FlixChatter Review: Downton Abbey (2019)

The popular period drama tv series spanning six seasons is back. This time on the big screen, also written by its creator, Julian Fellowes. I’ve only watched the first two seasons in its entirety, then sporadically after that, enough to understand who’s who in the Crawley family. If you have never seen a single episode of the series, you might find this who’s-who featurette handy. WARNING: There are some mild spoilers here, so if you prefer to go in blind, proceed with caution.

As the trailer has promised us, the film once again takes place at the sprawling estate in the English countryside. It’s set in Highclere Castle, which has just been listed on Airbnb, conveniently announced the same week the film’s US release 😉 The film opens with the Crawleys receiving royal mail… which then sets the motion for the upstairs/downstairs drama of the family preparing for a visit by King George V and Queen Mary (which is inspired by true events you can read about here). I think it’s ingenious that Fellowes places the fictitious Crawley family and their servants in context of real life events, such as the Titanic, Britain’s general election, and now the Royal visit.

The movie could’ve easily been made into 2-3 one-hour episodes with dizzying number of storylines jam-packed into a 2-hour running time. My friend who went with me to the early screening counted at least 9-10 different plots as we drove home… some are completely frivolous, mixed with a few intriguing ones. I thought the feud between servants and the royal entourage is amusing, though borderline absurd at times. There are SO many characters who’re all vying to get our attention, given they barely get a few minutes in before the plot jumps to something else.

Penelope Wilton & Dame Maggie Smith

Of course Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (the great Dame Maggie Smith) is my personal favorite from the series, and she’s got her share of fun, GIF-worthy snarky remarks in this movie as well. But of the male characters, widower Tom Branson (Allen Leech), the former driver who’s now part of the family, gets the most screen time here. First, there’s a mysterious military guy (Stephen Campbell Moore) who despite his seemingly-friendly encounter becomes increasingly suspicious that he has grand designs on the royal visit. There’s also [SPOILER ALERT!] a potential romance between him and Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton), the maid of Queen Mary’s lady-in-waiting (Imelda Staunton) who happens to be Robert’s estranged cousin. There’s apparently a falling out over some inheritance issue, which creates some hilarious shenanigans involving Violet and her ‘bestie’ Isobel Merton (Penelope Wilton).

Tuppence Middleton and Allen Leech

There’s no lack of drama downstairs either. I mentioned the feud between the servants and the arrogant royal entourage, which entangles practically every single one of the servants. Some of the shenanigans are quite hilarious, thanks to the over-eager Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle) who could barely holds his excitement to serve the royals! As the power struggle went on in Downton, Thomas (Robert James-Collier) has a night on the town, which provides an opportunity for a LGBTQ commentary on the legal repercussions of being gay in 1920s England. Thomas is a tough character to love given his past shenanigans at Downton, but one can’t help feel for him here.

The one scene that stays with me the most is a chance encounter between Branson and Princess Mary, more so because he didn’t know of her identity at the time. I think Tom is one of the most sympathetic characters in the series– someone from humble beginnings who has to straddle both worlds. The chance encounter ends up having quite a profound effect on the Princess who’s going through some personal struggles, which we later learn in the film.

Dame Maggie Smith and Michelle Dockery

Besides Violet, Lady Mary is definitely a memorable character in her own right. Michelle Dockery portrays her perfectly as a wise, dutiful, often-conflicted who seems colder than she appears. There is a sweet, poignant scene between her and her beloved grandmother towards the end of the movie. I do appreciate that even for a film set in 1920s, the film shows plenty of strong women, both upstairs and downstairs, who are no shrinking violet [pun intended]. [SPOILER ALERT!] Speaking of Violet, think this might also be the last Downton movie we’d see her in, and Fellowes has carved her a graceful exit. One thing I’m definitely disappointed with is the lack of Mathew Goode, whose appearance is basically a cameo despite being listed so high on IMDb cast list!

Director Michael Engler (whose background is in stage directing) does his best juggling so many plot lines, but at times the movie feels jumpy and discombobulating to follow. There are a couple of mildly suspenseful moments, but mostly the movie is expectedly a tranquil affair. The visuals are gorgeous thanks to cinematographer Ben Smithard. And of course John Lunn‘s lush score is so iconic that even hearing a couple of notes of it immediately makes me want to return to Downton! The costumes and set design of the series have always been impeccable, and they turned them up a notch in this grand cinematic treatment. From the elegant dinners to the festive Royal parade through Downton Village, it would certainly make fans of the British royal family brimming with glee.

Overall it’s an entertaining movie if you’re into period dramas. Even with certain scenes some period drama fans might consider risqué, overall the movie plays it safe, aiming mostly for a feel-good vibe that won’t ruffle too much feathers. Fans of Downton would likely get the most enjoyment out of this movie, but casual moviegoers might still be entertained by the upstairs/downstairs shenanigans of British aristocrats.


Have you seen Downton Abbey movie? Let me know what you think!

Everybody’s Chattin’ + Question of the Week on Emmys winner wishlist

Happy Midweek everyone! Just two more days until Friday, yay 😉 I’m going to hit two birds with one stone again today in combining two post *series* in one.

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Ok, so let’s start with some of my favorite posts from the past week:

  • The legendary director Steven Spielberg’s been is a lot of my fellow bloggers’ minds lately thanks to Michael, Kellee and Aurora‘s Spielberg Blogathon. Here are a few notable posts celebrating his work:
    Michael wrote about his TV work on an Amazing Stories series ‘The Mission’ episode, whilst Richard chose to highlight Spielberg’s keen talent on directing his actors. Bubbawheat reviewed Spielberg’s adaptation of one of my all time favorite comics The Adventures of Tintin and Monkeyboy wrote why he loved Spielberg’s 1971 movie Duel.
  • Speaking of celebration, do wish Josh big congrats on his third Blog-aversary!
  • ChattinVisualParallelsMargaret‘s brilliant Visual Parallel series is back, this time she sets her astute eyes on comparing David Fincher’s Zodiac + Se7en.
  • As I’m still putting finishing touches on my August Blindspot, but Chris has just posted his thoughts on Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky.
  • Dan participated in a 1984 Blogathon and chose a film I had never heard of: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes [with Christopher Lambert as Tarzan!] from the director of Chariots of Fire.
    ..
  • Chattin_BoyhoodNow these two movies couldn’t have been more different from each other, but the reviews are both awesome: Mark reviewed Boyhood, whilst Mikey reviewed Into The Storm, which I will attest is definitely more enjoyable than the movie!
  • Last but not least, Kristin observed the movie trends of the last five years, some of which are sadly not going anywhere anytime soon.

Now for Question of the Week!

Since it’s still fresh on everyone’s mind, well some of us anyway, I thought I’d pick your brains simply out of curiosity. Now, I only watch clips of it afterwards but I didn’t tune in LIVE because frankly, I don’t watch hardly any TV to be rooting for anyone.

EMMY2014logoOut of those I did watch, only Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman (and they both won, wahoo!) and Dame Maggie Smith were the only nominees whose performances I’ve actually seen, and none of those awesome Brits attended the event. Besides, my darling Toby Stephens wasn’t nominated [grrr!!], which is a shame as his fantabulous, superlative performance as Captain Flint in Black Sails is as deserving as any of those leading actors, but naturally he’s overlooked as he’s not famous enough for them to notice [heh]. Anyway, enough with the rant, I kind of know he won’t get a nod anyway, but in my heart he’s already won an Emmy [and Golden Globes + whatever other TV award there is out there] 😀

Now, my lovely pal Melissa has posted a recap, so check out her top 12 good, bad & the ugly moments of the Emmys. From the Twitter reactions as well as some articles like this one, it seems that there’s a whole lot of déjà vu thing going on this year as the majority of winners are previous winners.

I had to double check these photos were taken from this week and not last year.
I had to double check these photos were taken from this week and not last year.

Though I don’t watch the show, I could see why Breaking Bad swept the major acting awards. It seems like a phenomenal show, heck even my crush Toby himself said it’s his favorite show, that and Boardwalk Empire. Clearly he’d rather do those shows than his mum’s period drama Downton Abbey, ahah. I have only seen one episode of Modern Family and to be honest with you I think it’s waaay overrated. But again, enough with the rant, this is supposed to be a question for YOU dear friends, esp. you who watch way more TV than me [which is basically everybody, ahah]. Surely you all have actors/actresses you think are more deserving than most of the people nominated here, so I’d love to know who they are so we can all commiserate 😀


So my question to you is:

Which actor/actress who’s never been nominated for an EMMY before that you wish had gotten a nod?

Weekend Roundup: Catching up on Downton Abbey + a ho-hum Hitchcock film

Happy Bastille Day Monday everyone!

Man now I wish I were back in Paris again [sigh] So how’s your weekend? It was another glorious Summer day on Sunday, ahead of the Polar Vortex (or you can call it the cool Canadian air) that keeps temps only in the 60s today. Yep, I actually have to wear a light jacket today, heh.

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I guess he has every reason to feel triumphant

So it seems that a lot of you saw Dawn of the Planet of the Apes this weekend. ‘Apes’ Goes Bananas says Box Office Mojo [though we never saw any of the apes actually ate a banana], and the mojo is definitely with director Matt Reeves as the sequel brought in a whopping $73 mil domestically, and it’s already over $100 mil internationally. It’s the only tentpole film opening this weekend so basically there’s no competition. Besides who in the right mind would want to see those dreadful robots over these intelligent & emotive apes?

Well, if you’ve read my review then you already know I LOVED it. I actually don’t mind renting that again when it’s out on Blu-ray, maybe a double feature w/ the 2011 reboot. I sure hope Reeves will be back at the helm for the third film, man it’s poised to be one heck of a sci-fi trilogy!

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My weekend viewing is mostly home cinema. After nearly a year, I finally caught up with Downton Abbey again. Yes I know, my TV viewing is quite pathetic, I’m still on season 2! I don’t know if I’ll finish all four seasons by year’s end but I sure will am gonna try.

Well, everything I loved about it that I wrote last year is still true. I love all the characters, there are a lot of them but even the minor characters like Mr. Lang is intriguing. Dame Maggie Smith still has the best lines, and I LOVE seeing dashing Iain Glen as a newspaper mogul Sir Richard Carlisle. It’s a testament to his versatility that he’s starring in Downton Abbey AND Game of Thrones around the same time, the two couldn’t be more different from each other.

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There are lots going on this season! What with Downton being turned into a hospital & all the intricacies that brings, Anna and Mr. Bates, not to mention the scandals of Lavinia and Sir Richard. Plenty of juicy scenes awaits!

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As part of my Hitchcock catch-up, I also saw a lesser-known film Torn Curtain (1966) as part of this Hitchcock Blogathon by Rob & Zoe. I learned about the blogathon pretty late so the films are all picked over. Still I was curious to see this one because the premise sounded intriguing and so is the casting of Paul Newman + Julie Andrews. Heh, I wish I had picked another film, it was such a bore!

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As I read the IMDb trivia, apparently Hitchcock himself didn’t like the film. So much so that he didn’t even want to appear in the trailer. He’s apparently unhappy with the screenplay and Newman’s performance but my main beef is with Julie Andrews’ casting. Well I’ll spare you the detailed review until August, but suffice to say I’d never watch it again.


Well so that’s my weekend viewing folks. How about you? Seen anything good?

An appreciation + belated birthday tribute to Toby Stephens

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Ok, here we go again. Some of you who follow me on Twitter might’ve already known about my new crush but I want to make it official here that I’ve been suffering from Toby-itis. This kind of *infection* happens once in a blue moon… the last time this happened was with Gregory Peck nearly three years ago. With Toby, it appears to be a slo-burn kind of crush as I’ve noticed him a while ago and have always liked him on and off… but ever since The Machine, this casual admiration has turned into a full-blown obsession. Well, since he just turned 45 a few days ago on April 21, this post doubles as a belated birthday tribute for my new crush.

Yes, it seems I have a type… like most of my crushes, the London-born Toby is drop dead gorgeous, massively talented, incredibly versatile yet sadly VERY underrated… plus he’s both an eye + ear candy… Toby’s smooth voice is absolutely to-die-for. He definitely would’ve made my top 10 actors with smoothest voice list. I LOVE this fan-made vid that highlights my sentiment perfectly:

Though he has a lot in common with my other crushes, there’s a lot of *firsts* with my crushing on Toby…

  • He’s the first red-head I’ve ever had a crush on… but with those glass-cut cheekbones, his freckles are downright adorable.TobyStephensHotRedHead
  • First actor whose mother I’m actually a huge fan of… Dame Maggie Smith, one of my three favorite British Dames. His dad is the late Sir Robert Stephens.
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    Toby with mum Maggie Smith backstage after a Coriolanus play
  • He’s also the first living actor I have a crush on who’s married with little kids. In fact he’s been married for 14 years which in this entertainment business is pretty impressive!

You know you’ve got it bad when you’ve practically watched every clip of him posted on youtube, scoured every tumblr on said actor, read every single interview you could find… and still you can’t get enough. Oh and my tumblr is on fire once again 😉 I don’t drink so this must be what being intoxicated feels like. I finally ordered three Toby dvds from Amazon today: Jane Eyre (2006), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996) and Cambridge Spies (2003). Can’t wait to watch ’em all!

I’ve always loved actors with theater background and Toby attended LAMDA and has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company. In fact, back in 1994, he won the Sir John Gielgud Prize for Best Actor and the Ian Charleson Award for playing Coriolanus at RSC. [per IMDb] I stumbled upon this clip of an RSC workshop where young Toby (who resembled Tom Hardy a bit then) did a reading with a bunch of famous actors, see how many of them you can spot in this video. It’s always fun to think about the career trajectory of these actors.

How do I love Toby? Let me count the ways …

Oh where do I start? Words fail me to describe how I feel about him right now. I’m having heart palpitations every time I watch him, whether he’s being goofy, intense, sad, angry … he’s always magnetic.

I think the word most apt to use here is awe. I’m in awe of Toby’s sheer screen presence and incredible versatility. Of course I say that about a lot of actors I like but some actors seem to suit a certain genre more than anything, but Toby seems comfortable playing ANY role, whether it’s comedy, drama, action adventure, he always fits right in effortlessly. I think even the most famous Hollywood actors of today aren’t remotely as versatile. Oh and he can master any accent too, as you can see in a couple of clips below, his American accent is quite flawless.

The more I watch his performances, the more I think ‘why isn’t he more famous??’ just like I always say about Richard Armitage. But at the same time, I admire him for being a working actor, an artist who cares about his craft rather than clamoring for the fame and fortune.

SmilingTobyHe tells the DailyMail: I’d like to keep it at the “I’ve seen you in something, not sure what” level. Having a life and being grounded is really important to me. In this business, especially for guys, you can become so obsessed with where you’re at and where you think you should be that you get angry and screwed-up, and forget to value what you have.’

Beautiful AND sensible. That is quite a rarity in this business.

This year alone, he’s juggling theater work in Noël Coward’s Private Lives with Anna Chancellor on London’s West End. Oh how I’d love to see this live, his comic timing is impeccable!

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That same year he also portrayed Captain Flint in STARZ’s series Black Sails, a role that combines tremendous physicality to do the action stunts as well as dramatic chops.

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My colleague was the first one who told me about this show and though it’s not really my cup of tea, I’ve been watching clips of the show. I’ve never seen him so battered, bruised and covered in blood, yet I can’t take my eyes off him. I love how the show’s lighting made his green eyes sparkle against his pale, freckled skin.

Highlighting some of my favorite Toby performances

 

It pains me that most people only know him as the Bond baddie Gustav Graves (he’s the youngest actor to play a Bond villain) in the worst possible Bond movie ever, Die Another Day. I mean, Gustav is supposedly a Korean who’s been genetically grafted into being a Caucasian. Say what?? Even Toby himself said how exceedingly silly that role was, and how he had to *disappear* from Hollywood for a few years as he’s only getting offered villain-y roles.

So in case you’ve never heard of him or only seen him in a couple of things, I’d like for you to acquaint yourself with Toby’s amazing body of work. Here are just a small sampling of his multifaceted career in both TV and movies:

ManyFacesOfToby

Jay Gatsby – The Great Gatsby (2000)

Ok so I’m not crazy about this adaptation but at least it didn’t put me to sleep like the 1974 version with Robert Redford. Toby certainly has dashing, refined but enigmatic charm, more swoon-worthy than Leo any day. I only wish they don’t have him grinning too much here. As much as I love his beautiful teeth, it just gets creepy after a while. Still, Toby is never NOT fun to watch and I enjoy listening to his flawless American accent. Paul Rudd is pretty decent too as Nick Caraway.

Mr. Rochester – Jane Eyre (2006)

My pal Becky is laughing at me as I used to have a very different opinion on his performance as Rochester in Jane Eyre, as I’m so partial to Dalton’s portrayal, but now I’ve fallen for his passionate and decidedly more sexual take of the character. I couldn’t decide which scene I should include here, there are way too many highlights, but I find Toby’s voice so intoxicating in this very scene where he explains the story of his Parisian mistress Céline Varens.

“You do not know how it feels to the very beat of someone’s heart within one’s breast …” The way he looks at Jane… and THAT voice… it’s a potent combination if there ever was one.

Prince John – Robin Hood (2009)

The only character who manages to avert my eyes away from Richard Armitage’s Guy of Gisborne. Now, if you know me at all, that is quite something. It’s funny but I’d be watching the exact same Robin Hood clips but this time I couldn’t take my eyes off the deliciously hammy, caddish Prince John. Toby at his naughtiest best.

Frank Arlington – Strike Back (2010)

It’s amusing to see Toby and Andrew Lincoln are now stars of American cable shows. I sure hope Black Sails will have as huge following as The Walking Dead and that it will bring him more opportunities in Hollywood. Toby’s talent needs to be seen, people!! Erm, in any case, Toby’s sporting American accent once again, as a CIA agent no less.

Detective Jack Armstrong – Vexed (BBC Two – 2010-2012)

I LOVE LOVE his goofball performance as the lazy, immature and irreverent cop. The show itself reminds me of Moonlighting with all the bantering between him and his clearly-superior female partner. It’s too bad there are only two seasons, I could watch this all day! Lucy Punch is great in the first season, too bad she didn’t stay on for the second. But Toby is a hoot, he’s really the only reason to watch the show for me.

… and finally, here’s a clip from The Machine (2013) that I’ve already reviewed here. First time I saw him in a sci-fi but again he fits the role of a mad-but-compassionate scientist perfectly. Once again he plays another tortured soul like Gatsby and Rochester, which is definitely his specialty.

I could go on and on… as right now all I want to watch and talk about is Toby. Thanks for letting me indulge on my new crush. I better just stop here … I can always blog about him again in the future 😀


So, what do you think of Toby Stephens? What movie/TV series did you like him in?

Musings on Downton Abbey – seven things that got me hooked on the show

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Well, two years after this show premiered on PBS in January 2011, and after the urging of several friends, I finally saw my first episode of Downton Abbey. Being an anglophile AND a fan of period dramas, this show has the ingredients of the kind of show I’d be into, and I’m glad to report that indeed Julian Fellowes’ popular period drama does not disappoint!

Here are just seven things that got me hooked:

Bear in mind I’ve only seen two episodes, so these are just my first impression of the show that made me want to keep on watching.

• The story

DowntonAbbeyEstateThe social class of 20th century England makes for a fascinating drama, especially the fact that much like Gosford Park, the story focus on both the haves and the have-nots, kind of like Upstairs Downstairs but in a much bigger house, as my colleague calls it. There are just so many layers in the stories across social classes. I love how the series weave in and out of the lives of both the masters and the servants, and how money and status clearly doesn’t buy happiness as both classes have their own set of problems! Despite the fact that the masters of the house are treated like Kings and Queens, I like the fact that this show is NOT about British monarchy. It is essentially about one wealthy family, both a family by blood and marriage and also the group of servants living together like one family, all living under one roof. The servants care about the house as much as their masters do, as Carson the unmarried butler tells a fellow staff, “They’re all the family I’ve got!”

Fellowes — who won an Oscar for writing Gosford Park — certainly know how to craft a juicy story of people from all backgrounds. From sibling rivalry to servant rivalry, people of all classes plotting for and against one another to get or keep what they want, it’s a feuding frenzy with manners!

• The cast

It’s always fun to see British shows as they often recycle their actors. I’m familiar with a few of the faces in Downton Abbey even if I don’t know their names. The two I am accustomed with are Hugh Bonneville and Maggie Smith (collaborating again with Fellows after Gosford Park), one of my three favorite British Dames. I’m thrilled to see the always-reliable Bonneville in a leading role and a serious one at that. I’ve only seen him in comedies (Notting Hill, Mansfield Park, The Vicars of Dibley, etc.) but he definitely has the chops as a dramatic actor. He has such a pleasant countenance and dignity as Robert Crawley or Lord Grantham, the head of the massive estate and patriarch of the Crawley family.

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Another actor I’m familiar with is Dan Stevens. I featured him in the Jane Austen rain scenes list, as I adore him as Edward Ferrars in the BBC miniseries of Sense & Sensibility. I much prefer him to Hugh Grant in that role. As the presumptive heir Matthew Crawley, he’s perhaps the most relatable to most audiences as he and his mother Isobel represent the middle class, not used to living in a big castle with so many servants. It’s always amusing to see how Violet sneered at Matthew working as a lawyer and Isobel serving in the hospital because of her nursing background. Even the servants give disparaging remarks, murmuring that ‘real gentlemen don’t have an occupation.’

• The characters

Characters are the spice of any film or show. They’re the ones that stick with you long after you’re done watching ’em, and this show is chock full of great, memorable ones! I’m going to hold off listing my favorites until I see at least the first season, but the Crawley family, both Robert & Cora Crawley, the American heiress, plus Robert’s mother, Violet a.k.a Dowager Countess of Grantham are all very fascinating. The tentative relationship between Violet and Cora is fun to watch, and not only because the nature of the a wife and her mother in law is ripe of conflicts, but their different cultural background also makes it even more intriguing.

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And amongst the servants, I’m very intrigued by John Bates, the limping valet and the conniving footman Thomas who wants his job. There is something sinister simmering beneath the surface of both men, though Bates seemed like the ‘victim’ initially. Brendan Coyle is brilliant as Bates, as he was in North & South with Richard Armitage. I’m also intrigued by Lady Mary’s turbulent love life, which surely will get even more juicy as the series progresses.

• The dialog

Dame Maggie Smith seems to have the most great one-liners, and some of my friends who’ve seen the entire 3 seasons said the same thing. She’s quite the scene-stealer in this show, she’s a highlight in every episode.  There’s something about her shrewd delivery that made those lines sound even better!

Cora, Countess of Grantham: Are we to be friends then?
Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham: We are allies, which can be a good deal more effective.

When she complained about the bright chandelier is such a hoot, normally I’d be annoyed by a wealthy woman complaining about the most trivial things in life, but the way Maggie Smith delivered it is just amusing.

Violet: Oh, dear, such a glare. I feel as if I were on stage at the Gaiety.

Can’t wait to hear more memorable lines as I catch up with more episodes!

• The historical lesson

A mix of historical events with fictional stories are always fascinating to me. The series started with the shocking news of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 12, 1912.

On board of the Titanic was the heir-presumptive of the Grantham estate, whom Lady Mary Crawley was betrothed to, so naturally that caused a major problem as the Crawleys have no son. Oh man, I’m glad I wasn’t born in those days. Not only that we couldn’t inherit anything, we couldn’t even earn our fortune either! In any case, Downton Abbey is essentially one big soap opera comprised of convoluted family drama, unbridled ambition and all kinds of scandals, but the historical setting and events make it feel more ‘grounded’ and not as superficial as it otherwise would.

I think season 2 would be set around World War I, which will bring a set of new issues for the Crawleys. Learning about class division and the prevalent cultures of the times couldn’t have been any more enjoyable!

• The costumes and set pieces

As a big fan of costume dramas, I expect to see gorgeous clothes and fashion of the times. Unlike in the Jane Austen era where the women’s figure is hidden under ginormous empire dresses, the clothes in post-Edwardian show more of a woman’s figure in their gorgeous gowns. Costume designer Susannah Buxton has won Emmy and Bafta awards for her astounding work.

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There are sooo much eye candy in this series, and the costumes is definitely one of them. It’s such a treat for fashion lovers! The set design and architecture are fantastic as well, everything in and out of the estate is meticulously crafted down to its last detail which is just astounding. Just from the first episode alone, I’m in love with Lady Mary’s elaborate black choker below, soooo beautiful and such a perfect complement to her black lace dress.

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Not only are the costumes beautiful to look at, but the production team of the show seem to have done their research to ensure historical accuracy. What each servant, footman, valet wore at the time are as crucial as what the masters put on as they reflect the measure of status. Reading the PBS site of the show, apparently the footmen were hired for their good looks and height, with the taller footmen earning a higher salary.

• The music

Since I haven’t made my Music Break post this week, I’m including John Lunn’s terrific score for the show. Lunn won an Emmy for Original Dramatic Score, and it’s become one of my favorites!

In an interview with THR, Lunn shared that he didn’t want to simply use library samples chosen by programmers, he insisted on using real musicians. He’s also mindful about the strength of the show, which is the dialog: “We use a 35-piece string orchestra, a solo piano and the odd solo instrument like a French horn and that’s about it. One of the reasons for a string orchestra is that it sits well under dialogue. You can have quite a lot of underscore without swamping the dialogue.”

Great music adds so much to the tone and mood of any production. All that drama, passion, intrigue of the show is reflected in the soundtrack. It really takes me back to the era and has that lush, beautiful melody that soothes the soul.


Well, do you watch Downton Abbey? What’s YOUR favorite parts about it? No spoilers please, thank you!

Upcoming Flix Spotlight: British Crime Drama ‘All Things To All Men’

A new contractor at my office who just started last week made an observation the other day when he stopped by my cube. “Are you a bit of an Anglophile?” I asked him why he thought so, then he pointed out to my Skyfall poster, London desktop pics, and other British-related memorabilia all over my desk. Well, considering my penchant for British cinema and actors, I guess I’ve been suffering from a seemingly-incurable case of Anglophilia 😉

The point of that story is that I LOVE movies set in Britain, and I’ve been waiting patiently for All Things To All Men for quite some time. I mentioned it nearly a year ago on this ensemble cast post, and for a while all I’ve got to go on is this photo:

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Gabriel Byrne & Toby Stephens

Well, finally we’ve got some great news about its release date… well for my friends across the pond that is. It’s set to open nationwide across the UK on March 8, no news on the US release yet, though 😦

Special thanks to Stella from Byrneholics for the tip, we’re both thrilled that Irish thespian Gabriel Byrne has the lead role, with two equally hunky Brits Rufus Sewell and Toby Stephens. Before we get to the synopsis, lets look at some official first pics first, shall we?

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Here’s the synopsis:

When Riley (Stephens), a professional thief, is hired to pull off the ultimate sting, he is unwittingly drawn into a deadly cat and mouse game between maverick police detective Parker (Sewell) and renowned London crime lord Joseph Corso (Byrne). Parker is determined to bring down Corso and do whatever it takes to end his reign, but when the sting backfires and stakes get higher, Riley finds himself at the centre of a battle where the line between the law and crime are blurred beyond recognition.

Per Empire, the film’s written and directed by George Isaac, who’s already a successful producer with Kidulthood and Adulthood and a BAFTA nominee for short film Nits, and also stars Elsa Pataky (Chris Hemsworth’s wife), James Frain, Julian Sands and Leo Gregory.

Byrneholics site has the full press release, which states that the film is shot entirely in London. I found some pics of Rufus on the set last year:

ATTAM_Sewell_LondonSet

Sorry, no larger pics available without watermark, photos are from CapitalPictures.

Man, I absolutely can’t wait for this movie! I love crime dramas and the premise sounds intriguing. The fact that this is a smaller production and set on location makes me want to see it all the more. Of course the cast is just splendid! I’ve always thought Byrne is perfect in a noir crime drama, and this role is similar to the one I cast him in this Moran’s Epilogue movie pitch as a former gangster. Sewell is a massively underrated actor, but I hope he gets a role he could really sink his teeth into. I’m not as familiar with Stephens’ work as a whole, though I adore his mum, Dame Maggie Smith. Unfortunately I’m not fond of the only two roles he did that I saw, Bond villain in Die Another Day and Rochester in 2006 BBC’s Jane Eyre, but I give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll be good here.

Man, I hope the trailer’s going to be released soon… and more importantly, this will get a cinema release here in the US, even if it’s a limited one.


Well, thoughts on this movie and/or cast? Would you go and see this?

TCFF Day 3: Reviews of QUARTET and We Are Wisconsin Documentary

Man, can’t believe the third day of TCFF has come and gone already, time sure flies by fast when you’re having a good time! The highlight of the day for me is definitely seeing Quartet, Dustin Hoffman’s debut on the lives of retired musicians and Opera singers. Seems like people of all ages enjoyed the film, check out Ingrid Moss’ interview with the audience after the film:

And here are the reviews of the day:

QUARTET

I don’t know why but I quite enjoy comedies about old age… especially when it has a stellar seasoned cast! I saw The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel recently, which I haven’t got a chance to review yet, and similarly, Quartet puts a comedic spin on aging and mix it with lush, beautiful music.

Based on a play by Ronald Harwood, Quartet is a dramedy, or specifically, it’s a comedy about the dramas of four retired opera singers as they deal with old grudges, passion, pride, romance… and Rigoletto. The all-British cast are led by Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins, with Michael Gambon as a curmudgeon opera director Cedric.

I tell you, I wish that in my old age I get to retire in a place like Beecham House! It’s the most opulent retirement home I’ve ever seen, people are treated like royalty here and there’s beautiful music every where you turn as the residents are either playing violins, piano, what have you, or singing together. It’s like living in an Opera house! But prima donna Jean Horton (Smith) isn’t keen on having to live here, despite such a tremendous welcome from current residents that harkens back to her old days. Her arrival also disrupts the peace of Reginald Paget (Courtenay) who shared a not-so-rosy past that he’s not prepared to let go.

The dynamics between them are fun to watch. Maggie Smith‘s character Jean is the most developed here as she navigates through pride and bruised ego, as well as attempting to atone for her failed relationship with Reginald (Regi for short). I’ve always loved stories of lost love and it’s depicted in such a sweet way. Billy Connolly is especially amusing with his cheeky remarks unabashedly flirts with all the women in Beecham House, including the young, compassionate doctor played by Sheridan Smith (whom I just saw recently in Hysteria). I’ve always liked the Scottish thespian since Mrs. Brown, and he was hilarious as Merida’s father in Pixar’s Brave earlier this year.

It’s no surprise what the major highlight of the movie is the music, and as a huge fan of classical music it’s such a treat for me. The whole thing feels like a love letter to classical music and opera, with also a nod to hip hop and rap. Say what? Yep there is an especially touching scene when Regi teaches a group of students and prompted one of them to perform rap in class.

I applaud Dustin Hoffman in crafting such a charming film. It’s not flawless however, the films feels meandering at times, but despite the lack of focus in parts, it’s still a delight to watch because of the performances. Hoffman is certainly deft in selecting the cast that works well together. I thoroughly enjoy this movie… beautiful music, mirthful dialog, gorgeous scenery and lovely performances. What’s not to love?

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


Special thanks to the Minnesota Opera for sponsoring this film for TCFF!


We Are Wisconsin

I’m not sure why, but this screening was not sold out. Out of the three documentaries that I have seen so far, this was the best by a long shot. It communicated a serious issue that is close to home. We are Wisconsin spotlighted the occupation that took place during May in the Wisconsin State Capitol, as a result of the bill that Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans were trying to push through.

There was definitely biased towards the Liberal political views – or rather the people that opposed what was trying to be passed. There were moving testimonies from people leading and participating in the revolt, and the images of inside the Capitol as the issue progressed.

I had not followed this story in the news while it was going on, and before seeing this I still only had a loose grasp on exactly what happened. But after the first images of the people who were actively fighting for their beliefs I was transfixed. Many facts could have been omitted, but I was successfully convinced of the injustice politics can inflict on the government’s citizens.

Laura Glass, the main teacher that gave testimonies in the documentary, was present for this screening. Her presence in the audience helped drive home the feeling of how relevant this is in American culture. Footage of the protests and people occupying created this energy that made me feel like I should be taking a more active role in Minnesota’s politics for this November’s election. Real emotion was evoked, and that is not something every documentary accomplishes.

– review by Emery Thoresen

4 out of 5 reels


Also check out June’s review of Quartet & prankster comedy STAG
with Scrubs‘ Donald Faison

TCFF Schedule and Ticket Info »


Has anyone seen these films? Well, what did you think?