view counter

Arts and Culture (All)

Don’t miss this Twin Beach Players' show, for you’re sure to walk out smiling

In a typical visit to a theater, you experience a play from your sensory point of view, including watching it unfold through plot twists and turns while listening to witty dialogue spoken by richly portrayed characters. In Twin Beach Players’ Noises Off, you get that and more as you bear witness to Noises On, a play within a play revealed from the point of view of actors preparing and starring in a comical sex farce.
    Before Noises Off has finished, you will feel exhausted, not unlike the actors, having watched seemingly countless pratfalls, observed multiple character and prop entrances and exits, heard numerous opening and closing of doors, many double entendres, reappearing sardines and other props, character-appropriate and colorful costumes — and a monstrous two-level set spun around twice by stage crew.
    Confused? Let me explain.
    Directed by Players’ president Sid Curl, English playwright Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is the story of six actors, one stage manager, one stage technician and director who rehearse and perform their play, Noises On. A standout ensemble cast and complicated physical and technical cues make Noises Off a theatrical ­triumph.
    The moment you make your way to your seat in the auditorium of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maryland and see before you a two-level English country home constructed of tall painted flats, working wood stairs and numerous doors, combined with colorful prop pieces and thoughtful background music, you appreciate the transformative effort involved in this challenging undertaking.
    A combination of new and veteran performers, the strong cast reacts well to each other through deliberate character choices, effective and credible vocal variety and exceptional comic pacing and timing. Sherry Curl-Hall’s Dotty Otley is animated and energetic. Keith Mervine plays Lloyd Dallas, a convincing and experienced director. Ethan Croll’s Gary Lejeune is equally impressive with deliberate gesturing and authoritative demeanor.  Brooke Ashton as Kate Harrison creates a vain starlet threatening to quit the show whenever things don’t go her way.
    Luke Woods’ Frederick Fellowes is a believable, mature actor who respectfully questions his director. Didi Olney masters Poppy Norton-Taylor’s job as a fretful stage manager. Amy Prieto adds maturity to Belinda Blair, an eternal optimist. Kevin McCoy sparkles as obedient stage technician Tim Algood. Jeff Larsen amuses as Selsdon Mowbray, an unreliable actor with a drinking problem.
    Opening night had a few technical problems including long intermissions to turn the stage set, but they were not surprising, as the cast and crew had just one week to rehearse with the entire set in place.
    Don’t miss this show, for you’re sure to walk out smiling.

Playing thru April 26: Th-Sa: 8pm; Su 2pm: Boys & Girls Club, North Beach; $15 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-286-1890

Growing old is easy; growing up is hard

When their friends start procreating, Cornelia (Naomi Watts: Insurgent) and Josh (Ben Stiller: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb) find themselves adrift amid Mommy and Me classes and talk of nursing.
    Cornelia is a successful documentary film producer; Josh is a less-successful documentary director and film professor. A couple who enjoyed art, travel and wine, they’d continue enjoying life if everybody stopped asking them why they don’t have children.
    Twenty-five-year-old Jamie (Adam Driver: Girls) comes as opportunity knocking. Jamie and his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried: A Million Ways to Die in the West) represent everything Cornelia and Josh feel their lives are missing: spontaneity, creativity and openness to new experiences.
    The older couple ditches the uptown baby crowd for the Brooklyn Bohemians. They’re drinking Argentinian potions to cleanse their souls. Josh trades his T-shirts and jackets for skinny jeans, wing tips and fedoras. Cornelia spurns cookouts at Connecticut weekend homes for hip-hop dance classes and block parties.
    Writer/director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is known for his unflattering but funny looks into lives fraught with ennui. While We’re Young goes a step further. Do people really want children, or do they think they should have them? What happens if you don’t follow the rules? Will you be shunned for wanting something else?
    As the couple rejecting their 40s to relive their 20s, Stiller and Watts are fantastic. Stiller is funny as floundering Josh, who is obsessed with success, though he can never seem to grasp it. He doesn’t want to admit he’s aging, and when he sees Jamie’s creative flair, he is inspired to abandon his current life.
    Watts is the real revelation. Her Cornelia is perfectly happy in her mature 40-something life, until her best friend becomes a mother — and a stranger — and Cornelia an interloper in Mommy-themed activities. She embraces Jamie and Darby to forget her own miscarriages and escape the reminder that she is no longer valued because she doesn’t have children. It’s less a mid-life crisis than a desperate quest to be seen the way her friends used to see her.
    Funny, embarrassing and insightful, While We’re Young is the perfect film for moviegoers who feel adulthood is a rigged game.

Good Dramedy • R • 97 mins.

Bold choices — for these homesteaders and Bowie Community Theatre

Since the mid-1960s, Bowie Community Theatre’s bread and butter has been mysteries, comedies and classics. Still, it has never shied away from taking on lesser-known material with depth and message. It has found such a gem in Pearl Cleage’s 1995 production Flyin’ West. This is a beautifully written piece that brings to life the oft-ignored story of how former slaves in 1898 moved west — Kansas, in this case — toward a life of self-dependence.
    A small story with a big impact, Flyin’ West demands actors who can plow the depths of their characters’ pasts to bring us dual realities. On the one hand, that’s what they lived as slaves. On the other, it’s the hope they feel as they simultaneously work to make their town of Nicodemus an enduring success and ward off speculators who see dollar signs across the acres.    
    Director Estelle Miller has assembled a cast that makes us feel the warmth and love they have for each other, their determination to create a town that will prosper and the indignities of having darker skin at a time when whites had no legal barrier preventing them from committing all sorts of abuse.
    More specifically, this is a story of four very strong African American women, with a cast doing justice to each. It all takes place at the home of Sophie Washington and Fannie Dove, 30-something homesteaders who have opened their home to Leah, their 70-something neighbor whom they do not want to be alone during the oncoming winter.
    As Leah, Sandra Cox True gives us the past: several very touching monologues about what it was like being a female slave who had another slave forced on her to bring healthy male children to the plantation. Her story about that first time, at age 13 — and subsequent stories about the babies being taken away — are heartbreakingly real. Yet True also gives us some wonderfully funny and dry responses in her back-and-forth with the other characters … including the story of how she learned to bake an especially tart apple pie.
    As Fannie, Lolita Marie gives us the present. She bickers with Sophie, flirts with neighbor Wil Parish and seems to have aspirations of ensuring that the hardscrabble homesteader’s life doesn’t preclude having some of the finer things; she made sure their fine china went with them from Memphis to Nicodemus. Marie’s Fannie is gentle and perceptive.
    As Sophie, Kecia Campbell gives us a taste of the future as the strong-willed visionary whose singular purpose in life is to leave behind the past and forge ahead by doing all she can to ensure that Nicodemus remains in the hands of her people. She plans the layout of the town just as she plans her own future, and Campbell’s characterization is spot on. She has no intention of playing second fiddle to anyone, whether a slave overseer or the male-dominated society she faces.
    Brawnlyn Blueitt plays younger sister Minnie with appropriate innocence and tentativeness, growing stronger as she and her baby survive the abuses of her husband. Hard to believe this is Blueitt’s stage debut.
    Neighbor Wil is the good guy neighbor who would do anything to help the women, especially Fannie. Darius McCall is quite appealing; his Wil is a touch dimmer than the others, but his loyalty and strength manifest when the time comes for him to be the protector.
    Frank is Minnie’s husband. A mulatto born of a white man and a slave mother, Ben Harris walks a bit of an acting tightrope as Frank. The character as written threatens to fall into cliché: frustrated self-hating drunk gambler who hits his wife and wants to sell their land. But Cleage doesn’t quite allow Frank to cross that line, and Harris’s performance, while potent, is subtle enough to make us believe Frank’s self-loathing and explosiveness.
    It all takes place on a beautifully realized set of a see-through house by set designer Dan Lavagan, lit nicely by Bowie Playhouse veteran pro Garrett Hyde. The pace on opening night was occasionally tentative, both with the actors’ lines and long scene changes, all of which are sure to tighten up as the run progresses.
    One can hope: the show started at 8pm. Act I ran 1.5 hours, and it all ended about 10:50. Nearly three hours is long even for a musical, much less a straight play. But that’s a minor caveat considering the importance of this story.
    This brilliant script brought to life by riveting performances adds another chapter to how the West was won.

Playing thru April 25: FSa 8pm; 2pm Sa April 18 and Su April 19: Bowie Community Theatre, White Marsh Park, Bowie; $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 301-805-0219;

Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

To make a film in the Fast & Furious franchise you need three things: Flashy cars, hulking biceps lathered in baby oil and heart-pounding action sequences. What you don’t need are actors or plot.
    Furious 7 keeps this tradition alive with a film so filled with screeching tires, machismo and surprising sentiment it almost distracts you from the abysmal performance of the lead and ridiculous plot.
    In a London hospital, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham: The Expendables 3) stands over the broken body of his baby brother Owen (the baddie from Fast and Furious 6). Swearing vengeance on Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel: Guardians of the Galaxy) and his crew of racers, Deckard hunts them down one by one.
    He kills one and hobbles Hobbs (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: Hercules), Toretto’s law enforcement ally, before finding Dominic. Toretto goes on the offensive, reuniting his team for one last ride — just as in the past three movies.
    Dominic’s brother-in-law and partner in crime Brian (Paul Walker: Brick Mansions) is facing his own crisis. Now a father and husband, he’s chaffing at driving a minivan instead of a muscle car. He tells his wife Mia (Jordana Brewster: Dallas) he misses the bullets, and she worries that he’s unhappy with family life.
    Can Brian settle into domesticity? Can Toretto and his gang defeat Deckard? Who is buying these idiots million dollar cars to destroy?
    Director James Wan (Insidious: Chapter 2) continues a brainless and still popular formula as old as Sylvester Stallone.
    The problem with Wan’s brand of mindless action is that it’s toothless. To earn the lucrative PG-13 rating, he must make a hardcore action film that’s kid-friendly. As a result, bullets and fists fly, but it’s a bloodless affair with seemingly few consequences. Women are dressed as sex objects, but to ensure parents bring their teens, there is no actual nudity — just plenty of up-skirt shots.
    Wan does surprisingly well within the restrictions on violence and nudity. Two of the hand-to-hand combat scenes are brilliantly choreographed and paced. The fight between Johnson and Statham is a brutal highpoint with both actors throwing everything they have at each other. But the real star of these movies has always been the cars. When we’re watching preposterous physics-defying car chases, it’s a fantastic spectacle that perfectly complements a fistful of popcorn.
    Impressively, Wan manages to inject a little sentiment into this ode to macho posturing. His tribute to Walker, who died while making the film, is both touching and fitting to the franchise. Wan and the editors should be credited for cobbling together Walker’s final performance using doubles, digital editing and the few scenes filmed before his demise.
    What Wan and his team of talented editors couldn’t fix, however, was Diesel’s performance. Blank, meaty and potato-like in both expression and demeanor, Diesel is an abysmal actor. His lack of a human personality was less noticeable in the first films; here, with the addition of exemplary supporting actors, you notice. Both Statham and Johnson crackle with charisma, and international action superstar Tony Jaa commands the screen in a nearly wordless performance.
    In spite of the wealth of action talent, Wan chooses to subject us to Diesel’s lumbering attempts at acting for seemingly endless stretches of film. Pairing him with Johnson and Statham seems like a cruel joke.
    With fantastic action and a bit of heart, Furious 7 isn’t nearly as bad as it could have been — if you can ignore Diesel.

Fair Action • PG-13 • 137 mins.

Truth doesn’t matter if you yell loud enough

Who do you trust? When experts debate on television an issue like climate change, do you believe that both are qualified?
    Most often, the debaters are experts in speaking, not science.
    It turns out that the news is just another TV show. Lively debate, doubt and fear-mongering make for great ratings. There is little incentive to seek out facts when bread and circuses bring in money and viewers.
    In 2004, science historian Naomi Oreskes became interested in a phrase common in the Global Warming debate: “No consensus has been reached among scientists on the matter of climate change.” Oreskes read through every scientific paper on climate change published in journals from 1993 to 2003. Out of 928 articles, she found none that refuted climate change.
    If there was no disagreement in the scientific community, where did this dissent come from?
    Hint: It’s not science.
    Pundits are hired by think tanks and corporations to argue their case, not sift through the facts or do independent research. To that end, they manipulate data, suggest that scientists have a hidden agenda and lie. These experts also become the faces for volunteer groups backed by major corporations that depend on the status quo for their profits.
    Based on a book by Oreskes and Erik Conway, Merchants of Doubt is a documentary that takes a troubling look at how easy it is to lead people away from the facts. Using the tobacco industry and the climate-change debate as his two main topics, director Robert Kenner (Food Inc.) examines how corporations manipulate citizens, government and the law to further their interests.
    Kenner interviews scientists who have been battered by the press and professional spin-doctors. Ill prepared by a life of research to deal with slick PR men, many of these researchers look befuddled when confronted by misinformation. James Hansen, one of the fathers of the climate change movement, admits that he wasn’t prepared to become the face of global warming. Nor was he prepared for the backlash. Death threats, smear campaigns and aggressive politicking.
    Those on the other side seem to enjoy being contrarians. All pundits readily admit to Kenner that they don’t conduct research; they merely interpret. Marc Morano, founder of Climate Depot, seems to revel in the fight if not the facts. He enjoys going after scientists who question his view that global warming is a liberal hoax, often publishing their personal email addresses and encouraging his followers to send hate mail.
    Kenner’s only misstep is his over-reliance on metaphor. To liken pundits to magicians performing card tricks, he uses a repeating motif of shuffling decks and sleight of hand. The framing device seems silly compared to the seriousness of the issues.
    Like most documentaries that take a bold stand, Merchants of Doubt will likely make you angry. Whether you’re furious at the pundits or Kenner’s take on climate change largely depends on what side of the debate you fall.

Good Documentary • PG-13 • 96 mins.

Intimate setting, top-notch acting, taut direction and high production values bring this classic to life

For this classic, less is more.
     The Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Jane Austen’s first novel, Sense and Sensibility, uses a script nicely streamlined and adapted to the stage by Jon Jory, whose versions of other classics like Pride and Prejudice the company has presented over its brief history. As impressive as the script’s fidelity to the novel is Annapolis Shakespeare’s confidence in its ability to tell a complex story with nary a set piece other than a few chairs and a trunk.
    After spending time at the Bowie Playhouse, Annapolis Shakespeare moved into its Chinquapin Round Road facility just a couple of years ago, and began doing its plays there even more recently. By using a less-is-more philosophy — and knowing that solid talent and direction are quite a bit more important to good storytelling than extensive sets and facilities — producing artistic director Sally Boyett nicely adapts to the company’s small, 70-seat space.
    In the case of Sense and Sensibility, Boyett gives us the classic story of two young sisters. Elinor is filled with sense and prudence, a level-head. Marianne is filled with sensibility — emotion, romance — and always speaks her mind. Though written in the late 1700s, Austen’s work remains loved, read and performed because she captured ideas and feelings that are essentially timeless.
    This story of love, laughter and heartache is brought to us by a cast of actors led by Laura Rocklyn as Marianne Dashwood and Rebecca Swislow as Elinor Dashwood. Rocklyn’s Marianne is a charmer, attracting us via her refusal to hold her tongue as well as the humor of what she says when she does speak. Rocklyn and Swislow work very well together; this is a pair that you can believe are sisters.
    They and their widowed mother, played nicely by Sue Struve, are forced to move into a small cottage after their half-brother (the elegant Brian Keith MacDonald) and his wife, played to the hilt of vanity by Renata Plecha, decide that they prefer to take the family estate and force the trio out.
    Evicted, they settle in a small cottage in Devonshire, near the home of her cousin John Middleton and his wife, who welcome the three openly, soon introducing them to local society. As Middleton, Richard Pilcher is gregarious and warm, quite the opposite of what they had experienced before being forced out.
    But Sense and Sensibility is not so much about society connections as it is about the two girls and the suitors who come calling: Edward Ferrars (Patrick Truhler), whose engagement to another is kept secret but who becomes attracted to Elinor; John Willoughby (James Carpenter), a charmer but a cheater whose engagement to Marianne is presumed by many but never official; and Colonel Brandon (Joel Ottenheimer), a tall, good guy who takes on the charge of the daughter of a woman he loved but was not allowed by family to marry, and who falls in love with Marianne.
    All three give us tightly drawn and distinctive characters, each bringing their unique backgrounds to bear on the present, and each revealing to us the chemistry that has formed their affections for the sisters.
    As always with Annapolis Shakespeare, costumes are expansive but true to the period, lighting of the small space is imaginative and evocative and Boyett’s choreography of scene changes keeps things moving apace, with each scene blending into the next clearly yet with nary a visual or verbal gap.
    In other words, less is more: an intimate setting, top-notch acting, taut direction and high production values are more than enough to bring this classic to life.

Production stage manager: Sara K. Smith. Lighting design: Colin Dieck. Costumes: Kat McKerrow. Dialect coach: Nancy Krebs

Playing thru May 3: FSa 8pm (and 2pm, Sa April 4); Su 3pm: Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s Studio 111, 111 Chinquapin Round Rd., Annapolis; $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-415-3513;

Abandon all hope, you who enter the Divis Flats

British private Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell: Unbroken) wants a station in Germany. He wants an easy assignment and money to provide for his son, in care while he’s serving. Instead he’s sent to Belfast, where the IRA is waging a bloody war against the British Crown.
    Fresh out of training and uneasy in the tense streets of Northern Ireland, Hook tries to keep his head down and collect his check. Wish again.
    An inexperienced officer leads his platoon into a riot. Sent into a swarm of protesters to retrieve a stolen gun, Hook sees his comrade’s head blown off and his fellow soldiers beating a hasty retreat — without him.
    An easy target in his British fatigues, Hook flees, evading IRA gunmen and angry citizens. To survive the night in Divis Flats, an IRA stronghold, he must also avoid IRA spies and steer clear of the roving gangs of Molotov cocktail-wielding rioters.
    Hook’s run through the Flats drives a wedge in the already segmented IRA. The old-school members are horrified at the murder of a soldier and fearful that killing Hook will bring the British in bloody invasion. The young IRA want blood and don’t care whose.
    With a soldier stranded in enemy territory, the British military turns to undercover agents. But the spies have their own agenda, a planned counter-strike against the IRA. Hook’s death might just further their plans.
    Can anyone leave Divis Flats alive?
    Director Yann Demange (Top Boy) uses handheld cameras to follow Hook on his dashes through the shadows as the city burns around him. Though handheld can become pointlessly shaky, here the technique compliments Hook’s frenetic journey through the night. Demange also keeps his film looking authentic by using a muted color palate and soft focus that looks like it was shot during the 1971 Belfast riots.
    At the heart of ’71 is O’Connell, who is masterful as the frantic Hook. In his previous starring role in Angelina Jolie’s run-of-the-mill Unbroken, O’Connell was forced into the generic hero role. In ’71, Demange unleashes O’Connell on the screen with brilliant results. Hook is a barely competent kid utterly terrified of the men with guns chasing him. A man without a plan, he simply reacts to what’s happening around him with more luck than skill. When he must fight, his barely contained panic fuels his blows.
    Don’t bother to buy popcorn; you’ll be too breathless to eat it.

Great Drama • R • 99 mins.

An old story marred by modern filmmaking

Jimmy ‘The Gravedigger’ Conlon (Liam Neeson: Taken 3) was once the most feared man in New York. Suspected of having killed dozens for his best friend, mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris: Frontera), he’s eluded all efforts to pin a body on him.
    Jimmy’s crimes have caught up to him in other ways. He can’t sleep because of dreams of people he slaughtered. His son Michael (Joel Kinnaman: The Killing) will have nothing to do with him. Jimmy drowns his guilt in booze, stumbling from bars to his hovel of a home.
    To the Maguire mob, he’s a washed-up old man who used to be somebody. But he’s still Shawn’s best friend, and the ruthless mob boss tries to help him fight his demons. Shawn always saves him, no matter how drunk, belligerent or broke.
    Until Jimmy kills Shawn’s only son.
    Jimmy takes the shot to save his own son Michael, who happens to be the only witness to a Maguire murder. Now nearly insane with grief, Shawn orders every killer he’s ever worked with to hunt down Jimmy and Michael.
    Michael must in turn trust the ­violent father he has shunned for decades.
    Can the duo patch up their relationship while avoiding every thug and dirty cop in New York?
    At heart, Run All Night is an old-fashioned crime story about family ties, vengeance and the mark violence leaves on families. With subjects so rich, it’s a shame that director Jaume Collet-Serra (Non-Stop) values style over substance.
    Collet-Serra seems to be directing a video game set randomly throughout New York’s five boroughs. The movie is filled with aerial views of the city that zoom into minute details at nauseating speeds. He has no interest in justifying his slapped-together action sequences. When Jimmy and Michael are trapped in a seeming dead end, Collet-Serra cuts away to the cops. By the time he cuts back, the Conlon boys have escaped. How? The director doesn’t care, so why should you? The only one who seems to be paying attention to the action is Neeson. Jimmy’s ankle is injured in a fall, and to his credit, Neeson remembers to lumber along in at least 60 percent of the subsequent scenes.
    Female characters also follow the video game tradition, speaking only when they are nagging the beleaguered main characters.
    In Collet-Serra’s fantasy version of New York City, traffic is minimal unless there’s a car chase, there is ample street parking and all trains run on time. The citywide manhunt for the Conlons never affects traffic patterns. With transportation so simple, why don’t father and son hop a train out of town?
    Run All Night is redeemed by its leads, two veterans who know how to mine good material out of poor direction. Neeson and Harris play beautifully off each other. Neeson can pull off the dangerous dad in his sleep, but he perks up when Harris joins him on screen. Harris manages to make Shawn frightening, intimidating but oddly human. He clearly loves Jimmy, but this he can’t forgive.
    If only the director had focused on their relationship …

Fair Action • R • 114 mins.

Connecting communities through King and art

Dr. Martin Luther King’s message will see you through any month of the year, as readers young and old will learn in Love Will See You Through. In it, King’s niece, Angela Farris Watkins, draws six principles the civil rights leader followed as he promoted peace and non-violence.
    Each core belief is explained with an anecdote from his life, making the book both guide and biography. As African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama, protested bus segregation 50 years ago, King told his followers to Have Courage. When King led a march against housing discrimination in Chicago, a rock hit him in the head. Knocked down, he stood up and marched on, proving his commitment to Resist Violence.
    Annapolis artist Sally Wern Comport’s exuberant illustrations match the real life drama of King’s mission. She found inspiration for her work in the bold posters of the 1960s.
    “What a great connector art is, and what a great connector Martin Luther King’s words are,” says Comport, speaking of the Annapolis Art District’s book launch March 13. “We wanted to use the book as a reason to connect communities through art. All ages, all neighborhoods are welcome.”
    Comport has a history of making community connections through art. Starting in 2007, she co-chaired ArtWalk, which made Annapolis an outdoor public art gallery.
    Teaching studio ArtFarm and neighboring Compass Rose Theater have arranged a dramatic opening, with music, theater, meditation and art. Comport’s original illustrations pair with collages created by young artists from Girl Scout Troop 1812 and The Annapolis Boys and Girls Club.
    Join the celebration at the ArtFarm Studio, 47 Spa Rd., Annapolis Friday March 13 6:30-9pm. Books also sold at the Annapolis Bookstore.

With actors this delightful, who needs a plot?

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a success, thanks to the assistance of former housekeeper Muriel (Maggie Smith: Downton Abbey) to proprietor Sonny Kapur (Dev Patel: Chappie). With retired British ex-pat pensioners filling nearly all the rooms, Sonny seeks to expand his empire by buying a second hotel. To realize his dream, Sonny must court rich American investors.
    The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel must pass an undercover hotel inspection before the American company will put up the money. Meanwhile, Sonny is planning his wedding to Sunaina (Tina Desai: Sense8), who has had about enough of playing second fiddle to a hotel.
    Marigold’s residents are also considering some major changes. Widow Evelyn (Judi Dench: Philomena) is considering a relationship with her long-devoted admirer Douglas (Bill Nighy: Pride). Sexy Madge (Celia Imrie: What We Did on Our Holiday) must choose among her wealthy lovers. New couple Norman (Ronald Pickup: Call the Midwife) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle: Good People) must decide on — or against — fidelity.
    The arrival of two new guests — writer Guy Chambers (Richard Gere: Time Out of Mind) and Lavinia (Tamsin Greig: Episodes) — brings upheaval. Is one of them the inspector? Can Sonny love a hotel and a wife? Will the Marigold’s guests start a second life in a new home?
    The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the cinematic equivalent of one too many candies: over indulgent, too sweet, but enjoyable.
    This time, director John Madden seems to have forgotten what drew crowds the first time. In Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, he spends entirely too much time on the younger generation. Sonny’s woes are of little interest compared to the pensioners finding a new spark in their lives.
    When Madden turns to the greying residents of the Marigold, the old magic returns. Dench and Smith, chums on and off the screen, light up the movie with their interactions. Dench is sweetly funny as a woman who finds success in business and love at 80. Her stumble toward independence is delightful and touching.
    Smith delivers the acerbic, wry performance she has become famous for in her golden years. She could arch an eyebrow and deliver a hilariously cutting insult in her sleep; no one can do it better. In the sequel, however, Madden chooses to expand her role, exploring her relationship with Sonny. Muriel has progressed from casually racist ex-pat to fiercely protective maternal figure to Indian Sonny. Their relationship is the backbone of the story and far more poignant and interesting than Sonny and his love.
    The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is not as much fun as the first, but it has charm enough to make you glad you checked in.

Good Dramedy • PG • 122 mins.