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We did Downton and it was delightful, dahlings

For anyone who needs a break from the endless, soul-crushing media frenzy about Justin Trudeau’s brownface debacle (and who doesn’t need a break from that!), I highly recommend going to see Downton Abbey, the movie. This high camp costume drama set in the mid-1920s is just what we needed to relieve the never-ending onslaught of nasty, boring pre-election press. My boomer gal pals and I planned well ahead of time to be there on the opening day of the movie on Friday, September 20th. We grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby Greek eatery, then caught the 1:00 p.m. showing.

We’re happy to report it was just as much fun as the television series. The theatre was full of women like us (retired boomers), with a couple of dutiful men sitting in the audience. A couple of the women in the audience were wearing fascinators, which is actually more of a 21st-century accessory thanks to the Duchess of Cambridge, rather than the mid-1920s. Tiaras would have much more appropriate, but we commend their good intentions and forgive their little anachronism. As any Downton fan already knows from all the previews, the Granthams were honoured with a visit by King George V and Queen Mary. That meant plenty of activity above and below stairs, including hauling Carson out of retirement to help out.

The plot was deliciously corny but the entire movie fed our appetites for escapism and fantasy so we weren’t disappointed. We loved every minute of it. Members of the royal entourage accompanying the king and queen were pushy, arrogant and insulting, so they needed some comeuppance by Mrs. Patmore and the rest of the Downton staff to bring them into line. The Downton staff under the unlikely leadership of Anna Bates (played by Joanne Froggatt) engaged in some downstairs espionage and covert skullduggery to ensure the Downton staff alone had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to personally serve the king and queen.

Mr. Barrow was caught in an embarrassing and at the time illegal indiscretion. A new relative, Lady Bagshaw (played by Carson/Jim Carter’s real-life wife, Imelda Staunton), was introduced as a cousin of the indomitable Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley. Lady Bagshaw as lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary (played by Geraldine James) added a new family secret to the Crawley family tree. Lady Mary ruled with her usual flawless, regal hauteur. The best and funniest lines were of course delivered by Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley with some humourous surprises from Mr. Mosley. The next generation of Crawley kidlets scampered about like proper little silent stage props in period costume, behaving in an appropriate upper-class manner. Tom Branson asserts his new status in the Grantham hierarchy and perhaps acquires a new love interest. Lady Mary confirms her current role as heir-apparent but is someone else secretly waiting in the wings to usurp her position? Will Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham ever figure out what’s going on in his complicated family?

Downton Abbey the movie was great fun. Seeing it play out on the big screen (certainly bigger than our big screens at home) made for a more inclusive viewing experience. Seeing the library, the dining room, the grand entrance hall and the grounds of Downton displayed on a giant screen gave us the opportunity to zero in on more of the wonderful details and decor of the home.  For those of us who will never be able to afford a personal visit to Highclere Castle, the real setting for Downton Abbey, it was a special treat. The costumes, particularly the dresses are obviously to die for. There must have been a massive run on sequins, tulle, tiaras, and silk to prepare for the royal visit.

Fans of Downton Abbey absolutely must see the movie. There was actually one member of our group who (shockingly!) had not watched the television series and now has a lot of on-demand catching-up to do. There were plenty of little plots and subplots to keep us engaged. Interestingly, many of the characters in the movie now have open-ended lead-ins for future stories. Will there be another movie? Another television series? Stay tuned dahlings.

 

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The Farewell is a movie worth going to see

 

Writer and Director Lulu Wang’s indie movie The Farewell has been getting a lot of media attention lately for its sensitivity and deviation from standard Hollywood themes. Filmed primarily in Mandarin with English subtitles, it’s the story of a Chinese-American girl’s reaction to the news her grandmother in China is dying of cancer. It’s a universal theme and appeals to anyone who has lost a loved family member. The main character, Billi, played by rapper and actor Awkwafina, was born in China but immigrated to New York as a child with her parents and she is thoroughly Americanized.

It’s the custom in Chinese culture to not inform cancer patients of their potential demise from the disease. Eastern philosophy dictates that the relatives bear the burden of the knowledge, relieving the patient of any associated negative energy. It is their belief that being given a death sentence creates fear which saps happiness and positive thinking. Billi finds this difficult to accept and constantly questions the decision. She is challenged when her American standard of sharing honest information about the diagnosis is over-ruled by her Chinese family.

The Farewell is worth seeing for its universal appeal and cultural insights.

 

In order for the extended family of Billi’s grandmother (Nai Nai) to pay their respects and say their farewells without her knowing why they are gathering, a grandson from Japan is coerced into returning to China to marry his Japanese girlfriend. The wedding calls for several days of celebration climaxing in a lavish wedding banquet attended by everyone in the extended family. The grandson and his girlfriend are not entirely on board with the scheme but go along for the sake of Nai Nai.

Like many young people, Billi has a special bond with her grandmother.

The movie has its funny moments and is universally appealing. We’ve all had grandmothers or other close relatives that we’ve lost due to old age or disease. We’ve all sat around the table with a diverse assortment of family members enjoying the camaraderie and the great food prepared by mothers, aunts and grandmothers. We’ve all experienced generational disagreements of one sort or another and we’ve all, much to our surprise, learned along the way that sometimes the older generation is actually wiser.

I enjoyed the movie, with one caveat. The main character Billi was morose and pouty throughout most of the movie. I accept that she could not accept her family’s decision to hide Nai Nai’s diagnosis from her, but would it have killed her to overlook her personal take on the situation and put on a happy face at least part of the time for the sake of her grandmother?

What I particularly enjoyed was the insights into Chinese culture and family dynamics. There were realistic scenes of Chinese apartments, streets, and daily life that I found very illuminating. As someone who has never been to China, I enjoyed the mini-travel experience. The movie is definitely worth seeing with rare insights into a different culture. Just try not to let Billi’s long face pull you down. So, if you’re looking for a movie to watch this weekend that doesn’t involve endless violence, endless fight scenes, endless special effects depicting zombies and world-ending disasters, consider taking in The Farewell. It’s a nice way to pass a couple of hours and a reasonable excuse for the consumption of warm, salty popcorn and a bucket of Diet Coke. We also need to support indie moviemakers who eschew traditional commercial Hollywood themes. And it has a great ending.

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I finally managed to see The Beatles Yesterday today

The Beatles or The Stones? In answer to the Proustian question, I’d have to say I’m definitely more of a Beatles fan. I love some of the early Stones’ music like Time is on My Side, and Satisfaction never fails to rev me up, but overall my loyalty inclines more toward The Beatles. The sensitivity and poetry of She’s Leaving Home, Eleanor Rigby  and their many other songs can’t be denied. That’s why I was so anxious to see the movie Yesterday, which I finally managed to catch today—which as I’m now posting it a day later is actually, yesterday. It promised to be a major vehicle for their music and what boomer wouldn’t enjoy getting a little high from that. It’s a surreal story-line but well played by Himesh Patel (from BBC’s Eastenders) and Lily James (who played Lady Rose in Downton Abby) as lead characters Jack Malik and his childhood friend and supporter, Ellie.

Jack is a wanna-be part-time rock musician who works at a big box store by day and plays his music at pathetic evening and weekend gigs (shades of Saturday Night Fever’s plot?). Just as he’s ready to give up on his music career, a solar flare knocks out the entire world’s electricity for twelve seconds. When the power is restored, major contemporary cultural icons have simply disappeared from history, and everyone’s memory—except for Jack. All of a sudden, no one has heard of The Beatles, Coca-Cola, cigarettes or even Harry Potter.

Jack capitalizes on this gap in history by regurgitating all the Beatles’ music and claiming it as his own. He’s met with skepticism in the beginning but no one can argue the merits of the music and he soon becomes famous for his seemingly amazing song-writing skills. He’s picked up by a high-rolling Los Angeles agent, repackaged and remarketed but ends up unhappy despite the money and fame. There’s an underlying thwarted love story between Jack and Ellie because Hollywood always have to have a love story. Ed Sheeran played himself in the movie and his performance was most commendable. He was one of the better parts.

Lily James and Himesh Patel were excellent in their roles as Jack and Ellie.

 

There was a surprise in store for this boomer going to the movies

I think the most remarkable part of going to see this movie for me was the fact I attended my first “Stars and Strollers” movie matinée. Until today, I didn’t even know there was such a thing. The 1:00 p.m. showing was specially created to accommodate young mothers and nannies with babies. Baaaad idea for an old boomer like me to attend and think everything would be fine. The house lights remain on low during the movie and the sound is reduced somewhat to accommodate what everyone hopes will be sleeping babies. I was warned by the ticket attendant about the possible inconveniences and he informed me that if I found the experience uncomfortable, I could get a refund.

The lower volume didn’t seem to be an issue as I simply turned up the volume on my hearing aids which in retrospect turned out to be another bad idea. The young mothers were all lined up with babies in their strollers in the front row and to my shock and surprise, there was even a fully-equipped change table set up front and centre in the theatre. As soon as the movie started, three babies took turns, tag-teaming the wailing, fussing and screaming. None of the mothers made a move to depart the theatre to spare us old boomer Beatle fans from the noise. They simply walked back and forth between the seats, sitting on the floor and otherwise, doing their mothering thing throughout the movie. Two of them even made use of the change table. How they were able to even get the gist of what the movie was about is beyond me because I heard less than half the dialogue and I wasn’t even attending to a screaming baby.

Now, it’s highly possible the “Stars and Strollers” experience coloured my impression of the movie but I really don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong; I love babies and can’t resist approaching a young mother pushing a stroller in the mall to admire her little one. Himesh Patel was excellent as Jack Malik and his singing was every bit as good as Paul McCartney, perhaps even better. Lily James was perfect, despite her annoying little lisp. But, overall, I found the movie trite and disappointing. The popcorn was good though and I always enjoy my pail full of Diet Coke. The guy in front of me texted throughout the entire movie so I guess he didn’t find the experience all that engaging either. I’d suggest you wait for Yesterday to come to television or get it free through your streaming service. But, I remain a firm Beatles fan which leaves me conflicted about the movie. The music was great, but as romcoms go, it was only OK. I wanted to like it but I didn’t. If you’ve seen it, what did you think? Am I being unfair?

P.S. And I didn’t ask for a refund. I was forewarned and I accept full blame for the outcome.

 

 

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Maud Lewis’s artwork lights up the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg

Art speaks to me or it doesn’t. My tastes are not sophisticated, informed or educated. When I see a painting or piece of art that uplifts me or makes me feel happy, I like it. It’s that simple. Which is why I don’t like winter scenes, paintings of crowded city streets on rainy days or industrial landscapes. I’ll never appreciate abstract art because I just don’t get it.

Canadian primitive folk artist Maud Lewis’s paintings make me smile, fill my heart and give me hope, so naturally, I love her work. Everyone’s personal taste in art is highly subjective; we instinctively know what we like and what we do not like. And since I can’t afford to own her original work, I’m happy to purchase several calendars each year that feature her art, for myself and for gifting to friends.

The McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg houses Canadian art in a park-like natural setting north of Toronto.

The McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg north of Toronto is most famous for its Canadian Group of Seven artists but regularly features other artists worth going to see. From now until the end of the year, the work of Maud Lewis is on exhibit and I absolutely could not miss the opportunity to see so many of her original paintings on display. For anyone who is not familiar with Maud Lewis, then I highly recommend seeing the 2016 movie about her life, “Maudie” starring Ethan Hawke as her husband, Everett, and Sally Hawkins as Maud. It’s accurate and wonderful to watch.

Maud Lewis sold paintings from her rural cabin in Digby, Nova Scotia.

Born in 1903, Maud Lewis was crippled by rheumatoid arthritis from a young age. When she was no longer able to live with her aunt and forced to go out into the world and fend for herself as a young woman, she applied for a job as a housekeeper for Everett Lewis, a bachelor who lived in rural Digby, Nova Scotia. To her shock and dismay, his home was a tiny 100 sq. ft. rural cabin without running water, electricity or plumbing. They eventually married but Maud’s life was never easy. She passed away from pneumonia in 1970. After Everett died, their cabin was dismantled and reinstalled inside the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. When I visited it in the 1980s, I was struck by how small it was. Despite this, her love of painting was evident on the walls, trim and front door.

Bloom where you’re planted

Despite the hardships, she blossomed when she picked up a paintbrush and started decorating the walls, furniture, and the door of their tiny cabin. Soon, she was painting cards, scraps of wood and old boards and selling her paintings for anywhere from fifty cents to two dollars. Word of Maud’s beautiful paintings spread and her popularity grew but during her lifetime, she never enjoyed commercial or economic success, despite famous people like Richard Nixon owning her work.

Maud’s paintings of life in rural Nova Scotia were done in strong primary colours and always featured happy, optimistic scenes. She painted local life, often employing artistic license to enhance the joyfulness. Evergreen trees were adorned with blossoms, oxen had happy faces, cats were the picture of beauty and contentment and the people in her paintings were always depicted in happy activities. It’s as if she were living a parallel life through her paintings. She’s the literal personification of the expression “Bloom where you’re planted”.

My friend Gail at the entrance to the McMichael Art Gallery grounds.

When my gal pals and I visited the McMichael Gallery we were blown away as soon as we approached the gate which featured a huge reproduction of one her of happy paintings of white cats. The gallery is located in many acres of natural beauty, wooded pathways and ravines surrounding log structures housing the galleries. It’s a bounty of beauty from beginning to end. The Maud Lewis show itself included more than one hundred pieces, far more than I anticipated. Many came from private collections that had been generously loaned for the exhibition.

Janet Nungnik’s Inuit textile art was a wonderful surprise and a bonus.

We spent an amazing afternoon walking through the gallery enjoying not only the work of Maud Lewis but others as well. There was a concurrent show of beautiful Inuit textile art by Janet Nungnik depicting life in Canada’s north. Many of my friends are crafters and artists so we always enjoy seeing what other people create. The last show at the McMichael that I saw featured Quebec artist Marc Aurele Fortin. His depictions of rural scenes with giant elm trees touch me to my core.

If you’ve never been to the McMichael Gallery, I strongly suggest you do so and if you’re a fan of Maud Lewis, now is the perfect opportunity. You still have five months to see this particular exhibit and prepare to be delighted. I guarantee as you leave through the winding road through the woods, you will have a smile on your face and happiness in your heart.

If you can’t make it, be sure to take advantage of the books available. They’d make a wonderful gift for yourself or a friend.

To order a hard cover copy of PAINTINGS FOR SALE, the story of Maud Lewis and her work, from Amazon, click on the image.
To order a copy of the paperback book, CAPTURING JOY, The Story of Maud Lewis, from Amazon, click the image.

Disclosure: If you order a copy of either of these books from Amazon, you will receive Amazon’s best price and I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thank you.

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Late Night is more than a chick flick

When I left the theatre after seeing Mindy Kaling’s new movie Late Night, I was struck by how much I thought boomer gals would enjoy seeing it, especially since there are so few movies that appeal to us. Then, it occurred to me that men would equally benefit from the movie’s message, although don’t tell them that or they’ll never accompany you. It reeks of ‘chick, flick’ but the message is universal and delivered through clever humour. At times it was a bit soppy, but given Kaling’s excellent writing, it can be forgiven.

Kaling wrote “Late Night” with Emma Thompson in mind for the lead role of Katherine Newbury. It’s the story of a late-night talk show host who is past her prime and the network wants to replace her with a youthful, male comedian who dispenses a steady stream of frat-boy humour that they think is more ratings-friendly. Sound familiar? Much of the action takes place in the television writers’ room where the politics, sexism, ageism and other ism’s that unfold are universally familiar to anyone who has worked in an office environment or anywhere else, for that matter. Listen carefully to the quick dialogue early in the movie and you’ll hear a number of familiar references to the unfairness of pay scales, cultural diversity, and sexism.

Kaling plays Molly Patel, a version of herself, a smart, brown-skinned, ambitious writer and standup comedy aficionado who works at a chemical plant. Through her own ingenuity, she uncovers a job opportunity for a writer at a late night talk show owned by their parent company just at a time when the show’s star, Katherine Newbury demands more diversity in the all-male writing staff. It’s a bit formulaic but fun nonetheless thanks to Kaling’s strong writing and skill in observing human behaviour. It’s a fun movie with some laugh-out-loud moments.

John Lithgow plays Newbury’s supportive but ailing husband, with dignity and intelligence. Reid Scott is a nice piece of eye candy as Tom Campbell, the writer of Katherine’s daily monologue. (I loved him in his earlier role of Dan Egan in HBO’s VEEP with Julia Louis-Dreyfus.) There are a couple of fun cameo appearances by Bill Maher and Seth Meyers which ups the ante a bit. And Emma Thompson has a killer wardrobe.

I went into this movie already a fan of Mindy Kaling. As one of the former writers and stars of The Office” and The Mindy Kaling Project and author of two books (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?and Why Not Me?), both of which I’ve read and reviewed, Kaling deserves credit. She’s smart, funny and talented. Great combo. Late Night is a nice way to spend an afternoon. Show your support for women writers, actors and feminist themes and go see Late Night with a couple of girlfriends. And, if you can trick the men in your life into thinking it’s not a chick flick, they’ll learn something too. I’ve always maintained that re-educating men on privileges and issues they take for granted is good for everyone. And that is one small step for women at any time of the day or night.
Late Night (2019) – Rotten Tomatoes

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Late Night is more than a chick flick
Movie popcorn tickets border as a group of popped corn snacks with cinema ticket stubs in the food as a theatrical symbol for entertainment and the arts on an isolated white background.

ROCKETMAN rocked out this boomer

My girl gang went to the movies this week to see Rocketman, the biopic of Elton John, and we really got our money’s worth. Encouraged by how much we enjoyed Bohemian Rhapsody we expected a spectacle just as great. It was a bit of a surprise when, a few minutes into the movie, the child Reggie Dwight pulls off to the side and sings a song. So, be clear, the movie is a musical, not just a movie about a musician. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of musicals (even though the music in both Mama Mia movies was great, I hated the first movie and didn’t even go see the second) so that coloured my viewpoint somewhat. I always find it offputting when a character drifts off into a solo at a critical point in the scene. Obviously, most of the world doesn’t agree with me based on the popularity of musicals, but that’s just me.

About a week ago, I was fortunate enough to see lead actor Taron Egerton who portrayed Elton John in the movie interviewed on The Graham Norton Show (a favourite BBC talk show). Learning a bit more about the behind-the-scenes activities and the actor himself cast a deeper meaning on the entire experience. Egerton is drop-dead sexy, a great actor and to be commended for doing his own singing in the movie.

The storyline recognized the valuable contribution made by song-writer Bernie Taupin in the overall success of Elton John.  Giles Martin, look-alike son of the famous George Martin who produced much of The Beatles music, was the music producer and his skill and sensitivity to the subject matter are evident throughout the movie. A fair bit of time in the movie is devoted to his troubled boyhood with a detached mother and an uncaring father who eventually left the family. His grandmother was supportive and encouraged his musical talents. He admits right at the beginning of the movie in a group therapy session that he has addiction issues with drugs, alcohol, anger, sex and shopping. The movie’s approach to his reformation is rather well done and stops there, long before (Canada’s own) David Furnish came into his life.

There’s been a fair bit of pre-release chatter about the movie already and boomers grew up with Elton John right from the beginning, so it came as no surprise that his drug-use, drinking, partying and promiscuity were a major part of the early half of his career. The story is handled really well and some of the scenes were stunning in their drama and extravagance. At times, I found the English accents a wee bit hard to follow but that’s not uncommon in British productions. Rocketman was great delicious fun and not only because of the warm theatre popcorn. Taron Egerton was amazing. Me and my gal pals really enjoyed it and we’re sure you will too. And since there aren’t many movies produced that appeal to our age group, don’t miss it.

 

Treat yourself or a friend to a copy of my latest book

BOOMER BEAT 

Click here to order from Amazon.com

 

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