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.

Call The Midwife (2012 to Present)

call-the-midwife-season-five5 Kernels

January 2012 – Present  

Stars: Miranda Hart, Jenny Agutter,Pam Ferris, Judy Parfitt,
Helen George, Bryony Hannah, Laura Main

Once again, British television triumphs. Why the executives and producers of Hollywood television don’t take points on story-telling, is beyond me. There is a reason we flock to Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife, plus many other wonderful shows on PBS.  It’s drama at its best, stories with heart, and actors who take us into the reality of other worlds.

Okay, I’ll confess.  I didn’t watch the first season until this past week when I discovered it on Netflix.  There was only one episode I picked up on my local PBS station.  Why, I didn’t sit down and watch each one is beyond me, but I’m glad to know Season 2 starts late March.  Thank goodness.
Call the Midwife is a moving series set in post-war early 1950’s about a group of nurses and nuns who deliver babies on the impoverished east side of London. (I was born in 1950, so I fit right in.) The series instantly reminds you of the scriptures that declare the poor will always live among us. It is what we do for the poor that matters the most.
The series is, of course, geared toward women. After all, babies are delivered every episode.  The old ways of enema, shaving, and odd delivery positions is quite amusing, but so are the variety of women who bear the children and their midwives.  If you are prone to PMS, bursts of crying, or are pregnant make sure you bring a box of tissues with you as you watch.  The stories will move you to tears as you are faced with the stark reality of birth, life, death, suffering, love, and survival.
Each episode focuses upon a main pregnancy ranging from the woman who is married and on her 24th pregnancy (yes, they birthed that many children), to the young 15 year old prostitute who sells her body to survive and becomes pregnant.  One breach birth will keep you on the edge of your seat, as you watch the new awkward nurse deliver the child successfully.  You see the devastation of women losing their babies, and women who lose their lives giving birth.  You’ll cry over the poor and the squalor in which they live.  At the end of each episode, you’ll be a better human being for watching the miracle of birth and no doubt be thankful for what you have.
Call the Midwife is once again why I love the Brits.  It’s drama, humor, life, and love all rolled into one.  It’s reality, not fantasy. Frankly, I think watching this series births within you a new appreciation of life and love through all of its struggles.  You’ll find empathy for the poor among us, and be thankful for what you have.  We shouldn’t abort the difficulties of life in television shows just because we don’t want to deal with the unpleasantness.  Frankly, I think viewers continually need excellent television such as Call the Midwife to deliver us out of our complacency.
UPDATE:  Bicycling into its 5th Season, it continues in excellence.


Eva (2010) – Foreign Film

 1 Kernel

Stars: Vincent Regan, Amy Beth Hayes, Patrick Bergin

Is it possible to write a story that has no soul?  Is it possible to have actors that have no heart?  Is it possible to sit and watch a movie and wonder the entire 90 minutes why don’t you just give it up?  Let me assure you that it is.

Eva.  Don’t run to Netflix to click play on this one.  Don’t look on Amazon to stream or buy it, you won’t find it.  It’s a boring tale of pre-mid-post World War II in Romania.   Apparently this film premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and was released in Hungary and Romania.  The movie was not dubbed, but is in English.  After release, it must have died shortly thereafter.

You know, I’m not really the type to write cruel movie reviews, so I’ll try and control my typing fingers.  Here is the synopsis of Eva.

The story begins with Eva saying goodbye to a man named Tudor at a train station.  It’s the usual, “Don’t go,” from a sad woman.  Then the usual reply, “I have to go,” from the serious man.  He goes, then the planes come, bomb the city, and she’s knocked out in the street.  Now it’s flashback time to when she’s 16 meeting the so-called love of her life, Tudor. (Push aside all the stupid sub-plots too about her mean uncle who she lives with.  I don’t even want to go there.)

Virgin Eva meets a man who lives on a mountain cutting timber. With no hesitation, and no remorse on his part, he beds her on their second meeting.  She’s 16, he looks as if he’s 35-40. Then a few days later, he tells her he must leave for America to take care of his ailing mother.  Okay, so he goes, but not before they both confess their undying love.  Hence, the revolving plot.  He goes, he comes, he goes, he comes, he goes, he comes, and she never knows why he goes and comes until the end. The periods of going and coming stretch for years at a time.

Between the coming and going she meets two decent men who love her dearly.  A Baron and a young doctor.  She marries the Baron, confesses she loves him, but on one of Tudor’s returns, she instantly dumps her husband and speeds off on a horse with her one-true love leaving the poor Baron in the dust.  Of course,again Tudor leaves, and her Baron husband comes back into the picture to pick up the pieces of Tudor’s next long absence.  She finds out she’s pregnant by Tudor.  She loses the baby.  She tries to commit suicide.  Her estranged husband finds her half dead and saves her life.

Tudor returns, again, and for once she tries to resist his temptation.  The Baron shoots him in the arm when he tries to see her, but she eventually breaks down and comes back to her crying boyfriend recovering from his gunshot wound.

She jumps back in bed with him for hot sex. She never tells him about the baby, or the suicide attempt, or what she’s been up to for the last three years.  All she knows is that she cannot love another man because for nine years of her life Tudor comes and goes at whim and she loves him still.

Finally, she wakes up out of her flashback coma and all is revealed.  Tudor was a secret agent, which you sort of guess since he disappears and can never tell her what he does.  The Baron, who had moved to Cario during the war gets murdered.  The young doctor who professed his love of beautiful Eva is killed in battle.  She searches for Tudor and believes he’s finally been killed, but doesn’t really know.  In the end, his cousin shows up and takes her away and they sail off into the sunset to America.

Oh, God, this movie was painful to watch.  The only reason I kept watching it was so I could write another review.  This review is probably just as bad! The sad violin music plays mournfully throughout in the background, and when that’s not playing, Eva plays mournful songs on the piano.

In summary, the movie was boring.  The plot dragged on.  I heard myself say multiple times, “This is really lame.”  The acting was dull. The love affair was sick.  And the movie had no life whatsoever.

End of review.  It’s too painful to write anything else about it.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Prime Suspect (1991 – 2006)

4 Kernels

Intense British Drama

British Television (1991 – 2006)

Stars:  Helen Mirren
BAFTA TV Awards & Emmy Awards

British television once again sucks me into its clutches and won’t let me go an entire weekend on Netflix.  I’ve seen so many murder mysteries lately, I’m going to start writing my own one of these days.  Enter Prime Suspect – a British ITV television program that aired intermittently from 1991 – 2006.  It revolves around Jane Tennison, a strong-willed police detective that always gets her man.

Jane is smart as a whip, emotionally cut off in relationships, married to her job, drinks a bit too much, fights against discrimination as a woman in the workforce, and barks orders at men.  Her character is an interesting mix of emotions, and Helen Mirren is an award-winning actress who does well in keeping you interested.  Jane will not rest until she solves a case, and has been reprimanded, suspended, taken off the cases, and put back on almost every episode because of her unorthodox tactics that breaks every rule in the book.  Just when you think she’s going to get fired once and for all, she solves the murder and becomes the hero vindicating herself in front of her male counterparts.

The stories in Prime Suspect are very intense.  I’ll admit I was a bit emotionally drained after a few of them, but found myself glued to my green recliner.  The murders deal with real issues in areas that you don’t necessary wish to know about on the dark side of London.  Poverty, pimping, prostitutes, homelessness, transvestites, police corruption, pedophiles, childhood sexual abuse, and war criminals just to name a few topics.  If you’re sensitive, this is not the show for you.  Some episodes are disturbing in content and also visually as you look at the dead victims and become intimately acquainted with how they were murdered.

After saying all that, you probably wonder why I didn’t give it a five kernel rating.  As I stated, I found the show intense, sometimes disturbing, and the episodes a bit overly long.  Some story lines drag into two parts, and it’s just a time-consuming show to watch.  Be forewarned.  Also, as much as I loved Mirren in the role, she did such a great job that by the end, I was getting a little tired of Jane’s character. A few times I wanted to slap her face over her insubordination toward her peers. You’d think after years on the force, she’d learn a little.  Jane Tennison never does, but her salvation is that her character is so tenacious, she gets the murderer one way or the other.

Other than that, it’s a good show, if you like intense drama.  The British get to swear much more on television that our US counterparts, so be prepared for some pretty surprising language.  I really need to stop watching so much murder.  It’s taking it’s toll.  Nevertheless, I love British television because everything they do is top-notch.  They’ve known how to tell compelling stories from Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and others.  It’s what they’re made of, and I rely much on my English ancestry to place drama in my own work.

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