Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fear Not Old Age, Laugh By Skip Sheffield Don’t fear old age. Laugh at it. That is the cheerful attitude of “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a cheeky comedy featuring some of the best older British actors working today. Dame Judi Dench heads a cast of seasoned pros who are not afraid of having a little fun at their own expense. The premise is that a diverse group of cash-strapped British retirees collectively fall for a photo-shopped brochure boasting a charming, newly restored and affordable “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful” in Jaipur, India. The reality is that the hotel is a decrepit relic of the British colonial era run by Sonny (Dev Patel of “Slumdog Millionaire”) in partnership with his two absent, older, more successful brothers. The seven British visitors are the first and only guests. Based on the 2004 novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach, with screenplay by Ol Parker, “Marigold Hotel” is a comedy of cultural clashes and reality adjustments, directed by John Madden (“The Debt”). Judi Dench is Evelyn Greenslade, a proud woman so broke she is forced to seek employment at an Indian call center. Nevertheless Evelyn is resourceful and clever and determined to make the best of her Indian adventure. Her opposite is Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), a hard-working housekeeper who was dumped for a younger woman. Perhaps as a result of her oppressed lot, Muriel has become distinctly racist. Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) is the only one in the group acquainted with India, as he spent the first 18 years of his life there. A former high court judge, Graham is returning to India for a special reason near and dear to his heart. Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilson play Douglas and Jean Ainslie, a couple married nearly 50 years but falling out of love. Ronald Pickup is Norman, an aging Lothario who doesn’t quite realize he is no longer appealing to women. Celia Imrie is Madge Hardcastle, a woman unlucky in love but still searching. Contrasting with the older characters is the young love of Sonny for Sunaina (Tena Desae), a beautiful girl deemed not suitable for Sonny by his class-conscious mother. “Marigold Hotel” is funny, romantic, touching and an utter delight for people of all ages. “Dark Shadows” Played for Laughs It is helpful to see “Dark Shadows” with someone who is a fan of the old television show as well as a fan of Johnny Depp. My friend Beth fits both descriptions. She watched the 1966-1971 television series and its re-runs religiously and she has always had a thing for Depp. I on the other hand was not interested in a soap opera with vampires and werewolves. Director Tim Burton is a professed admirer of “Dark Shadows” and Johnny Depp has long waited to play the head vampire, Barnabas Collins. So Depp applies whiteface and dark eye makeup once again to play the role of cursed vampire Barnabas Collins, who came with his family from England to coastal Maine to found a thriving fishing business and a town named after him: Collinsport. Though he was the most successful man in town and built the imposing Collinwood manor, Barnabas ran afoul of the local witch when he fell in love with fair Josette Dupres (Bella Heathcote). In a jealous rage the witch cursed Barnabas, turned him into a vampire, and buried him alive in a coffin. That coffin is unearthed 200 years later in 1972. Rather than being overly reverential or serious, Tim Burton opts for a comic approach to the far-fetched tale and its overblown characters. Depp’s Barnabas is a second cousin to his prancing pirate, Jack Sparrow. The character who is the most fun to watch is Eva Green as bitchy, witchy Angelique Bouchard. It’s good to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in action as regal matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. Jackie Earle Haley makes the most of his role as the family’s booze-swilling caretaker. The 1970s-era details are fun too. “Dark Shadows” may not strike terror, but it is good for a few good laughs. “The Cup” Old-Fashioned Horserace Drama On the serious side is “The Cup.” It’s a lovely, old-fashioned film by Simon Wincer (“Phar Lap,” “Free Willy”) film about the true story of the Melbourne Cup horse race of 2002. The Melbourne Cup is like the Kentucky Derby of Australia. The 2002 race was particularly dramatic not only because of the thrilling outcome of the race, but also the offstage drama. Damien Oliver (Stephen Curry) and his brother Jason (Daniel MacPherson) were born into a horseracing family. The boys’ father Ray died 20 years earlier in a racing accident. Just days before the Melbourne Cup, Jason Oliver too was killed in a racing accident. Damien Oliver was wracked with guilt and unsure if he should race the temperamental horse Media Puzzle, trained in Ireland by the great horse trainer Dermot Weld (Brendan Gleeson). I have never seen Brendan Gleeson deliver a bad performance, and he does not disappoint here. However, the human characters are secondary to the beautiful horses and racing sequences. That alone is worth the price of admission. A Dysfunctional "Perfect family" “The Perfect Family” is the ironic title of a very imperfect one, starring Kathleen Turner as Eileen Cleary, a devout Catholic suburban New Jersey housewife who is Campaigning hard for Catholic Woman of the Year at her parish. The fly in this ointment is the fact Eileen must introduce her family to the church board for their approval. Her husband Frank Cleary (Michael McGrady) is a recovering alcoholic teetering on relapse. Son Frank Jr. (Jason Ritter) is unhappily married and having an affair with a manicurist. The “piece de resistance” is daughter Shannon (Emily Deschanel), five months pregnant and determined to marry her girlfriend. While this is supposed to be zany, dysfunctional family fun under the direction of Anne Renton, I found it uncomfortable. When I saw Kathleen Turner recently playing a nun onstage, she looked better than in this film, which must have been made at the peak of her weight gain. Richard Chamberlain must have fallen on hard times to take a gig as the parish priest, Monsignor Murphy.

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