Fans of Woody Allen's redubbed spy spoof What's Up, Tiger Lily? may remember the director's response to the question of why he made the film: "If you know me at all, you know that death is my bread and danger my butter." He quickly reverses himself—"no, danger's my bread and death is my butter"—before settling on "death and danger are my various breads and various butters."
Allen's debut may have been a farce (it revolves around a stolen egg salad recipe and is simply a Japanese action movie that Allen overdubbed with his own dialogue), but his throwaway lines about our cinematic tropes still ring true. Few things—not even sex, I'd wager, though I might lose that bet if someone ran the numbers—are better represented at the box office than death and danger. And why not? Since the first days of film, when audiences jumped out of their seats at the sight of an oncoming train, reminders of our own mortality have been a draw. Especially when that train goes on harmlessly, and we all get to leave the theater feeling just a bit more alive.
This week is no different, as a clutch of films arrive that in some way or another touch on aging, passing on and even coming back from that deepest of sleep.
Over at Amherst Cinema, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel tells the story of a group of British retirees who have planned for a swank retirement in India—only to arrive and find that the rumors of the Marigold Hotel's restoration have been a bit overstated. At first crushed, the plucky seniors (a laundry list of British acting royalty including Judi Dench and Maggie Smith) bounce back and learn to embrace a new, live-the-moment lifestyle. If it sounds like a bit much, it is, but in that crazily romantic way—think of A Room With a View or Enchanted April—that makes it seem like something you just might want to try some day. Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire shows the retirees the ropes.
Also at Amherst is Monsieur Lazhar, director Phillippe Falardeau's film about the powerful bond between a teacher and his class. It is set in a Montreal elementary school, where a teacher has just passed away unexpectedly. After reading of the death, the fifty-something Lazhar, an Algerian immigrant, shows up at the school and maneuvers himself into a job. At first at odds with his new group, Lazhar slowly builds a rapport with them as they deal with the aftermath of their teacher's death—a process Lazhar knows all too well due to a dark incident in his own family history. At the same time, he is under threat of deportation due to his shifting status as a refugee; the decision of a bureaucracy could mean the difference between a comfortable retirement or a hellish return to the demons of his past.
Also this week: the undead and the immortal make appearances at area theaters in three movies. On Friday, the Midnight at Pleasant Street series brings Return of the Living Dead to the Northampton theater. A comedy/horror that has more yucks (the funny kind) than the original, it's a zombie classic. And over at Cinemark Theater in Hadley, the bookers bring in two classic tales: Rupert Sanders' updated Snow White and the Huntsman opens on Friday, providing a visually stunning interpretation of the fable that finds Charlize Theron as evil queen Ravenna, bent on the murder of Snow White (Kristen Stewart of the Twilight series). If she can devour the younger woman's heart, the queen will always remain "the fairest of them all." Her plans go awry when the huntsman sent to kill Snow White instead helps train the girl to fight for herself. Also at Cinemark this week is William Friedkin's 1973 creepshow The Exorcist, screening on the 6th as part of the theater's Classics series, which will continue through the summer. If you've never seen it, don't let the 1970s vintage deter you—it may be as old as I am, but it surely caused some of these gray hairs.
Jack Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org