Django (2017)

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Stations: Biopic, WWII Drama
Time Travel Destination: 1940s Paris, WWII
Conductor: Etienne Comar

Django (2017)

Available on VOD and iTunes on February 6th. List of upcoming screenings can be found here.

“Since the Americans left Paris, I’m the King of Jazz.”

Based on a true story, Django follows the story of celebrated Romani jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (Reda Kateb) as he tries to navigate the treacherous political climate of occupied France during WWII. Singled out for his incredible talent, Django and his Hot Club de France Quintet have been invited to go on tour in Hitler’s Germany. But the invitation isn’t voluntary and it comes with a rather strict protocol. Django doesn’t take it seriously until his lover and confidante Louise (Cécile de France) warns him of the possible ramifications of his actions. Django plans to flee Paris with his pregnant wife Naguine (Bea Palya), his mother Negros (Bimbam Merstein) and the fellow musicians who agree to go with him. The plan is to cross over into Switzerland but in German occupied territory that’s easier said than done.

Directed by Etienne Comar, Django (2017) is an atmospheric film that juxtaposes the beautiful music of a talented artist with the brutality of WWII. The film only explores a few months of Django Reinhardt’s but this is a crucial time  when he in grave danger but also at the apex of his career. Some have complained that we really don’t get to know Django but this film does tell quite a lot but in more subtle ways. For example, years before the story took place Django Reinhardt suffered burns to his hands and arms due to the flammable artificial flowers his first wife sold to feed the family. He had scars all over his hands and two of his fingers were paralyzed. Doctors told him he’d never play again. We get a glimpse about this part of his life through a scene when German doctors are examining him before his scheduled tour.

The cinematography in this film is stunning. There are some exquisite shots in this film. I was quite enamored with the first performance where we see Django and his quintet before in front of a glittery gold curtain. The camera pans around the musicians and the audience and often settles on Django’s hands as he performs his magic on the guitar.

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The persecution of gypsies during WWII is not often explored so I was glad that this film went into depth on that matter. Although Django is Romani Gypsy, his status as a talented musician makes him an exception to the Germans only if he’ll follow their rules. If he doesn’t, he becomes an easy target for their wrath. The film is very adept at exploring the different facets of his culture, his personality and his life. The disparity between the countryside and the city, the performance halls and the underground night clubs show how this character navigated between very different worlds. From the very outset we learn that he can be a difficult guy, perennially late and can be both tough and loving to those in his inner circle.

This movie has received mixed reviews and been rather polarizing among critics. The film meanders much in the same way a jazz song tends to take its time so the listener can savor and take it all in. As a jazz lover myself I was comfortable with this pace and let the story take me along for the ride. There has been a resurgence in interest in Django Reinhardt and jazz nuts especially will definitely want to see this.

Django is a beautiful and atmospheric film that is in no rush to tell its story of a jazz legend in a critical moment in his life.

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Grand Hotel premieres on KCET and LinkTV

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Eloy Azorín, Yon González, Amaia Salamanca and Pedro Alonso in Grand Hotel

Stations: Upstairs Downstairs TV Drama, Foreign Period Piece
Time Travel Destination: Edwardian Era Spain, 1900s
Conductor: Carlos Sedes

Grand Hotel

For fans of Downton Abbey, there is another upstairs-downstairs period drama with just as much intrigue and grandeur. Grand Hotel, or Gran Hotel in Spanish, is a television show from Spain that ran three seasons from 2011 and 2013. Set in 1905 in the Spanish countryside, the story follows the inner workings of a hotel that serves the wealthy elite. Run by the Alarcón family, Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) manages hotel with an iron fist. Running the hotel is a family affair along with her daughters Adriana (Amaia Salamanca) and Sofia (Luz Valdenebro) at the helm. The black sheep of the family, son Javier (Eloy Azorin), often disrupts his mother’s Doña Teresa’s tight control over her business. Much like in Downton Abbey, the upstairs family is closely connected with their team of downstairs servants. There is a mutual respect along with a strict code of conduct and high expectations for everyone involved at the establishment. The dynamic is slightly different here because both the Alarcón family and the servants work together to cater to a clientele. I always felt that in Downton Abbey, the Crawley family lacked purpose so it’s nice to see a working family instead.

You could easily call Grand Hotel Spain’s answer to Downton Abbey. This show offers viewers intrigue, murder, mystery, sex, deception all in the beautiful glory of Edwardian era Europe.

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A scene from the first episode of Grand Hotel

Episode 1: The Maiden in the Pond (La Doncella en la Estanque): On the night of the hotel’s party celebrating the installation of new electric lights, chambermaid Cristina (Paula Prendes), whose been accused by hotel boss Doña Teresa (Adriana Ozores) of stealing jewelry, has gone missing. A month later her brother Julio (Yon González) travels to the hotel to find her. Pretending to be the new waiter, Julio infiltrates the Alarcón hotel. Julio is brash and determined to find the truth. He tricks Alicia Alarcón (Amaia Salamanca) into thinking he’s a hotel guest so he can get some information out of her. Alicia has her own problems. Her strict mother Doña Teresa insists that she marry hotel manager Diego (Pedro Alonso) a man she doesn’t love. The news of their engagement upsets Alicia’s sister Sofia who, with a baby on the way, was hoping that her husband would be the next in line. As the first episode progresses we see a rapidly changing dynamics of Alarcón family and we get closer to the truth of what happened to Julio’s sister.

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The downstairs crew at the Grand Hotel.
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Yon González and Amaia Salamanca

The series is based on an original idea by Ramon Campos and Gema R. Neira and is directed by Carlos Seda. All three have extensive background in producing original television programming in Spain. Like Downton Abbey, Grand Hotel is very much borderline soap opera especially with the various twists and turns the lives of the characters take. While Grand Hotel has its over-the-top moments, don’t expect a telenovela version of Downton because this not that at all. While the first episode lags a bit setting up the concept for the entire show, it quickly picks up in the second half. This is a thoroughly enjoyable period drama that will keep you wanting more.

I enjoyed the attention to period detail and how the hotel ushers in a new era with the reveal of their new electric lights. My husband spotted one anachronism which was Julio’s clip-on bow-tie. Otherwise, the costuming was very Edwardian specific.

Grand Hotel is premiering on the Southern California TV station KCET on Sunday January 28th 10 PM PST and on Link TV (available on DirectTV and Dish) on Monday January 29th 9PM EST. If you don’t have access to either of these channels, you can watch each new episode after it airs streaming on KCET’s website and LinkTV’s website for up to one week. Both channels will be airing all 39 episodes of the show’s original three seasons.

This show has been available on Netflix but in 45 minute increments rather than the 70 minute format that it was originally intended to be. Actress Eva Longoria and Desperate Housewives writer Brian Tanen are currently in the process of developing an English-language version for ABC.

Stay tuned as I’ll have an interview with lead actress Amaia Salamanca posting on this site very soon.

A Quiet Passion (2017)

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This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

Time Travel Destination: 1840s-1880s
Stations: Literary Biopic, Costume Drama
Conductor: Terence Davies

“Poems are my solace for the eternity which surrounds us all.”

A motion picture about the life about poet Emily Dickinson has never been made until now. How does one make a captivating biopic about a recluse? Director Terence Davies took on the task brilliantly with his feature film A Quiet Passion (2017).

The movie stars Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson, a rebellious poet who forsakes the prospect of love to focus on her art and family. Her world centers around her home in Amherst, MA and as the years progress she retreats further and further into her home sometimes not even venturing down stairs. We watch her progress from a feisty outspoken teenager to a deeply sentient genius who translates emotions and ideas into beautiful poetry.

“My soul is my own.”

The viewer steps into the intimate space of Dickinson’s life and the players who inhabit her world. Her father (Keith Carradine), the stern patriarch who never understood his daughter’s rebellious spirit. Her mother (Joanna Bacon) who retreats more and more from life with each passing day. Then there is her sweet sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) who cares for Emily even when she doesn’t quite understand her motivations. Her brother Austin (Duncan Duff), the pride of the family who loses Emily’s trust when he betrays his wife Susan (Jodhi May), one of Emily’s closest confidantes. And one of the few outsiders able to break through Dickinson’s small world is the Vryling Buffam (Catherine Bailey) whose larger-than-life personality threatens to be contained by societal expectations.

The film wonderfully captures the many aspects of Dickinson’s era: the religiosity, deprivation, isolation, deep brooding, heightened emotions especially sadness and the almost painful simplicity of life and death. Terence Davies read numerous biographies on Emily Dickinson and steeped himself in the era and it shows. The attention to detail is astounding. A replica of Dickinson’s home in Amherst, MA was recreated in a studio in Belgium. Exteriors were shot on location in Amherst. The viewer will feel like they traveled to the era and not just a representation of it. Davies selected Nixon for the role of Emily Dickinson because of her remarkable resemblance to the poet. In one of the scenes of the film we watch as the family members have their portraits taken. Age progression shows the passing of 20+ years. Emma Bell, who plays young Emily, and Cynthia Nixon pose in the style of the famous portrait of Dickinson.

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“My life has passed as if in a dream. As if I had never been part of it.”

I connected with this movie on a deeply personal level. As a lonely and angst ridden teenager I clung to writers such as Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, etc. With Dickinson especially I was drawn by her deep sense of isolation and how desperately she tried to make sense of the world.

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Besides the incredible attention to historical accuracy and setting, I love how Davies and his crew imbibe the film with so much color. Many of us think of this era in American history as drab, steeped in sepia. There is so much color and vibrancy in this movie. It makes us understand a bit how overwhelming and heartbreaking beautiful the world was to Dickinson. In addition to the age progression scene, another element that stood out was the Civil War slideshow which featured colorized photos of Lincoln, soldiers, the battlefields, etc.

Catherine Bailey in A Quiet Pasison
Catherine Bailey as Vryling Buffam
Keith Carradine in A Quiet Passion
Keith Carradine as Edward Dickinson

Cynthia Nixon delivers a heartbreakingly beautiful performance as Emily Dickinson. When she uttered these words, I felt like someone had just punched me in my gut:

“For those of us who live minor lives and are deprived of a particular kind of love, we know best how to starve. We deceive ourselves and others. It is the worst kind of lie.”

There are many great performances in this film but I was particularly drawn to Keith Carradine as Edward Dickinson. He perfectly captures exactly what I would have imagined a stern, religious father of the 19th Century to be. I was also drawn by Catherine Bailey whose performance as Vryling Buffam imbues life into the story. I definitely want to see more of her work.

A Quiet Passion (2017) stirs up a lot of emotion. Davies delivers a powerful biopic about an elusive figure whose poetry has transcended many generations.

I rented A Quiet Passion (2017) from DVD Netflix. Click on this link and add it to your queue!

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The Alienist

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Station: Historical Crime Drama
Destination: 1896, New York City
Conductor: TNT

In December of 1994, Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist hit bookstores and would spend six months on The New York Times bestseller list. In my bookstore days circa 1998-2002, I remember selling many paperback copies of Carr’s novel to eager readers. The book was so popular Carr went on to write a sequel The Angel of Darkness and a third book is in the works.

“In the 19th Century, persons suffering from mental illness were thought to be alienated from their own true natures. Experts who studied them were therefore know as alienists.”

Despite its popularity with readers, The Alienist faced a long road to adaptation. In 1993, the year before the book’s publication, Paramount Studios optioned the rights for the novel. It languished over the next couple of decades and went through various scripts and possible directors. Paramount was concerned about the budget and it seemed destined to never become a movie. Fast forward to 2015, when Paramount Studios revived an old branch of its business, Paramount Television. Looking for properties already at hand, they picked out The Alienist. Working with the production company Anonymous Content, they started on adapting Carr’s novel into a mini-series for TV.

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Carr’s story, set in the Gilded Age in 1890s New York City, is a mixture of forensic science and psychology. Dr. Laszlo Kreizler (Daniel Bruhl) is an alienist. In other words, he’s a psychologist who helps his clients with various emotional or mental problems. He mets New York Times illustrator John Moore (Luke Evans) who was on scene to sketch a murder victim. The young boy, dressed in girl’s clothes, was brutally dismembered. His mystery behind his death reveals the seedy underbelly of New York City where young boys dress as girls at underground brothels to serve male clientele. And there is a serial killer on the loose targeting these young boys. Kreizler and Moore enlist the help of Miss Sara Howard (Dakota Fanning), the assistant to police commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. The headstrong young woman is the key to connect Kreizler and Moore to police records that are just out of reach.

Episode 1: The Boy on the Bridge – Kreizler meets Moore to discuss the murder of the boy on the bridge. Moore introduced Kreizler to Howard. Not satisfied with Moore’s illustrations, Kreizler orders the murder victim exhumed. They meet with forensic experts the Isaacson twins, Lucius (Matthew Shear) and Marcus (Douglas Smith) to discover what they can about how the

Episode 2: A Fruitful Partnership – The Isaacson brothers discover the type of knife used by the killer and Kreizler and Moore learn of a new victim. Howard proves to be a powerful ally for Kreziler and Moore giving them access to Roosevelt’s office and his records. The main players meet to discuss findings and Moore dives into the dangerous world of these boy brothels.

For the most part The Alienist is very true to the era. I love the attention to setting and costume. I did have some reservations with the dialogue, especially a line uttered by Fanning “Are you out of your mind? I mean, honestly” which smacks of modern speak.

I was pleased to see such a strong female protagonist in Dakota Fanning’s Sara Howard. In what could have been a very male dominated story, her character brings a lot of balance to the story. Bruhl and Evans balance each other out with their adept performances.

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The Alienist is a gripping psychological thriller that will shake viewers to their core. It blends crime, sexuality, psychology and mystery into a powerful drama. Some viewers, myself included, will be deeply disturbed by the sexualization of children and murder of young boys. If viewers could stomach Carr’s novel, they will find much in the TV adaptation.

The Alienist premieres tonight at 9PM EST on TNT. The limited series will go on for a total of 10 episodes.

 

 

Coming Soon: A new biopic about musician Django Reinhardt

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Stations: Biopic, Feature Film

Time Period: 1940s Paris

Language: French

Django (2017)

Official Synopsis: The year is 1943 in Nazi-occupied Paris and Django Reinhardt is at the pinnacle of his art. The brilliant and carefree jazz guitarist, king of ethereal swing, plays to standing-room-only crowds in the capital’s greatest venues. Meanwhile his gypsy brethren are being persecuted throughout Europe. His life takes a turn for the worse when the Nazi propaganda machine wants to send him on tour in Germany.

DJANGO stars Reda Kateb, Cécile de France, Beata Palya, and BimBam Merstein. The film is directed and written by Étienne Comar, adapted from Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko. Cinematography is by Christophe Beaucarne and Monica Coleman edits. Django Reinhardt’s music is interpreted by The Rosenberg Trio – Warren Ellis.

Screenings:
1/23 – Playhouse – Pasadena, CA
1/23 – Royal Theatre – Santa Monica, CA
1/23 – Town CEnter 5 – Encino, CA
1/23 – Laemmle Claremont – Claremont, CA
1/23-1/16 – Ahyra Fine Arts – Beverly Hills, CA
Coming to VOD and iTunes on 2/6.

Visit the Official Website for more details.

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