The Dictator- 3.5 out of 4
“The Dictator” is Sacha Baron Cohen’s first attempt at anchoring his own scripted comedy and to all the naysayers who think he’s just an attacker of “little people”—he proves that he’s actually an attacker of almost everyone.
He plays General Aladeen, the ruthless leader of the fictitious Middle Eastern nation of Wadiya, who when not trying to keep a straight face when it comes to discussions of nuclear weapons and civil rights is bedding the best Hollywood has to offer.
Just when he is kidnapped (by John C. Reilly, in a funny cameo) on the eve of addressing the UN, all part of a coup by his Uncle (Ben Kingsley), he must rely on an ex-nuclear scientist (Jason Mantzoukas), who he thought he had killed, along we several others who apparently are living in Little Wadiya, and a non-judgmental organic shop owner (Anna Faris), who he at first proclaims to be a hairy arm-pitted hobbit before falling under her particularly easy-going charm.
Cohen is a gifted comedian, cartoonishly mean and mis-guided. He manages to attack backward-thinking ideals held by leaders while also portraying them as man-children, just with nuclear weapons (there is a hilarious bit here involving a Daffy Duck cartoon).
That the character doesn’t come off as hate-able is actually quite something, considering what a gleefully and tastelessly rude (a stolen head gag, a mis-interpreted helicopter conversation gag), shockingly crude (running gag about world leaders molesting Hollywood stars), and cleverly poignant political satire (an uncomfortably right-on diatribe in the end about our own government) this is.
Cohen is obliterating that line and making sure you will be offended, some times going too far with unnecessary grossness before winning us back with something truly outrageous that will either make you laugh yourself silly or write angry letters. But that’s what this brilliant provocateur is all about.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel- 3 out of 4
Somewhere buried within the geeks wearing Iron Man, Batman, and Spider-man costumes lies the over-60 moviegoer, wondering what summer can offer them?
Enter super…British acting royalty.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is not only that antidote to loudness, but it’s so plain and nice that it’s hard not to be swayed by it.
At the center of this tale of elderly people who go to India for their retirement are some of Britains most accomplished and refined thespians. Judi Dench plays Evelyn, a cash-strapped recent widow; Maggie Smith is Muriel, a bigoted snob whose having her hip replacement outsourced to India; Tom Wilkinson is Graham, a former lawyer coming to India to reconnect with the gay lover he lost years ago; and Bill Nighy is Douglas, a mild-mannered former civil servant with a constantly irritated wife (Penelope Wilton) who lost most of his money to a failed business venture.
What they find is that the hotel is nothing like the brochure, run by a smooth-talking dreamer (Dev Patel) desperately trying to prove to his mom that his choice of the woman he loves and the choice of not selling the business are both right.
What follows is all about reconciling with ones past, dealing with adaptation, change, and overcoming feelings of loneliness and replacement. That it always feels like this will all turn out ok in the end makes it harmless, but not necessarily dull.
The cast is superb, Dench, Nighy, Wilkinson, and Smith going at their roles with dignity, heartache, and good humor. And Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) is a scene-stealer with the best lines (“Everything will be ok in the end, but if it’s not ok now, then at least it’s not the end”). They all make it worth checking in for a stay.
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