beats best headphones London Hollywood Dickens
This Thanksgiving weekend was ideal for the family film THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS which tells a behind the scenes story of how Charles Dickens, determined to have a bestselling comeback after three flops and with a holiday deadline, created his magical story about the meaning of Christmas with 1843 Christmas Carol. Dan Stevens, already seen this year as the Beast in DISNEY BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and Marvel TV series LEGION, is Dickens.
So what better time if in London this week than visit the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury? Here Dickens (1812 70), on the strength of the sales of THE PICKWICK PAPERS, moved in and up to rent a handsome five floor house in 1837, the year Queen Victoria reign began. He subsequently moved twice. This is not the house Dickens is lavishly redecorating in TMWIC where he wrote several of his best known novels. That and his final house no longer exist. This is the home where Catherine Dickens gave birth to two daughters by 1852 she would have 10 children. Here is also the bedroom of Mary Hogarth, Catherine sister, whose unexpected and sudden death 17 prompted Dickens dramatic mourning for the young woman he found pure and good. The event would be reflected in the sentimental death scenes he subsequently wrote. There are portraits, busts, Dickens writing desk, fully furnished rooms including his dressing room with his custom made tuxedo suitable for Court, the curved dining room with its table display of china and silver, deathbed artifacts, including a final portrait by Millais. The washing room below stairs and the kitchen remain silent testament to the working women on the household staff whom Dickens often recognized in his writing for their herculean daily tasks. There is also a caf.
Dan Stevens, who was featured in the Herald last Sunday, will celebrate Christmas dinner in LA with his family, although probably not with a Dickens style goose. Here are other excerpts from our interview:
Q: What was the big surprise when playing Dickens?
DAN STEVENS: We discovered there were some strange parallels. We were lucky to have the great Miriam Margulies as the housekeeper and she herself (along with Simon Callow who plays the illustrator Fleet) are great Dickens experts. It was a validation I suppose, a blessing to have them with us. The first thing Miriam said to me on Day One was, of course you know he was bipolar and I hadn reached that conclusion. With Dickens there is a lot of behavior that we wouldn expect from the bearded monolith of his later years. I was happy to discover this younger, more manic Dickens who put himself under pressure to create one of the world most iconic pieces of literature.
Q: Was he what we would now call bipolar?
DS: Dickens famously walked very fast and I think he also thought very fast. He was almost cursed with [seeing] a very broad social panorama. He saw a tremendous lot of ills in society around him. A lot of people didn pay much credence to that. I think going to the workhouse [when his father went to debtor prison, an episode lavishly described in the Dickens Museum] looms large over his work. He was really almost obsessed with childhood and childhood trauma 60 years before Freud rocked the world. A fascinating mind, a rich field to dive into.
Q: You left the show in 2012, five years ago. Is Matthew Crawley of DOWNTON ABBEY really history? Or do people continue to recognize you for that?
DS: It feels a long time ago and I think I always be associated with that, and very proud to be associated with that. And now it that and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST or LEGION. And I been working very hard so I happy that it working.
Q: How do you find your fans when you encounter them?
DS: Incredibly engaged.
Q: In DISNEY BEAUTY AND THE BEAST we only see your face for the last five minutes. I couldn help but wonder if all those scenes with The Beast were really you.
DS: Funnily enough it is my face you seeing for the whole movie. This technology we used and the resolution you can get from spraying somebody face with 10000 dots yields this incredibly detailed Beast mask. It was like I was wearing the most hypersensitive mask anyone could create and it was an entire team: a facial hair team who were responsible to have a digital hair on every pore on my face. The resolution of the digital realm is so much more greater now. It my eyes poking thru that thing and it really was a magical process.
Q: How did your Marvel series LEGION happen? Were you looking to do television and play David Haller, a schizophrenic who is blessed with special powers?
DS: These days the lines between the two are very different than they used to be. For me it really is the writing and if it character led if the character is intriguing enough. I met with Noah Hawley [the LEGION showrunner and wizard behind the amazing first two seasons of FARGO] a year or so back. I had no plans at that point to do television. I sure he had no plans to cast me. He asked me to do something weird and beautiful and that first season was like making an 8 hour movie and the second like a 10 hour movie. Epic really.
Noah a tremendous craftsman at the long form narrative. That really makes a great showrunner and somebody who can evoke an experience and that what LEGION really is more than anything. LEGION is made very much in the spirit of comic books if not an adaptation of one particular issue of that comic. It the playful nature of the show that makes us able to take on these cosmic or existential questions and bat them around in a strange space. That what happens in the pages of comic books and that what happens with our show.
Winning, fun, funny: LOVE, LIES RECORDS
An unusual blend of family drama, courtroom shenanigans and personal stories, LOVE, LIES RECORDS (ACORNTV, six episodes, one new one weekly, thru Dec. 21 finale) is engaging, a smart series. Ashley Jensen (the relocated heroine of AGATHA RAISIN) is a registrar with a job, family and office politics to confront daily, alongside often desperate clients. It a busy life and a demanding one with so much competing for her time and attention. Harried, yes, but never down and out. Jensen has already won some kind of international Emmy for her performance. LOVE, LIES RECORDS has plot complications that if a bit outlandish manage to remain real. When Jensen Kate Dickinson is promoted to the top spot, her bitter rival (deliciously malevolent Rebecca Front as Judy) reveals a compromising security video that displays a married mother and presumable role model completely inappropriate behavior at the office in a steamy coupling with a co worker. It only the start of the obstacles Kate will face.
HBO critically applauded documentary THE DEFIANT ONES (Blu ray+ DVD, Universal Home Entertainment, unrated) covers several decades to chronicle the unexpected but successful partnership of two formidable culturally defining artists: Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. Divided into four parts DEFIANT ONES (the title is a homage to Hollywood award winning interracial 1958 drama with Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis) lets us inside this dynamic duo celebrated accomplishments. Iovine began as a hit producer of the likes of Springsteen before becoming the music industry most powerful exec as head of Interscope Records in the 1980s 90s. Dre was a founding father of gangsta rap and crucial to many careers including Eminem and 50 Cent. The doc begins in 2014 with the sale of Beats by Dre headphones, founded by the duo, to Apple and works back. Directed by Allen Hughes (MENACE II SOCIETY) over three years, DEFIANT never succumbs to boring uplift, preferring to engage, suggest,
explore the culture and the ripples they made. Also in the mix: Bono, Springsteen, Trent Reznor, Ice Cube, Nas, Gwen Sefani, Snoop Dogg and Tom Peter.
Two late Fifties Jean Gabin vehicles as a world famous detective are now available: The French language Georges Simenon adaptations MAIGRET SETS A TRAP (1958) and MAIGRET AND THE ST. FIACRE CASE (1959). Simenon is rightly compared to Agatha Christie and Maigret, famous for his pipe and his pondering, is perhaps a distance cousin to Christie Belgian bachelor detective Hercule Poirot. Where Poirot operates individually, Maigret is on the Paris police force, a greatly respected detective. MAIGRET SETS A TRAP has the police in the dark as a maniacal killer stalks single woman in the city Marais district, grabbing them from behind and quickly stabbing them to death and disappearing. The murderer invites certain doom when he challenges Maigret to capture him. TRAP is not exactly fun with near incestuous mother son relationship, an enabling wife and a quivering, hysterical would be artist becoming central to solving the case. MAIGRET AND THE ST. FIACRE CASE the following year finds the detective out of the City of Lights for a visit to his countryside town to help an old friend, the Countess of St. Fiacre who has received an ominous missive announcing her imminent death. Naturally she soon dies how else could Maigret have a crime to solve? This too has a Christie like element with all the suspects gathered round the dinner table for Maigret brainy solution to whodunit.
There a reason MIDSOMER MURDERS goes on and on and on. Its first rate scenarios, coupled with gruesome, violent crime in the most bucolic settings imaginable are irresistible. Comforting but disturbing, the new 7 disc, 14 90 minute mysteries that comprise MIDSOMER MURDERS JOHN BARNABY FIRST CASES (DVD, Acorn, unrated) displays how the series transformed in 2011 after 11 seasons with John Nettles as its low key star, Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, to current lead Neil Dudgeon who is the new DCI JOHN Barnaby (they had to keep the Barnaby name; MIDSOMER is distributed globally and in some territories known simply as BARNABY). Conveniently a cousin with the proper last name, in the series 14 and 15 that go from 2011 2013, we see the sometimes prickly relationship of DCI assistant Deputy Superintendent Ben Jones (Jason Hughes) who moves on in the last episode, not included here Christmas Haunting. With Dudgeon the series is no longer so genteel. There is kinky sex, a mind controlling cult, a maniacal murderer on the loose, a depressing case where police work has nothing to do with capturing the criminal only good luck. There much ado about John Barnaby dog Sikes (think Dickens OLIVER TWIST) and the unexpected spectacle of a bearded Jones undercover with a discreet butt baring shower scene.
Chuck Norris became an action star following a breakthru as the hirsute white guy beaten to a pulp by Bruce Lee in the now classic 1972 THE WAY OF THE DRAGON. Norris with his martial arts skills never mimicked the muscular heights of his rivals Andrew Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone; perhaps that was part of the reason he never attained their stratospheric heights of global popularity and box office success. Norris however was dependable with an interchangeable string of hits (GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK, A FORCE OF ONE, AN EYE FOR AN EYE, FORCED VENGEANCE). Audiences knew what to expect in his modestly budgeted action oeuvre. CODE OF SILENCE (Blu ray DVD, Kino Classics, R) from 1985 is a first rate example of very good Norris it often cited as his best. Directed by the enterprising Andrew Davis (check out THE PACKAGE and his justly lauded greatest hit THE FUGITIVE) with an eye for pacing alongside an emotionally coherent storyline, CODE has Norris as cop Eddie Cusack fighting departmental corruption tied to the let stick together theme of the film title as he battles two well connected thugs. (Cops blindly ignoring the facts to suit their prejudices Davis employed prominently in FUGITIVE with Harrison Ford man on the run rightfully as afraid of the Chicago police as he was Tommy Lee Jones Federal agent.).
An era ended with the final Republic Pictures 1958 release, THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE (Blu ray, KINO CLASSICS, unrated). Republic was founded in 1935 and director Joe Kane helmed their first release. A small studio who specialized in cheap westerns and serials and boosted stars like John Wayne and singing cowboys Roy Rogers ( Trigger!) and Gene Autry. Republic was ready for its final fade out with MAN WHO DIED TWICE, Kane final film for the studio and also the farewell to cinema for Czech skating star turned Republic leading lady Vera Ralston. Ralston had notoriety due to her 1949 marriage to Republic owner Herbert Yates; she was 33, he was 72 and had divorced his wife to marry again. MAN is an effective, snappy (70 minutes) detective drama with nightclub owner/songbird Ralston suddenly widowed, the police earnest but ineffective, hired assassins ready for rub outs and a sizable stash of heroin eagerly sought by rivals. Mike Mazurski, a fixture of noir (1944 MURDER, MY SWEET), stands out as a hulking bartender in Ralston club. The best lines and the best roles go to the killer thugs played by Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan. Toby Roan audio commentary is a bit plus.