Oct 08

Downton Abbey: PBS Television series ★★★

Downton Abbey was a TV series that ran for 6 seasons, and was most popular during its time. It is the story about the life from about 1910-1925 of one of the remaining great houses in Yorkshire area of England. The movie presents life of both the aristocratic family in contrast to the servants in the manor, or to say it differently, of the working class as compared to the leisured class. Each season presented the tensions and problems of the two classes or people in the Abbey estate. It was intended to paint a sense of sympathy for life on both sides of the class divide. The story line left suspense and tension with each episode, until the very last episode of season 6, where everything is resolved, friendships and feuds resolved, the appropriate people married to the appropriate spouses, and the Abbey is at peace while celebrating a new year.

A most appropriate change to the name of this series would be Pride and Prejudice on steroids. The entire story line ultimately evolves around only two issues, 1) will Downton Abbey survive in the new world?, and 2) who will marry who, and when? To the first question, the answer is, “yes”, Downton Abbey survives, but with a loss of the Pracht and Herrlichkeit (splendor and elegance/majesty) of the past. The movie attempts to evoke sympathies for the aristocratic classes in their “loss” of their leisured world, and disappointed that they can no longer have people dressing/undressing them, having their regular elegant garden parties and life on the fox hunt, and massive banquets of white tie affairs, surrounded by maids and butlers, and a host of staff jumping to their every whim. They failed to claim my sympathies. To the second question, if one of the actors survived, they were all able to eventually get married, and usually within the desired class and to the “right” person.

The story line held one’s attention. Oftentimes, the story was a bit too contrived, such as people dying simply to create and maintain the appropriate flow of the movie. The story and scenery tries to maintain historical accuracy, and to that end I presume they did superbly. The setting was in one of the now retired great houses. Do I feel sorry for the aristocrats of the past, or possess some secret desire to wish I could have filled their shoes? Hardly not! I mentioned that this was Jane Austen on steroids, and that indeed is exactly what it was, without the hidden comedy of Jane Austen. The storyline is a seemingly endless repetition of the Jane Austen novels, yet is a little more crass at demonstrating the arrogance, as well as the hypocrisy of the British elite, especially in terms of their moral/sexual behavior. The issue not that they were more sexually loose than one would like to think, but that they maintained a stringent desire to cover up their dalliances with a gloss of moral righteousness. In this regard, they excelled over Jane Austen.

I don’t regret watching Downton Abbey. It was long. Betsy (wife) definitely enjoyed watching it again, and found it better to watch the entire six seasons in one long setting, rather than having to wait for each episode week after week. So, I’ll cease my criticisms and await your thoughts on this series.

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May 07

Twilight Forever; the complete saga, starting Kristin Stewart and Robert Pattison ★

My son Jon and I spent a night in Forks on a week-long bicycle ride looping around the Olympics, and there was much talk in Forks about this film series. I had no great interest in watching this series, but then, curiosity killed the cat. It is a series of three episodes, the last episode dived into two parts. The movie is based on a series of books, written by Stephanie Meyer. The plot is easy to summarize. A girl (Bella Swan) moves from her mother in AZ to her father, who is a town sheriff in Forks, Washington. She is in her last year of high school, and needs to find friends. She first encounters a native Indian (Jacob Black), who is quite attracted to her. She also encounters another dude (Edward Cullen) who looks and acts more like a creep than anything else. The creep also has other family members attending the school who are just as creepy. Through a variety of events, Bella becomes attracted to the creep Edward as well as the Indian boy Jacob. Eventually, she discovers that Edward is actually a vampire with remarkable talents and doesn’t age with time, and that Jacob is a werewolf, but worse, that the vampires and werewolves really don’t get along too well together. Eventually, she totally falls in love with Eddie the vampire, partially because she fears growing old and thus would like to become a vampire herself. After many sub-events, she eventually marries Edward, has a baby from him which almost kills her, but is saved by becoming a vampire herself. Her baby though becomes imprinted to Jacob, making a crazy threesome.

There is just too many things wrong with this movie series to know where to start. First, this movie really doesn’t have good acting, and how Kristin actually became famous by playing the lead role testifies to the desperation of the Hollywood audience. None of the acting was remarkable. The visuals were good, but not outstanding. Secondly, the storyline was just plain stupid. Too many things were inexplainable, or inconsistent. Why would a 107 year old vampire wish to place himself in a high school situation? Why would the vampire father masquerade as a doctor? Why would the vampire family move away in order to keep their identity concealed, only to return later for no good reason? Similar questions could be asked of the werewolves. Why would the lead female fall in love with a creep? Why didn’t the female experience the problems of becoming a vampire and losing her soul, as she was warned? In both the vampire camps and the werewolf camps, there were bad vampires and “good” vampires, bad werewolves and “good” werewolves. What’s going on there?

My only explanation to this story is that the author really wrote with flight of thought, not even giving thought to what she previously wrote. Perhaps the books offer a better explanation? The mindset of the entire tale is with teenagers living in a solipsistic world of their all important selves. After all, high school is so great, and even 107 year old vampires would eagerly love to re-experience high school. So, my advice to anybody curious about this series—don’t waste your time. It isn’t even good entertainment. There are too many other reasonable movies to watch to waste your time on the stupidity and poor acting of this series.

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Apr 07

North and South, a film adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell ★★★

Elizabeth Gaskell was the wife of a Unitarian minister living in Manchester, England, writing about the social injustices of the industrial revolution. This, like the Jane Austen novels, is essentially of romantic novel with the twist of making a social statement. The main character, Margaret Hale, thwarts a marriage proposal, returns home to her family in southern England, where her father serves as an Anglican pastor. He is forced out of the church owing to a loss of faith, and moves to Milton (Manchester?) to serve as a teacher. He acquires pupils, including the young owner of a local cotton mill, the nouveaux rich John Thornton. Margaret catches Mr. Thornton being quite harsh on several of his employees. She sympathizes with the employees, even when they threaten to go on strike, much to the chagrin of Mr. Thornton. Eventually, through the maturation of Margaret’s understanding of the complexities of employee/employer relations and the problems of maintaining a successful factory, Margaret helps mend relations with the employees of Mr. Thornton. In the end, Margaret falls in love with Mr. Thornton.

In a way, I felt like I was watching a Jane Austen novel even though there were differences. The now “impoverished” Mr. Hale still is able to afford servants. Margaret is able to conduct her life in a leisurely fashion, never worrying about needing to work or develop skills for gainful employment. The love story had to be incorporated into the novel, and the progression of confusion or hate to love had to occur. Events, such as the death of mother and later father, were unexplained and used only to make the novel progress. Thus, the story was a bit contrived, as are all the JA novels.

The movie itself had great scenes but fairly mediocre acting. Margaret seemed to have a very flat affect. Mr. Thornton did not have a realistic personality. It was more like watching a soap opera than seeing a film. The movie has its entertainment value but does poorly at social protest. Other films, such as the French film “Germinal” made a much better statement about social injustices, while having phenomenal acting (who can beat Gérard Depardieu?).

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Apr 07

Persuasion

By Kenneth Feucht Media, Movies 2 Comments »

Persuasion, a film adaptation starring Amanda Root of a novel by Jane Austen ★

This is the last novel of Jane Austen. The film adaptation was a bit confusing and challenging to follow. I presume that it assumed that one had already read the novel. A brief summary is as follows. Anne Elliott breaks off an engagement to a sea captain Frederick Wentworth. She is one of several daughters of a wealthy landowner now in the leaner years, needing to lease out the family mansion and live in Bath while the mansion is then occupied by the admiral and his son-in-law Frederick (surprise, surprise!!!). While most of the Elliott family move to Bath, Anne is asked to remain at the mansion to help with the transition. As predictable, Frederick appears to be no longer interested in Anne, courts other ladies, while a cousin of Anne is chasing her. Through multiple episodes of misunderstandings and ultimate clarifications, many of the eligible maidens are married off in the novel, while Anne and Captain Wentworth realize they both love each other and are engaged.

The predictability of these novels reveal some commonalities of the film adaptations of the Jane Austen novels. These points also summarize all five reviews.
1. The theme is always the pursuit of the main character, a young female, to an eligible person.  The movie always ends with the successful engagement or wedding of the appropriate person(s).
2. The females always come from, or are living with, wealthy landed gentry.
3. The movies always have at least one dance scene. The inability to dance, or the play the piano for a dance, removes a female or male from marriage eligibility. In several novels, the ability to quote Shakespeare or Byron were also eligibility tests.
4. Young eligible ladies from wealthy families never ever seemed to have anything to do but to go for walks and sit around pretending to read books. Occasionally they would play the piano without practice. Never were they expected to perform work. They usually played the piano, but their playing was always very mechanical.
5. Even when the wealthy became “poor”, they maintained a host of servants to care for them.
6. Military folk also seemed to be essentially idle and free to loaf at will. Perhaps that is why the British Empire eventually fell, but historical facts suggest that there were no military in sedentary life living in England at the time of Jane’s novels.
7. Older ladies were always pictured as obese, meddlesome, and suffering from verbal diarrhea. Older men were usually lazy old farts who did nothing but read the newspaper.
8. In all of JA’s novels, there is a confusion regarding who loves who, which is always perfectly resolved in the end.
9. Jane Austen was never married, and perhaps all of these novels are a psychological projection of a fantasy world that she wished to be in. Poor Jane. Why wouldn’t somebody marry her? Then, we might have been spared some of her novels.
1o. As to Jane Austen novels being comedies, Emma is the clearest example of that. Her novels are also seen as perhaps a jab at the ever-diminishing numbers of landed gentry in England in her time.
11. Religion is present in its Anglican form in all five novels reviewed, but this religion is very superficial and also a form of prestige. People went to church, but church was more a social gloss rather than a serious undertaking. Perhaps this explains why England is the way it is now.

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Apr 07

Mansfield Park, a film adaptation of the novel by Jane Austen ★★★★

This is the one film adaptation of a novel by Jane Austen that I actually enjoyed, and could not predict exactly the ending at the beginning. It is also one of the most controversial novels that JA wrote. Fanny was born into a poor family, but (for reasons not made clear in the movie) was invited to live with a very wealthy rich uncle Sir Thomas abiding at the estate called Mansfield Park, and whose wealth came from the slave trade in the West Indies. The Sir Thomas family includes two girls slightly older than Fanny, Edmund, who becomes close as a friend to Fanny, and a much older son. Fanny acquires a Cinderella role, with the two daughters being heavily favored in all social and family interactions. Edmond decides to become a clergyman. Henry Crawford and his sister come to town, and become heavily socially entwined with the Mansfield Park family. Finally,  Sir Thomas suggests that Henry and Fanny get married, since Henry is fabulously wealthy. Fanny rejects this out of hand, leaving to go back to her poor family rather than be intimidated into a marriage that she doesn’t want. Henry comes to visit Fanny several times in hopes of persuading her, but this finally comes to an end when Henry is caught in a sexual tryst with one of the now married daughters of Sir Thomas. Ultimately, Fanny and Edmond figure out that they were always in love with each other, and get married, ending the novel and the film. I guess cousins got married in 19th century England?

Several aspects of this film are interesting. First, is that it offers mild disapproval of the wealthy landowners for ill-gotten gain in the slave trade. Secondly, it actually brings in characters of other social status than just the multi-generational wealthy families. Third, it is Jane Austen painting her own deepest feelings about who she wished she could have been in the person of Fanny.

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