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 ūüėČ 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‚Äď 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 risqu√©, 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!

FlixChatter Review: JUPITER ASCENDING (2015)

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This film was supposed to open in the Summer of 2014, but Warner Bros’ delayed it to give more time for post-production work. Heh, clearly they’re far more concerned with all the CGI extravaganza as¬†what the film needed more is a script rewrite. I already had a bad feeling about this even from the unintentionally hilarious trailers. They included the dialog where Channing Tatum said he had more in common with dogs than humans, especially a supposed royalty, to which Mila Kunis¬†replied, “I love dogs, I’ve always loved dogs.” Well, at least they’re consistent as the movie is as dreadful as the promos.

The entire film is a discombobulating and farcical mess, but what’s more baffling is the claim by The Lana Wachowski ‚Äď as well as several bloggers on Twitter ‚Äď that this is an *original* sci-fi. Huh??¬†What originality? The ‘chosen one’ type of plot is rehashed from stuff the Wachowskis themselves have done better with The Matrix, as well as a bunch of other sci-fis. Self-plagiarism isn’t uncommon among filmmakers and I’m fine with it if it actually improves on their previous work.

JupiterAscending_MilaChanningIn any case, the movie opened with the protagonist, Jupiter Jones’ narration about her life story and how she ended up being a cleaning lady in Chicago. Her late dad was an astronomer, hence the name, and a tragic event prompted her family to migrate to America. A lowly beginning to be sure, and she claimed repeatedly how she hated her life. But of course we know that’s not really her *destiny* as in a planet far, far away, three¬†royalty¬†siblings with a name that sounds like some household cleaning product, Abrasax, talk about claiming earth as their own now that their mother’s died. So apparently, their planet consumes earth’s resources in a process called planetary harvest, which¬†basically is an extensive form of genocide in order for the aliens to live forever.

The first act is a long exposition telling us why Jupiter is special and why there are intergalactic bounty hunters as well as an army of weird-looking aliens are after her. But no fret, we’ve got an eyeliner-wearing man-wolf¬†hybrid Caine Wise (Tatum, sporting a goatie & elven ears) with his anti-gravity boots to save the damsel in distress. The action sequences are cool for the first five minutes at best, but it long overstayed its welcome that it became aggravating. Cool visuals can only entertain you for so long when we barely care about the characters and their journey. So apparently Jupiter¬†shares the same DNA sequence as¬†the Abrasax’s late mother and that makes her special as she’s¬†also heir to the throne and could potentially rule earth.

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This is a space opera at its most bloated and risible. It’s full of weird-looking space creatures which are humans cross-bred with elephants, alligators, etc. but they all seem to speak with British accent of course.¬†All of them report to Balem (Eddie Redmayne), who should win a Razzie for the most annoyingly over-the-top performance, as an¬†androgynous looking *royalty*¬†could only whisper or scream¬†and nothing in between.¬†Redmayne seems to take this role way too seriously, but all the theatrical antics¬†prompts¬†grimace and laughter every time he’s on screen.

The protagonists fare slightly better, thought that’s not saying much really. I have to hand it to Mila Kunis, she’s not a particularly strong performer but she always comes across genial and earthy. She’s effortlessly likable though she appears mystified for much of the movie. Channing Tatum is pretty much hired for his physical prowess, as he appears shirtless for a good chunk of the time.¬†He has zero chemistry with Kunis and he kind of has this constipated look throughout, perhaps thanks to the mouthpiece he had to wear during filming (per IMDb trivia) Heh, why they put an actor through that if it had absolutely zero purpose for his character arc nor the story as a whole??

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Poor Sean Bean as Tatum’s friend from his military days¬†didn’t have much to do here other than offering more exposition and saying lines like ‘Bees don’t lie.’¬† Oh brother! I think this tweet pretty much sums up how I feel about his involvement:

It also pains me to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a half human/deer mutation who serves as Balem’s aide. I sure wish Hollywood would recognize talent when they see them.¬†Douglas Booth looks like he could be Redmayne’s prettier younger brother,¬†but both he and¬†Tuppence Middleton who formed the three Abrasax siblings are pretty much fillers. But then again, what can you expect from the supporting characters if the main protagonist doesn’t even have an arc? It may seem like there’s theme of female empowerment here but Jupiter mostly plays a passive role in her own *destiny* [yawn], as she’s whisked away from one strange place to another.

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This movie would’ve probably been slightly more palatable if it had a sense of humor. There are several attempts at it, like Jupiter using a sanitary pad to patch Caine’s wound, ewww gross!! The only true comical moment is the whole bureaucracy process Jupiter has to go through, kind of like an administrative immigration procedure if you will, with Terry Gilliam‘s cameo. I didn’t realize it was him until later and I read that it was an homage to his fantasy satire of bureaucratic society,¬†Brazil.

This is the Wachowskis’ third under-performing film in a row after Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas (which I actually quite like).¬†I doubt they could easily get the kind of astronomical budget like this one ($176 mil), as¬†they’d likely struggle to make half of that given the mere $19 mil opening weekend. Heh, no amount of money and crazy CGI-fest can camouflage a terrible story.

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Final Thoughts: Yet another style-over-substance sci-fi in the vein of Elysium which also boast some arresting space imagery. The costumes, especially Mila’s dresses, are gorgeous and the design of the planetary universe and spaceships are imaginative, if only they’d invest the same care to the story and characters. It amounts to one big dumb flick, not really a step up from those Transformers movie. Now, some dumb action flicks can still be entertaining but to add insult to injury, this movie is also quite boring, and the bombastic action/chase scenes just dragged on for far too long. I guess this one *lives up* to the reputation of being released in Hollywood’s dump month of February.¬†Suffice to say it’ll likely end¬†up in my worst list of the year.

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Well, what are YOUR thoughts about Jupiter Ascending?