Movie Review ~ The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Facts:

Synopsis: British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than its advertisements, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways.

Stars: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith,Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Dev Patel, Penelope Wilton 

Director: John Madden

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 Minutes

Random Crew Highlight: Unit Minibus Driver ~ Chris Hammond

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  It’s almost too easy.  The gathering of some of the UK’s most celebrated actors and actresses in one film creates a pile of good will right off the bat.  Add to that a respected director, gorgeous locales, and a plot that brims with surprises and it’s no wonder the film has been a sleeper hit since it was released in the US in May. 

Opening with the expected rainy and grim shots of London, the ensemble drama introduces us to our main group of old-timers as they hit all the stereotypical “old age” milestones.  Loss of spouse, loss of independence, loss of available partners…it’s all covered in a mature way that lets us know that if anyone would be swayed by a brochure for a luxury retirement hotel in mysterious India, these people would.

There’s no obvious main character in the film but Dench stands out as a quasi narrator that the film could be seen through the eyes of.  A recent widow with bills to pay she sells her flat to cover her costs and heads to India alongside a handful of others in similar situations.  I found it hard to believe that everyone would be leaving on the same day, on the same route, with the same transportation but that’s part of the easy going nature of the film that you forget about logical wrinkles.

Speaking of wrinkles, it’s refreshing to see stars of a certain age owning their advanced years without lampooning themselves.  There are a few jokes made at their expense, yes, but as this is a UK made/financed production the script is fine tuned to place the actors in lightly comedic situations rather than making humiliating jokes about diapers, Viagra, and bad driving (as you know any American made film would have). 

Dench is in good company with the likes of Wilkinson as a judge who returns to India for an unexpectedly sincere reunion, Wilton and Nighy (in a tender and welcome departure) as a couple who feel that a change will help them avoid red flags in their relationship, and singles Imrie and Pickup as randy old timers that long for companionship with good old fashioned benefits.  Only Patel seems to take the easy way out and fashion his hopeless Indian hotel manager character through the eyes of an American idea of the Indian people.  He settles down as the picture unspools so that by its conclusion his story is as important as the people renting space in his hotel. 

Smith almost always deserves special mention so I’m calling her out here as the sparkling center of the Marigold experience.  Her part isn’t all that challenging (she spends nearly all of it in a wheelchair) but Smith doesn’t need to move around much to deliver a smashing performance…though the film does at times use her more as a plot tool rather than a real character.  Still, no one can send a sharp barb quite like Smith and the film really comes alive with her experiences at the hotel.

In an ensemble movie it can be difficult to juggle so many characters and storylines without occasionally losing sight of the through line.  I did feel that people would disappear for long stretches…long enough for you to forget they are also playing a part in the overall story.  In that respect, the movie feels longer than it should although it doesn’t overstay its welcome.  Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Debt) does corral the film nicely, though, and does an admirable job showing the day-to-day life of the Indian culture.

The acting is strong across the board but with actors this good and characters so broadly drawn I found myself wondering what it would have been like had the parts shifted a bit.  I’m not sure it would have mattered because I think the actors could have made any combination work and probably what ended up on screen was for the best. 

It took me a while to get to it as my time was taken up with the latest summer blockbuster…but finally taking in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a frothy affair.  It won’t go down as the best film in the roster of these pros but is a film I can see returning to with pleasure.

Movie Review ~ Men in Black III

The Facts:

Synopsis: Agent J travels in time to MIB’s early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.

Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 103 minutes

Random Crew Highlight:  Strange Woman (uncredited) ~ Jennifer Bartels

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  Dictionary.com defines serviceable as “capable of or ready for service; usable” and this is an exceedingly good way to describe Men in Black III.  After a ten year hiatus MIB3 is being unleashed into theaters smack dab in the middle of prime summer kick off season.  It’s a perfectly fine movie that never does more or less than is required of it.  The problem with that is with The Avengers going above and beyond the call of duty and several other hotly anticipated films being released in the next few weeks is “perfectly fine” good enough?

The film is aided immensely by two new additions to the team.  First up is screenwriter Etan Cohen who has worked closely with Mike Judge on King of the Hill and was the writer for Tropic Thunder.   His screenplay has a nice creativity to it while furthering the story of our central characters.  Cohen is smart enough to play to the strengths of both men and while Jones’ Agent K is absent most of the film, his doppelganger Brolin plays the young K with spot-on accuracy.  Brolin is actually the other strong feature on display.  As I mentioned before, he’s the perfect choice of a young Jones and nails the squinty glare and country twang that Jones should probably trademark.

Smith is an actor that’s really never done much for me and that opinion isn’t going to change based on his work here.  I always feel that Smith is playing himself and has just showed up to say his lines and collect his check.  Yes, he brings a certain suaveness and comedy to the role but how does it different from the suaveness and comedy of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or the suaveness and comedy of Hitch or the suaveness and comedy of Wild Wild West?  I long for Smith to try something new and play a villain…not just an unlikable character.

Even if the film gives Smith a nice arc near the end it didn’t make-up for the previous ninety minutes of posing and smart alecky antics that feels out of date and incongruous with the free-spirited tone of the movie.  Smith needs to take a page from Jones who displays the right amount of exhaustion and timing that the film deserves.  He’s able to convey bemusement in a face with more lines than a Moliere play and not make you feel he’s running through the paces.

Supporting player Thompson also is smart enough to color her limited screen time with tongue planted firmly in cheek.  With a perfectly coiffed head of hair and that no-nonsense accent, she’s a nice addition to the boys club although she disappears about halfway through and her presence in the final act is missed.

The main villain, Boris the Animal, is given life by Flight of the Conchords star Clement in an absurdly strange performance.  With a badly dubbed voice modulation, the impressive part here is Rick Baker’s fun creature effects.  Like Boris, his imagination runs wild throughout the movie causing equal amounts of havoc for the characters and glee for the audience. 

That’s where the Men in Black series has always excelled, the visual effects.  Leaving no end of the galaxy unexplored the creative juices are squeezed for all they are worth and that’s where the real enjoyment of the film is to be had.  The general plot concerning Agent J’s time-travel to 1969 to head off past and present Boris interacting with past Agent K is a nice structure to display mod elements both worldly and otherworldly. 

Director Sonnenfeld is back for a third time as well and he continues to mine the talents he gained as a cinematographer (Misery, Big, When Harry Met Sally…, Blood Simple) by finding interesting angles and shots that work well with the 3D effects.  It’s not at all necessary to see the film in 3D but if you do find yourself putting on the glasses, rest assured that it does look good.  Danny Elfman’s score is more of the same…his recent work on Dark Shadows notwithstanding I think Elfman’s work all sounds like something off the same album.

While the first Men in Black was an ambitious romp, its sequel was a turgid mess of inflated egos and budgets run amok that made a lot of money while simultaneously turning its audience off.  A decade later I feel a bit more forgiving and found some saving graces to this third entry.  Aside from Smith’s half committed performance, this could be a worthwhile trip to the movies if your outer space needs have not yet been met.

The Silver Bullet ~ “Men in Black III” Trailer

 

Synopsis: Agent J travels in time to MIB’s early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.

Release Date:  May 25, 2012

Thoughts:  Not being the biggest fan of the first Men In Black or its rotten sequel, I remember rolling my eyes a bit when I heard a third film was in the works.  It felt a bit like all involved were going back to the well to replenish their bank accounts.  An early teaser trailer didn’t do much to get me excited for the return of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.   With the arrival of this newer preview, though, my interest is unexpectedly peaked.  The time-travel concept seems like a nice way to liven up things up a bit and Josh Brolin should prove to be a nice version of Jones circa the ‘60’s.  Of course it’s also being released in 3D and IMAX to increase the box office take but I’ve a feeling this one should play well in whatever format you choose to see it in.