Casting Calls: Denis Villeneuve’s Dune

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Hollywood’s long-gestating remake of Dune has been stuck in Development Hell for what seems like forever, but now with director Denis Villeneuve in charge of the project, it seems like it might finally get made. The definite cinematic version of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi epic could actually be in our near future.

But who will bring his characters to life on the screen? At this point, there still is no screenplay, so casting is a far off proposition. But let’s say the project gets that far. Here are my choices for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.

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PAUL ATREIDES: Asa Butterfield
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I tried with all my might to find an actor at about 16-17 for Paul Atreides, as I feel the biggest stumbling block to the believability of Kyle MachLaclan and Alec Newman in the role were the fact that both were too old. That said, you can’t just throw any teen actor in there, as Paul is at once young, idealistic, strategic, and full of self-doubt. And a literal Messiah. Out of all the young actors out there, I feel Asa Butterfield of Hugo and Ender’s Game can most easily portray all of these qualities. And his eyes are already piercing. Imagine him with blue Spice eyes.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Tom Holland

DUKE LETO ATREIDES: Michael Fassbender
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In the novel, heroic and noble Duke Leto is said to have “hawkish” features, cutting a valiant figure. Michael Fassbender, hot off success in Prometheus and X-Men, could easily fit the bill, especially when one sees what he did with Macbeth. He could bring an air of opportunistic thought to Leto, a man who is deep down a good soul, but has been hardened by a lifetime of political maneuvering.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Russell Crowe

LADY JESSICA: Vera Farmiga
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Physical looks are another factor in Lady Jessica’s casting, as she is said to have a distinctive round face and piercing eyes of her own. Voila, enter Vera Farmiga, an actress at just the right age to come across as in her thirties, but with a wisdom and cunning far exceeding that.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Emilia Clarke

BARON VLADIMIR HARKONNEN: Vincent D’Onofrio
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To be honest, I almost went with the alternate choice on this one, but D’Onofrio’s turn as Wilson Fisk in Daredevil won me over, as that is exactly how the Baron should be portrayed: intelligent, ambitious, and utterly ruthless. All he would need to do is bring the relish of theatricality that D’Onofrio has already been proven to have and you’ve got yourself a Baron to surpass Ian McNiece.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: John Goodman

FEYD-RAUTHA: Cameron Monaghan
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Feyd was a character that eluded me for awhile, both in casting and true understanding. Most portrayals cast him as a rich playboy of the Harkonnen family, only valuable for his genetic material. So why not build upon that by displaying a slightly unhinged portion of his personality that rebels against this nihilistic fate? Cameron Monaghan, best known as the proto-Joker known as Jerome on Gotham, would kill in this role. Literally.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Domhnall Gleeson

PADISHAH EMPEROR SHADDAM IV: Damian Lewis
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Again, here’s one that I almost chose the alternate, but there’s something about the smaller name of Damian Lewis that wins me over. He has experience in roles both villainous and militaristic, and he fits the physical description of a man appearing in his early forties with red hair. He’ll do just nicely.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Benedict Cumberbatch

PRINCESS IRULAN: Emma Watson
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Irulan is regal, beautiful, and stunningly smart. Who could ever play her? Uh, duh, Emma Watson! Who else? Do I need to explain myself on this one?
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Elizabeth Olsen

THUFIR HAWAT: Mark Hamill
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For the longest time, I wanted Rutger Hauer in the role of Leto’s prized Mentat. But then The Last Jedi‘s trailer dropped, and I heard the first inklings of a darker, sadder Luke Skywalker, and it clicked. Mark Hamill will have his first post-Star Wars sci-fi role that isn’t glossed over and forgotten. Seriously, look at him! He’s got this. This is stunt casting that works. If not him, bring Patrick Stewart back to Dune, but as a different character. You gotta drum up geek news somehow!
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Patrick Stewart

GURNEY HALLECK: Ray Winstone
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While I loved Patrick Stewart’s turn as Gurney Halleck in David Lynch’s version, I admit that he only nailed the more poetic side of his character; he was simply too pretty to be the portly, rough troubador of the book. Ray Winstone, however, can combine both aspects effortlessly, as noted in films like Beowulf and Noah.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Ray Stevenson

DR. WELLINGTON YUEH: Ken Watanabe
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I cannot recall a physical description of the traitor Yueh in the book past his Imperial Suk tattoo, but it seems all the rage right now among fan casters to interpret him as Asian, given his last name. I thought, why not? Ken Watanabe is the best Japanese actor in Hollywood right now, and is more than capable of conveying the sadness and torment of Yueh.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Gary Oldman

CHANI: Auli’i Cravalho
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First: I fully believe that to do the Fremen justice, they must truly be a desert people, meaning Arabic actors. Their entire culture is based around those peoples, and it only makes sense that desert nomads wouldn’t be sparkling white in the heat of two suns. That being said, right off the bat, I’m sort of breaking that rule twice with Chani and Stilgar. In Chani’s case, I cannot think of any Arabic actresses in the 17-20 age range that I feel can do the job. Cravalho, however, hot off success as Disney’s Moana, is already an incredible voice actor. If she’s as good live-action as I believe she is, then Chani, the female Fremen warrior and romantic interest of Paul, is in good hands.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Odeya Rush

STILGAR: Oscar Isaac
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I know, again, a Fremen not being played by an Arabic actor, but I have one movie for you to look at: Ex Machina. He’s intellectual, intimidating, not without his own sense of menace within the picture. It doesn’t hurt that he sports a full beard in that film, which is how I’ve always pictured Stilgar.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Alexander Siddig

DUNCAN IDAHO: Chiwetel Ejiofor
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Duncan Idaho is another character a lot of people are race-changing to diversify the cast in fan posts, and I for one don’t see the problem here. Idaho is said to be quite the looker, yet a fierce warrior with a voice of brilliance. Chiwetel Ejiofor of Serenity and Doctor Strange could run with this role. If not him, then David Tennant of Doctor Who is just as good.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: David Tennant

DR. KYNES: Shaun Toub
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And now we have some Arabic actors as Fremen: Shaun Toub of Iron Man looks suitably bookish but capably tough as a hypothetical Dr. Kynes, and considering that he held his own with Robert Downey Jr. on the same film doesn’t hurt either.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Irfan Khan

THE BEAST RABBAN: Aaron Paul
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Unlike his brother Feyd, who is able to contain his psychopathic tendencies behind a veneer of nobility, Rabban earns his nickname as the Beast by being an insufferable and murderous bastard, not very bright or tactical in any way. Aaron Paul, with his rough voice and reputation as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad is perfect as the Harkonnen’s jack-booted thug of a royal figure.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Garrett Hedlund

ALIA ATREIDES: Dafne Keen
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This one was a battle between the two heavyweight child actresses of the present day, as either one already has the sci-fi credentials to portray Paul’s abomination of a sister and young oracle of the Fremen. But I have to say, after seeing Logan, I really want Dafne Keen in the role. She can play fierce and violent as easily as she can display maturity, which is exactly what the role of Alia needs.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Millie Bobbie Brown

PITER DE VRIES: Cillian Murphy
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The Baron’s twisted Mentat assassin was described in the book as a Spice addict, possessing the Fremen’s blue eyes and a murderous streak tempered by a snakelike pantomime of the typical “powerful advisor.” Cillian Murphy, long favored by director Christopher Nolan for his striking blue eyes, has played this kind of role many times in the Dark Knight trilogy and Red Eye, to name a few, so why not go with him here as well?
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Daniel Bruhl

COUNT HASIMIR FENRING: Michael Sheen
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A character that was left out of Lynch’s film, Fenring is an interesting case, the most trusted advisor of the Emperor and a chief architect of his plot to eliminate Duke Leto. This requires an actor who can make the most of little screen time, and Michael Sheen can definitely accomplish that in spades.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Christoph Waltz

REVEREND MOTHER GAIUS HELEN MOHIAM: Helen Mirren
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Described as the typical witch-like crone in the book, Reverend Mother Mohiam is the chief matriarch of the Bene Gesserit, perhaps among the most powerful forces in the Imperium. Helen Mirren, herself practical Hollywood royalty, is no crone, but can be made up to fit the bill, and would certainly be an intimidating force on screen.
ALTERNATE CHOICE: Jessica Lange

SHADOUT MAPES: Shohreh Aghdashloo
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I love Shohreh Aghdashloo. From her starring role in The Expanse to all of the other supporting bits in many films, she has been presented as a confident and elegant woman, able to hold her own against anyone in her way. This perfectly fits Shadout Mapes, the palace keeper and the secret savior of Paul and Jessica, a tough Fremen woman in her own right.

Any other roles I did not cast here as they are simply too small to extend too much thought to them. Just get actors who won’t take a dump on the set and they’ll be fine.

So, what do you think? Do you like the choices I made here and hope Villeneuve goes in these directions? Or do you have other ideas? Let me know in the comments, and keep the Spice flowing!

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REVIEW: Godzilla (2014)

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Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Max Borenstein and David Callaham
Starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston

If you don’t already know, than you will soon find out just how much of a tokusatsu and kaiju film fanatic I am; just the fact that I refer to those films by their actual subgenre terms and not just as “Godzilla” movies should begin to account for that. With this known, hear me on this: Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the redemption American filmmakers and audiences have been seeking since the first fumble Roland Emmerich’s film made with the Big G’s legacy. It’s probably even the best Godzilla film since the original 1954 classic. It certainly is the only one that feels like it belongs in the same class.

In 1999, the Janjira nuclear plant in Japan is mysteriously destroyed with most hands lost including supervisor Joe Brody’s (Bryan Cranston) wife, Sandra. Years later, Joe’s son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a US Navy ordnance disposal officer, must go to Japan to help his estranged father who obsessively searches for the truth of the incident. In doing so, father and son discover the disaster’s secret cause on the wreck’s very grounds. This enables them to witness the reawakening of a terrible threat to all of Humanity, which is made all the worse with a second secret revival elsewhere of an even greater threat. And yet, this new enemy of civilization may be its only hope. And its name is Godzilla.

Edwards probably had the toughest job imaginable ahead of him when he accepted the job directing this film. Having only directed one film beforehand, even if it was the critically acclaimed Monsters, this must not have instilled a lot of confidence in the fanbase. Boy, were they wrong. Everything about his gargantuan vision is perfectly suited to the King of the Monsters, and in many ways improves upon what Ishiro Honda and Tomoyuki Tanaka envisioned for their God of Destruction over 60 years ago.

However, to talk to the average moviegoer who claims to have “watched Godzirra movies back in the day,” you’d think this movie was a sin against God. “There’s not enough Godzilla!” “It’s boring and pretentious!” “Not enough monster fighting!” These are the usual complaints I heard from behind the concession counter when this film was still in theaters.And sorry, but all of these arguments betray a lack of true love for the titular creature and what he represents. Godzilla is best understood not through the prism of the seemingly-countless Vs. series of films from 1956 on (and don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had there), but through the dark iris of 1954’s Gojira.

As expanded upon in The Long Take’s excellent comparison video, Edwards’ Godzilla opens the story with a disaster related to the headlines of the time: the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown becomes the Janjira tragedy. And then the new film branches off: while Tanaka’s Godzilla was always a response to unchecked nuclear testing and aggression, the title monster having been awakened and severely scarred by a nuclear bomb, Edwards’ Godzilla is impervious to the bomb, indeed, to all human attempts to destroy him. The new Godzilla represents the entirety of nature’s response to mankind’s stupidity and arrogance, effortlessly swatting away the best of our weapons and soldiers in his single-minded quest to destroy this film version’s nuclear allegory, the MUTOs.

With this, the writers achieved a distancing from the old anti-nuke allegory in a perfect way that doesn’t negate those fears; it expands upon them, bringing every human action against Mother Earth into sharp, uncompromising focus. From there, all the nitty-gritty narrative plot points become borrowed from the best of the unmade Godzilla films. The MUTOs are discovered within the carcass of another Godzilla-like creature, just like in Jan de Bont’s 1994 script. The MUTOs themselves are constantly evolving; another lifting from Godzilla vs the Gryphon. The final battle takes place in San Francisco–hello, Godzilla 3D. It’s as if the filmmakers wanted to reward us for waiting through the deaths of all of those promising projects by giving them a chance to shine through this one.

And then Edwards takes over, drawing out the suspense of the main set pieces Spielberg-style, keeping the camera fixed on a human-eye vantage point. Whether watching Godzilla stomp his enemy from an hovering helicopter shot or the male MUTO swooping over from a 40th-story window, not a single shot aimed at the monster is not in documentary style. There were a few moments where I felt like I was watching a Jurassic Park sequel.

And now comes one of the bigger complaints, and one that is hard to ignore: the human characters. Everyone gives a great performance, from Strathairn’s by-the-book command to Cranston’s tortured, obsessive search for the truth. The problem is that they all don’t do much. All of their actions contribute to the greater calamities that propel the plot along to the final confrontation. Ford is the only one who accomplishes anything worthwhile, but in the end, still fails in his mission. But I say this isn’t a failing of the screenplay, but a main feature. Looking back to the original film, the exact same problems exist: too many people who do nothing but watch, slack-jawed, in terror of the monster. Only one, Dr. Serizawa, is the man of action, defeating the beast in the end. Ford is now that character, but is infinitely more relatable as a soldier and a father–another aspect of American cinema.

I could go on and on, but I trust my point is made, or at least begun. Godzilla is more than the majority of its predecessors. It is the first successful reboot, from any country or filmmaker, of the original film. There are a handful in the Japanese series that are worthy followups, but none captures both the fear and wonder of the unknown, and the sheer power of Allmother Nature like this one. Like the incredible, bone-rattling roar of the Big G himself, Godzilla makes a mighty impression.