*NEW* AMERICAN PASTORAL REVIEW *NEW*

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The pace may have tested BUT Ewan McGregor delivered a solid debut and an outstanding performance.

In 1968, a hardworking man (McGregor), whose been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s (Dakota Fanning) new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family.

The slow burning opener didn’t really get things going as David Strathairn’s (Good Night, and Good Luck) journalist Nathan Zuckerman (A Roth stalwart) attended a high school reunion. It was watchable if a little corny with the narrator reminiscing about the days of old. Wondering what happened to the high school hero who looked set to have it all; Swede Levov.

Cue a flashback to the idyllic suburban town of Rimrock. Described as “a Republican countryside” by Swede’s father (Peter Riegert – Local Hero).

I wasn’t familiar with Philip Roth’s works BUT within two months, I’ve now seen two feature adaptations (Indignation being the other). After 15 minutes, I could already check off his traits. The thought provoking social commentary (Check), the public outcries of war (Check), the overbearing Jewish father (Played to perfection by Riegert).

McGregor was brilliant. His accent may have been a little patchy BUT he was still a charismatic presence.

We went through the highs and lows of Swede and Merry’s relationship as Merry battled her speech impediment and underwent therapy to deal with her social awkwardness.

It was interesting how McGregor captured several scenes as Merry misconstrued the closeness with her father and suffered nightmares from distressing war images from Vietnam. Was that the moment where things went wrong? Her silly teen rebel phase taking a darker turn as a pipe bomb destroyed the local petrol station.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen Dakota Fanning in a film. I feared the child star would disappear into obscurity. Thankfully, we had a (almost) resurgent return from the young actress as the radicalized trouble maker.

Politically active and wanting to fight the system. Taking the train and joining protests behind her parents’ backs. If anything, Fanning’s confused Merry reflected and voiced a good portion of the frustrated youth now.

Her political spats turning from healthy debates to aggressive stand-offs with Swede desperate to keep the peace. You could feel for him as he tried to reason with his daughter. Wondering why she despised him for having a business and providing a roof over her head. Fearing that these warped revolutionist views will get her hurt or worse.

Once Merry went on the run with Swede and the police looking for her, I was hooked. It was almost a tense thriller as Swede searched for the truth. Only receiving intel from a “friend”.

Valorie Curry (The Following) was brilliant as Merry’s accomplice Rita. The mind games and blackmail sending him into a frenzy. The paranoia settling in. Does she even know Merry? Is this a game? Things coming to a head in a tense and uncomfortable hotel rendezvous.

As much as I was engrossed with the pursuit, I felt everything else suffered. Anyone could have played Rupert Evans’ (The Man in the High Castle) character. Riegert wasn’t in it enough. His inability to avoid mouthing off a middle class jibe was a missed presence when the pace lagged.

McGregor certainly delivered a fractured depiction of the American dream. Something that couldn’t be more relevant for some people now. The awkward meeting with the widow of the petrol pump attendant was unsettling as Swede took the blame for Merry. Begging for forgiveness.

Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) was left on the sidelines far too much. As much as you could empathise with Dawn’s mental breakdown with the stress finally taking its toll, you felt the story was only really focused on Swede.

And that was it’s greatest strength and weakness. McGregor and writer John Romano may have highlighted crucial turning points through news stories BUT it wasn’t explored enough nor was it as hard hitting.

If anything, it was breezed over a little too quickly. Especially when Swede got caught up in the race riots. I almost didn’t recognize Uzo Aduba from Orange Is The New Black. I wish more was made out of her character as the loyal factory worker. BUT then again it would have been a different movie altogether.

I had to laugh at whoever did the make up in this movie. Considering their ages, McGregor and Connelly are still a very youthful looking couple. I don’t think tweaking their wrinkles with CGI and messing about with their noses was really needed and the ageing process as the film flashed forward was terrible. Swede and his brother (Evans) looked decrepit while Dawn only had a stray grey hair.

BUT the finale still packed an emotional punch with Swede reaching breaking point. Unearthing more than he could have ever anticipated. McGregor really delivered the heartbreak and anger perfectly as the film came to its sombre ending.

Despite it’s flaws, it was still an engaging and heartfelt drama that is worth a gander.

3/5

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THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL REVIEW

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These old dogs need to learn some new tricks if there’s going to be another one.

As the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has only a single remaining vacancy – posing a rooming predicament for two fresh arrivals – Sonny (Dev Patel) pursues his expansionist dream of opening a second hotel.

Now, I loved the first film. It was fun, easy going, a charming little affair with a fantastic cast. When I heard that there was going to be another, I was excited. Hardly surprised after the reception the original received.

However, this outing seemed to suffer from the dreaded sequelitis. The charm offensive just about pulled it off to make it watchable. BUT I was left wanting more. A phrase I’m using far too often lately.

The opening didn’t really build my hopes up as Patel’s Sonny and Dame Maggie Smith’s Muriel barter with a boardroom of corporate drones about financing the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Smith’s rambling and raving about how Americans never serve tea properly didn’t really deliver the laughs. If anything, it annoyed the hell out of me and was dreadfully clichéd.

Look, I’m English. (What?!) Tea has always been a recurring joke but come on, we’re better than that! I still had a little guilty chuckle but when the gag kept popping up; it soon died of death.

Patel played Sonny well. But I found him a lot more irritating this time round. However, what did keep me watching was Sonny and Muriel’s relationship. A surrogate mother/son dynamic that made for hilarious and heart-warming viewing.

I felt Ronald Pickup and Diana Hardcastle’s story line was a little too silly. I was interested in Norman and Carol’s relationship as the pair struggle to adapt to a monogamous lifestyle after playing the field for so long.

BUT all I got was a subplot that was taken out of a bad Carry On film with a drunken conversation between Norman and a taxi driver unwittingly setting up a “hit” on his partner.

I only really got some enjoyment or drama out of the pair in the closing moments. BUT it was resolved far too quickly for my liking. A shame.

Bill Nighy. A comedy legend and a talented actor in my eyes. Disappointing. He just seemed to dither and normally it worked to his advantage but I found myself getting bored of him. The whole tour gag with a young Indian lad feeding him information with a dodgy wireless ear piece has been done time and time again.

His subplot only got interesting when Penelope Wilton made a surprise appearance to upset the apple cart.

It was a surprise that Douglas (Nighy) and Evelyn’s (Dench) characters were still courting and not properly together. Inevitably a spanner is thrown in the works as Evelyn is given an opportunity to work again.

This is where it killed things for me. Dench’s absence was missed. Merely reprieved with little scenes in which we see her and a market trader bartering and dealing with the local community.

Celia Imrie’s love triangle story line was a little nothingy. Her inevitable brewing romance with the chauffeur that drove her to the two men she was seeing was predictable but easygoing.

However, she seemed to be pushed further into the background. If not for a memorable quote upon Gere’s arrival, “God have mercy on my ovaries”, I wouldn’t have known she was there.

Patel’s business venture ambitions and impending wedding certainly spiced things. Sonny’s best friend’s questionable friendship with his fiancee certainly ignited some much needed tension and drama into the mix. BUT to the same old infuriating and predictable results.

While we’re talking about predictable; the red herring hotel inspector subplot was naff. Richard Gere did his best and played the mystery man well BUT it was all so hokey. Sonny “pimping” out his mother to try and improve his review got the odd chuckle. BUT Tamsin Grieg and her shady American accent just didn’t work.

Hardly spoilerific but what was the purpose of David Strathairn’s role? He had the easiest job going. A waste of an incredibly talented actor.

It wasn’t all bad. Maggie Smith was on fine form as usual. Her sniping and complaining delivered the better moments. One perfect example being when Evelyn shares some wonderful advice with her and she simply looks at her, baffled and asks; “I’m sorry. Were you talking to me?” Priceless.

The ending certainly left things open and wasn’t without a few surprises (Don’t worry. No spoilers). And dare I say, I had a little tear.

I was able to walk out with a cheeky little grin after seeing the geriatric icons jumping up and down at the wedding reception without a care in the world.

BUT it just didn’t carry it off as well as the first. A film I went in expecting nothing and was rewarded with much more.

Maybe I went in with too high an expectation this time. It was certainly watchable and there were laughs to be had, “Why die here? When I can die . . . there”.

A mixed bag of spice and naff tobacco for me. Tobacco being the stodgy story lines.

2.5/5