26
Jan
16

downton abbey, S6, Ep. 3 & 4

End of ep 4

I’m a bit behind in my musings on Downton Abbey.  The major events in episode 3 were Carson & Mrs. Hughes’ wedding. After a kerfluffle over what the ever-practical Mrs. Hughes would wear (she didn’t want to make a big deal about a dress and thus had no pretty, let alone elegant dresses), Elsie Hughes looked lovely in a coat that Cora wound up giving her. The trouble before the wedding reached its pinnacle when Cora, who had a headache from arguing with the dowager, discovered Anna, Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes all in her bedroom trying on one of her coats that Mary said she could wear. Cora through an out-of-character fit, but then Mary hadn’t explained or asked and it did look like a trespass over social boundaries. Soon Cora, true to form, apologised and wound up graciously giving Mrs. Hughes a gorgeous, embroidered coat that perfectly matched the plain dress Mrs. Patmore had ordered from a catalog. How lucky!

Edith took the reigns at the magazine. She sacked the complaining editor and worked all night to get the edition out. She lucked into meeting an attractive male acquaintance who asked her for drinks and then wound up staying up all night to help her with the magazine. How much cleaner than saving the pigs! Does that make it more or less romantic? What happened to Mary’s pig-beau?

Anna continued to have pains and fears of a miscarriage. The family elders continued to bicker over plans for the hospital and once again Thomas had a semi-comical, semi-sad Chekoves-que job interview at a big estate in decline. In the final scene I’m sure I wasn’t alone in rejoicing that Tom and Sybie have returned to Downton for good! (We could have guessed since Tom has been shown in promotional interviews and photos.)

Episode 4

Mr & Mrs. Carson were on their honeymoon for most of the episode. Several characters mentioned how hard it would be to call Mrs. Hughes Mrs. Carson. That little problem was solved at the end when everyone agreed that at the house she’d be Mrs. Hughes.

The squabbling over the hospital continued. Violet called in an aristocratic friend to assist her in her cause. Unfortunately, Lady Shackleton flip-flopped at the dinner party. Her main use proved to be that she brought her nephew, Henry, who is one of Mary’s suitors from last season.

Anna felt she was about to miscarry, so late at night Mary whisked her off to London via York, where the super Royal York Hospital with all it’s nifty skill and technology is. Hmm. Well, it worked out because Mary got to have cocktails with Henry and flirt a bit. Anna was okay and had a procedure that saved the baby. Still I wouldn’t want to take a train trip lasting I’d guess a few hours when I was miscarrying. Seems the last thing a woman would want to do would be to be on a train.

Daisy, who’s very eager to see that Mr. Mason get the house and farm that the Drewes have vacated since Mrs. Drewes kidnapped Edith’s daughter Marigold (what was she thinking?), almost sabotaged her job. She’s gotten to be quite a firebrand. She took Cora’s interest in Mr. Mason and a vague comment that Cora would see what she could do as a promise. When she hears a rumour that Mr. Mason won’t get the the land, Daisy works herself into a frenzy that culminates in her determination to tell off Cora. Every single servant urges her to calm down, to watch it, to wait and hope for the best, but Daisy obstinately ignores. At the pinnacle of her rage, Daisy storms upstairs. She’s willing to put her job on the line. Fortunately, before she can irrationally lash out against Cora, the Crawley’s tell her that they’ve decided that (although it’s not a great financial decision) they’re giving Mr. Mason the farmland. I doubt there was a luckier character on the show than Daisy at this time.

My favourite part of the show was when Gwen, who in the first season was a maid who with Sybil’s help became a secretary, showed up at Downton. She came with her husband, an aristocrat. When she arrived Thomas and Anna recognised her. The family members didn’t. Thomas, full of envy, blustered about how Gwen prospered, but he’s working in the same house in 1925 that he was in 1912 (or earlier). When serving, Thomas spilled the beans and got Gwen to reveal that she had been a kitchenmaid at Downton. While Thomas tried to embarrass her, Gwen regaled the family with stories of how dear Sybil helped her get the education and job that propelled her into the workforce and how that ties into her current association with a new woman’s college, Hillcroft. All the Crawley women now fully support this novel idea to educate women who need to work.

Baxter, Cora’s lady’s maid, is called upon to agree to testify against the man who urged her to steal from her previous employer. At first she was reluctant, but Mr. Mosley convinced her that if she didn’t other women would probably be tricked by him and would end up in jail or as prostitutes (that’s what has happened to some of women he’d conned).

Odds and Ends

  • Tom wants to do something more than just be the agent for the estate. He’s got an inkling that it may have to do with racing cars.
  • Mary and Henry met in London and romance may bud there, again.
  • Quite a few people–Anna, Robert, and Violet–experienced some kind of health worries or aliments. Will this mean that down the line the Crawley’s may actually need that new hospital with all it’s modern equipment and knowledge.
  • Violet made a good speech on how when government gets into an area, people lose power and autonomy. Typically, I don’t buy that line of thought, but Violet was quite convincing.
  • As usual the dresses were amazing.

 

 

25
Jan
16

The Big Short

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Based on Michael Lewis’ book, starring Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling, The Big Short tells the story of the man who figured out the U.S. housing market was a house of cards and the others who learned about it and bet (invested) the market would collapse. It’s an interesting story though now anyone who follows the news knows what happened and why.

I liked the main narrative, but found the montages ineffective. These were interspersed showed the era through random images shot with a shaky hand, which was no doubt imagined to be “cool.” The director aimed to be artsy with these and I think failed. Just tell us the story in as compelling a way as possible.

The story’s sort of a cat and mouse plot, with three teams of investors tracking the source of the financial crisis and even though they bet big, I found myself rooting for them. I wonder whether generations hence would. The film does bring up the question of their hypocrisy, which is a fair question and needed to be asked.

Although I doubt the filmmakers realized that while their film indicts the greedy on Wall Street, it implicitly indicts all swaggering, men who lack a code of honor or morality. What we see is a male-dominated field with no true oversight who spend way too much time joking around, teasing each other. The film, probably made by a boys’ club, puts strippers or “bathing beauties” in a scene whenever they could. I left the theater angry that only one man went to jail for causing the crisis, that we could still have a similar crisis as we don’t have new regulations that can prevent it, and that Hollywood is yet another male-dominated field that doesn’t serve society as it could.

I could have done without the gratuitous strippers and a clearer narrative, but I’d still say it’s worth seeing, though perhaps it’s better to read the book.

24
Jan
16

Trés drôle

To keep diners entertained while waiting for their food, a French restaurant made this video which is projected on to the table. Very clever, non?

18
Jan
16

No Regrets for Our Youth

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Directed by Kurosawa, No Regrets for Our Youth surprised me as it’s the story of a young woman by a director whose prolific body of work otherwise emphasised male characters. The heroine Yukie is carefree and playful at the start of the film. She has no use for anything serious. The film opens with Yukie strolling through the mountains with her father’s university students. When they come to a shallow creek, she halts and waits for someone to rescue her.

Noge, a very political, man of action carries her across the water that seems about three inches deep. On the sidelines looking awkward is his friend Itokawa who has feelings for Yukie, but is too shy and unsure of himself to do anything. Yukie likes teasing men more than anything and  plays Noge and Itokawa off each other.

As political tensions rise in Japan leading up to WWII, Yukie’s father is fired by the government because he’s spoken out against military aggression. Made after the war No Regrets for Our Youth, contains several scenes with characters discussing the importance of academic freedom, free speech and the importance of self sacrifice when working towards a greater good. Both Yukie’s father and Noge, who is arrested and imprisoned pay for their ideals.

After seven years, Yukie leaves her hometown Kyoto, to work in Tokyo. Here she bumps into Itokawa who’s continued to play it safe. He’s a lawyer and is married. He’s kept in touch with Noge, who’s just been released. Now Yukie’s matured somewhat and when she sees Noge again she’s willing to give up a conventional life to risk life with a rebel.

Soon Noge is arrested and she’s imprisoned, questioned and eventually released. We’re not entirely sure of what Noge did with his underground work but he says that in 10 years the Japanese will thank him and Yukie. From then on Yukie’s life is full of hardship, hardship she voluntarily takes on despite protests from her parents and Noge’s parents. It’s amazing to see someone who was such a flibbertigibbet turn into an honest to goodness heroine.

While the film was made early in Kurosawa’s career and lacks the mastery of later films, No Regrets of Our Youth tells a compelling story and enlightened me on anti-war protests in Japan prior to and during WWII.

13
Jan
16

Kurosawa: Movement in Film

I’ve watched this engrossing, enlightening YouTube video by Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting, three times. He makes it clear how much more absorbing a Kurosawa film is than your average Hollywood film often due to the masterful use of movement.

What’s more, I enjoyed spotting the films I’d seen: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, One Wonderful Sunday, I Live in Fear and Ikiro.

12
Jan
16

Downton Abbey, Season 6, Episode 2

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I don’t know why I hope for a faster pace with Downton Abbey, but I often do. I should know by now that Julian Fellows likes to draw things out; it’s his style.

I had hoped we’d see Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes’ wedding this week, but we didn’t. Instead we saw them discuss and plan, not always harmoniously, the wedding. Thankfully, only Lord Grantham thought decorating the servants’ hall would work as a reception venue.

Afraid that he’ll lose his job, Thomas has started job hunting. He’s finding it’s slim pickings and that he’s got it pretty good at the Abbey. His interview did not go well as he learned that at this estate he’d be “chief cook and bottle washer.” They expected him to do the work of 3 or 4. Thanks, but no thanks.

Edith’s editor is giving her more trouble. Then speak on the phone a lot and he won’t listen to her. I expect once she’s got the gumption, she’ll fire him. She certainly should. One dramatic moment came later in the show and dealt with Marigold. Mrs. Drewe, the farmer’s wife who took Marigold in, doesn’t realise Edith is Marigold’s mother. Thus she wants Marigold back. It’s odd, but she seems to care about Marigold more than she does her own children. We’re led to see Mrs. Drewe as unstable. At a village agricultural fair, Mrs. Drew kidnapped the girl. Everyone scrambled around trying to find her and in the end they did. This storyline was oddly placed and there wasn’t a minute when I didn’t think they’d soon find Marigold.

Anna confided in Mary about her fertility problems and Mary escorted Anna to a doctor, who examined her and told her that she just needs a simple operation when she gets pregnant again, and she should be able to have children. Anna’s on cloud nine. I bet she’ll have a child by the end of the series.

Mary proved herself to one of the local agricultural bureaucrats (i.e. the man who arranged the fair).

The issue with the hospital remains and Violet and Isobel exchanged barbs. I do wish it were over an issue that I cared about more. Then the quips would have more potency.

Daisy talked about taking some exams and Mr. Mosley encouraged her. The world’s changing as we’re constantly reminded (I could do with more “show, don’t tell” with this theme) so it’s wise to be prepared.

As usual . . .

The dresses were splendid. Cora didn’t get to do much, but neither did Robert. And yet the acting is strong enough to carry an okay story.

12
Jan
16

Downton Abbey, Season 6 Begins

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In the U.S. after months (maybe 10 months it seems) of promotions, Downton Abbey’s sixth season began on Sunday. My tradition has been to watch Downton with my aunt, who’s now living in an assisted living facility. I brought dinner for us and arrived early. Our problem was we couldn’t get PBS on Direct TV in her room. No one was able to help us. Ugh!

We had dinner and then I left to watch the show, feeling awful that my aunt wouldn’t be able to watch a show she loves.

I enjoyed this first episode, but feel that this review will echo what I said last season. I enjoyed seeing favourite characters and elegant costumes, but not all that much happened.

A chambermaid tried to blackmail Mary about her rendezvous with a Lord Whoever last season. We knew the chambermaid wouldn’t succeed and she doesn’t she’s just an annoyance. I’d expect a chambermaid in a nice hotel would have lots of opportunities for blackmail and that she’d be better at it than she was. It was odd how she had so much time and money to travel to the Abbey so frequently. By the end of the episode, Robert came to Mary’s rescue, showing his fatherly love, which made Mary realise how good a father he is. Still, I’d hoped that wily Mary would have outsmarted the chambermaid.

Violet has learned that a larger hospital would like to take over the village hospital. She shares her scuttlebutt at a board meeting and Isobel and Lord Merton, who seems to be trying to score points with her, oppose Violet and the local doctor, who doesn’t believe bigger is necessarily better. Cora’s caught in the middle and seems to be swayed more by Isobel’s views. I hope Cora gets a better storyline this season, but I doubt it.

Edith, as is often the case, didn’t get a lot to do. Her daughter is fully now part of the family. Edith handled an irate call with the editor of the paper she’s inherited. There was a nice scene with her aunt in which Edith considers moving to London to get out of Mary’s shadow, which would be best for her. Mary dominates Downton and there Edith will always play second fiddle.

I’ve wondered how the series will end and whether the Crawley’s will be able to keep their estate. In last night’s episode a nearby house went up for sale and the Crawley’s neighbours auctioned off most of their belongings. This sale obviously makes us all wonder what will happen to the Crawley’s who’re unable to replace staff and are now considering lowering wages.  The elegiac mood of the end of a beloved era hung more heavily last night and probably will throughout the series.

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At the auction, Daisy had an outburst. She’s very upset that her father-in-law will probably be kicked off his farm. When she saw the new owners, surrounded by her employers and all the people milling about shopping for antiques and what-not, Daisy let loose her feelings of the injustice of Mr. Mason. Though she had a point, she didn’t help Mason at all and just got herself in hot water. As Mr. Carson points out this was a “dismissible offence.” Yet the Crawley’s were merciful and Robert just scolded her.

Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes are engaged, but Mrs. Hughes was worried about the “terms of the marriage.” There was a bit of comedy as she had Mrs. Patmore run back and forth to find out how intimate Mr. Carson expected her to be. In the end, Mr. Carson convinced Mrs. Hughes that he wanted a real marriage and that his love for her was strong and real. I wonder whether Mrs. Patmore will have to continue to play the messenger/marriage counsellor between these two people who’ve known each other for decades?

With a flourish of deux ex machina, Julian Fellows tied up the storyline of  Anna being suspected of murdering her rapist. Another woman confessed to the crime. She must have been a female Jean Valjean since Anna was the prime suspect and there was no clear reason why the woman confessed, but it’s lucky for Anna that she did.

Favorite Violet lines

  • Does it get cold on the moral high ground?
  • If you were talking in Urdu, I couldn’t understand you less.

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