The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)

2016 #38
John Madden | 118 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English & Indian | PG / PG

The Second Best Exotic Marigold HotelThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not the kind of movie you expect to spawn a sequel in the current climate (i.e. it’s not a CGI-fuelled PG-13 science-fiction action extravaganza), but when you consider that it made $136.8 million on a budget of just $10 million, the existence of this follow-up becomes more understandable. The first was based on a novel, but that doesn’t have a sequel, so you’d be forgiven for assuming the movie sequel is a shameless cash-in. Far from it — if anything, it may even be better than the first.

There’s little point me setting up the plot here, because if you haven’t seen the first movie then this one launches out of it enough that you’ll spend forever playing catch-up, and if you have seen it, well, “the storylines continue” sums much of it up. The sequel is given narrative shape both by the forthcoming wedding of the hotel’s owner (Dev Patel), and the fact that he wants to open a second location. For the latter he’s sought funding from a US chain, so when Richard Gere turns up he’s assumed to be a ‘secret shopper’ come to assess the hotel.

As that story unfolds, along with the film’s raft of subplots, it essentially repeats the tone of the first movie: gentle drama mixed with gentle humour in roughly equal measure; though this time there’s an added dose of romance in pretty much every plotline. It works because the cast are so darn good at delivering their material. Dev Patel and Maggie Smith are both hilarious, though everyone gets a moment to shine in the comedy stakes; conversely, Judi Dench and Bill Nighy carry the heart of the movie — though, again, everyone gets their emotional moment.

It’s easy to dismiss films like this as twee vehicles chasing the so-called ‘grey pound’, but, in this instance at least, that would do it a disservice. When a film is as amusing and emotional as this one, while also exploring an increasingly relevant aspect of life — an aspect which is too often ignored by mass entertainment that’s more concerned with acquiring the easily-earned disposable income of youngsters — and is as well-made, too (in particular, Ben Smithard’s cinematography is rich with gorgeous light, colour, and contrast) — then its audience should reach far wider than the age bracket of its principal characters.

4 out of 5

Chicago (2002)

2008 #96
Rob Marshall | 108 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

ChicagoI remember being distinctly unimpressed when Chicago took the Best Picture Oscar in 2003, especially as the alternatives included Gangs of New York and The Two Towers — not to mention Road to Perdition, an excellent film that was massively undervalued during award season.

In its favour are a number of memorable songs, all performed with impressive routines. On the downside, they’re all quite stagey in their choreography, though this suits the daydream-fantasy style in which they come about. In fact, the ability of film to make clear the distinction between ‘real life’ and fantasy means the film is far easier to follow than the stage version.

The story is passable enough, serving as a roadmap between the songs and offering the occasional bit of commentary/criticism on celebrity culture — it may be set in the ’20s and have been written in the ’70s, but the characters’ underhand tactics to keep their story on the front pages are as pertinent now as ever.

Five years on, Chicago isn’t as poor as expected — it manages to be consistently entertaining — but nor is it superior to the alternatives. For a current comparison, it’s only marginally better than if Mamma Mia were to trot round winning Best Picture gongs this year.

4 out of 5