Anika Goes to the Movies: The Second-Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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Quick review: 4.25 stars, Super freaking adorable. Go see it with someone who likes to laugh.

And now for spoilers.

This movie manages to add more romance and be less about sex than the first. WHICH. I. Love!! Way too often in our cultures offerings we are given the choice between no romance at all or an eye-rolling lust fest. But Second-Best does the favor of assuming its audience’s intelligence and implies rather than shows. Moreover, it gets into the emotional complexities of relationships at any age.

No one actually dies this time. But the shadow of Maggie Smith’s impending departure hangs over much of the film, and then is poignantly and tear-jerkingly wrapped up in a letter written to Dev Patel’s character Sonny and his fiancĂ© Sunaina. They are leaving for their honeymoon after a series of disastrous pre-wedding parties and half a dozen or so of Sonny’s screw-ups, and Mrs. Donnelly says a final goodbye. We don’t see her pass, but the feeling is certainly that she will not be there when they get back.

The not-quite-budding relationship between Norman and Evelyn played by Bill Nighy and Judi Dench (who is seriously just lovely) is perfectly frustrating and simultaneously delightful. And the random appearance of everyone’s least favorite ball of negativity, Norman’s wife, adds to the hilarity and gives Evelyn a chance to show her backbone.

It was, I think, just as good as the first. Which is very hard to do in a sequel. And since there was the addition of some bollywood style dancing at the wedding, it managed to be the same and different. Can’t wait until it comes out on video.

Happy watching!

Anika Goes to the Movies (on her couch): The Hundred-Foot Journey

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Quick review: 4.75/5 stars- SEE THIS MOVIE!! I love it. So much. The characters are well developed and fun. The plot is believable and still totally, “Aww, my feewings.” One of the best rom-coms to be released in recent years.

There will be spoilers. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Ok, first a confession. I love food movies. “Julie and Julia,” “Chocolat,” and “No Reservations” are always among my go-tos when I’m feeling down and need a little reassurance that life is beautiful and tasty.

I also have a budding love (as does most of America) for the Indian aesthetic. “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Million Dollar Arm” were both thoroughly enjoyable, and I can’t wait to review BEMH’s sequel in March.

So when you combine those two and set them in France and add Helen Mirren you have essentially created my ideal rainy day movie.

The characters are lovable from the very beginning and your heart goes out to them. You appreciate their capacity to adapt, move forward, and resourcefully deal with the conflicts in front of them.

If I had a place for improvement, I wish the film were just a little longer so as to develop the romance between Hassan and Marguerite a bit more. Also, if I may draw your attention to the poster, Helen Mirren’s character, Madame Mallory is not the main character. She is simply the biggest actor and therefore gets her lovely mug in the middle. I love Helen Mirren. And she does not disappoint in the film at all, but the advertisers could certainly be a bit more honest about the balance of the film, as well as give the due credit to Om Puri and Manish Dayal, who have become two of my new favs, and I hope to see them often in the future.

Manish’s portrayal of Hassan, the young man with the potential to be a great chef, is balanced and endearing. He is manly and a little arrogant, but not overpowering. He is deep and thoughtful and proud, but not so prideful as to close himself off to the possibilities around him. He is, simply put, one of the most sympathetic and well rounded male characters in a romance that I have ever seen. He makes me happy.

The fact that Marguerite, played by Charlotte Le Bon, doesn’t just fall all to pieces over him is wonderful. She likes him, she wants to be close to him, but she has her own ambitions and life before he ever comes to her small French town. In the end though she welcomes the chance to be his partner, in business and life. And it is beautiful to see them so well paired: independent, discerning, ambitious people who have realized their mutual passion for fine food and each other. It’s delicious. *rolls eyes at self, a little*

And unlike other rom-coms where the balance between the romance and comedy can be iffy or forced, this is just brilliant. So much to laugh out loud about, but with real stakes in the plot and relationships of the characters. I never felt put off by a joke or felt like the romance was over the top or the comedy out of place. It was all harmoniously synchronized.

See this movie!! Own this movie! It is funny, it is heartfelt, it is clean, and my husband liked it, too.

P.S. If you would like to ignore the following rant scroll no further. On the subject of awards: too often, way too often, those who are considered the gatekeepers- the ones handing out the shiny trophies- completely overlook the best performances, the best actors, the best writing, plots because they are too well, good. And by good I mean in an all around, decent, uplifting, and moral sense. When you walk away from a film feeling really pleased that you continue to be part of this little planet, chances are that film will get snubbed. I cannot begin to imagine all the reasons why, but a large one seems to be that those in charge of telling us what is award worthy have been chewing on edgy and dark for so long they have lost their sense of taste. The more I live my life, the more I appreciate good drama that doesn’t rely on the graphic, vulgar, and obscene. I respect great acting wherever it is found, but turning aside some of the best acting in the biz for the sake of seeming trendy and “on,” only proves that the gatekeepers have forgotten how to do their job. They are no longer the discerning folk to be trusted with handing out the medals. Yes, Helen Mirren was nominated for a golden globe as best actress in a comedy, but I’m not sure she deserved that particular nomination, especially given that Puri and Dayal’s acting was superior (in my opinion) and neither of them were acknowledged. Moreover, as it so often does, the Academy turned a blind eye to “The Hundred-Foot Journey” entirely, along with “Belle” and “The Good Lie.” (Not to mention about a dozen others that seemed right up the Academy’s alley, but no go.) I guess what I am saying here is that I would like to see moral films, uplifting films, performances that make us better people win. I want, as I always do, the good guys/gals to win. And if they can’t win, they should at least have a horse in the running. Rant over for now.

*poster image from IMDB.com

2014 Reflections and 2015 Prognostications

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I don’t know about most of you, but for me 2014 was a real mixed bag. There were some amazing things: pulling off the ANWA Conference in February, the birth of my sixth (and last) child in August, the baptism of my oldest son, and the publication of my first novel in October. I also discovered Mexican hot chocolate, The Pioneer Woman (and thus the concept of adding cream to nearly everything), and Pinterest.

There were hard things, too. Some of it very personal, some ephemeral in nature, and some that is just par for the course when you have a romp (a large group of otters)of children under the age 8. I’ve developed severe reactions to certain social situations. I have panic attacks (less so now that medications and essential oils are on board). I feel like the Lord has spent 2014 trying to teach me about humility and compassion for individual people. I’m not sure how effective it’s been, but I do feel changed.

I’m just not sure it’s for the better. My New Year’s tweets from last year were all about making it through by the skin of my teeth and being ready for something lighter in 2014. I really hope God got a good laugh out of those because this year has just been hard. Even the good stuff was taxing. And now that I am looking into 2015, I feel like I am peeking around the cracked open door, more than a little trepidatious of what lies in store. If what lies ahead isn’t healing and warm and fuzzy in nature, I’m not sure I’m ready. I need a year of comfort, a year that convinces me I am in the right place and safe, again.

I am choosing to take the rain (it’s raining here in AZ) as an omen. See, in the desert rain is hope. Rain is the promise that tomorrow we won’t wither away, and that the place we have put our roots will nourish us a little longer. Rain is life here. I have also had more than one encounter this year with hummingbirds. Most of you will shrug and say, “So?” For me and my family hummingbirds are also a sign of hope. They are a sign that we are watched over and loved from above. They signify that we are not alone in our journeyings and that heaven is aware of us. Moving to a home with a hummingbird feeder and the flowering plants that attract them in AZ was not coincidental. It was part of a decision to draw closer to the Spirit. And I know this year will see me filling my cup with that which is, “lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy.” –LDS Articles of Faith 1:13.

So as far as 2015 goes, I think in some respects it’s going to get harder. I will be out and about in the world (at least a few times) selling my book and me as an author. I will be diving into the task of writing the next book in the series, The Ideal Apprentice, as well as a middle grade piece I am working on. I still have kids to raise and a house to clean. I have a husband who has taken just as large a hit over this year as I did, and could use a little T.L.C. But I am confident that somethings will get easier, and that I will find ways to sustain myself so that this coming year leaves me feeling full and ready for 2016.

I hope your goals leave you feeling optimistic, as well. Happy New Year, everyone!!

Anika Goes to the Movies (or Redox, whatever): Guardians of the Galaxy

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I promised myself I would never pay money to see this movie. Turns out $.54 is my threshold for no money (thank you again for the Redox code Deanna).

Quick review: 3/5 stars. Yeah, some of it was funny, but there was too much swearing and very little of it was clever. Use the redox code. Don’t pay for it.

And now come the spoilers.

I have not read the Marvel comics that this is based on. Therefore, I am sure, the parts of the movie/story that I was actually interested in are in the comics. But since all I have seen is the movie I wanted to better understand the religious/political strife that causes the villain, Ronan, to decide on destroying an entire civilization. And while I understand the jealousy/rivalry going on with “sisters” Gamora and Nebula, I wish that would have been developed a bit more. Overall, I found the storytelling weak and the ending unsatisfying. *shrug*

If I never hear Bradley Cooper’s voice as a talking animal again, it will be too soon. (and yes, I know they are making a sequel. *ugh*). A raccoon with a Napoleon complex, making the plans, and generally being the most aggressive character of the bunch is just too on point for me. It is a concept that is trying too hard to be funny. And even when I don’t have to look at him, I don’t like Bradley Cooper. So, strike one.

The movie opens with the most painful moment in child protagonist, Peter Quill’s life (losing his mom to cancer), the same day he gets picked up by aliens and made a slave. And apparently threatened with being eaten. I guess that’s a regular thing out in the galaxy, the consumption of sentient beings. And our sad little boy who lost his mom, turns out to be a double crossing, womanizing, lowlife who is trying to build himself a reputation as the thief “Star Lord” when he grows up. I don’t know about you, but I like my heroes to have redeeming qualities. And there is no reason for any of the other characters (several of which call him names like imbecile and idiot during the course of the film) to follow him in the end. So it starts sad, and then gets weird and ick, and ends in a way that makes no sense. And Chris Pratt is not Nathan Fillion and never will be. Strike two.

The upside: Antagonist Ronan, aka actor Lee Pace, was pretty flipping cool. And Lee is fastly becoming one of my favorite actors. (The guy rides a battle moose in the Hobbit for goodness sake. Awesome!) And anywhere Djimon Hounsou is, I want to be. There wasn’t nearly enough of him. More Djimon!!

There were a few funny sequences. I’ll leave you to discover them if you are so inclined.

The two best bits of the movie though are the characters Drax (member of a race that can’t understand metaphor, sarcasm, or idiosyncratic speech) and Groot (a humanoid tree whose limited powers of speech allow him to say “I am Groot,” with various bits of inflection). These two are a riot. And the best part of the whole movie is potted baby Groot getting his groove on in the credits. Don’t skip out on that bit.

So that’s the long and short of it. Happy viewing. And stick around for a post later today on the impending New Year.

Anika Goes to the Movies: Into The Woods

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Quick review: 2/5 stars- Um, yeah. Roughly two hours of semi-painful, not really PG rated broadway oddness. Definitely wait for the Redbox or skip entirely. All you are missing is Meryl Streep.

All the spoilers ahead are part of a spoilers union. You don’t want to anger them with comments regarding their presence.

This was awful. I have seen the full video version of the original broadway cast with Bernadette Peters. And that was fun. It was also not for children.

But let’s start with the few redeeming factors. Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and James Cordon did some excellent acting. And Daniel Huttlestone (you might remember him as Gavroche from Les Miserables in 2012) who played the boy Jack did a fantastic job. The music wasn’t terrible most of the time, though let’s face it Jonny Depp can’t really sing, and Chris Pine lip-syncing himself wasn’t great. Also the cinematography and the CG stuff was lovely. It was visually interesting to say the least, though occasionally claustrophobic since, you know, they are in the woods all the time.

Other than that. . . this is not a PG movie. I had seen the headlines floating around that Disney had seriously tamed this down, and in some respects they did. But they obviously pushed this through to get the audience they wanted. None of the violence is visual or graphic, but people still die and get blinded and have bits of their feet cut off. They cut out Rapunzel’s pregnancy, but not the Prince and the Baker’s Wife’s infidelity. One man, supposedly a good guy, knowingly kisses another man’s wife. And of course, the song where she waxes philosophical about whether or not it was wrong stayed as well. Not sure about y’all, but I usually think of PG as 7yrs and up. There is no way that anyone under the age of 13 should be exposed to the concept of infidelity in a movie, let alone in a fairytale context. (Yes, I understand there are kids in the real world that have to deal with their parent’s immoral choices all the time, and that PG means parental guidance is suggested, but I’m glad I didn’t take my 8 year old with me to the PG Disney movie today, and that should say something.)

Furthermore, the acting styles of the various players just don’t mix. You have Anna Kendrick playing Cinderella with some real sincerity and then Chris Pine is the hokiest prince of all time. The song, “Agony” is agony to watch on the big screen. Jonny Depp’s adaptation of the wolf, while intentionally a mix of woodland and neighborhood predator, is just skin-crawlingly creepy. There is so much about this movie that on the big screen is just uncomfortable rather than comedic.

Marrying a musical to the cinematic screen is a tough business. You either have to give it a definitively “on stage” feel so that the music and the campy theater stuff doesn’t feel out of place, or you have to scrap that and find a way to make the music meld into a film setting. And frankly, the last movie I can think of that did it well was the 2005 version of Rent.

And this is just a personal thing, but I forgot how repetitive the lyrics are in this one. Don’t get me wrong they are rather clever most of the time, but after two hours of awkward disappointment I got a headache from the singsongy style and the word repetition.

I know this film is up for awards. Whatever. It didn’t work for me. It neither did what is was meant to do as the play did, bringing real moral questions to some of these fairytale stories, nor did it mellow enough to be a fun twist on the originals for most of the family.

My overall response to the Christmas movie today: Bah! Humbug!!

But better things are coming I promise. I got The Hundred-Foot Journey on DVD. So next time Anika Goes to the Movies in her living room, there will be a really happy review.