Monday, May 28, 2012


Rated: PG-13

STARS: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup
DIRECTOR: John Madden
GENRE: Comedy/Drama

A colorful assemblage of "elderly" Brits heads off to India where their retirement dollars will go further. Awaiting them is the "newly remodeled" (according to the brochure) Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. They arrive to find a structure that is crumbling and in disrepair. Sonny, (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire ) the young, buoyant  hotel manager has good intentions and a dream of renovating the place, but he needs to secure some funding. Some of the lodgers will make the best of it, and some will utter grouchy, mean-spirited things. In the end, each will find something or someone they've been searching for, and be transformed.

An ensemble cast as large as this one could be unwieldy, but there are many familiar names here, and I find it  easier to remember a character's story when it's a face that I recognize. These are stock characters, for the most part, but it doesn't make their stories any less poignant or compelling.

There's Jean and Doug (Penelope Wilton & Bill Nighy) the not so happily married couple who lost their savings when they invested it in their daughters business venture. Nighy, of course, is a great comic presence, but he's more subtly engaged with it here. 

Muriel, (Maggie Smith) a retired housekeeper who doesn't like India initially--maybe something to do with her being a racist and needing a hip replacement. 

Evelyn, (Judi Dench) a recent widow and all alone. 

Madge (Celia Imrie) is a wealthy woman on the prowl for a husband.

Norman, (Ronald Pickup)  an aging lecher (or "horny old dude" in contemporary parlance) on the prowl for one night stands.  

But the most poignant of the pensioners' story lines belongs to Graham, (Tom Wilkinson) a high court judge who grew up in India, and is back to find a man he loved when they were both teenagers, and hasn't seen since.  

A subplot involves Sonny and his true love, Sunainia, (Tena Desae) whom his domineering mother doesn't approve of. She wants her son to enter an arranged marriage. It's a clash of traditional and contemporary Indian mores. Things will come to a head, and Sonny will face his moment of truth with his mother.  

Beautifully shot and deftly paced, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  captures the bustle, the color, and the seductive allure of a land where cows and elephants saunter down the street--and the truly wise men are the ones who know enough not to follow  too closely behind either one.

 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the best exotic movie I've seen since...well... Slumdog Millionaire.

Grade:  A

Friday, May 18, 2012


Rated: R

STARS: Sacha Baron Cohen,  Ben Kingsley,  Anna Faris
DIRECTOR: Larry Charles
GENRE: Comedy

If you live in society, you exist in two different worlds. The first is that of the public persona, where we are all  good little boys and girls--socially conscientious and politically correct in word and deed. The second is the world of the inner individual, who instinctively feels there is nothing wrong with making light of things--including  our ethnic, cultural, and political differences--as long as it isn't coming from a place of hate. Thank those like Sacha Baron Cohen that we have a place to go and hunker down for a couple of hours--the movie theatre--and make light of our world, because (hope this doesn't come as a shock) it's all an absurdist fantasy anyway.

In contrast  to the ambush style mockumentaries  Borat and Bruno, Sacha Baron Cohen--in The Dictator--is working from a script he co-wrote. The result is a less cringe-inducing and flat-out funnier kind of raunch- fest. And while the bad boy humor here is hit and miss--when Baron Cohen connects, it's a right cross to the funnybone. If you think he's not going there...he's going there. (Though sometimes it's like that hooker you and your buddies took on the night of the senior prom--you enjoyed yourself, but felt kinda dirty afterwards.)

Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen) is the despotic ruler--in the mold of Gadaffi and Saddam Hussein-- of the fictional north African country of Wadiya. He competes in his own Olympics, gives himself an unfair head start, and when other runners are closing on him, simply turns around and shoots them.  He gives a speech in which he claims that the nukes his country is developing are for peaceful purposes, and can't keep himself from chortling at his obvious insincerity.

On his way to New York to address the U.N. Security Council over their growing concerns about his development of nuclear weapons, Aladeen is kidnapped by a hitman (John C. Reilly) hired by his scheming uncle, Tamir, (Ben Kingsley) who wants to bring democracy to Wadiya--not for any noble reason, but because it will open up the country's oil fields to development and make him rich. The tyrant escapes, but finds himself replaced by a look-alike decoy (flashbacks to Saddam Hussein). He is cast as a nobody onto the streets of Manhattan, (would've been cool to hear Dylan wafting  nasally on the breeze: How does it feel... ) then runs into Zoey, the manager of a  health food collective. He will fall for her (in a strange sort of way) as he plots his revenge. Don't get hung up on the plot--it's there mainly to facilitate the delivery of the various gross-out gags.

There is a poignant little soliloquy near the end that serves to remind us the perceived black and white world of  bygone eras has long since clouded into muddled shades of grey. 

I'm a soundtrack guy, and The Dictator has  a great one  by Erran Baron Cohen that,  in a "serious" film would be conjuring  images of exotic sand dunes, but here I was flashing back to a certain Ray Stevens parody tune from the sixties.  

Anna Faris brings to Zoey a bewitching blend of naivete and new-age stars in her eyes (she thinks that Aladeen is a political refugee named  "Alison Burgers.")

And Ben Kingsley...well, he's done it all now, hasn't he?

The Dictator is being hotly debated as we speak  I've already precipitated one online brushfire with my assessment of the film at another site. Bottom line, I think those who are prone to being offended will find something to be offended about. I hear:  I'm usually pretty good with this kind of stuff, but right THERE he went too far!  Thing is, you've got to take Sacha Baron Cohen or leave him...there's no in between.

Ben Kingsley is an actor I have always admired... so hell, if he signed on and took it as a hoot...that's like The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval to me.

Grade:   B 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012



Rated:  R

I'm not going to repeat the whole plot synopsis from the original Swedish film, because the Hollywood remake is the same, for the most part,  in that respect. So if you didn't see the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo from 2009, go to my  review  now and check it out. Then come back.

dum de dum...
dum de dum...

 I half expected a toned-down version for American audiences,  but the remake pulls no punches in recreating those scenes of violence and sexual assault. So the main comparisons to be made are between Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, and Michael  Nyqvist versus Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist.  

Rooney Mara's Lisbeth seems more waif-like--more sullen and withdrawn than Noomi Rapace's smoldering, edgier characterization.  Her actions in the original felt totally in line with her outward persona. When  Rooney Mara's Lisbeth  breaks out of her shell and starts kicking some butt, it is something of a surprise that she has it in her. So I'll give the nod to Rapace there. 

As to which of them is more appealing in the buff, (if you're at all interested in such things) it's a tossup, because both of them looked like they had been on a thirty day juice fast. Mara has a little more going for her up top, so score one for her. (Actually...two.)

Daniel Craig is a serviceable Blomkvist , but I'm more accustomed to seeing him as an action hero than an intellectual--and since the setting  IS  Sweden, and Michael Nyqvist  IS a dyed-in-the-meatballs SWEDISH PERSON...geez,  I gotta go with him.

This 2011 version clocks in at upwards of two and a half hours, but I liked it nonetheless. Mainly because once I've seen a movie, I've forgotten most of what it's about six months later, so it's... like...NEW TO ME!

Grade:  B


THE SITTER  (2011)

Rated:   R 

Noah (Jonah Hill) is a giver.  And in the heady opening scene of The Sitter, he is  performing a service for his self-absorbed girlfriend who, once she is satisfied,  always has an excuse for not wanting  to return the favor. It is this very selflessness that will land him in a mess of trouble when he takes on a babysitting job to help his mom out, and runs into the kids from hell.

There's the precocious  preteen Blithe (Landry Bender) who likes to play dress-up and drop the totally unexpected F-bomb; the adoptee from El Salvador, Rodrigo, (Kevin Hernandez)  who gets off on blowing up toilets by dropping  some REAL (cherry) bombs inside them: and 13-year old Slater, (Max Records)  a gentler soul confused about his sexual identity.

Things spiral out of control when Noah goes looking to score some coke at the behest of his girlfriend, and out of necessity must take the kids along for the ride. The little darlings behave badly, some drugs are ripped off, a minivan is stolen, and Noah must come up with some big bucks before a cranky drug kingpin (Sam Rockwell) exacts his revenge.

The Sitter is a wild ride, and an enjoyable one. A total grin-fest all the way through. However,  the nasty little kids in this movie, who not only stretch, but bulldoze the boundaries of acceptable language and behavior for children onscreen,  make The Sitter--ironically--a film that you don't want to take your kids to. But for adults, I'm rating it "highly."

Grade:  B +   



Rated:  PG-13

A British citizen ( Felicity Jones) studying for her degree in Los Angeles falls for an unassuming  teaching assistant (Anton Yelchin) and the game is on. It's not a game of catch-me-if-you-can, but  of hold-onto-me-if-you-can. When Anna decides to overstay her visa and spend a languorous summer "in bed" with Jacob, complications ensue after she returns home and then attempts to reenter the country later.  Seems the immigration authorities don't take kindly to those who bend their rules, and she is unceremoniously put on another plane and sent back home. 

Like Crazy  is a bittersweet film about  long distance relationships, and whether love can conquer all when the odds are stacked against you.  

Anna and Jacob try to be realistic about their plight, and become involved with other people (here's Jennifer Lawrence of Winter's Bone and Hunger Games popping up again as Jacob's new squeeze).  Until  one day Anna sends him a text and says she KNOWS they were meant to be together--you know, like Romeo and peanut butter and jelly were meant to be together--and it convinces him to traverse the Atlantic to be with her in London. 

But his visa will run out too.

The question that Like Crazy  is posing is whether true love really exists, especially for the  very young in a world of so many distractions and temptations. There is no fairy tale ending here--just a realistic one. And by saying that I haven't revealed what ultimately happens to them, because Like Crazy is about complicated emotions, not simple ones. 

But it's a beautiful little film--I'll say that. 

Grade:  B+