Literally, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I was at the movie theater early yesterday. Early enough that they were just finishing the first batches of popcorn. I could smell it walking in from the parking lot. Other benefits of going to the 10:30 AM showing of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel are that you get to feel like a real youngster compared to some of the other movie goers and you get to see trailers for movies you’ve never even heard of before. I am soooo not complaining about things like Avengers: Age of Ultron or Furious 7. I love those. I just like to mix it up sometimes with something like the new Cameron Crowe movie, Aloha.

best-exotic airportThe first The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is sort of like The Breakfast Club with English pensioners instead of Chicago teenagers. Instead of taking place in the 80s, some of the characters are actually in their 80s. It has the same existential angst of the Hughes classic but instead of a jackass assistant principal, there is an over energetic and inexperienced hotelier. The movie is heart-warming and heart-breaking all at once. The easy jokes about oversexed and altogether over-it retirees are balanced by Judi Dench’s search for meaning and Tom Wilkinson’s struggle with his identity. The movie is saturated by the colors of India and the authentic emotional conflicts of each of its characters.

So, is The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel any good? I’ll get to that, but, for me, it was kind of beside the point. When I sunk down into my seat with my ginormous Diet Coke I didn’t really care if the movie was great. I didn’t even need it to be good. It’s been a long winter and spending two hours bathing in the sun of the sub-continent was good thing. I like marking time with Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Maggie Smith. Dev Patel’s Sonny is exuberant and enthusiastic and who doesn’t need more of that in your life?

Turns out, though, it is good. It’s better than good. Okay, so maybe it lives up to its name as the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (those italics all mine) when you compare it to the first. Some of the emotional tension is gone and is replaced with a secret-shopper sub-plot and Richard Gere. But anyone who knows me knows that I like a good hey-gang-let’s-pull-together-and-put-on-a-show show like Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney did in White Christmas. (This is part of why I unabashedly love the CW show Hart of Dixie but we will save my regard for Bluebell, Alabama for another day.) Maggie Smith will break your heart again in all of the best ways. Bill Nighy’s seemingly effortless charm barely masks a winsome loneliness. Throughout it all, though, there is pop music and wedding dancing and painted elephants and marigolds. Lots and lots of marigolds.

If the first movie was like your favorite spicy curry, the second is like naan fresh from the oven or a warm cup of Chai. Both go surprisingly well with the mini-churros and a ginormous Diet Coke from the concession stand.

Lawrence of Arabia

I saw Lawrence of Arabia for the first time yesterday.  Yes, the first time.  So I couldn’t tell you how the restoration has affected or, in fact, restored the print.  That also means that I have never seen the movie in widescreen, TV format, letterboxed, or anything other than a giant screen at my local mega-plex.  So don’t ask me how different the movie felt in scope or scale.  I have no idea.  But I’m sure it was way better than it would have been on my TV at home.

What I can say is that viewing Sir David Lean’s epic tale through the sweeping deserts of the Arabian Peninsula in 2012 as opposed to 1962 must be an incredibly different experience.

In 1962, how many moviegoers had ever seen color pictures of vast deserts and wicked sand storms?  These days the images from Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom are so commonplace that an entire generation has grown up watching the action streaming live directly into their homes.  When the British commanders plot their battlefield strategy on a blackboard in a tent, how many recognized the name Haifa, a city we have seen suffer Palestinian attacks and Hezbollah rockets on the evening news?

The echoes from the past of Lawrence of Arabia ring as loud and clear in our post-Arab Spring world as the calls of the Bedouin women bidding farewell to the Arab army in the movie.  As I write this, Turkey is launching shells at Syria.  In the movie, the final battle is to wrench control of Damascus from the Turks.

One of the major struggles in the film is for Arab independence from colonial forces.  Lawrence pushes the Bedouins to unite across tribal lines urging them to find strength in their commonalities, not division in differences.  This same story line has played out in our modern headlines in Iraq with conflicts between the Sunnis and Shiites and elsewhere across the Middle East as democratic elections sometimes spin into battles of ancient tribal conflict.

In the end, the Arab Council in Lawrence of Arabia is unable to get along long enough to achieve much of anything once they take Damascus from the Turks.  One tribe controls the power plant.  Another is in charge of the waterworks.  Yet another is responsible for the telephone network.  Needless to say, nothing works and no one works together.  As the lights go out in the British general’s office and there is no running water at the POW hospital, I am reminded of the images of “post-liberation” Baghdad.

I went to see Lawrence of Arabia as a student of film, notebook in hand, ready to make copious notes on things like shot composition, story elements, or screenplay motifs.  I did that.  And yes, those things are interesting and the shots of the scorching heat as they cross the sun’s anvil of An Nafud are remarkable.  But what I wasn’t expecting was to leave the theater thinking critically about the modern problems facing the region and how, as with so many things, the more things change the more they stay the same.