February 20, 2023

Empire of Light: Starring Oscar winner Olivia Colman, and Colin Firth and written by Sam Mendes, I had (I think) higher hopes for this movie. Set in the 1980s on the English coast, The Empire is a theatre from back in the day. It had seen better days from before, as once upon a time it had two levels with multiple screens. It still has an old fashioned, large projector loading the celluloid films.

Within it, there is Colman along those who are operating the theatre to the local clientele. Firth plays the manager of the theatre, and they have just recently hired a new young black man to act as a ticket-taker and host to greet guests. His colour becomes relevant as the scenes progress, and we are shown that prejudice and racism is alive and well in the 1980s Britain. The plot continues as the young man becomes more involved with his team, and there is an opportunity for the theatre to show it past glory. A premiere is coming, and there will be some money to spruce up the place.

I have to admit that I expected more from this. In some ways there is some similarity with The Majestic, with Jim Carrey, in that a theatre plays a role and is the centre of the story telling. In this, though, there is a mental illness aspect which was tepid. It is sad to see what the young man goes through, as he is just looking to move forward in life. Some of the choices he makes are questionable, but that is true of many of the characters. Firth and his talents I feel are wasted. His story feels artificially shortened. Colman for her efforts creates a character that seems stuck in the same gear, but looks to make some changes. I enjoyed the description and demonstration of using the large cameras, and flipping from reel to reel. It’s cool. Still an effort that missed the mark.

Somebody I Used To Know: This 2022 effort that is on Prime, is written by actress Alison Brie (of GLOW and Mad Men fame). I basically stumbled upon it while flipping channels when down in South Carolina. I wish I hadn’t. Brie plays Ally who is already involved in producing TV shows in LA. We learn that she was a documentary film-maker and then moved over to reality TV, because more people would be watching her. Her series is about cooking, but more viewers watch because of the cast interacting. Those details really aren’t very important. Ally decides to take a break, and spend some time at home to visit her Mom, back in Leavenworth WA which seems to have a very sizeable German population given the scenes that were shot there. Ally meets back up with ex-boyfriend Sean, who was devastated when Ally chose to pursue her goals in LA, leaving him behind. There are flashbacks showing them interacting. Things happen which are for the most part very predictable, at least by me as I was able to successfully predict a number of the twists and turns. Ally needs to think on her own behaviour as she re-examines her own choices and how she has worked with those around her.

This, like Empire of Light, is written by someone who thinks that they can write, like Mendes. Mendes a director, while Brie an actress. Dave Franco directed this, and was a co-writer with Brie. This is not to pigeon hole either one of these known Hollywood names. I can see why an executive decided to green light both of these projects. But still the results were less than stellar. I didn’t like the writing. I think that Brie is worthy of better roles, and one can hope that she writes better parts and dialog for herself. Sadly, this was an effort that was not worthy of my time. In a rare occurrence I almost turned this off midway, but decided to stick with it.

Downton Abbey: A New Era: Downton Abbey was very successful and compelling TV series from 2010-2015. It was a modern take on the Upstairs, Downstairs British series from years ago. It is a period piece, set at the turn of the century as the 1900s begin. It follows the Crawley family, in each of its generations. This movie is the second movie since the series completed. The first movie was released back in 2019, to modest success.

All the characters from the movie and original series are back, save Mary’s husband who seems to have disappeared. Much like the first movie when the Queen was to visit the estate, in this installment a movie crew wishes to spend a lot of money to rent the premises for a new movie. The movie is during the transition from silent films to talkies, in the same way that Babylon did. Also like Babylon, the actors who show up to perform have various levels of skills with one having limited speaking skills. The results are fairly predictable. Much of it seems to be an artificial plot device to engage with virtually everyone in the cast, from the butlers to the kitchen staff and the main members of the family. Maggie Smith in the original series was absolutely excellent. She steals her scenes each and every time. Some of the grandchildren from Mary to Edith and others. For me, this was a M’eh. It strings along the story but seems all too predictable. It seems every story has to be forced within a two hour timeline, versus in a series where certain characters aren’t shown for episodes at a time. So for those who just need to see the next installment with some old friends, this can be okay. But it isn’t mandatory viewing by any means. Buyer beware in knowing what you are getting into before it begins.