Archive for Dan Stevens

Block and Tackle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 14, 2020 by dcairns

Other directors had tackled the work of Lawrence Block before A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, but it hadn’t gone well. Hal Ashby was shut out of the edit on 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE, and Nic Roeg was fired after five days on NIGHTMARE HONEYMOON. Block also served as screenwriter for Wong Kar-Wei on MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS, which I haven’t seen.

AWATT was also a bit jinxed, since Harrison Ford bailed on it (too violent, perhaps) and it collapsed. When it sprang to life again, screenwriter Scott Frank was in charge and Liam Neeson was the lead, and the result is very violent indeed. It also fits snuggly into that rather unproductive and creepy subgenre Neeson seems now irrevocably associated with, the female kidnap drama where Neeson says bad-ass things into a phone in a husky voice.

We watched this purely because the writer-director’s two Netflix miniseries, Godless and The Queen’s Gambit, are absolutely sensational. You’ve probably sought out the latter if you have Netflix, but go after the former too. Both are much better than AWATT, which is a decent thriller. The banter and relationship between Neeson and Astro (yes, that’s his name), defrocked cop and homeless kid, is really good. There’s what they call “strong support” from Dan Stevens (Frank seems to get half his casts from Downton Abbey) and Boyd Holbrook, and a good turn from Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.

It just doesn’t seem to add up to more than a really horrible situation that gets resolved with a substantial body count. What have we learned? I mean, I don’t require a message. But maybe the problem is that Neeson’s character, Scudder, is the star of a whole series of books, so he’s a bit unchanging. At any rate, at the end of this one he seems substantially the same lumpen brute as at the start. There’s a sense in which, if Stevens’ character were the protagonist, the stakes would escalate markedly.

Very snazzy cinematic use of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps, though.

Scott Frank is a big fan of seventies US films like DOG DAY AFTERNOON. He just doesn’t want to ever take things that far, it seems. As he himself puts it, he’s “always looking for a safe place to land.” But he’s a huge talent and The Queen’s Gambit is still the best new thing I’ve seen this year apart from THE LIGHTHOUSE.

A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES stars Oskar Schindler; Hellboy; Gatz Brown; Pierce; David Haller; Alma Wheatley; Calvin Walker; Ragnar the Rock; Hiram Lodge; Jesse Edwards; and Ptonomy Wallace.

The Sunday Intertitle: DAVID!

Posted in Comics, Dance, FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2018 by dcairns

“The only trouble with this show is they keep shouting “DAVID!” says Fiona.

“Well, how do you think *I* feel?” I ask. “I even get it in intertitle form.”

The show is Legion, which is a Marvel thing, and it’s very stylish indeed. Occasionally I feel too much of the style comes from 2001 and CLOCKWORK ORANGE (plus that ever-popular STRANGELOVE-ADDAMS FAMILY font), but there’s a wide ranger of influences for the snazzy visuals. It’ a superhero show, nominally, but very psychedlic and tonally skewed, so that when a good guy and bad guy meet, they’re more likely to have a dance-off than to punch each other through walls.

This show, brought to the screen by Noah Hawley of Fargo, could be paired with the very different Jessica Jones to suggest that superheroes could become the new westerns, a genre with some constraints, maybe, but allowing filmmakers to tell all kinds of stories in all kinds of modes. The movie versions don’t have that variety, I’m afraid: they’re basically all about good guys saving the world. Apart from maybe LOGAN?

Jessica Jones varies the formula by keeping things small-scale and making the heroine’s powers an afterthought. The powers of the opponents have more dramatic weight, but work as metaphors and dramatic intensifiers: a manipulative abuser who can do mind-control is still an abuser, a mother with anger issues and super-strength is still a mother with anger issues.

 

Legion is also smaller-scale than the movie versions, though more cosmic. It has astral plane stuff like DOCTOR STRANGE but makes this much more eerie and weird, the way the old comics could by actually changing the media used (those photo-collage splash pages blew my little mind as a kid: Legion comes close to that effect with its bizarro musical numbers). Dan Stevens (as the intertitular David everyone’s always shouting for) and Rachel Keller (as Syd Barrett [!]) ground the show in believable emotions as two damaged people whose psychic abilities blur into their mental issues.

Legion has a measure of phildickian “What is reality?” stuff and lots of psychic powers and goofiness: it seems influenced by Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles far more than the style of original author Chris Claremont (never liked his stuff), it has fantastic production design and cinematography, and amazing actors. Too many to mention. But I’m very keen on Hamish Linklater’s inappropriate smiles, which can be ironic, chilling or heartbreaking. Plus he plays a villain who turns out to be gay and a loving partner and father, and then a hero.

And then there’s Aubrey Plaza, with her tics and smutty grins and eyeballs the size of Phobos.

And Jonathan Demme alumni Bill Irwin (Ham Gravy in Altman’s POPEYE).

We’re near the end of season 2 in our viewing and there’s a serious lull of interest going on right now — but I think things are about to kick in big-time. I trust the creators. Will probably be able to confirm this in the comments section later.