“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

On occasion when I am not particularly looking forward to a sequel,I will let a few weeks pass and let others see it first. I remember enjoying the 2012 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly and The Beautiful” all the while knowing that the film was capitalizing on my age group and beyond. The characters were well drawn and the pace was delightful in its introductions and comminglings. Friends varied in their feelings for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” 2015. Three friends raved ,two did not like it and one actually reviewed it with a theater worker’s comment, “a Marvel action film for senior citizens”. I saw it with my husband this afternoon because I had to see for myself,and it was a rainy Monday. We both felt the sequel fell short of our low expectations.

Three years is a long time to remember the circumstances of all the varied players.I can’t imagine seeing the sequel without having seen the original. I will flatly state don’t try it. You are immediately thrown into a California scene where Maggie Smith and Dev Patel are in a convertible driving down Route 66. They magically end up in San Diego, not in L.A. The fast-talking Sonny (Dev Patel) is seeking financing for his second hotel. We guess that Muriel Donlevy (Maggie Smith) is brought along for her “economy of expression”. We later learn her part in the second enterprise is more critically important.

After suffering through some weak lines about weak tea,we are back in India at the local ex-pat. club learning that the boarders all have part-time jobs be it watering down the wine,guiding tours badly,or buying pashminas and fabric for a retail company. The hotel is home of the “happy hunters”, many looking for sex and companionship. Madge(Celia Imrie)has one of the worst lines. On seeing Guy Chambers (Richard Gere)register, she yelps “Lordy,Lordy, have mercy on my ovaries”.

Other banalities ensue. “It takes teamwork to make a dream work” and “We can still shake it,you know”. “Good things don’t come on their own,one must make them.” “Water doesn’t flow until you turn on the tap” and “No one is checking out until the ultimate ‘check-out'” are bromides less than wise.Snarky comments like,”what a busy little pensioner bee” and questions like,”When was your last check-up?” are the funniest.

There are too many mini-vignettes to enumerate besides a major engagement party and a wedding. Instead of the end of things and the beginning of things, we see a continuation of the same misunderstandings and befuddlements. Should we have more respect for our elders? Well, if they deserve it. Too many of this lot are still into scheming,bartering,cheating and insinuating. Don’t expect much wisdom here. These guys are still trying to figure life out, but for one exception. The wisest,Muriel, (Maggie Smith) gets the voice overs and the right to call Sonny a self-pitying mess-up.

I loved the dancing and the Indian music and ambiance. Tina Desai was beautiful as Sunaina,the bride. I hated the “novelist” hoax with the weakest lines I have ever heard Richard Gere deliver.Dev Patel reminded my husband and me of Ray Romano in his goofiness. I missed Tom Wilkerson and thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench mis-matched. Whether the “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is “franchised or foot-noted” better not be up to me for director John Madden’s sake.

“Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”

If you demand physical movement in your movies,this rabbinical court drama is not for you. If you find amusement in farce and affirmation in how sad women’s lot is in much of the world see “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”. You will leave the theater frustrated,but enlightened.

In traditional Jewish law, a woman can not initiate a divorce. A “gett” is a divorce  document ( a cutting of the scroll) ,and it can only be given by the husband and processed by a court of rabbis.  For Orthodox Jews in Israel, there are no civil divorces ,or for that matter, civil marriages. This fact was new to me,but the fact that women are controlled by men in much of the world was not.

Headshots and confined rooms in colorless frames draw our attention to the dialogue and the silences. We learn that a woman of 45,married for twenty years and separated for three seeks a divorce. She is the mother of four grown children,and she supports herself as a hairdresser. Her husband refuses her divorce request,and her attorney attempts to help gain her one. Her freedom is all consuming, and she is patient ~ unnervingly so.

There is no adultery or physical violence,yet Viviane’s unhappiness is visceral. Her simple statements “He hates me” and “I want my divorce” and “Give me my freedom” highlight a complex masking of pain.We learn an interesting fact. Viviane’s mother-in-law has lived with Elisha and her for the twenty years they have been married. Her “I’m not going back” will remind literary types of Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening”.

Ronit Elkabetz is the co-writer,co-director and the star,Viviane. Her sister Shlomi co-wrote and co-directed.They have a message to send the world:Many women are not in control of their lives. Viviane’s visage will stay with you as she subtilely  shows her suffering and her passion and her disdain. She is never resigned to her husband’s “no”. Elisha,her husband, will not speak to her. He stalls and ignores summons after summons. There can be no hearing without him,and he knows he has the upper hand. He states that he will not come to court until  Viviane comes home.

The judge played by Eli Gornstein firmly reiterates that he must have grounds. The witnesses bring humor and the premise that truth is in the telling. Viviane’s oldest brother champions her husband,”when he sings,the birds stop and listen”. “Women need boundaries.” He then proudly states that his sister has raised their children “to the glory of Israel.”Viviane’s sister-in-law is called next to bear witness. She hysterically states that she would like to share Viviane’s fate even though ” a divorced woman in Israel eats shit.” Viviane can not control her giggles at this vitriolic display of female bonding.

Five years pass and we still only see them at the table. Besides witnesses being called and family members attesting and judges dismissing themselves, humiliation and honor get further confused. There are rumors at the synagogue! Interrogations and questions reveal a little of everyone’s life. Respect is bandied about,but hard won. In the end,Viviane walks the straight and narrow still,and we ask ourselves why.

There are rules to be followed and bargains to be made in this tightly-honed art piece. From bare legs and painted toes to forgotten skull caps,power bristles. The attorney Carmel (Menashe Noy) does his best as his client seethes in silence and his own honor is put to question.”She does not love or respect you. Grant her a divorce and free yourself,too.”

I must remark that I liked the symbolic divorce ritual shown. I found it moving and compelling. This,too, was new to me and another example of how fine film can bring the foreign near. I longed for this untying of the knot,far superior to our hand-delivered court summons or decree. The husband places the gett,or divorce papers in his hands and with his soon to be ex’s arms parallel to the floor, he drops the paper into her open palms. He recites “you are hereby permitted to be with any man”. The problem with this admittedly dictatorial decree is that Elisha has made Viviane promise celibacy prior to his giving permission! “No one after you.” The shutting door opens a host of questions for me. Highly recommended for the serious film-goer. It will become a classic. Please add your commentary on the film. There is so much that I left out.

“Cinderella”

On occasion who doesn’t need a little romance and the re-instilling of the importance of the magical attributes of kindness,imagination and courage?! How fitting then that at “Cinderella” ‘s  heart this is the “KIC” one gets right to the vein: kindness,imagination and courage. Kenneth Branaugh directs this classic fairy tale with perfect underdog spirit and a new bit of backstory. Mother love is championed and skullduggery still loses out.

First,see this Disney movie for the cast and the costuming. Then see it for the transformations and re-transformations of pumpkin,carriage and entourage. And finally, see “Cinderella” for glorious horseback and waltz scenes. Lily James is enrapturing.

Cate Blanchette,always pose-worthy in her hautiness,shows just a glimmer of agape’ grace and self-reflection. Helena Bonham Carter begins in Tim-Burton-fashion with serious aplomb,her macabre originality now legendary. Add the male cast,all besotted and love-stirred,and enjoy how pheromones fly.

Satiny mustard citrons and emerald greens for Cate, pinks and oranges for two step-sisters and the most dazzling corn-flower blue for Lily all add to a visual delight. The designs will take your breathe away,just like it did Cinderella’s when the Prince placed his hand on her waist. I loved all the embellishment except for the glitter,but then, as my friend reminded me,I was not deemed the target audience. I just got a “KIC” out of the screenplay written be Chris Weitz and the costumes of Sandy Powell. Oh,and the maxim: “schemers beware” provides social uplift for those who don’t believe in love at first sight.

‘ 71

War through the eyes of a new British recruit has never looked more out of control. While in conventional war no matter how much one trains, one is never prepared for the happenstance of hellish circumstance. At least,  the enemy is known. Spies and counterspies  are not on the battlefield. In Northern Ireland in 1971 this is not the case. With the Irish “Troubles” as the backdrop,  loyalty and discipline contort and reassemble again and again. Stunned and fear-filled,the lost and left Gary Hooper (Jack O’Connell) shows us what we ask of our trained soldiers. This is a new recruit’s story. This time there is no survivor’s guilt. Conversely, children taking part and dying is  ’71 ‘s central motif.

The film begins in darkness. No images divert our attention from the sound of punches being thrown. Then the film explodes with UK lads boxing, and then running through a beautiful countryside,then crawling commando-style through rocky streams and glorious bubbling creek beds. There are culverts to be tunneled and constant teamwork. Platoon rifle practice,barrack and crested beret displays are all shown in silence. The entrance of dialogue comes in the emergency orders for in country deployment to Belfast, and Hooper consoling his pre-teen son with “I’ll be back soon”. War experience will deliver a changed father and a changed film-goer, I suspect.

Mothers lose control of their sons in this war. They collaborate,steal firearms, throw bricks  and are primed to kill. Like in the Middle East and in Africa, child soldiers burn our sensibilities. When a fourteen year old named Sean is coaxed with “Come on,Sean, don’t think about it. Pull the trigger. We are at war here. I know you can. Pull the trigger.”,we wince.

There are impossible sets of loyalties. There are opportunists,infiltrated police,and “wee man” children whom filmgoers will never forget. One ballsy-talking eight year old swallows beer when Hooper is too traumatized to do so. Resigned his high voice proclaims “the IRA bastards killed my Dad; they are going to kill us all.” War in this child’s eyes is a game of division,the good is divided from the bad.

The music of Darren Holmes is its own dialogue in a film that has little. His strumming beat of anticipation never leaves us. The tension and fury of The Flats, the IRA stronghold is head-splitting with protesters banging trash can lids. Music is in riot overload, and it pushes out of control. As one character calls it: “David Bowie is for girls.” Women often try to subdue the men’s warrior passions in this film. They seem to breathe grief.

What viewers get in this directorial debut of Yann De Mange are opportunities to live the war in Belfast,Ireland. I can’t remember a film where I felt so in the midst of pushing, spitting and brick throwing riots. The hand-held camera makes the jostling visceral. When gun shots, flames and bombs surround our protagonist, we have inhabited the scene. This is unlike the war films “Unbroken” and “American Sniper” where we are watchers. Here we are made to feel like we are limping through hazy alleyways searching for a safe place to catch our breath.

The sepia dream-like sequence is especially backlit beautifully. Accolades from film festivals in Berlin, Toronto, and New York attest to this immediacy of event. The Sundance Festival noted its pacifist promise. No matter where your allegiance, the fog of street war looks untenable, undisciplined and crazy. This film says no more than that, but it says it memorably.

“Leviathan”

Forty-seven years ago I read the Hobbesian treatise “The Leviathan” in a history seminar course. The Russian film “Leviathan” has urged me to return to “the Spark Notes”. Espousing a society where the individual gives up something valuable to a central sovereignty so that society can peacefully prosper does not happen in this picture. The powerful monster instead intimidates and produces more despair. No fear is lessened. No peace ensues. Certainly, justice is rendered null. More than a human story, this is an ideological one.

Yet, as always, it is the human story that moves us. This film is perfect for the Lenten season. The suffering of the protagonist is so profound that one feels one is viewing the stations of the cross in real time. This is no mustard seed parable. There is no shelter. The cherished home that has served as such is dismantled in heartrending frames that wreck everything dear about the importance of place. Here, the place is the 1929 homestead of Kolya and his grandfather before him, and by metaphor, the place where the human spirit lives.

The 2014 winner of the best screenplay in Cannes, “Leviathan” is emotionally unsettling. The Philip Glass twelve-tone scale and his score from the opera “Akhnaten” adds to the film’s tension and crushing downward spiral. Like with Job,the working class Kolya’s travails keep escalating. Aleksei Serebryakov is now “my face” of contemporary Russian. He is incredible in this film, and interesting personally. Serebryakov emigrated to Canada with his family in 2012 citing Russian government corruption and obstacles in raising his children in the current political environment. He brings this passion to the screen. His Kolya will have you marveling at his humor as a traffic patrolman follows the rules that are to keep this common man in his place. Kolya’s sarcastic query, “Polished your badge ,today?” even makes the enforcer smile. The scene is set. Here is a man who just wants to keep what is his which is .66 acres of house,green house and car garage shop. 650 rubles will be paid on a premiere setting worth 3.5 million rubles.

Interesting too, the film’s co-writers,Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin,were said to have been inspired by the U.S. Marvin Heemeyer’s bulldozer rampage. In the film, it is the state that goes on the rampage. Kolya is not a “hothead”. There is no blood dripping from his hands. He is forgiving, in love with his wife, even after she is found to be adulterous with his best friend. Kolya is a caring and responsive father who calls his teenage son “wandering spirit” and seems to understand his unacceptance of his stepmother. “Forgive her, she is a good person”Kolya guidingly tells his son.

“Leviathan” was filmed in the village of Teri Berka. Cool blues and stormy grays dominate the wide screen shots. Light is noticed in the spark from a cigarette, in the tail lights of a car, in street lanterns, in headlights, in the dawn, in lamp light through a window, on a TV screen ~all before any dialogue is spoken. If there is any illumination, the camera relishes it. Portraits are used in conjunction with sweeping panoramas of Northwestern Russian seascapes. Whether these are icons of saints or images of the suffering Jesus, whether they are headshots of past Russian leaders or Putin, himself~all are used to show that Kolya recognizes authority that has contributed to his pain.

Equal rights and rule of law are not here. “Kissing upward and kicking downward” is what we see. Key events occur off screen with the drift and the sound of sea spume. You will be left with Kolya’s sobs and a new sense of why Russians drink so much vodka. If there are self-serving power mongers at the top of the hill,”there are lots of assholes at the bottom of the hill”,too. “Teach him to know his place” becomes the mantra of tragedy. See this film with a trusted friend who understands “Let’s have a numbing drink”. You will be rewarded with gratitude and empathy in abundance.

“The Judge”

I wish the State of Indiana would give financial incentives to movie-makers to film in Indiana. One of the winners of last year’s Heartland Film Festival was supposedly set in a small Indiana town, but was actually filmed in Shelburne, Massachusetts. True,the backdrop of director David Dobkin’s “The Judge” makes use of the proverbial diner,bar,tire shop,fishing cabin and front porch;yet,the town square and church architecture and countryside were nothing like Indiana. I could not keep from imagining Crawfordsville and Shades being a much better setting. The Berkshires are lovely,but don’t try to pass them off as Indiana’s environs by throwing in a tornado.

The cast of “The Judge” is what you go to see. Robert Downey, Jr. is superb in his impatience and candor. Vincent D’Onofrio is encyclical-like in his resignation and matter-of-fact suffering. Billy Bob Thornton could not be slicker or more savvy as prosecutor. Vera Farmiga is protective and accepting,yet bedeviled by her past choices.Ken Howard is masterful and ready for any conundrum posed. And finally, Robert Duvall scores an Oscar win as the once renowned judge, turned law-breaker. Duvall is perfection as a cantankerous and failing father awash in alcoholism and dementia.

Big ideas like justice,reconciliation and forgiveness mesh with the passing of time and chronicles of life’s pain in divorce,estrangement, parent death,unwed motherhood and lost promise. Throw in a hit and run fatality with courtroom scenes of bluster,and we almost have too much. I liked the cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s mix of broad and close frames and the beautiful sound track.

The scenes of showering off bowel discharges and selecting a jury by bumper stickers are
tender,fresh and memorable. A crowd pleaser of a movie if it were only filmed in the heartland.

“Mr. Turner”

If you have two and a half hours to immerse yourself in the last two decades of an eighteenth -century, renowned, seaside painter see “Mr.Turner”. Dick Pope’s cinematography is worth the time spent,especially the pictorial splendor of the artist fishing creekside in a wooden skiff. This frame is accompanied by “Jesus rays” and green, primordial lushness. Other landscapes evoke golden windmills and water/sky vastness, but this quiet meditative frame is my favorite. Nature is where the curmudgeon J.M.W.T. could find escape from the vicissitudes of artist politics and hanger-ons’ demands. This frame and the smokey mirage-like composition used with the initial credits do homage to Turner’s ephemeral use of light.

This film is a period drama as well as a bi-op. The stoke hats, the horse and carriages, the lice and scrofula, the candlelight and the sherry, the incessant cleaning of windows and the batting of rugs -all bring the era before us. The costumes and both the inner domestic and the outer street scenes are mesmerizing. Light and shadow bring Margate,London and Chelsea settings in mid- eighteen- century to the fore.

This may be director Mike Leigh’s masterpiece. It combines the subjects of a tender yet merciless genius with art and its place in our lives. One flirtatious interlude has a character say,”The universe is chaotic, and you,Mr.Turner,make us see it.”

As for Mr.Turner,his complex and rather dislikeable character is played by a gravelly voiced Timothy Spall. Spall plays against the scenery of loch,light and lasciviousness. There are three “Mrs.Turners”. His ex-mistress (Ruth Sheen) is the mother of two of his daughters. She is a shrieker who berates him for neglecting them. He had not troubled to acknowledge his first grand-daughter. “Billy Turner, you insult me. You have always insulted me.” seems to speak to his modus operandi. He regularly gropes Hannah (Dorothy Atkinson),his simple and devoted housekeeper.  In  one scene, he indecorously throws her against a bookcase while rhymatically breathing and thrusting.When she asks if he will be returning to the house later that night,he  barks ” no”.  Hannah responds with “I might as well stop changing the bed sheets in here”. Later, when she finds an address in his jacket, Hannah journeys with whom we presume to be their sickly daughter to elicit aid. The girl dies in the street outside his new residence,and Hannah returns alone. Sophie Booth (Marion Bailey) is his final match. Their relationship is warm and caring,though he never tells her that he is the renowned painter,Mr.Turner. She learns this truth from the doctor she enlists to treat his bronchitis. The doctor prescribes bed,broth and balsam and the continual good care of Mrs.Booth. She is at his bedside when he says his final words: “The sun is God.”

Spall is a masterful character actor. His wide-leg umbrella supported gait,his grunting and harrumphing will be remembered. Where there is anger,there is pain. He spits on canvases,throws stools,groans like Grendel, yet is able to brook his ire and sing arias of lost love and see a fallen angel in a section of tree bark. His drollness is a thing of legend. He remarks that he resembles a gargoyle and that loneliness,drunkeness and solitude will come. Turner’s melancholy is tempered with wit. Spall delivers double entendres to his host like,”Can never be too salty for me,Madame” with aplomb. He sobs as he arranges and sketches a young prostitute his daughter’s age when she tells him that she does extras. One daughter has died while he “was painting his ridiculous ship wrecks.” He asks that his own physician to ” go down and have a sherry and reassess your opinion” when he is told of his heart condition. It is well to remember that Spall garnered the Best Actor Prize at Cannes.

There is so much detail in this film that I am surprised at its mere two and a half hour length. The infamous slave ship the “Zong” is mentioned as the first Mr. Booth recounts his naval experience in the 1780’s. He confesses that the conditions for the slaves were so bad that ” it sent me back to church”. The workings of the Royal Academy and its members Corot ,Constable etc.. are introduced. John Ruskin’s criticism and salon swagger are shown ;and critics,like Queen Victoria herself, are given play. Her highness thought Turner’s smearing of chrome pigment “a dirty yellow mess”. Steam engines,the camera,the use of  prism optics all enter into Turner’s oeuvre and outlook. The camera’s  easy realism and his first photo shot had him opine: “I fear I ,too, am finished”.

The score of “Mr. Turner” is Gary Yershon’s ,and it leads the narrative unfolding from barber/servant father and “lunatic” mother through the bequeathing of his life’s work to the British people. Bird song, fiddle, harpsichord and silence presage salon harangues and  frames of ice and fire firmaments. It is an understatement to say that this film hands us plenty to think about besides Mr. Turner. History is  truly captured.