Entertainment Currying for Your Favor on the Big and Little Screen
By: Ellis Nassour
Journey won’t K.O. Paramount’s Teenage Ninja Turtles 2 or Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy from their hot box office streak [and doesn’t have the stunt casting of the latter], but it has its charm. Now, if The Blacklist, starring James Spader, was opening in cineplexes, ole Red might give ‘em a run for their money.
These last many months could be called The Year of Food in Cinema, and a couple of those outings [Haute Cuisine (Les Saveurs du Palais), Le Week-End, Chef, and Le Chef (Comme un Chef) have been truly memorable and led to a run on gourmet French and, in one case, down home Cuban.
The Hundred-Foot Journey [Dreamworks/Participant Media; 122 minutes], based on Steven Knight’s celebrated best-seller, is a French/Indian dish romantic comedy. When only "buttered" popcorn and chicken fingers available at the concession stand, it would have been immensely helped by Smell-O-Vision and tastings at each performance. In spite of Miss O and Steven Spielberg’s imprimatur and being co-producers, considering what three-time Oscar-nominated director Lasse Hallström [The Cider House Rules, Mit liv Som Hund; also the art-house smash Chocolat] has delivered in the past, we might expect more [just as we were right to expect more of Woody Allen’s latest]. Though there’re laughs, scrumptious dishes, and flavors of differing cultures, the film is quite predictable.
Oscar-winner Helen Merrin is Madame Mallory, who for 30 years has run shod over a Michelin-starred restaurant in the quaint village of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val in the south of France known for classic French dishes. Stubborn, snobbish, officious, and firmly set in her ways, she has great distaste for the garish new Indian restaurant across the road, and instantly begins battle royal with the loud and brash Kadams, whom she finds offensive in every way. Well, until she realizes their handsome young son Hassan [Manish Dayal] has the makings of a master chef and could bring her another star.
Eventually, the mutual rivalry and one-upmanship abates between Madam and papa [Om Puri] as she realizes He has talent and passion in the kitchen, and also finds it with Madam’s sous chef. He becomes one of France’s most celebrated chefs. He scores big weaving culinary magic in Paris, but something and someone is missing in his life.
Back home, after the racism that raised its ugly head from Madam’s jealous chef and when she shows her real stripes, Hassan, with papa’s blessing, joins Madam and earns her another star – and, as the dishes and glasses are being carted across the once forbidden 100 feet, yet another.
Puri is a master screen curmudgeon. Since his 1976 film debut, he’s appeared in countless Indian films as well as mainstream American and British ones; and since completing Journey, he’s got nine films in the can. A little known fact is that he has received OBE honors. Not at all remotely handsome and with one of the most well-worn faces in cinema, he’s a perfect foil for the oh-so-proper Madam. Their eventful meeting-of-the-minds is the fun of the movie.
Journey will be dashing Dayal’s breakout film. Indian, but born in South Carolina , he’s been featured in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) and Walkaway (2010). TV fans of 90210 might recall his addition to the ensemble from 2011 into 2012 as Raj, the friend of Ivy Sullivan [Gillian Zinser] struggling with the onset of caner,
Thanks to the Oscar-winning Dame’s spunk, Hallström’s spot-on casting, and the film’s pinches of élan and coriander, The Hundred-Foot Journey is never boring. In the end, after crêpes Suzette [French, of course] and kulfi [Indian] desserts and Champagne, it makes a nice soufflé; however, you were hoping for coco van and and a hardy boeuf bourguignon. Bon appetit! Bōna ēpīṭiṭa!
The Blacklist: Season One on DVD:
Can James Spader do wrong? He’s had a storied career since 1978, culminating in a well-regarded performance as attorney Alan Shore in two highly-rated TV series: The Practice and its spinoff Boston Legal. When all hope was lost for the continuing success of The Office when Steve Carrell exited, Spader dead-panned it into another successful season. Then came his scene-stealing bit in Lincoln as attorney W. N. Bilbo, who worked with Secretary of State William Seward for passage of a constitutional amendment banning slavery.
It became obvious long ago that Spader can do anything he sets his wicked mind to. That said, nothing seemed to prepare audiences for his charming snake-in-the grass dirty agent of NBC’s edge-of-the-seat espionage thriller The Blacklist, created by Jon Bokenkamp.
Before the second season of The Blacklist premieres on September 22, you can have the pleasure of meeting or meeting again the duplicitious Raymond "Red" Reddington, a double-dealing ex-government agent who’s become one of the FBI’s most wanted, in The Blacklist: Season One [Sony Pictures Home Entertainment/Davis Entertainment; Blu-ray/DVD; five discs; SRP $70].
The going sometimes gets a bit muddled, with harrowing depictions of violence [the series is definitely not for pre-teens], so many secrets, and inherent humor. It pays to pay close attention, and that’s one benefit of watching the series on commercial-free DVD.
The season begins as this "Concierge of Crime" surrenders to the FBI with an offer to help the agency snatch an elusive criminal using his network of mobsters, spies, and terrorists. There’s a puzzling caveat: he will only work with FBI rookie profiler Elizabeth "Liz" Keen (Megan Boone). What follows is a twisting series of events questioning "Red"’s true intentions and why he’s chosen Liz, a woman with problems of her own.