Monday, May 30, 2022

Don't Make a Scene: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

The Story: "I read the news today..oh boy"

It is easy to despair these days. So may people in the headlines pursuing their worst instincts while the rest of us are trying to do our best. But, power corrupts. Even the semblance of power seems to inspire the worst in people. The world has seemed to have gone mad with power, but one must realize that only a small fraction of a percentage is responsible for the bad things that happen in the world.

Still, the headlines keep coming and one wants to just not care.

But, it is not this day.

And so, because I need it, and because you need it, how about a little pep talk?

This one, from Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the final installment of his monumental undertaking of adapting J.R.R.Tolkien's beloved three-book series. May it inspire day at a time.
And...on this Memorial Day, when we remember our ancestors who also marched potentially into the teeth of Death, maybe we should take some action, too, behind the comfort of our word processors.
Change is inevitable...despite so many's attempts to stop it. Today, be an instrument of change. Write your congressman. Write your Senator. Better yet, write somebody else's congressman and Senator. Your voice is not being heard above the din. Make them hear it. Inundate them with it. Crowd it out so they don't hear the ch-ching of lobbyists and the cooing of sycophants. Become the priority in their minds over their bank accounts and the next rung up the ladder. We're long past thoughts and prayers. Time to do something about it. Less time on our knees; more time on our feet.

Then, maybe we won't wake up to another school shooting...or any kind of shooting. Another right taken away. It may be bad tomorrow.

But, it is not this day.
The Set-Up: While Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) take "the one ring" to Mordor's Mt. Doom to dispose of it, Aragorn Ellessor (Viggo Mortensen) and his forces arrive at the Black Gate of Mordor to give them more time only to find themselves outmatched and death certain. But, the distraction must be made, here, at the very gates of the enemy.


SOME MEN are backing away ... losing their nerve. 
ARAGORN GALLOPS in front of his ARMY . . . 
ARAGORN Hold your...
...ground - hold your ground! 
ARAGORN Sons of Gondor - of Rohan . . . my brothers! 
ANGLE ON: ARAGORN . . . he seems to fix each and everyone of his MEN with his eyes. 
ARAGORN(cont'd) I see in your eyes... 
...the same fear... 
...that would take the heart of me. 
The day may come... 
ARAGORN ...when the courage of Men fails;
ARAGORN ...when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship; 
ARAGORN but it is not this day - 
ARAGORN hour of wolves...
ARAGORN and shattered shields, 
when the Age of Man comes crashing down - 
but it is not this day!!! 
ARAGORN This day...
ARAGORN ...we fight! 
ARAGORN By all that... 
ARAGORN hold dear...
on this good earth - 
ARAGORN I bid you stand! 
Men of the West!
Words by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on New Line Home Entertainment.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Downton Abbey: A New Era

The Very British Art of Pre-Crying
"Oh! How Musical You Make It Sound!"

Well, if it is to be my fate to be addicted to SOME soap-opera, it might as well be "Downton Abbey." After all, I'm of the age for it—elderly and impatient with commercials.
Plus, it always was impressively cast, performed, and smartly written (by creator Lord Julian Fellowes), with enough intrigues amid the family (while also negotiating historical events) to keep the considerable cast going for six seasons of episodes.* Yes, it's soapy, and far too nostalgic for the past while also acknowledging that the way of life is, without a doubt, past its sell-date and will be replaced with less familial trappings and a more (Lords help us!) egalitarian sense that would be self-evident if one didn't live in a huge estate with a peerage and a schedule that wasn't filled with breakfasts, lunches, dinners, tea, and high tea that one can barely squeeze in a cracking round of croquet. Why, it's so precious that one could even forgive Fellowes for writing The Tourist.
No. No. There are SOME things that just shouldn't be allowed...even in the most liberal of households.
So, as change is inevitable, one notices that things are quite a bit different in Downton Abbey: A New Era, since the first movie which was derived from the series a couple years ago. The first thing I noticed was that the film opens on a bloody hectic "drone" shot, not the quaintly hovering aerials taken from hot-air balloons as previously. I suppose there's so much plot in this one that one felt the need to rush into it a bit with a jarring anachronistic approach with a shot through a stained glass church window. We're attending the marriage of Tom Branson (
Allen Leech) and Lucy Smith—née Bagshaw—(Tuppence Middleton). Once doesn't want to get too far into the weeds here (one can attest from looking at the lingering shots of lawns that Downtown Abbey doesn't HAVE weeds) but Tom is the Irish former Downton chauffeur who married the youngest Crawley daughter (who died, leaving him with a legitimate Crawley heir) and we left the last movie with him promising to write to Lucy—maid to Imelda Staunton's Maud Bagshaw (Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen), but actually Maud's illegitimate daughter. Those letters must have been some hot stuff as, in the time one can do pre-production of a sequel, they've gone from admiring flirtation to walking down the aisle.
Oh, dear me. We ARE in the weeds, aren't we? And so soon. This is what happens when one tries to explain soap-ish operas to any level of understanding. One is conflicted between trying to be informative while also employing brevity. One can't have one without the other without appearing devoid of either. Shall we move on? To the Cliff's Notes version?
There are two plot-threads in ...A New Era (a quite neat little title), one involving the revelation that the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Grantham (
Maggie Smith) has been bequeathed a villa in the French Riviera by an acquaintance from her past—a past that brings up many questions that go unanswered but much speculated on—and that comes with it an invitation to visit by many of the Grantham's to see what's what and why, while, at the same time, (in a move that surely seems "meta" to the Lord and Lady Carnarvon, who own Highclere Castle, which serves as Downton Abbey) the family has received a request to use Downton as a film location which, although on the surface feels distasteful, comes with it a generous sum that would aid in much needed repairs to the estate's leaky roof. So, while some members go off to the south of France, Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), the Earl's oldest daughter, remains behind to oversee the prevention of chaos by the invading film production.
The Dowager Countess herself is too frail to travel, but is resigned to stay at home, leaving the past in the past, and the villa in the future hands of her great grand-daughter, both of whose parents are now not of her blood. It's a legacy to a family member who would otherwise receive nothing.
Her son, Robert (
Hugh Bonneville) is curious to learn what the story is and begins to worry about his actual parentage, all the while being soothed by his American wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), who may have medical issues of her own.
Back at the Abbey, the staff is all agog at meeting the stars of the film, a silent pot-boiler called "The Gambler," primarily dashing Guy Dexter (Dominic West) and the porcelain Myrna Dalgleish (Laura Haddock)—who, it must be said, is something of a diva. Her manner is in stark contrast with her background, for though she is, indeed, a beauty, her accent reveals her to be a Cockney. This causes complications as the film is canceled mid-shooting as the studio is no longer interested in making silent pictures, as the market is now demanding "talkies."
Yes, they use the Singin' in the Rain gambit, where the starlet has a voice completely unsuitable to her image and post-production "dubbing" is used to temporarily solve "the problem." This is such a minor plot-point in the movie that I don't think I'm spoiling anything by mentioning it. Certainly, there are other bombshells that I won't reveal as mentioning them would surely rankle.
There is one little thing that popped into my head hours after the film, stemming from this film showing Bonneville's Lord Grantham breaking down into tears, not once but twice. It is always done in private and always in anticipation of some heart-wrenching event. And then it occurred to me—"Ah! That's how he does it!" With all the vagaries that life bestows upon him, Robert has always been something of a rock, although able to appreciate humor and irony, and quite capable of taking umbrage. But, he gets his weeping done out of the public eye, so that when disaster strikes and he must be the "7th Earl of Grantham," he can keep a stiff upper lip and present a stoic facade to the public. Jolly good show, Earl!
And Downton Abbey: A New Era is a jolly good show. It all goes down like comfort food, with just enough spice to make it memorable, but not too much to make it unpalatable. And it provides a good repertoire of memorable "catty" lines that one can use to sound snarky while appearing high-toned. There may be some continuity jumps a couple times—I think that is due to cramming so much material into a little over two hours that some connective tissue hit the cutting room floor—but, all in all, the Empire of Downton Abbey remains strong and may the sun never set on it.

* Just to show how well-cast—and inhabited—these roles are, I always find it a shock to see pictures of the actors on the red carpet in contemporary fashions. So many of them seem unrecognizable out of period clothes.