Posts Tagged ‘Dan Stevens’

Elisabeth Moss

“HER SMELL” My rating: B-

134 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Elisabeth Moss so desperately throws herself into every role that even in a mediocre movie she’s worth watching.

In “Her Smell,” writer/director Alex Ross Perry’s study of a female rock star in terrifying decline, that means spending 90 minutes watching Moss sneer, spit, snarl and growl her way into near-psychosis.  It’s almost too much.

Moss plays Becky Something, the singer-guitarist-songwriter of an all-female rock trio. The other members are bassist Marielle Hell (Agyness Deyn) and drummer Ali (Gayle Rankin), and we first find them on the stage of a mid-size auditorium wrapping up a guitar-screeching, throat-scraping set.

The setting is the pre-digital ’80s and the music, punkish hair and costuming suggest the early days of Seattle grunge…in fact, the film could very well have been inspired by Courtney Love and her all-woman band Live.

Once backstage Becky refuels  her performance high with booze and drugs and a fuck-you attitude.

She keeps on hand a couple of chanting shamans, latter-day hippies who serve as her spiritual advisers and have the unenviable task of keeping Becky grounded. Clearly they’re not very good at their job.

In this first segment — which like the other scenes plays out in real time — our heroine careens around like a ricocheting bullet.

She’s visited by her ex-husband Danny (Dan Stevens) who brings along their infant daughter so Becky can see the kid before leaving on a European tour. He seems like a decent guy, but Becky has nothing but contempt for him.

The band’s long-suffering manager, Howard (Eric Stoltz), reveals that he’s gone deep into hock underwriting Becky’s misadventures; before the evening is out he will announce that the European tour is off.

Throughout, Perry’s camera (the cinematographer is Sean Price Williams) takes a fly-on-the-wall, damn-near cinema verite approach, observing but not commenting.


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Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens


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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Dan Stevens, Berenice Marlohe

“KILL SWITCH” My rating: C 

91 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Despite the presence of A-list actor (at least after “Beauty and the Beast”) Dan Stevens, there’s no disguising the origins of “Kill Switch.”

It’s basically a first-person shooter video game. The story may have been dreamt up by writers Charlie Kindinger and Omid Nooshin, but the execution is right out of your Xbox library.

In the near future a huge energy conglomerate called Alterplex has created technology to supply Earth with unlimited electricity. This involveves building a pair of huge towers that suck energy from an alternate universe that is an exact duplicate of ours (except, we discover, everything is in reverse…like looking into a mirror).

By the way, don’t try to comprehend the “science” behind all this.  It doesn’t make a damn bit of sense.

Anyway, former astronaut Will Porter (Stevens) has been recruited by Alterplex soley as a troubleshooter who, if things go wrong, will ride a capsule into the alternate universe, hopefully shutting down the towers on the other side and ending the crisis.

Anyway, we see Stevens in flashbacks of Will’s recruitment by the company and interactions with his sister and nephew, but in this alternate universe we only get his point of view.  We see what he sees, and while we hear Will’s voice we can’t look at him because, well, because we’re looking out through his eyes.

Anyway, in this alternative universe Will must contend with a army of eco-terrorists who have sabotaged Alterplex’s big machine and put the whole thing into meltdown. He must dodge airborne drones that shoot at anything that moves.

There’s lots of first-person running, jumping, shooting…you get the picture.

Will is accompanied on this adventure by Abigail (Berenice Marlohe), an Alterplex executive who in the “real” world recruited him but in this one may be trying to stop him from fulfilling his mission which will, after all, bring this alternate world to an end.

Director Tim Smit does an okay job of rendering this alternate universe, but the story is way too complicated and the human beings more or less disposable.

| Robert W. Butler

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Richard Gere

“NORMAN”  My rating: B

118 minutes | |MPAA rating: R

You don’t have to like Norman Oppenheimer, the fast-talking character played by Richard Gere in “Norman,” to appreciate his energy and drive.

Norman is a hustler and a schmoozer, an arm twister and a facile liar. When necessary he can be a party crasher and a stalker.

He appears to be a businessman (his card vaguely reads “Oppenheimer Strategies”) who specializes in putting together deals. More accurately, he puts together people far more capable than himself who can put together deals. With luck Norman gets a cut of the action.

One of the wonders of Gere’s performance (just when did he become such a terrific actor?) is that even while Norman remains a mystery, a cypher, he’s strangely compelling.

(The movie has a secondary title: “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer.” That right there tells you what we can look forward to.)

In the early scenes we see Norman pestering casual acquaintances and heavy hitters on the New York financial scene (among the players are Michael Sheen, Dan Stevens, Josh Charles and Harris Yulin). Outwardly Norman oozes confidence and professionalism. He’s impeccably dressed and groomed.

But beneath that show of casual affluence you get a whiff of angst from a minor player desperate to be part of the big game. Norman is usually broke; he pops Tic Tacs in lieu of meals. He can’t afford an office, conducting all his business over his cell phone.

Writer/director Joseph Cedar’s film turns on Norman’s courting of an Israeli deputy minister visiting the Big Apple for a conference. Eshel (an excellent Lior Ashkenazi) is a bureaucratic  nobody grateful that this apparent go-getter of an American wants to befriend him. Norman even treats him to the city’s most expensive pair of men’s shoes.


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Dan Stevens (beneath the CGI) and Emma Watson

“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” My rating: B (Opens wide on Nov. 17)

129 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Is Disney’s live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast” as good as the old-style, hand-drawn 1991 original?

Nope. But it’ll do.

After a slow middle section, the film delivers the emotional goods. And along the way, it establishes Emma Watson, late of the Harry Potter franchise, as a name-above-the-title star.

This remake is the latest in Disney’s recycling of its classic animation library — see last year’s “The Jungle Book” and “Cinderella” the year before. The film, from director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Chicago”), hits favorite familiar notes while introducing some new (and mildly controversial) elements.

Its strongest component remains Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman’s score from the first film, a collection of hummers that immediately please the ear and quickly take up residence in the head. Small wonder a stage version became a Broadway smash. (I found the the three new tunes written for the film by Menken and the late Tim Rice to be forgettable.)

The story is by now familiar to all. Belle (Watson) is too smart to fit into traditional girly categories, setting off suspicions among her provincial fellow villagers in 18th-century France.

When her father (Kevin Kline) is imprisoned in the enchanted castle of the Beast (Dan Stevens) — a vain and cruel prince working off a curse — Belle trades places with the old man. Over time she wins over the Beast’s staff, domestics who have taken the form of household objects and eventually gains the love of her grumpy host.

Meanwhile the villagers are being stirred up by Gaston (Luke Evans), the preening he-man who wants Belle for himself.

Following the nifty production number “Belle,” which introduces us to our heroine and her circumstances, “Beauty and the Beast” slows to a crawl, only to pick up an hour later when the Belle/Beast relationship starts to assert its romantic pull.

The problem is one of size. The cartoon “Beauty,” nominated for a best picture Oscar, ran for 84 minutes. It was taut and wasted nothing. (more…)

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Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder

Liam Neeson as Matt Scudder

“A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES” My rating: B (Opens wide on Sept. 19)

113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Hollywood hasn’t been kind to modern mystery writers. Giants of the genre like James Lee Burke, Sara Paretsky and Tony Hillerman have seen big-screen adaptations of their work crash and burn (although Hillerman’s Navajo Tribal Police series did finally find a home on PBS).

A similar fate befell Lawrence Block’s great detective character Matt Scudder.  In 1985 the Scudder tale “8 Million Ways to Die” hit the screen with Jeff Bridges as Scudder and the frequently great Hal Ashby behind the camera.  It wasn’t very good.

But now Scott Frank — mostly known as the screenwriter for films like “Get Shorty,” “Out of Sight,” “Minority Report” and, weirdly, “Marley & Me” — has written and directed a fine version of Block’s “A Walk Among the Tombstones.”

Dan Stevens

Dan Stevens

Frank seems to have absorbed not just the one novel but the whole of the Scudder canon, and has given us a film that could be either a solid stand-alone or the first step in a new franchise.Ticket sales will tell the tale.

In the meantime we have a taut, dark, surprisingly substantial thriller that is both a dandy detective procedural and a first-rate character study.

Neesom’s Scudder is an alcoholic former NYC police detective who retired from the force after accidentally killing a little girl in a shootout. He hit AA and went into business as an unlicensed private eye, meaning, he says, that “I do favors for people. They give me gifts.”

As “A Walk…” begins Scudder is called to a meeting with Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens, late of “Downton Abbey”) a drug dealer who reports that his wife was kidnapped and, after Kenny paid $400,000 in ransom, killed by her abductors and returned to her husband in little pieces. Kenny can hardly go to the cops.  He wants Scudder to find the fiends and deliver them for punishment.


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