Tag Archive: Emma Thompson


Downton Abbey

For you genre TV and film fans that got sucked into the BBC/PBS series Downton Abbey, now that the series is on hiatus are you ready to entirely re-immerse yourself back into sci-fi and fantasy?  Or do you still need a bit of the British manor fix now and then?  A great feature of British manor series and movies is the overlap of actors back and forth into the best of sci-fi and fantasy.  So if 12 inches of snowfall has stranded you inside and you want to further investigate your favorite performers on Netflix or other streaming media as they stretch their acting chops, here’s an excuse to dive into some films and TV series you may not have otherwise tried, featuring the best of the world of sci-fi and fantasy.

Remains of the Day Dyrham Hall

Christopher Reeve plays an American who buys this estate in Remains of the Day.

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Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

This weekend, we finally got a chance to see Disney-Pixar’s Brave, which we’ve been anxiously awaiting since last summer.  It was worth the wait.  This tale of a young Scottish princess who feels stifled by her mother’s dignified plans for her future may be the finest achievement in film animation to date.  Remember the excitement and celebration around 1992’s Beauty and the BeastBrave is even better, certainly deserving of Best Picture nominations come awards season.

The movie opens with breathaking panoramic establishing shots of a cliffside highland landscape overlooking the sea.  From craggy heath to towering forest to mysterious standing stones, the world of Brave is spectacular and fully realized–a setting you’re delighted to spend the next 100 minutes soaking up.  The characters are absolutely lifelike, featuring incredibly naturalistic movement and impressively detailed textures, from the coarse wool of a well-worn kilt to the flick of a warhorse’s whiskers.  I know next to nothing about digital animation, and it doesn’t matter.  Brave looks completely real.

But you don’t go see a movie because of its technical achievements (well, most of us don’t).  You go for story, characters, action, and heart, and Brave excels here, as well.  The headstrong young heroine who “wants so much more than they’ve got planned” is nothing new–even for Disney–but Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald, State of Play, Gosford Park, Boardwalk Empire) is a fun and spunky addition to the modern Disney Princess lineup.  Neither beauty nor tomboy, she defies pigeonholing–which is, in fact, the crux of her story.  She’s extremely likable, but her adventure is the product of her own poor judgment.  If anything, the well-built worldbuilding and visual mastery left the major plot turning point feeling a little bit rushed, but it’s forgivable.  What we really care about is how Merida will get out of the trouble she’s caused, and what follows is a truly unique story about shapeshifters, ancient curses, a one-trick witch, and the best (and possibly only) mother-daughter fantasy caught on film.

Brave is also commendable for what’s not in it–no wisecracking warthog sidekicks or bathroom humor assumed necessary to keep the kiddies entertained because they can’t possibly be expected to actually follow the story (there are a couple obligatory kilt jokes, and some slapstick silliness provided by Merida’s younger brothers, but it’s mostly relevant to the plot, not just stuck in to make toddlers squeal)… and no romance.  Merida’s unwanted potential marriage is the catalyst for the plot, but she rides off on adventure all on her own, and barely even speaks to the dubious suitors.  We all love a good romance, but Brave shines without one, and it’s a refreshing change to the Disney fairytale formula.

The strong cast features a host of notable Scots and English actors, including MacDonald, Billy Connolly (Mrs. Brown, Muppet Treasure Island) as Merida’s larger-than-life father King Fergus, and Emma Thompson (Dead Again, Much Ado About Nothing) as the quintessential medieval queen determined to shape her daughter in her own mold.

The film was directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman and Steve Purcell, and written by that trio and Irene Mecchi.  Brave is in theaters everywhere.

Review by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Yes, I said “nearly perfect!”  While everyone is oohing and aahing over Avengers, don’t make the mistake of missing Men in Black 3.  It’s absolutely not Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.  Barry Sonnenfeld & Company have turned in a textbook example of how to make a sequel, even more than a decade since the last.

The winning buddy cops-slash-intergalactic INS agents formula has lost none of its freshness since the 1997 original team-up of Agents J and K played by Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.  If anything, the bit has grown and deepened as the actors and the franchise have gotten a little older.  The worldbuilding remains original and exciting, and the time travel storyline only builds on that, in really fun and impressive ways.

As is pretty clear from the trailer, the story involves Agent J (Smith) traveling back in time to 1969 to work with a young Agent K, played by Josh Brolin (Milk, No Country for Old Men, Jonah Hex, Goonies).  It makes for a great mash-up of two classic sci-fi favorites, aliens + time travel.  The details of life in 1969–from Andy Warhol (SNL’s Bill Hader) to the Apollo 11 moon launch–are wonderfully wrought, particularly the gorgeous retro/space-age technology used by the MIB agency (watch for Agent K’s battery-operated neuralizer).

Performances turned in by all the cast range from solid to fantastic.  Plenty has been said in the press already of Brolin’s eerie channeling of Tommy Lee Jones’s established Agent K–but his performance is more than mere imitation.  He fully inhabits the role and makes it his own, a la Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films.  And his performance as the younger K shows us an entirely new side of the gruff agent, which drives the film’s emotional arc and provides much of the story’s heart.

Will Smith is top notch, as ever, proving that he remains one of the best actors of his generation.  Thanks to sharp scriptwriting by Etan Cohen (King of the Hill, Tropic Thunder), Agent J’s unique brand of swaggering humor rattles through the whole picture, providing many of the film’s sensational high points, from needling prickly partner K to guzzling chocolate milk to mouthing off to 1969 police officers.  But the best line of the whole movie is delivered by little Violet O’Hara of Apartment 5K.  It’s quiet, so keep your ears open.  Most of the audience in our showing missed it completely.

Equally impressive, and for which the filmmakers should be complimented, is the secondary cast, including several less recognizable actors.  In particular, Michael Stuhlbarg (Boardwalk Empire) provides some of the movie’s best moments, and was a real pleasure to watch as Griffin, a sort of prescient alien whose combination of knowledge and innocence makes him curiously endearing, reminiscent of a young Robin Williams’s Mork from Ork.  Rounding out the cast is Emma Thompson, in a fun role as Agent O (replacing Rip Torn’s Agent Zed as director of MIB).

If there are missteps, I’d have to say that Jones looks a little tired, and not in the worn-down-by-the-job way from MIB 1 and 2. Fortunately, most of Agent K is performed by Brolin in the scenes taking place in the past, and his energy leaves nothing wanting.  My biggest “complaint,” and the only reason I didn’t think the movie was perfect… well, unfortunately, that would be a spoiler.  Suffice it to say that there was a moment in the resolution we were led to expect, but the actual finish (although surprising) packed that much less emotional punch.  Hence, the teeny-tiny deduction.  Definitely not any reason to miss this great summer flick!

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