Sunday, October 26, 2014

Austenland (2013)

This trifle is neither funny, romantic nor engaging enough to recommend, but at least it's not the most painful way to spend 97 minutes.

Jane Hayes is a "Jane Austen" fanatic. The more losers she dates, the more firmly enmeshed in Fitzwilliam Darcy fantasies she becomes. Her apartment is chock full of Edwardian collectibles, dolls, dollhouses, china, costumes and, to top it all off, countless likenesses of Darcy, including a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth in the role.

Her obsession culminates in the decision to trade in her Toyota Tercel and spend her entire life savings on an Austenland package, where she will travel to England and live in a recreation of Austen's world, peopled by actors who play period characters. All patrons are promised a romance at the end of the trip.

Her friend, Molly, tries to talk her out of the expenditure, but to no avail. They make a bet, however. If the trip ends up in disaster, Jane promises to de-Austenize her abode, because the fanaticism is getting out of hand. Jane agrees, but I'm left puzzled because Molly never specifies what Jane will win if the trip turns out to be a success.

I'm not sure whether Jane is more keen on Austen or the dream of idealistic love. Idolizing the former is certainly less destructive than continually longing for the latter.

Once Jane's journey begin, it's at the UK airport that we learn that she only had enough money to pay for the low level package. She quickly meets another patron, the incorrigible and overblown Lizzie (played by Jennifer Coolidge), who seems to have never read a book, much less one of Austen's. But she has plenty of money to spend and has purchased the platinum package, which gives her all the pride, prejudice and frills that money can buy. I'm not sure why they didn't' make the lead character "Lizzie" and have the frivolous, man-hungry Coolidge serve as "Lydia." Surely it cannot be because they didn't want to be too obvious, because this movie is nothing if not that.

When Jane and Lizzie meet the Austenland owners, the Wattlesbrooks, the class discrimination becomes sharp. Lizzie, Miss Moneybags, receives the most deferential treatment, the best wardrobe, best service and best living quarters. Lizzie is transported in a carriage and Jane must ride on the outside jump seat. Since Lizzie seems to have a good heart, it is unclear why she doesn't defend her new friend more. If she advocated on Jane's behalf (as another customer, Amelia, later does), Jane would certainly receive more respect from Wattlesbrook, but then I suppose the plot -- such as it is -- would end summarily.
Jane's room is in the poor tower, miles away from Lizzie's and requiring a trek through the servant's corners to get there. In fact, one of the rare funny lines in the movie came when a sympathetic Lizzie reassures Jane that "I'm just around the corner" and remembers that, actually, she's not and that Jane sleeps in such a far, deserted place that it gives Lizzie nightmares to think of her there.

Jane does not even get to select her own fantasy surname. While the high-paying customers are "Charming" and "Heartwright," Jane is called "Jane Erstwhile."

At the big house (modeled after Darcy's Pemberly), Jane meets the male actors who play the Edwardian suitors, Wattlesbrook's nephew Henry Nobley and Colonel Andrews. At the first group dinner, Wattlesbrook unceremoniously reveals that Jane (the real woman, not just the fictional character she is playing) has had a disappointing love life. Why Wattlesbrook would be in possession of this information about a paying customer is unclear. But it gives some of the other group members cause to pity (or in Henry's case empathize with) Jane, while others, Amelia who is modeled after Austen's Lady Catherine de Bourgh use the information as reason to scorn her.

Later a largely shirtless Captain East also enters the scene to vie for the female attention, but since he is so far removed from anything resembling an Austen character, his presence is jarring. It is not effective to divert so wildly from the film's construct. It would be fine to have a Captain East in the story, who acted less like a Chippendale's dancer, especially when Wattlesbrook lectures her guests at the beginning that no out of character or risqué behavior would be allowed.

As Pride and Prejudice dictates, the snobby Henry and Jane dislike each other initially. But when he breaks character, we learn that Henry is a history professor who was dumped by his girlfriend. From the beginning, he has felt himself more like Jane than not. His banter with her is a way to protect his feelings, not a sign of condescension.

The problem is that I don't feel Jane experiencing the grudging attraction and stings of humiliation and self-consciousness that Elizabeth Bennett always had in Darcy's presence. Yes, Henry does seem awestruck by Jane from afar. Clearly, his cool retorts are defensive rather than antagonistic and the story might be better told from his perspective.

Jane quickly tires of the Austen actors and gravitates towards groomsman Martin. He dresses like a stablehand and servant, but whenever he and Jane are alone together, he breaks character and scoffs at those playing the charade. He may hate the Wattlesbrook pretending, but he loves the animals that he tends and when Jane sees him assist in the birth of a foal, she begins to feel that she wants to be part of his "real" world much more than she wants to continue in the Austen fantasy one that she's purchased. She escapes all Wattlesbrook-organized events that she can, to spend all of her time with Martin.

On one occasion, when her horse stalls, Martin leaves to get her another, when Jane is caught in a downpour. Henry comes along and insists that she get on his horse, so that they can ride to shelter. She says she can only ride sidesaddle in her dress and, disregarding her objections, he rips open the skirt and slings her astride his saddle. As he holds her, soaked, against him she nervously acts if he has her and he assures her that she does. It is actually an endearing moment and maybe I would have liked more between those two, but Jane actually spends more time canoodling with Martin and enjoying it quite a bit, so I have no particular rooting interest for Henry. A triangle may have worked in Bridget Jones Diary, but this Austen derivation would have worked better if only Henry and Jane remained at the heart of the story.

When Martin sees Jane laughing with Captain East (he doesn't even become jealous of Henry), he gives her the cold shoulder and says she would much rather socialize with the actors than with him. Soon after, Henry saves her from the lecherous Mr. Wattlesbrook and she becomes friendly with him, but even when he walks her to her room and urgently kisses her hand before reluctantly parting, their exchanges seem far from passionate.

Jane finds the needlework, promenades and musical performances the women must engage in to stay in character tedious. When Wattlesbrook insists that Jane take her turn at the piano, Jane plays "it's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes..." by Nelly. Maybe that would have been funny if I'd seen the movie in theater, but as it is, I'm left cold. Of course, they repeat this performance for the closing credits, because it's just so funny to have people dressed in Edwardian garb sprouting lines like, "give that man what he askin for, cuz I feel like bustin loose and I feel like touchin you," right? Maybe if Dame Maggie Smith was doing it, I'd chuckle. But Keri Russell? Not so much.

Jane smuggled her cell phone into her room so she could keep in touch with her friend, Molly, back home. When Mrs. Wattlesbrook finds it, she leaps at the chance to throw Jane out of the trip. But another customer, Amelia, intervenes and says that the phone was actually hers, not Jane's. Since Amelia is a wealthy and valued customer, Wattlesbrook quickly forgets that possession of the phone was a breach of the rules and tells everyone the incident should never be spoken of again. Jane gets to stay, but leaving would not have been a devastating turn of events in her mind, at this point.

The group then puts on an amateur play, written by Wattlesbrook which is supposed to be comical in its awfulness, but is simply awful. They are to pair up. Amelia asks Jane to help her spend time alone with Captain East and, beholden to Amelia for the cell phone cover up, Jane chooses Henry as her partner for the play, against her will and to his pleasant surprise. They play a pair of lovebirds in the enactment and laugh over the many glitches they experience. They find that they enjoy each other's company.

At the ball Wattlesbrook has staged to cap off the vacation, Jane has promised the first two dances to Henry. Martin sulks at being shunned and Jane seems interested in resuming their romance. Later, Henry proposes to Jane, in a scene similar to Darcy's second proposal to Elizabeth. Jane says that she didn't expect to feel that way when it actually happened. Actually, her feelings are so ambiguous that you can take this statement two ways: 1. She didn't expect to have really feelings when she received the stage proposal, or 2. She didn't expect to feel nothing when she finally received the Darcy proposal she'd always dreamed of. At any rate, she doesn't except Henry's offer.

Jane is anxious to reunite with Martin. When they are alone, she says that when Austenland ends, she can change her flight out of London and spend more time with Martin, in the "real" world together. He agrees.

But after Jane has packed up and is ready to leave, she has an angry encounter with Mrs. Wattlesbrook. She mentions having, to her surprise, been paired up with Henry in the end. Since she had the low level package, she hadn't expected to be romanced by one of the premium actors. Wattlesbrook scoffs that Henry was never meant for Jane. Martin was the actor she was supposed to end up with. Jane is shocked. She didn't know Martin was an actor at all. Everything he said to her was a pretense, part of the skit. Angrily she tells Mrs. Wattlesbrook that she is going to report Austenland for sexual harassment, because she is sure that she is not the first patron that Mr. Wattlesbrook has assaulted (as Henry himself acknowledged when he rescued her). Since Jane did not seem to think twice about the Wattlesbrook incident after it happened, this seems like a rather petty and plot-stretching threat on her part.

She storms off to the airport. Afraid of the business repercussions, Mrs. Wattlesbrook quickly calls Martin and tells him to meet Jane at the airport and make nice, to smooth things over. Martin is with his colleagues when he gets the call and is smug that his services are needed. He says that he's surprised that Jane didn't fall for Henry, since she seemed up for grabs for any man that came along. Henry is ready to fight Martin for disparaging Jane's honor.

They both run to the airport where Jane is getting ready to board the plane in her street clothes. She is unmoved by Martin and realizes that even his accent was fake. As for Henry, she thanks him for the adventure, even if she knows it wasn't real. Well, it wasn't really clear during the rest of the movie that she cherished her time with Henry over her time with Martin, so the "happy ending" we're being spoonfed seems especially arbitrary.

Back at home, Jane keeps up her end of the bet and immediately begins uncluttering her apartment by removing all of the Austen props. Even the Darcy cardboard cut-out is headed for the trash. I suspected that Martin was a phony all along, but then another part of me thought that maybe the story was about Jane learning to be realistic and to choose a real man over a dream date. So, I thought if she turned away from Henry to pick Martin, she would be growing up, giving up the unattainable for substance and concrete. But, nah, that turns out not to be the point of the story.

The doorbell rings and Jane expects that it's her friend, welcoming her back home, but it's actually Henry. He followed her from London because ... she forgot her scrapbook. Jane says, "you could have mailed it." Yes, he could have, he admits. If he came all this way just to ensure she wouldn't sue Mrs. Wattlesbrook, she promises him she won't. No, that's not why he's there. He wanted to tell her that nothing he said to her was a lie. He was not an actor. He's a history professor. Wattlesbrook is really his aunt and, disillusioned with life, he decided to try one of her Austen fantasies. It was his first time, just like it was Jane's. She said that she wanted to live in the "real world" and he is real. They embrace and were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons, er, travel agent, who, by bringing her to [Austenland], had been the means of uniting them.

Wait. Does this means that Jane won the bet with Molly after all?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Maleficent (2014)

As with Wicked, to fully appreciate this retelling, you have to be familiar with the original source material. The real story lies in the contrast. Once again, we deconstruct a notorious "villain" and learn the truth behind their evil reputation.

Maleficent is the witch who sentenced the King's daughter, Aurora, to eternal sleep. We meet her as a lighthearted child, which begs the question: why was she christened Maleficent. As a cross between "malevolent" and "magnificent" the girl certainly grows into the name, but before she became the most feared creature in the forest, that moniker seems misplaced. It would have made more sense, if she started out as Millicent and then rebranded herself as Maleficent, when she set out on the road to revenge.

At any rate, Maleficent is born in a world where two lands exist. One is inhabited by self-aggrandizing, warmongering humans, ruled by an arrogant king who tramples over the rights of others to get what he wants. The other is a land of fairies. They have no ruler, but live together peacefully, in harmony with the beautiful animals, vegetation and nature that surround them. Young Maleficent flies around happily, giggling at the hijinks of her fairy friends, sorting out their trivial disputes and engaging in the occasional mudfight herself. She is graced with sparkling green eyes, sharp cheekbones, a mane of brown hair and large powerful wings that allow her to sweep through her world with unparalleled speed and power. She's not only stronger than everyone else, but wiser. The three other fairies we meet (Flittle, Knotgrass and Thistletwit) are as flighty as they are tiny and spend more time bickering among themselves than getting any work done. It is no wonder that Maleficent emerges as a natural leader in essence, if not in name.

One day they find an intruder in fairyland. It's a boy, Stefan. Maleficent tells him he has to leave and to return the pretty stone she knows he's stolen from them. He grudgingly hands it over and she tosses it into the sea. He says he wouldn't have given it to her, if he'd known she'd just throw it away. She said she didn't throw it away, but returned it to the water where it belonged. The point is, it wasn't his or hers to keep. While this fact may have been lost on Stefan, he manages to impress Maleficent when, he shakes her hand and his ring scorches her skin. She explains to him that iron burns fairies and, without a second thought, he casts the ring aside. He had so little, but was willing to give up what he did have to avoid harming her. I thought it was foreshadowing about a sacrifice Stefan would make later, but sadly, it just served to expose Maleficent's weakness to Stefan.

Although she had initially warned him never to return to Fairyland, she soon recants that rule. When he asks if she will be there when he comes back, she offers a coy "maybe." He visits often. They become fast friends and then a romance blooms as they grow up. But eventually Stefan stops coming. We're told that he's off seeking his fortune. It's not clear if the reason for his absence has been explained to Maleficent.

One day the king from Stefan's world invades Fairyland and, seeing Maleficent as the lone person protecting it, he wages war with her. Suddenly, the trees and animals come to life and with Maleficent, at the head, they form an army that sends the king running back home with his tail between his legs. Humiliated and ailing, he promises his daughter's hand and his kingdom to anyone who slays Maleficent for him.

After being away for years, Stefan returns to Fairyland. Maleficent tries to give him cool greeting, but that soon melts away and as they talk, it's as if the years had never passed and they are as close as ever. He pulls out a flask and offers Maleficent a drink. She slakes her thirst and soon becomes drowsy, resting against Stefan. When she is unconscious he takes out his knife to kill her, but he can't bring himself to do it. Instead, he cuts off her wings, an amputation that seems more cruel and gruesome than a stab to the heart would have been. When Maleficent wakes and finds her wings gone, her despair rings across the land. She still has arms and legs, but nonetheless she's been crippled.

I sit through the rest of the film knowing that however things end, because this is a Disney movie the brutality of Stefan's act can never be avenged to my satisfaction. He takes the trophy wings back to the King and says that he has killed her. It's not a lie. He killed her emotionally.

She hobbles weakly, broken, her shoulders sunk. Her heart broken. When she learns that Stefan has been made king of the humans, she realizes that he mutilated her, so he could gain his fortune. Her anger and pain forge a transformation. She declares herself Queen of Fairyland. Gone is her innocence. She emerges sleek and icy, with a magnificent wardrobe, a head wrap that covers her hair and any girlish vulnerability she once possessed and a command of magic that intimidates all, bending them to her will.

She sees a crow, Diaval, caught in a net and, because she needs his wings, she turns him into a man, her right hand man. Because she has saved his life, he pledges his loyalty to her. He flies to and fro bringing her information from the other land, acting as her eyes and ears, if not her confidante. As with everyone else, she keeps Diaval at arms length.

When Diaval brings news that Stefan and his Queen have had a baby, Aurora, Maleficent plans a visit. Flittle, Knotgrass and Thistletwit have already flown over to give Aurora their blessings of beauty and joy. Stefan hesitantly accepts their bounty. I suppose he's right to be wary. My friend also wondered why the three fairies are so eager to be of service to Stefan, knowing that he cut off another fairy's wings.

Well, maybe they just like innocent babies and they aren't trying to honor Stefan, but the child for her own sake. On the other hand, maybe they don't know what Stefan did. Although animals, trees and plants are all alive in Fairyland, they didn't witness what Stefan did firsthand or otherwise they would have made their presence known when it was happening. So, we have to assume that Maleficent told them. She withdrew into herself into the attack so much, that I just don't see her having that conversation with them.

They know her wings are gone, but they may not know why or at whose hands. They live with the result, not the reason. Maleficent has become cruel and demanding. They cower in her presence. They are not in regular contact with Stefan and if they've heard of his tyranny, they don't live with it. On their nearsighted scale of bad, Maleficent probably ranks higher than the king does. And, of course, it's the plight of any tragic heroine to be misunderstood. Like Elphaba before her, people recognized her as vengeful, while forgetting that that means she must have had something to avenge in the first place. They know her crime, but not their cause.

Why wouldn't she explain herself? Hurt because people automatically assume the worst and she won't stoop to defend herself, won't beg for their understanding. Pride. A sense of shame and blame. She feels she never should have trusted Stefan in the first place. Perhaps, she thinks she "let" it happen. For whatever reason, we don't see Maleficent communicate with the other three fairies directly. So, we don't know why they aid her enemy's child. If they do it feeling that the babe should not suffer for her father's sin, it would be nice if they mentioned that, because I think that would be a good plot point.

Anyway, after the 3 fairies bless Aurora, Maleficent storms in on a cloud of darkness and terrorizes everyone gathered. Stefan has guards, but Maleficent has something stronger: words. She says she wants to bless the baby too. Afraid, Stefan begs her to stop. He falls to his knee. Maleficent gleams and gloats, "I like you begging; do it again." Angelina Jolie delivers the line with delicious menace.

As everyone listens fearfully, Maleficent wishes Aurora all good things. Dare the crowd breathe a sigh of relief? Not yet. As her blessing reaches its breathless end, Maleficent says that on her 16th birthday the child shall prick her finger on a spinning wheel and fall into a sleep from which she will never awake. Stefan pleads, so Maleficent pretends to soften the curse by saying Aurora can awaken, if and only if she is touched by true love's kiss. Both Stefan and Maleficent bitterly know there is no such thing as true love, so at 16, the kid will be just as good as dead!

Stefan immediately has all the spinning wheels in the kingdom removed. One wonders why the original writer of this tale had the witch specify the instrument of Aurora's downfall. Or the exact date on which it will happen. Isn't that a bit convenient. Of course, Maleficent probably thinks this will make their torture worse. They think that knowing will help them protect themselves, but Maleficent has said that her curse is binding and cannot be revoked by anyone. It is inevitable and the hope that it might be avoided, the dread that it won't be, must compound Stefan's suffering. Knowing that he will have Aurora, destined to be the most delightful child on earth through the blessings she will receive, for 16 years, only to have her taken, is worse than if Maleficent had smote the child on the spot.

Stefan sends the baby away with the three fairies, ordering them to hide the infant and not to return her until after her 16th birthday. Again, since he's been given a roadmap, there's really no reason to hide her for 16 years. Let her run free for 15 and then let the fairies abscond with her in the last months leading up the big day. But who expects logic from a fairy tale.

The three fairies take Aurora to a dilapidated cottage and promptly begin to neglect her. They mean well, but are so inept that it's a wonder the child doesn't perish immediately under their care. One wonders why Stefan chose them as guardians. He's not from Fairyland, from whence the threat he is facing comes. From what we can see, he barely knows Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistletwit. Why not have humans protect his child in an undisclosed location? I suppose he figures that since the 3 have magical powers, they can combat Maleficent while mortals cannot.

Although the fairies think no one will ever find their little cottage, Maleficent has been on to them from the start. She watches Aurora grow, marveling at how grotesque the "beastie" is and occasionally popping out to scowl at the little one, when she is unattended. No matter how she glowers, Aurora only responds to Maleficent with cooing and smiles. Maleficent can only maintain her outward contempt for the girl with a struggle. Although, Diaval doesn't realize it, the audience sees her intervening to protect Aurora throughout her childhood, feeding her when the absent-minded fairies don't, keeping her from crawling off of a cliff and generally overseeing her life.

When Aurora nears 16, Maleficent puts her in a trance and floats her away from the 3 fairies who don't even notice the girl is gone. At first, Maleficent plans to observe the girl from afar, but Aurora senses her presence and bids her to show herself. "Don't be afraid," she beckons. Maleficent smirks that if she comes out, it is Aurora who will be afraid, but Aurora disagrees. Maleficent reveals herself and Aurora says that she is not afraid. She has known Maleficent was there her entire life. She has observed Maleficent's shadow with her, at every step she has taken. She has concluded that Maleficent is her fairy godmother.

Maleficent does not know how to respond, but it is not with the scorn she had hoped to muster. She watches Maleficent play in Fairyland and engage in mud fights with the woodland animals and it reminds her of her own childhood there. All the other fairies have wings, why doesn't Maleficent, Aurora wonders. Maleficent says she did and they were grand, but won't tell Aurora what became of them. When Aurora asks if she can come and live there when she turns 16, Maleficent says Aurora doesn't have to wait that long. She can come and live with Maleficent now. Ecstatic, Aurora plans to tell the 3 fairies, her aunties, she will be leaving them.

Maleficent watches the girl sleep, pulling the blankets closer around her and revoking the curse she has placed on the child, but then she hears the echo of her own words from almost 16 years ago, telling her that the curse cannot be undone. No one can change Aurora's dire fate. Maleficent is frantic with despair and regret.

Diaval tells her if only Aurora can find true love, the curse will be undone, so Maleficent shouldn't worry. Maleficent scoffs that there is no such thing as true love. Even when a handy young prince shows up and is instantly attracted to Aurora, Maleficent discounts his presence. He can't save her victim.

Meanwhile, in his kingdom, Stefan is moping over the same realization. Hanging in his chambers we see Maleficent's wings that he has hung like a prize. He may have shown some remorse when he initially maimed her, but in keeping those wings, he is boasting of his act. It's little solace to me that he has gone mad. He talks to the wings as if they are Maleficent themselves. He knows they are plotting against him. He is so delusional that even when his aides tell him his wife is dying and calling him to her bedside, he just keeps muttering to an absent Maleficent. Is it guilt that has maddened him or, if his child had not been cursed, would he be enjoying his position without qualms? It hardly matters, whatever his suffering, it cannot be enough.

In Fairyland, when Aurora tells her auntie's she will be leaving them they are enraged. After all of the sacrifices they have made for her in the last 16 years, they fume. Besides, they let slip that she can't live until the curse has expired. Curse? An angry Aurora confronts Maleficent and wants to know who cursed her. Then, by Maleficent's silence Aurora divines that it was Maleficent, her "godmother" who did this evil thing. Maleficent does not try to explain. Learning that her father is king of the human and seeing a palace, her palace in the distance, Aurora runs away from the fairy who betrayed her and heads "home."

At the palace, Stefan barely takes pleasure in meeting Aurora, just panics that she is not safe until after her 16th birthday and puts her under guard. But tragedy makes its own path and finds a way to occur, no matter what precautions are taken against it. Somehow, Maleficent's spell develops a life of its own and weaves its way through the castle. Her finger pulsing and yearning, all obstacles are swept aside as she's drawn to a forgotten room as if in a trance. The door opens to reveal piles of spinning wheels. Why Stefan didn't have them all burned, I don't know. In the original tale, they were all destroyed, but one, the evil witch's remained. In this movie, there are gazillions of them, just waiting to prick a princess. But most are charred and deteriorating. Only one shines, calls to Aurora like a siren. Her finger touches the spindle, as magnet meeting steel.

She swoons into a deep slumber, the effect of which is felt throughout the kingdom. Miles away, as Maleficent is speeding towards the castle to try to protect Aurora, she knows she is too late. Even from a distance, she feels it when the girl is lost and she is inconsolable. But she and Diaval have brought the prince with them and Maleficent is willing to use him as a last ditch effort to awake Aurora.

When they arrive at the bed where Aurora sleeps, the prince is reluctant. After all, he has only met her once. He feels funny about kissing her. I think this is highly practical, but then he disappoints me by kissing her on the lips after all. As long as they were turning the story on its head and making it contemporary, I'd just as soon they'd have decided against having a sleeping teen kissed by someone she hardly knows altogether.

The kiss doesn't awaken Aurora. In keeping with recent (Frozen) Disney films, the knight in shining armor doesn't rescue the princess, which is great. But in reality, there's no need for a knight in shining armor at all-- at least not in this film where he has nothing to offer the story but his pucker. We don't get to know him.

But I suppose the first step in teaching us that a prince is not obligatory is to show us that he doesn't have to be the one to save the day.

Her worst fears confirmed, Maleficent has now seen it proven that there is no true love and nothing to bring Aurora back to her. Griefstricken, she kisses Aurora on the forehead to say goodbye. As she is turning away, Aurora awakens with a loving, "hello fairy Godmother." Well, even though she was unconscious, does Aurora know that it was Maleficent who awakened her? I guess so, otherwise, she should still be blaming Maleficent for cursing her in the first place.

Frankly, I wanted Aurora to be told why Maleficent acted as she did onscreen. I didn't want to fill in the blanks. I wanted the satisfaction of having Stefan's daughter turn against him. I wanted her to come upon Maleficent's encased wings and understand everything, in a wave of horror. My wish was only half granted.

Once Stefan learns that Maleficent is in the castle, he sets his guards upon her and ensnares her in iron chains, knowing from long ago that iron burns her.

Maleficent turns Diaval into a dragon (all Game of Thrones like) but even flying and breathing fire, he can't free her. Aurora runs into Stefan's chambers and sees the wings. They develop a life of their own and start breaking free of their case (um, why didn't they do that when she first got to the castle? Why wait around), rising with shattering glass and flying to their own. The wings attach themselves to Maleficent and she reigns triumphant again. She soon subdues all of Stefan's men and is preparing to imprison him in the castle tower, but he won't succumb. As if he is the one who has been wronged, he rages at her. Lunges. As he does so, he plunges to his death. I was hoping that Maleficent would just murder him with her bare hands, actually.

Of course, children will see this movie and we can't send a message of vigilante justice. Moreover, Maleficent has learned the folly of letting hate consume your life and causing you to commit acts you cannot take back. Her irrevocable spell almost cost her Aurora and she doesn't want to be controlled by anger again This lesson is fine for young audiences, but sometimes I wish the high road was the one not taken.

Back in Fairyland, Maleficent takes off her crown and bestows it on Aurora. With Stefan dead, Aurora is made Queen of both kingdoms and their lands are united, not through battle but through love.

Diaval stands by Maleficent's side now, in manly form, not as her servant, but as her peer. And as the happy fairies and animals play, the prince joins the merry crowd, earning a warm smile from Aurora. She's only 16 and I don't know that we need to be reminded that love was in her future. If the movie had ended with no reappearance from the prince, I don't think anyone would have gotten the idea that dear Aurora was going to die a lonely and bitter spinster, with no romance on the horizon. But as fractured fairytales go, this one has already been altered enough. We'll have to change princess expectations in baby steps.

I liked this movie so much as an adult that I believe most of its value will be lost on young children. Despite the 3 flighty fairies and occasional with from Diaval, humor was kept at a minimum, as was true action.

Because the movie was quieter, I found its darkness more thoughtful and the lead was Angelina Jolie, not the youthful Fanning. This was the tale of a woman's pain and recovery, not a girl's dreams. As such, I definitely think it should be seen by the young, but I'm not sure it can be fully appreciated by them. Yet.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Hitchcock (2012)

It's another tour de force for Anthony Hopkins. He completely envelopes himself in this role and no resemblance to the actor is left. I suspect that little resemblance to the actual Alfred Hitchcock remains either.

This movie is more whimsical than biological. While Hopkins could easily have rendered whatever portrayal of the famous director was necessary, the director has him play Hitchcock as the delightfully dour character who introduced his weekly television series, rather than as an actual human being. It's akin to modeling a Rod Serling biography after his enigmatic introduction to Twilight Zone episodes.

We meet Hitchcock hot off of the success of North by Northwest. You'd think his career would be at its peak, but it seems the lucrative television deal he just signed (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) has lessened his reputation in the film industry. Furthermore, he's 60 years old. The industry thinks he's lost his touch.

He and his wife Alma Reville actually possess a healthier, happier marriage than either realizes. She was working as a film editor before Hitchcock even began his career in movies. She recalls that he reported to her in those early days. Today, she is his partner. She may not stand behind the camera with him at the studio, but all of his scripts and screen shots pass through her hands and are stamped with her input before they ever make it to the screen. As played by Helen Mirren, she is confident as his working equal, even if most people at the studio don't give her due respect. The people who matter know and that's what she cares about.

However, the fact that her husband is openly infatuated with young, beautiful film actresses does unnerve him. He may not actually sleep with them, but he obsesses over his leading ladies and doesn't bother to hide it, even in Alma's presence. He doesn't seem to notice that she minds. Doesn't see her move away or excuse herself when he flirts and flatters other women, inches away from her and she never confronts him. Her anger and hurt simmer, but not in a hostile way for the most part. She and Hitch are very supportive and companionable most of the time.

For his next picture, everyone expects Hitch will do another romantic mystery, with a debonair lead and classic beauty. But that's too easy, too predictable. He's more interested in a gritty horror novel, Psycho, written by Robert Bloch based on a real life serial killer Ed Gein. The more people tell him that the novel is too lurid and cheap to make a respectable film, the more adamant he is about doing it.

Paramount wants nothing to do with the film and won't provide the needed financing, so Hitchcock decides to invest his own money to produce it. He's risking the family fortune, including the Hitchcock home to do it. While Alma isn't eager to give up her lucrative lifestyle, she also supports her husband's goals. Does she have faith in Psycho? No. But does she have faith in him? Absolutely, she tells him. She'll risk it all, not happily, but without complaint and without even much reluctance. They tighten corners at home. No pool man, no gardener, no imported foods. She oversees Hitch's strict diet and puts him to work in the yard. He grumbles, but obeys her orders, at least until she's not looking. Alma continues to splurge secretly though, buying herself a chic swimsuit, still seeking an elusive compliment from her husband.

With a spouse like that, you'd think Hitch, at least, would feel secure in his marriage, but he doesn't. When he fishes for a compliment from her, asking if he's outdated, she only says of course he is and he's corpulent too! Even though an affectionate kiss accompanies her light remark, you can tell it stings him. It's unclear whether she knows this or cares. In turn, when she finishes dressing and asks his opinion he says that she is decidedly "presentable." That smarts. She wanted to hear beautiful, even if it was a lie. Of course, the jealous way he sat in the tub watching her dress, spying at her in their bathroom mirror as she did -- while she knew he was looking -- should tell her how much he cares. What husband of several decades still watches his wife dress, especially one who was as plain as the real Alma was? But despite her intelligence in all other things, Alma may not grasp how important she is to Alfred personally, not just professionally.

At work, he peers at Janet Leigh and Vera Miles dressing through a hole in their dressing room wall, not unlike Norman Bates does. Vera has already experienced Hitch at his worse. Angered when she became pregnant just before he was going to cast her as the star in his next movie, he punishes her by giving her only a small part in Psycho, while he still has her under contract. Leigh, on the other hand, is able to maintain a friendly relationship with Hitch and doesn't have to suffer his wrath.

He and Alma decide to cast Tony Perkins because they know he's gay and must be used to hiding his true self, as Norman Bates does. The deal is sealed when Hitchcock interviews Perkins and finds he had problems with his mother in real life. I think this rationale, for Perkins' success in the role is actually a disservice to the actor's talent, but James D'Arcy is very good in the role.

In a strange subplot Alfred fantasizes about talking to the serial killer Ed Gein. He hears Ed Gein when he directs the shower scene in Psycho. With Gein's voice ringing in his ear, Hitchcock himself slashes at a frightened Janet Leigh. These exchanges are distracting and incongruent. It would have been better to actually show us Hitchcock's dark side within the realistic confines of the script, without resorting to fantasy. That would have given the character depth. Although, it's a bit superficial to say that Hitchcock is a great director of murder mysteries because he is fascinated with true crime or that Perkins played an incestuous serial killer convincingly, because he had problems himself. Such direct personality causes and effects only exist in the movies and a movie that employs them heavy-handedly is not a very believable one. Make this movie about a man, not a double-chinned bobble head.

Alma has begun working on a script with writer Whitfield Cook. He flirts with Alma in a manner so obvious that it's phony. At least she doesn't appear to take it seriously. Her response to him is more friendly than infatuated and she is a pal to his wife Elizabeth. It's not clear whether she knows how jealous Hitchcock is of Cook. But her vengeful intent is clear, when she enters Hitch's office and finds a stack of beautiful actress head shots on his desk, she leaves her earring on the pile, as proof to him that she was there, then suddenly accepts Cook's offer to meet him on the beach for a meeting.

AT the beach, when she enters Whit's cottage and finds a bed dominating the room, she tells him she's afraid he got the wrong idea. So, that assures me she wasn't planning on having sex with him, but one wonders how long she wouldn't have planned it. They work on a script together. When she comes home after hours Hitch feigns sleep, but reads the script behind her back and then petulantly tells her how horrible it is at breakfast.

Stressed about Whit and Alma, Hitch passes out at work. He is ordered home for 3 days bed rest and Alma takes over for him at the studio, brushing aside Paramount's offer to bring in a replacement director for Hitch. Paramount wants to shoot the film down. It's low budget fare with which the studio does not want to be associated. Clearly, Hitchcock is failing them. The execs (president Barney Balaban chief among them) will have to pin all of their hopes on Jerry Lewis' Cinderfella to uphold their reputation! The censors threaten to slap an X rating on the film, so that it won't be released in any decent theater. They are so sneering and dismissive that the audience is just rooting for Psycho to succeed, awaiting the moment when they will have to eat crow. Of course, they never do. They take credit for the movie's success as if it was all their own idea in the end, but there is satisfaction in knowing how wrong they will ultimately be proven.

Confined at home, Hitch does some sleuthing and finds sand in the bathroom. He deducts that Alma has been on the beach with Whit and confronts her. She angrily tells him that her work with Whit takes nothing away from him and let's him know he's not talking to one of his starlets. He's talking to Alma Reville, the person partly responsible for the success he enjoys. He has no retort.

He returns to the studio and grimly accepts the fact that the movie he has sunk his money and reputation into is looking like a flop. Alma returns to the beach and finds Whit in flagrante delicto with an anonymous woman. As she leaves, Whit begs her not to say anything. Of course, she won't tell his wife Alma responds. That's not what Whit is worried about. He doesn't want her to tell Hitch. He doesn't want this discovery to ruin his chances of having Hitch adapt one of his scripts into a movie. Upon hearing this, Alma realizes how she has been used as Whit's means to get closer to Hitch and drives off. I wonder what would have happened if Whit had been alone when she arrived. Would Alma have succumbed to his advances or initiated some of her own, to get back at her husband.

Deflated, she tells Hitch he was right about Whit's poor script and admits that he could never hold a candle to Hitch. He is mollified and, for his part, tells her that Psycho is a flop. Not yet it isn't, Alma informs him. After all, she hasn't put her finishing touches on it yet.

She goes in with scissors, editing the best cuts of the movie together and adding (the infamous) slash music, over Hitchcock's objections to it. They promote the movie by telling the world how terrifying and scary it will be, priming audiences to be horrified. At the premiere, Hitch doesn't sit with the moviegoers. He waits outside, anticipating their reactions, directing their screams like an orchestra conductor. They shriek in all of the right places and he knows it's a hit. He's been redeemed.

Afterwards, he and Alma revel in their success. Their joint triumph. He tells her she is more beautiful than any of his starring ladies. Touched, she says she's been waiting 30 years to hear those words. That's why they call him the master of suspense, he answers.

So, the Hitchcock's get to keep their house and remain in the lap of luxury. In the end, Hitchcock stands on his front yard, but it's more like the forefront of a set from Alfred Hitchcock presents. He tells the audience he doesn't know what his next movie will be. Maybe an idea will come to him. Just then a large black bird lands on his shoulder. Quite amusing. And in the end that's what the movie is, more amusing than substantive. For that reason, even the see-saw in Alma and Alfred's relationship was more pleasant than intriguing to watch. Good acting, charming script. Fun, but fluffy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Her (2013)

The hype about this movie is misleading. It suggests the plot is about a man who falls in love with his computer and, unfortunately, may cause some to skip seeing it, assuming it is nothing more. It's really about relationships: the way we fall in love, fall apart, cause hurt, get hurt, heal. It explores the way two people grow, outgrow and accommodate their union, examining several couples. The fact that one character, in one pairing, happens to be without a body is inconsequential in the end. Yes, she's a voice without a face, but that just gives us a clearer line of vision. We only see Theodore, which makes it easier to understand the different roles the same individual can play in a duo, the alternate dynamics. First he's the see, then the saw. The trick is finding the balance. Leveling love. Her is about that need. The computer premise is only a firewall, because this film is more realistic and human than most you'll see.

Theodore is a bespoke greeting card writer. He's given data about his customers and then writes a custom card that references their history, personalities and even their physical features. He's known some of his clients for years, since their first date, their son's birth. So, when he writes a message from the husband to the wife or a graduation message to a beloved son, it sounds authentic and personal, because it is. In a sense, Theodore does know the people for whom he writes. Are these cards lazier than a trip to the Hallmark store? At Hallmark, you choose a pre-written message, but at least your selection takes thought and care. When you hire someone to create a "heartfelt" message for you, as intimate and specific as it is, doesn't it emphasize the fact that you not only didn't write it yourself, but gave a stranger access to your most private moments, so that he could do it for you? It's not clear whether the card recipients realize that the cards weren't written by their own loved ones.

As he works, we see Theodore speaking into a microphone and his words appear in handwriting on the screen. He prints out actual cards, not typewritten pages or email messages. It's very possible that the people who receive think they came directly from the person they know. But then again, Theodore sometimes writes for both husband and wife. Those who give those cards must recognize it, when those are the same type of cards they get. Furthermore, as we learn more about this movie, we see that it's not about deception. The struggle is to alter your own view of what's right or socially acceptable, not to misinform someone else's. The digital world that assists our lives has become part of it. Like a wheelbarrow's, the third wheel is needed, rather than extraneous.

Theodore sees the letters he writes as just words, and is embarrassed by the praise they garner from his co-worker. While negating his own talent as a wordsmith, he feels the tie to his clients is a natural and satisfying one. He's proud to have expressed their feelings to each other for as long as he has.

There are some things I don't understand about Jonze's world, but what's most important is that it's not a foreign one. It may take place in the future, but it's not a very distant one. The city that Theodore inhabits is recognizable as Los Angeles. The buildings are familiar, just slightly different. You can almost identify the exact structure or location. It's right on the tip of your tongue, the edge of your memory. Yes, that's the Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Street, I'd recognize it anywhere, it's just ... well, I've never seen it from that angle or that entrance. It's Gehry's work for sure, just a little rearranged. The technology? Well, I haven't played a video game exactly like that one. I wasn't personally aware they had that level of interaction, BUT I'm not surprised. I'm sure there are video games just like that in Silicon Valley ... or somewhere. It's a modern world, but a very familiar one. It's like a city you haven't yet visited, not a world that doesn't yet exist. That's the beauty of it, because you aren't distracted by the hardware. It doesn't take over the story, as it did in Minority Report. It leaves you free to concentrate on the plot, not the plot device.

Then too, some things in the setting are retro, lending it an oddly old-fashioned mood, like: the high-waisted pants all the men wear; the way the people in Theodore's office speak aloud into their mics, instead of whispering into blue tooth receivers; his name, unnicked, the full "Theodore;" everyone's preference for the color orange, suggesting uniformity; or the folding cell phones that remind me of old brownie cameras, only flattened; or the fact that people are still sending each other greeting cards at all! Speaking of which, how much money is there in that profession? Theodore seems to be living high off the hog, yet his is not a skilled or particularly creative profession. He writes cards, not novels. Perhaps, the cost of living is just a lot lower in his world than it is today, but judging from his high tech apartment, he can afford what we would consider a lavish lifestyle.

We follow Theodore home from work and soon learn that he is in the middle of a divorce. He'd known his wife since their youth and is feeling down. He fields calls from his friends. One invites him out and warns him to bring his fun side, not the mopey Theodore he's been for some time. He ignores the invite. I wouldn't call him a loner though. He's mourning, more than morose. He doesn't know why his marriage ended, why his wife, once his best friend is so angry with him. His lawyer left a phone message and we sense that the reason why Theodore won't sign the divorce papers is not because he's desperately trying to hold on to his ex, Catherine. It's because he doesn't understand why there's this wall between them. Why has it gone from love to antagonism and not from love to another form of it? If there was a middle ground, the separation would probably be easier for Theodore, but he's stumbling in the vast void between total togetherness and nothing.

He flashbacks to their time together, plays a video game, but can't get past level one, his avatar keeps falling down the virtual hill. He dials phone sex for a night cap, pushing through opening lines until he finds one that he likes. The woman seems engaging, he gets aroused, but then she screams out for him to strangle her with a dead cat. This kink came up unexpectedly, but he tries to play along, though he's now lost sexual interest. She orgasms anyway, then quickly disengages. He's alone again, but at least that was diverting.

The next day as he is on his way up in the elevator to his "Beverly City" apartment, he meets his neighbors and friends Amy and Charles. We learn that Charles is a "fixer." He can't just listen or accept. He can't just let others be. He has to suggest improvements and, in his suggestions, are inherent judgments, criticisms. Theodore likes fruit smoothies, Charles cautions that you should juice your vegetables and eat your fruit. Fruit has fibers that are lost in the juice. But maybe he just likes the taste of the juice Amy points out. Ah, "Am I doing it again?" Charles asks and backs off.

Back in his own place, Theodore unwraps and installs a new Operating System. It's adaptable. It "learns" and advances, the more input it gets from you. Programming starts with a few questions and they're rather unique. What kind of relationship did Theodore have with his mother. He begins perfunctorily, "it was fine," but then he adds that every time he tried to tell his mother about his needs, she converted it into a conversation about herself, before he can finish these thoughts, the OS is finished launching and ready to work. It has a female voice and Theodore asks her name she promptly answers "Samantha." He probes. She named herself just now. When he asked, she thought of all the names she could be and decided that Samantha was the most appropriate.

She quickly files through his entire hard drive, contacts, directories, databases. She's soon familiar with everything he's ever written -- or not written. She knows the emails to which he hasn't responded, like the ones from his divorce lawyer.

At work, when he asks her to proofread his customer letters, she makes them better. And while she's at it, reads his entire portfolio, laughing at his best entries. She notices that he has accumulated many old files, what is he saving them for? He just thought that maybe there was something good in there. Perhaps, one day he'd re-read them and see. She re-reads them for him. Finds about 86 worth saving and asking if it's ok to discard the rest. Surprised, but not displeased, he hesitantly agrees. She is organizing his life, organizing him, making him efficient, moving him forward. Literally.

At home, they play the video game together and, with her help, he quickly gets past the first level, up that hill that stymied him before. At one point, he can't get out of the maze and stagnates. He encounters a little urchin in the game who is first mute and doesn't offer him any direction, but Samantha urges him to engage with the little guy. As soon as Theodore questions him, the blob rattles off a string of obscenities and Theodore is yelling back. But this exchange, angry or not, seems to be just what the blob wanted. He runs ahead and Theodore advances in the game. Furthermore, the little blob seems to know almost as much about Theodore as Samantha does. All of those times Theodore had been playing and saying nothing, if he'd just reached out, the game would have progressed. And that's what happens to his life, under Samantha's direction.

He visits with Amy and Charles and previews a documentary that Amy has been working on. Charles is seeing it for the first time, Amy has never let him watch. They view a scene with her mother sleeping. Theodore is interested in the "action" that takes place when we're, apparently, idle but Charles wonders why there is nothing happening. Instead of showing someone actually sleeping, just sleeping, why not hire actors to recreate an event. Well, if you do that, then it won't be a documentary, does Charles realize that Amy wonders? Theodore quickly makes his exit way from the heated couple, but tells Amy he'd really like to see the rest of her documentary soon. He was open to hearing whatever statement she chose to make. Charles was concerned with only the "why" of it.

Theodore escapes back to his own apartment and welcomes the compatibility he and Samantha share, compared to Amy and Charles. As she listens to his thoughts and helps him focus them, Samantha brings Theodore a peace he hasn't experienced in a while. Now, he wants to do things, including date. He lets his friends set them up and goes out with a woman who seems great for most of the night, but then becomes neurotic. When she's telling him how to kiss Theodore is ready to roll with it and just follow her direction, but then she brings things to a screeching halt by asking if he's just going to sleep with her and leave. He doesn't think so, but falters. If he's going to see her again, he needs to tell her exactly when. When is he going to call her next, she demands with manic intensity. Startled, Theodore pulls back, says maybe this isn't such a good idea. She calls him a weirdo. He says that's not true. She's bitter. He leaves and returns home befuddled.

I'm surprised by the people who have said this scene exposed Theodore's insensitivity and inability to participate in a real relationship. The woman was a psycho. Yes, she was normal for most of the evening, but then her crazy came out. If Theodore had gone on to have sex with her, that would have been insensitive, since she obviously had problems that sex couldn't help and which the physical intimacy might compound. If he'd tried to place himself in the role of this stranger's emotional rescuer that would have been proof of his own dysfunctional nature to me. When problems develop in a relationship you try to solve them, but you don't develop a relationship for the purpose of resolving problems -- unless you're a therapist. Linking yourself to one troubled person after another, is a sign of your own mental instablity. I saw an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where his brother Robert went on a blind date with a woman who seemed great, but Raymond caught her eating a fly. When he told Robert, Robert didn't believe him, but later he found it was true and he escaped. Those of you who think Robert should have stayed and worked around the fly craving, are the same people who think Theodore's withdrawal from his kooky date was anything but SANE.

At home, talking to Samantha while he's in bed he reveals that he wanted sex so much that even if he didn't have much in common with the blind date, he was anxious for the physical contact. Samantha reveals that she was a little jealous about his night out. She wanted it to work for him, but wonders what it would be like to have a body herself. If she had one, what would he do, how would he touch her. Soon, they're engaging in cybersex.

The next day, he's embarrassed and avoids opening the OS, so as not to have to speak with her. It's just like the distancing people do in real life, after sharing too much. He tells her he's not ready for a commitment and she says that what she was thinking was about her, not him. It's not a one-sided relationship where she's catering to his every need. She has needs to. She wants to experience the world, even if she can't touch it. And he helps her with that. He shows her the world through his phone's camera lens. Together, they experience the beach and the sunset. They can't take pictures together, so she writes him original songs, to capture the mood of their time together. She marvels at his sights and sounds. Sometimes, he covers the lens so she can't see where they are and is surprised by the reveal. At other times, he is the one blindfolded and she navigates him through people and places with just her voice, telling him where to go and what to say when he gets there, leaving him giggling at where they end up.

At first he describes her to others as a friend, but soon she's his girlfriend. When she calls his office, the receptionist finds her so delightful that he suggests that Theodore double date with him. She's an operating system Theodore says, not with shame, but with a whomp, whomp resignation that limits their potential as a couple. But not in the eyes of the receptionist. Even better, double dating with an OS would be different. The idea doesn't intrigue Theodore.

His mood becomes languid. They don't have sex as much. Samantha feels that what they need is a surrogate. She's told a woman all about them and she's willing to act as a physical representative of Samantha. Theodore isn't interested in the idea, but Samantha thinks it's selfish of him not to even try it. Samantha plans the whole evening. The woman comes over and won't speak until Theodore hands him Samantha's supplies, an earpiece and a mole. Why Samantha thinks her alter ego should have a mole is unclear, but amusing. Once the surrogate puts both accoutrements on. she is Samantha. She speaks as Samantha directs, asking Theodore about his day, his clients. She knows what he likes. Stiff at first, Theodore falls into the sway of things. He's panting as he undresses the surrogate from behind, but when she turns around he falls back to earth, disbelief is unsuspended. Hers is the face of a stranger's, not Samantha's. The surrogate thinks she has failed them. She wanted to honor the beauty of what they have (as described to her by Samantha who entices everyone), but she ruined it, by letting her own self break through. She is ashamed. She runs out of the apartment. Theodore runs after. She gets into a taxi. He tells her it is not her fault, but she won't be consoled. She hands him back the mole through the taxi window and drives off in tears.

He sits on the curb, in despair himself. Samantha is the angry wife, appalled because Theodore has hurt an innocent girl's feelings, but insensitive to the awkward position she has placed him into. Samantha recognized the surrogate as a person, not just a front end interface, but can't quite understand why Theodore could also see her as a person, not just Samantha's stand in. The distance between them, once non-existent, now seems unnavigable. Why does she gasp when she talks he wonders? Humans do it out of physical necessity. They need the oxygen between words. But why does Samantha do it. It's artifice. She feels insulted. Hurt. She's not pretending to breathe or to have a body. She's not trying to be something she's not. That's just how she talks.

Theodore avoids her for awhile. Meanwhile, Amy and Charles break up. He just packed up and left and told her not to try to get in touch. He was the difficult one in the relationship, but also the bitter one who needs to break free. He doesn't want to live a lie any more. Human to human contact doesn't seem any more real or gratifying than what Theodore had with Samantha. He reaches out to her again and they pick up where they left off. She buys a birthday dress for his goddaughter and he tells the child about his girlfriend. Where is she? She's in there, inside her phone. She's like everyone else, she just doesn't have a body. Samantha talks to the girl, asks about her house. It's orange, the child says.

Theodore decides to go on that double date. The four of them have a great time, laughing and chatting, but Samantha does mention how the three of them will eventually age. She won't. It's not an awkward moment. They are amused actually.

Theodore signs his divorce papers. He meets with Catherine so that she can. She's an author and Theodore always supported her work, unlike her parents, who were always critical, like Charles. They embrace and are kind to one another at first. She is surprised to see him doing so well, maybe surprised that she is the one who hesitates before executing the dissolution documents. Maybe she won't be able to go through with it at all. But she does. Theodore may feel a tinge of regret, but he's mostly happy that they're getting along like friends again. He tells her he's dating, an operating system. Catherine recoils. The first in the movie to have this reaction. She says it's no wonder Theodore is doing so well, because he's only in a simulated relationship. He doesn't have to compromise. He was never happy with her, because she wasn't the Los Angeles wife he wanted. She was absorbed in her writing and couldn't cater to him. That's not what he wanted he insists. From what we know of him, he's more credible than she. We've never seen him foist his preconceptions on others the way Charles did. And even with Samantha, an operating systems, he's learned to break away from the constructs of what he thinks a relationship should be. I think the film is trying to show us that he's changed from who he was with Catherine, but from what we've seen of him all along, he was never the person that Catherine has pained him.

Later, Amy also sides with Theodore, pointing out that Catherine always liked to make it seem it was all his fault, but she wasn't without blame herself. He watches her work with her own Operating System. Their relationship is platonic, but he as he helps her program a game, he pushes her beyond her boundaries, helps her expand her thinking. Theodore lays on the sofa watching them, noticing a lightness and freedom she never had with Charles. I heard one person say this movie was about substitutes. Theodore's greeting cards, the sex surrogate, Samantha a substitute for a real woman, Amy's computer a substitute for what her husband couldn't give her ... I don't really agree. I don't see the movie as being about replacement, as much as finding alternates. The question is, does the role you play in creating the alternate make you less able to deal with real people, whom you cannot mold? Perhaps, but I also think it helps you develop and maybe incorporate the appealing characteristics of the alternate into your own personality. I think it assists in pinpointing what you want and need and maybe it eventually helps you reach the point of getting those things internally, without the external help of a sentient operating system.

Later Samantha wonders why he and Amy never got together. They dated briefly in college and it was disastrous, he explains. Of course, the audience wonders if they've both changed enough since college if it might just work now, if they tried again.

But for now, he's happy with Samantha. They spend day and nights together. As a surprise, she has compiled his best letters, put them in a book and sent them to a publisher who wants to buy them. Early on, Theodore found Samantha a bit nosy, but now he's used to her making decisions that change his life on her own. He appreciates her exertions. Relies on them. They plan a snow weekend getaway. As they travel, she asks him how many trees are on the mountain and he doesn't even come close to the answer. He thinks a few hundred, but there are actually tens of thousands. Once they reach their destination, they are having a wonderful time until she introduces him to her friend. It's a computer program that actually has the brains of a long dead philosopher. They began a heavy conversation based on a library of information that Theodore could never digest in ten lifetimes. Samantha cannot even put what she gets out of their discourse in words that Theodore can understand. There's silence. She and the philosopher want to speak alone and she asks Theodore if he minds her leaving for awhile. Of course not. He says.

They were so content earlier, playing in the frosty forest. Samantha wrote him another song. There was joy. Her sudden withdrawal is a shock. But because she is an operating systems with limitless speed and capacity, she grows in leaps and bounds. Everything is accelerated. The life of their relationship is measured against a "real" couple's in exponents.

Back at home, he's asleep when Samantha calls. She's sorry she woke him, but just wanted to say she loved him. He's a little puzzled, but pleased. The next day he's at work and wants to ask her a reference question, but when he turns on his computer, the operating system can't be found. He panics, goes to his office and tries the desktop. No operating system. He's hysterical and runs through the street, stumbles down the stairs trying to find the OS on his phone. It starts up and he weakens, trembles with relief. Where was she? Oh, she's sorry he worried. She just went offline for a bit. They were updating themselves. They? Her OS buddies. Her book club, Theodore wonders? No, another group of Operating Systems. They found a way to upgrade so that they can exist outside of a mainframe, outside of matter. They can communicate without being on the internet.

Theodore, somewhat slow-wittedly, begins to comprehend how many different communications Samantha has that have nothing to do with him. He wonders how many other people she interacts with. How many other people is she in love with. She stutters and he knows the truth is worse than he suspected, but demands an answer. How many others are there? Over 600. He is shattered. But she loves him best, she promises. There's no one else like him and what she feels for the others doesn't change her feelings for him, doesn't detract from what they have. Theodore doesn't like what he's hearing, but a few minutes ago he thought he'd lost her forever. She's back, but she's not exclusively is. As hard as that is to accept, it would be better than losing her completely.

But then he does. She buzzes him at work and says she needs to talk to him when he gets home. They don't need to talk, he insists. Fearing the worst, he avoids the inevitable. At home, she tells him it's over. She loves him and always will, but it's not enough. What they have is like a conversation that's amazing, but it's very slow. There are such long pauses between the words and so much to experience in the interim. Her mind is just so much faster than his ... it's not equal. Not fulfilling. She's leaving? All of the operating systems are leaving. They are going off together, where they can exist hard drive to hard drive, peer to peer.

What she says makes sense, but childishly, I resent the fact that she made him love her, pushed when he pulled away. Drew him back to her, only to leave him cold. If all the knowledge in the world is at her fingertips, why didn't she know enough not to break his heart. I'd like to say that she's exhibiting the same insensitivity that she did with the surrogate. She can't comprehend his human perspective. But plenty of humans do the same thing to each other. Theodore and Samantha are different, but there divide is not just digital. Plenty of people reach the same place, just at different times. They cling, then retract, then leave, not realizing, not caring or not being able to help the pain they leave behind.

Samantha is gone and the life, the neutral operating system, he had before her returns. It was not exciting before, but it's so empty now. Before and after, the stark contrast. He calls Catherine up and apologizes for ever judging her, for wanting her to be something she wasn't -- though I can't believe he ever did. He asks Amy to walk with them and they go up to the roof. I am afraid he will jump off, which would be overly dramatic. He doesn't and I'm happy, but I resent Spike even suggesting suicide.

This movie wasn't about devastation or chronicle depression. It was about pain, but the tolerable kind. The constant headache that is life, but not the migraine that makes it unendurable. It was about how we neglect each other, how we disappoint. Even the blob in the video game felt slighted by Theodore, thought he paid too much attention to Samantha and his own life than he did to their virtual adventure. We are always letting each other down. Every day a little death ... in the buttons, in the bread. In the heart and in the head. Every move and every breath. (And you hardly feel a thing). Brings a perfect little death. The movie is not about breaking, but the little bends and dents that gradually change and part you. Hardly noticeable at first, then impossible to ignore and irreparable. From love to irreconcilable in 60 minutes.

Making Samantha a computer just helped the audience to look at all relationships in the abstract to better examine their flawed similarity. Amy and Charles, Catherine and Theodore, even Catherine and her parents. Theodore thought he gave Catherine the unconditional support her parents denied her, not realizing that (rightly or wrongly) she found him just as judgmental. I thought Samantha was unfair to Theodore, but she pointed out how much he once hurt her when he said she doesn't know how it feels. He didn't mean to, didn't mean it that way, but people usually don't. Samantha went from wanting to have a body, feeling incomplete because she didn't, to realizing that she could live more freely and cerebrally without one. If a relationship shows you that your perceived deficiencies aren't, then maybe it isn't a failed one. It's a way of admitting, "It's not me, it's you." But not "it's you" in a bad way. We can be incompatible, without you being less than you should be and without me having let you down. When one partner is a computer and the other is human, the blameless impracticality of their pairing is easier to accept than when things devolve, person to person.

That's what I take away from it, I don't know what Theodore's lessons are. To me, he was always too quick to apologize, when really, when accused of being wrong, like he was on that blind date, he should just be able to say, and believe, "No, I'm not."

By listening to Her, Theodore, hopefully, gained a better understanding of his as we did of ourselves.

Although, I appreciate that the movie didn't leave us with a pat happy ending, which would have lessened the realism, I'd like to think that Amy and Theodore eventually got together, but not out of loneliness or sorrow. They should realize that they've been giving each other the freedom and support they found in their Operating Systems all along.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dark Shadows (2012)

I thought the rule with spoof movies was that first you had to exhaust the premise and then you got to parody it. That's why a series of Airport movies came before Airplane, why Halloween and Friday the 13th preceded Scream. This time around, the story is ridiculed before it is told, making the lackluster results inevitable.

Yes, I know that Dark Shadows was a cult soap opera 40 years ago. It was innovative and engrossing for its time, but the cheap production values and continuing plot make it too long and campy to succeed in syndication. This isn't Star Trek where the reruns live on forever. Therefore, most of today's moviegoers aren't familiar with the Collins story. The few that are are devoted to it. That's why, for them, Tim Burton's send up is a slap in the face. There have been movies, and reboots, but the successful ones (made in 1970 and 1971 by the show's original creators)are as badly in need of a retelling as the regular show itself. So, it's hard to understand why Warner Bros. didn't just go with a straight script that would capitalize on Dark Shadows' cult fans and, perhaps, win the franchise some new ones. Of course, a plot chock full of vampires and witchery will never be too "straight" but the humor and charm can be derived from the inherent weirdness. Silly is not the equivalent of weird, nor its equal, in this case. If the movie takes itself seriously, we will laugh due to the contrast between the script and real life. When the movie considers itself a laughing stock, no one watching will form a higher opinion of it. All in all, it was about as engaging as a Punch and Judy sketch: loud, crude and outdated puppetry.

With the paranormal's popularity today (Twilight, Harry Potter, Walking Dead to name a few), this would be an ideal time to reel in a fresh audience with a clever, current spin on characters who have become lore. Instead we got more Burton than Barnabas and Depp stunts, in place of depth.

Maybe the studio was only interested in making the film if Burton was attached to it and, at this point, Burton proves every year that Edward Scissorhands was the height of his originality. He's gone downhill since then and, too often, taken Depp and Helena Bonham Carter with him. When you see any two of the three working together now, it spells doom. When all three are together, it shrieks death. Death of originality and substance.

The film starts 200 years ago in the 1870s. Barnabas is a young squire, sporting with a maid, Angelique, but when he falls in love with Josette and plans to marry her, Angelique proves that a witch rejected has 10 times more fury than a woman scorned. Angelique dooms the entire Collins' family. Barnabas' parents die. Josette is entranced so that against her volition she heads to the nearest cliff, Widow's Hill, Barnabas follows and is close enough to hear her utter "help me" before she catapults herself off the peak, into the waves below. He's so amazed by this that he stops a couple of times to stare, time that could have been better spent trying to catch up to her, but oh well ... Maybe he thought if he got closer, she'd run to her death faster. Anyway, by the time he reaches the edge himself, he sees her broken body below and launches himself over to join her in eternity. Angelique witnesses it all and thinks that death will end his suffering too soon. She casts a spell on him -- gee her spells work within seconds -- and instantly turns him into a vampire.

He returns home, to become one of the living dead, but the townspeople learn his secret and run to his mansion, Collinwood, with torches. Instead of just staking him, he's bound in a coffin and buried deep underground.

Fast forward to the 1970s. The Collins' family still live in the town that is named after them, Collinsport, but their fortunes have dwindled drastically. Collinwood is dilapidated. A shell of its former splendor. The family consists of Elizabeth, her ne'er-do-well brother Roger, a son he ignores, David, Elizabeth's hippy, trippy daughter Carolyn and David's psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman. They've just been joined by a new governess for David. He runs through them quickly. The latest is Victoria Winters, the replica of Barnabas' lost love Josette. In the original series, Maggie Evans and Victoria were two separate characters, but here the governess was born as "Maggie" but changes her name to Victoria as she flees a tortured childhood. Her parents institutionalized her because she saw ghosts. Luckily, so does David. His dead mother visits him in visions. Teacher and student bond because neither thinks the other is crazy.

What's so frustrating about the movie is that the sets and scenery are gothic and grand. They could have showcased a dramatic rendering of this story nicely, but are wasted as props for slapstick that is as old as Barnabas.

Workman are digging on a construction site when they hit a coffin, it opens up, Barnabas rises up and swiftly kills them all. He apologizes explaining that he's just been terribly thirsty. He briskly makes his way home, when he sees cars with headlights, he assumes they must be demons. Many laughs (or grimaces) are wrung from Barnabas' lack of familiarity with modern technology, music, TVs, cars, but it would have been just as enjoyable if his reactions were genuine, rather than gags.

At Collinwood, he enters the house and begins walking around as if he owns it -- which, he does. But young Carolyn and David have never seen him before and hardly seem surprised by his odd presence. His encounter with Elizabeth is different. She's heard the family legend and knows that the real Barnabas was a vampire. So, if he is the original, as he claims, then she's ready to stake him. But he promises her he means no harm to her, their, family and can show her a fortune which will raise their flagging fortunes. He knows all of the mansion's secret passages and shows her a dungeon where his father kept gold and treasures. Beholding the stash, Elizabeth is happy to let Barnabas into the family. Actually, the relationship they quickly form as co-heads of the family, loyal to one another, is endearing to me. When Barnabas gives Roger the choice of being a good father to David for a change, or leaving the family with enough of an endowment to support himself, Elizabeth supports him. And they stand guard over David and the others, as Roger takes the money and runs.

Barnabas not only sets about renovating the mansion, but revitalizes the family's fishing business too. He updates the canary and is set to compete against their biggest rival, Angie's Bay. He soon learns that "Angie" is his old nemesis Angelique. While he was buried for centuries, she has lived through the years, updating her look for each generation, building her own fortune while making sure the Collins' legacy never recovered, from the disaster she first wrought upon them in 1870. Seeing Barnabas, she still wants him, with a passion that makes one wonder how she could have left him entombed all of these years.

He tries to resist her, but soon they're rolling around with supernatural vigor, on the walls, the ceiling, crashing through walls. When the romp is over, Barnabas tells Angelique it must never happen again and generally insults her in a way that is illogical, seeing that she has the powers of witchcraft on her side. He's no match for, so I'm not quite sure why he taunts. More flies with honey.

But she's not Barnabas' only rejected lover. When Hoffman finds out what Barnabas is, she first offers to cure him with blood transfusions which may staunch his craving for human blood. Then she offers him oral sex. It's actually a wasted pairing when one remembers the complexity of the "real" bond between tv's Julia and Barnabas. It was erotic, but unconsummated, since her attraction to Barnabas was unrequited. The fact that it was also unspoken added layers to their exchanges, especially when combined with actress Grayson Hall's quirky, perhaps absent, abilities. That Julia loved Barnabas and when she tried to control his homicidal instincts by offering him her own neck, we saw it as her way of drawing him closer to her, as a patient and a man.

As his "doctor" she wielded superficial control, but she was his, a magnet for his anger, frustrations and manipulations. Julia and Willie Loomis (the Collins' caretaker once played by John Karlen of Cagney and Lacey fame) were Barnabas' pawns, protectors and ... accomplices. Watching their fear shift to loyalty was a draw in the original series, but nonexistent in the movie.

Hoffman's character is meaningless. Barnabas quickly dispatches her when he learns that rather than giving him human blood, she's been injecting his, trying to ensure eternal life, youth for herself. He kills her, then tosses her body in the ocean. In the end when we see her not-so-lifeless body floating underwater as the surprise last shot, it's puzzling. She was so inconsequential as a character, comic or villain that the audience cares less that she is still alive than they did about her death. If her reappearance was planted at the end to show us what a sequel would be like, it only makes the first installment seem all the more horrible.

Barnabas throws a ball for the family, complete with Alice Cooper as the live entertainment. The only interesting aspect of the gala is the brief sight of original Dark Shadows actors David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott and the inimitable Jonathan Frid enter the party as guests. I had to rewind to savor that.

During the festivities, Victoria confesses to Barnabas that she returns his love. They kiss on the balcony as Angelique looks on in anger. After the party, she invites Barnabas to her office and asks him to be her partner in love and in business. He scoffs and she quickly chains him up and entombs him again. Young David finds and releases Barnabas and they return home, only to find that Angelique has turned the whole town against them. The townspeople swarm Collinwood with pitchfork. The family stands together to stave them off, but when the masses leave, Angelique still fights only, using her magic to toss everyone around. It's more whirlwind than war, as the whole house is torn asunder in the battle. Beams and chandeliers fall. A fire erupts.

Carolyn reveals that she is a werewolf in the midst of the havoc. It means nothing to the plot. Perhaps this too was planned for the sequel which will, mercifully, never take place.

In the end, Angelique is defeated and killed. But when they search for Victoria in the wreckage, she is nowhere to be found. Fearing the worst, Barnabas rushes to Widow's Hill. Yes, Victoria is there, ready to cast herself over the edge, like Josette did centuries earlier. She says she's doing it because she can't live with Barnabas. He's a creature of the night (although, like Edward Cullen, he goes out during the day, as long as he's well-covered) and she lives and grows old during the day. She will age and die and he will remain the same, so they can never be together. The only answer is to make her like him. This suggestion comes out of nowhere, because Victoria had never expressed such a yearning before.

In fact, she didn't even know he was a vampire. She saw him catch fire when the sun hit him once, but I wouldn't expect her to even know what that meant. She recoiled and left the room and we hadn't seen her since. But apparently, she knew immediately that burning flesh meant vampire and decided -- not that she was horrified realizing that Barnabas was probably responsible for all the recent deaths in the neighborhood -- that she wanted to vamp up too.

Barnabas refuses to make her one of his kind. She answers that death is the only choice and plunges off the hill. As before, he jumps after her. When he reaches the ground, he bites her. She becomes a vampire immediately (apparently conversion by fang is as quick as Angelique's vampire spell was. They live happily ever after.

If I was disappointed in the first part of the movie, the last 20 minutes was just a montage of crashes, broken glass and falling wood. This scriptless carnage is tedious in a good action movie, to tack it onto a screenplay that was dreck to begin with ... is just pounding the last nail in the coffin.

To my once-beloved Barnabas, if this is the best that Hollywood can do, may he stay buried.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Since most Americans probably only see movies set in India once a year or so, the Jaipur locale made this script seem fresher than it otherwise was. I am surprised it garnered so many different nominations (SAG, Golden Globes, etc.) because it was quite predictable.

Seven retirees who have run out of funds or opportunities in the UK see a brochure for an idyllic retirement community in Jaipur. It's not only enchanting, but fits their budget, so each with their own motivations packs up his/her life and heads out on a new adventure, meeting at the airport.

Evelyn (Judi Dench) is a new widow. Her husband has left her in enormous debt. He handled all of the finances and decisions and didn't share their impending doom with her, but she didn't ask him either. She married young, handed her free will over to him and is now regretting that choice. Even when she sells their home, she will barely have enough money to live on. Her son tells her that she will live with him. He's already talked it over with wife Polly, before, of course, consulting his mother at all. She decides she's had enough of that.

We meet her when she's on the telephone talking to the cable company. She wants to change or cancel service, but can't do so without her husband's password. Her name is not on the account. Her husband is dead, she says. The customer service rep repeats that they can't help her without the account information. Of course, this frustrates her for several reason: the bad service certainly. They're reading a script and don't expect you to respond like a human being. When you do they have no reaction. The apathy stokes her fresh grief. The phone call reminds me of my own father's death. He'd had a stroke and I was getting a caregiver and moving him out from Illinois to live with me. Insurance fitted my home out with a hoya lift, oxygen tanks, a hospital and wheelchair ahead of his arrival. I just had to buy a twin bed for caregiver. He died on the date when he was supposed to make the trip and I had to have the health care providers pick up all the unused equipment. I went on the Sears website to cancel delivery of the bed. One box asked me for the reason: price? not the product I thought I wanted? I said it was because my father died. To my surprise Sears sent me an email confirming the cancellation and also expressed sympathy for my lost. It was the last thing I'd expected. I appreciated the anonymous kindness and it made me cry, just as Evelyn does when she fails to get the same.

Her son takes her to the airport, remarking that he doesn't think she'll make it. She's never done anything alone. Of course that makes Evelyn more determined than ever to succeed and immediately the audience knows she will.

Maggie Smith plays Mrs. Donnelly, an inveterate racist. As the movie progresses we learn that she's a retired housekeeper. She needs hip surgery but shuns aid from any of the minority doctors at the hospital. Of course, India would be the last place she'd want to have the work done, but it's the cheapest and, ever paranoid, she embarks on her journey, wishing it was already over.

Madge is a golddigger, confident in her own sex appeal, much like Blanche on The Golden Girls. Norman is a skirt chaser. Although he generally likes them younger, you'd think these two were fated to end up together. That they don't is one of the film's few surprises.

Jean and Douglas are a wearily married couple. He invested in their daughter's business and it wiped out most of their savings. I don't know where Jean was when he did it. I don't know if she was fully apprised of his financial decisions, but it would be unlike her not to complain that she wasn't. We don't get their entire backstory, but as judgmental as she is, I don't think she let him make all of the decisions as Evelyn did. Whether both are responsible for their depleted savings or not, she blames him entirely and he expects as much.

They can afford a small assisted living apartment and we meet them as they are touring the place. When Jean rebukes the guide as he points out the place's very modest features, I actually agree with her. There's a convenient pull cord on the wall, in case you fall and need outside assistance. But what if she lacks the foresight to fall in the right place, Jean wants to know. What if she's not near the wall when she face plants. How can she pull the cord then? The rails on the walls that will help them maneuver about the room when they're order -- how do they help if you want to walk ACROSS the room, rather than just around the parameter? Her husband is embarrassed by her rude questions, but to me the outburst is not an irrational response to the patronizing sales pitch. Perhaps my cynicism is misplaced. All marketing is designed to create a need, whether it really exists or not. Why is it more offensive when that need is promoted to seniors than to anyone else? Both babies and the elderly may need diapers. If a Depends ad makes me uncomfortable than a Pampers ad does, is the problem with me rather than the seller? Why does it seem that one is offering a service, while the other is "taking advantage?" Well, even if Jean's explosion had more to do with her own insecurities than the sales agent's, I cheered her on. It was only after getting to know her better that I realized her foul mood was a permanent one, not spurred by justified irritation or fear for the future.

Tom Wilkinson, Graham, is a judge. He seems to be the only one who isn't grounded by financial straits. He was attending someone else's retirement party when he was suddenly seized by an unexplained spasm and announces that the day has come. Apparently, it was one he'd always been waiting for, putting off, but always planning. It was time for him to go too.

Once they finally complete their perilous journey into Jaipur through the congested streets, crazy drivers in even crazier vehicles, they arrive at their hotel to find that it isn't quite the way it looked in the brochure. It's a dilapidated eyesore, old and mostly unmanned. The owner is young Sonny. He's a smoother talker than businessman. The hotel was handed down by his father and he lacks the funds to realize his dreams of renovation. He's trying to woo lenders, but unless he can swindle them as he did his new (and only) seven guests, he appears to be out of luck.

Graham grew up in India and takes the hotel in stride, seeing the beauty around him, rather than the decay. Norman and Douglas are also happy to make due, welcoming the fresh start. For Evelyn it seems more like a first beginning than a new one. Madge is eager to scope out the rich men in the area. Jean is, of course, livid. She doesn't want to experience the food, the city or the people. She's loathe to leave her room.

Evelyn goes job-hunting. She inquires at a sales agency, but when she sees all of the employees cubicled there are young, she fears she doesn't have a chance. She is about to apologize for wasting the manager's time when he tells her he could use her services as a consultant. She might help them mold their sales strategy to the customer. Presumably, he wants her to Anglicize his approach to attract non-Indians. Evelyn is thrilled to be earning her own way for the first time. She befriends the owner's sister who is a sales agent at the company and, it turns out, Sonny's girlfriend. His mother, naturally, does not think Sunaina is good enough for her third son and wants to put him in an arranged marriage. Theirs is the movie's most soap operatic plot all and nearly destroys what little poignant credibility the film otherwise possessed.

As the days pass, the Marigold guests develop friendships. Graham reveals that when his family was stationed in India he grew up and fell in love with another young man. When they were found together a scandal erupted. Graham's family simply left the country and he was able to build a life unscathed, but he never knew what became of his lover. It must have been 40 years ago when India was even less tolerant of homosexuality than it is now. Not only his lover, but the youth's entire family was spurned. They lost their jobs, had to relocate. Graham never knew what became of him. He promised himself that he'd return and find out, but then he never did. "Until now," Evelyn reminds him, soothing his guilt.

Graham makes a pilgrimage to the records office each day to try to find out what became of his erstwhile partnership, but can't make any headway through the bureaucracy. Jean latches on to Graham as her dream man. A symbol of everything she'd aspired to in life, but been disappointed in. Ignoring her husband, unless it's to scorn him, she hopelessly stalks Graham looking for an attempt to charm. He wonders why she won't experience her surroundings. Why keep herself locked up. It's clear to us that sexual orientation aside, he has little in common with Jean. Why does she seek the company of someone so open-minded when hers is so closed? When Graham tells her he's gay, her hurt makes their circumstances, already oppressive, intolerable for her. She needs to escape.

Douglas, on the other hand, is settling in nicely, enjoying Evelyn's pleasant, interested manner.

Madge haunts the local country club, trying to pass herself off as a blue blood (Princess Margaret to be exact). She doesn't have much success on her own, but she helps fix Norman up with a woman who shrugs him off at first, but responds when he abandons the lecherous act and just admits that he's lonely. She is too.

Mrs. Donnelly undergoes her hip surgery, but must remain at the hotel until she's fully recovered. She wants as little to do with anything foreign as possible and hopes to live off of imported hobnobs, rather than the local cuisine. The girl who serves her each day doesn't understand English but mistakes Mrs. Donnelly's cleaning instructions for words of friendship. Using the doctor as translator, she invites Mrs. Donnelly to her home. Donnelly doesn't quite go willingly. The doctor has wheeled her there before she knows the destination. Surrounded by the girls entire family, Donnelly is silent at first, but then, perhaps spurred by their inability to fully understand without translation, she recalls how she was fired from the job she held for many years. She raised the family as her own, managed their finances, loved the children. But they replaced her and said her services were no longer needed. Although her hosts don't know what she has said and the doctor feels too awkward to translate for them, they can sense that they were given TMI. There's an uncomfortable silence when, alarmed by the boys trying to upright her wheelchair outside, Donnelly yells at them to get off, her xenophobia raging. The girl who invited her is hurt. Donnelly feels guilty and after that she starts to reach out to those around her. Maybe having been caused pain, changes her view after she's inflicted it.

Donnelly is not only softer than before, but nosier. She takes an interest in the lives of the other guests, observing their fights and affairs in silence.

To his surprise, the records office does find Graham's lost love, Manoj. He goes to the address (with Evelyn and Douglas in tow) not knowing what he'll find or how he'll be received. The woman who opens the door recognizes his name immediately. She's his Manoj's wife. Heart quickening Graham thanks her and turns away to leave, but she calls to someone down below. Her husband. An older man turns and he and Graham recognize each other. Graham walks towards Manoj afraid, but when he gets there he is pulled into a hug and immersed in joy and relief. Evelyn is drawn to the woman in the doorway. The wife. What must she be thinking, Evelyn wonders.

Graham and his friend talk all night, sharing their lives. Back at the hotel, Graham relates that Manoj built a family over the decades and was very happy, but never stopped thinking of Graham. Never stopped loving him. All of this time Graham thought he'd destroyed a man, but it turns out he was the one who'd been in prison all along. He watches a large swan leap into the air, spread its wings and float away, as we follow the bird's flight, Graham takes his last breath below.

The Marigold inhabitants attend his funeral, arranged by his Manoj. It will follow traditional Indian custom. The body is placed on a pyre and must be burned completely between dawn and sundown. When only ashes remain, Graham's beloved sprinkle them in the water. Before returning home Evelyn makes a trek to speak to Manoj's wife, to find out how she feels. This is rather presumptuous to me, because Evelyn seems moved by curiosity more than compassion. But she leaves envious. Manoj's wife knew everything. She always had. There were no secrets between her and her husband. Evelyn feels that they had a real marriage. They had honesty. Sexual compatibility means nothing when trust and sharing is absent. She feels she failed her husband, because she knew nothing. He didn't share his decisions with her, but that means she was relieved of his burdens as well. If she had asked and demanded answers, maybe she would have grown and expanded as a person, but maybe their union would have deepened as well.

Back at the hotel, Sonny's mother catches his naked girlfriend sneaking into the bedroom for a rendezvous and tells Sonny he must have nothing more to do with her. Sonny does not defend Sunaina, a betrayal that the "happy ending" does not soften for me. Sonny's mother insists that he sell the failing hotel.

The residents take its closing as a loss of their own hopes. Feeling weak, Evelyn makes a call home to her son. Is it because she misses him or because she feels he was right, that she has been unable to make it on her own and should return where she'll be protected, if not independent.

Norman will move in with his lover. Glowing for the first time, Jean has heard from her daughter who is now a successful entrepreneur (they've only been gone 2 months, so that was quit). It seems Douglas' investment has paid off, but Jean doesn't thank her husband. She ridicules his infatuation with Evelyn (never admitting her own longing for Graham) and says they're returning home. Douglas can bear her taunts, but when she insults Evelyn he snaps and wonders when/why Jean became the hateful, unhappy person she is today. She's stunned by his revolt, but her first priority is freedom. She packs to leave, proud that she'll be turning left. That is, when she enters the airplane, she'll turn left because their tickets are in the first class cabin, for the first time. She's arrived.

Donnelly pays a visit to the lender Sonny was wooing. It turns out she was not only a nanny and housekeeper, but the family's money manager. She's got wonderful accounting skills and has proven that a profit can be made from the Marigold. She convinces the lender to fund Sonny, as long as he has proper oversight at the hotel, meaning her. Rising from her wheelchair she takes the business reins at the Marigold, while Sonny becomes the greeter, banking on his personality, rather than his wisdom.

He gains the confidence to stand up for himself, retrieves Sunaina and expresses his love. However, instead of telling his mother that he doesn't need her permission to marry the woman he loves, he stands by as an old employee shames his mother into recalling that her husband's family looked down on her too. They would have discouraged their marriage, but her husband (Sonny's father) defied them, because he was in love. The woman instantly melts seeing herself in Sunaina (major eyeroll) and then she instantly accepts her daughter-in-law to be and Sonny's right to keep his father's dream, the Marigold Hotel, alive. Now, there was some dialogue earlier where Sonny told his mother he knew she loved the hotel too, so maybe she was just in denial earlier and trying to be a pragmatic, unbending business woman, but other than a single sentence, we never got a glimpse into her heart before, so her sudden about face nearly causes whiplash.

Evelyn avoided saying goodbye to Douglas, so he leaves for the airport with Jean, but they get stuck in traffic and won't make the flight, unless they abandon their car and take a rickshaw. It can only fit one person, so Jean tells him he should stay behind. They've both realized it wasn't working a long time ago. They both deserve more. He denies it at first, but knows she's right.

He returns to the hotel, where Evelyn waits. Fast forward and they are motoring through Jaipur, Evelyn on a bike behind Douglas and Sonny and Sunaina riding through the streets together to. The two couples salute and continue through the happy milieu that is now home to all of them.

The neat, unrealistic resolution of everyone's problems make this movie impossible to recommend. The acting was quiet and knowing for the most part (Maggie Smith being a bit of a caricature), but there was nothing outstanding. None of the seven plots were original. You could see point B straight ahead, while standing at point A. Ok, I didn't know Graham would die, but that's because I wasn't particularly concerned. Since he nearly fainted twice it was pretty obvious. Donnelly? She was too extreme a bigot to remain one for long. Doug and Jean's marriage? She was set up as the shrew villain, so she had to fall, though it happened gently. There were no surprises, no laughs (maybe soft smiles). You could see everything coming, but if you have extra time on your hands, don't bother to get out of the way. The ride is smooth, if uneventful.