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The Antidotes to Summer Schlockbusters

May 26, 2012

Are moviegoers suffering from summer-blockbuster burnout when it’s not even Memorial Day yet? It’s possible, given the less-than-stellar initial grosses for Men in Black III, as well as the major disappointments Battleship, The Dictator and Dark Shadows. So where’s an intelligent moviegoer looking for an alternative to the overproduced underperformers supposed to turn? Well, there Jack Black’s tour de farce Bernie and two more films—one now in relatively wide release and the other just beginning to roll out.

The one that’s probably already playing at a theater near you is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a summer sleeper that’s proven a brilliant bit of counterprogramming, earning more than $10 million in its first three weekends of release. That’s chump change compared to The Avengers, but considering it’s a movie about—and marketed to—elderly people, who don’t tend to turn out on opening day, it’s pretty impressive.

And as more filmgoers are slowly finding out, you don’t need to be geriatric to get a kick out of Hotel. It’s a crowd-pleasing comedy-drama about a group of British senior citizens who relocate to a dilapidated rest home in India, run by Slumdog Millionaire‘s charming Dev Patel, and rediscover their youthful passions in the process. The cast—including Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, the always-superb Tom Wilkinson and an Oscar-worthy Bill Nighy, is flawless. Director John Madden (who also worked with Wilkinson on last year’s underrated The Debt) keeps the sometimes creaky plot chugging along, distracting you with gorgeous visuals that help smooth over the rocky spots in the script.

Movies about white people “finding themselves” in India generally aren’t my cup of tea, but I enjoyed Hotel more than, say, The Darjeeling Limited, the last live-action film from the increasingly precious director Wes Anderson. So I’m pleased to report that his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, is an improvement over that unwatchable curio. It all depends on your appetite for Anderson’s studied whimsy, but at least this time he’s got a cast who can bring some life to the story. Frequent collaborators Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are joined by Frances McDormand (an old hand at creating realistic characters in surreal settings from her work with her husband, Joel Coen), Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and a cast of talented young unknowns.

The plot, such as it is, is a slight tale of an orphaned “khaki scout” (Jared Gilman) who flees his New England camp in 1965 for a rendezvous with an emotionally disturbed girl (Kara Hayward). As is Anderson’s wont, every shot is art-directed within an inch of its life, but there are some gentle laughs along the way, and at a lean 93 minutes, Kingdom doesn’t overstay its welcome too long. It’s no return to Rushmore form, but along with Anderson’s aptly titled animated debut The Fantastic Mr. Fox, it’s an indication he may not fade into irrelevant obscurity a la Jim Jarmusch.

Of course, both these films are mere appetizers compared to the cinematic feast that is Beasts of the Southern Wild, opening next month. But they’ll have to do until the real thing comes along.

Have you checked into The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or checked out Moonrise Kingdom? Proclaim your comments!

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5 Comments
  1. I do love me some Tom Wilkinson. Loved him in In the Bedroom, adored him in Michael Clayton. Just to hear him say “patina of shit” is worth a viewing by even the harshest of Clooney fans …

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