Movie Review: Downton Abbey

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The Crawleys are back in the film version of Downton Abbey. (Source: Vanity Fair)

During its six-season run, Downton Abbey has become a worldwide phenomenon. It generated an average of 120 million viewers from around the world (not to mention being the most viewed show on PBS in the United States). A lot of its filming locations including Highclere Castle has been some of the most popular tourist attractions in the world. Creator Julian Fellowes allows audiences to learn about the customs and the lives of a family living upstairs and their kitchen staff living downstairs in a gorgeous mansion in the British countryside. The show was set over the course of about 13 years, starting in 1912, following the sinking of the Titanic, and ending on New Year’s Day in 1926. It was all brought together wonderfully with its quick wit, gorgeous scenery, and wonderful cast of characters.

Three years after the finale, Fellowes writes a screenplay for a film with Michael Engler (who directed several episodes) comes back in the director’s chair for perhaps one more visit to the countryside. They both give fans (like myself) what they deserve after the series ended. These two filmmakers do what they know best. Earning $31 million over the weekend, this is the first film from Focus Features to be #1 at the U.S. box office.

Set in 1927, Lord Robert Grantham (Hugh Bonneville), his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) and their two daughters–Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Edith (Laura Carmichael) all learn that King George V (Simon Jones), Queen Mary (Geraldine James) are visiting Downton Abbey as a part of their tour through Britain. When butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) is not up for the task, Mary decides to bring Mr. Carson (Jim Carson) out of retirement to take his place. Violet, the Dowager Countess (Dame Maggie Smith), learns her cousin Maud (Imelda Staunton) is also visiting, she is ready to spew out her remarks at any given second. As soon as chefs and servants from Buckingham Palace make their entrance, this causes tensions with the staff including head chef Mrs. Patmoor (Lesley Nicol) and Daisy (Sophie McShera). 

Making a Downton Abbey film might be an excuse for fan-service, but this revival is nothing short of delightful! Although it doesn’t move at the fastest pace, it’s excellent to witness the marvelous sets, interiors and costumes, John Lunn’s familiar music, and more importantly, the characters we know and love. The familiar themes of the socioeconomic factors are as present as they ever were. I also like one fascinating subplot involving two gay characters going to pubs and expressing their feelings towards one another in a time where homosexuality was deemed illegal. The dynamic between the people upstairs and downstairs is captivating. I love the connection between Mary and housemaid Anna (Joanne Froggatt), even when they discuss the future of the mansion. “Downton is the heart of this community, and you’re keeping it beating,” Anna tells her.

The cast simply couldn’t be any better. It brings back familiars as well as newcomers. Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess is the sassy grandmother everyone wished they had. She just loves getting under Isobel’s (Penelope Wilton) skin every chance she gets; providing a lot of laughs from the audience. Even when Violet learns Maud is holding a grudge against the family, she tries to understand where she’s coming. Deep down, however, she still loves and supports the family. 

Of course, it won’t be a Downton Abbey movie without a ball. Without giving anything away, this is the sequence that really hits home. Who knows? Maybe it gives the sense that the series is far from over. But–let’s wait and see. This movie is a treat for fans. As for non-fans, it would make perfect sense to get right on the bandwagon before seeing the movie.

9/10

2019 Summer Movie Review: It: Chapter Two

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Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård) returns to haunt Derry once again in It: Chapter Two. (Source: Slant Magazine)

Stephen King’s magnum opus was long overdue for an adaptation reboot. 2017’s It : Chapter One was everything I wanted and more. An R-rated horror film with a great sense of humor, thrills, and featuring a poignant and somewhat crude portrayal of adolescence and facing childhood fears. It worked due to Andy’s Muschietti’s confident direction, atmosphere, the terrific performances by a talented group of child actors, and Bill Skarsgård’s terrifying presence of the evil shape-shifting Pennywise the Clown. 

It: Chapter Two is a longer sequel–clocking in at almost three hours long–containing A LOT of flashbacks and reuniting for the characters. The child actors and the same crew return while a cast of adults portray their child counterparts. Although slightly messy and not as terrifying as before, it’s still thrilling enough to keep the film going.

After defeating Pennywise the Clown (Skarsgård), Bill Denborough (Jaeden Martell) and his six friends (all of whom formed the Losers’ Club) all make a blood oath promising they will return to Derry, Maine, if It is not entirely dead. 27 years later, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Michaud), the African-American of the group, remains as the town librarian. He has heard about a recent killing of a gay kid named Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan)–as seen in a gruesome sequence early on in the film. He decides to call his childhood friends, who have each gone their separate ways.

  • Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful mystery author and screenwriter, who is infamous for writing terrible endings.
  • Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard, as a child; Bill Hader) has been hitting the stages with his stand-up comedy.
  • Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis; Jessica Chastain, who worked with Muschietti in his feature film debut, Mama) is a fashion designer still enduring abuse from her husband Tom Rogan (Will Beinbrink)
  • Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer; James Ransone), the hypochondriac, is a successful risk analyst in New York with an overbearing wife Myra (Molly Atkinson, who played Eddie’s overbearing mother in the first film)
  • Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor; Jay Ryan), once overweight, is now a hunky architect in Nebraska.
  • Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff; Andy Bean), the Jewish kid, who is now living in Atlanta as an accountant for a law firm.

All but one reunite with Mike at a Chinese restaurant (where they eventually get attacked by their fortune cookies). Once the Losers are all back in town, they begin to ponder their past as well as confronting their worst fears yet again. They all learn about a ritual that would put an end to Pennywise once and for all.

The movie takes awhile to get going. There is a lot of catching up on these colorful characters and scenes that feel gratuitous. Not to mention, the length is 30 minutes too long. Once it gets going, the craziness hardly lets up. The reason why the first film was great is because it realistically captures how a child witnesses their own horrors in the most shocking of ways and bravely facing the fears. Although it’s not as terrifying as its predecessor, there are still a fair share of creepy images. Muschietti succeeds yet again with his clever use of camera angles and fun set pieces (i.e. I love the sequence in the carnival funhouse). As thrilling as the climactic battle can be, it does run out of steam. This movie contains the most blood used in any movie. 

The adult cast has terrific chemistry; each of them having their standout moments. Starring in his first horror film, Hader steals every scene he is in–generating some good laughs and sympathy from the audience–and having an arc that is fascinating. Skarsgård doesn’t earn much screen time this time around, but he still kills it as Pennywise; showing more of It’s forms and briefly of his creepy origins, kudos to Gary Dauberman’s screenplay not turning into a soapy melodrama like the 1990 original turned out to be.

It: Chapter Two blows the original miniseries out of the water. It might not win everyone over, but there is plenty of nightmare-inducing scares to offer. I am glad these movies have come out at a perfect time. They will always be a Halloween tradition for years to come. Don’t forget to watch out for a cameo in this movie that needs to be seen to believe.

8.5/10