SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL, starring all those wonderful people


If you are a fan of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, run, don’t walk to your nearest theater to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. If you are not yet a fan, you need to see the first one first, because it’s all one story. Second Best won’t make as much sense as it should–nor will you understand the setting and characters as you must–if you haven’t seen the original.

Speaking of the story: A couple of years ago, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful opened in Jaipur, India. Seven intrepid seniors journeyed there from the U.K. to set up home in Sonny Kapoor’s hotel. Five of them are still there, settled in India and personally invested in the culture and community.

The hotel is prospering, and Sonny is convinced the time has come to expand to another property. He needs financing, and his search for capital leads him all the way to California.

Back in India, romance abounds. Sonny and Sunaina are engaged and planning an elaborate Indian wedding. Evelyn and Douglas are making timid, tentative steps around the possibility of maybe perhaps someday. Madge can’t make up her mind between suitors, Norman and Carol aren’t sure what is happening, and even Jean returns from London with a racy story. Who knew there could be such drama after 65?

Enter Richard Gere. More drama.

I am 54, so I don’t know if I love this story because it is a wonderful story, or because I’m old enough that the idea of retiring to such a place is increasingly inviting. I love the idea of starting all the way over after retirement to such a different (if ridiculously hot) culture. Of course, if the Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is in Fiji, I’m all in.

That being said, maybe if you are young enough that the idea of your grandparents falling in love makes you feel you are covered with cooties, don’t bother with this, but I’ll definitely be seeing it again.

CHAPPiE, starring Dev Patel and Sharlto Copley


Brought to you by the people who gave us the miraculous District 9, CHAPPiE tells the story of a police robot who gets the ultimate reboot–real consciousness.

We’re back in South Africa at a large weapons factory, CEO’d by Sigourney Weaver, a casting choice I found distracting (much as I found the odd little part played by Matt Damon in Interstellar distracting). Dev Patel plays Deon Wilson, the inventor (“Maker”) of the police robots now patrolling Johannesburg. Crime has dropped precipitately, because the police robots are bad news and don’t ever back off or break down.

Except Scout 22, which is always having bad luck and getting shot by RPGs. Scout 22 is about to be demolished, but is saved at the last moment by Deon who has cracked the hippocampus and made a true AI memory stick. Alas, just as he is going to animate Scout 22, he is abducted by Ninja (played by Ninja) and Yolandi Visser (played by Yolandi Visser, odd, but whatever, the movie is good enough to overlook small naming issues like this. Though how wild would it have been if Sigourney Weaver had played a character named Sigourney Weaver?). (Ninja and Yolandi sing a bunch of the songs too. They are a power couple in South African music and theater, apparently, and I say, welcome to Hollywood.)

When the AI flash drive is put into Chappie, he is no longer a robot, but a learning individual. He never does play with blocks, alas. He’s a cool gangsta robot once he gets his bearings, and that is where everything goes sideways.

Fortunately, Deon has taught Chappie a rudimentary moral code. Most importantly, Chappie learns about love.

Not for children–lots and lots of language, and some startling cave-dwelling-like drawings.

Sharlto Copley, who was amazing as Wickus van der Merwe in District 9, returns as Chappie, in his first motion-capture role. He also voices Chappie, and it’s endearing.

If you haven’t seen District 9, you might want to see CHAPPiE first and then watch District 9 on video, because District 9 is better than CHAPPiE, so it would be like having dessert last. CHAPPiE is, however, very good, and I look forward to seeing it again. Twice is not enough.

CINDERELLA, starring Lily James


I’m not sure I have much to say here. Cinderella is a lovely movie with lovely people and a lovely setting, following the Disney storyline very closely, with a little bit of new intrigue to make the ending interesting.

The dress is extremely beautiful (a deeper blue than in the picture above), as are the glass slippers, which, Fairy Godmother explains, are very comfortable. Good to know. Otherwise, ouch, amirite?

Naturally, everyone will want to see this movie. It’s beautiful, sweet, heartwarming, and has a satisfying ending. That said, it’s not my favorite Cinderella. I liked Ever After and the one with Brandi as Cinderella (Whitney Houston as the godmother, Bernadette Peters as the stepmother) better. I may even like the Disney cartoon better, because it doesn’t bother me so much that a cartoon Cinderella would love a mouse named Gus Gus, while it sort of did bother me that a live Cinderella does. Lucifer the cat is also funnier and more evil in the cartoon.

Lily James is simply lovely as Cinderella, and I don’t think a better casting choice could be imagined. Also from our favorite morally-conflicted drama, Assistant Cook Daisy (Sophie McShera) is stepsister Drizella. Cate Blanchett is a wicked, wicked stepmother. Helena Bonham Carter is the fairy godmother. (Stay through the credits and you’ll get to hear her sing.)

It’s all good (did I mention lovely?), but you’ve seen it before. Take your kids or grandkids. They’ll love it.

Disney’s all about these live-action remakes now. Beauty and the Beast is coming up with Emma Watson in the lead role. I don’t blame them, especially now that technology has caught up to vision, and we can have Gus Gus the fat mouse do his thing and lizards convincingly turn into footmen. Still, it might be nice if they’d tinker with the storylines a bit more, to keep our interest a little better.

[NOTE: The short feature prior to the movie is worth the price of admission. It’s Frozen Fever. Elsa wants to give Ana the best birthday party ever, even though she (Elsa) has a wicked cold. It’s magical and fun.]

BLACK OR WHITE, starring Kevin Costner

black or white

I saw this movie a couple of weeks ago and thought it was forgettable and dull, and that, if you wanted to watch a movie with the exact same plot only 1000 times better, you should watch Losing Isaiah, a heartbreaking film about poverty, addiction, and loss.

But things nag at me, and it has inevitably happened that I have to sit here and rant a little about this movie, which P.S. is not Mr. Costner’s worst. (We hope the upcoming McFarland will be his best, as it looks aspirational and even triumphant in the trailers)

Synopsis: little bi-racial girl who identifies as black lives with her white grandparents because her mother is dead and her black father never manned-up and took her. He’s been in jail, see? The white grandmother dies, so now black grandma wants custody, so everyone lawyers-up and here we go.

I have serious problems with this movie:

First, this movie is filled to the brim with stereotypes. The rich white lawyer and the poor black ex-con, for starters. The idea that men can’t raise children as well as women can. The idea that a large family is better than a small family, that a drug addiction is worse than an alcohol addiction, that black men will inevitably leave, but white men will be responsible, and that, in the end, we’ll all work together. Of course the black man will still be gone, because black men are losers like that.

Second, the courtroom scene was chock-full of stupid. For example, there is no guardian ad litem advocating for the little girl, Eloise. There are no expert-witness child psychologists. Eloise herself is questioned by no one. Easy enough to ask her, “Eloise, where would you like to live?” She’s not four. She’s eight or nine years old, and her opinion would be sought, if not necessarily followed. Black Grandma (lovingly played by the wonderful Octavia Spencer) shouts from the petitioner’s table repeatedly, which again is a caricature of loud black women who get all up in your face.

Also wrong in the courtroom scene is that White Grandpa is accused of calling Eloise’s father a racially-charged name. He admits that he did use the name, when in fact he did not.

Third, I don’t know about you, but if my husband was killed in a car accident, the very next day I would not be up to pretending it hadn’t happened so I could take my grandchild to school without letting on that grandpa was dead. Mr. Anderson (Mr. Costner) does just this. Weirdly, however, as soon as school is over, he tells her. He never expresses any believable level of loss over the death of his wife. He drinks a lot, and maybe the drinking makes up for expressing grief? I don’t drink, but I have been an emotional eater, and I’d like to tell you here that the emotional eating after catastrophic loss has never impeded my need or ability to sob my heart out.

Fourth, there is the bizarre matter of the swimming pool incident. Mr. Anderson is minding his own business in his own backyard-with-giant-pool. An intruder comes and beans him in the head with a flower pot or something (I forget). Blood is pouring out of his head, and then the intruder pushes him (or he falls, I forget) into the pool. Wait for it–we see a line of dark blood clotted to his forehead. Now, people, come on. Unless he has some anti-hemophiliac disease, blood doesn’t clot and stick instantaneously. When you have a fresh bleeder and you fall into the pool, the fresh red blood diffuses in the water, and the viewer would see a clean cut with maybe a lot of new blood flowing out. I know this is gross, but if you are making a movie, you should attend to details like this. (“Make-up! Get a stick-on blood thingy over here for Mr. Costner’s pool stand-in! Make sure it’s black, so it shows up under water.”) I can’t even about the quick-clotting blood.

Of course, in the end everyone is friends, but Daddy has to go find himself again for who knows how long. Because black men.

Am I clear: stupid movie full of stereotypes, and that’s not helpful to the conversation in America today.

May I recommend for your viewing once again Losing Isaiah? In this brilliant movie, Halle Berry plays a crack-addict mother who (rightly) loses her newborn son into the social services system. Her poverty and addiction are powerfully portrayed as is her recovery. But wait, the white family who adopts Isaiah is also full of dysfunction on a marriage-shattering level. Because things aren’t black or white–life is messy and people screw up, and then (this may be worse), they recover. They move on, and then they want what was theirs, and they want it now. Sometimes compromise is in order.

As an adoptive mother, I cannot imagine the agonies of having to give back a child. Can. Not. Imagine. It. This is portrayed far better in Isaiah than it is in Black or White, which, for all it’s trumpeting of “This is not about black or white” really is.

STILL ALICE, starring Julianne Moore


Still Alice is a poignant look into the world of Alzheimer’s disease. Alice (Ms. Moore) is a linguistics professor at Columbia who experiences annoying memory lapses on a few separate occasions. As time passes, these lapses intensify and the time between them shortens. She sees a neurologist, who, after the relevant tests, diagnoses her with early-onset Alzheimer’s. The movie follows Alice through the next year or so as navigates her illness with determination and courage.

We also follow her family as they support and care for Alice. Alec Baldwin gives a touching portrayal of Alice’s husband John, a science professor/researcher at Columbia. I appreciated the struggle John has: not only is he solely responsible for arranging her care, he also has to make a living, and that responsibility leads him to make a choice that many people I know would judge harshly.

But the thing is, we can’t know ahead of time how we will react to tragedy. Not everyone is the same. People respond differently in times of stress and loss, and that’s okay. John makes provision for Alice to be cared for while at the same time pursuing his very important work.

This opens up the discussion of when it is ethically acceptable to put a terminally ill spouse in a care facility, or when it is ethically acceptable to move along with your life if the person you are married to doesn’t know who you are. I know the pat answer is that married is married and that you must never ever separate no matter what, but I also think that there is a place for grace to be extended to the healthy spouse. (And yes, I’m aware of the seminary president–no need to send me the link.) Again, not everyone is the same. Not everyone can do what you think you would or could or should do in a given situation. Sometimes, maybe, a person needs to get away so that he can breathe and remember he is a person.

Kristen Stewart plays Alice’s daughter Lydia with that same unemotional flat face we all know and wish we loved. I’m not a fan of hers in anything I’ve seen her in, but I suppose there’s something to be said for flat-and-unemotional if you’re a young girl who has to give up her dreams of Hollywood to move home to New York City to care for your dying mother. I wish she would have smiled occasionally, if only to make her mother happy.

Overall, this is a very beautiful movie and would, I think, be helpful to anyone who wants to learn about Alzheimer’s.

Not that we need a reason to see a movie. I see movies because I like to go to movies. I like the experience of going out, sitting in the big dark room, and being told a story. This one is definitely worth the outing, and I do recommend it.

Of course, you can’t see a movie like this without wondering what it would be like to lose your memories, your ability to recognize your children. You also wonder how your family would respond. It might not be a bad idea to see this movie with whoever your relevant person is and then talk about what each of you would hope for were a debilitating illness such as Alzheimer’s to come knocking.

50 SHADES OF “You saw WHAT?”


The uproar surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey reminds me of the uproar that surrounded all things Harry Potter, when well-meaning religious people were certain that reading the Rowling YA novels was going to turn Christian children into warlocks and Satan worshippers.

I’ve read a few articles decrying Fifty Shades. Most are concerned that young women who see this movie will be more willing to engage in violent sex play than they would otherwise be, and that men will want to torture their wives. Moreover, there is a feeling that the existence of this movie will move the culture into a greater acceptance of sexual exploitation.

And that it’s pornographic.

SPOILER ALERT. Okay, you’ve been warned.

First of all, Christian Grey is all about consent in the movie (I haven’t read the book). On each occasion and in each situation, he requests Ana’s consent, which she willingly gives, except when she doesn’t. When she doesn’t, he doesn’t. Period. Prior to engaging in the violent sex play, Ana and Christian sit down and discuss what experiences (and implements) she would find acceptable and which she would not. He does nothing without her consent. He doesn’t torture her. She appears to be enjoying each new experience, none of which appears painful. She enjoys being tied up and asks for the tying-up to be repeated.

Whether you think she should enjoy it is certainly your business, as it is her business whether she in fact enjoys it and wants to do it again. Obviously, a person who has been sexually victimized should not see this movie as it will bring back horrifying memories. Please keep yourself safe from bad memories. Do nothing without your own consent, including seeing this movie.

At the end, she gets spanked. Six times with a belt. She says that’s too much and she leaves, apparently for good.

That’s it. Six spanks with a belt. That’s the entirety of the “torture” Christian inflicts on Ana. And she willingly submits to it and can walk away at any time.

Unlike in My Fair Lady, where in the end Eliza submits and gets Henry’s slippers, here Ana womans up and leaves. He doesn’t take her against her will and he doesn’t go after her when she leaves. He behaves like any well-mannered gentleman should behave when asking for something he wants. Actually, he behaves better, because he gives her “safe words.” If she is nearing the limit of her comfort zone, she is to say “yellow,” and if she wants the experience to stop, she is to say “red.” That’s his cue to stop immediately. She never uses the words. She doesn’t have to.

One article I read insisted that no one should engage in violent sex because it’s demeaning to women and makes men want to be monsters. I don’t know. My experience in such things is, shall we say, extremely limited, but I don’t think it’s necessarily my business what two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom, and if men are as willing to seek consent as Christian Grey is, no woman would be forced to do anything she didn’t want to do, and the man would not become a monster. (Maybe that’s what the patriarchy is upset about–this movie allows a woman the choice to have sex or not have sex, as she desires. Not only that, but she is allowed to limit each aspect of the sexual experience, not just whether or not sex occurs.)

Speaking of Ana’s needs and desires, the film is graphic in displaying Ana’s enjoyment of the sex play. This is probably where the tagline “Mommy Porn” (more on that later) comes in. I don’t get hot and bothered seeing naked young women (perhaps other Mommies do), so although Ana’s naked gyrations are certainly graphic, they were more boring for me than anything else. (Again why is this marketed to women? I would think men would enjoy this more.)

The writing and the plot are not deep: Ana meets Christian. Christian wants Ana. Ana gives it a go. Christian has a lot of money. Christian wants to hang her from the ceiling. She says no. Ana falls in love with Christian. Christian doesn’t like that. Christian spanks Ana. Ana leaves. The credits roll.

It’s really a forgettable movie. I wouldn’t recommend it because nothing really happens except the sex and you can see graphic sex scenes in lots of well-written movies.

Is it pornographic? Well, there’s a naked young woman and she expresses the ordinary movements and vocalizations of one who is having a positive sexual encounter. However, there is a discreet lack of (how shall I say this?) orgasmic sounds here. Nobody is moaning loudly or shouting (or what have you). Plus, there is nice music and not a lot of panting and sweating, so it’s more artistic than other scenes of this sort are. For example, the sex scene in American Beauty with Annette Bening and that man with the ugly eyebrows is far more offensive than anything here, as is the conversation (and following house scene) with Colin in Love Actually , because of the trashiness. In sum, I’m not sure Justice Stewart would have recognized pornography here, and he was the expert.

Was I offended? Depends what you mean by that. Christians use the word “offended” to mean (a) it hurt my feelings, (b) you’re worldly and that makes me uncomfortable, (c) it caused me to sin, or (d) I’m entirely grossed out by what you did there. None of these applied here for me, though I can see that “offense” could and would be taken by many people. (This may speak to my being 54 more than anything else. In earlier years, I would have been horrified, no doubt. I just care less now, I suppose, about what adult people do in the privacy of their own homes, especially if, as in this movie, they speak in detail ahead of time about what will happen so that both people are comfortable with the experience.)

What about the movie moving our culture to a place of acceptance of the objectification and sexual exploitation of women. You’re kidding, right? What country do you live in? I can’t turn on the television without seeing women objectified and made into sex objects.

I felt sorry for Christian, because he obviously has deep emotional needs. On the other hand, Ana is a strong woman who is in control of herself and her choices at all times.

Speaking of “Mommy Porn.” I’ve seen this book/movie ridiculed for being Porn for Middle Aged Women. We know what Daddy Porn is. It’s porn. Why is this movie ridiculed for appealing to women? Is it a joke that women might have sexual needs that aren’t being met and that they might read a book or see a movie that fills that void? Are women somehow laughable because they are sexual beings and the movie laughable because it might be titillating to some women? Ridiculing “Mommy Porn” ridicules the idea that women like sex. Why is that funny?

Obviously don’t see this movie. You don’t want to, and you shouldn’t see something that offends you that much. As for me, I only saw it because so many people told me I shouldn’t, and I don’t like it when people tell me what I may and may not read, watch, write, or experience. I have a conscience of my own, thank you very much.

In sum: much ado about not very much and not very well written or acted at all. Forgettable, but not the worst thing I’ve watched at the movies this week. Kingsman was far more offensive, because of the million F-words (in all its permutations), the horrifying domestic violence, the endless dead bodies killed violently and barbarically, and a mother hacking through a door to try to kill her toddler. Now that’s offensive.