3 posts categorized "Romantic Fantasy"

August 04, 2014

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY

Mixing Menus —
Overdo Foodie Movie Arrives With the Hallström Seal

Hundred-Foot JourneyThe foodie romance genre has been oddly absent from American cinema lately. It’s been five long years since "Julie & Julia" made audiences think about French cuisine vis a vis Julia Childs and a blogger on a mission to cook her way though Childs's first book. “Ratatouille” (2007) reminded audiences about their taste buds in an animated kids’ movie that arrived the same year that Catherine Zeta-Jones bumped uglies with Aaron Eckhart in a pleasing little food flick entitled “No Reservations.”

Any short list of foodie movies is sure contain Lasse Hallström’s charming filmic appetizer “Chocolat” (2000), in which Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp awaken each other’s passions in a small French village where Binoche’s character opens a chocolate shop. Yum.

Returning to a provincial French location, Hallström’s second foray into the cinema-of-food effectively makes him an honorary chairman of the genre’s board of directors.

The director behind such food-tinged titles as “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “The Cider House Rules” cut his teeth making music videos for ABBA in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Famous for his wonderful use of suffused lighting to evoke nostalgic moods (think “My Life as a Dog” or “An Unfinished Life”), Hallström presents beautiful compositions that lend themselves to mouth-watering depictions of cuisine — in this case, from India and France. Exotic spices from India do indeed harmonize with traditional French dishes on the screen. As the saying goes, “you can almost taste it.”

Even if its romantic tension gets muddled and the film’s pacing and editing go out the window in the third act, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” manages to connect its head, heart, and stomach via solid ensemble performances, led by reliable pros Helen Mirren and Om Puri. Still, lust gets short shrift amid a competition that develops between the story’s young pair of cooking lovers.

Manish-dayal-charlotte-le-bonAfter escaping tragedy in Mumbai, Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) and his family realize their dream of recreating their deceased mother’s highly revered cooking. The family opens an Indian restaurant in a quaint French village — the kind you see on postcards. When it comes to preparing familiar or unacquainted dishes, Hassan is a natural in the kitchen.

French-local Marguerite earns a place in Hassan’s heart and stomach. Hassan wants Marguerite to teach him about French cuisine. It doesn’t hurt that newcomer Charlotte Le Bon has an adorable overbite and heartbreaking eyes. Marguerite’s cooking’s isn’t bad either, but she isn’t as skilled as Hassan at interpreting and elevating traditional dishes. Herein springs the chefs’ competition that variously derails the groovy attraction between Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon — however compelling the couple is on screen together.

Both Dayal and Le Bon give inspired performances worthy of promising futures. 

The allure between Marguerite and Hassan is further complicated by her employment as a sous-chef-in-training at the Michelin-awarded classic French cuisine restaurant that sits 100 feet across the road from Hassan’s festive Indian-themed place — as enhanced by loud traditional music and colorful lighting.

HundredFootHelen Mirren’s Madame Mallory lords over her restaurant’s coveted two Michelin stars as though they were her children. Everyday in her kitchen is a learning clinic for her more than willing staff. The imperious Lady Mallory takes umbrage toward the rival restaurant’s threat to her closely guarded establishment. She sabotages the Kadam family’s restaurant with a multi-pronged attack. She’s not above buying up all the stock of certain foods from the local farmers’ market or filing nuisance complaints with the town mayor. The clash of cultures, combined with the threat of economic loss, incites one of Madame Mallory’s loyal chefs to commit a racist act of violence against the Kadams. However, the plot movement doesn’t develop enough to support, or resolve, the politically and racially charged subplot as it unfolds. The movie temporarily gets out of its depth before snapping back into place. The third act is a mess, but that’s another story.  

Screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things”) tries to do too much. He wants the film to be part cultural polemic, part foodie heaven, part romantic love story, and part family film. It’s not that any of these elements needed to be mutually exclusive, but that they should fulfill the demands of the foodie movie genre.

MirrenYou’ll get a sensory charge from Lasse Hallström’s signature visual treatment of delicious plates, bowls, and pans of beautiful dishes made of fresh ingredients. Still, the film could have worked better if Knight would have stuck to a simpler formula. Romance, sex, and food go together like a knife, fork, and spoon. The author’s stretch to make a bland political statement, while conforming to the demands of a “PG-rating,” left no room for the “sex” part of the equation. For that kind of thing, check out Fina Torres’s “Woman on Top” (2000), starring Penélope Cruz as a Brazilian chef who moves to San Francisco. Hot, hot, hot.

Rated PG. 122 mins. (B-) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 27, 2014

MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT

Magic In The MoonlightProlific But Redundant —
Woody’s Same Old Song and Dance

Woody Allen has mastered the art of making the same trivial film over and over again. His “Blue Jasmine”-experiment was an exception that resulted in an utter failure of tone. Part of the problem was Cate Blanchett’s powerhouse performance, which outshined the undeserving script beneath her.

For “Magic in the Moonlight,” Allen once again features a scenic foreign location (the French Riviera in this case) where an older man falls for and woos a younger woman. The man is Colin Firth’s ‘20s-era stage magician and hoax-exposer Stanley Crawford (aka Wei Ling-soo). Stanley’s Asian stage persona is a Fu Manchu-styled illusionist who cuts women in half and transports his body across the stage unseen.

Stanley’s old friend and less talented fellow magician Howard (Simon McBurney) visits him backstage after a successful performance. Howard asks Stanley to accompany him to the south of France to expose the fraud of a young female psychic named Sophie (Emma Stone) who travels with her business agent mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Sophie has cast her hex over a wealthy family from Pittsburgh now living in France. Sophie serves as the family's psychic-in-residence. She holds séances complete with mysterious knocks and floating candles. Stanley arrives under the pseudonym Taplinger to engage in taking the fake psychic's inventory and exposing her deceit. Despite his earnest but snotty attempts to crack Sophie’s deceptions, Stanley falls for her young feminine charms and clairvoyant powers — hook, line, and sinker.

Allen coasts through the breezy storyline with frequent detours to familiar territories. A sudden downpour traps Stanley and Sophie inside an observatory where they bond romantically. Never mind that the lovestruck and wealthy Brice (Hamish Linklater) is looking to marry Sophie. Brice can’t stop singing songs to her on his ukulele.

There are a few laugh-inducing bits that pop in Allen’s nostalgia-filled romance fantasy, but not enough to say that the movie works as a comedy, much less as a farce of any weight. Just as with other late-period Woody Allen films (think "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "Match Point," or "Scoop"), “Magic in the Moonlight” is a cinematic amuse bouche. It’s satisfying if you’re not yet tired of Woody Allen’s rubber-stamped comedies. Allen’s knack for dialogue is still alive, but there is no freshness to his work. Social commentary is absent. Allen goes through the motions of reconfiguring his pet storyline into something new yet redundant. It's a fine style of cinema for older audiences, but not so exciting to modern moviegoers. If, however, you've stuck with Woody Allen over the years since his impressive debut films in the '70s, you'll be sorely disappointed. It's been a long time since "Husbands and Wives" (1992), Allen's last great movie.

Allen has evidently chosen to spend his final days making easy — read lazy — movies to pay the bills. Woody Allen’s low-impact cinema allows for enticing performances from Emma Stone and Colin Firth even if their characters’ arcs are so minimal as to be entirely neglected. Nevertheless, the Riviera’s celebrated sunlight makes you feel like you’re on a mini-vacation. There isn’t much magic left in Woody’s moon, but the sun in the south of France has the final say.

Rated PG-13. 97 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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February 11, 2014

WINTER'S TALE


Cosmic Crush
Collin Farrell’s Starry-Eyed Burden Goes Cold

WINTER'S TALEIt’s a testament to Colin Farrell’s ineffable appeal as an actor that his warm-hearted performance keeps the audience awake during producer/screenwriter-turned-director Akiva Goldsman’s otherwise somnolent adaptation of Mark Helprin’s romantic fantasy set in New York. Farrell plays Peter Lake, abandoned as an infant by his rejected would-be immigrant parents to America in the early 20th century and now an adult. To his irresponsible and/or desperate parents, placing the baby Peter in a stolen model sailboat and setting it adrift in the Atlantic seems like the right thing to do in light of their dire circumstances. Bizarre, I know. Cut to a grown-up Peter working as a mechanic and cat burglar preying on the proto-1%ers along Manhattan’s Central Park West. Somewhere along the way Peter has earned the enmity of Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a demonic criminal kingpin intent on crushing him like a bug with the help of his gang of dapper thugs.

There is a guilty pleasure in comparing Crowe’s overbearing performance to that of Colin Farrell — an actor who represents the antithesis of everything the temper-tantrum-wallowing Russell Crowe represents. The good versus evil analogy couldn’t be more apropos. The problem is that Crowe and Farrell don’t share enough scenes together to savor their diametric differences and create tension.

Weirdness alert! The hotheaded Pearly answers directly to Lucifer, yes, that one, the Lord of Darkness. In this case Satan is named in the credits as “Judge” (played for unintended camp laughs by a horribly miscast Will Smith). Smith’s mechanically altered voice booms with authoritative import as his dubious character hears out Pearly’s plea for permission to kill Peter because, it seems, our angel-protected thief has a talent for procuring precious stones that Pearly likes to hoard. At least the movie has a little comic relief to spark audience reaction whenever Will Smith pops up onscreen.

There’s some spiritually narrated gibberish about stars and light that adds up to zilch, but the film’s impotent tone of immortal love is all that matters to the filmmakers. The key champion of the fairy dust fantasy is a wing-sprouting white horse that rescues Peter just as Pearly and his henchmen are about to shoot him. The nameless guardian horse (called “Athansor” in the novel) points Peter to a specific mansion for our scruffy thief to make his nut for the day. On the verge of cracking the house safe, Peter hears a piano played by the home’s terminally ill shut-in Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay), a red-haired beauty. Beverly’s lithe body is riddled with consumption (a.k.a. tuberculosis). She sleeps in a tent on the roof to keep her overheated physique cool at night. Love at first sight devours the couple, and Peter attempts to keep Beverly alive with his overflowing show of affection.

Yet, just when it seems like the movie has something going for it in the romance department, a disorientating time shift sends the same-aged Peter into modern day New York where he searches for signs of his lost love.

Syrupy and bland, “Winter’s Tale” is tailor-made for bubble-headed 14-year-old girls to ooh and ahh over. It’s a heavy-handed piece of quirky melodrama told with broad strokes and plenty of artificiality. There’s just enough sensuality to pique the interest of said target audience, but nothing remotely moving for anyone that hasn’t yet shed their virginity. “Winter’s Tale” is a remedial romance movie complete with training-wheels. At least it has Colin Farrell as its doting instructor.

Rated PG-13. 118 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

 



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