movie reviews May 2012

The AvengersDamsels in DistressThe Best Exotic Marigold HotelDark ShadowsThe DictatorBattleship • What to Expect when you're expectingmarleyMen in black 3darling companionundefeated

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Undefeated

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

When determined football coach Bill Courtney tells viewers in the new documentary Undefeated that “Football doesn’t build character; it reveals character,” it’s easy to groan.

 

But unlike many other coaches, who spout platitudes, it’s quickly obvious he means it and that his influence on his players off and on the field has been undeniably rewarding. Courtney took Manassas High School in North Memphis from being perennial losers to Tennessee state finalists. That’s a pretty formidable achievement

 

 

It seems even more astonishing when directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin reveal how far North Memphis has collapsed since a tire factory closed decades ago.

 

Poverty and violence permeate the city, and Courtney, who volunteers his service as coach, starts the season documented in Undefeated by dealing with problems keeping his own business afloat. At the beginning of the film, he flatly describes how many of the young men who’ve played on his team have had legal trouble or have become casualties of the environment in which they’ve lived.

 

Simply getting the Manassas players to sit in a room together so he can prepare them for the next game is a challenge. Two start a fight while he’s talking and the cameras are rolling. It’s no wonder the first game of the season ends in disaster.

 

What makes Undefeated engrossing is that we learn that Courtney isn’t necessarily a miracle worker. He gradually turns his players into winners because he empathizes with them in a way that few of the other adults in their lives do.

 

While the players are predominantly African-American and Courtney is white, he like a number of his players was abandoned by his father. Because he’s not a rich white guy in the tradition of The White Shadow or The Blind Side, he understands why they behave the way they do. Because he’s not entitled and has gone through much of what they’ve experienced, he can get these men to look past their differences and win games.

 

More importantly, the confidence the players develop on the field turns them from violent rivals into close friends. It also makes them try harder in their studies. Courtney even works with someone who has spare cash to send one of his players to college. As we get to know these men better, it’s obvious they’re not dumb. Undefeated feels inspiring because it gives viewers the sense of what could be lost if these fellows didn’t have someone looking out for them.

 

That said, the players themselves do the actual maturing. Courtney’s efforts seem Herculean, but they’d be for naught if the men themselves didn’t have the desire to do more than simply win ball games.

 

The film also explores a fascinating irony. By his own admission, Courtney has spent so much time keeping the team afloat, especially when they start an astonishing winning streak, that his own family isn’t seeing as much of him as they’d like. No, he thankfully doesn’t follow in his own father’s neglectful example, but knowing that he’s not a gridiron saint makes his struggle far more involving.

 

This probably explains why Undefeated took this year’s Oscar for Best Feature Documentary. Not only does the truth set one free but also acknowledging unpleasant realities sometimes makes the platitudes seem like more than something off a locker room poster. (PG-13) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 05/25/12)

 

Haiku

Undefeated

 

Football reveals some

wonderful characters in

this engrossing doc.

 


 

Darling Companion

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

In the 1930s, it was refreshing to see a movie about people who breathed a rarified air that was only occasionally contaminated by the reality of the Great Depression. Who at the time was willing to pay what little money they had to watch other people struggling for work?

 

 

Today, however, it’s hard to watch a film about people who live in a bubble with problems that might earn them a spot on WhiteWhine.com. Seeing the people in Darling Companion inspires viewers to resent them instead of longing for their worry-free lifestyle. Actually, the entitled folks in Darling Companion worry a lot, but many of their concerns seem less than urgent.

 

Diane Keaton stars as Beth, a sixty-something woman with a serious case of empty nest syndrome. One of her children lives in New York, and her other daughter Grace (Elisabeth Moss) constantly reminds Beth that her husband Joseph (Kevin Kline) is an insensitive oaf who cares more about the patients he treats than he does about his own family.

 

Beth winds up adopting a stray dog she dubs “Freeway” because she and Grace have rescued him after finding him abandoned on the highway. Joseph doesn’t care much for the animal but tolerates the barking to keep Beth from making noise of her own.

 

When Grace marries the vet who treated Freeway, Beth and Joseph attend the wedding in a small Colorado mountain town. They’re accompanied by Joseph’s overly optimistic sister Penny (Dianne Wiest) and her new beau Russell (Richard Jenkins). Russell has the foolish idea of getting Penny’s family to invest in an English pub in Nebraska. The idea sounds as foolish to them as it does to viewers. Russell is supposed to be endearing, and even though the gifted Jenkins is playing him, he comes off as an annoying blowhard.

 

Joseph and Beth aren’t all that charming either, and it doesn’t help that screenwriters Meg Kasdan and Lawrence Kasdan (her husband and the director) don’t write dialogue: They write a series of “Oscar clip” speeches. One such monologue is delivered under what looks like the least convincing rainstorm in cinema history. A more believable downpour might have made the not-so-grand soliloquy impossible.

 

What there is of a plot concerns the search for Freeway when Joseph accidentally lets him go. There’s isn’t much suspense, and the characters still seem like entitled people after the whole story is done. The quest also involves Penny’s son Bryan (Mark Duplass, a moonlighting director whose own movies like Cyrus are more entertaining than this one) and a Gypsy housekeeper named Carmen (Israeli Ayelet Zurer).

 

Come to think of it, aren’t all Hollywood Gypsy women named Carmen?

 

Lawrence Kasdan is responsible for the script to Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, and as a director he’s given us movies like The Big Chill, Silverado and Body Heat. There are flashes of the old wit here and there, and the mountain scenery is undeniably enchanting. But for some reason, he really can’t pull viewers into the search for the missing dog. Considering what dogs have done for humans for centuries, that’s a troubling deficiency. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 05/25/12)

 

Haiku

Darling Companion

 

It’s too bad there’s not

more of the dog and less of

those smug old yuppies.

 


 

Men in Black 3

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

It’s always a shame when the story behind the making of the film is more fascinating than any of the footage in the film itself. In the case of Men in Black 3, the producers (G. Mac Brown, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes and Steven Spielberg) decided to start shooting near the end of 2010 to take advantage of New York State tax breaks that might have expired had they waited.

 

They proceeded even though credited screenwriter Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder, Idiocracy) had only completed writing the first act and had conceived of the ending. With a two-month break in filming, the task didn’t seem that rough, until the two-month break transformed into an expensive four-month hiatus and unaccredited scribes had been brought in while the shooting was proceeding.

 

 

All films have some chaos during production, but the difficulties encountered here are obvious to even the casual. Men in Black 3 gets off to a promising start but quickly devolves into a dull special effects reel. Barry Sonnenfeld (the mind behind all three films) and his cohorts apparently feel that if Will Smith (as Agent J) spouts off enough wisecracks to goofy looking extraterrestrials, the movie will work.

 

Unfortunately, while Rick Baker’s makeup and Bo Welch’s designs are still impressive, the fun of the first adaptation of Lowell Cunningham’s comic came from pairing veteran star Tommy Lee Jones (as Agent K) with the then up and coming Smith.

 

In 1997, Smith was 29, and Jones was 51. Casting two intelligent performers with a noticeable age gap resulted in an unusual but potent chemistry. The brash Smith and the droll but laconic Jones were so much fun to watch that the thin story and the lackluster villain didn’t seem to matter.

 

Neither of the sequels has been that engaging because the chemistry was lost after K departed from the first installment. Jones had a smaller role, and the joy of watching him bicker with the less experienced Smith is gone because the younger actor is now wizened enough to stay out of trouble.

 

This time around J has to save his partner from a genocidal ET aptly named Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement). After escaping from prison, the alien maniac goes back in time and murders K before K could have arrested him.

 

J rushes back to 1969 to undo the damage, where he encounters the younger version of his partner (Josh Brolin). Brolin’s impersonation of Jones is impressive, but he doesn’t have the ease with a condescending quip that the original K has. He also doesn’t play off of Smith with the same sort of finesse.

 

Sending J back in time offers loads of comic possibilities that Cohen and some unaccredited scribes fail to realize. For example, how can one defend the Earth when the space program has barely begun and battery life is short? There are a few nods to civil rights advances in the last few decades, but ideas are dropped before they start working.

 

Despite the addition of 3D, the filmmakers haven’t really created any new characters that are terribly interesting. One notable exception is Emma Thompson as J and K’s boss. But as with Jones, the filmmakers spend more time with the younger, less interesting version played by Alice Eve. Michael Shtulbarg from A Serious Man and “Boardwalk Empire” is stuck with a one-note role that really doesn’t give him much to do. He’s an alien, but he’s more annoying than amusing.

 

Lighting has clearly escaped from the bottle as far as Men in Black 3 is concerned. There’s no point in making a sequel if it makes viewers hate the original for inspiring irritating follow-ups. (PG-13) Rating: 1.5 (Posted on 05/23/12)

 

Haiku

Men in Black 3

 

J and K should have

waited for a script before

launching on this one.

 


 

Marley

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

With his long dreadlocks and his unforgettable reggae tunes, it seems inevitable that Bob Marley would become an iconic figure. What makes Kevin Macdonald’s new documentary on the late singer-guitarist worthwhile is that he reveals a man who was far more complicated and fascinating than the face that now decorates bottles of tea.

 

Macdonald won an Oscar for helming the gripping One Day in September, an account of the 1972 Munich Olympics. It played like fiction, even though his reporting was straightforward. Similarly, with Marley, he provides some much needed context to the songs that have sold millions of copies throughout the world.

 

 

Marley’s tunes were loaded with both love and rage, sometimes in the same song. This might have something to do with his modest, but turbulent upbringing. His father Norval Sinclair Marley was a white overseer in his late 50s or early 60s who wooed Bob’s teenage black mother Cedella Malcolm.

 

As a child, Marley was shunned by both blacks and whites because of his mixed heritage and grew up in poverty. Macdonald manages to locate the only known photo of Norval and the only one of the young Bob. He even manages to find the dilapidated rural shack where the young Marley slept when the singer wasn’t working the fields.

 

From there, Marley discovered both the Rastafarian religion, which claimed that Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia was a biblically prophesied redeemer on par with Jesus and possibly Christ’s reincarnation. The religion appealed to the disenfranchised Marley and informed his other obsession, music. Marley and his cohorts the Wailers (including the late Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, who’s in the film) combined native Jamaican sounds with African motifs, rock and R&B.

 

What keeps Marley from being a dull hagiography is partly due to the fact that Marley’s rise was anything but easy or certain. Even though the early Wailers (whose name was derived from the wailing misery from which they were raised) sold well in Jamaica, they rarely saw any of the cash they earned. Even as Marley’s reputation grew abroad, he was often willingly featured lower on concert bills because he wanted to reach new markets like England and the States. In the latter, he was surprised that his tunes resonated more with whites than blacks.

 

Getting his music played on Jamaican radio was a challenge that required coercing DJs to make sure they did as promised. As talented as he was, Marley might not have been as successful if he and his cohorts hadn’t used gangster-like techniques. They seemed to work for Jamaican politicians in the ‘70s because both major parties actually had hit squads.

 

Despite being partially produced by Chris Blackwell, the mind behind Island Records (Marley’s label), and his talented son musician David “Ziggy” Marley, Marley reveals information that isn’t always flattering about the late singer.

 

Despite being married to singer Rita Marley, he wound up fathering 11 children with seven different women. One of his mistresses was Cindy Breakspeare, a Miss World winner from Jamaica who was at the time more famous than her musical beau.

 

One striking thing about Marley’s lechery is that his wife and lovers seem cordial with each other. His children including Ziggy, however, candidly admit that he wasn’t that close to them.

 

Marley’s greatness comes from the fact that his music speaks for the rest of the world as well as Jamaica. There’s also no denying he was a courageous man. He played a free concert in Kingston even after a would-be assassin wounded him, Rita and other associates. That incident and the onset of cancer, which eventually killed him, only increased his resolve.

 

He even played a later show in Jamaica where he called on the leaders of the two warring political parties (and by warring, I mean the kind where people shoot each other) to stand onstage with him and shake hands. For all of his flaws, Marley was serious about peace and empowering the powerless. He had little regard for the massive sums he eventually earned and frequently helped out the hordes of people looking for a handout.

 

If you’re already familiar with Marley and his legacy, Marley includes an astonishing collection of rare images and sounds, many of which haven’t been widely available until the film. If Bob Marley is unfamiliar to you, this movie is about the best introduction to be hoped for. “Get Up, Stand Up,” “No Woman No Cry” and “Redemption Song” show off his formidable wordplay and ear for the beat. Plus, his original version of “I Shot the Sheriff” makes Eric Clapton’s sound wimpy. It’s as if the Englishman’s version was “I Grazed the Deputy.”

 

At two and a half hours, Marley is brisk but not superficial. Cutting any time would have resulted in a “Behind the Music” travesty.

 

It’s hard not to get misty-eyed at the end. Macdonald literally finds people all over the world singing Marley’s tunes. While the tea that bears his name is tasty, his tunes are why we love him. (PG-13) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 05/18/12)

 

Haiku Marley

 

Macdonald’s new film

is the best Redemption Song

Bob Marley could want.

 


 

What to Expect When You're Expecting

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 

Based on Heidi Murkoff's bestselling pregnancy manual, What to Expect When You're Expecting marks a new low in ensemble comedy. Director Kirk Jones patches together exaggerated star-filled scenes that, dependent on overdone characters connected by a tenuous storyline, unapologetically check off the effects surrounding pregnancy seemingly culled from the source material's index

 

In an Atlanta that looks and acts more like Los Angeles, several rich, white pseudo-celebrity couples with shaky connections to one another deal with issues involving fertility — or their lack of it. Fibrous reality television fitness trainer Jules (Cameron Diaz) gets knocked up by reality dance show partner Evan (Matthew Morrison). Baby-crazy breast-feeding advocate Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) finally conceives after two years of trying with husband, Gary (Ben Falcone), whose young stepmom (Brooklyn Decker) has been effortlessly impregnated with twins by Gary's hyper-competitive father (Dennis Quaid). After spending her entire retirement fund on fertility treatments, Anne Geddes wannabe Holly (Jennifer Lopez) trolls the globe looking for a child to adopt with her reluctant husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) in tow. Food-cart proprietor Rosie (Anna Kendrick) discovers she's pregnant after an impulsive late-night flirtation with rival chef and high school admirer Marco (Chace Crawford).

 

 

Adapted by Shauna Cross and Heather Hach from the go-to manual that supposedly explains the fears and bodily changes that come with pregnancy, the film contains a surprising amount of conventional gags that perpetuate stale gender roles and myths about raging hormones, the end of sex in marriage, and a woman's purpose in life being inextricably tied to her ability and desire to conceive. There are no attempts to add thoughtful or factual details to replace hackneyed shtick. The one exception is the storyline starring Rosie, played with exceptional charm by Anna Kendrick, who gives the only natural performance of the star-studded cast. Although the writers tack on a similar ending to her storyline, Rosie's trajectory varies widely from the rest of the movie, allowing Kendrick a range of emotions without hyperbole.

 

Although the women in What to Expect When You're Expecting take center stage, they are mostly portrayed in unflattering and appalling ways. Bossy and single-minded yet stupidly impulsive, they seek to fulfill their needs without thought or consideration of their partners. The quest for perfection through motherhood trumps all.

 

Still, the men in the film, particularly the “dudes group,” led by father of four Vic (Chris Rock), seem to get the last word. While the women wallow in delusion, Vic, voiced in Rock's usual emphatic and strident tone, tells the contradictory gospel of parenthood — financial burden, loss of freedom, and enslavement to less capable, smaller human beings that ostensibly lead to absolute and total fulfillment. Ultimately, the film wants to reaffirm both the myths and the traditional values of childbearing but itself is unable to tell one from the other. (PG-13) Rating: 1 (Posted on 05/18/12)

 


 

Battleship

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

Dear Hasbro:

 

I’d like to thank you for ruining fond memories from my childhood. My brother and I used to love playing Battleship, desperately trying to sink the other’s make-believe navy. In Kansas, that’s as close as you can get to the ocean. The game is simple, but kids love trying to outwit each other.

 

Almost no one is going to love the overpriced debacle of a film you’ve made from it.

 

Because the game cases and the playing pieces wear out and new consumers are born every day, it would have been nice if you had simply counted your money. Sadly, the mountains of cash you’ve made of the Transformers movies have tempted you to find other properties that might be cinematic.

 

Battleship isn’t one of them.

 

You could probably create a more engaging film of Hungry Hungry Hippos, and it would have a more engaging plot if it consisted solely of tots playing the game for two hours.

 

 

Despite a special effects budget that exceeds the GNP of several countries combined, Battleship is an exceptionally joyless experience. Thanks to a soundtrack that consists of booms and shrieks, and long stretches of machines shooting projectiles at each other, the movie feels more like an assault on the senses than on the space aliens who’ve responded to a broadcast from Hawaii.

 

If the broadcast had consisted of Keeping up with the Kardashians or the film itself, the extraterrestrials would be justified in seeking revenge. At times, it’s easy to root for the malevolent ETs.

 

The people in the film make the aliens look remarkably sympathetic. For some reason, you folks thought that Taylor Kitsch would be the perfect leading man for this. He’s blandly handsome and came relatively cheap.

 

You must have thought that after legions of people saw him in John Carter, they’d come rushing to watch him in Battleship. Obviously, you never saw John Carter. Hardly, anyone else did, either. You certainly didn’t read Erich Hoeber and Jon Hoeber's script for Battleship.

 

Back to Kitsch: I found his lack of charm and screen presence annoying, and he’s even less engaging here. His character, Alex Hopper, is so unlikable that even Tom Hanks would make the role ideal target practice.

 

When Alex tries to impress a pretty physical therapist (Brooklyn Decker, who at least gets the pretty part right) in a bar, he tries to score her a chicken burrito. When the convenience store next door closes, he breaks into the building, which has security cameras and alarms, and helps himself to one. He leaves cash at the counter, but ends up causing thousands of dollars in damage by climbing through the ceiling and falling.

 

In the Hoebler brothers’ alternate universe, this doesn’t send Alex to jail and despite having never been to ROTC or Annapolis, Alex becomes a naval officer, serving with his straight arrow brother (Alexander Skarsgård) and a stern Admiral played Liam Neeson.

 

Seeing Neeson bothered me because it reminded me that the wolves in The Grey out-acted any humans here. Even the hilariously unconvincing CGI shark in your film has more interesting things to do than the people. Come to think of it, most of the dialogue results in similar, smirking derision. When one character laments, “We’re going to die.” Alex repeats him and adds, “Just not today.”

 

Hasbro, most kids playing your games could come up with better witticisms.

 

It probably doesn’t help that we’re expected to believe that Alex goes from being an irritating loser to a maritime commander on par with Lord Nelson. The Hoebler brothers exhaust what imagination they had on coming up with a way to replicate the distinctive game grid (it doesn’t work too well) and to figuring out how to get a battleship into the film.

 

At least with Transformers, one can imagine how the toys could fight, so a movie isn’t that hard to conceive. The ships on the plastic board game don’t even move for crying out loud!

 

Why you chose to hire Peter Berg (or anyone else) to direct Battleship is a bit of a mystery. Because Michael Bay handled your Transformers films, he seems to be under orders to replicate Bay’s instincts for making things go “boom” and his lightning fast cuts. None of the scenes make much sense, but you folks were too busy thinking of how to sell the games. That is what you do best.

 

Berg also shows worse taste in music. In a film that celebrates hardware and destruction, Berg decides that Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” a vitriolic anti-Vietnam War tune, is perfect to run as the closing credits roll.

 

Great, Hasbro. Now, you’ve ruined both my childhood and my adult memories of hearing vocalist John Fogerty wailing that song live.

 

I don’t hate you completely, though. I hope the movie adaptation sells a lot of new board games. The more people play the game, the less they’ll remember this wretched film. Yours in immaturity, Dan Lybarger (PG-13) Rating: 1 (Posted on 05/18/12)

 

Haiku

Battlesh*t

 

The movie sucks if

you cheer for the invaders

instead of Neeson.


 

The Dictator

Reviewed by Bruce Rodgers

 

Some viewers of Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film The Dictator might call sitting through its 83 minutes of sledgehammer comedy a guilty pleasure. The degrees of guilt and pleasure probably depend upon one’s worldview. For in The Dictator, nothing is sacred; there is no shelter from Cohen’s maniacal dismantling of everything within the realm of human behavior, even things perceived as possibly safe from ridicule. Just consider the humor in romantic handholding in a woman’s vagina during childbirth to using a severed head as a hand puppet.

 

And incredibly one could say The Dictator is a love story

 

 

Cohen, continuing his comedic approach from Borat as if suffering from Tourette Syndrome with the benefit of forethought, is Admiral General Aladeen, absolute ruler of Wadiya, a fictional country somewhere in the Middle East.

 

Aladeen spends his days giving himself medals, rigging sporting events by shooting opponents, issuing executions, having sex with famous and non-famous women and men while being protected by a bevy of virgin guards. Ben Kingsley plays Tamir, Aladeen’s trusted number one advisor. But behind Aladeen’s back, Tamir is scheming to remove Aladeen and replace him with a look-a-like goat herder (also played by Cohen). Tamir wants the real Aladeen out of the way in order to sell the country’s oil to China in particular.

 

China’s representative to Wadiya is Mr. Lao (Bobby Lee, A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas) who stalks famous actors in order to get them to perform a particular sexual act. Other recognizable faces, both credited and not credited, include John C. Reilly, Garry Shandling, Chris Elliott, Horatio Sanz, Megan Fox and Edward Norton.

 

Aladeen’s want to be nuclear power gives Tamir the chance he’s looking for in regime change. Wadiya’s pursuit rattles the United States and the most of the world, and Aladeen is summoned to address the United Nations. While in New York, Aladeen is kidnapped and readied to be tortured by Reilly, setting up a very funny scene about the use of out-of-date torture equipment, but Aladeen escapes with the help of his beard, now gone from his face.

 

While trying to figure out how to get back into his luxurious hotel and eventually address the UN, Aladeen meets Zoey (Anna Faris), an earth-loving New Age type who mistakes Aladeen for a Wadiyaan freedom fighter. With the help of Zoey’s near-clueless sense of trust in the downtrodden, Aladeen makes a slow transformation to person with at least a smidgen of empathy for others. The evolution happens despite Aladeen being re-united with his nuclear scientist Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) that he though he had executed and who remains committed to making Wadiya a nuclear power. Along the way, Aladeen keeps the insults rolling from the role of women to the attraction of men of color to white women, and visa versa. As with throughout the film, the nuggets of truth in Aladeen’s commentaries make for some serious laughs of recognition.

 

The climatic finish has Aladeen delivering a hilarious but accurate dissertation on the benefits (?) of governing in a democracy while eventually facing the realization that he loves Zoey.

 

While The Dictator may not be a definitive showcase for a comedic genius despite Cohen having left little in culture — East or West — to skewer, it is a very funny film, guilt or no guilt. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted on 05/17/12)

 


 

Dark Shadows

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

 

While there are a few ideas out there that would seem to deserve at least a shot at a decent remake/reboot, there are far more that just ... don't. Based very loosely on the television soap opera of the same name, director Tim Burton's version of Dark Shadows takes a shot at overwrought drama, fails, then goes for some cheesy fish-out-of-water humor, fails at that, and finally goes for a horror film finally that (guess what) fails as well.

 

I don't really know how Burton, along with the king of ham Johnny Depp (in full Dracula regalia no less) can screw up such a simple idea until you realize the idea itself is kinda screwy.

 

 

We start with Barnabas Collins, a rich and powerful man (Depp) being cursed into becoming a vampire by the evil witch Angelique (Eva Green), and being buried in an iron coffin. Cut to two hundred years later, and Collins emerges in the ‘70s to discover his family and ancestral home have fallen on hard times. Barnabas swears to restore his family's name and defeat the evil Angelique, who continues to curse his dysfunctional family with misfortune while also longing for his love.

 

If that sounds a bit confused, you'd be right. If it also sounds kinda boring, you'd be right again. While the previews push the humor aspect portraying this as a comedy, there's few laughs here — mostly in the middle where Collins is trying to deal with the modern age — and most elicit little more than a short giggle. It's like halfway through Burton realized this was a bad idea, tried to add some laughs, then realized THAT wasn't working, so just ended with a big, boring fight scene.

 

Despite an A-team supporting cast including Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter, the drama is just boring and the humor to predictable to really have much of a bite. (PG 13) Rating: 2 (Posted 05/11/12)

 


 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

One annoying problem with current films is that producers seem to think that if they litter the movie with young, attractive people, the viewers might be sufficiently distracted and won’t notice that millions of dollars has been spent on faulty material.

 

With The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a pleasant, but didactic story becomes a lot more enjoyable because director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) fills the movie with some of the UK’s most accomplished veteran actors and some stunning Indian locations.

 

 

Like a well-guided tour, you know where you’re headed and when you’ll return, but the trip itself is pleasant.

 

The film itself is about a journey that few travel agents would willingly offer their clients. With a notable exception, all of the people on this journey are travelling because they’re not spoiled upper class twits annoying the residents of India the way they do people back in England. In fact, these 60 to 70-something Brits have to leave home for India because their limited resources make staying at home almost impossible.

 

Dame Judi Dench stars as Evelyn Greenslade, a widow who finds that living at home difficult, especially with appliances her husband used to run for her. Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton) can’t find a decent retirement home because they’re at the mercy of their daughter’s “investment opportunity.” This venture may never yield any cash.

 

Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) is still looking for love even though most of the women he tries to impress won’t take him because he’s old enough to be their grandfather. Even the more age appropriate Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) finds him resistible. A dispute within her own family has sent her on the road.

 

The bigoted Muriel Donnelly (Dame Maggie Smith) has decided to overlook her prejudices and her aversion to travel because Indian doctors can treat her bad hip more quickly than the overloaded National Health Service.

 

The only member of this troupe who knows anything about India and who has any cash is a frustrated high court judge named Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson). For decades he’s nursed a troubling secret that he won’t be able solve unless he returns.

 

All of these folks end up at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and the Beautiful. The name is a tad deceptive. While there is some lovely architecture, it’s obvious that the earnest young proprietor Sonny (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire) is out of his depth in taking care of it.

 

It doesn’t take much effort to see where the story is headed from there. Muriel will learn to overcome her prejudices when she discovers the plight of outcasts isn’t that different from being a working class Englishwoman. It doesn’t seem as if either screenwriter Ol Parker (Imagine Me & You) or novelist Deborah Moggach had to strain too hard to come up with that.

 

Because Maggie Smith plays Muriel, however, it’s easy to believe and enjoy her change of heart. The same goes for the rest of the cast, who are delightful to watch, even if their outcomes are preordained.

 

To Parker and Moggach’s credit, because these folks are middle and working class, it’s easier to identify with these reluctant tourists than if they’d been the over-privileged snobs like what Smith plays on the PBS show “Downton Abbey.”

 

If they’d been stereotypical English people abroad (cousins of ugly Americans), the film would have gotten old quickly. Having characters in their 60s and 70s learning to switch gears also gives the story vitality because adjusting to cultural shifts is often tricky, especially when ideas that have gotten you through most of your life are now useless.

 

Madden accomplishes an intriguing balance by unflinchingly portraying the poverty in India as he celebrates its formidable beauty. One doesn’t have to travel far to see misery (try walking a few blocks from home), and ignoring what’s great in other cultures seems to perpetuate that malaise.

 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel seems more life changing for its participants than for its viewers, but at least the participants are interesting. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 05/11/12)

 

Haiku

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

Old Brits are fun in

India, but they’d likely

be fun anywhere.

 


 

The Avengers

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

 

If you are reading this review, wanting to know from little old me (a 29th level geek/Sci Fi/comic book nerd) if Hollywood has raped yet another beloved childhood franchise with The Avengers, Stop reading this right now! Then, go to the nearest IMAX theater and watch this movie. I'm not kidding, right now. Go.

 

 

Sitting in the theater, I simply couldn't believe how great this movie is. (Remember, I’m a 29th level geek/Sci Fi/comic book nerd.) It's action-packed, with a great roster of actors, including the supporting roles, stunning effects in, yes, I'm going to say it, 3D that ACTUALLY MAKES IT BETTER. It's got great pacing, just enough plot without getting bogged down, some dramatic scenes, some funny ones and plenty of awesome fights.

 

But you know what is the best thing about The Avengers? Josh Whedon and his fellow cohorts somehow managed to avoid every cop-out typically used in comic book movies. Do they waste half the movie telling the origins story yet AGAIN? NO. Do they just take the name and the basic costume and ignore the decades of written history? NO. Do they finally, FINALLY GET THE HULK RIGHT?

 

YES. AND IT IS AWESOME.

 

I'm not going to waste your time talking about the plot or characters because if you don't know them already then you are probably dead. I'm just gonna say this: there were times in the theater when my shear giddiness at realizing I was watching a live-action Avengers movie seriously threatened to make me explode, and that for anyone even if you knew nothing about the comic, I dare you not to love this film.

 

Yeah, I just gotta say it:

 

AVENGERS, ASSEMBLE!

 

Why are you still here? Go. (PG 13) Rating: 5-plus (Posted 05/05/12)

 


 

Damsels in Distress

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 

Independent film darling Whit Stillman’s much-anticipated return to filmmaking after a 13-year absence contains all the signature mannerisms of the writer-director’s previous films (Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco) without any of the risk. In the absence of a counterview to garner ambiguity or interest, Damsels in Distress flounders in unacknowledged affectation and privilege.

 

On a mission to improve their crass classmates at Seven Oaks College, an earnest and fastidious threesome, consisting of Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke), Heather (Carrie MacLemore) and their leader Violet (Greta Gerwig), adopt transfer student Lily (Analeigh Tipton) and instill her in their room and under their sartorial care. Despite Lily’s initial protestations, they enlist her in their pet projects: enlightening the boys in the Roman — not Greek — fraternity houses on campus, suicide prevention, and, on Violet’s part, the launch of a new national dance craze.

 

 

Stillman includes snippets of songs from the 1937 musical adaption of the 1919 P.G. Wodehouse novel A Damsel in Distress. However, that story’s imprint on the film goes no further than the tap lessons to which Violet subjects her clinically depressed disciples, including a cynical emo kid played in a disrupting cameo by Aubrey Plaza. As for any actual musical numbers, rumors of their successful performance have been greatly exaggerated.

 

As Violet, Gerwig is exceptionally graceless. While her ability to spar verbally rivals that of any of the roles Stillman’s go-to snob Chris Eigeman has portrayed in the previous movies, and a self-possessed female protagonist is always welcome, Violet’s physical presence becomes less daunting as she blunders through choreography or wanders aimlessly dressed down in dowdy oxford-cloth shirts and khakis. This does not make for the good and clever bully the film needs.

 

Granted, by putting Violet in a self-described “tailspin,” Stillman makes a welcome departure from his previous films. Yet, this change makes her neither more vulnerable nor more likeable. Her backstory only confuses things. For someone who has entirely reinvented herself, she’s surprisingly dull, and the revealed information is put to no use. Perhaps it’s because Violet has become a character who finds comfort in clichés, which she refers to as "a stunning treasure-trove of human wisdom and knowledge.” Additionally, other supporting characters, such as fraternity brothers who do not know the names of colors (and not because they’re colorblind) are even more tiresome.

 

Also baffling is Lily’s purpose in the film. Portrayed by Tipton, a veteran of “America’s Next Top Model,” Lily should provide the antithesis to Violet and her perfumed group. She does briefly, but only in the beginning. There’s just enough there to make viewers wonder why she isn’t capable of making other friends. Then she is lost to the meandering subplots and undeveloped or ridiculous scenes that make up so much of this fiasco. With more than a decade since his last release, Stillman proves unequal to a new generation and a new era. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (Posted 05/05/12)

 







 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at kinginyellow@juno.com


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