Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Luke Evans

The Alienist – Chasing a Serial Killer in 1896 New York


When I first watched the trailers for The Alienist, I was intrigued. The story, based on the 1994 bestseller of the same name by Caleb Carr, focuses on a series of gruesome murders of young, male prostitutes in 1896 New York City and the team (including the “Alienist” of the title) which sets out to solve them. The short snippets of action kept me on the edge of my seat, with intriguing bits of narration over dark and macabre scenes; and quick cuts of street urchins in rags provided a startling counterpoint to the high-born in ball gowns and tuxes. The stunning sets, the dramatic music, and the creative graphics also added to the atmosphere.

The on-line and social media support given this limited series has been first class, too. The Alienist website contains behind-the-scenes interviews with the cast, features about the Gilded Age, madness, and the new science of forensics. I even noticed “bus shelter” ads with the gripping tagline, “Madness Lies Within.” It has been a clever and targeted buildup to the actual series. 

Dakota Fanning

After watching two episodes, I was even more impressed. Daniel Brühl, as Criminal Psychologist Dr. Laszlo Kreisler, strikes just the right tone of brilliant but obsessive; Luke Evans plays the complex newspaper illustrator, John Moore, who is caught between the city’s demons and his own. And Dakota Fanning is the self-possessed and intelligent young woman who was the first female to be hired by the New York Police Department and Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt; and has her sights set on becoming the first female police detective in New York City.

Daniel Brühl (center)

The focus on historical accuracy also elevates this series. Turn of the century New York is grim and grimy – you can practically smell and feel the dirt on the streets. The old street lights cast eerie shadows on everything. Even the sound effects are crisp and compelling, propelling the story forward at breakneck speed. In short, it is a high end, first class production. And you see every dollar of the estimated $5,000,000 price tag per episode on the screen.

Unfortunately, beneath it all, there is little pulse. I was never carried away by the story; I was never hooked. The dialogue feels stiff and forced; and worse yet, predictable. Even the acting feels a bit flat. Or maybe it’s the directing. I’m not sure, but I am sure that I never really connected with it on an emotional level.

That is unfortunate, since high-end mini-series like this one definitely add flavor to the new “TV landscape.” While I applaud TNT’s efforts to go beyond re-runs and begin to compete with Netflix and Amazon, I just wish this one had been more successful. For right now, I’ll stick to Law and Order.

The Alienist premieres January 22, 2018, on TNT.

Photos by Kata Vermes
Top photo: Daniel Brühl and Luke Evans

Some Not “Gay” Over Disney’s Beauty and the Beast


Before March 17 when Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast arrives in theaters, Christian rights groups are calling for a boycott. The reason? The film features a gay character, LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who is the comedic sidekick to the village bully, Gaston, played by Luke Evans. According to news reports, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist preacher Billy Graham, called for the boycott in a Facebook post on March 2 saying, “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children – watch out!” By Friday, March 3, when online reviews began to appear, Graham’s post had been shared 88,000 times and a drive in theater in Alabama said it will not screen the film. On Life Petitions, Christian groups are calling for people not only to boycott the film but to boycott anything Disney.

I saw the film on March 2 and posted my review the following day. (Click to read.) Like so many other reviews, mine was a rave, praising Director Bill Condon’s vision which resulted in a film that actually is better than the animated version. (Note that even in that film, LeFou’s sexual orientation was always a question.) LeFou and Gaston are now played by real actors and some of the dialogue does convey the thought that LeFou is attracted to Gaston. Yet those factors alone might not have created momentum for a boycott.

Our political environment has shifted dramatically since 1991 when the animated film premiered. We are currently living in a time when diversity is no longer acceptable. What is acceptable is singling out and vilifying those who are different. So gay people are now fair game and if some groups choose to use a Disney film to make their point, they will. Whether the boycott will be successful remains to be seen.

Most parents take their responsibilities seriously and quite rightly monitor what their children watch in movies, on TV, and on the Internet. But shielding a child from a film that makes a passing reference to being gay is not the right strategy. There’s so much going on in the film – music, special effects, dancing, etc. – that small children will be engaged and focus on the primary relationship between Belle and the Beast. But what if a child does ask about LeFou and Gaston? A teaching moment! That’s the time to have that conversation, dishing out as much information as is age appropriate. Unless a parent expects a child to never encounter a gay person in school, college, or in the workplace, avoiding these discussions not only is just plain wrong but will result in a young person being totally ill-equipped to manage in the world.

Of course, parents can put whatever spin they want on such a conversation. One would hope they would take a page from Pope Francis who famously said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays. (In case anyone asks, the Pope is Christian.)

Top photo: Josh Gad and Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast. Courtesy of Disney Pictures.

Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of six books for parents of young adolescents including The Roller-Coaster Years, Parenting 911, Cliques, and Boy Crazy! and Good Parents, Tough Times.

Beauty and the Beast – Live Action Disney Film is a Gem


The Disney magic has struck again.

The studio’s live action remake, with a superbly talented cast, breath-taking sets, lavish costumes, and special effects that enhance rather than detract, surpasses the original 1991 animated classic. With the previous film, as well as the stage version, in the rear view mirror, and with La La Land whetting the public’s appetite for more musical films, Beauty and the Beast’s timing couldn’t be better.


Dan Stevens as the Beast

Director Bill Condon leads a production team that manages to do everything right. Condon, whose film adaptation of the Broadway hit Dreamgirls, won two Academy Awards and three Golden Globes, also knows his way around a script. He won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Gods and Monsters which he also directed. The screenplay by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos builds on the original, filling in some of the backstory about Belle and the Prince/Beast. The score with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Tim Rice, retains the songs in the animated version, while eliminating some from the stage version, and adding several that serve to advance the story in key moments.


Emma Watson as Belle and Luke Evans as Gaston

The cast, many of whom had worked with Condon before, trusted his vision and were eager to sign on for this mission. Emma Watson, known to younger audiences as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, is radiant as Belle, projecting the heroine’s intelligence and kindness, but also her bravery when faced with danger. Her face lights up the screen and her singing voice projects a sweet innocence which befits her character.

Dan Stevens, the doomed Downton Abbey heir, might seem an odd choice to play the Prince who, because of his selfishness, is turned into the Beast by an enchantress. Yet he attacks (in some scenes quite literally), the role with relish. While the Beast is a fully digital character (according to the press notes the actor wore stilts and a prosthetics muscle suit with a grey bodysuit during filming), Stevens was determined to display the fine line between man and beast, striving to make his live action character “more dimensional than the Beast from the animated film.” He succeeds, revealing the human trapped inside a horrible-looking animal, particularly when singing the lament “Evermore,” a new addition to the score.

Kevin Kline as Maurice and Emma Watson as Belle

Belle’s father has evolved from the zany inventor in the animated version to an artist who creates beautiful, ornate music boxes. Kevin Kline’s mere presence adds depth to any scene he’s in. His Maurice projects a father’s love, but beneath the surface there’s a sadness about the past. (Through the magic of a mirror, the Beast takes Belle back to her life in Paris and she understands the secrets Maurice holds in his heart.) Kline’s Maurice is not without humor, especially when he encounters some of the talking objects in the Beast’s castle, and he delivers a stirring “How Does a Moment Last Forever,” another new song.


Josh Gad as LeFou and Luke Evans as Gaston

Gaston’s resume has been beefed up, transforming him into a war hero who saved Villenueve, the fictional French village, from invaders. What hasn’t been altered is Gaston’s quick-trigger temper, his oversized ego, and his inability to accept Belle’s refusal to marry him. Welsh actor Luke Evans brings his stage presence and booming baritone to the “role he was born to play,” according to Condon. Paired with Josh Gad as Gaston’s sidekick LeFou, Evans takes advantage of Gad’s impeccable comic timing to make the interaction between the two fun to watch. (There’s been much pre-publicity – both positive and negative – about LeFou’s obvious attraction to the manly Gaston.)


The Castle Objects

Those who signed on as the humans doomed to live as various objects in the Beast’s castle until the spell is broken, include a mind-boggling group of A-list actors. For most of the film, they are voicing the characters, but they are seen briefly in the beginning and finally emerge in the flesh at the end. They include: Ewan McGregor as Lumière, the candlestick holder; Stanley Tucci as Cadenza, a harpsichord; Audra McDonald, as Madame de Garderobe the wardrobe; Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as Plumette, the feather duster; Ian McKellen, as the clock, Cogsworth; Emma Thompson as the teakettle, Mrs. Potts; and Nathan Mack as the teacup, Chip. Hattie Morahan who lurks around the village as the homeless woman, Agatha, is actually the Enchantress who casts the spell on the Prince.

Production Designer Sarah Greenwood, responsible for the visual aspect of the film, led a team of more than 1,000 crew members who worked to create the sets that would mimic those in the animated film. These sets built on the backlot at Shepperton Studios outside London, include: the fictional town of Villeneuve; the castle’s ballroom, with a floor made from 12,000 square feet of faux marble; Belle’s bedroom; and the castle’s library holding thousands of books created specifically for the production. The largest set – 9,600 square feet – is the forest surrounding the castle which included real trees, hedges, a frozen lake, a set of 29-foot high ice gates, and about 20,000 icicles.



Costumes are period perfect and eye-catching. Designer Jacqueline Durran’s team, made up of embroiders, milliners, jewelers, painters, and textile artists, worked for three months before filming began. That lead time was necessary since Durran wanted to create sustainable costumes from fair-trade fabrics. The greatest challenge was designing that iconic yellow dress that Belle wears when dancing with the Beast in the castle’s ballroom. Made from 180 feet of feather-light satin organza, the dress used up 3,000 feet of thread. All that attention to detail pays off. Belle’s gown glows in that dance number, a high point in a film with many high points.

In a cynical world, the “tale as old as time,” never gets old. Disney’s new version continues that legacy.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

Beauty and the Beast opens nationwide on March 17, 2017.

The Girl on the Train – The Cost of Obsession


What would you do if you realized that there are aspects of your life that you have completely missed and the truth of what you’ve been living isn’t real? The Girl on the Train doesn’t particularly set out to answer this question, which is a shame. The film, based on the novel by Paula Hawkins, is a mystery thriller that sometimes touches on fascinating aspects of character development, only to then turn into a Lifetime film with a bloody and unsatisfying end.

“She’s everything I lost. She’s everything I want to be,” says Rachel (Emily Blunt) as she creepily watches Megan (Haley Bennett), a complete stranger to her, from the train. The obsession with watching Megan is, in part, due to the fact that Rachel’s own life is a miserable one and she believes the life the other woman leads to be one of perfection. Rachel rides the train into Manhattan everyday, sits in the same car, and watches Megan be happy with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). We discover fairly soon that Rachel used to live two houses down from Megan, once sharing a home with her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), who left her to be with Anna (Rebecca Ferguson).

Film Title: The Girl on the Train

Rachel’s stalking and curiosity eventually find her in the middle of an investigation after Megan disappears without a trace. An alcoholic who constantly blacks out, Rachel finds herself plunged into a mystery that places her at the scene of Megan’s last known location. With no alibi, she takes it upon herself to find out what happened, involving herself in a situation that reveals connections and truths she isn’t quite prepared for.

It’s the thrill of the chase and mystery of the disappearance. The characters kind of take a back seat and in a lot of ways, the plot drives the story, not the other way around. Told largely through Rachel’s perspective, we become privy to the fact that something is amiss early on. Her memory isn’t always reliable and makes the unfolding mystery easier to tell because of it.

However, the film is less concerned with expanding on Rachel’s story. We understand later the truth behind certain events and how they were twisted in her memory, but the skipping around between flashbacks and present day disentangle us from the central characters. Sure, there is some sympathy to go around, but because it never really delves into certain character’s motivations, the rapport we may have had with any of them often falls flat.

Tate Taylor’s direction is unable to adapt to the flow of the plot. Emily Blunt’s performance saves the movie from going completely off the rails, clearly portraying Rachel’s emotional instability and constant weariness in every scene, adding weight to an otherwise weightless script. On the flip side, Haley Bennett does well with the little she’s given, adding some depth to Megan’s story, while Rebecca Ferguson gets the short end of the stick. Ultimately, however, The Girl on the Train shortchanges its characters for mystery and shock value, culminating in a bloody finale. But it’s all too underwhelming, stagnant, and the film’s ending, especially, leaves a lot to be desired.

The Girl on the Train opens nationwide October 7, 2016.

Photos courtesy of Dreamworks/Universal Pictures