In a Nutshell: Ferdinand Lyle of ‘Penny Dreadful’

Sometimes in media, one part stands out from the whole and is deserving of its own examination. It might act as a microcosm for what the whole is about, or it might stand in stark contrast to the rest of the whole–‘In a Nutshell’ entries focus on those single parts and hopefully serve as an introduction or ‘way in’ for audiences unfamiliar with the subject matter. 

Today’s entry examines Ferdinand Lyle of Showtime’s Victorian Horror masterpiece, Penny Dreadful. We’ll discuss his role among the world of PD, Simon Russell Beale’s magnificent performance, and parallels between Lyle’s character and the works of Victorian Literature icon, Oscar Wilde.

Shall we?

Continue reading “In a Nutshell: Ferdinand Lyle of ‘Penny Dreadful’”

Three Day Weekend!

Basically it was a small paper bag, filled with explosive powder, and the bag twisted into a fuse. He lit one and threw it into the woods across the highway.

Hola, folks! Now that Game of Thrones is a year away, I’m back to blogging and reviewing. Yay!

On Memorial Day weekend of 2015, I did a massive, MASSIVE amount of writing. For three days, I wore pajamas, ate snacks, drank coffee, and wrote the hell out of Virago. Since I was unable to do that this year (I volunteered at Megacon 2016), I decided to reserve July 4th weekend for my big writing jaunt.

In Florida, fireworks are legal. You can buy them at large tented stands on the roadside, or even at retail giants like Publix, Target, or Walmart. All you have to do is sign a waiver that claims you are using the fireworks to frighten birds away from your crops (I’m not kidding, you have to say you’re using them for agricultural reasons) and you’re ready for a weekend of explosive fun.

While I like the idea of July 4th weekend, a lifetime around people with lax safety standards has left me with a mistrust of fireworks. In delicious irony, the safest encounter with fireworks I ever had was when my dad’s best friend brought us some illegal Mexican fireworks, and by ‘fireworks’ I mean ‘IEDs.’ Basically it was a small paper bag, filled with explosive powder, and the bag twisted into a fuse. He lit one and threw it into the woods across the highway. The explosion nearly took out every window on the block, and our neighbor threatened to call the police.

And mind you, that was the safest encounter I ever had.

Subsequent encounters have left me with catlike reflexes and an aversion to loud noises, but luckily no scars. As such, I intend to stock up on food, snacks, maybe some wine, and then barricade myself inside. I shall don my jammies, fire up my laptop, and try to ignore the screams and pops from outside. I take no chances when fireworks are involved. No one should, as they can  be quite dangerous. 

I will also work on some upcoming posts. Another show that I absolutely love, Penny Dreadful, recently ended and I have MANY thoughts on that. Upcoming posts on that and other topics include:

  • In a Nutshell: Ferdinand Lyle from Showtime’s “Penny Dreadful”
  • As-Yet Untitled Review: Penny Dreadful, Seasons 1-3
  • I Miss Eddie Murphy- Yes, I Know He’s Not Dead

Since Monday’s a holiday, I’ll be posting the In a Nutshell on Tuesday. So please, stay tuned and check back!

And if you’re in the states, or celebrate the 4th, have a happy and safe 4th of July!

Hell Week: Hellbound: Hellraiser 2

Today’s post is about the Hellraiser series and unfortunately is NSFW – mostly because it’s damn near impossible to show work-safe images from the movies. Also LOTS OF gore, S&M, torture, physical, mental, and sexual abuse…

….Man… you start listing all the disturbing things in this series and wonder what you’re doing with your time…

ANYWAY! On to the review!

October is Horror Movie month, where we let down our hair and celebrate all things macabre and scary! Not that we don’t during the rest of the year, but still… HORROR MOVIES! People who don’t like horror are encouraged to check back November 1st for less bloody and/or disturbing films. For everyone else, let’s put on our galoshes and WADE INTO THE MIRE! 

Today’s post is about the Hellraiser series and unfortunately is NSFW – mostly because it’s damn near impossible to show work-safe images from the movies. Also LOTS OF gore, S&M, torture, physical, mental, and sexual abuse…

….Man… you start listing all the disturbing things in this series and wonder what you’re doing with your time…

ANYWAY! On to the review!

HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER 2

Pinhead's Driver License Photo
Pinhead’s Driver License Photo

I saw Hellraiser 2 first, at a girl’s slumber party when I was about 12… as one does. Suffice to say it scared the holy living balls out of me and I believe I had my eyes covered for most of the viewing. I wish I could remember whose party it was, because if it was mine GOD I AM SO SORRY OTHER LITTLE GIRLS PLEASE FORGIVE ME.

Hellbound begins with the creation of Pinhead, showing his human side fiddling with the puzzle box before being flayed by disembodied hooks. He’s a British soldier who physically survived the horrors of the Great War, but didn’t make it through mentally and he’s been searching the world for his next big thrill as a means to combat his PTSD.

"Dude, could you just... not?"
“Dude, could you just… not?”

The story begins in a mental asylum where Kirsty has been dumped. Due to her somewhat far-fetched story about a magic puzzle box that summons a gang of demonic S&M enthusiasts who skinned her uncle and father, and murdered her stepmother before burning down her house (although the house still seems to be standing, maybe I was drunk and missed something), she’s having a rough time. She’s under the care of Doctor Channard, the kind of mental healthcare professional who is not above experimenting on his patients, experimenting with the occult, or experimenting with large, bloody mattresses that act as gateways to hell.

Kirsty’s dad leaves a bloody post on her wall (HA!) begging for help as he is now trapped in hell.

Me, hungover
Also an accurate depiction of a hangover

Channard has a secret; he already knows about the puzzle box and has been trying to solve it himself, by exploiting a possibly autistic girl named Tiffany who saw her mother murdered. Once Channard has the aforementioned bloody mattress, he leaves a poor, disturbed man prone to self-harm on it and the man proceeds to butcher himself in a heart-wrenching scene that was deeply upsetting to me. The patient is hallucinating that maggots are burrowing into his skin, and when given a straight razor, ‘shaves’ the maggots off himself. The blood-soaked mattress becomes a door and a skinless Julia is resurrected, who wrestles the mental patient to the floor before messily slitting his throat. Imagine a piece of jerky with eyes coming to life, covered with strawberry syrup, and you’ve got Julia.

I am not finding an image of that and needed a break from Googling hellraiser jpgs so here is a corgi in pajamas.
I needed a break from Googling Hellraiser jpgs so here is a corgi in pajamas.

Kirsty realizes what Channard’s up to with the help of a handsome doctor who lasts barely into the first 3rd of the movie, and then she and Tiffany escape into a portal to try and release Larry from hell. Instead, Kirsty finds Frank, who has gone full creepy uncle while trapped in hell and makes disturbing moves on Kirsty. He was the one who sent the original message it turns out, because he and his brother bear a striking resemblance when they aren’t wearing skin. Kirsty escapes him, and she and Tiffany encounter The Leviathan, which is the inanimate master of the hellish labyrinth, and there’ s a lot of running down decrepit stone hallways. That is as close as I can get to explaining what was going on.

File under 'You Had To Be There '
File under ‘You Had To Be There ‘

Meanwhile, Channard was duped into the labyrinth by Julia and turned into a cenobite himself, apparently a more powerful one than the other cenobites, as he kills them. Fun fact: Channard is played by Kenneth Cranham, who appeared as Pompey Magnus in HBO’s wonderful Rome. He does a wonderfully understated job in this film, playing Channard as a man who is not blind to the horrors he’s witnessing, but not put off by them, either. Although he’s the mad doctor in search of truth and it’s a familiar trope, his pursuit is much more earnest than other portrayals I’ve seen. Great job, Mr. Cranham!

"Is there something huge and penile stuck to the back of my head? You'd tell me, right?"
“Damn Caesar! Must he have everything?”

It’s at this point that I got really thrown by the rules of the world. The Leviathan of Christian Mythology is a giant sea monster that symbolizes many different things, but I always understood Barker’s interpretation of Leviathan to be a Prince of Hell. So you’d think it/he/she’d kind of be in control of things, but Channard runs wild, even going into the real world, and kills many of the cenobites. I suppose Leviathan is like a Roman Emperor, waiting to see which of his combatants will emerge victorious. Which makes me wonder, who is in control of the cenobites? The same four appear in both the first and second movies, then die, and then they come back in the third, establishing the pattern of Main Quartet + Guest Star Cenobites. It seems to be another way Barker was bucking the ‘slasher horror’ tropes in that his monsters were sometimes the antagonists and sometimes not. Or maybe there was an overbearing film executive who kept saying things like ‘Just do like in the first movie but more,’ even if it made no sense. Maybe I’m missing a huge chunk of the mythology.

Before He's Put His Face On
Before He’s Put His Face On

Pinhead’s human side is revealed, and he sacrifices himself to save Kristy and Tiffany. Perhaps since he and the other cenobites remembered their humanity they have become weakened and the Leviathan no longer lends them its power. Or something. Channard is pulled apart by the big phallic tentacle growing out of his head and dies, and Kirsty and Tiffany escape to find the puzzle box and close the portal.

All is right with the world, until it isn’t again and the bloody mattress is opened and the whole thing starts over.

Last Thoughts:

I suspect that the less creative input Clive Barker has over the movies the less cohesive their mythologies. In the first film, Pinhead was an enthusiastic enforcer of Hell’s torments. He and the other cenobites only appear to those who summon him, and since the summoners have usually been toddling down the road to self-destruction for some time before encountering the puzzle box, they’ve got some crimes to answer for. The cenobites fulfill a role in their victims’ punishment, and nothing more. In the second film, Pinhead experiences an existential crisis and loses his powers, or seems to. This splits his character into the human and the cenobite and sets up some of the conflict in the 3rd film, Hellraiser: Hell On Earth.

And that’s Hellraiser 2! Thanks for reading and join us on Friday for a discussion of the third installment. Hellraiser: Hell On Earth!

In a Nutshell Entry: World’s Greatest Dad

This clip is from the end of the film. It encapsulates the film’s message in its entirety: that loneliness is not being alone, that it’s being around people who make you feel alone, and that to survive you must sometimes make difficult choices. It is also the best part of an otherwise heartrending movie.

There is nudity and some language, but it does more in four and a half minutes than some movies do in more than two hours.

The biggest word on this poster should not have been ‘Hilarious’

I was going to do  post on this film, since I watched it recently. If I had watched it in a world where Mr. Williams had not ended his life, I think I would have enjoyed it more. However, this is not that world. It’s impossible to discuss this particular film outside of the context of his suicide; maybe in a few years that will be easier.

Obviously this is kind of  a downer post, but I’m not going to do a full review, just a synopsis and a clip from the film. I am not warning anyone away from this film because it was definitely very good, but if suicide is a trigger for you then definitely give this one a miss.

*****SPOILER******

SYNOPSIS: Williams plays Lance Clayton, a divorced father with dreams of being a famous writer struggling with a thankless job as a teacher and a thankless son as a father. When his spoiled, unappreciative, immature and deeply unpleasant son accidentally kills himself during an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation, Clayton changes the position of the body and makes it look like an intentional suicide, penning a touching and introspective note. When the boy’s death rocks the school, a cult of personality grows up around the boy, and so his father also creates a journal full of intelligent perspectives on life. The journal is a huge hit and Kyle’s father enjoys almost overnight success, but the hollowness of the success wears on him and he begins to struggle with the loneliness he feels as a result. An especially hard-hitting moment in the film occurs when Robin Williams’ character, on a talk show, looks directly into the camera and reminds the audience that ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.’

This clip is from the end of the film. It encapsulates the film’s message in its entirety: that loneliness is not being alone, that it’s being around people who make you feel alone; the unspoken coda is that to survive you must sometimes make difficult choices.

There is nudity and some language, but it does more in four and a half minutes than some movies do in more than two hours. It makes perfect use of that most magnificent of glam teamups, David Bowie and Queen’s immortal “Under Pressure.”

NSFW for nudity and language.

In a Nutshell: Tywin Lannister Entering Rooms in Game of Thrones

Anyhoodle, I just love Charles Dance in this role. His elegance, his grace, and his arrogance are all perfect. Most poignant of all his is use of stillness in the role. He is a patient man, a still man. He does not fidget. He masters himself like he masters his surroundings. He knows that the victor is not always the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but the one who can endure. As I mentioned above, everyone else is on HIS time. He comes across as inhuman at times…but he most assuredly isn’t.

Not pictured: comedy relief

When I was much younger, I used to go through phases where I would have a crush on an actor. I suppose this behavior counts as “fangirling,” but since it was before the internet I didn’t know that term. Anyhoo, one of those crushes was Charles Dance.

I know. Don’t judge.

I loved him for his portrayal as Eric in a TV-version of Phantom of the Opera, and for his role as Sardal Numspa in The Golden Child, which is another delightful film you should totally check out. I have no explanation of why I liked him so much, other than it was a phase and I am strange.

With that said, there is literally no one else on this planet I could see in the role of Tywin Lannister. Charles Dance is perfect. 

If you haven’t seen the show, then everything you need know is summed up in this mnemonic device I used to help me remember his name when I first started watching:

Ty(rant) + Win = Tywin Lannister, the Tyrant Who Wins

If I had more time and less employment, I would create a Tumblog dedicated just to scenes of him entering rooms like a badass. Because there are copious scenes of him entering rooms and just filling them with his magnificent presence. Alas, some other person shall have to come up with it.

The reason they love to show him entering rooms/scenes like a badass is multifold:

  • His physical presence – Charles Dance is tall and elegant, and the camera loves his long, stately stride. he enters rooms and then WORKS. THEM.
  • His abstract presence – TL just walking into a room changes what’s going on in it. People stop what they’re doing, conversations end, and everyone basically waits for him to dictate what’s going on next; as the (arguably, to be explained below) most powerful man in Westeros, they are on his time, he is not on theirs
  • For the purposes of filmmaking, it’s easier to begin a scene with a character entering or leaving a room/scene than in the middle of a conversation or situation, especially with as many characters and situations as GoT has.

Look how the man works that horse.

Makes me think of Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China, except the exact opposite: “Everyone stop relaxing, I’m  here now.”

Incidentally, this is a scene in the second season where Tywin’s arrival saved the day – by displacing the former acting lord of Harrenhal, Tywin exercises some much needed order over the ruinous castle and its ruinous garrison. The acting commander at Harrenhal was the psychotic and terrifying Gregor Clegane, aka The Mountain That Rides, aka the 8-ft tall guy who cut off a horse’s head with a single blow in the first season during the tournament. Tywin arrives and ends the random killing of captives, and puts them to work in the castle.

While he does employ psychotic and terrifying people like the Mountain, he considers them only useful in battle.  “Meet your enemies with fire and sword, but help a kneeling man to his feet” is one of his axioms. And he does do this – there’s not much TL takes personally, when it comes to the other lords and people of Westeros, unless someone tries to start some shit with his family. THAT he does not put up with. Granted, he usually turns things to his advantage when dealing with his former enemies, but while he can be duplicitous, he is at least generally in the open about things and you usually know where you stand. His first loyalty is to his name and his family: but whatever threatens the realm, like instability, threatens his family.

I think something a lot of people overlook with his character is the fact that he spends most of the War of the Five Kings cleaning up other people’s messes. To wit:

  • He goes to war with the North after his son is taken prisoner by Catlyn Stark. Granted, he could have ransomed Tyrion or something, but anyone who knows him know he doesn’t do things half-assed nor suffer fools. But he’s also upholding the stability of Westeros – there are a lot of highborn lords out wandering around, and if people start getting the idea they can just grab somebody and demand terms, well, there would be a LOT of problems. People need to see what happens in such cases.
  • He continues the war of the Five Kings because of the actions of Cersei and Joffrey; Cersei, who blows her nose with the will of her DEAD KING, and Joffrey, who beheads his own Warden of the North. They wrote some checks they couldn’t cash and TL WILL NOT allow the honor of his house to be sullied by their actions. You don’t become the (arguably) most powerful man in Westeros by shrugging and “just going with it.” I wish we could have seen his reaction when he heard about what the queen and Joff did, although it would hvae been best viewed from a safe distance; the surface of Mars, say.
  • He arrives in King’s Landing just in time to save the day and rout Stannis’s army, but also to salvage the wreckage of Joffrey’s actions – this is after he’s been acting as Battle Commander for a few months in the West and Riverlands, losing several battles to a sixteen year old. True, it is INCREDIBLY shitty that he takes up the position of Hand and relegates Tyrion to some crappy darkened room to heal up. That’s a dick move, hands down (HURRR). So he loses cool points there, but he didn’t get where he is by worrying about whether people like him or not. Lannister can read between the lines of Westerosi history: a weak king requires a strong Hand, and he knows that better than anyone.

This is all doubly interesting if you consider that cleaning up family messes was how he started his life: his father was a weak man, who loaned out money freely without demanding repayment. He was disrespected by his bannermen when they were drunk, and generally thought of as The Local Softy. When some nearby families started some shit, he backed down. Eventually, the widowed Tytos brought a common woman into his bed, and gave her run of Casterly Rock. The situation was sort of like if the Kennedys (Lannisport sounds a LOT like Hyannisport to me) replaced Jackie Kennedy with Britney Spears. After his father died, Tywin Lannister became the lord of Casterly Rock and he had had ENOUGH. He threw the woman out and made her do the Westerosi version of the walk of shame – naked as a jaybird, right through the middle of town. Then when the Reynes started some shit, he marched on them and eradicated the entire family, and burned down their seat. “The Rains of Castemere” is like the Lannister Fight Song.

“…and then you shall die.”

Then he had to serve Mad King Aerys, who went all sideways on him. The twenty years he served as Hand are remembered fondly by the common people as a time of peace and plenty.

Anyhoodle, I just love Charles Dance in this role. His elegance, his grace, and his arrogance are all perfect. Most poignant of all his is use of stillness in the role. He is a patient man, a still man. He does not fidget. He masters himself like he masters his surroundings. He knows that the victor is not always the biggest, fastest, or strongest, but the one who can endure. As I mentioned above, everyone else is on HIS time. He comes across as inhuman at times…but he most assuredly isn’t.

And just to show that Mr. Dance can be silly too, here he is in a scene from Da Ali G show, shaking that thang:

You’re Welcome

Thanks for reading my long rambling love letter to Tywin Lannister. Have a great day!