The Hundred-Foot Journey

August 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“Safe Haven”)
Written by: Steven Knight (“Locke”)

With the prominence and widespread popularity of cooking shows, cooking competitions and the Food Network, culinary-based entertainment has taken major strides in permeating popular culture. As such, works of fiction blended with stylized gorgeous looking plates of perfectly positioned food have been seen with more frequency. In a very successful example, Jon Favreau’s “Chef” was a seamless blend of great story and mouthwatering food porn that still stands out as a one of the top films of the year thus far.  As an adaptation of a novel from 2010, producers Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg bring together the cultural culinary clash in “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”

After becoming displaced from their home in India, a family finds themselves in France looking to open a restaurant. With family recipes from his father (Om Puri) and mother in hand, the up-and-coming and talented Hassan (Manish Dayal) appears ready to take the reins and make his mark on the culinary world. But when they open their restaurant across from a world-renowned one owned by the ruthless and traditional Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the family must try to keep up with the competition.

In the film’s more light-hearted moments, Puri is able to display some moments of humor than stand out, especially in his interactions with Mirren. While it is definitely not her best performance, Mirren takes the weak material she is given and carries the film handily. Perhaps the most surprising performance is that of Dayal, who really displays a passion for cooking throughout the film. His romantic scenes (and the whole relationship plot altogether) are a bit flimsy, but it’s overall a pretty solid performance.

As the film moves away from the initial battle between the restaurants, screenwriter Steven Knight incorporates multiple plots, unraveling the focus of the film and leaving a mess. It becomes clear in the back half of the movie that it doesn’t have a true grasp on what it wants to be. Is it a love story? Is it a film about the old guard being lowered and a new one taking over? Is it a story about merging cultures? Is it a rags to riches story? All of these are themes that appear in the second half of the film, and the general direction of movie seemingly changes on a scene-to-scene basis.

As a film about a rivalry between restaurants and cultures, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is mostly harmless, if not a tad dull. But as the film continues and the aforementioned thematic confusion sets in, its major lack of cohesiveness becomes obvious.  Even further, only a fraction of the plots seem to be successful. When combined with an overlong running time, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” feels, on the whole, a bit superfluous.

Safe Haven

February 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Josh Duhamel, Julianne Hough, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”)
Written by: Leslie Bohem (“The Alamo”) and Dana Stevens (“City of Angels”)

It’s the week of Valentine’s Day and many men everywhere are preparing to give their wives, girlfriends and dates the best gift they can: trying to sit through a Nicholas Sparks book adaptation. The latest challenge comes in the form of “Safe Haven,” Sparks’ most recent book about a girl fleeing an abusive boyfriend.

In “Safe Haven,” a woman named Katie (Julianne Hough) arrives in a small North Carolina town where she hopes to start a new life. There, she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widowed father of two who works at the local general store. Apprehensive and scared at first, Katie tries to move on all while looking over her shoulder for her ex, who is searching for her.

The first hour of “Safe Haven” is actually not all that bad. Sure, there is some jarring editing that randomly bounces back and forth between Katie’s new life and her boyfriend who is on the prowl for her. And let’s not forget the average acting from the chronically paranoid Hough and flimsy, useless characters like her friend Jo (Cobie Smulders). Let’s not forget the predictable romantic storyline that weaves its way through the first half of the film. But there’s also things that are okay, namely the charming and grounded performance from Duhamel who plays a devoted father and romantic lead quite well. There’s also a really nice performance from the adorable Mimi Kirkland who plays his daughter Lexi. The word good is perhaps too strong, but even though the romance is predictable and schmaltzy and the script is at times sickeningly saccharine, the first half of the film is relatively watchable.

The back half of the film is a different story. As things intensify and truths reveal themselves, Katie’s world becomes endangered and the film begins to crumble. The style of jumping back and forth between her life in North Carolina and her boyfriend trying to hunt her down wears out its welcome as the transitions become even more distracting when they start to include what really happened in her past. Events happen in the climax of the film that should have massive consequences but are for whatever reason completely ignored.

Then there’s the ending. The first wrinkle of the film’s ending is telegraphed and hokey and bad enough as it is. What follows can only be described as manipulative, nonsensical, god-awful garbage, and that is putting it lightly. It is a “twist” that turns out to form one of the dumbest endings to a film in recent memory. The bulk of the blame should belong to Sparks himself, since the book apparently shares the same ending. Audiences should be insulted that Sparks treats them like his own personal emotional marionettes, tugging at their strings and forcing them to react or cry by any means necessary.

While the film skirts the edge of watchability for a decent period of time, it is ultimately formulaic, factory-made, melodramatic dreck that is even further submarined by an ending so lame that even a sigh would roll its eyes at.

Dear John

February 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules”)
Written by: Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”)

There’s only so much a filmmaker can do to avoid over-romanticizing the film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. While a director like Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules”) has proven in the past that he can create great chemistry between actors (Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron in “Cider,” Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche in “Chocolat”) , it’s not always about the lovey-doviness.

If that was the case, “Dear John” wouldn’t fare so badly. There are, however, intangibles that make a difference in whether or not a story succeeds. In “Dear John,” Hallstrom and screenwriter Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”) almost manage to get past most of the pitfalls of a sentimental romance, but the third act is so incoherent when compared to the first hour of the film, it’s hard to fully recommend it.

The film follows the lovefest between special forces soldier John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and innocent college girl Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) who meet at author Sparks’ favorite locale – the beach (see “Message in a Bottle,” “Nights in Rodanthe”) – during a two-week-long spring break.

The courtship begins easy enough, but, of course, there’s only two weeks to get these young lovebirds to the point where they can’t live without each other. Things begin to progress rather quickly like most cinematic romances. John is a man with a past, although not much is explained about what made him so troublesome before he shaped up in the Army. He lets Savannah deep into his life and even introduces her to his coin-collecting-reclusive father (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins) who Savannah believes is showing signs of autism.

While John and Savannah’s relationship flies by fast, Hallstrom and Linden are able to make the love story believable and sweet enough without drowning it in too much sap. The father-son story between Tatum and Jenkins offers an affectionate element rarely seen in these types of films. It’s a heartwarming part of the narrative mostly because of Jenkins’ effortless  performance, which is, unfortunately, thinly-written.

Where “Dear John” falters most is when John and Savannah are sent on their separate ways. John must return to military duty while Savannah goes back to college. Before they say their goodbyes, the two make promises to each other including keeping in contact through letters. The long-distance relationship is less interesting as letter pass back and forth and the narration becomes more and more like something you would find in the greeting card section marked “Missing You.”

When John proclaims to Savannah that “It’ll all be over soon and I’ll be back for good,” he doesn’t anticipate something like 9/11 happening. The tragedyaffects their plans to be together when John decides to reenlist with the rest of his platoon. From there, “Dear John” just delays the inevitable as the story becomes more and more melodramatic with each mail call. Hallstrom and Linden play the sympathy card for the final half-hour and unfortunately turn “Dear John” into an overemotional and manipulative mess.