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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 15 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 33
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The Hundred-Foot Journey harmless foodie fluff
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
Now playing


After being forced to leave India, Papa Kadam (Om Puri) has been leading the surviving members of his close-knit family across Europe trying to find the perfect place to settle down and open a new restaurant specializing in their impeccably prepared ethnic recipes. When their van breaks down in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, a tiny village in the south of France, he takes it as a sign from his dearly departed wife that this is the place to plant new roots.

Problem is, the vacant restaurant he's got his eye on is right across the street from the luxurious Le Saule Pleureur, a Michelin-starred destination run by the icy Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Papa isn't worried. His youngest son Hassan (Manish Dayal) has a gift that goes beyond all gastronomic boundaries, defying easy categorization or speculation. No matter what Madame Mallory wants to throw the family's way, this budding chef will surprise everyone with the savory delights he will ultimately concoct, not even a blossoming romance with Le Saule Pleureur's sous chef Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon) derailing his quest for culinary immortality.

Based on the best-selling book by Richard C. Morais, with a script by Steven Knight (Locke), director Lasse Hallström's The Hundred-Foot Journey is one of the better films he's made in quite some time, probably since 2006's The Hoax, maybe even 1999's The Cider House Rules. At the same time, that doesn't make it much more than harmless foodie fluff, the movie telegraphing the majority of its moves right from the start not particularly caring that it does so. More than that, it goes on for at least two endings too many, laconically strolling to a conclusion that sadly dilutes the inherent emotional potency of Hassan's climactic determinations in the process.

Not that it matters as much as one might initially surmise. There is a handsome effortlessness to both Knight's script as well as Hallström's confident direction that makes a lot of this undeniably melodramatic hokum far easier to stomach than by all rights it should be. He also gets superb performances from his core quartet, Mirren and Puri - no surprise - in particular, each of them enlivening what on the surface are trite and overly familiar characters, making them magnetically so much more than the sum of their collectively antediluvian parts.

The first half works best. The Kadam family's unintended stopover in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, their collective meet-cute with the bubbly Marguerite, the discovery of the empty restaurant leading to the subsequent war of wills between Papa and Madame Mallory; all of it is rather enchanting, the frothy charms cooked up easy to digest. It is here that Hallström appears to be most at ease, crafting a winsome milieu that in many ways recalls the director's previous, undisputed triumphs My Life as a Dog and What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Unfortunately things do not progress in this vein throughout. At a certain point Madame Mallory takes note of Hassam's budding skill; while at the same time the war between the feuding restaurants comes to a rather sudden, if admittedly believable, end - both events leading to twists and turns that are neither shocking nor surprising. Things trudge along predictably, success and triumph happening along with the requisite realizations true happiness isn't always what one expects it to be. It all builds to a finale that takes forever to happen, and thanks to a few endings too many the impact the denouement ultimately does impart is frustratingly rather forgettable.

At the same time Hallström's hand isn't near as heavy as it easily could have been. When that fact is coupled with the collective grace of the actors, Linus Sandgren's (American Hustle) suitably lush cinematography and A.R. Rahman's (127 Hours) nicely modulated score it allows the movie to maintain a welcoming atmosphere even when the inherently saccharine nature of the narrative undermines the proceedings. The Hundred-Foot Journey doesn't bring pain to the pallet, and while its tastes aren't especially succulent they still go down relatively easy nonetheless.


Latest Mutant Ninja Turtles undeniably silly kiddie stuff
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
Now playing


The Foot Clan has begun their assault on New York. Intrepid television news reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) believes there's a bigger story lurking beneath the surface, one involving nameless, almost invisible vigilantes doing their best to keep the citizens of the city safe. No one believes her, not even trusted cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), only scientific entrepreneur and former friend of her late father, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), willing to listen to the young woman's crazy ideas about reptilian-like heroes protecting the Big Apple.

April's right, of course. There are heroes out there fighting against Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the Foot Clan's blood-thirsty leader; they're just not what anyone thinks. They're heroes in the half-shell. They are, to put it plainly, teenage mutant ninja turtles, and between slices of pizza and bouts of adolescent silliness, they're here to save the day.

One of the first professional reviews I ever wrote was for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze in 1991. I was a teenager writing for the Spokesman Review as part of their youth section, and as far as negative reactions go, the one I had for that particular sequel was pretty much through the roof. My article actually spawned my first bit of hate mail, a kindergarten classmate of my brother's giving him a note to hand to me that, to put it kindly, wasn't nice, yet was still amusing considering it came from the crayon of a particularly angry six-year-old.

Over two decades later I can't say my fondness for any of those initial cinematic adventures of sentient turtles Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello -with fists of fury and wills of steel -has improved, thus my excitement at watching a new movie featuring them wasn't high. All the same, as silly as it is, as dumb as the majority of the film might be, this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle L.A.) and produced by Michael Bay (Transformers), is hardly a total waste of time. Heck, for fans of creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman's well-known characters, it might be even more than that; it could very well be essential.

This does not mean I think the movie is any good. The script written by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec (Mission: Impossible -Ghost Protocol) and Evan Daugherty (Divergent) isn't exactly earth-shattering, and other than the fact Shredder's ultimate designs are exceedingly lethal in nature, the majority is as kid-centric as these things get. Nowhere near as dark or as ominous as Laird and Eastman's source material, the basic thrust would fit right at home in any of the animated versions that have been the staple of Saturday mornings and cable television for eons.

There have also been significant changes to the characters' overall mythology, April O'Neil playing a bigger hand than ever before in how the foursome and their rat martial arts master Splinter survived and evolved in the sewers underneath New York City. While not the aliens from outer space some had feared Bay, Liebesman and company were going to make them, the turtles have still been significantly altered, and purists who obsess about these sorts of things will likely be upset, even though I can personally think of far more important things to get angry about.

On the plus side, the motion capture effects utilized to bring the turtles and Splinter to life is fantastic (if admittedly not up to the obscenely high bar set by Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), while Liebesman's staging of a central set piece involving an out-of-control truck careening down a snow-covered mountain is downright eye-popping. Fox's comedic chops are in fine form (although the less said about her attempts at emotional melodrama the better), and as far as co-star Arnett is concerned, he's nowhere near as badly cast as I anticipated before the screening began.

Still, I am not the audience for this film, and while my reaction is far more positive than I could ever have dreamt it would be (making the likelihood angry six-year-olds are going to send me hate mail close to nonexistent) that doesn't mean I'd urge just about anyone anywhere, fan or no, to buy a ticket. Shredder's plans for New York are like a cross between what Ra's Al Ghul wanted to do to Gotham in Batman Begins and Dr. Conners had in store for the city in The Amazing Spider-Man. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is really, really dumb, make no mistake on that front, and the chances I'll ever be crying, "Cowabunga!" in regards to any of this are pretty much nil.


Destruction porn Storm is Twister for the SyFy generation
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

INTO THE STORM
Now playing


Into the Storm looks incredible inside the confines of a movie theatre. Better, it's proof you don't need a pointless 3-D upgrade to create masterfully composed sequences of special effects-driven spectacle, suspense and terror. Same time, as nice as all of that is, as commendable as these things might be, there's no doubt this is the type of B-grade disaster silliness that will play perfectly fine - if not better - at home where expectations are more moderate and expenditures are far less.

Sure the movie looks terrific. Yes it has some wonderful moments. But on the whole this is still nothing more than an exceedingly dumb, cliché-ridden enterprise where every story point is telegraphed and every emotion showcased to melodramatic excess. While director Steven Quale (Final Destination 5) maintains a firm grasp on all that's taking place, while John Swetnam's (Evidence) script is no better and no worse than most higher profile entries in the disaster genre, this is still nothing more than Twister for the SyFy Channel generation, that comparison not exactly meant as a compliment.

Not that I have anything against Jan de Bont's 1996 smash with Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt. But, seriously, is there anyone out there who has watched that movie within the past few years and wondered to themselves how that Mother-Nature-run-amok thriller became such a gigantic box office sensation? I mean, this is a movie where the female lead seems to believe that tornados are personally hunting her and her family as if they were the shark from Jaws, for goodness sakes, everything culminating in a series of coincidental absurdities so extreme they're hysterically beyond belief.

So trust me when I say Swetnam's main plot points are even more ludicrous and eye-rolling than anything found in Twister (sans the flying cows). I know what it is I'm talking about. We get flaming tornados of death, a reenactment of the Ed Harris-Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio CPR scene from The Abyss, two dudes recreating every unfunny Jackass stereotype Johnny Knoxville ever invented (and might now regret after seeing this), and the sudden disappearance of the film's only minority cast member because, well, honestly I'm still not exactly sure why. A fleet of 747s takes to the sky sans their pilots yet don't seem to fall back to Earth, while a high school vice principal showcases bouts of superhuman strength every time he's forced to make sure the sexy meteorologist he's only just become acquainted with doesn't get sucked up into a swirling vortex.

But, seriously, anyone walking into this movie expecting anything less than what's already been described should probably have their head examined for some kind of cognitive failing. Into the Storm was never going to be some smart, realistic take on climate change or the challenges faced by those living in the Midwest forced to endure tornado seasons that only seem to get more powerful and devastating with each passing year. Quale and Swetnam were not going to be given countless millions from Warner Bros. and New Line to make an ultrarealistic documentary. This film was always going to hopefully be something better than your typical disaster potboiler airing on that aforementioned cable television network every other weekend, and on that front it is a minor success.

None of which means the movie is any good, but if we're judging on the Irwin Allen scale of disaster movie excess this one leans more towards The Towering Inferno end of the spectrum (just barely) than it does to the When Time Ran Out... side of things. If we use the Roland Emmerich weighbridge, than we're talking something more similar to 2012 than to The Day After Tomorrow (on a much, MUCH smaller magnitude, of course; the world isn't ending here, after all). As far as those SyFy Channel comparisons are concerned? Well, let's just leave those be, because even though this is of a much higher caliber than anything the network crafts for itself that doesn't mean it isn't likely to become part of the weekend rotation at some point in the relatively near future.

Plot? What plot? Swetnam's scenario mixes found footage and faux first-person documentary styling with a relatively straightforward tale of a single father, Gary (Richard Armitage), that high school v.p. I talked about earlier, running around his town in a valiant quest to protect his two teenage sons Donnie (Max Deacon) and Trey (Nathan Kress) as all sorts of meteorological mayhem is unleashed upon his tight-knit community. His story is juxtaposed alongside that of storm chaser Pete (Matt Walsh) and his crew, which includes sexy weather expert Allison (Sarah Wayne Callies), as they attempt to document the most savage and horrific storm system they've ever had the good fortune to stray into the middle of.

Anyone that watched Final Destination 5 knows Quale can handle mayhem and carnage with the best of them, that film's bridge disintegration opening sequence sensationally terrifying yet also oddly exhilarating. On that front, it goes without saying the tornado sequences are outstanding, CGI-enhanced destruction porn disaster enthusiasts are going to go bonkers for. Same time, even anticipating how melodramatic a lot of this is going to be going in, that doesn't make the interpersonal stuff between the various characters any less annoyingly heavy-handed. More, just about all the actors in this have given quality performances in the past (Armitage and Callies, in particular) yet all are hamstrung by the narrative lunacies at the center of things, Quale seemingly unable to find a way to help them out so that they don't look emotionally helpless.

Not that any of this matters too terribly much. While I can't really recommend paying to see Into the Storm while it's in the theatre I certainly can't begrudge anyone with a fondness for this sort of entertainment from doing so all the same. The movie really is Twister for this generation, and while I'm positive the stratospheric box office results won't be nearly the same, that doesn't mean it still isn't carrying abnormally similar positive-negative storytelling baggage. Whether this is a good thing or bad I leave up to you.






Lady Gaga's ArtRAVE: The ArtPOP Ball - a fabulous spectacle that did not disappoint
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Questions, Questions: What do Gays and Mormons have in common?
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Issachah Savage, a great new talent, walks away with the prizes at this year's International Wagner Competition
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Chvrches sound heavenly at The Showbox SoDo
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A Requiem for the ages?
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Beatles Week at Seattle Center August 18-23
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Alas our Robin, I knew him well - Remembering Robin Williams
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Idolatry: Role Models and Broken Gods
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Soundgarden, Williams, Grande slated for NFL kickoff in Seattle
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The Hundred-Foot Journey harmless foodie fluff
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Latest Mutant Ninja Turtles undeniably silly kiddie stuff
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Destruction porn Storm is Twister for the SyFy generation
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