Everything about Megalopolis, as the name of Francis Ford Coppola’s upcoming movie suggests, is suitably mega. Dubbed “Julius Caesar meets Blade Runner” by Mike Figgis, the director who is filming a behind-the-scenes doc on the project). From the cast (Adam Driver! Dustin Hoffman! Laurence Fishburne! Aubrey Plaza!) to the estimated USD120 million cost (self-funded by Coppola himself), there's a lot riding on the Coppola 23rd feature film.

It's apparently been in development since the ‘80s, but we're nearing showtime. Here’s everything about the production, and what to expect from one of the year’s biggest film releases.

When is Megalopolis out?

Pretty soon, as revealed by the director himself. In an Indie Wire article, Coppola said: “It’s only going to be a few months and it’ll be out.” He adds: “All I can say is I love the actors in it. It’s unusual, and it’s never boring. Other than that, wait and see.” Update: we’re still waiting and seeing.

Who is in Megalopolis?

The film, which finished shooting back in March 2023, has a cast list of stellar A-listers. This includes Adam Driver (playing Caesar), Forest Whitaker (Frank Cicero), Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Laurence Fishburne, Aubrey Plaza and Shia LaBeouf. On top of that, there’s Chloe Fineman, Kathryn Hunter, DB Sweeney, Talia Shire, Jason Schwartzman, Bailey Ives, Grace Vanderwaal, James Remar, and Giancarlo Esposito.

Ex-Hollyoaks actor Nathalie Emmanuel, who appeared in in Game Of Thrones and will play Megalopolis's lead, Julia Cicero.

It’s a pretty big deal for Driver, too, who poured praise upon the legendary director in an interview with Collider“It has been one of the best—without hyperbole—best shooting experiences of my life," he said. "Watching him work that crew, that design team, he has such a command over cinematic language and an archive in his mind of shots that are so beautiful. And doing something so ambitious, and on his own terms, that you would think that it would be dictatorial or really controlled, but he is the most warm, open, thoughtful, director who is just…

“He really—and this all sounds like being very general, but he really embodies this thing of like, 'We're making this experiment and we're not interested in how it comes out. We're interested in the process of making it.' And inevitably because of that, the thing that you make, there's no film reference for. I think what he's made is so unique and interesting. I couldn't be more proud to be a part of it.”

What happens in Megalopolis?

As the official synopsis of the sci-fi movie has it: “In New York, a woman, Julia Cicero, is divided between loyalties to her father, Frank, who has a classical view of society, and her architect lover, Caesar, who is more progressive and ready for the future. He wants to rebuild New York City as a utopia following a devastating disaster.”

So, yes, it’s kind of a sci-fi modern retelling of the Caesar story, but Coppola told Deadline that he saw it as more of a love story. “I am grateful to be in the position to be able to make a film that haunts me and that I feel will be wonderful, that will shed light on the subject of what the future might be like and what human beings are really like. I am as happy as I could be.”

Coppola also shrugged off the rumours about unrest on set, following claims by The Hollywood Reporter that there was “chaos” on the production; that it was vastly over-budget and losing key creative talent, including the production designer and supervising art director, in addition to the entire visual effects team departing.

“Well, Apocalypse Now was out there being edited for months and months and months. And because it had been made in the Philippines, it was sort of mysterious. [With Megalopolis] it was much the same thing. A rumour starts out; there was a report about chaos. But the source was no source. From my point of view, I was on schedule, which, on a big, difficult movie, is hard to do,” Coppola said.

“I love my actors, and there is not one of them I would change. The movie has a style that went beyond my expectations. That’s sincerely how I feel. The most important thing is the life the film might have when eventually it cuts together and blossoms.”

Is there a trailer for Megalopolis yet?

Not yet, but keep checking back and we’ll drop it as soon as it happens.

Originally published on Esquire UK

Each step of Dune’s high fashion press tour—Timothée Chalamet (fresh from the chocolatier origins story Wonka), Zendaya, Florence Pugh and Austin Butler (currently tearing up the skies in Masters of the Air) provide enough star wattage to power a suburban town—leads to one place: the sequel.

That was not always inevitable: Dune is not exactly based on dream source material. American author Frank Herbert’s novel of the same name is unwieldy and takes several head-scratching turns (especially in its many, many spin-offs). It has been adapted twice before, with David Lynch’s—shall we call it divisive?—1984 film and an Emmy-winning TV series in 2000. But Villeneuve, the Canadian director behind Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, proved more than capable at turning dense text into a memorable triumph (splitting the novel in two was a good idea). A healthy box office, six Oscar wins and strike-related delays later, that sequel is almost upon us. But, uh, what actually happened in the first instalment of Villeneuve’s Dune? Prepare yourself for some pleasingly silly sci-fi names and plot points.

Where and when is Dune set?

Warner Bros Pictures

Dune takes place around 20,000 years in the future. In a world where noble houses are locked in an often-vicious power struggle over resources. The most important of which is “spice”, a substance which puts humans in an elevated state of mind and also allows for space travel. It can only be found on the planet Arrakis. Harvesting, though, is difficult because of the giant, desert-roaming sandworms, which you may recall from that nightmare-inducing popcorn bucket doing the rounds.

We enter the Duniverse when the head of House Atreides, Duke Leto (played by Oscar Isaac), is put in charge of Arrakis, an inhospitable desert planet, taking over from Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård, deliciously creepy). But as Leto takes over, Emperor Shaddam (who will be played by Christopher Walken in Dune: Part Two) and Baron Harkonnen plot to oust Leto. Another problem that will face House Atreides? Arrakis is home to the Fremen, who have adapted to survive in brutal conditions, though they are perceived as savages by the ruling classes.

Leto has a busy family life. His partner Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is a follower of the Bene Gesserit, a group of women who have mind-reading abilities. The sisterhood had instructed Jessica to have a daughter who could become a clairvoyant saviour to humanity. Unfortunately for everyone involved, she had a son, Paul (Chalamet), who has an enviably sharp wardrobe and a blessed upbringing. His father’s aides, Duncan Idaho (Jason Momoa) and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin) teach him military combat. While his mum passes on teachings from the Bene Gesserit.

In the film, we watch as Paul develops frightening visions of the future, a recurring headache for the boy. And things do not stop there for Paul. Soon, the Reverend Mother (Charlotte Rampling) stops by to test his instincts. Using a deadly box into which Paul must stick his hand into before he passed out. She tells Baron Harkonnen that whatever his plans for House Atreides, he must not kill Paul and his mother.

Alongside these machinations, we learn about life on Arrakis (anyone familiar with the novel knows that its charm is in Herbert’s world-building). For example, the Fremen are respectful of Paul and Jessica thanks to some advance planning from the Bene Gesserit. Paul also catches sight of a sandworm and starts to have even more vivid premonitions thanks to the abundance of spice.

Warner Bros Pictures

Villeneuve’s pensive film picks up the pace with a failed assassination attempt on Paul. One of Leto’s aides, Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen), betrays his leader and disables the fortress’s shields. This allows the Harkonnens and ruthless Sardaukar soldiers to invade. Yueh paralyses Leto and inserts a poison gas capsule in his mouth. After Baron Harkonnen kills Yueh, Leto sets off the gas which results in a few Harkonnen deaths but not the Baron himself. The Baron orders Jessica and Paul to be dropped in the desert. But Yueh has left the pair with stillsuits (those breathing apparatus you see on Timmy and Zendaya in the trailer) which make survival a little more likely. The mother and son manage to escape thanks to Jessica’s deployment of a Bene Gesserit technique called the “voice”.

While traipsing through the desert, Paul and Jessica eventually reunite with Duncan and the ecologist Liet Kynes (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). In an excellent action sequence, we witness a Sardaukur ambush. There, Duncan sacrifices himself so Paul and Jessica can escape. Kynes, also seriously injured, calls for a sandworm in her dying moments, which kills the soldiers.

After this near-death sequence, Jessica and Paul bump into a tribe of Fremen. It is here that Paul meets blue-eyed Chani (Zendaya, making the most of her limited screen time). This is the girl about whom he has been dreaming. There is an instant, if mysterious, connection between them. But not everyone in the tribe is jazzed about Paul and one warrior, Jamis, challenges him to a duel. Paul wins (using a knife that Chani has provided) and thereby wins favour with the Fremen.

What happens next?

The stage is set for the second film. It will likely complete the adaptation of Herbert’s first book and deliver some well-earned revenge for Paul. It will also introduce Princess Irulan (Pugh) and Baron Harkonnen’s bald and deadly nephew Feyd-Rautha (Butler). If this film is a success, and God knows it should be, we may be getting an adaptation of Herbert’s follow-up, Dune: Messiah.

You can watch Dune on Netflix now. Dune: Part Two is in cinemas on 29 February.

Originally published on Esquire US

On 13 October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed into a glacier in the Andes on its way from Montevideo, Uruguay to Santiago, Chile. Many of the 45 people on board were Uruguayan rugby players. The plane was ripped to pieces, killing passengers and crew immediately. And for the survivors, what happened in the following months was a excruciating descent into human survival: avalanches and hostile winds and most chilling of all, cannibalism. Only 16 people made it out of the mountains alive.

It is a remarkable story, absurdly ripe for retelling and adaptation. Many of the survivors have written books and who can blame them? That experience was likely cathartic and possibly sense-making. And everything about the story, from the hostile environment to the gruesome plot details, makes it ideal for the cinema. The most high-profile attempt was 1993’s Alive. An adaptation of British historian’s Piers Paul Read’s account of the crash, directed by Frank Marshall and starring Ethan Hawke. It has some terrific sequences but the overall thrust was a full-throttle embrace of Hollywood. One that's all hope and heroes and endurance.

There have, of course, been many other documentaries and podcasts and TV movies. And now we have another feature film: Society of the Snow, recently Oscar-nominated for Best International Feature. After its January release on Netflix, the Spanish-language film—surely a dark horse at the Academy Awards—became one of Netflix’s most watched non-English language films ever. It clocked in over 50 million views (and counting).

Thankfully, director J. A. Bayona (whose previous work includes another true-story disaster flick The Impossible and very much not true-story disaster flick Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is unafraid to go hard on the uglier parts of this story. At times, Bayona’s camera angles presents these beleaguered men—absurdly good-looking actors with enviable ‘70s flares and swooped fringes—as not quite human. Their facial features are distorted into the figures of a Goya painting. Conversely, when time comes for the cannibalism, because of course it must, Bayona eschews gross-out tactics and focuses on the practicalities. How to dismember the dead bodies, how to stomach the flesh (with plenty of ice to dilute the tastes). An unimaginable situation is presented as a how-to survival guide.

Liberties have been taken. For example, the survivors were rescued over two nights not in one fell swoop as the film depicts and you can read about those comparisons elsewhere. But what is more interesting is how Bayona chooses to frame this well-worn story. The film is narrated by law student Numa Turcatti, played by stand-out Enzo Vogrincic, who seems destined for big things. He is a rousing, philosophical addition to the men, whose presence is made doubly tragic by the fact that he was not really supposed to be there. He does not play for the team, and simply could not could not resist the relatively cheap flight to Chile. Turcatti—and perhaps this is a spoiler, so avert your eyes for a 50-year-old news item—does not make it out alive. Killing off the narrator two-thirds of the way through adds a fresh twist to a familiar tale.

With a run time of over two-and-a-half hours, Society of the Snow stretches a viewer’s limits. But the tediousness works, for what is more tedious than hoping? Over and over again, the rugby players head out on walks in an attempt to retrieve the plane’s engine where they hope that batteries stored. Over and over again, they try to make the radio work to make contact with the outside world (crushingly, they instead hear that the search party has moved on). There are some simplistic sentiments about the power of friendship. But mostly the film is an antidote to the real-life awards bait, which often blandly papers over survival stories. It is certainly miles ahead of other Netflix movies based on a true story (of which there are countless).

Towards the end, as the players are washed and cleaned in hospital—a sequence that should feel euphoric, but lands with a thud—we see their starved bodies for the first time without clothing. Throughout, they have been layered in sweaters and coats, the reveal has the effect of a twist ending. You expect to see them as superheroes, but they are skeletal. It neatly evokes the confusing aftermath of traumatic events. In real life, there was indeed public backlash after stories of the men’s cannibalism broke. Bayona’s resistance of a Hollywood ending gives the men the complexity they deserve. And it is also what makes Society of the Snow linger long after the credits. Hope persists, yes, but so does terror.

Society of the Snow is available on Netlix now.

Originally published on Esquire UK

A24

If you like movies – and by movies, we mean stories that make you think – then you’ve undoubtedly heard of A24, a name that (arguably) singlehandedly brought original storytelling back to the people, and did it without the backing of big Hollywood studios who would have resorted to referring to filmmaking as ‘the content industry’ (barf).

From Uncut Gems and Ex Machina, to 2022’s Oscar winner The Whale, and now, more recently, the lauded Korean tearjerker, Past Lives, A24 produces movies that are cool. But as Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There are three things that make a good film: the script, the script and the script.”

So, if you’ve ever wanted to get your hands on not just a slew of the original screenplays brought to life by the minds at A24, but also want to plant a cultural flag on your coffee table, then we have the gift for you.

Ari Aster’s Hereditary, as presented in A24’s original screenplay coffee table book. A24

Consisting of not only the original screenplay, but a slew of original and BTS images, details about the film, crosswords, and more, this is the perfect addition to any cinephile or aspiring screenwriter’s living room.

“We started developing the first screenplay books in 2018 as we were expanding our merch offerings,” says the head of brand at A24. “We wanted to create something collectible, like a coffee-table book, that showcased how a filmmaker’s vision gets translated from script to screen.”

To remind you of A24’s excellent cinematic library, here’s a scene of Oscar Isaac tearing up the dancefloor in the eerily prescient, Ex Machina (which, obviously, is available as a screenplay in the collection).

Cop one here and follow A24 on Instagram.

Originally published on Esquire ME

The 96th Academy Awards nominations were presented by Jack Quaid and Zazie Beetz. VALERIE MACON//GETTY IMAGES

It's time to fire up your Oscars ballots, folks. On Tuesday morning, Zazie Beetz and Jack Quaid announced the nominees for the 2024 Academy Awards.

Surprise, surprise: Oppenheimer led the field with 13 nominations. The film about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was recognised for Best Picture, Best Director (Christopher Nolan), Best Actor (Cillian Murphy), Best Supporting Actress (Emily Blunt), Best Supporting Actor (Robert Downey Jr.), Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay, Costume Design, Original Score, Makeup & Hairstyling, Editing, Sound, and Production Design.

Meanwhile, Poor Things exceeded expectations with 11 nominations, while Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon garnered 10 nominations. In what's easily the biggest shocker of the morning, Barbie failed to break double digits at this year's Academy Awards, with just eight nominations in total. Though the film was nominated for Best Picture, director Greta Gerwig and star Margot Robbie were both snubbed from the field. However, Ryan Gosling was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, America Ferrera was tapped for Best Supporting Actress, and Gerwig earned a nod for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Other big winners include American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, The Holdovers, Maestro, Past Lives, Poor Things, and The Zone of Interest. They'll compete against Barbie and Oppenheimer for Best Picture. Paul Giamatti and Cillian Murphy will square off in the Best Actor race, alongside Maestro's Bradley Cooper, Rustin's Colman Domingo, and American Fiction's Jeffrey Wright. 

Leonardo DiCaprio's exclusion from the Best Supporting Actor list may come as a shock, but the actor has always had a strange relationship with the Academy Awards. Remember, he had to fight a bear in 2015's The Revenant to finally win the coveted award. With Margot Robbie out of the Best Actress race, this year's awards-season mainstays—Flower Moon's Lily Gladstone and Poor Things' Emma Stone—are now joined by Maestro's Carey Mulligan, Nyad's Annette Bening, and Anatomy of a Fall's Sandra Huller.

Elsewhere in the field, Best International Feature Film nominations included Wim Wenders's Perfect Days (Japan), Society of the Snow (Spain), The Zone of Interest (UK), The Teacher's Lounge (Germany), and lo capitano (Italy). Anatomy of a Fall—which is up for Best Picture—and France's other critically acclaimed film of the year, The Taste of Things, both fell short. Many Best Documentary Feature titles came as a surprise, including nominations for Bobi Wine: The People’s PresidentThe Eternal Memory, Four Daughters, To Kill a Tiger, and the timely 20 Days in Mariupol.

In the Best Animated Feature competition, Hayao Miyazaki's The Boy and the Heron, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Pixar's Elemental, Netflix's Nimona, and surprise international contender Robot Dreams will duke it out. As for Best Original Song, Barbie's "I'm Just Ken" and Billie Eilish's "What Was I Made For?" will battle it out for the golden statue. They'll see competition from "Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)" from Killers of the Flower Moon, "It Never Went Away" from American Symphony, and "The Fire Inside" from the Eva Longoria-directed Flamin’ Hot.

Other snubs include the performance of May December, which received praise for Charles Melton, Natalie Portman, and Juliane Moore's turns, only to walk away with one Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The Color Purple also received just one nomination for Best Supporting Actress (Danielle Brooks). FerrariAsteroid CityPriscillaNapoleon, AIR, Bottoms, Origin, and All of Us Strangers were completely excluded from the final list of nominations.

The 96th Academy Awards will air on ABC on March 10, with Jimmy Kimmel hosting for the fourth time.

Originally published on Esquire US

From Left: Harris Dickinson, Zac Efron, Stanley Simons, Jeremy Allen White. IMDB 

We can't be the only ones not incredibly ecstatic about whatever Marvel is about to put out anymore (literally The Marvels). DC isn't exactly holding up the front with all that's going on with the Jason Momoa-led sequel Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. A reboot of the Hunger Games franchise seemingly appears out of nowhere, a questionable Wonka is in town (what was wrong with the last one?), and Killers Of the Flower Moon is not immune to controversy. Since Argylle is still some time away, these are the upcoming movies of the rest of 2023 we're looking forward to, in no particular order (okay, maybe some particular order called bias).

The Iron Claw

Director: Sean Durkin
Cast: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson

Synopsis
The biopic of professional wrestlers, the Von Erich brothers, through tragedy and triumph on the biggest stage in sports in the early 1980s.

Why we're looking forward to this
It's between the fact that The Bear's Jeremy Allen White gained approximately 18kg of muscle for the role, and Zac Efron's ridiculous haircut.

Napoleon

Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Vanessa Kirby, Ludivine Sagnier

Synopsis
The action epic follows the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte (Phoenix), including visionary military and political tactics in some of the most dynamic battle sequences filmed in large scale.

Why we're looking forward to this
If you want anyone to do a cinematic homage to the odyssey of the historic French Emperor, it's definitely Ridley Scott. Apparently, a four hour long director's cut will be released on Apple TV+.

Poor Things

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe

Synopsis
A young woman (Stone) is brought back to life by unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter (Dafoe), but soon runs off with slick lawyer Duncan Wedderburn (Ruffalo) on a whirlwind adventure.

Why we're looking forward to this
Yorgos Lanthimos! Emma Stone! A reunion since The Favourite!

The Killer

Director: David Fincher
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Tilda Swinton, Charles Parnell

Synopsis
A cold and methodical professional assassin (Fassbender) navigates a world without a moral compass, armed to the teeth and slowly losing his mind.

Why we're looking forward to this
The man behind Fight Club, Se7en, and Gone Girl cites this as graphic novel adaptation as a passion project for almost twenty years.

Saltburn

Director: Emerald Fennell
Cast: Barry Keoghan, Jacob Elordi, Archie Madekwe, Rosamund Pike

Synopsis
Awkward Oxford University student Oliver Quick (Keoghan) is invited by the charming and aristocratic Felix Catton (Elordi) to his eccentric family's estate, Saltburn, for one unforgettable summer.

Why we're looking forward to this
Saltburn marks Fennell's return since her Oscar-winning directorial debut Promising Young Woman. Fun fact: Fennell cameo-ed as pregnant Midge in Barbie. So crazy, we know.

May December

Director: Todd Haynes
Cast: Natalie Portman, Julienne Moore, Charles Melton

Synopsis
Two decades after a notorious tabloid romance, a married couple (Moore, Melton) buckles under pressure when an actress (Portman) arrives for research on a film about their past.

Why we're looking forward to this
Have we ever seen these two great women face off in the same film?

Priscilla

Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Cailee Spaeny, Jacob Elordi, Ari Cohen

Synopsis
Rock-and-roll legend Elvis Presley (Elordi) through the eyes of his wife Priscilla Beaulieu (Spaeny), from a German army base to his dream-world estate at Graceland, in a detailed portrait of their marriage.

Why we're looking forward to this
A female memoir from Sofia Coppola's POV? Sold.

When A24 debuted its brand of “elevated horror,” audiences lost their minds. Story and suspense? Metaphors and thrills? They said it couldn’t be done! But visionary directors such as Ari Aster and Robert Eggers begged to differ. For the past decade, modern horror masterpieces such as Hereditary, The Witch, and Midsommar have pushed the genre in a whole new direction. The big trade-off, mood-wise, is that constant jump-scares are replaced by long, unsettling moments of dread. Usually, it all leads to one of the most disturbing images you’ve ever seen. Toni Collete floating with the piano wire in Hereditary and Willem Dafoe going batshit in The Lighthouse are just a couple examples of images that are burned into people’s minds. If you know, you know.

A24 isn’t afraid to swing and miss. Aster’s Beau is Afraid and Alex Garland’s Men both received mixed reviews—but at least the distributor takes risks. Justin Long became half-human, half-walrus in Tusk. The biggest star of Lamb was a little girl with a lamb head! For better or for worse, whenever that A24 logo pops up, you know you’re about to see something you’ve never seen before. But if you want the best of the best that the brand has to offer, look no further. Below is your A24 horror starter pack.

1. Hereditary

In one of the scariest films in recent memory, Toni Collete stars as a miniature diorama artist who is grieving the loss of her late mother. Coupled with a grief demon and a horrifying accident that changes the family (and the tone of the film) forever, Hereditary created images that audiences will never forget.—Josh Rosenberg

2. Pearl

Mia Goth stars as the titular Pearl in Ti West’s prequel, honing their craft and turning in one of the best performances of the year. Goth capping off the slasher with a three-minute-long stare in the credits? Icing on the cake. —JR

3. The Lighthouse

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson fighting half-naked in a lighthouse would have sold me on The Lighthouse—no matter who distributed it. Regardless, A24 and director Robert Eggers certainly delivered a tale both disturbing and surprisingly lively for a story about two men living in seclusion.—JR

4. Lamb

Ada the lamb—who is the cutest little animal since Bambi—was more than just a gimmick in 2021's popular folk-horror film. Starring Noomi Rapace and directed by Iceland’s Valdimar Jóhannsson, the inventive debut film gained a cult audience for its themes on humanity’s treatment of nature. —JR

5. Bodies Bodies Bodies

Bodies Bodies Bodies might not be that scary but it’s a fun twist on the whodunnit genre. This star-studded film follows a group of friends who travel to a remote house for the weekend. Tensions rise when an unexpected guest arrives—and someone winds up dead.—Bria McNeal

6. The Monster

This is absolutely the sleeper on the list. The Monster follows a mother and daughter who take an unexpected, road trip. During the drive, they crash their car, and discover a sinister presence lurking in the woods. With no means of transportation, they’re forced to rely on each other to survive.—BM

7. Talk To Me

A24’s latest offering, Talk To Meis shaping up to be a modern classic. All hell breaks loose when a group of friends discover they can connect to the dead by holding an embalmed hand. After they contact an unfriendly spirit, what starts as a party game quickly becomes a fight for survival.—BM

8. Midsommar

Midsommar is equal parts disturbing and insightful. The film follows a couple who take a trip to Sweden to celebrate midsommar. To their surprise, the festival is being run by a pagan cult—which just so happens to be the perfect spark for a phenomenal Florence Pugh performance.—BM

Originally published on Esquire US

The cast of Argylle. APPLE TV+

It's been a second since we've appropriated "star-studded cast" on a movie that doesn't involved superheroes. Not since Oppenheimer, The French Dispatch, and no, we didn't forget—Don't Look Up (we didn't say this was a list of good movies). Starring Henry Cavill (Man of Steel), Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World), and a longer glimpse of John Cena (The Suicide Squad) and Dua Lipa than we got in Barbie, the Universal Pictures/Apple TV+ collab looks almost exciting enough to make us forget a writer's strike was happening for five months.

Anyway. The fiction-to-reality plot where titular agent Argylle comes straight out of the novels of reclusive author Elly Conway inevitably draws parallels to Lost City (ha! Another stacked bill), but at the helm of Matthew Vaughn, we're definitely expecting more of a Kingsman vibe. The director has however, described the film as an ode to '80s action movies Lethal Weapon and Die Hard.

The Full Cast

There are other big names adding to the headliner, of course. Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) plays Aidan, the real-life spy who protects Elly, joined by Samuel L Jackson (Secret Invasion)'s character. Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) is the film's currently unnamed villain, and we get to see Catherine O'Hara (Schitt's Creek) as Elly's mother.

Henry Cavill's Haircut

We can't not talk about it. It's not the first time we've seen Cavill involved in international espionage on the big screen, but it's certainly a first in Bart Simpson-esque glory. A great departure from Geralt of Rivia, the only viable explanation for that ridiculous hairstyle lies in the cover design of the fictional books. And upon further digging, a possible allusion to his name, after the Scottish argyle diamond pattern. Either way, we're not mad about it. The odder the hair, the better the performance.

Fun Fact

The adorable cat Alfie is played by Chip, owned by Vaughn's wife Claudia Schiffer.

Argylle is slated to be in theatres 2 February 2024 and later for online streaming on Apple TV+.

Our goal is to become activists. We must rely on our own actions more than on words. And these are just words.

Can Dune change the world? Can a novel that involves old-timey knife fights and giant space worms convince people to get serious about climate change? Is it possible the book could encourage more religious tolerance and understanding? Cautiously, the answer to these questions might be yes. Because although Dune did not truly begin its life as a political or ecological text, it’s impossible to ignore those themes in it today. Between 1965 and now, Dune transformed from a curious science fiction book released by an automotive repair manual publisher to a book that seemed to be a repair manual for the entire planet.

On April 22, 1970, in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, Frank Herbert spoke to thirty thousand people in celebration of the very first Earth Day. He told the gathered crowd he wanted everyone there to “begin a love affair with our planet,” and to that end, he hoped that they would all join him in never again buying a new car. He firmly believed that if people boycotted the purchase of new internal combustion engines, the automotive industry would eventually be forced to make more efficient cars or create clean-energy fuel alternatives. “Getting rid of internal combustion will be no permanent solution," he said. "But it will give us breathing room.”

At the time, Herbert was also concerned about overpopulation as well as pollution. Some of the ways he phrased his arguments may seem dated. But it’s also striking how mainstream most of his views are today. The public perception of Dune as an ecological science fiction novel is perhaps the most important factor in its immortality. And while Herbert himself was a bit preachy, his novel isn’t. And that’s how the magic happens.

Herbert’s self-styling as an environmental activist didn’t happen in 1965 when the hardcover was published by Chilton, and it didn’t happen in 1966 when the first paperback version was published by Ace. Instead, the public transformation of Dune from an underground science fiction novel to an essential ecological text read and analyzed by environmental activists happened in 1968, three full years after the book hit bookshelves.

“I refuse to be put in the position of telling my grandchildren: ‘Sorry, there’s no more world for you. We used it all up,’” Frank Herbert said in 1970, in the nonfiction book New World or No World. “It was for this reason that I wrote in the mid-sixties what I hoped would be an environmental awareness handbook. The book is called Dune, a title chosen with the deliberate intent that it echo the sound of ‘doom.’”


I refuse to be put in the position of telling my grandchildren: 'Sorry, there's no more world for you. We used it all up.'"

The notion that Herbert wrote Dune specifically because he hoped it would be an “environmental awareness handbook” is almost certainly revisionist. But that doesn’t make Dune’s political and environmental commentary incorrect. Even the earliest versions of “Dune World” contain ecological themes simply because of the way Arrakis works. Herbert later said that on Arrakis, both water and spice are analogues for oil, and of course, for “water itself.” The idea that Arrakis wasn’t always a desert wasteland is suggested vaguely in the first novel, but what Herbert’s later novels—specifically 1976’s Children of Dune—do is to reveal a kind of inverted problem. Because of the rapidity of forced climate change on Arrakis, the most integral part of the wildlife—the sandworms—is pushed to near extinction. What is subtle in the first novel is made perfectly clear in the sequels.

Herbert even tips his hand to his own revisionism because he mentions Pardot Kynes—a character you’re excused from forgetting because this person doesn’t really appear in the actual story of Dune. Most of Pardot’s story and his quotes come from the first appendix in Dune, “The Ecology of Dune,” which gives us the backstory of Pardot Kynes, the father of Liet-Kynes, the imperial planetologist who more famously accompanies Leto, Paul, and Gurney during their first inspection of the spice mining and later gives his life to save Paul and Jessica in the desert. As Liet-Kynes lies dying, he recalls a quote from his father: “The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.”

"The highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences."

“I put these words into his mouth,” Herbert said in 1970, speaking of both Liet-Kynes and Liet’s father, Pardot.

Because the science fiction community inconsistently embraced Herbert in the late sixties, he found his true community with environmentalists. In 1968, within the pages of The Whole Earth Catalog, biologist and editor Stewart Brand forever changed the perception and importance of DuneThe Whole Earth Catalog was a publication conceived by Brand as a way of giving forward-thinking environmentalists and progressives “access to tools” for rethinking everything about the way humankind saw Earth. In the introduction to the first catalog, Brand wrote that hardships caused “by government and big businesses” led to a movement where “a realm of personal power is developing—power of the individual to conduct his own education.” To that end, Brand created The Whole Earth Catalog with the following stated purpose: “The Whole Earth Catalog functions as an evaluation and access device. With it, the user should know better what is worth getting and where and how to do the getting.”

On page 43 of this catalogue, Dune was listed with the following description: “A more recent Hugo Award winner than Stranger in a Strange Land, is rich, re-readable fantasy with a clear portrayal of the fierce environment it takes to cohere a community. It’s been enjoying currency in Berkeley and saltier communities such as Libre. The metaphor is ecology. The theme revolution.”

One of Brand’s big criteria for anything listed in The Whole Earth Catalog was that it could “not already [be] common knowledge.” By 1970, when Frank Herbert was invited to speak at the first Earth Day, it’s safe to say that Dune’s ecological themes were common knowledge. But in 1968, that hadn’t happened yet. These two years rewrote the reputation of Dune, for the better. And this seemingly influenced Herbert to take his sequels in directions more in line with his ecological views and less aligned with what a smaller science fiction readership might have wanted.

"The metaphor is ecology. The theme revolution."

In crafting the first Dune, Herbert created a science fiction novel that was palatable to old-school science fiction readers while attempting something new: establishing world-building that had far-reaching implications about the environmental struggle of our own planet. Herbert may not have sold Dune to Analog or Chilton or Ace as an ecological book, but once prominent environmentalists picked up on what he was laying down, his true colours were shown. It’s tricky to believe that Herbert really picked the title Dune because it reflected the word doom, mostly because the process through which he started writing the book doesn’t seem to support that. But, even later in his life, Herbert seemed to walk the environmentalist’s walk that he outlined in New World or No World.

A decade and a half after the publication of this book, both his son Brian and his widow, Theresa Shackleford, confirmed that Frank Herbert loved riding around in limos and always flew first class if he could help it. And yet, by all accounts, he never broke his promise in 1970. To his dying day, Frank Herbert never, not once, bought a new car.

But if the environmental legacy of Dune is clear, its political messaging is less on-the-nose. For various critics and scholars, the political messages of Dune are not all one way. Is it a story that elevates minorities and, along with the Fremen, truly punches up?

In 1984, Francesca Annis, who played Lady Jessica in the David Lynch Dune, said that she read the entire story of Dune in a conservative light. “I can’t relate to the story politically,” she said. “The book just doesn’t say much about ordinary people. As far as its values are concerned, it’s just one group of powerful people triumphing over other powerful people. In that way, it’s a very right-wing story.”

You can kind of squint and see where Annis is coming from, especially through the lens of the 1984 film. Close readings of Dune reveal the subversion Frank Herbert inserted into this “white saviour narrative,” and as prominent Dune scholar Haris Durrani has pointed out, even in his subversion of it, Herbert still “reinscribes the white saviour narrative.” From this point of view, Paul and his family are like missionaries, coming to “tame” a native people, steal their culture via Bene Gesserit manipulation, and then create a new power base that is arguably just as bad, if not worse. Again, as Zendaya’s Chani says at the beginning of the 2021 film, “Who will our new oppressors be?”

Without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.

“If Herbert wanted to make it clear that he was subverting the hero’s journey in the first novel, he could have done a better job,” historian Alec Nevala-Lee tells me. “It’s clearer in Messiah, but it’s easy to read the first novel the ‘wrong’ way.” But Durrani isn’t so sure. For him, Dune isn’t a white saviour narrative at all and is somewhat secretly a one-of-a-kind twentieth-century science fiction novel that speaks to Muslim ideas.

“It’s an attempt to explore Muslim ideas and different Muslim cultures in a way that I think is unique,” Durrani tells me. “There was something unique about what Herbert was doing, bringing his unique viewpoint to thinking about the future of Islam and other Muslim cultures.” The evidence Durrani cites relative to the Muslimness of Dune is somewhat obvious for any reader with an Arabic or Muslim background. In the first book, Paul is sometimes referred to as “the Mahdi,” which in Arabic refers to a spiritual leader who will unify and save the people, generally just before the entire world ends. For Durrani, this idea blurs the “white saviour trope,” because you can easily imagine a version of Paul who isn’t white but is still a fallible and dangerous leader.

“Is he white?” Durrani says with a laugh. “I mean, you could imagine a version of Paul who wasn’t white. I certainly think Gurney Halleck is a nonwhite character. Herbert probably intended Paul to be white, but he’s also drawing on histories of North Africa and the reference to the ‘Mahdi,’ who is not white. I think what’s interesting is that even if Paul is a nonwhite character, he’s still a colonial character. Herbert is playing with ideas of internal colonisation.”

As Durrani outlines in his essay “Dune’s Not a White Saviour Narrative. But It’s Complicated,” the agency of the indigenous people of Arrakis (the Fremen) “appears downplayed,” mostly because of “the narrative focus on the Atreides and Bene Gesserit.” But, from his reading of the text and Herbert’s various comments over the years, Durrani says that all the colonist themes in Dune are strictly anti-colonist, even when the “heroes” are depicted as such. “I read the focus on leaders as critical, not hagiographical... Herbert saw the series as about communities, not individuals.” While talking to me in 2022, Durrani tells me that the endpoint of the series, in Chapterhouse: Dune, features a slate of heroes and protagonists who are specifically not the pseudo–Anglo-Christian characters of House Atreides in the first book. “I think it is significant that the whole series ends with basically a rabbi, a Fremen, a Sufi saint, and basically some guy who’s representative of Afghanistan,” Durrani says. “I don’t know if Herbert was successful, but he wanted to do both: You could read this as just a traditional sci-fi story of this heroic journey. And he wanted the sense of people who are playing into that narrative. But it’s a hard line to walk.”

Dune may or may not convincingly subvert the white saviour tropes, but it does push back against other clichés in coming-of-age stories and hero’s journeys. Nobody refuses the call to adventure in Dune. And Paul’s parents aren’t distant and mythical like nearly all the parents in Star Wars. In fact, the story of the first Dune is as much the story of a mother as it is of a son. Imagine Luke Skywalker growing up with Padmé guiding him, while also fighting her own battles, and you’ve got an approximate feeling of just how radical Dune is within the pantheon of other sci-fi adventure epics. Even Leto II’s transformation into the God Emperor isn’t a black-and-white Darth Vader morality tale. Dune doesn’t wag its finger at bad decisions. It reminds us that everything has consequences.

"Dune doesn't wag its finger at bad decisions. It reminds us that everything has consequences."

“Herbert thought of science fiction... as a form of myth,” biographer William F. Touponce wrote in 1988. “But he did not see myth as an absolute. Myth and Jungian archetypes were simply another discourse that he set out to master and that he incorporated into the dialogical open-endedness of his Dune series.”

Now, contrast this kind of thinking with Star Wars. Everyone is told over and over that the reason that saga is so popular is that George Lucas stuck so close to the archetypes that people couldn’t help but love it. Dune is the opposite of Star Wars in this way; Herbert uses archetypes like the “hero’s journey” as what Touponce calls a “strategy” to “get people emotionally involved in his stories.” Touponce points out that with the publication of Messiah and Children of Dune, some more traditional, Campbell-era SF readers felt like Herbert had betrayed them. And maybe he had. Whether it was slightly retroactive or not, Herbert used the hero’s journey as a framework, but unlike Lucas, he didn’t adhere to it. Dune rejects the archetypes it creates, which gives the story more flexibility. This is why the saga continues to organically expand well beyond what Herbert wrote.

After Villeneuve’s Dune: Part Two is out on home video and streaming sometime after spring 2024, the immediate future of Dune is the Bene Gesserit. Created by Diane Ademu-John along with showrunner Alison Schapker, the forthcoming HBO TV series Dune: The Sisterhood will tell the story of the origin of the Bene Gesserit roughly ten thousand years before the events of the first novel. This series is loosely based on Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson’s 2011 novel The Sisterhood of Dune, which charts the rise of various organisations in the Dune-iverse, including the Spacing Guild and the human computers known as the Mentats. As the 2020s march on, the future legacy of Dune will possibly leave the story of Paul Atreides on Arrakis in the dust. Although there is a huge degree of uncertainty around the future of the Sisterhood series, one stated premise would follow two sisters, Valya Harkonnen and Tula Harkonnen, as they struggle to establish the Bene Gesserit order amid the reign of Empress Natalya.

The last name of the two protagonists—Harkonnen—should raise some eyebrows, too. In the distant past, the dreaded enemy of House Atreides wasn’t necessarily all evil, demonstrating that the unfolding story of Dune continues to defy easy classification. The idea of a sci-fi prequel series revealing its two main characters are part of a family that has largely been portrayed as villains would be like if there was ever a Sherlock Holmes prequel set in the 1400s, in which a heroic captain named Moriarty battled for truth and justice on the high seas. The specific place that Dune: The Sisterhood will hold in the long history of the flowing spice is, at this time, unknowable. But its basic setup has the potential to make The Sisterhood the most transgressive Dune story yet, and if the show enjoys Game of Thrones–level enthusiasm, push the chronicles of Arrakis even further into the mainstream.

The timing of Dune’s twenty-first-century renaissance isn’t just a coincidence. It’s true that Dune has benefited from the gradual mainstreaming of sci-fi and fantasy in the early twenty-first century, but because the phenomenon of these novels and books has always stood separate and apart from sci-fi trends, the emergence of Dune as a dominant pop culture force now is explicable for bigger reasons. In New World or No World, Herbert equated apathy regarding environmental activism with trying to rouse a “heavy sleeper.” But he also believed that people could change: “We can shake the sleepers—gently and persistently, saying ‘time to get up.’”

The history of Dune’s making is a history of contradictions and paradoxes. And, crucially, how we can emerge from that chaos better and wiser. In a lovely and famous Dune scene, Duke Leto tells Paul that “without change, something sleeps inside us and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.” Although often attributed to Herbert’s book, these exact lines comes from the 1984 film, not the novel version of Dune, proving that interpretations and, yes, revisions of Dune have the power to reshape our thinking and our hearts.

"The history of Dune's making is a history of contradictions and paradoxes."

Later, in both the 1984 Dune and the novel, Paul speaks of his awakening, when he becomes the person he believes he’s meant to be. Dune’s meaning to millions and its longevity are specifically connected to this kind of thinking: We can ignore the ills of the world, but not forever. At some point, everyone will have to wake up. On the final page of New World or No World, Herbert writes a single question, wondering if all the storytelling and real talk are sinking in. He asks damningly, and quite simply: “What are you doing?”

The “what” he refers to is somewhat obvious. Are you actively doing something positive in your community? Are you acting generously? Are you doing something about the horrible power structures that keep people down? Herbert may have found his fame and fortune through Dune, but his creation endures not because it lets us escape and ride a sandworm and get super-high on an awesome space drug, but because it makes us feel guilty.

From racial and gender inequity, to class divide and poverty, to dishonesty and corruption in politics, Herbert believed that communities can turn back the slow tide of oppression. The hyperbole in Dune helps to illustrate the ways in which those revolts might happen and the ways in which those revolts might go wrong. Misinformation motivates many of the horrible events throughout Dune, especially when ideological demagogues allow their followers (or voters) to believe they are above the law.

From the real sand dunes of Oregon to the spice fields of Arrakis, Frank Herbert’s heart was always in the right place. His intentions don’t mean that Dune is perfect or without problematic elements. And yet, unlike so many touchstones of twentieth-century literature, Dune is unique because its weaknesses are also its strengths. It’s a story that dares to make us hate the heroes and search inside ourselves for ways in which we, too, have made the same well-meaning mistakes. It challenges us to think outside of our own day-to-day experiences and imagine a world in which just one drop of water is more precious than gold. It pushes us to rethink our emotional strategies in dealing with disappointment, failure, and most of all, fear.

As Paul’s mother teaches him, the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear is the first and last line of mental defence. The battles fought in Dune occur across various planets and employ all sorts of ingenious weapons. And yet, throughout all the book, film, and television Dunes, the internal human struggle not to give in to fear is paramount. We know that honorary Bene Gesserit Yoda correctly linked fear with all sorts of other horrible outcomes, but Star Wars suggested that a connection with a magical energy field was required to beat back that fear. The Bene Gesserit teach that the battle can be won within your own mind. Tamping down fear doesn’t work. Ignoring it or allowing it to morph into rage can lead to “total obliteration.”

Instead, all of us, every day, have to face our fear. In the world of the twenty-first century, the growing number of fears is seemingly greater and more relentless than ever before. The mental health of each person in the world is like a dam holding back the tide of chaos. And Dune helps. A little. As Herbert said in 1970, “these are only words,” but he also taught us that fear truly is the mind-killer and that the battle for a better world begins inside each person.

“In horrible times, people tend to turn to musicals or science fiction,” Rebecca Ferguson, Lady Jessica herself, tells me. “Personally, I think the world of Dune is so profound and so layered that I hope it’s the kind of thing more of us can turn to. If people do need to escape, do need to feel comfort, I think this brand of science fiction, this kind of reflective art, is buoying and transformative. I hope it helps people. I truly do.”

Ferguson didn’t need to use the Voice to make this ring true. The love of Dune in all its forms is about both things: escape from fear and awakening from a slumber of the mind.

Dune allows us to live in the future, love the artistic intricacy of that future, and then realise, with sobering clarity, that we can’t allow things to end up like that. Dune teaches us to face our fears, to recognise there are plans within plans, and to accept that not every victory is always what it seems. It also makes us look in the mirror and wonder who we are. Like Alia, Leto, and Ghanima, it sometimes feels as though we all have the memories of our ancestors lurking in our minds. The horrible things we’ve done as a species as well as the triumphs are all there, running through our minds at the same time. Dune says there is no way to turn away from the mixed bag of human history. There’s no easy fix for the horrible ways history has unfolded or the ways in which it may repeat itself. Herbert ended his last novel, Chapterhouse: Dune, with a leap into an unknown part of space, a future that was suddenly unwritten. “We’re in an unidentifiable ship in an unidentifiable universe,” Duncan Idaho says. “Isn’t that what we wanted?”

The mystery of the future of humanity is similar. We can’t yet imagine the way in which we get to the future, and we can’t really picture what the universe will look like when the future unfolds. But it is what we want: to survive and to change. Dune says that change is possible. It’s not always all good, but it’s not all bad, either. “The best thing humans have going for them is each other,” Frank Herbert said. We don’t have to be owned by our fear. Because in the end, we can look at ourselves honestly, at this moment, and ask, without fear, “What are you doing?”

From THE SPICE MUST FLOW: The Story of Dune, from Cult Novels to Visionary Sci-Fi Movies by Ryan Britt.

Originally published on Esquire US

Photo by A24

While researching her role for a new film Past Lives, Greta Lee watched a South Korean reality show in which a celebrity is reunited with a childhood sweetheart. Being confronted by your first love is, unsurprisingly, a physical experience. “It’s initial shock, terror, a look of death, then ecstasy, joy and a desperate, deep sadness, all within a matter of seconds,” says the 40-year-old Korean-American actor on a video call from Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband, the writer Russ Armstrong, and their two sons.

It was a specific feeling she needed to tap into for the romantic drama from writer-director Celine Song, which is out now in cinemas and was released earlier this summer in the United States to considerable critical acclaim. The film charts the story of two friends from South Korea: Nora, played by Lee, and Hae Sung, played by Teo Yoo, who were separated when Nora’s family emigrated to Canada. A couple of decades (and relationships) later, the pair reconnect for an intense week in New York.

Before Nora and Hae Sung’s reunion was filmed, Song asked the actors not to interact. “Admittedly, at the time I felt like, ‘Oh, this is kind of hokey and manufactured,’ but I’m glad we went along with the experiment, because it really helped me hone in on the biology of longing and what it does to your body,” says Lee. Yoo and John Magaro, who plays Nora’s husband Arthur, actually met for the first time on screen; for months, Lee had acted as a “conduit” between the two, a distance that Song encouraged. “She’s supremely manipulative,” Lee jokes.

Taking on Nora, a nuanced romantic lead, “felt really, really radical at the time—and very nerve-racking”, says Lee. While she was starting out as an actor, doing theatre in New York, the roles available for Asian-Americans were scarce and, as Lee points out, she wasn’t cut out for stereotypes: “I was not very good at playing a lab technician or a doctor.” Later, however, she proved very cut out for scene-stealing turns in Girls, as the clueless and cut-throat gallerist Soojin, and more recently as Maxine in Netflix’s time-bending hit Russian Doll and Stella in The Morning Show, which is about to start its third season. In 2025, she is set to star alongside Jared Leto in the third instalment of Tron.

Central to Past Lives, says Lee, is the Korean concept of in-yun. Not precisely translatable, it refers to the time-spanning connections between people: if you meet in this life, you encountered each other in a past life. “Now that I’ve done the movie, I can’t not see in-yun everywhere,” Lee says, with the air of a recent convert to a niche religion. “You and I have in-yun now,” she says, pointing to me. “You can have in-yun with a chair,” she adds, pointing at her chair. Wherever you stand on the idea—as Nora says in the film, in-yun is “just something Korean people say to seduce someone”—it’s an effective way to raise the romantic stakes; both balm and delusion. “It’s really a coping mechanism, isn’t it?” says Lee, cheerily. “We’re all just trying to make sense of the injustice that we only get to live once.”

This interview took place before the SAG-AFTRA strike.

Originally published on Esquire UK

Initially, Talk to Me, the new supernatural horror movie from twins Danny and Michael Philippou, was scheduled to be an eight-week production. But when the first-time feature filmmakers opted for promising young Australian talents over proven stars, the budget shrank. The shoot? Reduced to five weeks. Which was fine, doable enough—until the day of the big montage scene. In it, a group of Australian teens takes turns clasping a magical embalmed hand, which in turn makes them possessed by the dead. The Philippous intended to film a demonic party game with the rapid cuts and laughing gas of a drug trip. One issue was that they ran out of time to take all the pictures they needed.

“We wanted 50 set-ups and the first [Assistant Director] said, ‘It is mathematically impossible to get all these shots,’” says Michael.

The 30-year-old twins, though, didn’t think so. “We were like, ‘We need to shoot this Racka style,’" says Danny.

For the previous 10 years, the Philippous had been making exuberant Internet candy under the YouTube handle RackaRacka. You’ve very likely stumbled across their work. The channel has 6.8 million subscribers, and its videos—in which they imagine, for instance, faceoffs between the characters in Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, or Ronald McDonald caught in a pizza delivery car chase—have netted over a billion views. Working as an all-hats DIY filmmaking duo, they learned to do it all—and quickly. Racka style.

So, the pair urged the assistant director to give them carte blanche over the set for a couple of hours. When they did, Danny says, “It was like a bomb hit the set: We had two cameras, and we were screaming orders and playing music.”

Suffice to say, they got the shots. Though, afterwards, a producer pulled them aside and said, in Danny’s words, "This is not how a feature film set is run.” The Philippous apologised and said they’d calm down moving forward. “But there's a certain magic in that chaos,” Danny says. “And I think you can feel that energy through the screen.”

Above all, Michael (L) and Danny (R) specialize in one thing: destruction. "Poor dad," says Danny. "We always fixed up what we destroyed. He was always nice about it, but poor dad. We really fucked his house up."

ESQUIRE: You two are twins and you work together. For the unfamiliar, how do you distinguish Danny versus Michael?

DANNY PHILIPPOU: I'm the nerd twin. Michael's the jock twin. He's physical and I'm geeky. I'm the weak twin.

MICHAEL PHILIPPOU: I like travelling. Danny likes staying at home. When we're filming, Danny makes me get hit by cars while he films it.

DP: But I'm the smarter twin—he's the dumber twin.

In a lot of your RackaRacka YouTube videos, you make a huge mess—just destroying everything. When I watch videos like that I always wonder what the clean up is like—

DP: The worst part. You have so much fun destroying everything and then it's like, "Cut!"

MP: And a lot of people filming with you are like, "I'm going to go now."

DP: That was an amazing part of [filming] Talk to Me. Being able to destroy things and then be like, "Later!" and bail out of there.

MP: Sometimes, when it's funded or we've got demo houses, we make more of a mess because it's going to get knocked down. Once at our dad's house, we filmed and let off this little bomb—and the metal casing went through the roof. And we're like, "Oh shit." So we patched up the roof, but we didn't realise it had gone through the tiles as well. It was raining and my poor dad was reading the newspaper and there were drips of water. We looked up and the whole roof was sagging.

DP: Poor dad. We always fixed up what we destroyed. He was always nice about it, but poor dad. We really fucked his house up.

When you watch [Talk To Me] with Australians, everyone just pisses themselves laughing. Taking the piss out of each other is an Australian thing.

You guys started making videos at nine years old. Looking back, is there one that's near and dear to your hearts, where you can remember yourselves getting the filmmaking bug?

DP: All of them! I remember we did this movie called Evil Flamingo. It was a series of movies. We used my sister's flamingo doll to pretend it's murdering a bunch of people. We were probably 10 or 11. We started doing practical effects. We would put it in black and white, use tomato sauce as blood, we'd put fake eyes on my friend, and the flamingo was pulling the eyes out of this guy's head. We were so young. I remember being so obsessed with practical effects. We used to do it out of necessity. We didn't have any editing software. That was actually Evil Flamingo 2.

What was the inspiration for the Evil Flamingo videos?

DP: Chucky. I wanted to do my own killer doll movies.

MP: I think Evil Flamingo 2 was one of the first times where we were like, "Let's make it engaging the whole time."

Were you guys known as the crazy filmmaker kids in school?

DP: We used to differ between filmmaker kids and just delinquents. We were pretty aggressive kids.

MP: We weren't allowed in the same class in primary school. So I'd gather all these kids from my class, and Danny would from his class, and we'd meet on the oval and fight.

DP: But our friend Timani's older sister, Nelly, really steered us towards a more creative, fun path. We would always debut all of our movies and TV shows for her. And we hadn't seen her in like ten years, because she moved away when we were nineteen. Then we saw her for the first time at the Sundance premiere of Talk to Me.

"All throughout the film, I was drawing from things that scare me personally," says Danny Philippou.

How have you iterated, based on the feedback you’d get from friends and the Internet, as you were constantly making things?

MP: We never wanted to do YouTube. We kind of fell into making YouTube videos, because we were making these fake fail videos that were going really viral—and going on Jimmy KimmelConan O'Brien—but no one knew who made them. A friend said, "You should make a YouTube channel just to say who's making them." So we made it and then there was one video that just took off. It was at 3,000 views, then we went to sleep and woke up and it was at 500,000. At the end of the day, it was 1.5 million, and we had 100,000 subscribers in that one day. And we're like, "What if we actually put effort into this?" From there, every video was an idea or sequence we always wanted to do. The more we created and it grew, we had the ability to do that with makeup artists, stunt performers, and VFX. It was a lot of fun, and that's why we did it for so many years.

DP: One of the reasons I stepped back from YouTube and wanted to do something outside of it was I couldn't be as vulnerable on the YouTube stuff. I couldn't be as personal. It was always specific content for a specific audience. The stuff we liked watching was very different than the stuff we liked making. That's why the film stuff was where we always wanted to be, and this felt like the right time to be like, Let's tackle this side of us we haven't shown yet. And that's with story and character.

MP: Before YouTube, I had a short film called Deluge that we'd shot. It was about a father and son in a suicide cult, and I was never going to upload that to RackaRacka. I was like, My audience is gonna fucking hate this. Stepping outside of that was the goal here.

What were you watching during that time?

DP: I remember my favourite TV show that I watched and rewatched was called In Treatment. It's an HBO show about a therapist just talking to his patients. I was so in love with that show.

MP: And then things like The Hunt and Memories of Murder—films that worked so well on a character level. It's got like a hundredth of the budget of a big Hollywood thing, but for some reason it's so much stronger. And it's just so well thought out in terms of character and story.

DP: In In Treatment, even just the buildup to a character throwing water on another character, it was like someone just got shot. Because you were invested that much into the character—something that small carried that much weight.

MP: Maybe we were drawn to that because we had done all the big fight stuff.

In Talk to Me, one thing I was struck by is how mean these kids are. All the Australian people I've met have been very friendly. Are Australian kids just really mean, then they're nice when they travel?

DP: [Laughs.] It depends on the friend group. In our friend group, the way we connect is by absolutely roasting each other.

MP: It's the most multicultural friend group. People from all over, all in the same network, and the way we connected is just by bagging the shit out of each other. And you grow closer because of that. Those people are still our best friends today. When I look at the film and you say they're really mean, I'm like, Are they? [Laughs.] I know they are. There are things that are so cruel from Hayley [played by Zoe Terakes], but some of the things Hayley says we laugh at.

DP: When you watch it with Australians, everyone just pisses themselves laughing. Taking the piss out of each other is an Australian thing.

During the film’s possession sequences, one of the characters has a sexual experience and makes out with a dog. Tell me about filming that.

MP: With that scene, we had everyone play through each other's possessions. Not kissing a dog, but going through the actions. And on set he's not kissing a real dog. It's all done through effects. But we've all had those [embarrassing] experiences growing up, and some are filmed and you feel bad for the people. It's not like back in the day where it can be talked about and forgotten. It's immortalised. Even just mistakes people have made. Which kind of sucks. Young people can't really grow safely or learn from experiences because it can always be shoved in their face.

Talk to Me deals with loss and grief. I read that you had a bad car accident when you were sixteen, Danny. What happened?

DP: I split my eye open and they thought I might've broken my spine. I was in the hospital afterwards and I couldn't stop shaking. The doctors would come in, turn on the heaters, and give me extra blankets. Then my sister came in, sat next to me, and held my hand. As she did that, the shaking just stopped. I was shaking not out of being cold, but out of being in shock. And the touch of my sister, someone I loved, brought me out of it. So human touch and the connections between people was always a really strong thing for me. Before we had the hand as a motif, it was just evident all the way through the film, and it just felt right to have the hand be the representation of it—this clingy, desperate hand needing connection.

Were you driving the car?

DP: No, I was in the car with three other friends, and I was sleeping in the back seat. They went through a red light and we got t-boned. I remember waking up and the car was spinning around. I was thinking my friends were dead, not understanding where I was. And I was so out of it that when I was asked my name, I was saying the street I lived on. The way Riley's face swells up in the movie was the way my face was swelling up. You could not recognise me. I was so deformed and disfigured.

Don’t let Michael (L) and Danny (R) Philippou’s faces fool you. "I’ve always been drawn to doing something dangerous, especially when it’s related to telling a story," says Michael.

In the movie, Mia [played by Sophie Wilde] feels guilt for being responsible for Riley's accident. Were those feelings drawn from that incident?

DP: Those feelings were drawn from our neighbours who we watched grow up. I remember their mom would ask me to drive them to school, and I was always terrified of doing that. I had this intrusive thought in my head of, What if I fucking crash the car and kill them right now and I have to go back and face their mom? All throughout the film, I was drawing from things that scare me personally.

And yet you guys both seem like daredevils. Michael is even a certified stuntman. So how did you push through that fear?

MA: I've always been drawn to doing something dangerous, especially when it's related to telling a story. If it's in my head, I'm just going to do it. I don't want anybody else to carry that risk. But it's something in me that's always just wanted to perform that stuff. Maybe it's the only time I feel present or something. And I'm scared when I agree to some stuff. We do these live events where I can get paralyzed or be killed, and beforehand I'm thinking about news articles if it goes wrong. But when you pull it off and you look back at the footage it's like, "Ohh, you survived that!" There's something about that that's so exhilarating.

DA: Even on a small scale, pushing through things is like that. Even the fear of doing a movie—in the daytime, I was so confident about it. But at night, all those doubts start to creep in, and you're like, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. I've never made a movie before. I can't believe there's millions of dollars on the line. I'm just questioning and overthinking it. Then when the day comes, you just have to take the leap.

MA: It's like everything you want is at the edge of fear. And I feel like a lot of people don't pursue things because of how people will react initially, or they’re thinking about what will happen if they fail. But if you actually just push that aside and start, no matter where you end up, you're going to be so thankful that you did. The worst thing for me is saying, "What if…?" at the end of life. There's parts of my childhood where I'm like, "I wish I just did that." I think from an early age, I tried to just go for it.

Was there a specific moment where you learned that lesson?

MA: A few moments. It was something I saw from a friend who was getting bullied by three kids. He pushed a bully. Then at lunchtime, the three biggest, scariest kids in our grade came and beat the shit out of him until he was on the floor and bleeding. They beat the crap out of him until they were out of breath and then the bully said, "You had enough yet?" This kid got up and punched him in the face. And that defiance was so striking to me. There was a time when I was getting bullied and I used that as inspiration. I did this thing and got my ass kicked after, but I was proud that I stood up for myself and my friends.

From: Esquire Us

10-Word Review

Get sucked in by the drama and Cillian Murphy's stare.

The Skinny

Now this is a story all about how / the world got flipped turned upside down / with a bomb from the Manhattan Project cadre / here's the life of Oppenheimer (and his thousand-yard stare).


Here Be Spoilers...


What we like:

Christopher Nolan isn't making films, he's creating an experience. For his latest trick, he presents the biopic of the father of the atomic bomb, J Robert Oppenheimer. Adapted from American Prometheus written by Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin, the film chronicle the famed theoretical physicist's life, from student life at Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge to being the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory to getting his security clearance revoked due to tenuous communist ties.

It seemed strange for Nolan to take up a profile like Oppenheimer (played by Cillian Murphy). Especially, when it's shot in Nolan's preference for the IMAX experience. There are no action scenes, nothing that befits the movie being shot on large format film stock—IMAX 65mm and Panavision 65mm film—(there was an estimated 17.7km worth of finished film stock) but Nolan sees it apt to highlight Oppenheimer on such a scale.

It's quite amazing how it all came together. There's nary a dull moment throughout the film's three-hour running time thanks to Nolan's deft direction, stellar ensemble and immaculate sound engineering. Not content with a linear re-telling of Oppenheimer's life, the film jumps back and forth to key moments and not only that it switches between the perspectives between Oppenheimer and Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr), a senior member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC); one in colour and the other in stark black-and-white, respectively.

The sound and music for Oppenheimer is something to behold. Faithful to the physics, the sound follows after we see the explosion. This is also true during a storm, where we see the flash of lightning, followed by the boom of thunder. When the first nuclear weapon test started, the expected sounds of the explosion were sidelined by Oppenheimer's breathing as he saw the conflagration of fire and billowing smoke. In the theatre, we sat transfixed by the near-silence of the explosion before the sound kicked in.

In his second time working with Nolan, Ludwig Göransson took Nolan's advice in using the violin as Oppenheimer's central theme. Göransson said that the stringed instrument could go from "the most romantic, beautiful tone in a split second to neurotic and heart-wrenching, horror sounds".

The best example is the nuclear explosion at Trinity (the codename of the site where it took place). We were at the edge of our seats in the lead-up to the experiment. Which is weird because all the historical accounts said that the experiment went off without a hitch. But how it was edited and soundtracked, you hope the experiment will be successful.

Cillian Murphy, who is well-known for his tenure in the TV series, Peaky Blinders, puts on a defining performance as Oppenheimer. Demonstrating the complexity of Oppenheimer with nuance would hobble a lesser actor but not in Murphy's hands. With Murphy, Oppenheimer comes across as a sympathetic Frankenstein (the doctor not as most erroneously would assume, the monster), a man who witnessed the mysteries of the atoms with awe and, later in the film, as a nuclear shade who is now the self-appointed martyr for ushering in the Atomic Age.

Furthering adding to fleshing out Oppenheimer, Murphy went on an intense transformation by reading up on the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu religious text that Oppenheimer would quote from and going on a diet that reduced him to his character’s stick-thin frame.

Downey Jr gives one of the best performances of his career as the embittered Strauss, who has a fractious relationship with Oppenheimer. Driven by ambition, Downey Jr displays a man who is an imposing figure in America’s nuclear program but dwarfed by his pettiness against a slight from Oppenheimer. Emily Blunt plays Oppenheimer's wife, Kitty, and she holds her own in this movie. Her deathstare towards her husband's ex-colleague or her bemused reaction during an interrogation, Blunt conveys the hidden pillar of strength in Oppenheimer's marriage.

I'm just glad that Murphy is back to playing the lead for a major film. To my limited memory, the last films that Cillian Murphy headlined were Sunshine and 28 Days Later.

Because there's something mesmerising about the way he stares at you; as though vacant but yet arresting at the same time. I'm pretty sure if there was a short film of just the camera pushing in slowly into Murphy's haunted mien, people would pay money to see it.

I mean, look at him. Now imagine if this was in colour, you will DIE IN THOSE POOLS OF BLUE.

What we didn't like:

Seven words: NOT SEEING CILLIAN MURPHY'S DONG ON IMAX.

I'm joking. Mostly. I'll explain. This is Christopher Nolan's first R-rated movie and it touches on Oppenheimer's love life with Jean Tatlock (played by Florence Pugh). Nolan felt that the sex scenes between Oppenheimer and Tatlock were necessary to showcase the couple's deep connection. There were rumours that this might show full frontal nudity from both actors but alas, nothing from Murphy. Not even a bare buttock. (We are all about having more male actors go the full monty on the big screen. CHILL IT WITH THE DOUBLE-STANDARD HOLLYWOOD.)

I get that Nolan doesn't want to shy from the intimate moments between Oppenheimer and Tatlock but it felt gratuitous. And it would be nice to have more insight into Tatlock's life and motivations. The character does not seem fully fleshed out. Even Emily Blunt's Kitty barely escaped this bare-bones characterisation.

What to look out for:

The number of established actors that are part of this cast. Aside from the marquee names like Matt Damon as Lieutenant General Leslie Groves and Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, there are other notable faces to spot. Personalities like Jason Clarke as Roger Robb; Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence; Dane DeHaan as Kenneth Nichols; Benny Safdie as Edward Teller; James Urbaniak as Kurt Gödel; Jack Quaid as Richard Feynman; Olivia Thirlby as Lilli Hornig; Casey Affleck as Boris Pash; Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr; Gary Oldman as President Harry S Truman and so on.

The only notable person not in the cast is Sir Michael Caine. Having appeared in all of Nolan's production since Batman Begins in 2005, this is the only film that doesn't feature him.

Also, don't forget the end-credit scene that sets up the Oppenheimer sequel. JK.

Oppenheimer is now out in theatres.

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