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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Plummer’

Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens

“THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS” My rating: C

104 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

When it is evoking the spirit of Dickens’ immortal A Christmas Carol, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” cannot help but worm its way  into a viewer’s heart and mucus centers.

Seriously, for any halfway literate English-speaking person even the mention of Scrooge and the Christmas ghosts sets off mental and emotional detonations. Not only is A Christmas Carol one of the most artful stories ever written, it is credited by historians with triggering Victorian England’s wholehearted embrace of the Yuletide season. (Before the book’s publication, apparently, Christmas was no big deal.)

Adapted from John Stanford’s nonfiction book by Susan Coyne and directed by Bharat Nalluri (a veteran of Brit TV), “The Man Who  Invented Christmas” purports to relate how Charles Dickens came to write the story. Basically it’s Masterpiece Lite.

We first meet the great author (Dan Stevens, minus the facial hair of the older, more familiar  Dickens) in 1842 when he is going through a rough patch.  His last three books have tanked, his household is going through expensive civic improvements, his kids are running amok and the Missus (Morfydd Clark) announces that there’s another on the way.

Then there’s the arrival of Dickens’ father John (Jonathan Pryce), an entertaining/exasperating  bon vivant perennially in debt and congenitally incapable of earning his own living.

Desperate to offer his publishers a new book, Dickens proposes a Christmas story.  The editors are dubious, but Dickens says if necessary he’ll self-finance the volume. All he needs now are characters and a story.

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Jai Courtney, Lily James

“THE EXCEPTION” My rating: B-  

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

At 88 years of age, Christopher Plummer just keeps getting better.

In “The Exception” he portrays an historic figure — Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany — and pretty much mops up the floor with actors half his age.

The premise of David Leveaux’s directing debut finds a young German officer — Capt. Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) — assigned to the thankless task of heading the household guard for Wilhelm II (Plummer), who has lived in exile in the Netherlands since abdicating the German throne two decades earlier after losing World War I.

Though the Nazi hierarchy has little use for the old man, Wilhelm still is regarded by some members of the German public as a beloved figurehead.  It would be a p.r. black eye should he be lost to an assassin or kidnapped by the Allies and spirited off to England. Brandt’s presence is meant to prevent that.

For the young officer — who was wounded in the invasion of Poland — the assignment is a bit of an insult. Wilhelm and his wife, Princess Hermine (Janet McTeer), live as high as they can on the cash Hitler’s henchmen provide, all the while dreaming of restoring the monarchy and once again wearing the crown.  Brandt is expected to tolerate their pretensions without encouraging them.

There’s one bright spot in this assignment. The Kaiser has a new housemaid, Mieke (Lily James), who catches the Captain’s eye.  Before long they are having a grand old time despite Hermine’s rule against copulation among members of the staff.

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“THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO” My rating: B (Opens wide Dec. 21)

158 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Like a lot of movie fans, I greeted with a big dose of cynicism the news that Hollywood was remaking the Swedish thriller “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”

That film, which introduced to the world actress Nomi Rapace as the gloriously twisted investigator/hacker Lisbeth Salander, was more than adequate. Why remake it for a bunch of ignoramuses too thick to read subtitles?

Well, I was wrong. The American “Girl…” is the equal of the Swedish version in most regards, and in its technical production vastly superior. That’s because it was directed by David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “The Social Network,” “Zodiac”), an exacting filmmaker who composes and lights every scene for maximum visual impact. (Don’t forget, the three Swedish films based on Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy were made for television and suffered somewhat from limited production values.)

The tale remains essentially the same (with some minor variations) and the overall effect — a queasy blend of serial killer thriller, unrepentant male piggishness and offbeat relationship flick — very similar to the original. (more…)

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Ewan McGregor, Melanie Laurant and friend

“BEGINNERS” My rating: B  (Opens July 8 at the Glenwood Arts and Tivoli)

105 minutes | MPAA rating:  R

We inherit more from our parents than DNA. Without realizing exactly how or why, we inherit a way of looking at life.

“Beginners” is about a man looking back on his parents’ marriage and finally coming to terms with the often uncomfortable emotional baggage they bequeathed him.

That may sound like a heavy slog. Happily, much of “Beginners” is a hoot — bizarrely funny, sweet, sexy and quite moving.

If with his second feature the film’s writer/director — modern-day Renaissance man Mike Mills — can’t always keep all those balls perfectly suspended in the air, he comes close enough to make this film a must-see event.

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Get your tickets and gird your loins.

GayFest is upon us.

That’s the Gay & Lesbian Film Festival of Kansas City, for the uninitiated, and it gets underway Friday, June 24 at the Tivoli Theatre in Westport.

I’ve been able to pre-screen several of this year’s titles; what follows is one guy’s picks of the best of the fest: (more…)

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