Now that The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is full up with its long-term residents, co-managers Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) and Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) have a dream of expansion, and they’ve found just the place: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
Richard Gere joins Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and the rest of the not-yet-past-their-prime-time players in this delightful sequel.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is about as original as its title — but with a cast this talented and effortlessly charming, that hardly matters.
The bottom line: Though not quite as charming as the original film, TSBEMH is a savory pastiche, and a refreshing switch from the usual movie fare of noisy super hero extravaganzas. Young ones probably won’t appreciate the seasoned performers. Runtime: ★★★★★
Bianca Piper (Mae Whitman) is a contented high school senior whose world is shattered when she learns the student body knows her as ‘The DUFF’ (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her prettier, more popular friends (Skyler Samuels & Bianca Santos). Now, despite the words of caution from her favorite teacher (Ken Jeong), she puts aside the potential distraction of her crush, Toby (Nick Eversman), and enlists Wesley (Robbie Amell), a slick but charming jock, to help reinvent herself. To save her senior year from turning into a total disaster, Bianca must find the confidence to overthrow the school’s ruthless label maker Madison (Bella Thorne) and remind everyone that no matter what people look or act like, we are all someone’s DUFF.
It’s a treat to see the always solid Whitman finally emerge as a lead in a film. Acting since childhood, you may remember her as George Clooney’s little girl in “One Fine Day”, Anne Veal in “Arrested Development”, Roxy Richter in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, and April in “Parenthood”. Her smart and snarky performance as Bianca, should ensure a long and interesting career.
If you assume that The Duff is a standard variety teen movie, you’ll be delightfully surprised by this charming little film with a strong supporting cast that also includes the always wonderful Allison Janney as Bianca’s mom, a divorcée-turned-motivational- author/speaker.
The Bottom Line: “The Duff” is a delight for the whole family. It’s also a good opportunity to open a dialog about the pitfalls of popularity for teens. Runtime: ★★★★★
Will Smith delivers a smart and suave performance in “Focus”, a new caper/suspense/action/comedy, a refreshing departure from his messianic roles (“After Earth”, “I Am Legend”) and broad comedy (“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”). Smith plays Nicky, a lifelong conman at the top of his game who one night finds himself the target of the aspiring but guileless Jess (Margot Robbie – “Wolfe of Wall Street”). Sensing her potential, however, Nicky shows Jess the ropes and invites her to join his crew in New Orleans as they take on the unsuspecting hordes during Superbowl week. From then on, Focus hits you with twists, deceptions and double-crosses with such marked regularity that you’re never quite sure where you stand.
The chemistry between the two leads is undeniable, and the ensemble is top notch, including Adrian Martinez as Smith’s long-time accomplice ‘Farhad’, Rodrigo Santoro (Love Actually) as a billionaire playboy/Formula 1 team owner, Gerald McRaney (House of Cards), as Santoro’s interminably suspicious bodyguard, and perhaps best of all, BD Wong as a compulsive gambler with a, lets just say passionate reaction to wagers.
The Bottom Line: Focus is is a refreshing caper, loaded with surprizing twists and turns, than benifits greatly from its glamorous setting and the charm of its stars. Leave the kids home for this one. Runtime: ★★★★★