The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (PG) ****
This charming sequel to the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel of a couple of years ago will probably fill theaters with the same older demographic, but younger audiences might find this one more charming than they thought it would be. The reason is that romance fills every marigold pot, from the youngsters who, together, run the Marigold Hotel Home for the Elderly and Beautiful with Muriel Donnelly (movie-stealer Maggie Smith) to the guests. The kids are Sonny Kapur (Dev Patel), the hapless and hyper promoter of the first hotel), and the beautiful and graceful Tena Desae as Sunaina. The cast is thick with talented older actors, including Bill Nighy (Douglas) Judi Dench (Evelyn), and Richard Gere, a newcomer to the series, as Guy.
Sonny and Sunaina are already hooked up, ready for a big wedding, but Douglas and Evelyn soon make calf eyes at each other as well. Guy and Lillette Dubey as Mrs. Kapur, mother of Sonny, are also an item. This is a romantic film so it is not a spoiler to tell you that all the romances work out in their way. Appropriately, after the tangles of love become untangled in a huge Bollywood wedding, happiness reigns. But not before fighting through some real messes.
There are notable lines, mostly by Muriel (Smith) who, when asked why she came to India in the first place, said: “Why die here [England] when I can die there?” Of America she says: “It makes death more tempting.” Describing Sonny, she loves the kid, but: “He’s not the fastest fox in the forest.”
Dench has some pithy comments to make as well. Asked by Muriel “How many lives can we have?” she responds: “As many as we like!” (Applause from the audience.) All of the elders are busy with jobs or hobbies or gossip or a combination of several aspects of life in Jaipur, where most of the film takes place. The film is about aging gracefully (for the most part) and loving heartily (for the most part) and it is very hard to watch without a constant smile on your face. From the huge crowd on a Friday mid-afternoon, it is relatively easy to predict a heavy turnout for this, as its prequel has been a favorite of mature audiences. The music is engaging, the performances sterling and the color! It screams from side to side of the entire screen. All you need is the marigolds to complete the picture. Take the younger kids along. They will understand as much as necessary to enjoy this heartily good-natured film.
Cinderella (PG) ***
It seems as if Cinderella or a variation on it has been playing all year in one guise or another. This is certainly the most colorful version, but it is not very musical. There are two folk songs performed in the film itself and some old Disney Cinderella tunes over the credits, but other than that, nothing.
It is hard to mess up the classic fairy tale and it is to Kenneth Branaugh’s credit that he left the plot alone. The only Disney features in the film are the mice, which, as in other versions, get prominent though mute exposure all through the piece. Lily James of Downton Abbey fame is Cinderella and is blond and petite as Ella must be. Cate Blanchett is fierce and snarly as the wicked stepmother. The Prince, Richard Madden, is perfectly adequate and Helena Bonham Carter, released from her usual role as a grotesque creation of the makeup department, looks positively smashing as the Fairy Godmother or, as she mashes it up, “I’m your hairy godfather.”
The transition scenes to make the glorious carriage and to undo all the beauty into salamanders, duck and mice are properly magical and the stepsisters, one of whom, Sophie McSheara, is a castmate of James in Downton Abbey, are hideously vain and appropriately stupid. In other words, all the parts are in the right places, so the story works. One happy addition is Nonso Anozie as the burly Captain who serves as pleader of Ella’s cause to the King (Derek Jacobi) and anyone who will listen. Fine for kids, especially those who have not seen too many Cinderellas, and not objectionable for adults who have seen them all.
Run All Night (R) **
Why does a fine actor like Liam Neeson continue to make such tawdry, average or worse movies? Here we go again with a film noted for how many rounds a Hollywood revolver or pistol can hold before reloading and how many men have to be blood-spattered before we run out of characters to shoot.
This time it’s Neeson’s estranged son, Michael, (Joel Kinnamon) who’s the innocent party caught in a guilty-looking plot. He is alleged to have killed the son of his father’s old close buddy, Shawn McGuire (Ed Harris) but he didn’t do it. Besides, the dead son, Danny (Boyd Holbrook) is a cocaine addict of serious dimensions and sort of has some lead coming. Neeson (Jimmy Conlon) reaches out to McGuire in an attempt to protect his son but McGuire is, understandably, beyond reconciliation. Thus begins the “night” of the title. Mix in Vincent D’Onofrio as an honest cop, Harding, and some dirty cops who try to kill Michael and you’ve got a lot of guns looking to kill a lot of guys.
Fortunately for the director, the supplies of ammunition are endless for the several full-bore gun battles on the streets of New York, in the suburbs and in the country. Cars are driven recklessly but don’t crash until they have collided with as many objects as possible. Though outnumbered 20 to one, Jimmy’s buddies pop up at the right time to serve as targets and nobody runs out of ammo. Did I mention there’s an endless supply?
A lot of clichés are burned up in this movie: cute kids becoming targets, thus automatically increasing the tension. There’s a long-suffering wife who somehow never really gets involved in stopping her husband’s descent into violence; the good cop; the professional assassin (Common) who can’t seem to shoot anybody who can shoot back; and the thumping, screaming soundtrack that has to accompany such films. With so many better alternatives, skip this and try to send the message to Neeson that he’s outgrown this format. He can do far better work.
Chappie (R) **
Robot films usually feature a passably cute robot who does charming things. Not so this time around. Set entirely in South Africa, making the dialogue sometimes impossible to decipher for me, it stars Sharlto Copley as the robot, Chappie; Dev Patel as Deon Wilson and Hugh Jackman as the villain, Vincent Moore. Moore is looking to skip the current successful robot population, the Scout, with a bigger, badder model, the Moose, and, once he gets the monster fired up, Moore has a wonderful time blowing people and robots up with his multiple firepower sources.
I found the film to be puerile and filled with mind-bending errors. A bad engineer takes what we are led to believe is the human, caring chip out of Chappie in order to make him more compliant. But his behavior changes not at all. Chappie loses his left arm only to have a lowly tech, not even an engineer, screw on a mismatched old-model one in a loose moment later with no ill effects. Chappie is befriended by a mutt and somehow, though short on humanoid training sessions, knows where to scratch its chin and behind the ears to make it docile. And how can the old-fashioned new arm they get off a dead robot work just as well on an advanced model?
An explanation of soul includes such bromides as “It’s where you are weak,” telling Chappie to shape up on the human elements that he needs while they have not yet been programmed into him. Worst of all, there is really no charm in Chappie at all. He is simply a machine who does inexplicable things for no reason—such as learning to drive in five minutes – with no lessons. Finally, the film resorts to a few platitudes to justify itself and then blows up everything that’s left. Fade to black. Go to the other Dev Patel feature playing this week: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s much more fun, even without blowing anything up.