Their Finest (B+). It doesn’t have the grabbiest title, but this picture by Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education) is my favorite of the year so far. The year is 1940, and Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton, Quantum of Solace) has moved from Wales to London with her artist husband Ellis (Jack Huston, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). But his dour art isn’t selling, so Catrin gets a job as a screenwriter on a propaganda film about the evacuation of Dunkirk. She clashes with the obnoxious head screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), learns to massage the bruised ego of past-his-prime movie star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy, I Capture the Castle), and generally gets a crash course in the trials and tribulations of moviemaking. Jeremy Irons (Appaloosa) pops up unexpectedly as a pompous war minister. The sexism of the era is conveyed effectively without being overdone. On the whole, I quite enjoyed the movie.
Total Recall (D). The 1990 Schwarzenegger-starring original was no work of art, but it was head and shoulders above this thuddingly dull remake. According to the credits, this film is “inspired by” a short story by sci-fi master Philip K. Dick, whose paranoia-laced work has inspired many other (better) movies such as Blade Runner, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly. Anyhoo, this movie is not too different from its 1990 predecessor, although I remember the original as being more outlandish and striving for a few moments of humor. This version is much darker and grimier. Colin Farrell (Crazy Heart) stars as Doug Quaid, a superspy who has been brainwashed into thinking he’s an ordinary schmoe with an extraordinarily attractive wife (Kate Beckinsale, The Last Days of Disco). He finds out about the brainwashing about 15 or 20 minutes into the movie, and the rest of the 2-hour run time is pretty much an extended sequence of chases and fights. Yawn. Jessica Biel (Easy Virtue) plays a member of the rebel resistance that Quaid teams up with, and Bill Nighy (I Capture the Castle) has little more than a cameo as the rebel leader. None of it makes much sense, but Beckinsale does get to strut around and look annoyed a lot as her fake husband constantly stays one step ahead of her and her team of goons. Skip this turkey.
Based upon the novel These Foolish Things by Deborah Maggoch, this small but enjoyable film has a star studded cast of retired Brits who find themselves in a run-down (read barely livable) hotel in Jaipur. Directed by John Madden (Shakespeare in Love), Evelyn (Judi Dench) must find a cheaper lifestyle after the death of her husband reveals a mountain of debt; Muriel (Maggie Smith) agrees to have hip surgery in India rather than wait 6 months in the British health care system; Jean (Penelope Wilton) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are forced to find a less expensive retirement option after a bad investment; Madge (Celia Imrie) and Norman (Ronald Pickup) are looking for relationships; and Graham (Tom Wilkinson) wants to return to the days of his youth. Sonny (Dev Patel—Slumdog Millionaire) is the third son who inherited the dilapidated hotel upon his father’s death and dreams of restoring it to its former glory. Sonny’s enthusiasm is contagious but his business acumen is lacking. The retirees are thrust into the loud, colorful, chaotic culture shock of India and each deals with it in different (perhaps predictable) ways.
The acting is top-notch. We rarely see Smith play a working class character; she does it well even if her transformation from racist to fully integrated in the Indian culture is a bit abrupt. Dench and Nighy work seamlessly well together. Wilkinson may have more screen time and believably pulls off his mission to find the man of his youth who was the love of his life. Much of the action takes place in the hotel; thus, the sights and sounds of India are more of a backdrop than main character. A good popcorn flick—seemed to attract the gray haired crowd—but can be enjoyed by all.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (B). I was not excited about going to see this movie. I thought the first installment was okay, but part two, Dead Man’s Chest, was a big confusing mess. I had no idea who was trying to do what, or why they were trying to do it. So I rather dreaded seeing At World’s End, especially since it clocks in at 2:45.
But, perhaps because my expectations were so low, I actually rather enjoyed it. I figured out that Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Troy) was trying to rescue his father from his fate as a member of the crew of The Flying Dutchman, captained by Davy Jones (Bill Nighy, Shaun of the Dead). I’m reasonably sure that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands) was trying to find Davy Jones so that he could take his place and become immortal. What Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley, King Arthur) was trying to do, I still have no idea, but she looked very fetching doing it. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, The King’s Speech) chewed the scenery nicely. The movie could have been shorter, but I didn’t even mind the ridiculously long running time. Will there be a sequel? The ending certainly does not rule it out….
P.S. I did not stay through the end of the closing credits, but I just read that there is something to see after they finish rolling. I don’t know what it is, so whether it’s worth another 10 minutes of sitting I cannot say.
Flushed Away (B-). My mom and I just saw this new animated feature, which I believe is from the same people who make the Wallace and Gromit movies. Roddy St. James (voice of Hugh Jackman, Australia) is a pet mouse who lives a life of luxury in Kensington, London. Poor Roddy unexpectedly finds himself flushed into the London sewer system, where mice have built their own little miniature civilization. He enlists the aid of a ship captain named Rita (voice of Kate Winslet, The Reader) to help him get home. Meanwhile, the sinister Mr. Toad (voice of Bill Nighy, Love Actually) has a plan to get rid of all the mice and rats in the sewer system for good. There are plenty of narrow escapes and daring rescues, and the visuals are great, but the movie as a whole is only slightly above average. The omnipresent slugs who provide a musical chorus/commentary on the action are a highlight.