a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Dan Stevens’

“Downton Abbey” Ends and Begins to Shoot Season 4

Well, that was a BANG-up finale to perhaps the strongest season yet, Season 3, of “Downton Abbey,” a few weeks back now. It’s taken me this long to come to terms with its’ being over soooo quickly, and also so tragically…

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!SPOILER ALERT!

I knew Dan Stevens, who played the handsome, perfect Matthew Crawley, was leaving at the end of this season. There had been MUCHO publicity about it. How could this be? No Matthew! Oh Nooooo! You can’t DO that, Author Julian Fellowes! Noooo! How will we, nevermind Lady Mary, his pregnant wife, do without him?????

But Stevens’ three year contract was up, and I personally feel he’ll rue the day. I don’t think his fans will ever forgive him for leaving. And he’ll never live up to the career high of “Downton” and the classic, unforgettable heart-throb he created in Matthew Crawley.

So, we knew his character’s end was nigh. But it was the really harsh and violent CHOICE of how they choose to write him out, erase him completely, that was startling. Yes, Matthew Crawley is dead. Really dead. Dead as a Dickensian door-nail.

And the sight of the intense close-up of his handsome corpse with the blood running in a rivulet down his beautiful, dead blonde face was really something that stuck in my mind. I wish I could get it OUT of my mind! It’s haunting! That’s the word!That someone so young and so dashing and so rich, someone who had survived the trenches of WWI, only to die, like James Dean, too soon, too soon…WELL!

And as I watch that episode over and over and over again.
(What ELSE is there to watch on TV that’s THAT good? I mean, really!)

Well, that shot and the scenes of marital bliss leading up to it with his address to his newborn baby son, “My dear little chap.” Well, it began to get to me more and more the more I re-watched it. And of course, the tragedy of Lady Mary, the ever more and more magnificent Michelle Dockery’s fate, as a newly widowed single mother, is even more magnified the more that I see it. The happiest of images of her in that sun-filled room and her little baby grabbing at her finger…*sob*

But not to worry, dear fellow, Downtonians. They are already shooting Season 4. And we know Shirley MacLaine will be back for a least one more go ’round with the legend herself Dame Maggie Smith…The way the show keeps moving forward in time, the Dowager Countess must be now circling 100!

Another departure I saw coming in Ep.7 was the exit of Downton’s own Wicked Witch of the West, O’Brien. Author Fellowes had pretty much written himself and O’Brien’s character, into a corner with the utter blackness of O’Brian’s hideous, irredeemable soul, so she had to go.

And at the end that episode, we see her cozying up to Lady Susan, who is not at all happy with HER Lady’s maid, and is about to be posted to Bombay with her husband Cousin Shrimpy. Et voila! There goes O’Brien off to deepest, darkest India.

And I imagine Siobhan Finneran, the excellent Irish actress who has had the difficult job of making us love to hate O’Brien, for three seasons now, may have just had enough of this unrelenting, no-where-to-go-but-down character.

That brief scene in the happy, new love nest of the ideal working class couple Anna and Bates, where Bates whispers the words “Her Ladyship’s Soap” into O’Brian’s shocked ear. Well! It sends a chill down O’Brian’s spine that I felt, too, and sends her packing from the Bates’ house without her even having had her tea!

“Get Back in the Knife Box, Miss Sharp!” Indeed.

What will Season 4 bring? Well, STAYED TUNED! I know I will be!

Downton Abbey Season 3 ~ Ep.6 ~ There Are Fairies at the Bottom of the Abbey

SPOILER! SPOILERS! AND MORE SPOILERS! ALERT!

CODE VIOLET!

Or rather, as she’s called by some of her family, Cousin Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) was in full purple sail in Ep.6, the penultimate episode of “Downton Abbey” Season 3. Yes, dear readers, dear Downtonians, Season 3 is ending next week. *sob*sigh*sharp intake of breath* Alas!

Quality television is sooo rare these days and “Downton Abbey”s got it. In Spades.

And in the dreamy episode 6, Cousin Violet prompts Cousin Isobel to say “Have you changed your pills?” In one delicious set-to after the other, over Uber-social reformer Cousin Isobel’s (the superb Penelope Wilton) wanting to maintain former prostitute and former Downton maid, Ethel, as her cook and house-keeper.Shocking!

MEANWHILE!

Rob James-Collier’s sinister bad boy and head valet Thomas comes out of the shadows and is really at the center of this magnificent episode, which is, yes, an exploration of the attitudes towards homosexuality in the unenlightened Roaring 20s. In Post War Downton, everyone downstairs seemed to be roaring at Thomas. So bad Thomas, become poor gay Thomas and overwhelming sympathetic.

Thomas’ redemption began in Ep. 5 as he broke down crying at the death of Lady Sybil in childbirth in Ep.4. Rob James-Collier’s breakdown was as involving and empathetic and it was surprising in its’ power. “She didn’t even know I was alive!” he sobs “She was the only one who was nice to me!”

The death of Lady Sybil is going to be an ever-occuring and equivalent touchstone to the”Upstairs Downstairs” death of Lady Marjorie on the Titanic. Everything from now on will keep referring back to the untimely death of the lovely Lady Sybil at 24 years of age.

One keeps coming back to the fact of “Why? Why did they kill her off in such unceremonious, but incredibly compelling dramatic fashion?” And I keep coming up with the answer Well, she couldn’t act very well, so what else were they going to do with her?

With her abrupt passing, Tom Branson, the stupendous Alan Leech has really come into his own as the grieving father, former chauffeur and left-behind Irish son-in-law, who, in this episode begins to take over the running of the estate. He’s the new manager. And as magnificently played by Leech, he’s also becoming a very major character and dare I
say it? A heart-throb.

Which brings me back to the other emerging male star of Season 3, Rob James-Collier’s Thomas, who in this wonderful and also horrifying episode is called upon to play depths of emotion, his character has never been called upon to play so far. There are layers upon layers of dreadful humiliation as his frustrated gay feelings have nowhere to goand get him in to terrible trouble this episode.

Led on by the devilish Miss O’Brien, a former friend, Thomas thinks that Jimmy(Ep Speleers), the flirty footman is infatuated with him.

And so one night, he attempts a very beautiful kiss of the sleeping footman, the gorgeous Jimmy, who awakens and threatens to punch Thomas’s headlights out.

This disturbance is witnessed by the witless Alfred Nugent, and is reported upon by both Alfred and Jimmy to the Head Butler the super proper, Mr. Carson, who is revolted. And calls Thomas in to tell him he’s “foul” among other choice insults as he prepares to fire him. Thomas movingly says as he’s leaving”I may not be like you. But I’m not foul.”

And the major plot now revolves in this gripping episode of what are they going to do with Poor Gay one-handed Thomas?

James-Collier really proves himself to be a considerable actor as he is called upon by the brilliant, subtle script to play all the levels of loneliness, hurt, heart-break and degradation that homosexuals of that time, and earlier, were subjected to.

Oscar Wilde’s name was mentioned and that scandal that landed Wilde in jail in the Gay ’90s, was a mere two decades earlier than Downton’s time of 1920. And Thomas is constantly threatened with jail for his innocent, aborted kiss. As Wilde was. He was found guilty and sentenced to two years imprisonment at hard labor because he was gay. It ruined his health and destroyed his talent.

And of course, who is behind all these machinations? Thomas’ former partner-in-crime Miss O’Brien, the wicked witch of Downton, who, I’m happy to say, does get her comeuppance quite grandly at the end of these two hours of television glory.

Oh! And Bates gets out of jail! I almost forgot! And it is in Bates’ and Anna’s new home, a cozy little cottage on the estate, bien sur, that we watch them happily refurbish as poor, gay, lonely Thomas sinks deeper and deeper into depression and hopelessness that the wicked trap, ,which evil Miss O’Brien has set for him snaps shut.

There is a saving punch-line to all this, but neither Bates nor Anna knows what it means, and why it causes Miss O’Brien so suddenly to heel, bitch.

And the words that brought her down off her broom=stick and back to earth with a resounding thud?

“Her Ladyship’s bar of soap”.

Anyone who has been watching since Season One will know what that means, but it’s too complicated and dastardly to explain here.

As I have to also comment on Lady Edith’s emerging career as a newspaper columnist! Laura Carmichael also outdoes herself in this episode and she begins, through writing to find herself. I could identify.

It also takes this busy, jam-packed episode to London, where she is chaperoned by her Aunt Rosamond, Lady Painswyck. And so we get to see more of that delightful character. who is the Dowager(Maggie Smith)’s smart London daughtet, and watch with unalloyed joy as Lady Edith, the mouse of the glamorous Grantham family, begins to assert and find herself through journalism! A column! She becomes a blogger, Roaring ’20’s style, and of course, her editor falls in love with her.

Laura Carmichael is magnificent as she goes from the recently jilted bride, left at the altar in Ep.2, and we delight in her triumph as she becomes the butterfly that was still in the cocoon at Downton and begins to spread her wings ~ a bit. Though she is still very shy and proper. And she can’t believe people are responding to her writing! I know how that feels!

ANOTHER wonderful Downton episode, two hours of heaven, then next week, two more hours and it will be gone until next season. And yes, there is going to be a season 4 and maybe much, much more according to a Vanity Fair article on Julian Fellowes, whose brilliant and sole creation this is. He does all the writing of all the episodes of all the seasons himself! It’s all him! It amazes me!

Because that almost never is allowed to happen in American television, which is why British television is so superior to ours almost always. Because the British have this thing about “The Writer” and it’s called respect. And it’s a beautiful thing.

“Downton Abbey” which is becoming the most successful series ever on PBS, can be seen on Sundays at 9pm on Ch.13 in New York and is rebroadcast on Monday at 1am. Or rather Tuesday morning at 1am. It can also be seen on Ch.21 WLIW on Mondays at 8pm.Don’t miss it!

“Downton Abbey” is back and better than ever!

Whatever was “Downton Abbey” going to do?

What do you do to follow-up World War I as a plot point and setting? Well, you just continue with the high level of scintillating scripting by series creator and sole writer Julian Fellowes and the superb acting of the outstanding British cast that the public has come to know and to love, upstairs and below-stairs. And yes, the great “Downton Abbey” is more than back and, I’m happy to say, is better than ever.

I’m glad I waited to sing its’ praises until now, un petit en retard, the airing of the new Season 3, Episode 3 is tonight at 9pm EST.

SPOILER ALERTS!!!!!!

Because in Ep. 2, the subplot of what happens to middle sister, the less good-looking of the three glamorous Crawley sisters, Lady Edith, just lands on one like an unexpected ton of proverbial bricks,just as it does poor Edith. She is shockingly abandoned at the altar by her groom, the older, and partially wounded in the War, Lord Anthony Strellin.Bastard!

It is heartbreaking and beautifully under-played by Laura Carmichael, as the luckless Lady Edith, and her mother the Countess of Grantham, Elizabeth McGovern. Lady Edith’s two grandmothers are no slouches in the sympathy department either as the magnificent Dame Maggie Smith and the dazzling Shirley MacLaine, offer their support to the sobbing Lady Edith, too, in wrenching scene after scene that tears your heart out and throws it on the grounds of the sumptuously manicured estate.

I was not expecting to be so impacted by this storyline of the less lovely, but utterly sympathetic, sister’s May-December hook-up with much older Lord Stallin. But yet I was. And better yet, it was an utter surprise.

You just don’t see the stupendously well-mannered and stiff-upper-lipped Lord Strallin doing something so cowardly and dastardly as this. But he does. And now the series has a new villain! Although we may never see him again. The least he could do is pop off due to stress and leave poor Edith all his money, house, grounds, the lot!

Humiliating poor Edith in front of an entire church-full of the assembled landed gentry of The County AND their horrified servants! It’s a trauma that you know is going to echo down this season, and the next and the next. Will Edith ever be lucky in love? All signs now point to “No.”

And this unbelievable, shocking debasement comes in Episode Two, right after her older sister, the beautiful, but difficult and opinionated Lady Mary (the superb Golden Globe nominee Michelle Dockery) has married so well and so grandly to the series dashing and desirable heart-throb, Matthew Crawley(Dan Stevens).Lady Mary and Matthew got married in grand style in Episode One, only to witness Lady Edith’s disgrace in Ep.2 Never a dull moment at Downton!

And Downstairs, the plot thickens and sickens, too. Mrs. Hughes(Phyllis Logan) the saintly housekeeper may have cancer. The abandoned and disgraced former housemaid Ethel(Amy Nuttall), has become a prostitute. AND former partners-in-crime,the villainous, but handsome gay valet Thomas(Rob James-Collier) and the equally witch-y Ladies’ Maid to Lady Grantham, Mrs. O’Brien (Siobhan Finneran)are now at each others throats,threatening each other, forecasting all kinds of skullduggery to come.

Worrisome and interesting, also, is the contrast of continuing downstairs problems of dutiful Anna,(Joanna Froggatt) head house maid, who married and fell in love with the valet Bates(Brendan Coyle), who is now in jail for the murder of his ex-wife, the no-good blackmailer Vera.

This May-December love story, with Holloway prison thrown in, has proven tremendously popular as “Free Bates” T-shirts being sold on the PBS website abound.

The intrepid Anna takes it into her hands to go out into the world beyond Downton, in this case, London, and try to find out just what happened to the loathsome Vera Bates. Was it murder? And if not her beloved husband, then who? Or was it suicide? She tracks down a neighbor of Vera’s in the East End and bribes her to talk about Vera’s last day. I think gets some clues, even though she doesn’t know it yet.

One) that Vera was scrubbing her nails quite violently the last time her friend saw her and
Two)that she was surrounded by rain-drops that made her look like she had a halo, according to the aggrieved friend.

Mark my words, Agatha Christie fans, those tiny details mean SOMEthing!

And one never tires of the endless interior and exterior shots of Highclere Castle, otherwise known as Downton Abbey itself. It’s presence (it IS one of England’s stately homes after all) continues to overwhelm its’ inhabitants, and it is itself the series focal point and most awe-inspiring character.

Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville) looks like he’s losing all his and his rich American wife’s money, too,in Episode One. And her mother, the uber-rich American, Mrs. Martha Levinson (a perfectly brassy Shirley MacLaine)though in residence for Mary’s wedding, won’t give them a red cent.

The worry about just what is going to happen to Downton, and therefore the entire series, was just enough to start “Downton Abbey”s Season 3 off with a bang and I know if they can manage to pull us all back in WITHOUT the backdrop and drama of World War I, well, then we’re well and hooked all over again, and in for a full season of Downton drama and delight.

However, I do have to point out that Season 3, like many “seasons” of British television is only 7 episodes long! And so, you better make your date with Downtown tonight at 9pm.

And if you’re out and can’t be in to catch it, PBS.org is playing all the episodes online starting the next day, Monday. For a limited time. So one way or the other you can’t miss the magical magnificence of “Downton Abbey.”

Oscar’s New “It” Girls ~Jennifer Lawrence V. Jessica Chastain

When it was announced last week that one of Oscar’s “It” Girls (last year’s version), was playing a leading role and not a supporting one, and was being campaigned as such, in the still-to-be-seen “Zero Dark Thirty,” the etherally beautiful redhead Jessica Chastain herself, it sent Oscarologists scrambling like frightened chickens.

Because OF COURSE the brilliant Chastain, who was a Supporting Actress nominee last year in “The Help”(she lost to cast member Octavia Spenser) was going to turn the Best Actress race upside down and shoot to the top of everyone’s list, again sight unseen. Well, wasn’t she?

Everybody and his brother it seems is trying to topple purported front-runner for “Silver Linings Playbook”, the Weinstein Co.s Oscar “It” girl and a former nominee for Best Actress for “Winter’s Bone”, Jennifer Lawrence.

It is said the equally beautiful Lawrence is so out in front of all other contenders this year at the tender age of 22, that all we who do this are left with is trying to figure who else will be nominated, not who will win in that coveted category. Jennifer Lawrence has already won this. So say ye pundits all.

St. Ann Thompson of http://www.indirewire.com Thompson on Hollywood says that Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook” is a “slam-dunk” Lawrence also tops the Gurus o’ Gold chart by double digits. Check them out at David Poland’s http://www.moviecitynews.com. She’s Numero Uno at http://www.Goldderby.com, too  . I saw “SLP” today and I have to admit, yup, I think they might all just be right.

Light as air and paper thin as a potato chip, for all its’ background setting of manic depression and mental hospitals, “Silver Linings Playbook”s Jennifer Lawrence won me over. In spite of myself. I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t “Get” her, but now I do. She’s the new Elizabeth Taylor.

She’s an incredibly beautiful and photogenic young woman with a slammin’ body. She’s big, too, in all the right places.At 5’9′,’statuesque would be a good way of putting it. Curvaceous. And you see, she makes everyone fall in love with her. And yes, that’s a list that now includes me. Until today, an ardent anti-fan.

In “Silver Linings Playbook,” she won me over. She didn’t have me at “Hello,” but by the end of this film, she had me. She’s moving. You come to care about her. It’s her, a not the male lead “The Hangover”s Bradley Cooper, who is the emotional center of this wacky, wonky, weird film.

She’s got timing on her side,too. Oscarologists call it “momentum.”

It’s ONCE AGAIN ” a weak year for Best Actresses.” Some say the front-runner is 8-year-old Qu’venzhane Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” And even though I have just been informed that she has indeed joined SAG, the disqualification of her from SAG Award voting consideration still, unfortunately, stands.

So Jennifer Lawrence’s massive lead still endures, and she’s VERY sympathetic in SLP. She’s poignant. She’s trying to get  Cooper’s Manic Depressive mess, Patrick, to fall in love with her, and what director/writer David O. Russell is also deftly doing is trying to get the audience,the WORLD to fall in love with her damaged widow and ex-sex-addict Tiffany. And it seems to be  working. Lawrence may be crowned in February, the new Queen of Hollywood.

“Silver Linings Playbook” won the Audience Award at Toronto and also the Hamptons Film Festivals. And the Weinstein Co. is seeing this as their major Oscar contender now that “The Master” has pretty much tanked all over the place.

The release date says everything about an Oscar seeking film. And Harvey Weinstein knows how to position his fillies JUST RIGHT. I thought that “The Master”s early Sept. bow was odd, to say the least.

And the still unseen “Django Unchained” is opening strangely late. On Christmas Day, no less. For a Quentin Tarantino civil war/revenge tale with a great deal of gore in store, that seems a bit late, too. And a bit odd.

But HW placed “Silver Linings Playbook” just right. Right in the middle of Oscar season’s Phase One. Which is RIGHT NOW. That should have told us everything. In fact, TWC has even moved its’ release date one week earlier. To NEXT week. And then it’s going wide. VERY wide.

In the end “Silver Linings Playbook” is a Rom Com. A very well done and starrily cast rom-com with Robert DeNiro,  even, as the hero’s OCD Dad. And it’s not much more than that. And it’s the old Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl story. Comedies and comedic performances like Lawrence’s don’t usually get the gold. Soubrettes don’t win Oscars. Or do they?

So therefore someone with gravitas, like the Juilliard-trained Jessica Chastain, it is thought, could sneak in with a last-minute serious role in a drama. Anthony Breznican, the new Oscar Analyst at EW, puts Jessica first and she’s even *gasp* on the COVER of their upcoming Holiday Preview Issue. And so is “Les Mis” and Bilbo Baggins and  Abraham Lincoln and Santa Claus.

So gentlemen, it looks like we have a contest brewing for Bactress.

Chastain’s the CIA operative, who for ten years drives the hunt to find and kill Osama Ben Laden. “Zero Dark Thirty” is the code name for this operation. And Katherine Bigelow, the first female director to ever have won an Oscar (for “The Hurt Locker” three years ago), is helming it. Marc Boal of “The Hurt Locker” did the screenplay and it’s film editor, is the same film editor who just edited “Argo” so stirringly. Is that good or bad? The trailers look AWFULLY similar to “Argo”s and in them Chastain utters not ONE WORD. Er,….Are they hiding something? Saving the best for last?

So of course this news is giving Oscarologists pause. Chastain was in a staggering SEVEN films last year. And her range is thought to be limitless. I have never seen her be anything less than brilliant.

Until last night when I saw “The Heiress” on Broadway and the role of the spinterish, repressed Catherine Sloper, defeated her roundly in the first act. Chastain, like Lawrence, is a great beauty, and both Chastain and Lawrence are well on their way to being screen legends.

Lawrence, in “The Hunger Games” raked in a total of something like $400 million this year, quite a feat for a franchise anchored on a woman.

But I just couldn’t buy Chastain as homely and socially awkward in the first act in the worst wig I’ve ever seen on a Broadway stage.”The Heiress” Act I was like a bad sitcom.

Cherry Jones on Bway in ’95 (she won a Tony) and Olivia de Havilland in the classic movie (she won an Oscar ) were too clearly in my mind. They really SEEMED plain. They weren’t ACTING plain. Plain is something you can’t act anyway. But in “The Heiress” Jessica Chastain unfortunately tries to do so. And that wig makes her look like a white Topsy.

However in the second act, when Catherine begins to transform, Chastain changes into a better wig, which helped her  step up her game and passably helped her redeem herself. But only just. She was totally believable by the chilling end of “The Heiress.”

Two time Tony Winner Judith Ivey stole the show as the pitty-pattiest of Aunts. And director Moises Kaufman’s all-over-the map direction directed everybody except Ivey in the wrong direction. Ivey had the Henry James style right and showed up everyone else as hollow or misguided.

Chastain also had no help at all from the men on stage with her, the usually reliable David Strathairn and the all-but-invisible “Downtown Abbey”s Dan Stevens. Strathairn seemed to be trying to make the necessary ogre of Catherine’s father, Dr. Sloper into someone nice and warm, almost like a tea-cozy. And Dan Stevens seemed to disappear into the furniture every time he appeared to enter .

On screen, Sir Ralph Richardson, in his greatest screen performance,, was frightening beyond belief as one of the most monstrous fathers in cinema history. And Montgomery Clift, in his movie debut, was unforgettable as the wastrel suitor, Morris Townsend. IOW, Chastain couldn’t carry his rangey leading role. Or did so just by the skin of her beautiful teeth.

Will her role in “Zero Dark Thirty” be strong enough to upset Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar Love Fest? Will dark drama trump light comedy?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

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