Tag Archives: Dan Stevens

Marshall

Thurgood Marshall was the first lawyer working for the NAACP to defend people falsely accused of a crime because of their race. You may know him as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, and this is one of the career-defining cases that set him upon that path.

The (true) story: Connecticut socialite Eleanor Strubing appeared on a highway in Westchester County, New York, soaked, beaten, and scared one night in December 1940. She claimed her chauffeur had raped her four times, kidnapped her, forced MV5BMmE5MTMwNTUtYTlhMS00YzlhLTk3MTgtMmI3YTA5ODc2NjM0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_her to write a ransom note for $5,000 and then threw her off a bridge. Papers called her accused assailant the “Negro chauffeur” or “colored servant” but his name was Joseph Spell, and he claimed he was innocent. Lucky for him, his case caught the attention of the NAACP and Marshall was dispatched to try his case. Only he couldn’t; the racist judge wouldn’t let him on the grounds that he was “from out of town” so Marshall had to team with another lawyer and somehow stay silent through the infuriating trial.

Thurgood Marshall probably deserves a legitimate biopic, but this isn’t it. Its narrative is tight, keeping its eye on this single court case. The rest of his accomplishments are relegated to title cards at the end. That’s not really a complaint, but it does somewhat reduce a great man to a courtroom drama. But his greatness is communicated well by a self-possessed and commanding Chadwick Boseman in the lead role. He’s starred in a number of impressive biopics – what does this guy have to do to break through? Josh Gad plays the lawyer assisting him, Dan Stevens opposing counsel, James Cromwell the judge, and Kate Hudson as the woman pressing charges. And most interestingly, it’s Sterling K. Brown as the man who stands accused. Audiences will know him from This is Us, or else The People Vs OJ Simpson: American Crime Story. Even if Spell is innocent, Brown’s still playing against type, and it’s a great move.

All the pieces fall into place and it’s a perfectly solid movie. But for bearing the simple title ‘Marshall’ I expected it to be a little wider in scope – and having been baited with this little bit, I’m disappointed it wasn’t.

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The Man Who Invented Christmas

My bosom is glowing. That’s what we used to call boobies when I was little: bosoms. Pronounced bazooms, of course. My grandmother told us that eating our sandwich crusts would result in big bazooms and I gobbled mine up greedily, and those of my sisters, if they left them.

Is it a digression if I lead with it? Back to my glowing bosom, which is a line I lifted from the movie itself. It’s the story of how Charles Dickens came to write A Christmas Carol. He’d gotten a taste of success with Oliver Twist and was determined to live 58dd47c10c48e-e2i2h1u1qk5henceforth like a gentleman, but his next three attempts were flops – poorly reviewed, scarcely read. He was really under the gun to write his next best-seller and you know what pressure does to a writer: it blocks him. He pitched a vague idea for a Christmas ghost story to publisher and was laughed right out of the office, Christmas being a “minor” holiday and all. He determined to self-publish and gave himself the daunting deadline of just 6 weeks hence – a release just barely in time for Christmas. The only problem aside from funding was that not a word had been written.

The film follows Dickens (Dan Stevens) on his frantic quest to write a wildly popular novel without the merest hint of a concrete idea. He agonizes over the creation of characters and then is haunted by them, literally. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) mocks his attempts and grumbles when he isn’t given enough lines, or enough good lines. Dicken’s father (Jonathan Pryce) is visiting and provides constant distraction. If you have even a passing knowledge of A Christmas Carol, it’s kind of fascinating to watch its author draw inspiration from his own life and everything around him, turning ordinary things into ideas that have permeated our culture and helped to define how we celebrate our holidays. While director Bharat Nalluri of course takes some dramatic license, the spirit of the thing is largely accurate. 

Dan Stevens is well-cast as Dickens, and it gives me great pains to send any praise his way because I’ve always held a grudge for how he treated Lady Mary when he left Downton Abbey the way he did. But in The Man Who Invented Christmas, he brings Dickens alive, a man for whom his characters were more alive to him than his own loved ones, and though Scrooge et al literally do speak to him (and offer criticism), his genius and vivid imagination are not to be discounted. But if the film merely existed to give us Christopher Plummer as Scrooge, that alone would be enough. About to celebrate his 88th birthday, the man still has performance in his bones. He won his first Oscar at the age of 82 for Beginners, and it is possibly not his last – he’s got 4 movies in various phases of production, including his hasty replacement of Kevin Spacey in Ridley Scott’s All The Money in the World. This movie is a perfect example of why Plummer is still in demand. He turns an invented character into a real, flesh and blood man.

Beauty & The Beast

One word: underwhelming.

This movie is production-designed within an inch of its life. Like, literally it’s clogged with lustre and decadence. I find no fault with how it looks; a good faith effort was made to pay tribute to the original, to remind us of the classic animated movie from 1991, while still forging its own little identity, diverging enough from the already-trodden path to inject it with a life of its own.

Unfortunately, none of the new material really lands. Is this just me, loyal to the film of my childhood? Sadly not. But it does pale in comparison. No matter what Bill Condon does, this film inevitably fails to capture the magic of the first.  This is hardly surprising since it beautyandthebeast-beast-windoweschews the magic of animation. Well, traditional animation. The truth is, “live action” or not, Belle is the only human being in that castle. Yes, Ewan McGregor danced around in a motion capture suit to play Lumiere, and Dan Stevens waltzed in steel-toed 10-inch stilts for the ballroom scene, but they’re both playing CGI characters. Why hire greats like Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Audra McDonald, only to hide them behind computer graphics, appearing “live” only in the last 20 seconds of the film? It seems a waste. I rather liked the live action remake of Cinderella, but then, that was always a story about humans, wasn’t it? Jungle Book  (which already has been) and Lion King (which is about to be) turned into “live action” films have little to no humans in them, so what’s the point? They were MADE for animation. Let’s leave them be.

Emma Watson, as Belle, is brilliant casting. She was originally cast in La La Land but left the project to do this instead. I think it was the right choice for her. Her voice is lovely and pure, and she reminds us that Belle isn’t just beautiful, but also smart and brave. Ryan Gosling was originally cast as the Beast and left this movie to do La La Land, and I think that was the right choice for him. Dan Stevens took over the role of the beast, and he’s okay. Director Bill Condon had hoped to create a beast look out of prosthetics, and he did film it that way, but in the end he was overruled and a CGI beast face was superimposed. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, is a wise choice. He’s older and less of a buffoon than in the animated film, but they don’t quite make sense of the character despite adding some back story. Luke Evans has the pleasure of playing everyone’s favourite cartoon narcissist, Gaston. No longer roughly the size of a barn, he’s still the cocky, selfsure Gaston we remember. It’s his sidekick who’s less recognizable.

The animated Le Fou is nothing more than a clown. In the 2017 version, Disney is proud to proclaim him their first openly-gay character, to which I say: hmm? This was maybe the movie’s biggest let down. Le Fou does not strike me as gay. He’s the kind of closeted gay that you only know about because it was issued in a Disney press release. What little humanity he shows already makes him too good for Gaston, but no real motivation is ever ascribed to him. It’s a Disney movie, so of course there is no real sexual tension, but nor is there even the slightest hint of romance or passion. There are more lingering glances between a young girl and a horned beast than there are between these two men. Nice try, Disney, but I’m not buying it. And it’s probably not the greatest idea to tout your first and only “gay character” as this bumbling idiot who languishes with an unrequited crush on a real prick, whom he helps to hook up with women. That’s pretty condescending.

But I take it back: Le Fou is not the most disappointing thing about the movie. In my little batb-02422r-2-a7172c76-a61b-423e-a41b-5965b3fef116girl heart, the biggest disappointment was The Dress. To me it looked cheap. And I’m sure it wasn’t: I’m sure that a dozen people toiled over its construction. I’ve heard it used 3,000 feet of thread, 2160 Swarovski crystals, and took over 12,000 designer hours to complete. Not worth it. The dress is disenchanting. In the original version, the dress is luminous, we believe it is not merely yellow, but spun gold. The one Emma Watson wears seems like a poor knock-off. It feels flat. And what’s with her shitty jewelry? In the cartoon, Belle’s ht_belle_beauty_beast_kb_150126_4x3_992neck is unadorned; why ruin a perfect neckline with even the most impressive of baubles? But Emma Watson’s Belle accessorizes her ballgown with a shitty pendant on a string. I can only assume this is blatant product placement and this cheap trinket will be sold en masse in a shopping mall near you, but it’s so incongruous it’s a distraction. For shame.

And for all the little changes this movie makes, tweaks to the back stories and the plausibility, one glaring detail remains pretty much the same. In the 1991 movie, the wicked witch condemns the prince to live as a beast until he can love and be loved in return; if he fails to do so before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, he will remain a beast forever, and his household staff will remain household objects. In the animated classic, we know that the beast has until his 21st birthday to make this happen, and that this has been a period of 10 years. Therefore, the curse bestowed upon him befalls him at age 11, and for what? Because he didn’t let a stranger inside the house while his parents were away? He’s ELEVEN! And his servants are blameless. It always struck me as an extremely cruel not to mention unfair punishment. In this recent film, the role of the witch is expanded, but this only makes her motivations murkier. We see how harshly she has condemned a young prince, but she seems to overlook much worse transgressions. If this is hard for me to swallow, I imagine it must be even more unsettling for children who need to know that rules and punishments are meted out fairly, at least.

I could not have skipped this movie, the pull was too great. But there was no childhood here to be relived, just a fraudulent imitation that had lost its sparkle.