Category Archives: 1930’s

REVIEW: “DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA (2022) Focus Features

“Why would anyone want the actors to talk I would have thought silence would be a blessing.” Dowager Countess of Grantham

There is one thing you can always count on when visiting Downton Abbey – it’s a busy place. People hustling and bustling around, from the Crawley family themselves, to all the downstairs employees who are a family unto their own.

But as all things do – time goes on and things change. Hence we find ourselves with “DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA” and boy what an era this turns out to be for all at Downtown. So much is changing in the world and this new Downtown Era transfers beautifully to the film screen, mostly because it has a new vision and a new director in Michael Engler. The original cast whom we’ve all come to know and love is mostly back with Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith), as always leading the way and as is tradition, she gets most of the best lines. The Granthams’ Robert (Hugh Bonneville), and Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), as well as daughters Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), and sister Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael), are back as well with their families, though notably missing is Henry Talbot whose is away racing cars. This doesn’t bode well with Mary as she feels this takes precedence in his life and this might lead to a ‘wandering eye’ here or there. Though front and center is Tom (Allan Leech), who opens the film with his marriage being celebrated by all to Lucy (Tuppence Middleton).

The family and titles might be a bit hard to keep up with, but fans of the series have no problems remembering them all, For new fans, this film really has done a superb job in opening up the plot and the setting in this film in a truly new era.

The are two revolving plot lines in a New Era, one brings us the future, but the other brings us to the past. More specifically, the Dowager Countess’ past. But as half the household vacates Downton leaving Lady Mary behind to manage things at home. The rest of the family including Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), vacate to a beautiful seaside villa in the South of France that Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham has mysteriously inherited from a Count that she met many many years ago. The Villa and the scenery surrounding the mystery is of course beautiful, but it also opens up the story to some very emotional family disclosures, and I will leave it there as the Countess herself notes: “I will say goodnight… and leave you to discuss my mysterious past.” And to tell you more would spoil it all.

On our other story set within the film, we watch as Downton Abbey moves to 1929 and with it, brings in not just the jazz age, but the movies itself within its doors. Movie lovers will remember that 1929, also heralded the end of the Silent movie era and talkies were taking over and the movie industry itself was being revolutionized with this. They manage to fit a lot in here with this theme as Jack Barber (Hugh Dancy), comes to town as a director wanting to make a movie using Downton as his location, also something that is changing – shooting from the backlots of studios to actual location shoots. Since Downton has fallen into some disrepair, the large location fee is most welcome – as is some of the movies cast, bringing in two famous silent films stars Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock), much to the enthrallment of Daisy (Sophie McShera) and Anna (Joanna Froggat).

The music score in this movie by John Lunn with the Downton theme that is so familiar to it’s audience, is effective in this movie and perfectly suits the family dynamics emotional side. As well, the wonderful soundtrack additions of the Jazz Age and songs of the era to round it all out. This film manages to have strong female characters and not only that but it’s also the perfect example on how to include gay characters without it feeling forced. Add in a certain amount of hi-jinx all around, and you’ve got yourself the follow-up movie we all needed.

The two stories are quite beautifully woven together and with so much of the original cast present, along with some wonderful new additions- this one works well in updating the story if this family we never seem to tire of.

Grade: B

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Review Screening: Friday, May 13, 2022 ~ Courtesy of Ginsberg/Libby PR

“DOWNTON ABBEY: A NEW ERA” FROM FOCUS FEATURES IS NOW IN THEATERS

REVIEW: “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) 20th Century Fox

CHOO CHOO!! ALL ABOARD..ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS! Murder! Mayham! Suspense!

Yes..If you’ve read Dame Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” or have seen the 1974 version you know the storyline. If not, or like me, couldn’t remember all of it – what’s left to deal with then, is how well this one is done and of course the big ‘whodunnit’ reveal at the end.

The story of master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is hoping for a break after numerous years of solving cases, jumps onboard The Orient Express thanks to friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who was able to secure him this spot. While onboard, Poirot ends up having to solve a murder committed while traveling with 12 other passengers on The Orient Ecpress – a train that made traveling in style from West-East axis and back again, very popular.

Director and lead actor Branagh takes on the popular story, with a nod to nostalgia in three ways. First, the flair of the train travel at that time, which was associated with adventure, pleasure and discovery, must be brought back to life. Second, the charm of the detective-witty inquiry that the character is closely linked to that era. And thirdly, a remake must also pay homage to the original film and the book itself, because Agatha Christie stories are still hugely popular and it’s 1974 version brought much critical and acting acclaim. Thus, Branagh with his well-known cast, recognizes this and with a good but alas not perfect effort, tries to retain that feel. Its highlights include dazzling production design, period costumes and of course I would be remiss to not mention the highly distracting signature moustache! The opening portion of the train journey is spent as you would expect – introducing us the characters on the train. But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film where the detective really gets into why each character is there and what part they play in the film which make that the most interesting part of the film.

Branagh as Poirot, does a fine job mixing in the brilliant detective with the comedic, witty sarcasm the character is known for. It’s always a kick to see Dame Judi Dench, here as Russian Princess Dragomiroff, and the wonderful Olivia Coleman (one of my personal favourites) as her besieged maid, Hildegarde Schmidt. But they have literally nothing to do and are almost shamefully underused. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot is the racial switch in the casting – as Sean Connery had the role in the 1974 film – shows welcome daring for a remake that plays things stodgily by the book.
Michelle Pfeiffer shines in perhaps the meatiest – certainly the cheekiest – role as Caroline Hubbard, but those such as Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham shows that even her secret relationship with another passenger can’t give Ridley’s character enough boost to make it stand out as much as Pfeiffer does with her role – though both of these characters have a bigger chunk of the many supporting roles. Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman & Willem Dafoe as ‘Austrian scientist’ Gerhard Hardman, both have secrets but can’t help but appear simply there for the ride. There’s a decent dramatic turn from Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, though it might be because you only know his work as a comedian so his drama performance get a tick of notice. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin as Count & Countess Andrenyi who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never really do anything else. Johnny Depp plays that typical smarmy-charmy type crook here which completely works for his character Edward Ratchett. Penelope Cruz on the other hand, has it worse as the religious introvert Pilar Estravados. It hard as I always find her work to be sub-par in English movies as she excels so well in the Spanish ones, I end up feeling a bit of a let down by them and here she is barely a blip on the Orient Express. So for all the resplendence of this cast, it’s hard not to feel that Branagh isn’t really pushing any of them to work.

Conclusion: Branagh’s staging of this famous crime thriller tries to do justice to the charm and the time-frame of the original with visual charms, a well-known cast and a little humor. However, this succeeds less convincingly than hoped.

Grade: C+
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