“Penny Dreadful” Season 1 – Horror Camp, Problematic and Fun

Season 1 | Penny Dreadful Wiki | Fandom

    “Penny Dreadful,” Season 1 was quite enjoyable. I’ve read all the books it pulls inspiration from “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “The Picture of Dorian Gray” to name a few and I like the twist it took on the characters from these stories while creating it’s own lore. The casting for this show is absolutely fantastic. Eva Green could have carried the show on her own but Harry Treadaway, Billie Piper and Timothy Dalton bring so much nuance and depth to the characters they inhabit. There are problematic areas of the show that come out in the time period it takes place in (The Victorian Era of England) and I’ll get into that deeper into the review.

The show was created by John Logan who produced the show along with Sam Mendes.

The story follows Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) and explorer Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) as they recruit others in their quest to save Malcom’s daughter Mina from a mysterious supernatural force.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Mysteries – There are a few mysteries that provide the basis for the show. There is the mystery of who has Mina (we learn it is Vampires), what is the aim of the evil force that inhabits Vanessa, What is Dorian Gray’s endgame? Who is responsible for the brutal murders? (It looks like both vampires and later on we see werewolves as a possible culprit too). These are the mysteries that drive the show and from these mysteries what choices it will prompt our characters to make.

Dorian Gray – Reeve Carney plays Dorian Gray and like Dorian Gray from the book he is a character who is all about new experiences and doesn’t care about people beyond how he can use them. This makes him an antagonist or at least an anti-villain but we don’t know his aim beyond the seeking of new experiences. He ends up sleeping with half of the main cast and each time it is when they are at their most vulnerable and in the case of Vanessa triggers her possession. His very nature is dangerous and Reeve plays him so well as this unaging, intelligent, beautiful and selfish man. I’m curious to see where his story will go in Season 2.

The Team – The Team works largely because of their relationships with each other. You have Sir. Malcolm and Sembene who have history in Africa together and Sembene holds him accountable to having to possibly kill Mina if she can’t be saved. You have Vanessa who was Mina’s friend and is like an adopted daughter to Sir. Malcolm. You have Ethan who is running away from his past in the United States and holds a dark secret but connects and falls in love with Brona a woman dying of tuberculosis. You also have Dr. Frankenstein and the 2 creatures he makes and his history with both of them.

Dr. Frankenstein, Proteus and Caliban – Harry Treadaway does such a fantastic job of making Frankenstein a man disconnected from people and obsessed with creating life of his own. We see him succeed in this when we first meet Proteus who he creates and who he lets name himself and we even see Proteus begin to recall the life he lived before his death. Sadly it is cut short by Frankenstein’s firstborn creation Caliban. Caliban is tortured and was born out of pain and holds nothing but resentment for his creator. This changes when in the end the only person he can turn to is Dr. Frankenstein and they come to an understanding. These two relationships are complicated and illustrate how broken Dr. Frankenstein is as in the end his creations are reflections of him in the actions they do and the actions he does for them.

Ethan and Vanessa Ives – One of the healthiest relationships on the show is that between Vanessa and Ethan. Vanessa is the one who is willing to believe in Ethan and he believes in her in turn. They have a deep friendship and in the end it is Ethan who rescues her for rescuing him when he is able to cast out the possession with a trinket Brona gave him as she was dying. It is a powerful scene and I appreciate how honest their relationship is. He tells Vanessa about Brona and she supports their love. It is touching and really the only healthy relationship on the show.

Ethan and Brona – Ethan and Brona is a sad tale. They become a couple pretty fast but run into trouble when Dorian triggers Brona’s self-doubt as he had slept with her earlier and it is after her lashing out at Ethan that he also sleeps with Ethan. Neither of them know this about one another but they are both running away from their guilt about their pasts. In the end Brona is killed by Dr. Frankenstein who promises he will bring her back in immortality, of course Ethan doesn’t know this and it is her death and his isolation from the team as well as being hunted by men sent by his father that trigger him turning into a werewolf and him slaughtering an inn…leaving him as the possible secondary antagonist next season.

Sir. Malcolm and Vanessa Ives – This is the most toxic relationship on the show that eventually pays off into some sort of balance. Sir. Malcolm uses Vanessa to find Mina but in the end chooses her over Mina who has been lost to the darkness and become a vampire. The arc getting here involves the two of them hurting each other so much as they both reel from how they hurt their family and one another. Vanessa is willing to confront her guilt and Sir. Malcolm truly isn’t until the end. Vanessa is a good character where I’d say Sir. Malcolm is not, at best he’s a protagonist who functions as an anti-villain because of his past and current actions.

The United States Colonialism – Through Ethan we learn about the death of the indigenous people in the Indian Wars in the United States and thankfully it isn’t glorified. Whenever it is talked about it is with shame and guilt and Ethan clearly has PTSD for fighting in the wars. We learn about the children missionaries stole from their tribes and lost generations…I hope we learn more as this is a huge part of Ethan’s identity and I appreciate that the show recognizes the atrocities that it was.

The Cons:

Sir Malcolm’s Colonialism – Sir. Malcolm goes to Africa with his son and we learn that he raped and pillaged his way across the continent. The only time this is called out is when Vanessa is possessed, no character calls out Sir. Malcolm for the evils he committed in Africa has a colonial “explorer.” This is easily the most problematic element of the show and I really hope next season calls him out. I’m also left wondering where Sembene’s story falls into this and I hope we get the story of why he follows Sir. Malcolm.

The Era’s Sexism – Sexism is a fairly common trope in this series and it is largely expressed in how Vanessa is “protected.” The way Brona is used by Dorian Gray and others in her past (her abusive fiance) and Sir. Malcolm’s dismissal of any woman but his willingness to still use  and abuse them. It is disgusting and again, Sir. Malcolm is not called out which I hope happens later…same goes for Dorian Gray.

I enjoyed “Penny Dreadful” a lot. This is my kind of horror trash and the casting perfection and mysteries are largely what make it work. I can’t wait to see where these character arcs go as I care about them. My favorites are Vanessa and Brona but even the other supporting characters have nuance and depth to them even if they are nothing more than awful people. In the end I’d say this show is worth checking out, you should just know the problematic elements going in as it is the biggest problem I have with the show.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10

The Aviator (2004): A True Scorsese Biopic Masterpiece

aviator

     I think at this point “The Aviator” is my favorite Martin Scorsese film. It has an amazing soundtrack, cinematography, writing and cast and deserves all the awards it won. It is a film I definitely plan to watch again and it inspired me to check out Howard Hughes’s films, which will be some later reviews down the road.

      The film was directed by Martin Scorsese, written by John Logan and produced by Michael Mann, Sandy Climan, Graham King and Charles Evans Jr. It is also based off the book Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham.

     The story is a biopic of Howard Hughes and the conflicts he went through with the businesses he owned and his role as a director and producer in Hollywood while dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The Pros: The Soundtrack – It’s Howard Shore so the fact that the soundtrack is amazing doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He does a great job here of capturing the jazz of the era, the torment in Howard Hughes’s mind. He truly did a masterful job on this soundtrack.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is stunning, especially in any sequences where Hughes is flying in one of his planes. Robert Richardson did a great job and the film is beautiful.

The Writing – The writing is really solid in this. People talk like they would in the era and we get a lot of show rather than tell, which is the screenwriter John Logan doing  a great job at his job. This film is long but it doesn’t feel long because of the writing.

The Characters – The main characters and their relationships are really what drive the film and it is fascinating to see how they interact and react to Hughes, who is an unstable genius. His relationships are really what drive the film.

Katharine Hepburn – Cate Blanchett does a fantastic job as Katharine Hepburn. She’s eccentric and selfish just like Hughes, but we see does have a little more self-awareness and did try to deal with the problems in their relationship that he ignored since he was so focused on his job. She moves on and is happier for it, though in his darkest place she still reaches out as a friend, even after how cruel he was when they broke up.

Noah Dietrich – John C. Reilly plays Hughes’s second in command and is the one making everything happen behind the scenes. Reilly is a great actor, which I really didn’t realize until this film. His arc is learning to put his foot down with Hughes so that Hughes won’t destroy the companies he created with his different projects.

Juan Trippe – Trippe is the owner of Pan Am Airlines and the main antagonist in the film. He is played by Alec Baldwin who does a good job in the role and manages to imbue the character with honor, humanity and ruthlessness. His arc is when he stops the fight after the hearing becomes an attack against him rather than the attack against Hughes it was meant to be.

Senator Brewster – Alan Alda is one of my favorite actors and it is wonderful seeing him in an antagonistic role as he works with Trippe to keep Hughes’s airline from competing with Pan Am. He’s ruthless but has a kindness to him as you see that even though he’s corrupt there is still a humanity to the character.

Ava Gardner – Ava is the one Hughes keeps wanting to marry but who continues to turn him down since his crazyness (paranoia, etc.) keep her from feeling safe around him. She is there to help him get back together though and we see she loves him as a friend, just knows that she could never marry him or be in a relationship with him. Kate Beckinsale does a good job.

Howard Hughes – DeCaprio is fantastic as Hughes. He really does a great job as the eccentric millionaire (Hello Gatsby) though this time we get to see the full depths of a very flawed genius. DeCaprio captures his passion, fear, anger and stubbornness and seeing him complete his arc and face his those fears is powerful.

Making “Hell’s Angels” – Making the film “Hell’s Angels” (Which is a pretty good film) is fascinating as we see how Hughes needed everything to be perfect and to be a certain way. Each year see what is going on, whether it is getting more cameras for filming, editing it so that it will be in sound or trying to find clouds to film the flight scenes. This could have been the film and us given more details and it would have been just as great as the film we got.

The Flights – The flights are beautiful. We see fighter planes, spy planes and even a crash that Hughes goes through over the course of the film. In each case the freedom and danger. The planes are beautiful and the shots from the sky are stunning.

The Hearing – They do a good job of overlaying the hearing where Hughes calls Senator Brewster out for business relationship with Juan Trippe and Trippe’s monopoly on the airlines and with it we get the conclusion as he finally pulls himself out of his depression and funk in order to be there and not to panic.

   There isn’t really anything I can say wrong about this film. It hits all the right notes, all the main characters are explored and grow and change or deal as the film progresses and the story has excellent payoffs. I’d highly recommend this film. It is the best film I have seen from Martin Scorsese and deserves all the awards it won. Not only does it give the snapshot of a person during an era, but it also manages to capture the freedom in flying and the passion it takes to make projects a reality.

Final Score: 10 / 10