May is when all of my TV shows race to the finish line, so there were lots of season finales to watch: American Idol, Modern Family, Simpsons, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, The Office, Desperate Housewives and House—those last two also being the series finales. (Traditionally, once we enter the summer months and I don't have so many televisual obligations, the movie count ramps up.) This was also the month that I visited Jay in Palo Alto to see Zorba! and some other plays, then picked up my cruise-ship friend Mayshel at the Carnival Splendor and took her to Disneyland before putting her on a plane back to Manila. So it was a fairly busy month. Still, I managed to fit in half a dozen movies. Here's what I watched.
MIRROR MIRROR (2012)—The first of this year's two live-action versions of the Snow White story isn't going to make anybody forget about the definitive Disney animated version, which is a bit of an understatement. Having said that, this particular take—starring Julia Roberts as the evil Queen Clementianna and Lily Collins as Snow White—is a perfectly fine movie for families with little kids. As it was a free screening at Paramount (thanks, Joan!), I was able to enjoy it a bit more than I would have had I paid money to see what is essentially a movie for the small fry; some of it is a bit too broad and slapsticky for my tastes, and the director gets an awful lot of mileage out of the limited number of cast members and sets. Casting the now 44-year-old Roberts to play the wicked stepmother instead of the ingenue is a little heartbreaking (she was 23 when Pretty Woman was released—the same age Collins is now), but I suppose it will be Collins' turn to play mean older bitches in 20 years' time. They've made Collins up to look like Audrey Hepburn, and she's great in the part. Probably my favorite part of the movie was the song played over the closing credits, which is staged to look like a Bollywood musical—which makes sense, as the director of this particular film is Punjab-born Tarsem Singh. As I write these words, I'm planning to see the Snow White and the Huntsman tomorrow, and I'm hoping for a bit less juvenilia from that version. (7)
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2012)—Miami Herald film reviewer Connie Ogle called this The Avengers for fans of Downton Abbey, since the movie stars two of the elderly actresses (Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton) from the famous British series. Given that I'm a big Downton fan, this film was represented in the titles I was most excited to see when I made that list at the beginning of 2012. The film half a dozen or characters pushing 70 who decide to take up residence in a retired persons' hotel in India, hoping to take advantage of the health care options and other perks while enduring the unsavory local cuisine and dilapidated conditions of the hotel. The story also involves the young man (Dev Patel) who's struggling to run the hotel while making time for his squeeze (the best exotic Tena Desae) against his mother's wishes. The movie is sweet and charming, with a redemption theme for Maggie Smith, a couple of romances and some gentle comedy. The terrific cast includes the always-reliable Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. (8)
THE DICTATOR (2012)—The second of this month's free screenings, another at Paramount (thanks again, Joan!). This is the latest of Sacha Baron Cohen's latest "character" comedies, following up on movies featuring loathsome, heavily accented jerks (Ali G, Borat, Bruno). This one is notable by being a more traditionally scripted affair, with none of the guerilla-type improvisational goofery of the earlier movies. In some ways, though, there are probably just as many laughs in this one (and it's certainly funnier than Bruno), despite the familiar storyline, which is something not unlike Coming to America. There's some toilet humor I could have done without, but the high quotient of hilariously anti-PC and satirical humor make it entirely worth seeing. (8)
THE INTOUCHABLES (2012)—The last of May's free screenings (this one at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences—thanks, Irene!) is a huge box-office smash in France with a terrible title. But it's a crowd-pleasing flick, the story of a white multi-millionaire paralyzed from the neck down who hires a "wacky" black former hoodlum to tend to his many personal needs. You know the drill—they're an unlikely pair, and they come to really care for each other! Despite the contrivance, it's fitfully entertaining and the actors do a good job…although François Cluzet as the millionaire resembles actor Dustin Hoffman so much as to be occasionally distracting. (8)
MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012)—I am not a fan of director Wes Anderson, but I was curious to check out this quirky tale about a pair of 12-year-old kids in the early 1960s who fall in love and run away together. This catapults various parents, guardians and law enforcement officials—as well as the local Boy Scout troupe—into a race to hunt them down. It's all adorably oddball and curiously engaging, running a teensy bit long (even at 94 minutes), but worth it for the affecting performances of the child leads—nobody else in the extremely talented cast, which includes Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton, can match their eccentric charm, although Bob Balaban comes terribly close. (8)
BLOOD RIVER (2009)—My sole refuge to the archives is this obscure psychological thriller, which stars Ian Duncan and Tess Panzer as an attractive couple driving through the desert and running into trouble in the form of a menacing badass played by Andrew Howard…who may or may not be someone otherworldly. The movie combines both Western and fantasy elements, although it takes a mighty long time for the producers to let the viewer in on what's really going on. I was hoping for moments of sheer terror and gripping suspense, but although Howard's character is a potentially insane nutcase (or something even weirder), it's not as effective chiller as it might have been. Even so, it is technically and visually perfect and does provide a couple of genuine thrills. (7)