Dark Shadows, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Headhunters, plus a Canadian bank robber and a headstrong mother
Your choices are wide and varied this week. You can visit India with some Brits, re-live a cult TV show with Johnny Depp, catch a thriller from Oslo, watch a Toronto bank robber get caught or study a real-life mother who means well.
Also, notice that John Zaritsky's moving documentary about genetic disease, Do You Really Want to Know?, IS one of the films getting a repeat screening Sunday at the DOXA festival. The first one sold out. You can find out more at http://www.doxafestival.ca/festival-program
And here's my list for the week:
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 3 ½ stars
Dark Shadows 2
Edwin Boyd Citizen Gangster 3
Family Portrait in Black and White 4
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL: Seniors aren’t well served by the movies, especially at this time of year. Yet, here’s the third film for them in the last month, this one the most directly targetted of them all and the most fun. Seven Brits, all retired, decide to live their last years in India where the brochure for a hotel “for the Elderly and Beautiful” lures them. They’re all stock characters but I’ve been on a British tour and they’re a near match for the people I met there. Maggie Smith is a casual bigot chasing a deal on a hip replacement. Tom Wilkinson used to live there and has a history to reclaim. Penelope Wilton won’t eat what she can’t pronounce and nags her passive, ex-civil servant husband, Bill Nighy. Chief among them is Judy Dench, a widow with money problems and a mind ready to be revitalized by bustling Rajastan.
The hotel is falling apart. It’s young operator (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire) has little money, big disputes with his mother over the woman he loves but an optimistic mantra: “Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright, it is not the end.” That’s the sunny tone of this film. It suffers through trite story lines, broad comedy and stereotypes but still manages to endear with its warm heart and fine acting, pass along quite a bit of droll humor and give us a lot of the real ambiance of India. Not too deep, tourist level. John Madden directed; his third time with Judy Dench in the cast. 3 ½ out of 5
DARK SHADOWS: This is the 8th film Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have made together. Some have been great (Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands). Some not so much (Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd). This time they’re reviving a vampire and a cult TV series. Depp plays an 18th century gent and playboy who is turned into a vampire by a spiteful witch, buried alive by a raging mob and dug up again by a construction crew. It’s now 1972 and he’s in for major culture shocks.
Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller and Helena Bonham Carter play the dysfunctional descendants he moves in with. And Jonathan Frid, the Canadian actor who originally played the same role in the TV show and died only three weeks ago, appears in a cameo. I couldn’t get to the preview (I was required at my daughter’s wedding rehearsal) but a friend who did go tells me: “I liked the production design, cinematography, but the story line was a complete retreat of many similar films and the vibe just felt like they should have been playing it more over the top. Chloe Grace Moretz was excellent as the sullen teenager … The rest of the cast just seemed sort of bored, Depp tried hard to look interested but it's just a really boring film. Not much fun to be had, some great one liners that we've seen in the trailers/tv spots and a great 70's rock/disco soundtrack but overall it's just bland.” (Scotiabank, Fifth Avenue and suburban theatres, including the brand new Landmark in New Westminster) Sounds like a 2 out of 5
HEADHUNTERS: Crime thrillers from Scandinavia are hot these days, possibly as one critic surmised we think peaceful people live there with a dark side that we are drawn to uncover.
That’s certainly there in this tale by Norway’s Jo Nesbø. He’s so big now that his books no longer carry a sticker declaring him "the next Stieg Larsson." Judging by this superb film he’s a master of the fast-and-forward-moving plot. Even if it doesn’t always make complete sense.
Aksel Hennie stars as a man who is obsessed with his height. He says he’s 1.68 meters tall (about 5 ½ feet) and inherited only bad genes. So to keep his wife in the life-style he thinks she demands, he has two jobs: by day he interviews candidates for executive positions. A few extra questions tell him about any valuable art they own. At night he steals it, abetted by a security company worker sitting at a bank of monitors. His newest victim (played by impossibly handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who you’ll recognize from Game of Thrones) has a thing going with his wife, experience with guns and hi-tech systems and a long-lost Rubens in his possession. The story hurtles along throwing one surprise after another at us (including a gross scene that outdoes even that Slumdog Millionaire kid in an outhouse). This film has action and humor, builds suspense and tension when it’s called for and succeeds with a difficult task: it makes us root for a main character who’s not particularly likeable. 4 out of 5
EDWIN BOYD CITIZEN GANGSTER: I’m always happy to see the movies tell our own stories and this is a good one. I just wish the film was more intense. Boyd robbed banks in Toronto in the early 1950s (and, incidentally, lived his last years near Victoria as a bus driver). He became a media sensation (during a newspaper circulation war) and a people’s fascination but too little of that comes across on screen. Where’s the grandstanding mayor? Omissions like that hold this film back from the rousing yarn it could be.
What we get is a standard sympathetic view of the guy both through Scott Speedman’s charismatic performance and director Nathan Morlando’s choice to perpetuate the “gentlemen gangster” image. A famous CBC profile punctured that years ago and even the script here contradicts itself. It suggests Boyd turned to crime because he was psychologically damaged by war. Then Brian Cox, as his father, says no that’s not it, “He’s been lazy all his life”. Bank robbery was quicker than working to get what he wanted.
The film prefers the charming rogue approach. Boyd goes to jail and breaks out twice to rob again, this time with a small gang led by another army vet (Kevin Durand) who does show considerable intensity. The story then meanders along a well-known arc of partying with the molls, keeping ahead of the cops and bringing on their own downfall. It should have happened with more suspense. Boyd’s home life, on the other hand, with Kelly Reilly as his wife, does engage us up to a very emotional last scene. And visually the era is recreated in perfect detail. 3 out of 5
FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE: Finally, after many festivals, including ours five months ago, Hot Docs in Toronto, where it won a big award, and Sundance, this intriguing documentary is back home. It’s showing everyday for a week at 4 pm at the Denman Theatre and gets a special Mother’s Day screening Sunday with “filmmakers in attendance.” Appropriate, because this is a portrait of a singular and headstrong mother.
Olga Nenya is raising 17 children that no one else in her small town in the Ukraine wants. They’re mixed-race, fathered by African or Middle-Eastern visitors and then abandoned to orphanages by their mothers. Olga defied the local opinion, interference by municipal inspectors and actual racism spouted by a neighbor and some skinheads and gave the children a real home. As best she could. That’s where the film takes a fascinating turn. She’s strong and the children are grateful but the film does not idealize her. We see what she does wrong as well as right. She nags the children to work in the vegetable garden. She plays favorites with a boy who gets into fights with some of the others. She imposes her will and one child complains “We don’t have the right to our own thoughts. We have no rights at all.” Another eventually rebels. It’s an absorbing film by Julia Ivanova, a Russian émigré who lives here in Vancouver. (Denman) 4 out of 5
NOTE: The images are movie still supplied by the studios or producers and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.