Eye in the Sky Audio Review: Strike or Spare


Director: Gavin Hood

Writer: Guy Hibbert

Stars: Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Barkhad Abdi

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Release date: March 24th, 2016

Distributor: Entertainment One

Country: United Kingdom

Running time: 102 minutes


4/5

Review:

Trumbo Audio Review: Writer’s Block


Director: Jay Roach

Writers: John McNamara (screenplay), Bruce Cook (book)

Stars: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis C.K.

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Release date: February 18th, 2016

Distributor: Bleecker Street

Country: USA

Running time: 124 minutes


3/5

Review:

Woman in Gold Audio Review: Messy Canvas


Director: Simon Curtis

Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell

Actors: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, Katie Holmes

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Release date: April 10th, 2015

Distributors: BBC Films, The Weinstein Company

Country: UK

Running time:109 minutes


 

2½/5

Review:

The Hundred-Foot Journey Review – Artificial Colours & Flavours


Director: Lasse Hallstrom 

Writers: Steven Knight (screenplay), Richard C. Morais (novel)

Stars: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon


Release date: September 5th, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Dreamworks Pictures, Harpo Films

Country: USA

Running time: 122 minutes


 

2/5

Best part: The pristine cinematography.

Worst part: The laboured pace.

In The Hundred-Foot Journey – Hollywood’s Richard C. Morais adaptation idea turned passion project – one scene illuminates everything wrong with modern filmmaking. This particular scene, fuelled by clichéd dialogue and irritating character traits, points to the rotten core festering the dramedy rulebook (or, in this case, cookbook). In this scene, snooty restaurateur Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) asks her new trainee chef:  “Why change a recipe that is 200 years old?”. The chef then responds by saying: “Maybe 200 years is long enough”.

Manish Dayal as noble chef Hassan Haji.

Manish Dayal as noble chef Hassan Haji.

Here’s The Hundred-Foot Journey‘s greatest stumbling block – it wants to have its cake and eat it too. This bitter slice of irony, served up by the flawed execution, points to a common issue. Filmmaking, like cooking, relies on the script (recipe) and the director guiding its journey (chef). The recipe for Tinseltown success almost never delivers 100% results. It’s a sad truth, but this cumbersome dramedy is a prime example of quantity over quality. Before I continue, I must introduce the aforementioned game-changing chef. This key player is Hassan Haji (Manish Dayal). Despite the pitiful marketing campaign, the narrative revolves around his life story. Telling his version of events to a frustrated customs officer, Hassan recalls the tale of his family’s search of a better life. After shifting through Rotterdam and London, the Kadam family – lead by spirited patriarch “Papa” (Om Puri) – crosses into the alluring vistas of France. Braking down in an unnamed french Village, the Kadam’s find solace within their surroundings. Buying a property opposite Mallory’s esteemed venue, Papa battles Mallory for the locals’ hearts and minds. Fighting for critical and commercial glory, Mallory, her chefs, and the Kadams might just learn from one another.

Helen Mirren and Charlotte Le Bon creating the perfect dish.

Obviously, The Hundred-Foot Journey is not your average Hollywood release. Designed for counter-programming, the movie aims at middle-aged and elderly crowds. Despite the commendable intentions, the movie ends up becoming crazy-cat-lady chow. Re-heating one of modern literature’s most tiresome plots, this foodie flick talks down to its target demographic. Despite the harmless allure, the movie pours a bucket of salt into its efficiently crafted premise. Obliterating everything of merit, its ethical and moral obstacles hit like a chilli-induced heat wave. This is 2014’s second big-budget charmer – after sports-drama Million Dollar Arm – to insult India’s people. Disinterested in cultural fusion, this globe-trotting romp sullies the country’s spirituality. Presenting a near-laughable version of India, the stereotypes and clichés come thick and fast. As the bright colours and spices fly, the Indian characters are given wholly uninspired arcs. The familial drama, copied and pasted from Bend it Like Beckham, follows a borderline offensive formula. Blame rests with distribution giant Disney for painting everything with broad strokes. Avoiding substance, this production – flip-flopping between familial quarrels, slapstick gags, racial tensions, and twee romances – never crafts drama, stakes, or thrills. Thanks to Steven Knight(Eastern Promises, Locke)’s by-the-numbers screenplay, this broad distraction delivers telegraphed moments, contrivances, underdeveloped sub-plots, and unintentionally laughable dialogue. Lacking charm or elegance, this comfort-food-like effort leaves a bad taste long after the credits roll.

“If your food is anything like your music, then I suggest you tone it down.” (Madame Mallory (Helen Hirren), The Hundred-Foot Journey).

Om Puri absorbing Hollywood's warm embrace.

Om Puri absorbing Hollywood’s warm embrace.

Further hampering such turgid and predictable material, director Lasse Hallstrom (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat) fails to cook up a storm. Known for Nicholas Sparks adaptations including Dear John and Safe Haven, the Swedish director’s exhaustive storytelling tropes aim to please. Following Chocolat‘s appealing recipe, Hallstrom’s melodrama and monotonous pacing blanche this appealing concept. Here, the Sparksian sub-plots, structure, and revelations overwhelm the product. With Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey stepping producing, the movie makes for a note-worthy case against the studio system. In typical Oprah’s Book Club fashion, this romp delivers sap without balance. However, like with Hallstrom’s earlier works, his visual style elevates the poor material. A. R. Rahman’s score, though resting on familiarity, delivers gut punches at proper moments. In addition, newcomer Linus Sandgren’s cinematography – turning the most plain situations  into wondrous moments – heightens each shot, setting, and serving. Graciously, the movie’s prestigious cast dives into this multi-course meal. Dayal, following in Dev Patel and Suraj Sharma’s footsteps, delivers a passionate performers as the plucky lead. Despite an undercooked romance with fellow chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), his enthusiastic aura saves certain sequences. In addition, the Hollywood legend/Bollywood pairing works wonders. Mirren and Puri infuse joy, energy, and vigour into their characters’ misguided adventures.

Some advice for those seeing The Hundred-Foot Journey: don’t go in on an empty stomach! By the power of curry and duck a l’orange, the movie might just birth Indian and French fusion dishes. Sadly, however, this archaic dramedy does little but pander to middle-aged women and bickering elderly couples. Somehow, hampering the plentiful flourishes and winning performances, a spoonful of mediocrity overpowers this banal dish. Mixing a meandering story, dated archetypes, and manipulative moments together for over two hours, this concoction has too much sugar and nowhere near enough brains or heart. Hell, chopped onions are less manipulative!

Verdict: A dish made without love or care.

Hitchcock Review – Psychotic Psychosis


Director: Sacha Gervasi

Writers: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston


Release date: December 14th, 2012

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 98 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Helen Mirren’s steely performance.

Worst part: Anthony Hopkins’ distracting make-up.

Back in Hollywood’s heyday, prolific British director Alfred Hitchcock inspired a wave of crime/thriller films and film-makers. However, none of them were able to match Hitchcock’s own notoriety. A man with an original idea can seemingly rule Hollywood. He was a man who held a quintessential vision every-time he stepped behind the camera. HBO’s The Girl and Hitchcock have recently recreated important segments of the great director’s life. Hitchcock is a loving ode to his oeuvre, yet fails to create a succinct dramatic depiction of ‘The Master of Suspense’.

Anthony Hopkins.

This biopic picks up with Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) in the midst of the explosive success of his spy flick North by Northwest. Despite critical acclaim and studio access at his fingertips, he is pushed toward projects seemingly below his impressive status. Hitchcock becomes inspired by the story of convicted serial killer Ed Gein, depicted in the chilling best-seller Psycho. Hitchcock’s  privileged yet frustrating marriage to sympathetic wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren) is tested as adapting the novel becomes the influential director’s obsession. An instant horror-thriller classic is brought to life through a painstaking journey. The consequences of Hitchcock’s questionable actions come to light. Fresh-faced actors and actresses, intrusive studio heads and the Motion Picture Production Code breathe down his bloated neck. But he must also contend with his wife’s suspicious friendship with screenwriter Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).

Hopkins, Helen Mirren & Toni Colette.

Hopkins, Helen Mirren & Toni Colette.

Hitchcock created possibilities, exceeded expectations and infuriated the most important people in tinsel town throughout his illustrious career. Despite his influence on modern film-making, his professional life is as important as his degrading personal life with Alma. The story constantly jumps between the making of Psycho, a formulaic biopic, a psychoanalytic look into Hitchcock’s mind and a dramedy. This representation of Hitchcock’s perspective is lacking a sense of immersion. The storyline is filled with underdeveloped and unnecessary recreations of the great director’s experiences. Vertigo-inducing due to the film’s schizophrenic storytelling, Hitchcock creates only an elusive figure that barely delves beyond his own personality. However, the making of Psycho is the most involving aspect of HitchcockPsycho was one of Hollywood’s greatest success stories. It was independently funded, original, chilling, perverse and remembered for its shocking shower sequence. Hitchcock’s bizarre means of promotion, production and distribution succinctly build his reputation. Another storyline that works is Alma’s connection to her husband. Her love for Hitchcock subtly draws her closer while his brash love of blondes and film-making pushes her away. A polite and immaculate part of Hitchcock’s life, she still pushes her husband to continually prove his impressive reputation.

Scarlett Johansson.

Films such as Chaplin and Ed Wood provide in-depth and dramatic depictions of famous directors. They create expansive stories while depicting important parts of their lives. Based on Stephen Rebello’s non-fiction book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, Hollywood’s love of Hitchcock is proven to be invaluable. Sacha Gervasi (Anvil! The Story of Anvil) creates a witty and insightful interpretation of Hitchcock’s time with the infamous Bates Motel. However, Hitchcock unfortunately lacks both the visceral joys and in-depth character study elements needed for a truly meaty Hitchcock biopic. Gervasi paints a bright yet sanitised picture of vital events. Tonally imbalanced; unnecessary plot-lines and a goofy sense of humour decrease the film’s importance. It takes the ‘cock’ out of ‘Hitchcock’. It’s safe, pulpy and light-hearted while being uncomfortably dark in others. Hitchcock is visited by Gein in the subconscious. This Shining-like examination of Hitchcock may have been vital in a greater story, but in this goofy dramedy it’s noticeably unessential.

“Beware, all men are potential murders. And for good reason.” (Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), Hitchcock).

Mirren & Hopkins.

Hitchcock is a fun experience for film buffs; able to identify every one-per-second reference to trends, issues, directors and films of the time. The average cinema-goer may avoid this film as it ironically avoids telling this story for, ahem, the birds. The film largely avoids the director’s controversial actions and behaviour, instead developing his symbolic traits. Fact and fiction are dressed up to elevate this touching tribute to a glorious cinematic icon. The director’s unique figure and love of voyeurism are dutifully constructed, and that’s before the story develops his influential film-making techniques enlivened during the making of Psycho. Hopkin’s portrayal doesn’t help much. Hopkins emphasises the elements of Hitchcock that make him a baffling caricature. His confronting physical presence and multi-layered make-up effects are noticeable to a disastrous extent. However, it’s fun to see stellar performances from Jessica Biel, Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Ralph Macchio, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Kurtwood Smith as figures important to Psycho‘s creation.

Hitchcock was clearly the biggest presence in any room, eagerly providing imagination and a witty reaction to every word spoken against him. So it’s underwhelming that a film chronicling the work of The Master of Suspense partially lacks thrills, charm and, well, suspense.

Verdict: A confused yet witty biopic/retrospective.