Monday, May 7, 2012

First Position, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

First Position
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Since Jeffrey Blitz's great 2002 documentary "Spellbound," you can write the treatments for such pix by Mad Libs (choose activity: spelling bee, crosswords, ballroom dancing; add backstory; climax at national finals). Bess Kargman's youth-ballet-competition doc "First Person" is formulaic, cheesy, and not particularly well-made, but Kargman chose a delightful sextet of kids to track, and they imbue the flick with more humor and joy than it deserves. What makes the kids so impressive is not so much their virtuosity as their seriousness (often singleness) of purpose, their perseverance through intense physical pain, their professionalism. Everyone comes off well except a couple of the parents, one a total Tiger Mother, another who with a few words manages to put the weight of the world on his daughter's shoulders. Kargman needed to tighten up the story - at times, despite the supposed rigor of the Youth America Grand Prix, it seems everyone who fucks up gets a Tonya Harding retake - but she's made sharp enough casting choices to overcome her directorial failings and the movie's good clean fun.

Wearying is the only word for both "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" and the much longer, deadly dull "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." The animated "Pirates!", from the Aardman house whose Wallace and Gromit shorts remain its best work, suffers from the Monty Python Syndrome, in which giving characters names like "The Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate" and "The Pirate Who Likes Sunsets and Kittens" is supposed to engender uproarious laughter. (To a certain category of cat-loving, D&D-playing mouth-breathers, it probably still does.) Even at 88 minutes, the numbingly predictable storyline and absence of laughs makes it torture to sit through.

At 124 minutes, John Madden's bloated and flatulent "Marigold Hotel" will test the will even of its target audience: rich, dim Westside women who think traveling to India will provide some sort of spiritual fulfillment they're not getting from Kabbalah or classes at Equinox. Madden's assembled a cast of Anglophile All-Stars (Judi Dench, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy), and stranded them in a poorly-shot, headache-inducing Jaipur, where they learn life lessons so banal and simplistic there would be no movie if everyone in it wasn't an idiot. Wilkinson plays a gay judge; his storyline is so chaste - it culminates in a meaningful hug - that you wonder whether the movie's been on a shelf for 25 years. Smith, playing a racist curmudgeon, gets the one out-loud laugh early on, when she surveys her new surroundings and matter-of-factly comments, "I'm in hell." Amen, sister.

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