Review: ‘Priscilla’ is an eye-opening look at life with Elvis Presley

Review: ‘Priscilla’ is an eye-opening look at life with Elvis Presley
Cailee Spaeny headlines the film while Jacob Elordi plays Elvis. (Supplied)
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Updated 17 November 2023
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Review: ‘Priscilla’ is an eye-opening look at life with Elvis Presley

Review: ‘Priscilla’ is an eye-opening look at life with Elvis Presley

CHENNAI: It would not be a reach to say everybody knows of Elvis Presley — the king of rock and roll has been widely written about and has been the subject of many a film. But very few know about his young wife, Priscilla, and director Sofia Coppola made it her mission to share her story.

Coppola’s film “Priscilla” is based on the 1985 memoir “Elvis and Me” penned by Priscilla Presley. Cailee Spaeny (“Mare of Easttown,” “Bad Times”) headlines the film while Jacob Elordi (“Euphoria,” “The Kissing Booth”) plays Elvis, who has been fantastically directed so as not to upstage his on-screen lover.

Having had its world premiere at this year’s Venice Film Festival, the film then travelled to the recently concluded Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. “Priscilla” is a fascinating work that fetched Spaeny the Volpi Cup for Best Actress in Venice. 

The love story begins when teenage Pricilla Beaulieu meets Elvis Presley at a party. Seen through Priscilla’s eyes, the movie underlines the unknown side of the American legend as well as the couple's long courtship and a marriage that ran into turbulent waters and eventually hit the rocks. A journey from a German army base camp to the dream estate at Graceland in the US, “Priscilla” turns out to be a fantasy and a story of fame and love — as well as one of extreme control, co-dependence and the pitfalls of fame.

One of the first songs one hears in Coppola's work is Frankie Avalon's “Venus” wafting from a jukebox in a snack bar in 1959. The director has always had great choices in musical scores, but this song is thrillingly perfect.

Coppola then details the young lady’s struggle over the next 14 years to hold on to her man. Her's was a life lived in the overwhelming shadows of a legend, an entertainer par excellence who intoxicated her in no small way. The ups and downs of their relationship are well charted, and we see how it falls into addictions and power.

The film does not moralize, nor does it shy away from sadness. It does not take any easy routes and its lead star gives an intense performance. 


‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi
Updated 28 February 2024
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‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

‘Dune: Part Two’ filmmaker, cast talk shooting in ‘magical’ Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” sci-fi epic will return for round two when it hits cinemas in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East on Feb. 29.

Ahead of the worldwide release of “Dune: Part Two,” the film’s director and cast members Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista visited Abu Dhabi – where they shot extensively in the Empty Quarter – for a regional premiere.

Filmmaker Denis Villeneuve poses for photographers in the Abu Dhabi desert. (Photo by Mohammed Fawzy/Arab News)

Villeneuve told Arab News: “The surprise we had every morning when we were waking up and seeing the way the sunlight was hitting the sand dunes a different way with the mists surrounding us, it was always magical.”

The UAE capital’s desert landscape was used to mimic the planet Arrakis, where most of the movie’s story unfolds.

“I was also really impressed by the logistics of the crew from Abu Dhabi. They created roads and paths in the desert to allow us in the areas that I wanted to go,” he said.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

US actor Brolin said: “Because we were so far away, we were two-and-a-half hours outside of Abu Dhabi in the middle of nowhere. You feel insignificant when you show up, you know, you feel it’s very consuming.

“And there’s something about the humility that creates, whereby the time you leave, you’re like crying and you don’t want to leave. I feel the same way now, just showing up here. Again, it just all comes back. It was a really powerful place.”

Dave Bautista as Rabban Harkonnen in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Bautista, who previously worked with Villeneuve on “Blade Runner 2049” as well as “Dune: Part One” — which won six Academy Awards in 2022 — noted that living in the world of “Dune” had given him the opportunity to learn from one of the industry’s top filmmakers.

He said: “As a performer, my favorite thing about ‘Dune’ is working with Denis and working with my amazing co-stars. I think Denis has a knack for bringing out the best in me as a performer.

“And so, I always look forward to that because I still have that chip on my shoulder where I want to prove that I can be a great actor. I can’t prove that to myself if I don’t have someone like Denis that’s bringing out the performance in me.

“This is why I like to work constantly because I want to become better and better. And I’m an on-the-job learning actor. I’d love to learn from my peers or learn from great directors.

“So, I feel like I’ve become a stronger performer every time I complete a job, especially when I get to work with people, at such a high level, this stuff brings out the best in me,” Bautista added.

Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atreides and Zendaya as Fremen warrior Chani in ‘Dune: Part Two.’ (Supplied)

Brolin, who plays Gurney Halleck – a mentor and friend to lead star Timothee Chalamet’s Paul Atreides in the film – was more taken by the sci-fi elements of the flick, having grown up devoring similar stories.

He said: “I think that early on, when I grew up on a ranch, I read (US author and screenwriter) Ray Bradbury and (American writer) Isaac Asimov and it just exploded my brain, and I was so happy that I didn’t have to live always in the reality of what was happening around me.

“So, it’s great to be able to go back into it because I read ‘Dune’ when I was probably 16. And it was just along those same lines. It was like a graduation return of the ultimate kind of experience and to be able to be given the opportunity to kind of lose yourself.

“But I don’t feel like it’s a losing yourself. I feel like you are finding parts of yourself that you wouldn’t know you know, through a story like this,” Brolin added.

“Dune: Part Two” is the conclusion to Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 novel. The film follows Atreides as he seeks to unite the native Fremen people of Arrakis against the tyranny of House Harkonnen, who murdered his entire Great House.

The film also stars Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Javier Bardem, Florence Pugh, Austin Butler, Christopher Walken, and Lea Seydoux in key roles.


Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama
Updated 28 February 2024
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Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama

Japanese star Hiroyuki Sanada leads the show on ‘Shogun,’ FX’s new historical drama
  • The historical drama is now available to stream in the Middle East on Disney+

DUBAI: “Shogun,” FX’s latest adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 bestselling novel set in 1600s feudal Japan, is a far cry from the popular 1980s mini-series, told predominantly from the point of view of its Western protagonist John Blackthorne (played then by Richard Chamberlain, and now by Cosmo Jarvis).

While Jarvis’ Blackthorne gets ample screen time in the new iteration of “Shogun,” now streaming on Disney+ in the Middle East, co-creators and husband-wife duo Justin Marks and Rachel Kondo were keen to center the story around its Japanese characters.

Cosmo Jarvis as John Blackthorne ‘Shogun.’ (Courtesy of Disney+)

“Shogun” follows the story of Lord Yoshii Toranaga, played by producer Hiroyuki Sanada, as he fights for his life against enemies on the Council of Regents who unite against him. When a mysterious European ship is found marooned in a nearby fishing village, its English pilot, John Blackthorne, comes bearing secrets that could help Toranaga tip the scales of power and devastate the formidable influence of Blackthorne’s own enemies.

In the meantime, Toranaga’s and Blackthorne’s fates become inextricably tied to their translator, Toda Mariko (Anna Sawai), a mysterious noblewoman and the last of a disgraced line.

Talking about the relevance of the book and why they wanted to revisit the story now, Marks told Arab News: “This book has such a great legacy that so many movies, television shows and other stories have taken from it over the decades since it came out. So, how do we tell something new? And, fortunately, when you open up the book, you realize Clavell is already playing with some of these very modern ideas of how we encounter other cultures, how we encounter ourselves within those cultures, and he’s doing so with really great sensitivity. As we began to talk about that, we realized this is a story that has to be told again, already 50 years later, because it seems like we’ve forgotten a lot of its lessons.”

Kondo said: “It almost feels like it was meant to be told again, in that it felt weirdly and unexpectedly modern — it felt timeless. And so, here we are a few generations later.”

Hiroyuki Sanada plays Toranaga, a Japanese lord loosely modeled on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military ruler who helped to unite Japan in the early 17th century after a long period of civil war.
(Courtesy of Disney+)

Playing the central Japanese character in the show is Sanada, who plays Toranaga, a Japanese lord loosely modeled on Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military ruler who helped to unite Japan in the early 17th century after a long period of civil war, introducing a period of peace that lasted for more than 200 years.

Sanada, who broke into Hollywood with the 2003 film “The Last Samurai,” is also a producer on the show and was keen to bring his years of experience working in Japanese films to Hollywood.

And to make sure he could play the part when he was in front of the camera, it was important to Sanada that all matters of production were taken care of in advance.

“I made sure to prepare everything beforehand before I sit in front of the camera,” Sanada told Arab News.

“So, first of all, we tried to get the Japanese crew who are specialists for Samurai movie-making, then we got specialists for the wigs, costumes, props, master of gesture, master of tea ceremony, everyone. So, we had a good team for each department to make the show authentic as much as possible. And we also had a rehearsal training for the young actors and extras. So, before starting shooting, I prepare everything. So, when I was on set as an actor, I felt freedom, relaxed. It was fun. It felt like a reward,” he added.

Anna Sawai as Lady Mariko in ‘Shogun.’ (Courtesy of Disney+)

And this authenticity is exactly why co-creators Marks and Kondo were ecstatic to have Sanada join the team.

“The thrill of getting to have Hiro onboard, not just as our star, but, really, as a resource, as a producer on the show, was what made the difference between a show you’ve seen before and a show you’ve never seen before,” said Marks.

“In our early conversations with him, we asked him: ‘You’ve been working in Hollywood for 20 to 25 years, what have we gotten wrong? And how can we change the way that we work in order to improve upon that?’ And, from the very beginning, he would just sort of say, here’s who you need to hire on this show, you need a cultural adviser, you need a language adviser, a historian, a Japanese playwright, period pros who can add a little bit of modernity, but also make something feel like it’s a touch classical as well. And these are all things for us as Americans coming into this, you know, that are far over our heads. And so, without having Hiro, we wouldn’t have been able to reach for the level of authenticity that we were after.”

For Sanada, who began acting at the age of five and trained in martial arts soon after, “Shogun” is a chance to introduce the rest of the world to Japanese culture, but sans the Western gaze.

“I think this is a great novel — a great story to introduce our culture to the world. Earlier, our audience can see feudal Japan through Blackthorne’s blue eyes. But this time, it is more like a novel. We tried to create the script, like not only blue eyes, but put more Japanese lens on the script and then go deeper for each character or details,” said Sanada.


Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week
Updated 27 February 2024
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Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

Aziz Ansari, Tom Segura to headline first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week

DUBAI: The first-ever Abu Dhabi Comedy Week is set to kick off in May this year, with Aziz Ansari and Tom Segura announced as headliners for the inaugural event, to be held from May 18–26 at the Etihad Arena.

Ansari, who rose to fame for his role in “Parks and Recreation,” as well as his Emmy-winning Netflix show “Master of None,” will take to the stage on May 18.

US actor-writer Segura, one of the biggest names in the comedy business, will take the stage on May 25. He is best known for his Netflix specials “Ball Hog,” “Disgraceful,” “Mostly Stories” and “Completely Normal.” In July 2022, he released his New York Times bestselling book, ‘I’d Like To Play Alone, Please,” which was described as “laugh out loud funny” by Forbes. 

“We are thrilled to be a part of Abu Dhabi Comedy Week, the capital’s new annual celebration of joy and laughter, underscoring our commitment to presenting premier entertainment offerings to the vibrant community of Abu Dhabi,” said James Craven, president of Live Nation Middle East.

“With an incredible line-up featuring some of the biggest names in the industry brought to the festival by Live Nation Middle East, Abu Dhabi Comedy Week will offer unforgettable experiences for comedy fans across the region. Having already established ourselves on the comedy circuit, hosting the biggest comedy show seen in the UAE last year, this is another incredible step in our live entertainment journey.”


Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival

Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival
Updated 26 February 2024
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Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival

Soulful Arab, French songs mark opening of Francophonie Festival
  • French-Egyptian opera singer Farrah El-Dibany pays tribute to Fayrouz, Dalida and Farid Al-Atrash
  • Month-long event will have events organized by French-speaking nations

JEDDAH: French-Egyptian opera singer Farrah El-Dibany opened the Francophonie Festival on Sunday here with soulful tributes to Arab legends including Fayrouz, Dalida and Farid Al-Atrash.

Dressed in white and gold attire, reminiscent of the clothing of the ancient Egyptians, El-Dibany, accompanied by Mina Barsoum on piano, Ahmed Boustaji on oud, and Aymen Attitallah on percussion, took the audience on a musical journey transcending borders and cultures.

El-Dibany’s repertoire included iconic French tunes such as “Je suis malade” and Arabic classics.

Diplomats, French expats, and cultural enthusiasts from Saudi Arabia and France attended the launch event. (Supplied)

El-Dibany said: “I am so thankful for being here in Jeddah for the first time,” encapsulating the spirit of cultural exchange and collaboration that defines the Francophonie Festival.

Prior to the performance, the French consul-general in Jeddah, Mohammed Nehad, spoke about the festival’s significance.

FASTFACTS

● The Francophonie Festival’s aim is to promote French and foster education, cultural and business ties with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

● For the opening performance, Farrah El-Dibany was accompanied by Mina Barsoum on piano, Ahmed Boustaji on oud, and Aymen Attitallah on percussion.

● The launch event was attended by diplomats, French expatriates, and cultural enthusiasts, as well as Saudi Arabian officials and citizens.

He said the aim was to promote French and foster education, cultural and business ties with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

“Through this festival, we aim to bring people together … francophone itself is a great example for cultural exchange,” he told Arab News.

The launch event was attended by diplomats, French expatriates, and cultural enthusiasts, as well as Saudi Arabia officials and citizens.

Cultural exchange and education are the main purposes of the festival in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Among those in attendance was Larry Lamartiniere, the director of Alliance Francaise in Jeddah, who lauded El-Dibany’s performance as a fitting inauguration of the month-long Mois de la Francophonie 2024 in Saudi Arabia.

He told Arab News: “During March, the French Embassy and Alliance Francaise Saudi Arabia alongside other French-speaking countries and partners will organize events celebrating the rich diversity of francophone cultures.”

Established in 1970, the month is aimed at promoting cultural ties and human development across French-speaking nations worldwide. In Saudi Arabia, the festival acts as a platform for cultural exchange and education.

Cultural exchange and education are the main purposes of the festival in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)

Several upcoming events include Benjamin Piat performing at NougCafe on Feb. 28, and the French University Graduates’ Night on March 27.

The Alliance Francaise will host a children’s workshop on Feb. 29, featuring culinary and visual arts programs. This will take place alongside a screening of the 2022 French film “Divertimento” that is the story of twin teenage sisters who dream of forming their own orchestra and making classical music available to everyone.

Senegal’s consulate will have discussions and cultural exchanges, the Francophonie Village will have a celebration of food, clothing and folk dance; and there will also be films shown at various schools, consulates and French clubs.

 


Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert

Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert
Updated 26 February 2024
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Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert

Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert
  • Welsh singer-songwriter led a 100-strong choir singing “From the River to the Sea” during a pro-Palestine fundraising concert in Caerphilly, South Wales, on Saturday
  • Critics say the song calls for the destruction of Israel but pro-Palestine campaigners say it asserts “the right of all Palestinians to freedom, equality and justice”

LONDON: Welsh singer-songwriter Charlotte Church on Monday denied allegations of antisemitism after she was criticized for leading a choir singing “From the River to the Sea.”

Church led the 100-strong choir during a pro-Palestine fundraising concert at a village hall in Caerphilly, South Wales, on Saturday. The song refers to the land between the River Jordan, bordering the occupied West Bank and Israel in the east, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has labeled the song and its central message “antisemitic,” saying it calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.

However, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and other activists say the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” refers to “the right of all Palestinians to freedom, equality and justice.”

Church addressed what she described as the “alarmist” reports about Saturday’s event live on Instagram on Monday, in a message in which she explained she was “fighting for the liberation of all people.”

She said: “Just to clarify my intentions there, I am in no way antisemitic. I am fighting for the liberation of all people. I have a deep heart for all religions and all difference.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful event. But unfortunately the powers that be can’t have that. (They) can’t have such a powerful symbol of resistance as what we worked towards on Saturday.”

Church confirmed the event ended with a chant of the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

She said: “Clearly, if you know the history of it all, (it is) not an antisemitic chant calling for the obliteration of Israel. It is not that in any way, shape or form. It is calling for the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.”

Church added that “lots of other beautiful songs … of liberation and freedom” were performed during the event, including Arabic songs, Welsh songs and South African songs associated with the anti-Apartheid movement, “the lyrics of which were adapted to the situation in Palestine.”

In video footage from the concert, Church is seen standing behind a banner that reads “Let Palestine Live.” She and the members of the choir are wearing keffiyeh scarves, a symbol of solidarity among supporters of Palestine.

In November, Church posted a video message on Instagram in which she expressed support for the Palestinian cause. She urged her followers to watch footage from Gaza and the West Bank, and to amplify Palestinian voices during “this genocide that is happening in front of all of our eyes.”

The 37-year-old singer told her fans, “Do not look away,” and expressed concern about the children “caught in this geopolitical insanity.”

In the same video she said that starting on Nov. 20 she would be offering weekly singing sessions “for the liberation of Palestine and the liberation of the Palestinian people.”