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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) is about a group of British retirees (or, let us say, “older people”), including Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, etc., who go to live in a broken-down hotel in Jaipur, India, for different reasons. (Maggie needs a hip replacement, Judi is an impoverished widow looking for a way to live more economically, Tom wants to reconnect with a lost love.) It’s based on a novel called These Foolish Things and was successful enough that it has spawned a sequel named, appropriately, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

All the same characters are back (except, of course, Tom Wilkinson, who died in the first movie). The Evelyn Greenslade character (Judi Dench) is still the love interest of Douglas Ainslie (Bill Nighy), even though she is seventy-nine and he looks about fourteen years younger. Douglas’ wife, Jean (Penelope Wilton), witnessing the burgeoning dalliance between Evelyn and her husband, departed in a huff (or maybe it was a minute and a huff) in the first movie. She returns in the sequel, briefly, to ask Douglas for a divorce because, she says, men won’t want to date her if she’s a married woman. (This is a bit of self-delusion—men wouldn’t want to date her anyway.) Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) had just about given up on life, feeling cast out after her employer no longer needed her. She finds a new life, however, helping feckless Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) manage the hotel. She has the business sense (that he is lacking) that makes the hotel a going concern.

And then there’s the hotel itself. They (the British retirees) wouldn’t have gone there in the first place if they hadn’t been made to believe it was something it wasn’t. Hotel owner Sonny Kapoor makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in competence. After he (with a strong assist from Muriel Donnelly) makes the hotel a success, he wants to expand the operation to a second hotel. He is undercut by a rival, though, who buys the building out from under him and also tries to steal his fiancée. (Once again, Muriel Donnelly steps in with her working-class, no-nonsense approach.) To compound Sonny’s problems, there’s an American guest at the hotel (Richard Gere), who might or might not be a hotel inspector who could cause a lot of trouble if he wanted to. But—wait a minute!—there’s romance in the air for the would-be inspector, so maybe he won’t be so terrible after all!

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel isn’t quite up to the original, as far as story goes. That’s because the original was based on a novel and the sequel is based on the original. It is, however, a pleasant couple of hours, pretty to look at with a beautiful music score by Thomas Newman. The best thing about this movie, though, is that Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, or Will Ferrell are nowhere to be found.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Chappie ~ A Capsule Movie Review

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Chappie ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

If Chappie has the same look and feel as District 9, it’s because both movies have the same director (Neill Blomkamp) and same creative team. Both are science fiction stories set in and around Johannesburg, South Africa. Both have a gritty, grungy look to them (unlike similar American movies that have a slick, over-produced look). Some of the same actors (with difficult-to-understand accents) appear in both movies. The non-American actor Sharlto Copley, who played the lead in District 9, also plays the lead in Chappie, but he’s unidentifiable because he’s a robot.

In Chappie, the robot officers used by the Johannesburg police force are highly effective in fighting crime. The whiz who developed the robots, Deon Wilson (played by Dev Patel), believes he can take the robots another step—he can make them think and feel, just like humans, but without human failings. It’s a no-go, though. His employers won’t let him do it.

When a group of thugs (led by the ultra-strange Ninja and Yolandi, with the most exotic hairdos you’ve ever seen) hear about the robot technology, they hatch a plot to use it to their own evil ends. When Deon Wilson is on his way home with one of the robots in his van that’s damaged beyond repair, the thugs intercept him, take him to their lair, beat him up, and force him to work on the damaged robot so they can use it to commit crimes. The result is Chappie, a shy (at first) machine with human thoughts, feelings and emotions. It seems that Yolandi isn’t quite as creepy as we first thought. She becomes a sort of mother figure to Chappie and helps him adapt to the world. Ninja, though, is all bad (not to mention gross and despicable). He mistreats Chappie and forces him to be a criminal like himself, much to the dismay of Chappie’s maker, Deon Wilson.

The emotional core of the movie is Chappie’s relationship with Deon Wilson and with Yolandi, whom he calls “mommy.” She is protective of him (he needs to be protected from the evils of the world) and decides at some point that he is more important as a being that she can love than as an instrument for perpetrating criminal acts. I suppose it could be said that Chappie brings out the mother instinct in her.

Of course, there always has to be villain (as if Ninja isn’t enough of one). The villain here is Hugh Jackman (speaking in his native Australian accent). He is bent on destroying Chappie and making sure the “thinking/feeling” technology of robots doesn’t go any farther. (I think I must have missed what is motivation is.) The Hugh Jackman character seems unnecessary and adds to the cluttered feel of the movie. But, then, if it hadn’t been for him, there wouldn’t have been the dramatic conclusion that opens the way for a possible sequel.   

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Kingsman: The Secret Service ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Kingsman, The Secret Service

Kingsman: The Secret Service ~ A Capsule Movie Review
by Allen Kopp 

Kingsman: The Secret Service is based on a comic book, so you know about what to expect. Wait a minute, though. It’s better than you probably think it is. It’s literate and well-made, full of action sequences (no matter how implausible they are) in the style of James Bond, without any of the tiresome romantic interludes with bosomy super models.

“Manners maketh the man,” agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) says, just before he single-handedly reduces a roomful of thugs to a pile of bleeding corpses. If manners maketh the man, so does his clothing. The well-tailored suit (not off the peg) is equivalent to the suit of armor worn by knights of old, says Harry Hart, and the secret service agent the equivalent of the knight.

Harry must find a suitable candidate to put forward to his bosses as a possible secret service agent to replace one who was killed. He recruits a young man from a squalid environment named Gary (known as “Eggsy”) Unwin (played by Taron Egerton). Eggsy’s father saved Harry’s life, so Harry has every reason to believe that Eggsy might have what it takes.

Each of the other agents puts forward their own candidate, so there are eight or so at the beginning. (The number dwindles as they are disqualified one by one.) The training they are subjected to is grueling, difficult and scary. For example, when they are sleeping, the room they are in is flooded with water. They must think fast, as an agent would have to do, or they die. In another scene, they all jump out of a plane at 35,000 feet. They are told after they jump (by radio communication) that one of them doesn’t have a parachute. It’s up to the others to save the life of the one who doesn’t have the chute, while hurtling through space. And if that isn’t difficult enough, they must land in a small circle on the ground. It makes Navy Seal training look like kindergarten.

Of course, there always has to be an arch-villain in a spy movie. The arch-villain here is named Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). He is an eccentric and colorful tech billionaire with a lisp. He is also an environmental lunatic who believes the earth will survive only if the population is reduced. He devises a plan whereby he offers free Internet and cell phone service to anybody who wants it. (If you give something away, people have to bite. Thus is human nature.) All people have to do is pick up their SIM card that will allow them to get the free service. The thing about the SIM card that people don’t know is that it makes people ultra-violent and instills in them a desire to kill each other. One half the earth’s population kills the other half. In this way the population is reduced and the planet is saved. How are the Kingsmen going to foil this plot? They need lots of help.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is clever and derivative, but aren’t all spy movies derivative of other spy movies? The characters are interesting and engaging. (I could have done without the bitch with blades for legs, though…ho-hum.) If this movie does nothing else, it revives a stale genre and makes it fresh by giving it a different twist. I see there are going to be a whole spate of spy movies out this year. Don’t people who make movies have any originality? I guess the answer to that question is: Whatever makes money. As the saying goes, “Everything that’s old is new again.”

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Imitation Game ~ A Capsule Movie Review

The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

In the early days of World War II (1939, before America entered the war), Germany, with its sophisticated encoding system called Enigma, was winning the war. All of Germany’s communications (battle plans, troop movements, U-boat positions, etc.) were encoded. Britain desperately needed to break Germany’s Enigma code to have a chance of gaining the upper hand and winning the war. Many people believed the code was unbreakable because it was changed every night at midnight. If the team of cryptographers and mathematicians working on the problem had made any progress on any given day, the code the next day would have been completely different and they would have had to start over from the beginning. No one was able to break the code until a brilliant mathematician named Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch who is unlike any other actor) decided that a different approach was needed.

He invented a digital machine that, in effect, became the world’s first computer. As improbable as it seemed to his government employers (who thwarted him at every turn and wanted to fire him), and to almost everybody else, his “machine” did exactly what he said it would do. After many failures, much effort and much heartbreak, he was finally able to break the German code by “programming” his machine with the expectation that certain words would appear in every message; such words, for example, as “Heil, Hitler!” Breaking the code was, of course, a triumph, but, as Alan Turing said, “Now the hard part begins.” Germany could never know the British had broken the code. The knowledge (used by the British) of what Germans were thinking and what they were going to do next had to be used sparingly and strategically.

Alan Turing was a tortured genius. He was a homosexual in a time when being a homosexual was recognized as a crime by his government. His sexual predilections made him isolated and this on top of being a mathematical genius, a kind of personality not particular known for its charm and tact. He had no social skills and seemed at times to not know how to interact with people. That he was a genuine (though unlikely) hero in the war effort cannot, however, be disputed. At the end of the movie, we are told that his breaking of the Enigma code shortened the war by two years and saved approximately fourteen million lives.

The Imitation Game is a movie that is actually about something, instead of a fictitious story with made-up characters. The breaking of the Enigma code and its effect on the war effort is one of the most compelling true stories of the twentieth century. About Alan Turing it can be said, “The people from whom nothing is expected are often the people who do the things that nobody ever expected.”

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Still Alice ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Still Alice

Still Alice ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

Still Alice is a weepy woman’s movie about a vibrant fifty-year-old woman who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore, who will probably pick up an Oscar later this month for this role) has a fantasy life. She is a linguistics professor, something of an expert in her field who values communication above everything else. She has a successful marriage to a doctor (Alec Baldwin) and three perfect, grown children (an actress, a doctor and, you guessed it, a lawyer) who are just as dazzling and successful in their own right as their parents. In the middle of all this perfection, Alice begins to realize she has something wrong with her. She begins to forget the names of objects. She says the same things over and over and doesn’t remember appointments. Her husband is put out with her that she “blew their dinner plans.” She wets her pants because she can’t remember where the bathroom is in her own house. When she seeks the help of a neurologist, he discovers that she has a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease that is genetic (familial) and that strikes its victims at an early age. Perhaps the worst thing about Alice’s disease is that she will most certainly pass it on to her brilliant children.

Still Alice is stuff we’ve seen before. It’s like a TV movie, one of those disease-of-the-week things. What purpose does it serve? (I suppose the answer to that is that it makes money for its investors.) The victims are always brilliant: poets, doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists. (We are told that a person with a higher level of education loses “it” faster than a person who only went to high school.) Wouldn’t it be just as tragic if the victim was a factory worker or an elementary school teacher? A mail carrier or a clerk in a department store? Maybe we never see the victim as an “average” person because it just isn’t as tragic, or as much fun, to watch the unsophisticated and uneducated degenerate right before our eyes. They just don’t have as much to lose.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

American Sniper ~ A Capsule Movie Review

American Sniper

American Sniper ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

From producer/director Clint Eastwood comes American Sniper, the true story of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal (Sea, Air and Land) who became something of a hero and a legend during four tours of duty in Iraq due to his sharpshooting skills. With at least 160 confirmed kills, Chris Kyle became the most successful (deadly to the enemy) sniper in American military history.

Chris Kyle is a Texan and starts out wanting to be a cowboy, but he is moved to serve his country when it is attacked on September 11, 2001. He joins the Navy Seals and finds himself fighting the enemy in Iraq. After one tour of duty, he has the deep conviction that he is still needed and signs up for another tour, and then a third and a fourth. With a wife and two small children at home, he is torn between his duty to them and what he sees as his duty to his country.

Bradley Cooper, who we have seen in a lot of other movies lately, plays Chris Kyle with a clenched-jaw Texas accent that at times I find difficult to understand. Once again, we are left with getting the gist of what is being said without the actual words. No other actor could have played Chris Kyle any better, though; he even bears a strong physical resemblance to him.

American Sniper isn’t a justification for war and isn’t making a political statement. Rather, it is about the people who fight the war (one person in particular) and the actions they must take to survive and to help their fellow soldiers survive. If that means shooting and killing a woman or a child who is lobbing missiles at Americans, then so be it.

Not the least amazing thing about American Sniper is that Clint Eastwood is still making action movies like this in his 85th year.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Mr. Turner ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Mr. Turner

Mr. Turner ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

J.M.W. Turner was an English landscape painter who lived from 1775 to 1851. The new movie, Mr. Turner, is a stately (slow-moving) look at his life and times. Timothy Spall plays Turner and the movie was directed by celebrated director Mike Leigh.

While Turner (known to his friends as “William”) was a profoundly gifted painter whose work influenced landscape painting for generations, the movie focuses more on his eccentric private life than on his work. He lives with his elderly father and calls him “daddy” until the older gentleman’s death. He never marries but fathers two daughters with a shrewish woman who comes around periodically to berate him and his work and to tell him how worthless he is. He cares little for the woman or the two daughters but must, seemingly, tolerate them. (When one of the daughters dies as a young woman, he barely bats an eyelash.) He has an unattractive housekeeper, one Hannah Danby (she reminds me of the character actress Margaret Hamilton, who played the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz), with whom he enjoys furtive sexual congress from time to time. He travels a lot, seeking inspiration for his work, and it is on one of these trips that he meets Mrs. Booth, a widow with a soothing nature. The two are drawn to each other, not for the sake of physical appearance (“When I look in the mirror, I see a gargoyle,” he says.), but for what each sees in the other. He has a dalliance with Mrs. Booth that lasts eighteen years or so, in effect leading a double life apart from his life in London. He is at the home of Mrs. Booth when he dies at the age of 76 of a heart ailment. Hannah Danby is, wordlessly, left with a broken heart.

Mr. Turner is an English art film, rather than a mainstream movie, so its audience is limited. Turner is very jowly (or at least that’s the way he is portrayed here), so I had a little trouble understanding what he was saying, especially in the early going. The other characters are, mostly, more intelligible. Sometimes we are left to catch the gist of what they are saying, rather than the words themselves. All in all, though, Mr. Turner is a fascinating glimpse, for the serious moviegoer, at the life of a nineteenth century genius.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp


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