Television's family ties

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Published: Jan 27 2015, 01:01:am

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

     Currently midway through its fifth season in the U.S., Downton Abbey is the story of the aristocratic Crawley family's adjustment to social change in early 20th-century Britain. Robert Crawley, lord of the manor and Earl of Grantham, has three daughters, the Ladies Mary, Edith and Sybil.

     Because he lacks a son, the issue of succession is  dependent upon one of the young women making an advantageous marriage, and the narrative is gripping because each has ideas of her own. The most recent episode (broadcast January 25) is set in May, 1924, and the widowed Lady Mary has become her father's right hand in the running of the estate.

     In the same episode, we saw a particularly heartfelt conversation between Robert and his emotionally fragile second daughter Edith. Nor is the theme confined to the Crawley family. In the same episode, Britain's former envoy to India, Lord Flintshire, has a heart-wrenching encounter with his daughter, Lady Rose, a long-time Crawley houseguest.

    In the fourth season, there was a piquant subplot involving Lord Aysgarth's wooing of Robert's wife Cora's wealthy American mother Martha Levinson. At the same time, Cora's visiting brother Harold is finding Aysgarth's beguiling daughter Madeleine more interesting and intelligent than he expected.
    Too much? Well, it's the show's well-wrought father-daughter exchanges that are a big part of my own enjoyment of Downton Abbey.

    Then there is Grimm (now in its fourth season), the story of a Portland police detective, Nick Burkhardt, who discovers his heritage demands that he deal with a world of mythological dangers. Nick's mother Kelly enters the picture in the last episode of the first season, and her monster-fighting powers border on the superheroic.

    Strong moms begin looking like a series theme when Kelly takes on Catherine Schade, mother of Adalind Schade, a Hexenbiest and one of the show's continuing villains. This season Elizabeth Lascelles arrived for a six-episode story arc. She is the mother of Nick's boss, precinct Captain Sean Renard, and a sorceress to be reckoned with.

    There's much here to inspire a bookshelf of academic papers from pop culture scholars. I won't be writing one just yet, though, as there is still much work to do building the Reeling Back archive. My ten most recent additions were:

AND GOD CREATED WOMAN — Roger Vadim, who made his big screen directorial debut in 1956 with the French-language Et Dieu . . . crea la femme, shot this not-quite remake in the U.S. in 1988. His last theatrical feature, it failed to do for its star, Rebecca De Mornay, what the earlier film had done for Brigitte Bardot. (Posted January 26)    

COLD FRONT — Although director Allan Goldstein insisted that his name be removed from the credits, I've always had a special place in my heart for this outrageously silly thriller, a film based on the lunatic premise that Vancouver is the designated vacation paradise for the world's spies. (Posted January 24)

OUR FEATURE FILM FEST: 7 — In Part 7 of a 20-part series, Reeling Back continues its restoration of the 1997 Greater Vancouver Book Feature Film Festival, with notes on eight feature film sequels in a program called Encores. (Posted January 22)

MULHOLLAND DR. — The closest I've come to producing an academic paper, this 2004 piece was written for a friend who asked me to explain the "10 Clues" that director David Lynch included in the liner notes to the DVD release of this stylized 2001 mystery movie. (Posted January 20)    

DUNE — Inspired by the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), author Frank Herbert reworked the history into a best-selling science-fiction novel. In 1988, director David Lynch produced this fine, neo-baroque screen adaptation. (Posted January 20)    

EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC — Director John Boorman's ambitious 1977 supernatural thriller violated the first rule of sequels — make another one just like the other one. Unintentionally hilarious, its faith-vs-science theme laid an egg with audiences expecting wall-to-wall shocks. (Posted January 18)    

SUPERMAN III — Something of a mess, the Man of Steel's 1983 feature-film adventure has the saving grace of a sweet romantic subplot that involves Clark Kent attending his high school reunion in Smallville, where he reconnects with the lovely Lana Lang. (Posted January 16)

KAFKA — One week after the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, our 21st century world is becoming ever more like the 1919 Prague envisioned by director Steven Soderbergh in his 1992 mystery-thriller based on the life of the innovative Czech writer. (Posted January 14)

LOOK WHO'S TALKING TOO — The second in a trilogy of films shot in Vancouver, this domestic comedy came at the moment when television comedienne Kirstie Alley seemed on the brink of major motion picture stardom. (Posted January 12)

LINDA LOVELACE — The most unlikely of motion picture celebrities, adult film actress Linda Lovelace visited Vancouver in 1975. In an interview, she discussed the making of her greatest hit, Deep Throat, and the new film in which she represented the "freaks of America," Linda Lovelace for President. (Posted January 10)