Lion

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2016

See-Saw Films/Screen Australia/Aquarius Films/Screen Australia/Sunstar Entertainment/Narrative Capital/The Weinstein Company

Directed by Garth Davis

Produced by Iain Canning/Angie Fielder/Emile Sherman

Screenplay by Luke Davies

Based on “A Long Way Home” by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose

There are a number of movies that I’m glad I saw mainly because of the sheer emotional wallop they deliver. “Passion of The Christ” “Requiem For A Dream” “The Panic In Needle Park” and “Hard Candy” are the ones that pop into my mind right away. I recommend those movies because they are exceptional movies that reach right into your guts and give ’em a really good twisting. But I wouldn’t want to watch them a second time and I probably never will. I can add LION to that list. It’s an extremely well-made movie with solid acting from the cast and it does the same thing to me that most movies about India do to me: it makes me want to jump on a plane and go there because it’s a breathtakingly beautiful country.

But it’s also a country of intense despair and unrelenting poverty. And the situation the main character Saroo finds himself in is heartrendingly unhappy. It’s bad enough to make Charles Dickens weep and we all know what changes he put his characters through.

Five year old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) and his older brother Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) live in the town of Khandwa with their mother and sister, eking out a living as best they can. They’re so poor that church mice live better than they do but they’re happy and full of love for each other. One night Guddu gets up to leave, intending to catch the train to the next town over looking for work. Saroo insists on coming with him. The brothers end up on a train platform where Guddu leaves an exhausted Saroo who just wants to sleep. Guddu tells Saroo that he will be back and Saroo is to wait for him.

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Saroo wakes up on a deserted platform. He goes in search of his brother and ends up trapped on another train that due to mechanical malfunction is being taken out of service and being returned to it’s point of origin: Calcutta. Saroo is stuck on the train for three days and nights and once he gets to Calcutta and finally gets off the train he is in an unfamiliar city where he cannot even ask for help since he does not speak the Bengali language. Saroo spends a couple of months living on the street, stealing food where he can find it and constantly on the move, evading wolfpacks of men who snatch homeless children off the street and take them away for purposes it is best that we not imagine.

Eventually Saroo is taken to an orphanage and after three months is told that since no one has claimed him, he is to be sent to Australia where he is to be adopted by Sue and John Brierley (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) There’s more than a strong hint that the orphanage really didn’t look all that hard to find Saroo’s mother and that some money may have changed hands in the adoption process but then again, I’m a suspicious so-and-so.

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When we pick up on Saroo he’s grown into Dev Patel who you may remember from “Slumdog Millionaire” and the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies. He’s got a sweet girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and is studying hotel management (which considering his role in the “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movies gave me a good laugh) and life is good. He is troubled by his inability to help Mantosh (Divian Ladwa) another Indian boy adopted by the Brierley who has not adopted as well to the Australian way of life as Saroo has. But soon Saroo will need help of his own. During a dinner party with Indian friends, the food triggers long suppressed memories of his life back in Khandwa with his brother, mother and sister. The emotions accompanying the memories are so overwhelming that Saroo drops everything, including his new job and his relationship with his girlfriend Lucy and his parents as he begins an obsessive search for his biological family, trying to find the town using maps and Google Earth.

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Like I indicated earlier, this isn’t exactly a fun date night at the movies kind of flick. The first half with the young Saroo living on the streets is especially harrowing and Sunny Pawar is totally believable. He’s plucky enough to survive on his own but his loneliness manifests itself through not only his facial expressions but his body language. It’s quite a piece of acting. The scenes between him and Abhishek Bharate playing his older brother are especially good. Sunny Pawar easily walks off with the movie’s MVP award.

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The ending of LION is one that I know is supposed to be uplifting and give us A Moment but it left me feeling sad and depressed for a number of reasons I can’t give away here because if I do…well, there goes the movie for you. Suffice it to say that I was not uplifted. I grieved for years wasted and lives lost and leave it at that.

118 Minutes

PG-13

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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2015

Blueprint Pictures/Participant Media/Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by John Madden

Produced by Graham Broadbent/Peter Czernin

Written by Ol Parker

Based on characters from the novel “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach

If you go to see THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL I strongly suspect it will be solely because like me, you went to see the first one and liked it. Or maybe you’re a movie lover who is retired and in their golden years like the characters in this movie and you’re not interested in going to see a movie with a lot of sex, cussing and stuff blowing up. Fair enough. I myself appreciate and heartily endorse movies like this one because there are a lot of retired and elderly folk who enjoy going out to see a movie. And they aren’t interested in superheroes or excessively violent and sexually explicit action extravaganzas with all that naughty language. Again, fair enough. When we talk about diversity in our entertainment, let’s not forget our retired and elderly. They deserve to have movies made for them playing in theaters featuring actors playing characters their age and dealing with issues they themselves may be going through.

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And to be honest, it wouldn’t hurt some of you whippersnappers reading this to get your head out of all that angry sex and hyper-violence once in a while. Dark movies that are grim and despairing and full of angst are okay and all but you don’t have to revel in your wallowing in it, okay? Watch something cheerful and life-affirming to cleanse your mental palate. Trust me, it’s better for you.

The thing that makes THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL a good sequel for me is that it actually continues the story of the characters we met in the first movie and gives them new challenges  and takes their lives in new directions, building and expanding on what happened to them in the first. Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench) has suddenly and amazingly found herself with a whole new career on her hands. She’s been offered a job to purchase textiles in India and ship them to her native England as she’s become a whiz at haggling for the best prices with the local merchants. Co-owners/managers Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) and Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) have ambitious plans to expand The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that depend on them impressing the representative of an American hotel chain they hope to get financing from. The problem is that they don’t know if the representative is the somewhat mysterious Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) or the cheerful Lavinia Beach (Tamsin Greig)

Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy) has become a tour guide. A job made all the more difficult as he doesn’t have the slightest idea of the history or architecture he’s supposed to be an expert on (his solution to the problem provides some of the best laughs in the movie) Aging playboy Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) fears that while during a drunken venting session with a cab driver he may have mistakenly put a hit on his unsuspecting girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle) Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is juggling two suitors, both of them immensely rich and both capable of providing her with the financial security she craves. But is that enough for her?

Yeah, that’s a lot of subplots elbowing each other for space. Throw in the upcoming wedding of Sonny and Sunaina (Tina Desai) and the romance between Guy and Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) and that’s a lot to keep track of. But I didn’t have a problem doing so as I was invested in these characters and genuinely wanted to see how things were going to work out for them. And the multiple plots doesn’t give you time to get bored. We’re constantly going from one plot to another and that makes for a rather lively pace.

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That doesn’t mean the movie was all that. The relationship between Evelyn and Douglas gets a bit tiresome as there’s no real reason for them not to consummate it. She obviously likes him and he obviously likes her. Hell, even Douglas’ estranged wife Jean (Penelope Wilton) asks Evelyn, “What the hell are you waiting for?” I missed the insights in Indian culture and the scenery we got in the first movie. After I saw the first movie I wanted to jump on a plane and go to India. I didn’t feel like that after I saw this one and I missed that feeling.

But we do get an absolutely wonderful performance from Maggie Smith who with such brazen ruthlessness steals every scene she’s in. She has all the best lines in the movie, including one I’m going to put on a T-shirt. Her relationship with Dev Patel’s Sonny is for me, the sweetest and most heartfelt one in the movie. It’s a great friendship, one that doesn’t feel forced or contrived. It’s a testament to the acting talent of both Smith and Patel that we buy 100% into this oddest of odd couples.

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So yeah, I’ll admit that THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL is little more than a Lifetime movie on steroids. But I can’t find it in my heart to dislike a movie that has so many characters that I genuinely like and enjoyed spending a couple of hours revisiting. The cast is so enormously talented and elevates the material in such fine fashion that I feel they gave me my money’s worth of entertainment. Highly Recommended.

Rated PG

122 Minutes

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

2012

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Directed by John Madden

Produced by Graham Broadbent

Written by Ol Parker

Based on “These Foolish Things” by Deborah Moggach

Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) is way in over his head but he’s got enthusiasm, confidence and pluck enough to fill Yankee Stadium.  He’s inherited a dilapidated business from his deceased father, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and he’s positive he can turn it into a spectacular success.  All he has to do is convince a local businessman to invest in the place before his two older and more successful brothers tear down the place as well as keep his mother off his back.  She wants Sonny to return to Delhi and an arraigned marriage but he insists that he can make the hotel pay off big time.  His mother demands to know how.

“Look at the world around us!” Sonny tells her.  “The whole world is outsourcing their jobs to India!  Why not outsource their old people here as well?”  Because that’s the heart of Sonny’s plan as he changes the name of the hotel to: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly And Beautiful to complete its transformation into a retirement hotel for British retirees.

It’s not as hard to get clients as Sonny has slightly exaggerated the luxuries and charms  of the Marigold Hotel.  The retirees who decide to relocate to The Marigold Hotel are all British retirees from all levels of their society’s structure.

Evelyn Greenslade ( Judi Dench) has recently been widowed and is forced to sell her house to cover her husband’s debts.  For her, this is the adventure she never got to have and she embraces it warmly, maintaining and regularly blogging to inform her family and friends of her new life.  Douglas and Jean Ainslie (Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilson) have invested and lost their life savings in their daughter’s internet business.  Their marriage is already desperately unhappy and they simply cannot face their future together in such circumstances.  They may not be able to face it in India, either.  Penelope is immediately attracted to High Court judge Graham Dashwood (Tom Wilkinson) who lived in India until he was 18.  He’s returned to find the love of his life and find closure for that bittersweet relationship.  Militantly racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) needs a hip replacement badly.  Unfortunately the waiting list in England is six months long. She elects to go to India where the operation can be done almost immediately.  Aging playboy Norman Cousins (Ronald Pickup) seeks to recapture his youth through one-night stands.  He isn’t as good at picking up women as he used to be but the old boy is in there trying.  Madge Hardcastle (Celia Imrie) is just as horny as Norman but she’s got her cap set on bagging a rich husband to share her golden years with.

All of these characters intertwine their lives in The Best Marigold Hotel in the most unexpected ways as it often happens when total strangers are thrown together in strange circumstances.  And it’s touching, whimsically sad, hilarious and downright life-affirming to see how these people handle being older while making new relationships with each other and a new country.   They’re at the time of their lives when they have more days behind than ahead and it’s increasingly more precious to them as a result of how they spend those days.

The cast couldn’t be better.  Bill Nighy steals the movie far as I’m concerned and considering who he’s co-starring with, that isn’t easy.  But I could sympathize with this quiet man who simply wishes to get along with his wife and make the best of a bad situation.  As his wife Jean, Penelope Wilson at times will make you hate her and sometimes feel sorry for her, all in the same scene.  There’s no point in me telling you that Judi Densch and Maggie Smith are brilliant because if you know their work then you know that they’re incapable of being anything less.  And Tom Wilkinson has the most poignant and surprising character arc, one that is handled with extraordinary sensitivity and pathos.  Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup are mainly here for the comedy relief and they handle the job with wicked dialog.

As for India, which is just as much of a character in the movie as the human cast…every time I watch a movie about India I want to jump in a plane and go there myself just to see if it’s as exotically packed full of life and color as it looks in the movie.  I especially liked a scene where Judge Dashwood takes time out from his search for his lost love to play a game of cricket with a group of children.

So should you see THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL?  I’m glad I did and I think you should as well.  First off, I like it that a movie like this can still get made as not everybody wants to see superheroes or big CGI blockbusters all the time.  It’s a nice change of pace to see such a warm, human movie filled with characters so pleasant to spend time with.  Just because the movie stars senior citizens doesn’t mean it’s an old story.  Stories as enriching as THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL never grow old.

124 minutes

PG-13