It's getting a little bizarre how much Downton Abbey has in common with the Real Housewives franchise: a bunch of rich people making well-placed barbs and fighting over trivial things. The only thing missing is the confessionals, and the fact that the actors of Downton are so amazing they can sell the intensity.
Everyone is excited about Lord Grantham’s birthday. They are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Lady Mary Craweley’s oft-rejected suitor Evelyn Napier, his employer Mr. Charles Blake, and some pigs. Mr. Blake arrives and instantly butts heads with Lady Mary. He is studying the lavish estates and questioning if they are even meant for a modern UK.
Lady Rose MacClare organizes a surprise for her uncle’s birthday. She recruits Steve Urkel Jack Ross (Gary Carr), the nasal jazz singer. It’s always strange when British television shows cast English actors to play Americans. They spend more time trying to sound like accountants.
Gird your loins, Isobel Crawley and the Dowager Countess are back to fighting. Watching Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton go at it is the best part of this show. This verbal joust was over the fate of Peg, the gardener. Isobel reboots Murder She Wrote and goes snooping through Violet’s drawing room. Boom! She finds the missing knife. She shows up with Dr. Clarkson to shame the Dowager into giving Peg his job back. She has a rehired Peg come in and completely embarrass Isobel. Check and mate.
Tom Branson bonds with Isobel about their dead loved ones. He goes on to make a valid point. He won’t be able to find another member of the aristocracy willing to slum it with him. Plus, everyone would take issue with him bringing some ratchet girl from town to the house.
Lady Edith is still waiting for word from her married lover and gets a bombshell…she’s pregnant with the bastard son of her married lover. Equally shocking, Lady Mary catches Lady Rose and Steve Urkel ... um, Mr. Ross engaged in a little chocolate vanilla swirl. The look on Mary’s face is priceless.
Alfred ends up getting the apprenticeship at The Ritz. It sends everyone into a rural fervor. Daisy is emotional because Alfred is leaving. Mr. Molesley stops by to try and get the footman job but Carson is still dying to make him suffer for his hubris. Mr. Molesley suffers until Mrs. Hughes has him serve the servants and Carson stops him right there and rehires him.
Jimmy takes Ivy to a movie and then decides he’s earned the right to sexually harass her. Luckily, she escapes unscathed but their relationship is over. Suddenly, she’s a little more keen on Alfred which sends Daisy into a tantrum.
Bates and Anna go to a hotel to try and escape the terror of Anna’s attack. Their host is rude and dismissive until Cora Crawley gets them a table. But she does overhear their bickering. But she did miss him talking about wanting to murder. Mrs. Baxter is in the room when Cora tells Mary what she heard. Barrow puts the lean on Mrs. Baxter for the details. But it looks like Baxter has some fight in her.
The Reading Room - Best Barbs of the Episode
"I have a feeling most things would fit into this particular pocket." -The Dowager Countess about thieving Peg
"I wonder you don’t just set fire to the Abbey and dance around it… painted in woe and howling." -The Dowager’s recommendation for Isobel’s weekend.
Isobel: "How you hate to be wrong."Dowager Countess: "I wouldn’t know…I’m not familiar with the sensation."
"What a very disturbing thought." -Carson at the idea of Mrs. Patmore with a man
"I don’t expect Mr. Blake to be witty." -Lady Mary to Mr. Bates
"Some people run on greed, lust, even love she runs on indignation." -Dowager Countess about Isobel
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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Break out the tea towels! Filming on Series 4 of Downton Abbey has wrapped, and though those of us Stateside won't be able to catch up with the Crawleys until January, photos from the production have been released to whet our appetites for the many heated arguments about the propriety of white-tie attire versus black-tie attire to come. Specifically, we're getting our first glimpse of the three new men in the life of Michelle Dockery's Lady Mary, following the death of her husband Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) at the end of Series 3. “We do see quite a bit of the Mary she was before she met Matthew, that icy iron-maiden quality," producer Gareth Neame tells TV Guide. "It's going to take an awful lot to get her back to life." Let’s get to know the three gents in her orbit better.
Jack Ross (Gary Carr)
The dashing young jazz singer from Chicago, pictured above, meets Lady Mary in the third episode, after Branson, Rose, and Aunt Rosamund force her finally to leave Downton after her extended period of mourning. They take her to a swinging club in London called the Lotus, where Ross helps her come out of her shell. "The spine of the new season is how Mary moves from total bereavement into turning to life again," Neame says. "Ross is very positive, ambitious and charming. And we get to see him perform."
Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen)
Around the same time, Lady Mary reacquaints herself with old family friend Lord Gillingham at one of Downton’s lavish parties. He helps her out with the tangled mess of inheritance taxes surrounding Matthew’s assets. "Mary is not looking for anyone to replace Matthew, but she is, of course, a beautiful, eligible young widow, so inevitably there is going to be quite a lot of male interest," Neame says. "Gillingham is a very useful friend to Mary at a time when she's not able to make decisions."
Charles Blake (Julian Ovenden)
Remember Evelyn Napier? He was the Crawley family friend who introduced them to Turkish ambassador Kemal Pamuk — who died in Lady Mary’s bed — way back in Season 1. Well, he’s coming back. And hopefully the friend he’s bringing with him this time has a healthier ticker. Evelyn’s pal is named Charles Blake, and he’s full of ideas about how to run Downton more efficiently…just like Matthew was before his untimely end. But unlike Matthew Mary despises him. However, if you think about it, she wasn’t really keen on her eventual husband at the start of Season 1, either. "There's a bit of a difference," Neame says. "Mary objected to the law making Matthew the heir to Downton. Blake is someone she just doesn't like. He's modern-thinking but does not share the family's sentimentality about the past."
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More: ‘Downton Abbey’ Season 4: 10 Spoilers About What’s Next for the Crawleys Why Are All the ‘Downton Abbey’ Maids Redheads? Stephen Colbert Mashes Up ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘Breaking Bad’
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This week sees the release of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a hard-nosed spy thriller adapted from an equally hard-nosed spy novel by author John le Carré. But it's not for everyone—Tinker, Tailor a mature film, methodically paced and twisted with complexity.
If that doesn't sound up your alley, or you know you'll never convince company to join in on this particular espionage adventure, we present to you a slate of alternatives. Between these movies, there should be at least one match.
From Russia with Love
A Spy Movie for People Who Think James Bond Invented Spies
Yes, yes, yes, the Bond movies are a mainstay, but there are so many options out there! Recommended only for people who can't differentiate between fiction and reality. Or have downed too many martinis to know the difference.
3 Days of the Condor
A Spy Movie for the Kids-These-Days Grouch Who Wants Those Brats Off His Lawn
Much like this week's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Robert Redford's classic thriller is a serious look into the world of American espionage. There's nothing glamorous about being a spy—as Redford's Joseph Turner aka Condor quickly finds out when he's hunted down by Alsatian assassins. That and he had to walk eight miles in the snow in BARE FEET to the Pentagon…
A Spy Movie for the Vocal Gender Equality Proponent
Films centering on spies generally focus on the men of the business, but that's nonsense. Women kick ass. Specifically, Evelyn Salt, who has never seen a fire extinguisher she can't rig into a bazooka. She makes the world a better place on so many levels.
A Spy Movie for the Guy Who Just Can't Take Anything Seriously, Even Spy Work
Leslie Neilsen upgrades his occupation from detective (Naked Gun) to full-blown secret agent. The movie has the same joke-barrage style as his previous franchise, but ups the ante by adding Andy Griffith as a villain and featuring an opening musical number by "Weird" Al Yankovic.
OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
A Spy Movie for the French Guy Who Just Can't Take Anything Seriously, Even Spy Work
Pretty much the same as Spy Hard, but replacing the creative team with all the guys who made this year's The Artist. It's French, which means it's artsier!
A Spy Movie for the Lucky Charms-Addicted Manchild
Robert Rodriguez's foray into the spy genre came in pint size form, but that doesn't mean its just for kids. For those children at heart, or people with severe sugar addictions and penchants for Saturday morning cartoons, the CG-ified Spy Kids franchise is right up their alley. You may not realize it, but there are people who've been wondering for decades, "when will there be a movie where the bad guys are giant, anthropomorphic thumbs?"
Burn After Reading
A Spy Movie for the Nihilist Who Needs Fuel
One of the biggest criticisms of the Coen Bros. zany "spy" movie was that all of its characters were awful people doing awful things that accomplish nothing. The movie itself might be a paradox for a true nihilist—they'll agree with everything in the movie, but does that make the movie successful thus defying nihilist notions? Eh, even thinking about it is meaningless.
A Spy Movie for the Oxford Scholar Who Finds Movies to Be a Lower Artform
Spielberg proves that history and tense spy movies mix with his brilliant 2005 film Munich. The movie would be a terrifying look at serious undercover politics if it were completely fiction, but the layer of realism helps pile on the paranoia. A spy movie that could be easily followed by an 8-part lecture series.
A Spy Movie for an Actual Spy
Real spies don't want to watch movies about spies. They want razzle dazzle!
Louis Leterrier’s remake of Clash of the Titans the 1981 cult favorite that fused Greek mythology with sci-fi theatrics is a grand experiment in the ancient art of alchemy a big-budget attempt to spin fanboy nostalgia for a 30-year-old novelty into contemporary box-office gold. The main ingredients in this ambitious concoction are a potent arsenal of CGI weaponry and the star of the biggest movie ever Sam Worthington who inherits Harry Hamlin’s role as the heroic Perseus. But it’s what’s missing from the formula that ultimately dooms this remake.
Clash of the Titans redux mimics the original film’s epic ethos and preference for spectacle over all else but its storyline differs dramatically. Perseus is still the half-breed product of a one-night stand between the god Zeus and a human hottie and he still must to defeat the monstrous Kraken in order to save the lovely Princess Andromeda. Almost everything in between however has been altered — and not necessarily for the better.
The new version casts the Greek city of Argos as the primary battleground in a proxy war fought by dueling Olympian superpowers Zeus (Liam Neeson) and Hades (Ralph Fiennes). Born of a god but raised by and partial to humans Worthington’s Perseus battles not for the hand of Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) — as Hamlin’s character did — but instead for the people of Argos who stand to perish along with their princess at the hands of the dreaded Kraken. The film’s love story if it can be called that consists of the briefest of flirtations between Perseus and Io (Gemma Arterton) his self-appointed spiritual guide. (Cursed with immortality by the gods Io’s been secretly watching him all his life — which ostensibly makes her a glorified stalker.)
This detail is a small but crucial one. Strong-willed Perseus braves an obstacle course of giant scorpions gorgons and other horrors laid out for him by the wheezy fiend Hades but it’s never quite clear why he bothers with it all since what’s at stake is a princess he isn’t particularly interested in and a community of people he doesn’t really know — and who frankly don’t seem all that worth saving. His deadbeat dad up on Mount Olympus certainly isn't worth dying for nor are the battlefield compatriots he met barely a week prior. And while I’m sure that a few inviting glances from Gemma Arterton are positively delightful I wouldn’t risk being doused in flesh-eating scorpion venom for them.
This narrative oversight triggers a drain in enthusiasm that persists throughout the film. For a movie so epic in scale Clash of the Titans makes for a disappointingly bland ride. Leterrier’s CGI set pieces are at times magnificent but they’re proffered in the service of weak story filled with characters whose motivations are either unclear or unconvincing. During the film’s climax when Neeson’s Zeus utters the portentous words “Release the Kraken ” what should be an emotional high point instead feels perfunctory and anticlimactic. The only excitement it spawns comes from the knowledge that the end is mercifully imminent.