Thursday, August 8, 2013

DVD(s) of the Week: GI Joe: Retaliation and Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Well, this is quite the eclectic double bill, isn't it? Extended Toy-advert GI Joe: Retaliation followed by gentle getting old comedy-drama Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, all on the same night is bound to cause some sort of tonal whiplash, and its possibly I ended up feeling warmer towards to the latter just because it was a lot smarter than the former. Although it did have less explosions....

I think I missed out on GI Joe as a kid. Being British, we had Star Wars Figures, but the military stuff was called "Action Force" and by the time it had been bought out by Hasbro and "unified" with the more famous US brand, I'd lost interest (as a side note, my youngest is now playing with them, now rescued from my parents' loft). So, a bit like Transformers, I've no inbuild emotional connection to GI Joe: Retaliation going in; I've not even seen the first one.

Not that seeing the first one is particularly required. I'm not sure anything much is required, to be honest, as this is an exceedingly functional movie. Most of the character arcs are setup within the first few minutes or that characters appearance, and from there you could pretty much see everything coming. That's not to say it's isn't solidly cheesy fun. Things explode, everyone (who can act) wildly overacts, and the villians plan is the sort of thing a Bond villian would review and say "nah! way too over-the-top!". The best thing I can think of to say about it is that whilst its joyfully dumb and predictable, unlike the Transformers series it is at least not wildly grating and offensive.

But only happier things. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is nothing like GI Joe Retaliation. It is, in fact, the sort of bittersweet character comedy that British Film seems to do really well, fully staffed by a fantastic cast of older British actors playing a motley collection of Brits who end up staying at a run-down hotel in Jaipur. It's one of those movies which is really telling several small, personal stories that run concurrently, before building up a cathartic event which caps off all the stories. OK, so in terms of being largely predictable in it's character arcs, it is a little like GI Joe.

This isn't a movie that is amazingly ground breaking in many ways, but it is effortlessly charming, thanks mostly to a stellar cast. Even Maggie Smith can make her horribly racist character seems vulnerable and (partly) sympathetic, although of course her redemption is as inevitable as most of the other main story beats. I didn't guess which character would die though, so there's that. But it's not really a plot movie, it's an actors movie, and one in which the characters are all laden with their own subtext about the feelings and problems of getting old.

I find it hard to really find anything to criticize about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It's a little bit tame in places but touches on a lot of serious issues like life, death, fear of obsolescence, fear of change, regret and optimism. It doesn't really pick one and dive in, but swims around the shallows of all of them; it keeps the tone lighter than it could be, and gives it breadth rather than depth. But it is a good film, if shy of a great one, and well worth watching.