Saturday, October 5, 2019

Downton Abbey [2019]

MPAA (PG)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (M. Zoller-Seitz) review
AVClub (C. Steele) review

Downton Abbey [2019] (directed by Michael Engler characters and screenplay by Julian Fellowes) delivers what it promises ... a two hour visit to a place that millions of viewers across the English speaking world and beyond had come to know and love through the successful television series about "more tranquil times" ... when it was being debated and starting to be settled as to whether paupers, people of darker complexions and foreign tongues, women as a whole, to say nothing of then invisible people like homosexuals were ... worthy of rights.

And so it is here.  And all is regally blessed and proven "fine" at the Abbey as they receive word that the King and Queen were planning a visit to their part of the Realm, were inviting themselves over to the Abbey (I guess, if you're the King, you can do whatever you want, AND "what an honor it would be" in any case), and ... (mild spoiler alert) all turns out well.

But, then, how could it not...?  Directed by the steady guiding hand of the _wisest_ of local patriarchs, Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (played by Hugh Bonneville) albeit with an American wife Cora (played by Elizabeth McGovern) but then with a stable, well-trained, LOYAL abbey staff, what could possibly go wrong?

Yes, there are the pesky Irish who want to get a shot at the King (played by Simon Jones).  But even the King "understands" (and arguably _forgives them_).  So ...

There is a loveliness to all this ... and in the crassness of our time it is certainly appealing, just as long as we realize that when we enter stories like this, we enter a world essentially of "Platonic Forms" about as real as that of Middle Earth / The Hobbit.  That said, we all need stories that give us comfort and peace. 

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Judy [2019]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB () (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K, Turan) review (M. Castillo) review
AVClub (C. Siede) review

Judy [2019] (directed by Rupert Goold, screenplay by Tom Edge based on the stageplay "The End of the Raindbow" by Peter Quilter) tells the story of the last year of Hollywood legend Judy Garland's [wikip] [IMDb] life as a troubled but still top-billed night-club singer in ... London.  She died there, of an ... accidental barbiturate overdose at 47 in 1969.  What happened to the teenage Dorothy of Wizard of Oz [1939] fame?  Well, life ...

And it was not a particularly good one.  We do get to see the costs of fame in Mid-20th Century Hollywood (1930s-1960s).  To a large extent therefore, the film follows a well beaten path.  One needs only to think of Sunset Blvd [1950].

Still, just because "we've heard the story before," doesn't make it untrue.  And it honestly MAY BE USEFUL for people be reminded from time to time what "costs of fame" are.

Here we see the effects of thirty years of "studio management" on the life of one of its biggest stars, Judy Garland (played as a teenager by Darci Shaw and later as an adult by Renee Zellwiger) who "captured America's hearts" as the wide-eyed innocent / naive Alice in Wonderland like teenager Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz [1939] and yet was even then mercilessly reminded that she could be replaced AT ANY TIME by any number of OTHER wide-eyed, innocent / naive "girl next door" types even arguably more attractive than she was, "So SHUT UP, take the 1930s-era diet and sleeping pills that we're giving you, and just DO WHAT WE SAY..."

We thankfully live now in the #MeToo era, where the worst of this abuse is being progressively exposed.  Yet while there was no indication in the film that Garland was sexually abused by her studio bosses / handlers, the film story makes clear that the Studios and their managers basically _owned_ their "stars" in any case, especially their younger ones, and almost inevitably turned them into the basket cases that we come to read about in the tabloids in their later years. 

Is it worth it?  Do these poor people even know what they're getting into? 

Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, here Judy Garland ... Pray for us.

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Friday, October 4, 2019

Joker [2019]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L) (2 Stars)  AVClub (B-)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
Los Angeles Times (J. Chang) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review 

Joker [2019] (directed by Todd Phillips, screenplay by Todd Phillips and Scott Silver) offers an appropriately dark (and rather credible) origin story for The Joker [DCC] [Wikip] [IMDb] (played in this film by Joaquin Phoenix) among most unforgettable American comic book super-villains of all time.

Troubled little man, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) -- "fleck" literally means "spot" or "stain" in many central European languages, including German -- tries to make the best of his hard, little life in the troubled, timeless, fallen New York City-inspired Gotham (the people of Gotham drive 1960s-70s era cars, use smart phones, 1970-80s era answering machines and watch 1930s era Charlie Chaplin movies...). 

Brought-up by his similarly beaten-down by life, cheated-upon, abused, single mom (not by choice), "worth no more than change," Penny (played by Frances Conroy) for whom Arthur had been the one source of at least some joy in her life ("he was always such a happy boy...") and then told by said mom to "keep putting on a happy face," Arthur ekes out a living as a "clown for hire" ... and suffers ALL the indignities of being dressed as a clown in a hard / cynical town that is NOT laughing (except at someone's expense) ... and he becomes ... well what can anybody expect?

The film makes for an inspired, if yes, dark, character study exposing the cruelty of a society that, well, doesn't give a damn.  Indeed, Robert De Niro, whose breakthrough portrayal of a similarly invisible, troubled titular Taxi Driver [1976] put him, forever, among Hollywood's greats, plays a significant role in the current story, though NOT as another anonymous loser but rather as a Johnny Carson-like "star", whose career actually feeds on the little losers like poor Arthur and Penny Fleck, who religiously stay-up to watch his show even as he largely makes fun of their difficult lives.

Brilliant, if scathing and sad.  Definitely NOT for pre-teens nor for the weak of heart.  But can help us understand some of the madness of our times.

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