The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Hundred-Foot JourneyReleased: August 8, 2014. Directed by: Lasse Hallströme. Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal. Runtime: 122 min.

Lasse Hallströme helms another adaptation (his follow-up to the awfully silly “Safe Haven”), this time written by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”) and adapted from The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais; a novel about cooking, not walking.

It follows the Kadam family, who move to France from India to both start anew (especially after the main character’s mother dies) and escape local political violence. Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the main protagonist who has a passion for food. He and his family open up a traditional Indian restaurant next door to Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) French cuisine restaurant that has received one out of a three possible Michelin stars from the annual Michelin Guidebook.

The one star is to say that “it is a very good restaurant in its category.” The film basically depicts the uptight Mallory wanting another Michelin star (which says the restaurant has “excellent cooking and is worth a detour”). She can’t get her hopes up too high for a third star, because as one character describes it – that is for “the Gods.”

Officially, the guidebook says that it has “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” This leads me to believe the film’s title has a dual meaning – saying that Mallory’s restaurant is worth the journey to eat at; and the main meaning is that the Kadam family opens their restaurant one-hundred feet away from hers. As if the struggles of opening an Indian restaurant in France were not difficult enough.

Mirren is good as Mallory, and it’s interesting to see her relax throughout the film. Also good is Om Puri as Hassan’s grandfather, whose stubborn nature brings humour to the lightly entertaining film – especially matched against Mallory’s stubborn nature. The stand-out is the young Manish Dayal who plays the passionate cook who doesn’t believe recipes necessarily have to stay the same.

This adds diversity when the film starts to merge Indian cuisine with traditional French cuisine. It also breaks barriers between the cultures, enabling lovely multiculturalism, always a welcome theme in Disney films. Also notable is the memorable Charlotte Le Bon as Hassan’s friend, and employee of Madame Mallory, Marguerite. When the two friends get too competitive, it interrupts the easy-going flow with troubling and frustrating conflict. There’s enough conflict without it, with the constant, but amusing, ways both restaurant owners attract customers. This sub-plot just isn’t enjoyable. At least it’s better than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child voice in “Julie & Julia.”

Score80/100

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A discussion of Red (2010)

RedReleased: October 15, 2010. Director: Robert Schwentke. Stars: Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Morgan Freeman. Runtime: 111 min. 

I’m joined by Dave over at Dave Examines Movies for a fairly short discussion of the 2010 actioner “Red,” starring Bruce Willis, Mary Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and Morgan Freeman, to name a few members of the core cast. It seems that, as an effort to appeal to older audiences, many studios have making movies that appeal to the older audience; like “Hope Springs” or “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” But “Red” is no heartwarming dramedy – it’s an exciting action comedy, that came a few months after the release of Sylvester Stallone’s attempt to launch “The Expendables” franchise. Like “The Expendables,” it isn’t great in the story department – but it’s a truly fun experience.

The story follows Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), a former black-ops agent, who, after his life was threatened, has to regroup his old team in a last effort to survive and uncover his assailants.

Now, for the discussion I had with Dave… (Enjoy!)

Daniel: So Dave, how’d you like the movie?

Dave: I thought it was good, funny, and handled rather well for an ensemble comedy. I had some issues with how memorable it was though, how about you?

Daniel: I liked it, as well. Great fun, at least it’s more memorable than the other Willis geriatric actioner, “The Expendables” – so that has to count for something. What was your main issue with it?

Dave: I basically realized that the story in general was rather forgettable. I have seen “Red” once before when it first came out, and for a film that isn’t even five years old, I couldn’t remember what the premise was even about past a bunch of old guys in humorous action sequences, and yes, a lot of fun. To me, that seems to suggest little focus was actually spent on the story. For what it was, it’s exciting and hilarious to watch in the moment, but there are some things that escape your memory as time passes.

Daniel: Now that I think about that, and even though I only watched for the first time about a month ago, I’m only remembering the premise as Willis is a dangerous retiree who has to survive against a bunch of people who are trying to kill him. And I can’t remember what their motivations really were, to kill him. But do comic book adaptations usually have generic stories? It seems so, but like you say, I find it a blast – it certainly has a rewatchability factor.

Dave: It does, I agree. You can rewatch this for the sheer enjoyability of the thing. This is one of the only instances where I say screw the story, it was presented in such a fashion that you can have a blast watching. In some respect, it reminds me of a humorous version of “The Expendables”, but that’s fine, given the fact that I wasn’t a huge fan of “The Expendables.” For Red, you have a great display of chemistry between the characters and a good amount of individual humor shared between them. You might not care about *why* they are doing the things they are doing, but you do care about the characters themselves, and love watching them in action.

Daniel: Definitely! For a movie that doesn’t truly care about the story, I at least don’t have the trouble I do trying to explain the plot of something like that “The Expendables” or, even though they aren’t alike, “Grown Ups“. The characters and the action are what matter, here. The chemistry is on-point. I think the relationship between Willis and Parker is charming. I think Marvin is the best character. Malkovich is so hilarious as that eccentric.

Dave: I just love Malkovich in anything he is a part of. That man is all over the place, and I love it. As for how the movie looks: It set a tone, and it stuck to it. There is never a moment in the film where you feel like something was done out of place. You understand the world the film takes place in, and it remains consistent throughout. Is there anything negative you have to say about it?

Daniel: Agreed, director Robert Schwentke knows what he wants to do with it. Not majorly, no. For an ensemble piece, everyone gets a chance to shine, even if I felt Morgan Freeman wasn’t utilized as well as he could have been. And I was underwhelmed by the antagonists. And, like we discussed, the lack of greatness in the story department. I find when the film doesn’t have the greatest story, it’s more difficult to discuss. Do you feel the need to mention anything about it?

Dave: I would just have to say the lack of a memorable storyline dragged this film to a place it didn’t want to be in. Having that downfall basically made Red a tad forgettable in an area that will hurt them in the end. Years after people watch it, and when it pops up in a conversation, they’ll be saying, “Remember that one funny movie…with the old people…and all the violence?” Well, that could be a number of films. This film is unique in a way, it just doesn’t have the long-term click that makes it fully memorable… Do you have a rating for it?

Daniel: Hahah exactly. I’d give it a 78, because it’s not quite at an 80, lol. And even though I’m not a fan of giving random-ish scores like that any more, I think I have to bend the rules for this one.  What would you give it?

Dave: Close to yours, actually, I gave it a 76, because I see it as better than 75. Thanks for discussing Red with me, and I hope we can do it again sometime soon!

Daniel: Nice! Thanks for the discussion, Dave. I hope so, too! Would you want to discuss the sequel once we both see it?

Dave: I was going to suggest the same thing. Sounds like a plan!

Box Office Predictions: July 19-21

There are four big releases coming out this weekend, so I’ll try to keep my thoughts on each of the movies brief, so this article doesn’t become too tedious. The movies are “The Conjuring”, “Red 2”, “R.I.P.D.” and “Turbo”.

“The Conjuring” will do superb business this weekend. James Wan’s movies have an average opening of $10.9 million. Supernatural horror movies open at an average $15.26 million, but 2013 horror movies have been outstanding in their opening weekend performances. “Mama” opened to $28.4 million back in January, and “The Purge” opened to $34 million last month. Those movies opened to little to no competition. (“Mama” was up against “Broken City” and “The Last Stand”, two under-performing movies; while “The Purge” was up against the modestly-performing “The Internship”.) This movie opens on a busy weekend, but it is heavily anticipated and it has critics raving. Also, since “The Purge” had such poor word-of-mouth, it plummeted from $16.7 million on the Friday to $10.4 million on the Saturday, a day where movies usually earn more than the Friday. Anyway, horror fanatics haven’t received a horror movie since “The Purge” in June, and they haven’t received a good horror movie since April’s “Evil Dead”. Since it is anticipated, has star power (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson), and since it looks great, I’m going to go high with my prediction. I also think this will have phenomenal word-of-mouth, so this will go strong all weekend. I’m predicting $37.5 million for its opening.

“Red 2” is the sequel to 2010’s action comedy hit. It brings back the cast and this one looks really fun. I haven’t seen the first movie, so I’ll be watching the first one sometime this week. The first “Red” opened to $21.76 million back in October 2010, against “Jackass 3-D”, that opened to $50.3 million. “Red” has a good following, though, as it has a standing 7.0 IMDb score based on over 140, 000 user ratings. It is also the tenth-best selling DVD of 2011 (sandwiched between “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Despicable Me”). The movie has a great cast including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Anthony Hopkins and Mary-Louise Parker (who is also starring in “R.I.P.D.”).With this film’s good following, I think this sequel will beat its predecessor in its opening weekend number by a decent-sized margin; so for the three-day weekend, I’m predicting this at $25 million.

“Turbo” is DreamWorks’ latest production, and I think it’ll do well, as family audiences aren’t yet tired of animated movies. They have emptied their pockets on “Monsters University” and those little yellow minions are still dominating the market, so this could very well suffer from competition of those animated movies, and the other new releases. And families just could wait for “The Smurfs 2”. This seems like DreamWorks’ answer to “Cars” and “Ratatouille” in the way that it’s an underdog story. Kids like racing movies, but are they willing to see a racing movie that has a snail going for gold? Of course, Pixar was able to make a rat appealing in “Ratatouille”, but DreamWorks isn’t nearly as respected as Pixar. (But then again, which animated studio is?) And “Epic” had a snail and a slug as supporting characters, but they were there for comic relief, mostly. Anyway, with a decent-looking underdog story and a good voice cast (Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Ken Jeong), this should do decent business on a busy weekend. For the three-day, I’ll predict $28.8 million; and for the five-day (Wed-Sun), I’m predicting $43 million.

Now that I’ve discussed all the ones I think will do well, this is the one I don’t have a lot of faith in. “R.I.P.D.” looks like fun, but it’s the least appealing out of all of the new releases. The 3D action comedy is adapted from a comic book of the same name, but I don’t see it doing well. Audiences haven’t been showing a lot of enthusiasm for it yet, but I think it’ll still attract a small audience somewhere in the low-teen millions. People like Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds (who’s going to have a busy weekend), but I don’t know if this is on many people’s radars. I think it could do decent business, but it’s going to suffer because of all of the competition. And older action fans will probably just see “Red 2” instead. It’ll break $10 million, I think, but I don’t think it’ll go past the $15 million mark. I’m going to underestimate Bridges and Reynolds’ combined popularity and say an awful $12.8 million.

Here’s how I see the Top 10:
1. The Conjuring: $37, 500, 000
2. Turbo: $28, 800, 000 (5-day: $43M)
3. Red 2: $25, 000, 000
4. Despicable Me 2: $22, 473, 000
5. Pacific Rim: $19, 825, 000
6. Grown Ups 2: $19, 500, 000
7. R.I.P.D.: $12, 800, 000
8. The Heat: $9, 025, 000
9. Monsters University: $6, 000, 000
10. The Lone Ranger: $5, 800, 000

Monsters University (2013)

Monsters UniversityRelease Date: June 21, 2013

Director: Dan Scanlon

Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi

Runtime: 110 min

Pixar is one of this century’s most consistent studios; but they are fallible. I’ve seen 10 out of 14 of their movies. Cars 2 is apparently the runt of the litter, and I haven’t seen that, or the original. Brave (my review) is a good animated movie, but I’m not so big on the story and I haven’t (nor has anyone else, I doubt) forgiven it for winning that Oscar for Best Animated Feature yet. Monsters University is the fourteenth film out of Pixar’s creative cannon, and their first prequel.

From the moment Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) met, they couldn’t stand each other. Monsters University brings us a look at the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they weren’t exactly two peas in a pod.

Many people, mostly critics, have set their expectations for Pixar movies too high after the release of Toy Story 3. They’re a studio, they’re going to make a mistake. Their movies won’t be near-perfect or beloved each time. Deal with it. I’m here to tell you that this time around, Monsters University is deserving of being called one of Pixar’s best movies in years. I’m sure it will become a classic one day. It’s a great animated movie and a great Pixar movie. I’m not going to mention any other Pixar movie (excluding Monsters, Inc.) from here-on-out in this review. I want to review it as a Pixar movie, and not as a Pixar movie in the shadow of other, possibly better Pixar movies. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t a Pixar movie, because that just isn’t possible, and a disservice to Pixar. It also isn’t possible because their exemplary animation is present.

This is the most creative, the most charming, and the best, animated movie of the year so far. It’s heart-warming, moving, and funny. Everything here is top notch. The story features great entertainment and a whole lot of heart. The animation is beautiful, and the creativity put into this is prominent. The stakes are high during the movie; because of a situation caused by Mike and Sulley’s feud. Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), is a frightening monster who, in some ways, is reminiscent of Henry Waternoose from Monsters, Inc. Thankfully, and impressively, this Dean is a completely different character. One might get the vibe that this franchise teaches University deans and bosses cannot be trusted.

I love how Pixar can create movies that both children and adults will love. The humour isn’t always cutesy, it’s usually extremely clever. The plot is also smart and rather enthralling for an animated family feature. The last thirty (or so) minutes is an amazing final act, and one of the best and most memorable in Pixar’s filmography. Even people with the smallest bladders should hold their urine like there’s no god-damn tomorrow. This is set at a university (hence: Monsters University), which might play a part in the appeal to older audiences. This isn’t set where it is purely because of marketing to older audiences (because Monsters, Inc. definitely would be enough to bring fans back to the theatre to see this). This is set at a university because it’s the best time for these two monsters to meet. It’s when people meet their lifelong friends. It’s where their feud makes sense. This wouldn’t be set at a pre-school, mostly because their feud could be over petty things like a crayon or Teddy Graham crackers (even though those are really freaking tasty). The creators really know what they’re doing, and how to give each of these characters depth.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing about the movie.

You better believe this little guy is the cutest thing in the movie.

There’s a new slate of colourful and inventive characters. This university looks like a great place to go to school. (And since Mike and Sulley can attend university, it makes me think I can do it, too!) This is part coming-of-age tale because the fraternity house crew, Oozma Kappa, that Mike and Sulley fall into, are a group of misfits who cannot scare, but they do have a lot of heart. The gang, and Mike, must find it within themselves to let out their scariest and mightiest roars.

One of the main criticisms this movie might receive is that “it doesn’t need to exist”. Justin Bieber doesn’t need to exist, but some people like him. (Yes, I did just compare this to Justin Bieber. If Monsters U is going to go up against Justin Bieber, MU is going to win ten times out of ten.) If you do feel MU didn’t have to see the light of day, you’ll be glad it gets made. As a fan of Pixar, a lover of movies, and a lover of Mike and Sulley, I’m estatic this exists. This movie is so entertaining, and I love it. It’s a great opportunity to see beloved characters in a new light.

They get new layers. Mike is a student who knows everything about everything, but he hasn’t always felt like he belongs. Sulley is a student who thinks he can get by just because of his family name. We see these characters in new, more vulnerable situations. We get to see these two monsters become an inseparable pair. We also get to see how Randall Boggs came to hate this dynamic duo. We also get to see some hilarious cameos. And for those opportunities, I will always cherish this fantastic film. I will always watch this with a big smile on my face. This is an impressive prequel to Monsters, Inc., and an impressive Pixar movie.

90/100