Check in for bit of exotic escapism sure to warm heart
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Cert: 12A
There's a distinct "Best of British" feel to the spectacle provided by Shakespeare in Love director John Madden's latest offering, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Imagine the Bafta after-show party relocated to India and you're well on the way to knowing what to expect from this engaging if slightly saccharine comedy-drama/luvviefest.
Based on Deborah Moggach's novel, the story centres on a sextet of pensioners who swap Blighty's "green and pleasant" land for an extended sojourn in the less green, but much more alluring, destination of Jaipur, India.
The reasons for their respective relocations differ. The slightly racist Muriel (Maggie Smith) needs a hip replacement and can get it done cheaper in India, while the recent loss of her husband has left Evelyn (Judi Dench) in nothing-left-to-lose mode. Recently retired barrister Graham (Tom Wilkinson) has unfinished business with an ex-lover he left behind decades earlier, while Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are a couple on the cusp of a marital meltdown. Add two card-carrying members of the lonely-hearts club, played by Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup, and you've put yourself in the picture.
All have been seduced by the lure of the internet pitch made by Sonny (Dev Patel), the proprietor of The Marigold Hotel. He's promised them an opportunity to spend their golden years in a palace. The ramshackle reality of The Marigold comes as a disappointment. Cue fish-out-of-water scenario in India's answer to Fawlty Towers as this motley crew make the most of their predicament.
This movie is likely to score with those in the market for easy-on-the eye escapism. More discerning types will recoil at the patronising 'Dr Phil meets Oprah' vibe to some of the sub-plot resolutions. The backdrop may be Bollywood but these endings are pure Hollywood.
"IS there a greater curse than being a poor king?" The opening line of Enda Kenny's next address to the nation? Eh... no. Just the words uttered by Antonio Banderas's character in the opening scenes of director Jean-Jacques Annaud's Black Gold.
Set on the Arabian Peninsula during the early years of the last century, this epic sees Banderas take the central role of Emir Nesib, a local sheik who is master of all he surveys. Alas, all he surveys amounts to little more than a hill of sand, with the result that he cannot provide for his people.
Everything changes for Nesib with the arrival of a pair of prospecting Texans and the discovery of oil on his land. A degree of prosperity follows but before he can replace all his camels with Cadillacs, Nesib has to renegotiate a land treaty, agreed years earlier, with a more conservative sheik, the Koran-quoting Sultan Amar (Mark Strong).
These negotiations are complicated by the fact that two of Amar's sons were taken hostage years earlier by Nesib as proof of the former's bona fides in those aforementioned treaty talks. The younger of the two, the bookish Prince Auda, (Tahir Rahim), becomes a pawn in this struggle between the forces of modernity and tradition. As you might expect, proceedings take a turn for the turbulent as this reluctant revolutionary is obliged to put the books and new bride (Freida Pinto) on the back burner in order to become a leader of men.
The fascinating nature of the subject matter combined with the Lawrence of Arabia style sweep of the spectacle ensures that Black Gold is never less than absorbing. Banderas, Strong and Pinto all have good moments courtesy of a thoughtful script though Rahim is less successful in the starring role. Compelling in the prison-based drama A Prophet, a stature deficit is exposed here with the result that he struggles to convince once the time comes for his character to connect with his inner Braveheart.
We've been starved of Jewish New York neurosis since Woody Allen relocated to Europe and stopped casting himself in his works. For fans of this genre of comic drama, Margaret, from writer and sometimes-director Kenneth Lonergan, should be matzah from heaven.
While perhaps not quite as knee-slapping as Allen's old output, Margaret delights in how it revolves the city around an addled central protagonist. Anna Paquin (The Piano, True Blood) plays Lisa Cohen, a flighty, feisty 17-year-old who innocently tries to catch the attention of a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) while shopping one day. The driver ends up knocking down a pedestrian who dies in Lisa's arms. A dilemma immediately presents itself when Lisa is questioned: who was really at fault and what implications will her story have on each person involved in the accident?
This may sound less than chucklesome but Lonergan takes a tragicomic scenic route in Lisa's character arc, drawing in everything in her orbit, from her flirtatious dependence on teacher Matt Damon to her warm but distant relationship with her parents, as well as the trials of teenage romantic exploration.
Vulnerable but well able to speak up for herself, Lisa is a spectacular character. Paquin's performance is full of rawness and vim. Lonergan gently meanders from laughter to deeper issues without any malfunctioning of his plot radar.
French writer-director Bruno Dumont named this latest film after a 13th-Century Flemish mystic poet. It will have about the same niche market appeal as the poet which is perhaps why it won the International Film Critics' award in Toronto in 2009.
We first meet Celine (Julie Sokolowski) in a convent. However, she is sent away by the nuns she hopes to join because they are suspicious of the extremes of her devotion: she refuses to eat, wear weather-appropriate clothing and may even self-flagellate. To the nuns such fervour is a sign of "self love".
Celine returns to her family -- her parents' extreme wealth a sharp contrast to the crumbling convent -- and embarks on a platonic romance with Lebanese immigrant Yassime (Yassine Salime) before falling under the spell of his brother Nassir (Karl Sarafidis) an amateur imam. From his Islamic devotion we are led back to the nun's words and the interesting premise that any religious extremism is an exercise in ego. With her medieval name, waxy skin, otherworldly devotion, strange braless piety and tenuous hold on reality, Celine portrays a level of devotion most mortals can never attain. But she is in fact well aware of her parents' wealth and of male attention. It is clear that she does feel the cold but is choosing to suffer.
But despite the interesting ideas the film becomes tedious. Arguably more accessible than Dumont's previous work it is still unsatisfactory, ideas are left like uncauterised wounds. He also tries too hard to mirror the French greats such as Godard and Bresson -- the final scene is Mouchette with a twist
Now showing at IFI
Nobody likes to be tarnished with a national stereotype, but in fact, there is no greater peddler of such stereotyping than a nation itself. Granted, Daniel Taplitz who wrote the screenplay is American, but otherwise Red Dog is an Australian version of Australian events and stereotypes.
Based on an apparently true story Red Dog is set in 1971 in Dampier, a remote Australian town. New arrival (Luke Ford) walks in on a group of sad men contemplating the imminent death of their famous Red Dog. Barman (Noah Taylor) starts telling the tale of the stray who became a favourite in this male-centric iron mining town. A favourite, but never owned until the arrival of an American, John (Josh Lucas), this far-from-average hound's tale is described by locals, including Vanno (Arthur Angel) and Nancy (Rachael Taylor).Directed by Kriv Stenders as a family film, it has been sanitised. Thus there's none of the problems one might imagine in a place inhabited by hard-drinking, lonely men. I went with 11-year-old girls, who enjoyed both the dog story and the related emotions. It was a chance to shed a tear without being traumatised. Fairly funny in places, fairly hackneyed all the way through, it will appeal to older children and animal lovers.
Sunday Indo Living