My Old Lady

Mom Under Cover checks in with a review.

My Old Lady (B+)

I don’t remember this film in 2014, but it’s worth watching.  Maggie Smith, Kevin Kline, and Kristen Scott Thomas star in respected playwright Israel Horowitz’s directorial debut.  Horowitz adapted his own play for the screen and it feels like a play.  Kline arrives in Paris to check out the apartment he inherited upon his estranged father’s death to find that Smith has a sort of life estate in the apartment due to a quirk of French real estate law.  Smith delivers the acerbic and witty lines we’ve come to expect from the Dowager Countess.  Kline is a perfect scoundrel whose glib confidence gives way to a darker side.  Scott Thomas, Smith’s dutiful daughter, is rightfully skeptical of Kline’s motives.  As you might guess, these three have more in common than the apartment.

[For The Movie Snob’s rather different opinion about this movie, click here.]

The Lady in the Van

A new review from The Movie Snob.

The Lady in the Van  (B).  The redoubtable Maggie Smith (TV’s Downton Abbey) stars in the title role in this British import.  An introverted playwright named Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings, The Queen) has bought a townhouse, and he soon meets neighborhood fixture Miss Shepherd (Smith).  She’s an eccentric, excitable, and malodorous homeless woman who lives in a decrepit old van that she occasionally moves up or down the street.  The neighbors, being normal people, don’t really want her around, but, also being liberals, they can’t bear to run her off either.  Somehow she eventually gets Bennett to let her park in his driveway, and there she stays–for the next 15 years.  And apparently this is based on a true story!  We get bits and pieces of Miss Shepherd’s backstory, which, as to be expected, is not a particularly happy one.  Good performances, but the story is a bit slight and certainly a bit sad.

Downton Abbey – Season 5 premiere

Mom Under Cover returns to Downton.

*** SPOILER ALERT *** SPOILER ALERT ***

“Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”  –The Dowager Countess of Grantham

 Season 5: Downton Abbey is on fire! (Literally)

DA looks to be returning to its roots.  Violet (Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) continues to get some of the best lines. The personalities we love to hate seem to be coming back in spades.  Lady Mary donned an air of humility last season while mourning Matthew’s death and struggling to bring Downton into modernity along with brother-in-law Branson. However, this season she returns to her selfish ways stringing along both Lord Gillingham and Charles Blake.  Barrow continues to bully the servants downstairs and make trouble for downstairs-turned-upstairs chauffeur Branson by whispering to Robert that he found Branson upstairs with a girl from the village and implying there was more to the story than that.  We still don’t know whether Lady Edith’s beau is dead or alive in Germany—but their love child is toddling along and being raised by a pig farmer in the village who knows Edith’s secret.  The fire accidentally set by Edith was an odd sub-plot—but it secured conniving Barrow’s place downstairs after he saved Edith.  It also exposed (pun intended) James/Jimmy the footman’s illicit romp with former employer Lady Ansturther.  Look for Jimmy to get sacked next week.  Love is definitely in the air—Moesely is keen on Baxter; Lord Merton is interested in Isobel; and Carson and Mrs. Hughes have something going on. Change is also in the air; Labour is now in charge–giving the servants hope whilst signaling the end of an era to Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess.

Other musings:  How did Bates lose his limp?   Why doesn’t Julian Fellowes use Elizabeth McGovern to her full potential?  She seems to be wallpaper lately–maybe her band (Sadie and the Hotheads) are touring more…will Cora get the Spanish flu?

My Old Lady

A new review from The Movie Snob.

My Old Lady (D). Despite its great cast, I did not like this movie. Kevin Kline (A Prairie Home Companion) stars as Jim, an American loser who has just inherited a very valuable Paris apartment upon the death of his estranged father. But when he spends his last dime to go to Paris and sell the thing, he discovers it is occupied by an elderly lady named Mathilde (Maggie Smith, TV’s Downton Abbey), and that he doesn’t actually get the apartment until she dies. And on top of that, he has to pay her a princely sum every month, or he loses it all. And on top of that, Mathilde’s daughter Chloe (Kristin Scott Thomas, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) also lives there, and she immediately develops an intense loathing for ol’ Jim. Based on a play, this is a very stagy movie with lots of dramatic monologues. As the climax approached, I thought the characters behaved in an unbelievable and rather icky fashion. In short, the script let the actors down. Sadly, I must recommend that you skip this one and stick to Downton Abbey for your Maggie Smith fix.

Downton Abbey – Season 1

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Downton Abbey – Season 1  (B+).  Yes, I am a late-comer to this PBS phenomenon.  I quite enjoyed it, once I got the hang of the thick British accents.  The show is basically a soap opera about a family of British aristocrats, their estate (Downton Abbey), and their servants.  Season 1 is set in the years just before WWI.  Sir Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham is the lord of the estate, Cora (Elizabeth McGovern, Clash of the Titans) is his wealthy American wife, and they have two grown daughters (Mary and Edith) and one almost-grown daughter, Sybil.  Unfortunately, the estate is subject to a “tail,” meaning it can be inherited only by a male heir—meaning, in this particular case, a distant cousin that no one really knows.  It’s a scenario straight out of Pride and Prejudice, only set 100 years later.  The show does not neglect the servants either, giving us some quietly virtuous ones to root for and some wicked villains to hiss as well.  The formidable Maggie Smith (Becoming Jane) is a scene stealer as Robert’s tart-tongued mother, the “dowager countess.”  I give the first season a slight demerit because one of the mainsprings of its plot arc seemed a little too outlandish and contrived, and another slight demerit because it is only seven episodes long.  But the episodes are long (45 or 60 minutes each, I believe), and, on the whole, I liked it a lot.

Click here for Mom Under Cover’s review of Downton Abbey.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Mom Under Cover checks in with a new review.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – B

Based upon the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Maggoch, this small but enjoyable film has a star studded cast of retired Brits who find themselves in a run-down (read barely livable) hotel in Jaipur.  Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Evelyn (Judi Dench) must find a cheaper lifestyle after the death of her husband reveals a mountain of debt; Muriel (Maggie Smith) agrees to have hip surgery in India rather than wait 6 months in the British health care system; Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are forced to find a less expensive retirement option after a bad investment; Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) are looking for relationships; and Graham (Tom Wilkinson) wants to return to the days of his youth.  Sonny (Dev Patel—Slumdog Millionaire) is the third son who inherited the dilapidated hotel upon his father’s death and dreams of restoring it to its former glory.  Sonny’s enthusiasm is contagious but his business acumen is lacking.  The retirees are thrust into the loud, colorful, chaotic culture shock of India and each deals with it in different (perhaps predictable) ways.

The acting is top-notch.  We rarely see Smith play a working class character; she does it well even if her transformation from racist to fully integrated in the Indian culture is a bit abrupt.  Dench and Nighy work seamlessly well together.  Wilkinson may have more screen time and believably pulls off his mission to find the man of his youth who was the love of his life.  Much of the action takes place in the hotel; thus, the sights and sounds of India are more of a backdrop than main character.  A good popcorn flick—seemed to attract the gray haired crowd—but can be enjoyed by all.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

From Movie Man Mike

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (B+) Next to the original film in this series, I think this one may be my favorite. You get to see the maturing of the characters in this film as they begin to question authority and take on the responsibility of saving the school. That’s particularly true for Harry, who starts out as a shy, reluctant hero, but who really gains his confidence as matters progress. This film, like the last, is a bit darker than the earlier films, but I expect that Rowling’s audience has matured as well. I didn’t care so much for Professor Umbridge’s character. She was a little annoying and tiresome. I am disappointed the filmmakers cut out some choice exchanges between Umbridge and Professor McGonagall (Maggie Smith, The Lady in the Van) that were in the book, but then it was probably necessary because the book was quite long. I recommend this one, particularly if you are a fan of the series.