There is no shortage of shocking moments this season. It looks like Downton Abbey is channeling Melrose Place. Here’s hoping that Heather Locklear stops by as a 1920s advertising executive hell-bent on getting her hands on the Abbey. The original Shady Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) is replete with side-eyes, social slights, and aristocratic sass. Lady Edith is also making poor romantic choices as usual. Oh poor Edith, why are you so unlovable? Meanwhile, has anyone noticed that Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) sounds a lot like a slightly inebriated Liza Minnelli?
The party guests are slowly leaving. Michael Gregson (Charles Edwards) proved himself a hero. Miss Braithwaite (MyAnna Buring) has gone full-on Fatal Attraction on Tom Branson (Allen Leech). She is trying to turn their one-night-stand into a ticket to the wealth of Downton.
Lady Mary, Edith, Tom and Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James) head to London to stay with Lady Rosamund Painswick (Samantha Bond). They head to The Lotus Club to listen to some jazz. Steve Urkel Jack Ross (Gary Carr) serenedes with the most nasal rendition of 1920s jazz. When, Lady Rose’s escort gets sloppy, Jack saves the day by cutting in. However, Tom rushes to stop her from dancing with a black man. Racism is alive in London, people.
Lord Gillingham (Tom Cullen) is courting the hell out of Lady Mary. He even snuck on the same train to surprise her at home. He proposes but Mary has to decline but she does give him an epic kiss on the grounds.
The Drama: Not only is Mr. Gregson heading to a pre-World War 2 Germany to get a divorce, but they totally spent the night together. He seems somewhat above board since he gave Edith power of attorney over his finances. But ... does he plan to sleep with her and run? Also, has he left her with legal control for an ulterior motive?
Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt) is still recovering from her attack and not doing so well since she has to see Mr. Green (Nigel Harman) before he leaves. She has become very icy to Bates (Brendan Coyle) and absolutely refuses to tell him why. She has even asked Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) to move back with the servants. Ivy (Cara Theobold) and Jimmy (Ed Speleers) have upgraded their lame courtship into full-on canoodling. Alfred (Matt Milne), jilted, has decided to apply for a cooking fellowship with The Ritz hotel. He may be leaving Downton like his aunt O’Brien. Carson (Jim Carter) is also beginning a very slow flirtation with Mrs. Hughes. Could the Mom and Pop of the staff get together for real?
The Drama: Mrs. Hughes plays Tom’s hero by destroying Braithwaite and her pregnancy claims. She finds a book about conception and bluffs Braithwaite into leaving Downton. She also tells her that if she makes a fuss she will never get a job in her lifetime. Now, if only Mrs. Hughes can tackle Anna’s attacker.
Best Lines of the Night
Don’t be transparent mamà, it doesn’t suit you. -Lady Mary to Cora
Don’t say I’m not good enough. If you were good enough for Lady Cybil Crawley then I’m good enough for you. -Braithwaite to Tom
Ivy moves a little fast for a beginner, don’t she -Daisy (Sophie McShera)
If we only had moral thoughts ... what would the poor church men find to do? -Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith)
Things have come to a pretty pass when you have to be rescued by a black band leader. -Lady Rosemound being a tad wee bit racist
Do you ever wonder why people dislike you so much? It’s because you’re sly, oily, and smug and I’m really pleased I got to tell you before I go. -Braithwaite to Barrow
If we’re playing the truth game. You’re a lying manipulative little witch and if your schemes have come to nothing I’m delighted. -Tom Barrow (Rob James-Collier) to Braithwaite
Edith is about as mysterious as a bucket. -Lady Mary
In This Means War – a stylish action/rom-com hybrid from director McG – Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises) and Chris Pine (Star Trek) star as CIA operatives whose close friendship is strained by the fires of romantic rivalry. Best pals FDR (Pine) and Tuck (Hardy) are equally accomplished at the spy game but their fortunes diverge dramatically in the dating realm: FDR (so nicknamed for his obvious resemblance to our 32nd president) is a smooth-talking player with an endless string of conquests while Tuck is a straight-laced introvert whose love life has stalled since his divorce. Enter Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) a pretty plucky consumer-products evaluator who piques both their interests in separate unrelated encounters. Tuck meets her via an online-dating site FDR at a video-rental store. (That Lauren is tech-savvy enough to date online but still rents movies in video stores is either a testament to her fascinating mix of contradictions or more likely an example of lazy screenwriting.)
When Tuck and FDR realize they’re pursuing the same girl it sparks their respective competitive natures and they decide to make a friendly game of it. But what begins as a good-natured rivalry swiftly devolves into romantic bloodsport with both men using the vast array of espionage tools at their disposal – from digital surveillance to poison darts – to gain an edge in the battle for Lauren’s affections. If her constitutional rights happen to be violated repeatedly in the process then so be it.
Lauren for her part remains oblivious to the clandestine machinations of her dueling suitors and happily basks in the sudden attention from two gorgeous men. Herein we find the Reese Witherspoon Dilemma: While certainly desirable Lauren is far from the irresistible Helen of Troy type that would inspire the likes of Tuck and FDR to risk their friendship their careers and potential incarceration for. At several points in This Means War I found myself wondering if there were no other peppy blondes in Los Angeles (where the film is primarily set) for these men to pursue. Then again this is a film that wishes us to believe that Tom Hardy would have trouble finding a date so perhaps plausibility is not its strong point.
When Lauren needs advice she looks to her boozy foul-mouthed best friend Trish (Chelsea Handler). Essentially an extension of Handler’s talk-show persona – an acquired taste if there ever was one – Trish’s dialogue consists almost exclusively of filthy one-liners delivered in rapid-fire succession. Handler does have some choice lines – indeed they’re practically the centerpiece of This Means War’s ad campaign – but the film derives the bulk of its humor from the outrageous lengths Tuck and FDR go to sabotage each others’ efforts a raucous game of spy-versus-spy that carries the film long after Handler’s shtick has grown stale.
Business occasionally intrudes upon matters in the guise of Heinrich (Til Schweiger) a Teutonic arms dealer bent on revenge for the death of his brother. The subplot is largely an afterthought existing primarily as a means to provide third-act fireworks – and to allow McGenius an outlet for his ADD-inspired aesthetic proclivities. The film’s action scenes are edited in such a manic quick-cut fashion that they become almost laughably incoherent. In fairness to McG he does stage a rather marvelous sequence in the middle of the film in which Tuck and FDR surreptitiously skulk about Lauren's apartment unaware of each other's presence carefully avoiding detection by Lauren who grooves absentmindedly to Montel Jordan's "This Is How We Do It." The whole scene unfolds in one continuous take – or is at least craftily constructed to appear as such – captured by one very agile steadicam operator.
Whatever his flaws as a director McG is at least smart enough to know how much a witty script and appealing leads can compensate for a film’s structural and logical deficiencies. He proved as much with Charlie’s Angels a film that enjoys a permanent spot on many a critic’s Guilty Pleasures list and does so again with This Means War. The film coasts on the chemistry of its three co-stars and only runs into trouble when the time comes to resolve its romantic competition which by the end has driven its male protagonists to engage in all manner of underhanded and duplicitous activities. This Means War being a commercial film – and likely an expensive one at that – Witherspoon's heroine is mandated to make a choice and McG all but sidesteps the whole thorny matter of Tuck and FDR’s unwavering dishonesty not to mention their craven disregard for her privacy. (They regularly eavesdrop on her activities.) For all their obvious charms the truth is that neither deserves Lauren – or anything other than a lengthy jail sentence for that matter.
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At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.