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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The Giver (2014)

The GiverReleased: August 15, 2014. Directed by: Phillip Noyce. Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep. Runtime: 97 min.

Note: Sorry for the font inconsistencies – I really couldn’t figure out how to fix it. 

The Giver starts out exactly like Divergent; with a basic review of what this futuristic community is like, followed by a ceremony where occupations are chosen for each citizen at their 18th birthday (where those in the premise of Divergent were put into different groups of basic personality traits). The second similarity is a love story – which is interesting to think this was a thing in Young Adult literature circa 1993, so not much has changed – but it’s essential to the narrative. These similarities are where they begin and end.

This is a unique young adult novel adaptation because it depicts a perfect world (a utopia, rather than a dreary dystopia in The Hunger Games), one with no violence, pain, suffering, differences or choice. A young man, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites in his first big starring role), is chosen as the Receiver, a position chosen every ten years or so – and it is a position in which he will become the future Giver – to assist the elders with making decisions for the community. You see, the Giver (a mesmerizing Jeff Bridges) has the most knowledge and experience in the whole community, because he holds all of the memories of the old world. The one with hideous violence, but also wondrous beauty.

I think Brenton Thwaites’ (OculusMaleficent) performance is actually memorable because he is different from his peers and not absolutely robotic. He brings some humour to his character, and hope to his peers. Jeff Bridges as The Giver is great because of his love of life and his need to get beauty back to the community. He also brought a welcome amount of humour to his character, though I am almost convinced he’s still stuck in the voice he used for Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. A charming young Israeli actress Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green) portrays Fiona, and is also notable for how well she captures her character’s fear and natural curiosity for change. Taylor Swift portrays one of those characters who play a crucial role in a character’s development but only show up for five minutes. A scene she shares with Bridges and a piano is just lovely.

I think these performers set themselves apart from the rest because everyone else just feels so plain. Especially Cameron Monaghan and Katie Holmes who are both quite boring. Alexander Skarsgård is still boring, but less so than the others. These characters, and every other cookie-cutter citizen, are all about never lying and using the precision of language – so for example, if you want to ask someone if they love you, you must ask instead if they “enjoy” you. At times I wondered if this is what the modern grammar Nazi sounds like.

One enjoyable technical aspect is the utilization of black and white film – which is about half of the runtime, but the other half is in colour. You might notice as the film progresses that B&W and colour are used more and more as a storytelling device to set the film’s tone. Black and white scenes are more robotic and plain, while scenes in colour are usually captivating and intriguing. The more it got into the heart of the film, the more I found myself enjoying it – after a very boring first twenty minutes (though the final minutes left me dissatisfied). One more comment on the technical aspect – the cinematography is absolutely stunning, in both B&W and colour. The Giver is filmed in South Africa, where the settings and nature complement the film’s quality and beauty.

It’s an ugly truth in this premise that in order to have no violence, one also has to surrender race, religion, uniqueness, decision-making, and emotions, among other things. This community is created by characters who focus on the hideousness of the old world, and want to shelter the citizens from it. This character – mostly the Chief Elder – is portrayed by an adequate Meryl Streep. However, the citizens are also being sheltered from the beauty of the world – namely colours, sunsets, and double rainbows. Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poets Society said, “…The human race is filled with passion… Poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” That quote does not describe The Giver‘s community, even though it is considered a “perfect” community. Even though our world has violence, one can escape in the beauty of everything around you. It has poetry, romance, love, beauty – but most of all – creativity, and that sounds like the true perfection to me.

Score67/100

August: Osage County (2013)

August Osage CountyReleased: January 10, 2014 (wide release). Directed by: John Wells. Starring: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor. Runtime: 121 min.

When a film starts out with the line “Life is very long,” that’s the first hint that the drama you’re about to watch isn’t going to be the feel-good film of the year. “August: Osage County” is a bleak feature with a prominent theme of the hollow emptiness of modern mid-western life. And hollow it is! The film follows the strong-willed women of the Weston family, who return to their family home in Oklahoma because of a family crisis. This means they have to face the devil woman that raised them.

The synopsis states that there’s a family crisis, and usually, one knows that it’s likely that it’ll either be a funeral or a life-threatening disease; and since Violet (Meryl Streep) already has mouth cancer, it looks like people are going to be dressing in black and are going to pretty upset throughout. The film’s trailer isn’t so subtle about who dies, either. In case you haven’t seen the trailer, I’ll try not to spoil it. This is a film about how family tests you and how it lifts you up but can kick you down, as well. And if you have a mother like Meryl Streep’s character, it’s going to kick you down a lot.

I like films with a focus on characters, and most of these are pretty good – but since there are so many, there’s a limited amount of layers for all of them. But the performances are pretty spectacular, and one of my favourite aspects of the film. Meryl Streep is great as a devil woman named Violet with emotional issues because of all the pills she takes. She’s one of those people who criticizes everything and blames people for things that happen, and make your insecurities known which makes one feel crappy. Because she’s so domineering, and since Streep is such a powerhouse dramatic actress, I think that’s why some people consider her a Leading Actress here, even though I’m nearly convinced she has about the same screen time as Roberts. I’m thankful she’s absent for about 25 minutes of the film because the character’s personality is very irritating. Since her sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale) is a similar personality, one can tell their mother screwed them up pretty harshly. 

Though, while Violet is critical of everyone, Fae is mostly critical of her son, Little Charles (Benedict Cumberbatch). Violet has three daughters, the main one Barbara is portrayed by Julia Roberts. She’s just great as a character who’s more likeable than her mother, but a bit similar – showing the influence of parental figures. Barbara is trying hard to keep the relationship with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and her daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin) intact. Violet’s other daughter is Karen (Juliette Lewis) who is a bit of a ditz, but not much smarter than her fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney). Violet’s most likeable daughter is Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) who was the only daughter to stay close to home, which creates tension between the three daughters. Ivy is criticized greatly by her mother because she hasn’t found a man yet. The only characters who actually rarely have rude things to say to each other are Ivy, Little Charles and Mattie Fae’s husband Charles (Chris Cooper).

Everybody’s just fighting constantly and it doesn’t make the experience enjoyable. There are bursts of comedy here and there that keeps the film from being completely boring, so that’s a good aspect. It seems to me that when one thinks family drama, it’s reasonable to expect people smiling and being nice to each other, isn’t it? But that so rarely happens in this slowly-moving picture. The only scenes some might find theirselves enjoying the film is when Julia Roberts launches herself at Meryl Streep because it’s freaking awesome, and there’s a sweet song that Cumberbatch sings at one point. Along with the little bursts of comedy, that’s the only time I really liked this. Its ending is unrewarding and the film is generally depressing. It’s one of those films where you walk out of the theatre and say, “Hey, could you say something kind to me? I’ve hardly heard a nice thing for two hours.” To have that depressed feeling for these two hours is an emotionally exhausting experience.

Score50/100

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

A Series of Unfortunate EventsLemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Release Date: December 17, 2004

Director: Brad Silberling

Stars: Jim Carrey, Jude Law, Meryl Streep

Runtime: 108 min

Tagline: On December 17, Christmas cheer takes a holiday

Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and Sunny Baudelaire (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman) are three intelligent young children who receive terrible news that their parents have died in a fire and have left them an enormous fortune not to be used until the eldest child is of age. When they are sent to live with Count Olaf, a greedy distant relative, they soon learn he is trying to steal their fortune for himself.

Because of the seriously insane Olaf, they meet colourful relatives along the way after he does some… questionable acts. He tries to kill the children, first of all. You read that right. He checks the train schedule, parks his car on the tracks, and locks the kids in the car, leaving them for death. He doesn’t stop there. This sadistic and fairly obnoxious “actor” would do just about anything to gain the family fortune. He’s strange and creepy, but Carrey gives a great performance.

The acts Olaf goes through are sometimes much too mature for young children, and a lot of it is extremely dark. Especially for a family film. The third act is by far the strangest of the feature and frankly, it made me very uncomfortable. It’s necessary for the story, sure, but it’s just too strange for words. Though, the actions these characters often do make this a memorable feature. There are some great emotional moments, and even though the third act seriously creeped me out, it ends on a great and emotional note.

This film is based on Lemony Snicket’s thirteen-book series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events. I know what you might be thinking: One movie based on thirteen books?! It really isn’t as crowded as it may sound. It flows well and the production design is fantastic and it’s a nice film to look at, because the cinematography is notably great. I did care for the three central characters on some level because they just lost their parents and I really wouldn’t want to see their fortune lost and have them be miserable until they’re eighteen years of age. Since their parents did die, many could relate to them, and the audience, can at least comprehend their sorrow. Though, most of us couldn’t say a psychopath actor tried to steal our fortune by trying to kill us and dressing up in weird costumes. If one is to take any morals from this story, they would be: 1) Just give the kids a damn chance and listen to them, because they could sometimes really help; 2) Some actors are just bat shit crazy, and 3) If you correct someone, they might get really pissed off and you won’t ever be seen again.

Meryl Streep is great as an irrational phobic; and Billy Connolly is fantastic as Uncle Monty, an eccentric herpetologist. Though, Jim Carrey is the real highlight of this. He has some hilarious jokes that may be sure to make you laugh out loud, and his impression of a dinosaur is worth the DVD price alone.

This film is really refreshing to me, mostly because it is just so self-aware. In a few moments of suspense, the narrator, Jude Law impersonating Lemony Snicket, makes his typewriter jam, so we are left with a twenty-second cliffhanger as he tries to fix his typewriter. It’s really humorous, and I love films like that. He also warns the audience that this will be an unpleasant story with suspicious fires and carnivorous leeches, not a dancing elf, but that movie probably has plenty of seating in theater two. So, like he warns you and I am about to warn you, this film isn’t for extremely young children, so just listen to the narrator and go see the little lame happy elves. Everyone else, stay, it’s a pretty unique, strange family feature.

72/100