Quartet (Movie 2012)

2 Kernels

 Lacking Substance
 Movie 2012 (Directed by Dustin Hoffman)
Staring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, and Pauline Collins


Fantastic line-up of stars, especially Maggie Smith. I couldn’t wait to see her in action. Perhaps my expectations were too high going into another British movie, but unfortunately it didn’t move me as much as I had hoped. In fact, I fast-forwarded the ending just to get through it.  I so hate giving a two-star review to great artists.  But just because they are, it doesn’t make the work itself a great picture.

It’s a story about a retirement home where aging musicians go to live out the remainder of their lives.  Many of them know each other from the early days when they were at the highlight of their careers.  They have now congregated in one place to continue dabbling in the art of music while they wait for the undertaker to take them away in a body bag.

Maggie Smith plays Jean Horton, a once famous and highly sought after opera singer who is now old, broke, and alone.  (Of course they say she’s broke, but I’m not sure how she affords the swanky retirement home.)  Like most elderly, her baggage upon arrival is filled with bitterness over life. To make matters worse, she discovers that her ex-husband is living out his days at the retirement home as well.  He’s not much better when it comes to forgiveness for Jean’s early days of adultery, so most of the movie he has a chip on his shoulder along with the air of being a former star himself.

The storyline is weak, superficial, and frankly uninteresting.  I will say this, that it would be a great place to retire! The movie is set in an converted English manor, with gorgeous countryside, comfortable and beautiful interior, kind staff, and an eclectic mix of eccentric elderly. You can sing your days away, rumba to music, croquet to your heart’s content, and walk the grounds with a dirty old man, if you’d like. However, the story, at least for me, started with a great premise, but moved at a snail’s pace.

If the movie accomplishes anything, it does give a poignant view of aging and how one’s youth and glory fades. We all know it’s coming; perhaps we just don’t wish to acknowledge it.

Excuse me, while I search the Internet to find a retirement home in the UK that fits the description for retired authors.  I would love to pack my bags and take my own bitterness over life to a swanky retirement home in the English countryside to live out my days. I can pen murder mysteries until they haul me away in a body bag. Works for me.

Gosford Park (2001 Movie)

4 Kernels

An Appetizer for Downton Abbey
 by Julian Fellowes

Stars:  Maggie Smith, Jeremy Northam, Michael Gambon,
Kristin Scott Thomas, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, and Plenty of Others

All right, listen up all you Downton Abbey fans.  If you’re going through withdrawals, you need to head over to Netflix or Amazon and stream Gosford Park.  This is another goodie written by the author of Downton, none other than Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for this tale of upstairs, downstairs, with a who-done-it murder.

I haven’t watched this movie probably in 10 years.  Recently, I clicked play and was amazed at the similarities to Downton Abbey.  Julian has really recycled quite of bit of wit and charm from his former work.  If you watched it ten years ago, you may wish to dust it off once more.  Otherwise, if you haven’t seen it, you’ll enjoy the story.

The drama is set in 1932 and centers around a party in a country house in England. In scene one all the aristocratic guests arrive, accompanied by their various valets and ladies maids.  The rich head upstairs; the servants head downstairs.  In the lower level you’ll be surprised at the similarities of running a grand house with the head housekeeper and butler keeping everyone in line hiding their own dirty secrets. The usual bantering, jealousies, complaining, and sneaks are just as interesting as Downton, only shoved into a two-hour movie.

The upstairs are the usual aristocrats, and wonderful Maggie Smith is among them playing almost the same characteristics as she does in Downton Abbey.  I’m not surprise that Julian Fellowes continued her character almost identically.  One of her lines, which sounds just like the Dowager on Downton, is, “Me?  I haven’t a snobbish bone in my body.” Her character of Countess Trentham is quite enjoyable and filled with the same witty banter.

Of course, the house is filled with multiple guests, servants, and a murder of the stuffy and grumpy old Sir William McCordle, who is married to the much younger and annoying Lady Syliva McCordle. Their children and their guests make up an eclectic group of snobby aristocrats, an actor, and a film maker from California. The servants gossip about their employers, and Countess Trentham asks her ladies maid to tell her what the scoop is downstairs.  Sir William has been enjoying sexual encounters with his multiple maids in the dark corners of downstairs, bearing all sorts of illegitimate children. After dinner one evening, someone stabs Sir William, and the movie turns into the usual who-done-it search for the killer with a less than capable investigator.

I have a few favorite scenes, one of which is Jeremy Northam, who plays Ivor Novello, the movie star.  He sits at the piano and sings a variety of songs to swoon by with his dreamy velvet voice, while the guests play a game of bridge, drink, and relax after dinner uninterested. The servants enjoy the entertainment more than the stuffy guests and linger closely by to hear him sing as if they are starved to hear beautiful music.

The film itself won quite a few awards and was nominated for best picture at the Oscars, but did not win, but won plenty of accolades worldwide.  I think it really is a noteworthy two hours to watch now that we’re so caught up in Downton Abbey as written by Julian Fellowes. You’ll no doubt enjoy the world downstairs and upstairs, including the estranged aristocratic family and eclectic mixture of servants.  Many of them had reason to do Sir William in with a knife in his chest, but you’ll probably not realize who did it until the end with the surprising little twist.