Talking Movies: Downton Abbey, Ad Astra and Between Two Ferns: The Movie

Spling reviews Downton Abbey, Ad Astra and Between Two Ferns: The Movie as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.


Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a period upstairs-downstairs drama, a deep space sci-fi thriller and a mockumentary road movie.

Starting off with a film now on circuit…


The continuing story of the Crawley family, wealthy owners of a large estate in the English countryside.

Director: Michael Engler

Stars: Hugh Bonneville, Michelle Dockery and Maggie Smith

– The beloved TV series, Downton Abbey, has made the leap from the small screen to the big screen with some grace, pomp and pride
– Creator, producer and writer Julian Fellowes has managed to bring the essence of the TV series into cinematic format, giving the cinematography more freedom of movement, adding more detail in terms of sets and expanding the ensemble to include new characters around the King’s impending visit
– the adaptation has managed to give each of the primary characters and stars a place in the sun, scattershot in the best possible meaning of the word
– while the cinematic treatment elevates the story, the bland peril and underdeveloped characters keep things lightweight albeit pleasant
– these elements are in keeping with the TV series, relying on the ensemble’s familiarity with their characters, chemistry and history to create depth and layering
– while sumptuous, it knows its audience and sets out to please in a delightful way, cleverly punctuating proceedings with priceless expressions and witticisms
– it’s amusing, entertaining and beautifully shot, making it a cut above when it comes to period piece romance drama, however, it’s somewhat restrained by its superficial handling and attempts to please everyone
– you can give Fellowes and Engler credit for managing to check all the boxes at the risk of coming across as a tad glib
– fans of the TV series will be more generous with the much-anticipated event and return to Downton Abbey, while it will serve as a solid introduction to Downton Abbey and a worthy standalone adaptation to the uninitiated

A solid 7 on the splingometer!

Moving on to another film now showing…


Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father.

Director: James Gray

Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland

– Ad Astra means “to the stars” in Latin
– It’s loosely based on the novel Heart of Darkness, which inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now
– Pitt’s star quality certainly make him an asset to any film and he does exude the right cool, suave and tenacious vibrations to play an adventurer
– While visually striking, it’s one of Pitt’s most mature and nuanced performances
– Ad Astra is a magpie when it comes to space films, echoing aspects from many of its contemporaries, which probably served as references
– Gravity, Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Martian, Solaris, First Man… it’s as if Gray was trying to assemble a sci-fi film based on pop culture’s understanding of space, creating a piece of cinema that remains exhilarating even if familiar.
– While an elegant and sleek film, it’s stunted by some goofy oversights.
– The plotting and feasibility come into question at times, yet it doesn’t take away from an entertaining, enthralling and emotive journey into deep space.

A solid 7 on the splingometer

And finally…


Zach Galifianakis and his oddball crew take a road trip to complete a series of high-profile celebrity interviews.

Writer-Director: Scott Aukerman

Stars: Zach Galifianakis, Matthew McConaughey and Will Ferrell to name a few

– comedy actor, Zach Galifianakis, is known for his cult interview web series, Between Two Ferns
– taking his show on the road quite literally, he finds himself interviewing a range of celebrities with his crew tagging along
– the tension being that the man bankrolling his high-profile interview show requires him to deliver 10 video interviews, putting some pressure on the road trip especially when Galifianakis is self-funding it
– while the Between Two Ferns interview format works as a short form piece, it’s quite difficult to imagine a successful transition to film
– Galifianakis’s film is probably as good as you could imagine it being given the parameters of the web series format
– functioning almost as if it was a salvaged season or possibly using clips to advertise a forthcoming season, this road movie has many flaws
– one of the biggest problems is that the outtakes are actually much funnier than the film itself, which functions as a mockumentary, lampooning itself without much substance
– the celebrity talent makes it more watchable yet the character that Galifianakis is playing doesn’t have many redeeming qualities
– without any great underlying premise or twist, it becomes a fairly offbeat and underwhelming film experience
– it’s not as smart or funny as a Christopher Guest mockumentary and while quirky, it isn’t able to sustain the same awkward tone of the interviews
– it’s not aggressively bad, but is uneven and doesn’t have the same magic and spontaneity of similar films

A flat 5 on the splingometer

So just to wrap up…

DOWNTON ABBEY… while a little thin, it’s a sumptuous, entertaining and pleasant tour of Downton Abbey… A solid 7!

AD ASTRA… Pitt’s lead performance compels this surreal and stylish magpie of a deep space thriller… A solid 7!

BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE… while promising, it’s ultimately an unnecessary extension of a snarky interview series… A flat 5!

For more movie reviews, interviews and previous Talking Movies podcasts visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!