Downton Abbey, the Film

I admit I was worried that the film wouldn’t meet my expectations. Perhaps it wouldn’t translate to the silver screen.

The main plot involves the Crawley’s hosting the King and Queen of England (Elizabeth II’s grandparents). Will they be up to the task? What will go wrong?

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By framing the story around this glorious event, writer Julian Fellowes hit the target. It’s a story that puts both the family and the servants in a tizzy. Since perfection’s required, Carson’s called out of retirement as the once sneaky Barrows isn’t experienced enough as butler. As the residents of Downton unite, conflict enters in the form of the supercilious royal servant staff. They elbow our favorite servants into a corner. No cooking for Mrs. Patmore. Poor Mr. Mosley, who’s taken time off from his teaching to return to serve, won’t get to. The royals bring all their food, drink and personnel.

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A suspicious stranger comes to town and starts sniffing around Tom, the Irish son-in-law. What is this man who booked a room over the parade path in town up to? How will he implicate Tom?

Other subplots include Violet’s scheming to get a cousin to leave her fortune and property to Robert. Violet is beside herself when it seems that a maid will get everything.

Lonely Thomas may at last find understanding and possibly love (in a sequel?) but not till after surviving a very close call.

Widower Tom is pivotal in the film. He’s tied up with the mysterious strangerr, befriends the maid who’s to inherit a fortune and offers sage advice to a distraught royal.

It’s good fun to see this familiar cast again. Edith’s life has improved dramatically now that she’s married. Her problems are manageable, rich girl problems now that she’s away from Mary and has moved out and upward in status.

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Violet and Isobel spar with wit. The saddest scene takes place towards the end between Violet and Mary.

The pacing was brisk and the film was clever and entertaining. With a such a large cast it’s hard to get everyone a good part. Mr. Bates didn’t have much to do and Mary’s husband was out of the country most of the time.

As usual the costumes and sets were amazing. Lots of delights for the eyes. It’s a film that’s sure to delight Downton fans, which is its aim.

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The Biggest Little Farm

Directed by documentarian cum farmer John Chester, The Biggest Little Farm is a must-see. The film documents two dreamers, John and Molly Chester, who decide to leave L.A. when their barking dog causes their eviction from a cramped apartment to start a traditional farm in Moorpark, CA.

Even though, they have no farming experience, the Chesters somehow find enough investors to sponsor their endeavor. They buy a 241 acre farm that’s been devastated by drought. How on earth will they grow anything, especially when their dream means eschewing current farming practices.

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Of course, like all movie heroes, the Chesters soon realize they need a mentor. Enter Alan York, a funky expert in traditional farming who advises them on how to turn this Grapes of Wrath-style Dust Bowl into a lush, productive farm.

Watching the farm get greener and the home to chickens, pigs, sheep, cattle and more is so satisfying. But of course, farming isn’t easy. Coyotes, birds, and pests of all kinds attack their fruit and livestock. When things get really tough, an added crisis is that their mentor Alan dies. How on earth will the farm survive?

The nature cinematography is stunning. The Chesters and Alan are engaging as are the many young volunteers who work the farm. There’s plenty of suspense in this life or death struggle. I got attached to the various animals and was certainly rooting for Apricot Lane Farms success.

I wished the film showed more about who invested and how much was needed. That reality would have added interest and probably drama. Throughout the film I wondered how the farm was getting by. We’re told how many eggs and later fruit they sold but how much they earned was a mystery.

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Apricot Lane Farms. ReferenceUSA, Retrieved 10/7/2019

It seems that Apricot Lane Farms has tours. A regular tour costs $30 and a VIP tour is $120. The tours sell out.

The Circus

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I just loved Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus. I’d never heard of this film, but recently saw that The Criterion Collection had just released it on DVD. In this 1928 film, The woebegone Tramp mistakenly gets caught up in a police chase for inadvertently taking a man’s wallet. The crazy chase that ensues leads to the Tramp bringing down the house as an accidental clown act at a circus.

This circus is run by a nasty, hothead Rimgmaster who continually abuses his lovely, innocent step-daughter. The Tramp soon falls for her and tries to be her savior, but she soon falls for a dapper tightrope walker.

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Throughout the film we’re treated to marvelous scenes including a chase through a house of mirrors, accidental clown acts that have the audience laughing in the aisles, a scary standoff with a lion and a death-defying tightrope scene.

According to the commentary Chaplin didn’t like this film much because it was made at a time when his life was at a low point. His wife was divorcing him for his affair with the female lead, his mother was terribly sick. a storm destroyed most of his set and the tabloids where having a heyday gossiping about Chaplin’s personal life.

Nonetheless, The Circus is hilarious and often poignant. It entertains from start to finish. I’d say it deserves a place beside any of Chaplin’s classics from The Kid to City Lights.

The Saphead

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Buster Keaton’s first starring role in a feature film was playing Bertie Van Alstyne in The Saphead. Saphead sure is a disparaging way to refer to someone. It refers to a weak-minded stupid person. Is Bertie Van Alstyne really a saphead? His tycoon father certainly thinks so, but Agnes, Bertie’s adopted sister disagrees. She’s smitten. When she returns home Bertie defies his wealthy father and tries to elope with Agnes. Their plans are comically foiled and Bertie shows his father that he’s no wimp or fool (well not completely either) so the wedding proceeds until Mark, Bertie’s lazy, crooked, philandering brother-in-law plants a letter from his dead mistress on Bertie.

Bertie is framed. His father stops the wedding so that sweet Agnes isn’t married to a philanderer with an illegitimate daughter. Crushed, but noble, Bertie goes to the cosy house he bought for his new bride. His solo dinner amidst the wedding decorations is a sad scene indeed.

The next day Bertie tries to lift his spirits by going to the Stock Exchange where he’s recently purchased a seat. Of course, the traders laugh at his expense and play him for a fool. Yet the tables get turned when Bertie, inadvertently saves the day when he foils his brother-in-laws plot to take over the family fortune.

The version I got from the library needs restoration. Many of the outdoor scenes looked green, while the indoor ones were black and white.

The Saphead charmed me with it’s innocence and simplicity. Keaton’s facial expressions and physical humor stole the show. The plot took turns I didn’t expect and other than forgetting all about Henrietta’s poor orphan child, the story was a delight.

Burning

I hoped the award-winning Burning would be an absorbing, compelling film. It might be for some viewers, but I gave up on this nihilistic story about three lost young people. The main character is a young man in his 20s who tries to keep his family farm going as his parents are gone.

While in Seoul he bumps into an old classmate, a pretty girl who reminds him that before she had plastic surgery, this gawky hero had told her she was ugly. She soon lures him into her world and has him watching her cat as she gallivants around Africa where she meets a destructive Korean jet setter.

Most of what I saw was a series of awkward scenes of this odd trio. The hero hopes to win the girl’s love, who’s smitten with the rich guy, who doesn’t care an iota for the girl and even indicates this to the weak, lovesick boy.

The rich kid shares that his big hobby is setting old green houses on fire. Soon after that I turned off the DVD. The slick film’s characters were too empty and soulless for me.

I am Waiting

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Another film in Criterion’s Nikkatsu (Studio) set is I am Waiting (1957). Directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara, I am Waiting tells the story of an ex-boxer who rescues a young woman from suicide. She couldn’t take working at a mobster’s low-end bar anymore. Her savior offers her a safe place to live and work at his restaurant. She gets happier, and calmer.

This nice guy dreams of joining his brother in Brazil, where the brother has bought a farm. Time passes and there’s no word from the brother. About the time the nice guy, whom we learn was a prize-fighter reveals that he wants to escape his guilt for killing a man in a fist fight. The club owner any lackeys find a girl at the restaurant. This mobster figures the girl owes him two years worth of work performing in his club. Despite her disgust, she agrees to return to protect the nice guy. 

Then the guy starts retracing his brother’s footsteps and discovers the brother never got on the ship to Brazil. The nice guy deducts if there’s a connection between his brother’s disappearance and the mobsters. 

I enjoyed the plot in performances particularly those of the lead man and woman. The film never got sappy or simpleminded it’s portrayal of this couple. I wouldn’t call this a thriller, it was definitely noir with plenty of dark, inky shadows.

The story was absorbing and my heart went out to all the beautiful losers, nice guy, the girl he rescued and the doctor cum mentor, who drank too much.

 

Across 110th St.

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This week I watched the police drama Across 110th St. starring Anthony Quinn as Capt. Mattelli. Made in 1972, Across 110th St. is a look at racial tensions during that era. Quinn plays a middle-aged detective afraid of losing his job to a younger, Black detective named Lt. Pope.

When that movie begins, some mobsters are dividing $300,000 from drug deals when a couple of gangsters dressed as police officers force their way into the apartment the mafia is using. The Black gangsters make off with the cash and the mafia vows to get even. In spite of their icy relationship the police have to get both the mafia and the gangsters behind bars.

Harlem is impoverished with high drug use and other crimes destroying the neighborhood. 

There was a lot of brutal violence, which I couldn’t take. Thus I didn’t enjoy the movie and when much have preferred less violence, and more detective work. The theme of racial tension is significant and worthy of our consideration, but I just couldn’t  take the brutality.