Launched in 1984, HBO is world wide in viewed entertainment in more than 70 territories around the world! For more of what they have to offer please visit www.hbo.com.
The Bluray includes a Digital Copy to what anywhere on your television, computer, Tablet and Smartphone. The Bonus Features include The Deuce In Focus, The Wild West: New York in the Early ‘70s, Inside the Episodes, and Exclusive Audio Commentaries with James Franco, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michelle MacLaren, Nina Kostoff Noble, George Pelecanos and David Simon.
The 3-disc set includes the episodes Pilot, Show and Prove, The Principle is All, I See Money, What Kind of Bad?, Why Me?, Au Reservoir and My Name is Ruby.
THE DEUCE is an amazing series created and written by David Simon who was himself a police officer. Joining in is George Pelecanos who worked with Simon on a little series you may know as THE WIRE. THE DEUCE is the nickname for 42nd Street that is between 7th and 8th Avenue in New York.
This series is the absolute grit and grim during the time New York became a boom for the porn industry. What THE DEUCE doesn’t do is sugar coat anything and that, I believe, is what surprised me the most. Lets actually be honest and said there are several things that surprised me and this is just the first.
There is a rawness to the way these characters are introduced to us because there isn’t a great way to say ‘hey, I’m a cheating spouse’ or ‘hey, I’m a prostitute’ or ‘hey, I’m a spoiled kid who wants to slum it to find myself’. Each of these characters has a history that has only been hinted at this first season. I am counting on Franco, Gyllenhaal, Pelecanos, Simon, Clark, MacLaren and the rest to let that history come forward.
The performances are so extreme and I marathoned completely the entire first season. There was no way I was going out, going to sleep or opening the front door until I saw what happened to each of these characters. They are fascinating and as each of their story’s unfold I become invested, heartbroken, majorly p.o.’d and yet still can not take my eyes off the screen.
It must be said that the finale just killed me, absolutely wrung me and hung me out to dry! I can not wait to see where Franco, Gyllenhaal and the rest of the cast take these characters next because this first season is filled with baby steps. Knowing there is so much more story to tell is what will bring me willingly back for the second season of THE DEUCE.
In the end – once upon a time in America pleasure because business!