THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL



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In the movie Gandhi, the titular character was asked “You don’t think we’re just going to walk out of India” and Gandhi replied, “Yes, in the end, you will walk out”.  And the British did.  But now, according to the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the British are walking back in.  And perhaps now India will get its comeuppance for having the temerity to ask their empire builders to leave in the first place. 
There is something kind of cute when it comes to the core idea of …Marigold Hotel.  Our jobs have been outsourced.  Now we’re going to get revenge for it: we’re going to outsource one of our biggest and most unpleasant industries: our old people.  In this pleasant and entertaining, but little more, comedy from writer Ol Parker and director John, Shakespeare in Love, Madden, a group of England’s most respected thespians pack their bags and leave the country and foist themselves upon the unsuspecting Indians when they fall for the equivalent of swamp land in Florida: a photo shopped hotel that has been opened by that refugee from Skins and Slumdog Millionaire, Dev Patel, to especially cater to their specialized needs.   And with no takesy backsies.  
But this outsourcing isn’t even the biggest irony here.  No.  When the British were asked to leave, the Indians claimed they’d be able to take care of themselves and would be responsible for their own problems.  But nearly seventy years later, according to Parker, they are now no better off than when the English were there.  So it is left to this group of patronizing patrons to teach the local yokels how to manage their love lives; stand up to their parents; treat the disenfranchised; and run a hotel.  Yes, the British are not only back, their back in their old roles of telling the people they once ruled how to rule their country.  A friend of mine called it the revenge of the Raj.
Okay, I’m taking a film that is not all that serious a bit too seriously.  Because in the end, …Marigold Hotel is a fun movie.  Not because it is about a group of people discovering the wonders of India and how it brings  new meaning to their lives (which I don’t think the movie remotely does), but because it gives us the great honor of watching a group of incredibly talented actors strut their stuff.  And do they strut it.  There’s nary a false note here.  Everyone–Tom Wilkinson as a gay judge; Judi Dench, as a widow who has never had to take care of herself; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton (together again as husband and wife from Shawn of the Dead) as a couple whose relationship is on its last legs; and Ronald Pickup (an appropriate name for his role) and Celia Imrie as two birds of a feather, people looking for sex, love and/or money in a relationship, not necessarily in that order—are first rate here.   But it has to be said that as good as everyone is, it’s Maggie Smith, as a racist cockney housekeeper/nanny, who is magnificent.  No, I mean, she is really magnificent.   I mean, did I happen to mention how magnificent she was?  Well, if I didn’t, I have to say it, Maggie Smith is magnificent. 
Perhaps Hollywood actors need to take a lesson from the story here.  England had no use for these senior citizens, so they gladly shipped them off to the Far East (out of sight, out of mind).  Older actors have found that L.A. has no use for them, so maybe they should start outsourcing themselves to England where maybe they could get work doing such movies as Harry Potter (I mean, you had to be a pretty poor actor not to get a part in those films somewhere along the line), Downton Abbey and the recently released Quartet (which would make more than a suitable companion piece to …Marigold Hotel).   The parts they’d get certainly couldn’t get any worse than The Bucket List.

PROMISED LAND



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Gus Van Sant tends to go back and forth between two types of films.  On one hand, he makes personal, edgy, independent movies like Mala Nocha, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho, Last Days, Gerry and the incredible Elephant.  His other films are more conventional, like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester and Milk. His more personal films are exciting, chance taking, challenging.  His more conventional films are entertaining, but, well…conventional.
Promised Land is one of his conventional films.  And it’s a fine film.  A really fine film.  No, I mean it, it’s perfectly fine.  It’s also entertaining and has some moving moments, top notch acting, and I can’t imagine you’d be bored if you saw it.  But in the end, well, the best thing to really say about it is that it’s a, well…a perfectly fine film.
The screenplay is by Matt Damon (as in co-writing Good Will Hunting Matt Damon) along with John Krasinski and Dave Eggers.  The story basically revolves around Steve (played by Damon, yep, he’s in it, too), the representative of a natural gas company, and his efforts to convince a small farming community to lease their lands for fracking.  This rep has just received a promotion because of his exceptional skills at selling pigs in a poke (and at a good bargain, to boot) and the town seems ripe for the picking, made up of citizens who seem desperate to get out from under their economic woes.  But problems occur when a high school teacher who is not what he seems (a marvelous Hal Holbrook), suggests that maybe they should think about what they are doing before they actually, well, you know, do it.  Complications then ensue when an environmental presence (Krasinski’s Dustin Noble, don’t you love that name and yep, Krasinski’s in the movie, too) shows up and challenges Steve not only for the hearts and souls of the locals, but also for the heart and soul of a local school marm (Rosemary DeWitt’s Alice).
The first part is the strongest aspect here.  It moves at a solid pace.  There’s a lot of wit and the characterizations are strong.  The writers are especially good at creating very believable relationships.  It’s obvious that Steve has been working with his partner, Frances McDormand’s Sue, for some time.  The two have some very cute moments of people who know how to push each other’s buttons, both for good and for bad.   And when Holbrook’s school teacher rises (with a face that feels as if it belongs on Mount Rushmore) and puts flies in Steve’s ointment, it’s a striking moment.  At the same time, it’s also one of those moments that are there due to formula so that at this point, and with the arrival of Noble, the story starts, well…fracking apart a bit.
First, I found it just a bit hard to buy Steve’s innocence and naivety.  According to the screenplay, he has no idea of the truth behind his company even though he’s been with it for so long and is such a good salesmen that he gets a promotion in the opening scene.  Not only that, he has the ability to bribe a city official with a single bound, employing the cut throat skill of Rick Blaine paying off Captain Renault in Casablanca (I have to be honest, I did think of the good Captain’s line, “I’m shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here”, when it came to Steve).   Yet still, in spite of all this, his character arc is basically that of someone losing his virginity.
But once Noble arrives, just when the tension should increase and the suspense mount, the plot actually loses forward momentum.  Part of this is because the actual competition between Steve and Noble is not that well dramatized; you’re not given enough information to keep score, so you never know who is winning and who is losing.  Steve keeps complaining that Noble is hurting their sales while at the same time claiming that they have the vast majority of the land leased.  Noble keeps claiming he’s winning, but we see very little evidence of it.  But perhaps the real issue that is not explained clearly is that the ultimate success of either party will be determined by a city vote—but exactly what this vote consists of or what they are voting on is never clearly stated.  We’re not even sure how bad off this town is; people say they are in trouble, but there’s no real evidence of it.  It’s all so vague that the conflict in the movie that is dramatized the strongest is not the battle over fracking, but the battle over Alice, as if that’s what’s really important, not the future of the farms.  I mean, who cares if the land is raped and destroyed as long as our hero gets the girl, right?  (The second conflict that is dramatized the strongest is whether Krasinski can replace Damon as the most charming actor in Hollywood these days–it’s a draw, but if I was Damon, I might be concerned).  And the central fracking conflict (God, sometimes I feel like I’m on Battlestar Galactica) finally becomes so muddled that Steve’s come to Jesus moment is not really earned and is more there for formula rather than a true outcome of character.
The result is that the part of the movie that never really gets dealt with is the bigger and more important issue (certainly more important than who gets the girl) of a town being caught between a rock and a hard place—if they frack, they lose; if they don’t frack, they lose.  But this philosophical through line just never plays that strong a part here.  But in the end, isn’t it a little hard to root for a side if neither side can win?

OSCARS 2012: SCREENPLAY CATEGORY



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For my next essay on the upcoming Oscar race, I shall deal with the Best Screenplay categories.  This is often the most difficult category to predict because, first, one has to go to all the trouble of figuring out whether a screenplay is adapted or original, which is really kind of annoying, believe it or not.
The second difficulty is that, of all the categories, the Best Screenplay is the one that will have the most monkey wrenches thrown into it.  Screenwriters, who vote for the nominations, can be a non-conformist  sort of lot and it is not unusual for them to recognize unusual, edgy, foreign, indie screenplays that will often not get a nomination in any other category.   The directors are second to the writers when it comes to this, but the screenwriters’ branch edges them out a bit.  And since there are ten slots to fill, that only allows for a few more idiosyncratic choices to sneak their gremlin way in.
But there is also one overriding issue that has to also be considered here.   This category is often called the consolation prize.  Since there are two awards every year, one of the categories usually goes to the best picture win.   The other is often used to give an award to a smaller or more (altogether now) idiosyncratic picture or a favorite that just got overshadowed by another film and often doesn’t do well in any other major category (Good Will Hunting, Sling Blade, The Social Network, Precious, etc.).
I will begin with the Best Original Screenplay category:
Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  Zero Dark Thirty has really broken out after doing well at a couple of critical award competitions.  Boal won for The Hurt Locker.  Everything seems to now be going ZDT’s (as it’s being called) way.   At the same time, it hasn’t opened, but that may not matter.
Michael  Hanake for Amour.  He also directed.  Amour has also been breaking out in the critics’ competitions.  The movie hasn’t opened yet, like ZDT, but the buzz is strong.  It’s supposed to win best foreign language film.  It’ll be the A Separation of this year, one of those idiosyncratic (oops, I said it again) screenplays that screenwriters like.
Beyond this?  I really am not sure yet.   But this is what is being talked about:
Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.  The critics loved it, but the public (which includes Oscar voters) stayed away.  But Paul Thomas Anderson is well respected.  With ten categories to fill and a lot of uncertainty, this could get in.  But I’m still having a little problem accepting this because I just didn’t like it (perhaps I’m just being a bit too Republican here, though, and refusing to accept reality).
Romain Coppola and Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom.  I really feel that this movie has almost been forgotten.  It was not the break out independent movie that Beasts of the Southern Wild was which played in the theaters far longer.  If the producers, et al., can make the screenwriting branch remember that the movie came out this year, it could have a chance.
Quintin Tarantino for Django Unchained.   A bit too unknown a quantity.  In addition, unlike ZDT and Amour, the buzz hasn’t really started yet, so it’s hard to say.  But it has a very good chance.
Martin McDonagh for Seven Psychopaths.  It deserves to be up there.  I haven’t seen all the above movies yet, but it’s my favorite original screenplay of the year so far.  But no one seems to think it has much of a chance and it may not have made enough of an impression on the public when it opened (maybe even less than Moonrise Kingdom).
The remainder:  Woody Allen for To Rome With Love (some people loved it, but so many people hated it, I mean hated, it I don’t think it will make it; but it is Woody);  John Gatins for Flight (probably only a best actor nom, but it’s possible, even though the it’s not that strong a screenplay); Rian Johnson for Looper (very popular and people thought it was a clever screenplay—it wasn’t; but it has a chance);  Jacques Audiar, Thomas Bidegain and Craig Davidson for Rust and Bone (mainly included because it opened to excellent reviews and Marion Cotillard is expected to get a nomination, and it could be another of those damn idiosyncratic choices the screenplay branch likes, but I’m not convinced, yet).
If I had to make a prediction now, I would go with Zero Dark Thirty, Armour, Django Unchained, Moonrise Kingdom and Seven Psychopaths. 
Adapted screenplay:
This is actually a much easier category only because the most likely candidates have sort of risen to the top, like cream, I suppose, I mean, if you have to use a simile, it’ll do, I guess.
But what may make this a bit more difficult is that if ZDT is going to win best picture and then wins screenplay, this is the consolation prize category. 
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook to win.  People love the film. It’s going to get a number of other nominations.  It has some good writing (though the second half is a little weak).   It’s the sort of thing that could just win the consolation prize.
Tony Kushner for Lincoln.  SLP’s biggest competitor and it could win.  But I’m getting the feeling that Lincoln may be a movie that everybody loves, but somehow is going to get shut out more than one might expect (except for best actor which still seems a shoo-in for Daniel Day-Lewis).   But since it’s such a big movie and isn’t going to win Best Picture (which right now, is going to ZDT), it may lose out to a consolation prize award (which could go to SLP).
Chris Terrio for Argo.  The definite winner until Silver Linings Playbook and Lincoln opened.  It’s great Hollywood studio writing (which is also its drawback).  But the movie may have peaked too soon and it may have trouble doing as well as originally thought.
Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar for Beasts of the Southern Wild.  In another year, this would have automatically won the consolation prize award.  But it doesn’t look good this year with fierce competition and a more solid set of nominations.  It feels more like this film is going to be one of those, it’s just an honor to be nominated movie. 
William Nicholson for Les Miserables.  This seems a certainty, though strangely enough, the fact that it’s more an opera than a musical I suppose could hurt it (isn’t the real writing the lyrics and the music and just how much of an adaptation could Nicholson have done when it came to that; at the same time, Kenneth Branagh got a nomination for adapting Hamlet, so this is probably a silly objection, at least when it comes to a nom).  
Other possibilities:  Stephen Chobosky for The Perks of Being a Wallflower (should be included, but Beasts… may be the only really non-big, more independent film to get a nom; screenwriters are idiosyncratic, but only up to a point—they ultimately know who signs their paychecks); David Magee for Life of Pi (perhaps the screenplay with the best chance to unseat one of the above, but people may feel it’s more a director’s movie than a writer’s); Ben Lewin for The Sessions (a well liked movie, but may have to settle for a couple of acting awards); Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps for Frankenweenie (it’s doing well in winning animation awards with the critics, but hard to see what it could upset above); John J. McLaughlin for Hitchcock (a clever script, but that may be it’s problem—viewers thought that was all it was and have been disappointed it wasn’t a more serious look at the great filmmaker).
After this, basically what I will be doing is updating each category.  At this point, the basic nominees have been set.  When deciding if someone new is going to be included (Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, etc.), you will have to make the choice of who will he replaced, i.e. who will not be nominated who was thought a shoo in before.  This is where the guessing becomes really difficult.

CHEERFUL WEATHER FOR A WEDDING



Halfway through the movie Cheerful Weather for a Wedding, the new veddy, stiff upper lip dramedy from writers Mary Henely-Magill and Donald Rice (who also directed), there is a scene that takes place at a country dance.  Nary a word is spoken, but the emotions are palpable.  And it’s in this scene where we finally realize how the two central characters, Dolly (don’t worry, no one says hello to her) and Joseph, really feel about each other.  It’s also in this scene that I thought the movie might finally coalesce into something.  But alas and alack, ‘twas not to be.  Soon after, the film returns to its somewhat bland, unfocused story about a wedding day.
The real problem with Cheerful Weather… is that it is two movies in one.  Half of it is a somewhat mild farce on the order of Somerset Maughm and Noel Coward, about a bunch of people gathering at a country house for some approaching nuptials (how veddy BBC/Merchant-Ivory can you get?).  The other half is an introspective character study about two people, the bride (Dolly, played by Felicity Jones) and her ex-lover (Joseph, played by Luke Treadway), who can’t figure out how they feel about each other, or, if they could figure it out, what to even do about it.  These two halves never really fit into a whole, and in fact work against each other, getting in each other’s way and constantly tripping over each other’s two left feet. 
The most successful of the two halves is the demi-farce.  It may not reach the manic energy of Death at a Funeral or even Four Weddings and a Funeral or any other comedy that revolves around a casket, but it does get its laughs.  It also has the two most interesting characters,  Nancy Dakin (Fenella Woolgar, who played Agatha Christie on a Dr. Who episode, and who looks like she should play Agatha Christie every chance she gets) and David Dakin (Mackenzie Crook, appropriate name that since he played Ragetti in Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as Gareth on The Office) as a middle aged couple who have reached that point in holy matrimony where they simply can’t stand each other, but can’t stand each other in such a way that you know, like those venerable lovers of Shakespeare, Beatrice and Benedict, that they really, deeply care for each other.  It’s the resolution of their relationship that is the emotional high point of the film (for those who like movie references, they’re like Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio; Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn in Without Love; and Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally…, relationships that are far more interesting and effective than the leads).
But oh, hello Dolly and Joseph (okay, I couldn’t resist).  Unfortunately, Henely-Magill and Rice have failed to give us any compelling reason to care whether the two non-star crossed lovers end up together or not.  But how could the authors, since they didn’t leave themselves enough time for it.  So much of the plot is devoted to the hi-jinks of the rest of the gathering, that we’re never given a convincing explanation as to why the two knuckle heads didn’t get married in the first place or why Dolly’s mother (a somewhat mannered Elizabeth McGovern—I’ve a feeling we’re not in Downton Abbey anymore, Toto) is so against Joseph as a prospective bridegroom.
The technical aspects of the film are first rate.  Everyone is tailored to within an inch of their lives with all the men looking like models in an arrow shirt ad and the women looking like Erté sketchings (costumes by Camille Benda).  The mansion the whole thing takes place in is a model for BBC miniseries everywhere (production design by Anna Lavelle).  But the highlight is the lovely score by Michael Price which often did what the writers couldn’t—convey the emotions necessary to understanding what was going on between the characters.  It was so effective that when my friend who accompanied me commented on it, I agreed, saying it’s unfortunate that people so often talked over it.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS



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Writer/director Whit Stillman made a trio of marvelous movies in the 1990’s: Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, films that explored the lives, loves and semi-aspirations of the sons and daughters of the upper middle class/lower upper class with a staircase wit that was reminiscent of All About Eve and the plays of Philip Barry.  But after The Last Days of Disco, he was ne’er to be seen until this year when he gave us Damsels in Distress, a somewhat arch character study of a quartet of women at a higher institute of learning who, like so many movies that take place at institutes of higher learning, almost never go to class or do homework, but somehow manage to remain in school.
In many ways, Damsels… has a number of Stillman’s virtues.  There is definite wit here in the oddball conversations and off kilter trains of thoughts that come flowing from his unique characters.  Stillman at times shows a lot of affection for his upper middle class youth (rather than mercilessly attack them as other films like Less Than Zero and Twelve do).  And there is something so pleasantly weird about the whole situation.   It should also be said that the actors do a pretty convincing job of speaking Stillman’s stylized dialog as if was a natural as a David Mamet play (it’s never that realistic, but neither was Oscar Wilde) while employing Stillman’s laid back acting style.  At the same time, the movie just never quite comes together.
I think there are two clear reasons for this.  The first and perhaps most important is that Stillman seems to have chosen the wrong central character.  Analeigh Tipton plays Lily, a transfer student who is taken under wing by Violet, played by Greta Gerwig, someone who most people would call, well, quite a character (to be kind).  By all rights Lily should be front and center.  She’s the stranger in a strange land, the character in the movie that is a stand in for the audience.  It’s through her eyes that we are to interpret everything.  But the movie doesn’t begin with her, it begins with Violet.  And as the movie goes on, Violet is such a, well, quite a character (to be kind), that Stillman allows her to steal the limelight until so much to too much of the movie seems to revolve around her.
But Violet is very off putting, very unlikable, and not in a particularly interesting or intriguing way.  She has such a weird view of life and how to respond to everything that goes on around her, that it’s hard to empathize with her or take her remotely seriously.  In fact, she seems so incredibly intolerant and small minded, you’re tempted to flee the movie so you don’t have to spend any more time with her than you have to.  The only really interesting aspect of her character is her goal to create a new dance craze ala the waltz, Charleston and twist because dance crazes can really change the world by bringing people together and giving them meaning in life—an argument hard to, well, argue against.  But even this part of her character feels rather limp in the context of the story.
This leads to the second issue.  Stillman does give Lily a satisfying enough reason to originally become friends with Violet.  Lily has no place to stay due to a bureaucratic flub by the college, so Violet has her move in with her and her entourage (what is known as the meet cute plot twist in a rom com).  But once Lily moves in and gets to know Violet, Stillman really can’t come up with a satisfying reason for Lily to continue hanging out with Violet as much as she does.  This also applies to the entourage as well.   It becomes increasingly hard to fathom why anyone would want to be around Violet for any length of time.  Even Rose, her best friend since fifth grade, isn’t convincing here.  Most people don’t hang out with people they knew from elementary school, so it may be unclear exactly what compels Rose to.  Violet is like Jean Brodie, but without the charisma and view of life that would attract anyone to her.
So what is the movie about?  Lily’s coming of age and realizing that Violet either has worth or is seriously troubled?  Or is it about Violet’s determination to change the world according to her own distorted vision?  I suppose it could have been both, but right now, it’s neither fish nor foul. 
The movie culminates with that dance craze that Violet hoped to create.  It’s kind of a downer since it’s not that particularly an interesting or creative a light fantastic.  It’s just a mish-mash of various ball room genres that is taught to the audience like the hokey-pokey or the time warp.  I think it’s supposed to be celebratory and fill the audience with some sort of uplift, but, sad to say, it sort of falls flat, like the movie.

OSCAR RACE 2012–BEST DIRECTOR



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Continuing my Oscar predictions, the next category is Director.  In certain ways, picking the director nominees used to be fairly easy.  You selected which five films you thought would be nominated for best picture and then try and decide which one wouldn’t correspond with a director (there often was one difference).  But now that it is possible for there to be up to ten picture nominees, this sort of throws a monkey wrench into the system.
In many ways, you still make your guesses using the same principle.  You decide which five movies you suspect would have been the nominees if the rules of up to ten weren’t in existence and you take that as your cue for your basic list of for the director’s category.
Like all the other categories, the top five seem to be slowly rising to the top.  So to the list:
Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty to win.  It’s not just the double whammy so far of winning the New York Film Critics and the National Board of Review awards.  There’s no guarantee that that translates into an Oscar win, though at the same time, it don’t hurt.  Part of what is helping here is that Argo, which had the lead, peaked and was being overshadowed by Spielberg and Lincoln (which was more successful than was originally thought) and is now being overshadowed by Bigelow and Zero Dark Thirty as well.  Will she win?  Right now it’s all buzz, but the buzz is deaf impairing, so unless the movie opens and then crashes and burns, it seems she’s got it (the first female director to win twice; the first to be even nominated twice).
Steven Spielberg for Lincoln.  This seems like a done deal, not just because it’s Lincoln directed by Spielberg, but also because it did much better than anyone expected (which is important since people expected it to do well as it was).
Ben Affleck for Argo.  Once the front runner for winning, but has now been eclipsed.  But his nomination still seems like it’s in with the in crowd.
Tom Hooper for Les Miserables.  My only hesitation here is that the movie hasn’t opened and I’m a little loathe to make a prediction for a musical (I still remember Nine), but it looks like a sure thing.
David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook.  It’s a serious comedy and that doesn’t hurt and people just seem to love it to death. 
Now there are definitely other possibilities, but here is where things get tricky.  If you think that another director is going to get in there, you’re going to have to decide who won’t make it.   Right now, I think only Tom Hooper and David O. Russell have a chance of being unseated and replaced by: Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master (the issue here is that the critics loved it, but the public, which includes the voters, didn’t); Benh Zeitlin for Beasts of the Southern Wild (deserving, and the strongest possibility for an upset as far as I’m concerned); Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained (the movie is too unknown a quantity and it may open too late to really excite people); Peter Jackson for The Hobbit (he’s already got it for The Lord of the Rings, I can’t see them doing it again and some people haven’t been happy with some of his directorial choices; it may also be opening too late for people to care); Michael Haneke for Amour (probably deserving, but he’s probably going to get shut out; and since it’s going to win Best Foreign Language Film, they’ll probably nominate it for screenplay and forget the direction); Wes Anderson for Moonrise Kingdom (forget about it, it will be Zeitlin before Anderson). 

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LIFE OF PI



Sometimes a writer will give me two or three ideas for a possible screenplay and then will ask which one I think will make the most interesting film.  I always have the same answer (and I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t have this answer as well): whichever one is the best written, of course. 
This came to mind after seeing the movie Life of Pi, the new film directed by Ang Lee and written by David Magee from the celebrated novel by Yann Martel.   Now the previews of this movie might make you think it’s a simple adventure story/rom com about a boy and tiger who meet cute on a lifeboat; can’t stand each other; and just when they fall in love, they go their separate ways (kind of like It Happened One Night with an unhappy ending).  But in reality, it’s actually a movie that poses a theological argument for the existence of God.  At the end of the movie, a character is given two versions of the same story (one the boy meets tiger story, one the reality of what happened) and he is asked which one he prefers.  He chooses the boy meets tiger.  The story teller then tells him that’s why he believes in God (i.e., God makes the more interesting story).
Now I can understand why someone might chose to believe that.  It makes perfect psychological sense, especially based on what the central character experiences here.  But I’m sorry and I’m sorry if what I’m going to say offends anybody’s religious beliefs, and it’s also quite possible that I completely misunderstood what was being said here, but I think this is one of the most ridiculous reasons for believing in God that I have ever heard.   Let’s not believe in Him because He exists or doesn’t exist, but just because He makes the more interesting story.  I was left aghast and just didn’t know what to say (a reaction my friends will probably not believe). 
The story of Life of Pi is structured around a rather clunky set of scenes in which a writer interviews Pi as an adult as he tells this story.  It’s basically divided into three parts.  The first third is all exposition, and it feels like it.  And in case you don’t realize that it’s exposition, the interviewer more or less tells you that that is all it is.  This was the most difficult part of the movie for me to sit through since all I was thinking was “when is the movie going to start”.
The middle section is the adventure at sea with Pi as a young boy trapped on that lifeboat with the tiger after the ship he is on sinks.  This is the most exciting part of the movie, tense and suspenseful, as Pi has to figure out just how one shares a small confine of space with a carnivore who is very, very…well, carnivorous. 
This part is a tour de force of astonishing cinematography (by Claudio Miranda) that would put National Geographic to shame.  It’s an at times fascinating tall tale filled with some mind blowing surrealistic scenes of a storm, a leaping whale, flying fish that descend upon the lifeboat like locusts, a sunken ship.  And it all culminates with a magic realism trip to an island made of seaweed filled with marmots.  
The third part then culminates with the adult Pi telling the writer the resolution of his young counterpart’s story: a rescued Pi must make a statement to the owners of the boat that sank.  Here we eventually find out the true story that supposedly makes the theological argument for God.  But it’s also somewhat of a let down to find out that this whole narrative that Pi told of his adventures at sea is a total fiction.  It feels a cheat when it’s made clear that the purpose of Pi’s story is not the adventure at sea, but only to prove the existence of God.  Actually, it feels like a terrible betrayal.   And it just doesn’t gel in a very satisfying and dramatic way.   In some odd way, in fact, since the story isn’t true, it actually makes the whole thing much less interesting, which sort of causes problems for the theological argument put forth.
The acting is fine, but nothing that exciting.  Pi as a young man is played by Suraj Sharma. It’s his first movie role and his effectiveness comes and goes.  Irrfan Khan (of Slumdog Millionaire) plays the adult Pi, and his calm, relaxed interpretation is probably the best thing here.  Gerard Depardieu is in the movie for some reason; he has one scene and maybe half a dozen lines.  But when it comes down to it, it’s the tiger that steals the show in the end, helped by some amazing CGI shots
If the movie had been nothing but the central story of a young boy trapped at sea and the incredible adventure he went on, then the film might have worked for me.  But as it is, it’s a clunky plot told in a clunky way backed by some of the clunkiest theological reasonings I’ve ever heard.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS OSCAR 2012



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Continuing my analysis of the 2012 Oscar race, it’s time to look at the Best Supporting Actress category.  This category has one of the same issues as the Supporting Actor category: for every lead in a movie, there are numerous supporting roles.  At the same time, as usual, it does look like the group is getting narrowed down to six or seven.
This category does have two unique issues this year.  One is that, unlike the Supporting Actor category, career noms are rare in the female categories (there are exceptions, like Lauren Bacall, Sylvia Sydney and Ann Southern).  The nominees are on average much younger than their male counterparts.
The other issue I wrote about in my entry on Best Actress.  This is a weak year for women, so some actresses have to make a decision whether to push themselves in the lead or supporting.  In a normal year, actresses like Jessica Chastain and Helen Hunt, and even Helen Mirren maybe, might have gone for a supporting nom.  But this year, they may be feeling that they might be able to get a lead nom (Jessica Chastain has apparently decided to go for it).   Also, Helen Mirren definitely has a leading role and a good chance of being nominated.
Now the list:
Anne Hathaway to win for Les Miserables.  This is actually a difficult prediction to make since the movie hasn’t opened yet, so it’s an unknown quantity.  But the buzz is so…buzzardly, that it seems like for now, this is what is going to happen.   She’s also a lead actress taking a supporting role (Robin Williams, Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones).
Helen Hunt for The Sessions.  Pretty much a sure thing.  It’s an excellent performance that is really being pushed.  And the possibility of John Hawkes getting a Best Actor nom will only help her.
Sally Field for Lincoln.  Also pretty much a sure thing.  Like Hunt, it’s hard to see how this won’t happen.  It’s a strong performance in a movie that is doing better than people predicted and may, now that Argo has peaked perhaps too soon, actually win best picture.
Amy Adams for The Master.  As I’ve said before, the movie went over my head and I don’t really understand people’s ravings about Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams (I felt that it wasn’t their acting so much as their characters weren’t that well written).  But everybody seems to think this is a done deal.  But I suspect that the people behind the push for The Master may have to put some extra effort just to get the voters to see it since my impression was that it didn’t have that great a reception (except by critics, which may help turn the tide as the critics awards start dribbling in).
As for the other possibilities:
Maggie Smith for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  In many ways a surprise for me.  The movie kind of came and went.   But it’s Maggie Smith, who is one of the world’s finest actresses, and with the right push, they may be right.   There’s good buzz here.
Ann Dowd for Compliance.   I personally hope she makes it.  She’s great and it’s always fun when an unknown in a small movie makes the list (Melissa Leo in Frozen River and Richard Jenkins in the Visitor).  My friend says she may get the Jacki Weaver nomination (they are both character actors, older women, relatively unknown before their movies were released—Weaver got a nom for Animal Kingdom).   There is only one problem here and that is that Jacki Weaver may get the Jacki Weaver nomination.
Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook.  A popular movie and Weaver is very good so she may be dragged along with the other nominees.  Poor Bradley Cooper if she does, because he will be the only major actor in the movie not to get a nom.
There are other names out there, but as of right now, no one that serious.
However, something should be said about Jessica Chastain.  For awhile, she was assumed to be running in the supporting category for Zero Dark Thirty, then she changed to lead.  One issue here is that the movie hasn’t been released, so it is an unknown quantity.  What most people were commenting on, though, is what part could she have in a film about the killing of Bin Laden that could be a lead?  This may be a bit chauvinistic an observation, but we are curious.  And it does seem, as far as I can tell, that the Golden Globes have put her in lead (and they make the determination before the voting commences).  So we shall see whether Chastain has talked herself out of a nom or not.