Escaping to Downton Abbey

To the Manor born…

War. Climate Catastrophes. Strikes and Bombs and War and Refugees. There’s a real End of Times feeling to the collected crises our world is facing. It’s enough to make you want to run and hide. For me, that means running away to the movies or reading a good book.

It doesn’t matter how many critics laud Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in Joker or how many new films are about war, I’m boycotting them all to give my psyche a reprieve. Stately manner, lovely costumes, a gently told tale of class warfare of the British gentry…yes, thank you ma’am.

Having not been a follower of the BBC series, I do read reviews and have a working knowledge of Julian Fellowes’ saga. The film, Downton Abbey opens with a sweeping vista of the grand home that gives the film it’s name. It’s a pleasure to walk through those doors and bask in the company of charming people who’s problems seem slight in comparison to the world outside the theater. Who wouldn’t want to pull up an antique Edwardian chair by the fireplace and enjoy a spot of tea?

Perhaps if I’d had a deeper connection to the characters, both upstairs and down, I’d have felt more invested in the main drama. It’s hard to get worked up about staff not getting to do their jobs when it seems they all work so tirelessly anyway. The one moment of real conflict is when one of the characters decides to step outside his role and winds up in jail for being himself. It’s good to see the film tackle a serious issue. I know that the television program did this as well. It’s not all visits from the King and Queen after all; this is also an estate that must be managed and run with the need for considerable funds.

There is some good action scenes with an assassination scheme foiled and a clever conspiracy to keep the royal staff locked away. As usual it’s Maggie Smith in her role as the Grand Dame who gets the sharpest lines and has the most rigid sense of class rules. Yet in this film, we see her warm to the idea of an interloper and she becomes the focus of the films sentimentality. Downton Abbey may not be a roaring good time, but it’s a lovely interlude in our busy, stressful lives and I highly recommend it. So grab some friends and head to the local tea shop and linger over a Queen’s tea. Or plan to discuss the film over scotch and whiskeys at a local pub. You deserve the break!

Drinks With Films Rating: 3 glasses of port sipped delicately from crystal glasses (out of 5)

Want to spend Halloween with Daniel Craig?

Opening Night Film: Knives Out starring Daniel Craig on October 31st

Have you planned your Halloween costume for next week? A witch, a ghost or maybe that old standard, a film fan? Yes, this year you could go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show for the fourth time or you could dress up and come to the Opening Night of the 42nd Denver Film Festival. You’ll be in for a wicked good time at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Daniel Craig stars as the pipe-smoking sleuth in this Agatha Christie-styled Who Done It, Knives Out. A star-studded cast — Chris Evans, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer and others — has fun with devious motives and suspicious back stories. Director Rian Johnson has long been an Indie favorite. Brick (2005) is one of my favorite films. With this big-budget mystery and the Christmas release of The Rise of Skywalker, Rian Johnson is a rising star and I wonder if he’s feeling the pressure of a universe of Star Wars fans.

There are many films I’m looking forward to seeing at this year’s DFF. There are films I missed at other festivals like Motherless Brooklyn, Edward Norton’s directorial debut, Cunningham, a brilliant documentary about Iconic choreographer Merce Cunnigham, Clemency with an emotional performance by Alfre Woodard and Marriage Story, the latest from Noah Baumbach that’s receiving accolades for both of the film’s stars, Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. I’m excited that DFF is screening WOMEN MAKE FILM: A NEW ROAD MOVIE THROUGH CINEMA, Mark Cousin’s 14-hour documentary screening over several days in Parts One-Five.

I was thrilled to learn that a few films from DFF’s extensive program will be screening at the Lyric Cinema in Fort Collins. The Lyric has wonderful programming already but they’re doing a great job of including local and traveling film festivals screenings. The Front Range is lucky to have them. You can skip the drive to Denver and still catch one of my favorite festival films there.

Selecting what films to see at a film festival can be a daunting task. This year’s Denver Film Festival features International Programs (Brasil, CineLatinX, UK/Ireland, French films, Italian films). CinemaQ highlights Queer Cinema, Women + Films hosts seminars and a lunch and there’s Culinary Cinema, Spotlight on Colorado and SeriesFest. Plus special guests, Virtual Reality, panels, theater and parties. There’s even a silent film from Russia with local favorite’s Devotchka supplying the soundtrack! The festival starts with a tribute to longtime DFF Artistic Director (taken from us too soon), Brit Withey with a screening of some of his favorite films on Oct 30th. So what programs should you choose and where to start?

There are three films that were my favorites at other festivals that I consider must see movies. 17 Blocks wowed me at MountainFilm this year and it won the Best Documentary Feature. What could’ve been an oft-told tale of family dysfunction is elevated by first-time filmmaker, Davy Rothbart. This is a decade’s long collaboration with intimate footage shot by the children and adults–all willing to bare all to bring this story of addiction and gun violence and ultimately, hope and resilience to the world. A challenging story that leaves you celebrating the human spirit.

Tickets: Wed, 11/6, Fri, 11/8, Sat, 11/9

At once moving and mysterious, Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) has a wonderful soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and an unusual love story. An 18th century French portrait painter must paint a young woman’s image without her knowledge and when romance blossoms, she must use her talent knowing she will lose her lover to another. A sublime romance; French writer/director Céline Sciamma won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes. Gorgeous and lingers in the mind.

Tickets and trailer: Thu, Oct 31st & Sun, Nov 2nd @ the Sie Film Center and Sat, Nov 1st @ The Lyric

One film that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy, The Two Popes had me fascinated and engrossed in this tale of two diametrically opposed Catholic Popes. Played by the powerhouse talents of Anthony Hopkins and Jonathon Pryce, Fernando Meirelles directs this tale of two men with very different aspirations coming together to change the direction of the Catholic Church. Based on the real Pope Francis and Pope Benedict– these intimate conversations are fraught with tension, yet comical at times and filled with the urgency to reach an understanding. An insider look at how powerful men of the cloth might communicate away from the pomp and circumstance. Fascinating.

Tickets and trailer: Red Carpet Presentation ($30), 11/9 @ 2pm

If you’re looking for something fun and light, I really enjoyed The Aeronauts with Felicity Jones and Eddy Redmayne. The Centerpiece film, Waves, has an unusual structure and interesting soundtrack. It’s worth seeing to discuss with your family and the director, Trey Edward Shults will be on-hand to discuss his film and he’s a director to watch. Varda by Agnès is a fascinating documentary by and about the delightful and groundbreaking French Director. Even if you don’t know Agnès Varda’s work, you’ll learn so much about filmmaking.

Spend some time looking at the schedule for 42nd Denver Film Festival, there are some ticket packages that make it more affordable. Plan your own cinema celebration Oct 30th thru Nov 10th!

Daddy Issues in Space

Brad Pitt, looking weary in Ad Astra

It’s been awhile seen we’ve seen Brad Pitt on the big screen and then, like an unexpected gift, he’s starring in two major films. There has been Oscar buzz about his hyper-masculine stunt man, Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Pitt’s character has a laid-back vibe and his charm and beauty still burn bright. He and co-star, Leonardo DiCaprio have a great chemistry together. When his character takes off his shirt to fix a rooftop tv antenna, it calls to mind his first major role as the charming thief and one-night stand for Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise.

Brad Pitt showing good form in Thelma & Louise

In contrast to the his role in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Brad Pitt is the astronaut Roy McBride in Ad Astra. Once again playing a hyper-masculine character but in this role, we see the toll his career following in his father’s footsteps has taken on family life. Estranged from his partner, presenting a cool facade and barely registering a heart beat…this character is starting to question the orders bestowed on him by the military complex.

Ad Astra, directed, co-written and produced by ‎James Gray is a meditation on the father/son relationship. This intimate film is science fiction that treats a spacesuit-clad traveler hopping a spaceship to the moon like it’s a daily commute. He might as well be wearing a suit and tie…and indeed in one scene, Brad Pitt’s character is carrying what looks like a briefcase. Roy McBride may be living in our distant future but he’s traveling across space dealing with similar 20th century problems: an unsuccessful romantic relationship, a stressful career and a distant father. That father is played by ‎Tommy Lee Jones and he’s floating around Neptune and may be responsible for earth-shattering power surges. This makes McBride’s mission to reunite with his father a rather urgent affair.

There are beautiful space interludes and the race across the moon is a tense and exciting scene. Occasionally obscured by their fishbowl helmets, who is shooting at whom can be difficult to discern. But beyond a few confrontations in space and the novel mode of travel, Ad Astra is a contemplative film that could be set anywhere. Brad Pitt communicates the inner monologue of our conflicted astronaut with reserve; he seems weighed down by his mission and his angst. As he makes his journey, his companions fall away. Donald Sutherland, once a trusted comrade of his father’s, suffers more than a change of heart. Some are killed by pirates; some by McBride himself. He’s alone to face his father issues and eventually, his father.

The first half of the film is driven by the urgency to complete this mission and the need to make contact with the space station McBride’s father commands. Whether this is a rescue mission or an assassination is the final mystery. There are women in the film: Liv Tyler as the abandoned love interest and ‎Ruth Negga‘s Administrator — who provides McBride with crucial information but isn’t even given a name. They provide warmth and emotion and are sorely missed when not on the screen. Our conflicted hero must travel to the moon and then to Neptune and yet, once his mission is complete, his journey seems to skip through time and space as he hurtles back to earth.

Ad Astra ends on a triumphant note and it’s good to see films that are dealing, even in oblique ways, with our fears about Climate Change. What’s missing in the film is a deeper connection to our closed-off astronaut. His issues with his father are like our issues with the planet, they seem too big to overcome. Brad Pitt may be opening up the conversation about what it means to be a man, a father and a lover but it’s difficult to separate his roles from his public falling out with Angelina Jolie. In his movie roles, he seems to be exploring how to navigate his public and private personas.

Drinks with Films Rating: 2 International Space Station squeeze bottles of H2O (out of 5)