“The Hundred-Foot Journey” Review!

Happy Bastille Day to all my French readers and viewers! I myself am not French nor of French descent (as far as I know, anyway), nor have I ever been to France, and I can’t even speak French.

Why, then, am I dedicating an entire blog post to the French holiday?

Simply because I have recently discovered a gem of a movie, a precious treasure that I have savored, and that must be shared with all of you. This film is The Hundred-Foot Journey, a beautiful film set in the wonderland of picturesque villages, open-air markets and sprawling vineyards and orchards that is rural France. And, parts of it also take place on Bastille Day, so that was all the connection I needed: I had to talk about this film eventually, so this seemed like the most natural place to do so. Allow me to explain why this film is necessary viewing – or, at least, why I feel that it is.

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The Hundred-Foot Journey is not a new film: it was released in 2014, had a small but comfortable box-office run, and received mixed reviews. We’ll discuss its problems, but first let’s talk about what makes the film so good, so juicy, so delectable. Let’s discuss why I’m using all these references to taste: the film is a love-letter to the culinary cultures of France and India; two very different cuisines wrapped up together in this bite-sized treat. It follows an Indian family emigrating to France, led by their stubborn patriarch, Papa Kadam (Om Puri), who is trying to set up a restaurant where his extraordinarily talented son Hassan (Manish Dayal) can start a career for himself. But when the family ends up, accidentally, in the small village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, they discover that their presence is unwelcome in the closely-knit community: a rival restaurateur by the name of Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) quickly makes it her business to make the village as hostile to the family as possible, in an attempt to save her own high-end dining establishment from competition. From there, the plot unfolds. There’s romance, drama, and a dash of light-hearted comedy, but it’s all just seasoning on the beautiful three-course meal that is this movie, or should I say – cinematic cookbook.

Technically, the third course is a little more sour than the first two, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s expand on the metaphor for a moment, and revel in the delights of French and Indian cuisine. I recommend that, if you take my suggestion and watch this film ASAP, you should have a delicious meal of your own prepared. It will make you very hungry, I can assure you of that: a film that can make a sea-urchin look like a mouthwatering morsel has done its job well. So well, in fact, that Hassan Kadam is apparently the third-greatest chef in movie history. From his family’s box of heirloom spices to the beautiful cookbooks lent to Hassan by his on-and-off love interest Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), the film is filled with constant reminders of more great meals to come, even when we’re not actually watching those meals being made – which is often. And each meal is different, depending on who’s making it and who’s eating it: we watch Papa and Hassan’s eyes fill with wonder as they are greeted by their first French dinner at Marguerite’s apartment, where the table is laden with some of the most beautiful cheeses you’ve ever seen; we witness the tension in Madame Mallory’s kitchen as she prepares a special meal for the President of France himself; we rejoice in Hassan’s naive first attempt to master the five basic sauces (which, if my sources are correct, are Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Hollandaise and Sauce Tomat). The entire movie is centered around these quiet, intimate moments when the characters eat, with gusto and an almost holy reverence for what they are tasting. It’s the food that makes this movie so enjoyable – the idea that food is so important, so necessary, to people of all walks of life; to culture and community as well. It can bring people to tears as they recall the ghosts of flavors long forgotten, or it can spark passionate romance and thoughtful meditation. Wine, another staple of French cuisine, has a small part in igniting that romance, though it is largely absent from the hundred-foot journey that the Kadams travel.

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The journey is both physical and spiritual: a journey from one country to another, from one restaurant to another, from one lifestyle to another. Papa Kadam and Madame Mallory’s rival restaurants stand across the road from each other – a road exactly one-hundred feet in width (a fact that is sometimes hard to believe, considering how small the road looks at times). But the two bitter opponents have journeys of self-discovery to travel as well: obviously, I won’t spoil anything that happens in the movie, but there’s a good deal of change and inner turmoil. The rural village is not very accepting of the Indian newcomers, for one thing, and neither party savors the idea of uniting their distinctly separate culinary styles of art.

From a technical standpoint, the film has its fair share of good and bad, like any film. I mentioned that the first two acts of the film (or courses of the meal, if we’d like to extend the metaphor) are the best: the third act isn’t necessarily bad, but it feels very different from the first two – more mainstream, more distanced, more remote. Things are happening on the screen, but we, the audience, no longer feel quite as intimate with the cast (who are all outstanding). I personally think the last thirty minutes shouldn’t have tried to take the film on a completely different course than the one it had been following, up to that point, almost perfectly. Thankfully, the final scene rescues the ending and gives us one scrumptious aftertaste to hold onto, but there is definitely some difficulty getting to that point.

But the first two acts – lovely, sentimental, and enchanting, the very best appetizer and main course that you could ask for. The film also has an ever-so-slightly old-fashioned quality to it: until the final half-hour, it is softly lit and the dialogue is soft-spoken. It’s sometimes difficult to remember that this little indie dramedy was produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, two giants of the mainstream entertainment industry. Unfortunately, big-name producers don’t always inspire interest from general audiences – James Cameron learned that with Alita: Battle Angel, and Spielberg/Winfrey presumably learned that with The Hundred-Foot Journey, which is sadly neglected, almost completely forgotten, in fact. I don’t even know what inspired me to choose it, almost at random, from a wide selection of films on Netflix – but I am so glad that I did.

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Hopefully, this post will inspire you to check it out for yourself, whether today, on this French national holiday, or any day of the year. I urge you to at least try it. I truly believe your life will be a little better for it.

Movie Rating: 9.4/10

“Charlie’s Angels” Trailer Review!

My first thought while watching this trailer was that Sir Patrick Stewart clearly didn’t want to be left out of all the wickedly charming fun that his good friend, Sir Ian McKellen, is having in The Good Liar. Yes, the first trailer for the upcoming spy-thriller Charlie’s Angels has dropped, giving us our first look at a fun, diverse cast of all-female heroines – and a cameo from Stewart, who strolls into the scene grinning from ear to ear. Interestingly, the two films will probably have to go up against each other in the busy November scene. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d predict that Charlie’s Angels will have the slight advantage at the box-office, due to its more light-hearted, comedic tone. But both films will likely be swallowed up in Frozen 2 fever, which leaves The Good Liar with the last laugh, as it can at least stick around long enough for an awards-season bonus round, whereas Charlie’s Angels…probably can’t.

But this film has something that too few films can boast: the aforementioned all-female lead cast. Kristen Stewart, Ella Balinska – and Naomi Scott, still fresh off her own magic carpet-ride: here, though, Disney’s newest princess is a government whistle-blower, trying to prevent the creation of a dangerous new weapon that could lead to global catastrophe. These three talented women come together under the direction of Elizabeth Banks from The Hunger Games, who also stars in the movie as the leader of the team.

The action and adventure elements showcased in the trailer do tend to verge on the over-the-top and ridiculous – not so much because the stunts and situations themselves are humorous, but because the actresses are: even Scott, who was actually rather dramatic in Aladdin, but plays wide-eyed naivete very well here. If you’re looking for a Mission: Impossible movie, you’ve definitely come to the wrong place. But if you’re looking for Project Runway meets Mission: Impossible, well…that’s a little more like it. The actresses are perfect paragons of modern fashion.

And, the other notable thing to mention: the song. I feel like I’d be guilty of a crime if I didn’t mention it, considering the way this film is pushing it as if it’s one of the main marketing attractions. A collaboration of three talented musicians like Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lana Del Rey is never a bad idea, and it sounds pretty good from what we hear of it in the trailer, but seriously, the film shouldn’t have to rely on its soundtrack to sell tickets. The cast pretty much sells itself.

One last thing: the trailer ends with the women answering, almost as if brainwashed, to the commands of some robotic voice called “Charlie”, which presumably explains the film’s title, but I (casual viewer that I am) have no idea what I’m supposed to make of that: a hint of suspense in an otherwise upbeat trailer? Just a fun nod to the 1970s TV series this film is based on?

Trailer Rating: 7.5/10

“The Good Liar” Trailer Review!

Sir Ian McKellen is one of the more interesting and unique faces on the Hollywood scene, popping up every now and again in a bizarre array of roles, from the kindly wizard Gandalf, to British novelist Arthur Conan Doyle, to a talking clock in Beauty & The Beast, and then disappearing quietly. Now, the Shakespearean actor is looking to nab his first Academy Award (not to mention a tidy profit at the box-office) with an elegant thriller where he will portray the cunning con-man Roy Courtnay, as he attempts to swindle a wealthy widow (Helen Mirren) out of her fortune.

The trailer itself is a work of art, beautifully edited and armed with the combined talents of McKellen’s charming (but oh, so evil) criminal and killer, and Mirren’s upper-class delicacy – whether arguing with her grandson or sprawled in shock across a floor, the actress is a portrait of perfection in these two minutes of action, suspense, and romantic drama.

Well, let’s amend that to just drama. While the official synopsis claims that McKellen’s character will develop true feelings for Mirren, leading to conflicts between him and his shadier business-associates, we see virtually none of that here – for the better, in my opinion. We’ve seen a sweet, mild-mannered McKellen so many times over the duration of his career that it will be a nice change to have him show off just how dangerous and dastardly he can be. That’s the McKellen we want to see, and that’s the McKellen we do see here – he’s throwing people in front of moving trains and smiling over his wicked schemes. He even has a villainous mustache! But you better savor this version of the character now, before the film reveals him to be a troubled soul who’s really not quite as bad as he makes out to be.

The film has a juicy release date in the middle of November, where it will undoubtedly be ripe for awards season (apart from McKellen, I could see Russell Tovey maybe winning some much-needed recognition for work in the film, where he plays Mirren’s concerned grandson), and could also rake in a comfortable profit at the box-office – director Bill Condon was the mastermind behind the huge financial successes of Beauty & The Beast and the final two Twilight movies.

Trailer Rating: 10/10

First Look At Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”!

Greta Gerwig, visionary director of the 2017 critical darling Lady Bird, is teaming up again with her Academy Award-nominated star, Saoirse Ronan – but now they’re heading all the way back to the 19th Century for a romantic historical-fiction romp. And this time, Gerwig’s status has allowed her to muster an impressive cast alongside Ronan, including Beauty & The Beast‘s Emma Watson, screen legend Meryl Streep, actress and director Laura Dern, Oscar-nominee Timothée Chalamet (also from Lady Bird), and rising star Florence Pugh. The ensemble of stars will be donning petticoats, sunbonnets and dainty pastel outfits for their outing in Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, a book that has been adapted to the big screen precisely ten-thousand times – fine, seven, but that’s still too many.

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Even though the first photos released today have all the misty-eyed stares and tidy drawing-rooms that are stereotypical of all adaptations of 19th Century romances (literally, every adaptation of a Jane Austen novel ever), don’t expect the movie to be as blatantly prim and pristine as it appears on the surface: Gerwig has made it clear that, during her research on Little Women author Louisa May Alcott, she became deeply interested in the period’s gender norms and views on feminism, especially – issues that were also close to Alcott’s own heart, and which naturally appear in the film, in the form of subtle social commentary: Gerwig even seemed to imply that Ronan and Chalamet’s androgynous appearances made them perfect for the kind of story she’s telling, one in which her protagonists will throw out the restrictions of their heteronormative lifestyle in favor of a more relaxed semi-platonic relationship and free love. All that is fine, but when Gerwig described the main characters as an “intellectual hippie family”, I’ll admit that’s what truly perplexed me, and got me thinking: who wants a Little Women adaptation when we could have Little Women Go To Woodstock?

Ronan will portray the novel’s heroine, Josephine “Jo” March, in the film: March’s rebellious spirit and relentless determination made her one of literature’s earliest great female role models, and I can’t think of a better fit for the role than the equally inspiring Irish actress. Emma Watson, on the other hand, will be perhaps trapped in the role of Meg March, whom critics have often derided for being an introverted and unambitious character who steadfastly remains devoted to her home and husband. Hopefully Watson can get past those criticisms with a stellar performance. Eliza Scanlen and Florence Pugh are the young sisters, Beth and Amy respectively, who are nearly identical when the story opens: Beth, shy, diplomatic and gentle-tempered; Amy, artistic, delicate and pampered.

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And of course we can expect Meryl Streep to be the powerhouse that she is, in the role of Aunt Josephine (not to be confused with the Aunt Josephine of A Series of Unfortunate Events). The cranky and discouraging widow with a heart of gold, her archetypal character will probably have a large number of scene-stealing moments – thankfully, the rest of the cast ensures (or should ensure, at least) that Streep doesn’t end up stealing the entire movie.

So what do you think? Are you excited for Little Women? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

“Ad Astra” Trailer Review!

It’s been difficult for any sci-fi films to compete with the indomitable force that is Star Wars over the last couple of years, and so we’ve seen the genre descend into something of a niche – sci-fi and space-adventure films like Gravity and Interstellar still win awards and get critical praise, but tend to fall short at the box-office. Sci-fi adaptations have been few and far between: even Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which should be an easy win for any studio, has been stuck in stasis over at Apple TV.

This year, 20th Century FOX (now owned by Disney) is going to be attempting the impossible, with a new, completely-original sci-fi epic that transforms award-bait Brad Pitt into an astronaut living in the shadow of his father, who was lost in the deep expanses of space. He’s got all the trademarks of one of your generic astronaut protagonist of the last few years – maybe it’s just the astronaut suit and the sort of vaguely Midwestern name, but our hero Roy McBride feels like an amalgamation of many stellar explorers who have come before.

The first part of the new Ad Astra trailer only seems to reinforce this: Liv Tyler gets the thankless job of playing Roy’s wife – again, one of the archetypal characters in modern astronaut thrillers. After meeting her, we’re then treated to some fairly generic explosions on the International Space Station that send Roy plummeting towards the surface of the Earth (I honestly have no clue how he makes it out of that alive). As he wakes up in a hospital bed, I’m already yawning and waiting for this to turn into a sequel to Gravity.

Yeah, no.

Immediately after that point, the trailer changes radically – Tyler’s character is going on about fires and explosions all over the world, Pitt discovers that his father is alive somewhere on the far side of the solar system, working on alien tech that could destroy the earth, and there’s…a car-chase on the Moon? The way this trailer plays on your subdued expectations, and makes you think you’re watching another sad, ponderous astronaut drama: and then suddenly throws you into a full-speed-ahead science-fiction epic? That’s brilliant. It’s like the best of both worlds – because don’t get me wrong, the trailer still unabashedly shows off how much Ad Astra wants praise (and awards) from critics; aside from Pitt and Tyler, the film also stars Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones and rising star Ruth Negga (who, unfortunately, is not seen in the trailer).

And yes, there is one epic action-scene on the Moon, with astronauts in little space-buggies zipping around shooting at each other – you honestly can’t go wrong with something like that.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10