FlixChatter Review: Paddington 2 (2018)

Paddington, now happily settled with the Brown family and a popular member of the local community, picks up a series of odd jobs to buy the perfect present for his Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday, only for the gift to be stolen.

Though I enjoyed the first movie, it wasn’t as if I was clamoring for a sequel. But hey, not all sequels are inherently bad. I loved it so much that when I got home, my hubby and I actually re-watched the first Paddington. You know what, this sequel actually surpasses the original!

I love that writer/director Paul King gave the ever lovable bear an enchanting backstory and here we’re reminded once again where he came from (Peru) and how he got his genteel manner. “If you’re kind and polite the world will be right,” that’s his mantra, which is something everyone of us should live by. This movie has sooo much heart and the kind of British humor that really tickles my fancy. All the shenanigans he runs into in various jobs are hysterical, the barbershop and window-cleaning scenes had me in stitches. But the best scene is definitely in prison, and Brendan Gleeson is a riot as the fearful prison cook with a fun name, Knuckles McGinty.

But the real scene-stealer here is Hugh Grant who embraces his brilliant comic timing and puts it to good use. He plays Phoenix Buchanan (another fun name!), a has-been theatre actor who’s now relegated to doing dog food commercial. The various disguises are hilarious, hard to pick a favorite though the nun-scene is a particularly memorable one. It makes for some fun AND funny action scenes as Paddington has to retrieve the stolen gift for his aunt Lucy, as well as clear his name.

The Brown family (with Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville reprising their roles as Paddington’s adoptive parents) are fun to watch as well. It’s amusing to see the incredible range of Hawkins’ acting ability in two extremely different performances (the other one is in The Shape of Water) in the span of a single week. I love how no scene is wasted in this movie, even the seemingly-throwaway scene of each family member’s new hobby has a purpose later in the movie. Julie Walters is always a hoot as Mrs. Bird, oh and one of my fave comedians Richard Ayoade also made a cameo!

In the end, the star of the show has always been Paddington himself, voiced brilliantly by Ben Whishaw with his wonderfully soothing voice. It’s a VERY British movie and so of course the Anglophile in me loved every moment. This jolly good fun ride is accompanied by a lively score by Dario Marianelli (whose Pride & Prejudice is my listening staple). A thoroughly joyful experience, this is one franchise I hope will keep on going.


*Yep this one gets a rare perfect score from me, I can’t find a single thing wrong w/ it!


Have you seen Paddington 2? Did you love it as much as I did?

FlixChatter Double Reviews: The Monuments Men

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Happy Friday everyone! Today we’ve got another double review of a film which release has been delayed for a couple of months. Originally, this was to be released last December during awards/holiday season, but director/star George Clooney actually asked the studio for more time for post-production due to the special effects weren’t ready. Sarah and I went to the screening last Wednesday, here’s our take on it:

Sarah’s Review

When I was visiting Germany last year and killing time waiting for my train back to Dusseldorf from Cologne, I was struck by a postcard in one of the gift shops with a Google earth type of photo of Cologne in post-World War II Europe. The entire town was decimated by repeated bombings but somehow the 13th century Cologne cathedral still stood tall amidst all the destruction- as if saved only by the grace of God. “The Monuments Men,” the new movie co-written and directed by George Clooney, tells the story of curators, archivists and art historians from thirteen countries whose mission it was to save some of the most culturally significant works of art from Nazi destruction near the end of World War II. In a Napoleonic-like move, Adolf Hitler often ordered his armies to claim some of Europe’s greatest art treasures for his planned “Fuhrer Museum” to be built near his boyhood home in Austria. (Did you know Hitler was a failed art student? Neither did I. When George Stout, an American art conservationist played by George Clooney in the movie, shows one of his paintings to the newly assembled group, one of them remarks, “Hitler did that? It’s not bad.” However, James Granger, played by Matt Damon and based on Metropolitan Museum of Art Director James Rorimer, says, “Well, it’s not good.”) When the fall of the Third Reich became a reality, Hitler commanded his men to destroy everything and the group that has become known as the Monuments Men swung into action, embarking on “the greatest treasure hunt in history.”

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As a self-proclaimed history buff who has studied and visited many of the places in the film, I really wanted to like this movie but it felt like this great story got lost in a mishmash of a film trying to be a combination of Hogan’s Heroes, Saving Private Ryan and The Da Vinci Code. Call it a movie with an identity crisis- it was like it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a comedy or a drama. SPOILER ALERT! (Without giving too much away, one example is a scene where one of the Monuments Men gets shot and it’s obvious he’s going to die. However, in the next scene he is cracking jokes. Umm, hello? It’s wartime and you’re dying.) The cast, which also includes Bill Murray and John Goodman, do what they can but ultimately can’t save this one. About the only person who seems to understand the gravity of the situation is Claire Simone, the museum curator turned spy played by Cate Blanchett. When showing Matt Damon’s character some of the Nazi’s re-possessed goods, he asks incredulously, “What is all this?” “People’s lives,” she solemnly replies. Her scenes were a breath of fresh air.
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This movie does do a couple of things well. It helps put you in the moment where these men unearth thousands of stolen, priceless artifacts. What must it have been like to gaze upon these famous artworks and know that you had a major role in securing them for future generations to enjoy? And it also provides a powerful reminder of what we were fighting for- not just art, but our culture, history and way of life. Two scenes brought this home to me: the first near the beginning of the film where you see the beautiful landscape of Paris decorated with Nazi swastikas and the second toward the end of the film where you see Nazi soldiers indiscriminately torching some of what they had stolen. Maybe it was these ideals that frustrated me the most about this movie- it was okay, but it could have been so much better.
The movie is based on a 2010 book of the same name by Robert Edsel and it did make me want to learn more about this fascinating point in history. Also, in a local connection, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has put together a self-guided tour identifying items from its own collection saved by the Monuments Men or with other World War II related stories. As our temperature doesn’t want to rise above zero lately and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is free, this seems like a great idea! As for the movie, it piques your interest but doesn’t quite hold you in its grasp.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth


2.5 out of 5 reels

Ruth’s Review

When I first heard about this film, the subject matter intrigued me more than even the ensemble cast. Truthfully, seeing Matt Damon and George Clooney with their megastar smiles in the trailer, it felt like an Ocean’s Eleven heist type of flick, but with Nazis. Hmmm, it turns out that first impression wasn’t that off-base after all.

Seems that the film has everything going for it to be a truly great WWII drama. Clooney is after all a reputable Oscar-nominated director/writer/actor, a triple threat on top of being one of the biggest movie stars in the universe. He’s got the clout to assemble a bunch of Oscar-caliber International cast and crew, who are more than up for the task to bring this amazing wartime tale to life. But yet, even halfway through the film, it just left me wanting. For something so monumental in history, the film just doesn’t do the story justice.

To call this film uneven would be putting it mildly. There’s a tonal hodgepodge that makes it quite hard to really grasp the weight of the mission of the men (and women) involved. Art historian Frank Stokes, played by Clooney himself, preaches to the audience the significance of this art-rescue mission and how noble the cause was for humanity that it was worth a person’s life. Yet the way the film’s played-out lacks the gravitas of that sentiment. At times it’s just too lighthearted for its own good that it loses its impact. I’m not saying that mixing drama with comedy can’t work, I mean there are great films that finely tread the line between drama and comedy, but I’m not sure it works well here.

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There’s a scenario where one character accidentally stepped on a land mine, but it’s treated like a humorous scene. I guess there ought to be an SNL skit where the Monuments Men don’t know which foot to stand on. Seems that Clooney himself realizes the challenge of getting the tone right, as this article from The Wrap points out  “If we get the tone right it will be a really fun film …” he said. Well, the film is not without its shares of fun, but I think if the tone were right, it would’ve been a great film.

Performance-wise, seems that the cast are having a good time making this which is fun to watch. Clooney and Damon are pretty good but I’ve seen much better work from both of them. It’s amusing to see Bill Murray being Bill Murray, Bob Balaban with his deadpan humor and Jean Dujardin being his irresistible charming French guy that he is. Now, as much as I got a kick watching them, I barely knew about any of them nor any of the other characters in the film. Why did they sacrifice their lives for this mission? Is it simply their love for art, or was there something more? As a result, I couldn’t connect with any of them no matter how hard I tried. Even during the most dire circumstances, it didn’t incite lump-in-my-throat kind of emotion, and this coming from someone who cry easily at movies. I think Cate Blanchett‘s character, the only female cast who’s the most solemn of the whole bunch, is the only one who lends credibility to the story. But still her character’s not explored as well as I would like, either.

This is Clooney’s fifth directorial effort and he also co-wrote it with his screenwriting partner Grant Heslov.  Seems that the filmmakers’ heart are in the right place and the film is not without its poignant moments. I just wish those moments are more consistent instead of just in few and far between. I don’t think that even if this were released just in time for Oscar season that it would’ve been in the running. It’s not a terrible film however, I’d recommend it as a rental if you love the cast. But if you want to really know who the Monuments Men are and their mission, I’d think there are documentaries on them that’s more satisfying and compelling. As it stands, it’s quite entertaining with a tinge of poignancy, though it lacks a certain level of artistry that’d give us a lasting impression.

TCFF_reviewer_Ruth

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3 out of 5 reels


What do you think folks, agree/disagree with our review? Well let’s hear it!

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!

FlixChatter Spotlight: Vicar of Dibley Christmas Special

It’s what our local newspaper call a very Messy Christmas today with nonstop icky snow and sleet outside. There’s already at least a foot of snow already on the ground, our grill and plastic chairs on the deck are buried in snow, and so are most cars parked outside.

Some of you are spending time with family/friends or watching classic Christmas movies. I have yet to catch most of them on this list, but one I can watch any day of the year is the Christmas Special finale of BBC’s The Vicar of Dibley. I bought the DVD a few years ago and it’s certainly got a lot of play in my house.

Created by English writer/producer/director Richard Curtis, the man behind British rom-coms, such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, and Love Actually, as well as the hit sitcom Mr. Bean, The Vicar of Dibley starrs Dawn French as Geraldine ‘Gerry’ Granger, the Vicar of the rural parish of Dibley. It’s filled with typical British zany humor, largely due to the comic skills of the lead actress, but the supporting cast are equally great. You’ve seen some of them in other Curtis’ films, i.e. James Fleet (Tom in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Emma Chambers who played Hugh Grant’s oddball sister in Notting Hill). I LOVE everyone in the cast, they’re all such a hoot!

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In the two-hour long Christmas Special called A Holy Wholly Happy Ending, the vicar who complained that she’s ‘always the vicar, but never the bride’ finally gets her man. Oh, and what a man indeed. The handsome stranger who swept Gerry off her feet is played by hunky Richard Armitage (star of BBC’s Spooks and Robin Hood series’ Guy of Gisbourne). You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but one thing for sure you’ll fall in love with the mischievously endearing Vicar. Here’s a clip from the unexpected-proposal episode I can watch over and over again:

You have got to check out the hilarious rehearsal as well with Hugh Boneville‘s hilarious cameo as a fellow vicar who bears a longtime crush on Gerry. What a brilliant ending to such a witty and funny series!


Here’s hoping you all have a wonderful Christmas, wherever you are!