“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked in “Romeo and Juliet. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” True that, but at the movies a name can make or break a film.
“Anthropoid” is the obscure title of a new thriller starring Jamie “Fifty Shades of Grey” Dornan and Cillian Murphy as soldiers who try and assassinate SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. In real life their operation was called Operation Anthropoid, but in reel life the title sounds like a sci fi story. Will the title resonate with anyone who isn’t a World War II aficionado?
Set in 1942 Dornan and Murphy play Czechoslovakian operatives Jan Kubiš and Josef Gabčík who return to Nazi-occupied Prague to kill Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust. The pair hide out with a family, where the fetching daughter Marie (Charlotte Le Bon) catches Jan’s eye, while her feisty friend Lenka (Anna Geislerová) bonds with Josef personally and in sympathy with his dangerous mission. Their best laid plans are turned upside down, and pushed ahead a few days, when Heydrich’s schedule changes. Rushed, the plan (MILD SPOILER) does not quite go as planned and the men and their compatriots are forced to go into hiding in the basement of a local church as the Nazis mount a massive manhunt.
Much of “Anthropoid” is spent with Jan and Josef as they make their way to Prague and plan the assassination. Unfortunately director Sean Ellis’s attempts to personalize the heroic tale fall flat, with good actors doing bad accents and a stultifying pace that sucks much of the excitement out of what should have been a volatile, dramatic situation. It’s only after the assassination attempt that the character work of the first hour pays off. It’s a shame Ellis couldn’t spread the story’s intensity around a little more evenly.
“The Walk,” a new film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, harkens back to an era when Evel Knievel was a superstar and human achievement wasn’t measured by how many Instagram followers you have. Even though we know how it ends—it’s a matter of historical record in the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary—the last half hour packs some vertiginous thrills.
Unsurprisingly of the story of a man who became famous for staging a 1974 tight rope walk between the world’s tallest buildings is unabashedly theatrical. When we first see Petit he’s setting up the story perched atop the Statue of Liberty with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center looming in the background.
His narration is as straight and taut as a tightrope strung between two poles, walking through the narrative step-by-step. The story begins with the young Petit learning his trade at the feet of high wire maestro Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley), through to meeting his beautiful muse Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) and hatching a plan to illegally string a wire between the two towers and perform a walk on “the most spectacular stage in the world.”
“It’s impossible,” he says, “but I’ll do it,” and he does, with the aid of several accomplices, in spectacular fashion.
“The Walk” is based on a true story but presented as an urban fairy tale, the story of a man determined to show the world that anything is possible. It’s a tall but true tale. Gordon-Levitt swings for the fences with a big, exuberant performance. He’s high strung, charming and arrogant, the kind of guy who says, “For me to walk on the wire is life. C’est la vie.” He’s also a dreamer, a man whose passions demonstrate for the rest of us that art still has the power to instil wonder. It’s a lovely message told in a shambling way.
Director Robert Zemeckis takes his time getting to the walk. He treats the story as a procedural, although a whimsical one, that tries to slide by on charm for two thirds of it’s running time. It’s certainly the first major movie of the year to future mime, and just to make sure we get the dreamy, mischievous feel he’s trying to portray, lilting snippets of the “La Dolce Vita” soundtrack can be heard in an early sequence.
When he gets to the end, the ascent to the top of the tower and the walk itself, the film becomes a thriller with 3D visuals that should come with a vertigo trigger alert. Anyone with a fear of heights be warned, “The Walk” has a ‘You are there’ feel as soon as Petit takes his first step on the rope. It’s a beautiful, lyrical and visually stunning sequence that is worth the wait through the film’s slow start.
“The Walk” takes too many tentative steps in it’s first hour and is a bit on the money in its storytelling—for instance “I Want to Take You Higher” blares on the soundtrack when Petit sees the Towers in person for the first time—but Gordon-Levitt’s relentless charm offensive, Le Bon’s charisma and a breathless climax provide a tribute not only to the power of art to elate but also the to the buildings that set the stage for Petit’s feat.
“The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a rich concoction that flavors its story with the sweetness of “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and the sour competitiveness of “MasterChef.”
It’s a feel-good movie about an Indian family who moves to a town in France to open a restaurant. Across the street is a Michelin-starred French eatery run with an iron fist by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Cultures and personalities clash, but soon Hassan Kadam’s (Manish Dayal) talent in the kitchen leads him on a journey. First he crosses the hundred feet between his father’s (Om Puri) restaurant to Madame Mallory’s kitchen, then to Paris and ultimately to his real passion.
The last time director Lasse Hallström went all Food Network on us the result was the 2000 bonbon “Chocolat,” a comic story with a bittersweet edge. He’s revisiting similar ground here, mixing gastroporn, good old-fashioned romance and cross-cultural farce.
The conflicts between restaurateurs Madame Mallory and Mister Kadam, and newbie chefs Hassan and Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), (SPOILER, BUT ONLY IF YOU HAVEN’T EVER SEEN A MOVIE BEFORE), are, of course, going to change from rivalry to romance, that much is obvious from the beginning, but the predictability of the story is tempered by very charming performances from the leads.
Mirren essentially plays two characters. As Madame comes to respect and then like her new neighbors, her ice queen demeanor slowly melts, allowing the actress to subtly reveal layers of character. There’s no neighborly epiphany that changes her mind—although a cowardly racist act sets things in motion. Instead, she rediscovers her various passions and each new revelation is registered on her face and in her body language.
Puri’s stubborn patriarch is mischievous and charming while Dayal and Le Bon (who lives up to her name) are solid romantic leads.
Despite its predictability, “The Hundred-Foot Journey’s” collection of characters keeps things lively and amusing and the food looks so good you’ll wish the movie was in Smell-O-Vision. It’s an enjoyable film about passion; the passion for food, passion for culture but most of all, passion for life.
SYNOPSIS: Hundred-Foot Journey is a feel-good movie about an Indian family who moves to a small town in France to open a restaurant. Across the street is a Michelin-starred French eatery run with an iron fist by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Cultures and personalities clash, but soon Hassan Kadam’s (Manish Dayal) talent in the kitchen leads him on a journey. First he crosses the hundred feet between his father’s (Om Puri) restaurant to Madame Mallory’s kitchen, then to Paris and ultimately to his real passion.
Richard: 3 Stars
Mark: 2 Stars
Richard: Mark, the last time director Lasse Hallström went all Food Network on us the result was the 2000 bonbon Chocolat, a comic story with a bittersweet edge. He’s revisiting similar ground here, mixing gastroporn, good old-fashioned romance and cross-cultural farce. Despite its predictability, The Hundred-Foot Journey’s collection of characters keeps things lively and amusing and the food looks so good you’ll wish the movie was in Smell-O-Vision. I thought it was an enjoyable film about passion; the passion for food, passion for culture but most of all, passion for life. What did you think?
Mark: Richard, I wouldn’t use the word passion to describe this movie. It was full of warmth, and it glowed from the sun-dappled shots of the French countryside to the sun-dappled shots of the delicious food to the sun-dappled shots of Helen Mirren’s profile contemplating Septuagenarian sex. But passion? If this movie about food were a food, it would be a nice custard, served at room temperature.
RC: Perhaps there wasn’t passion of the Gordon Ramsey style, but I thought the characters, particularly the young leads, brought enthusiasm not only to their romance but to their rivalry as well. As Marguerite Charlotte Le Bon moves beyond simply playing the romantic counterpart and puts herself and her dream of being a chef first. I liked that she was spunkier than you often see in a movie like this. Ditto Mirren. As Madame comes to respect and then like her new neighbors, her ice queen demeanor slowly melts, allowing the actress to subtly reveal layers of character.
MB: None of them impressed me Richard, not even Mirren. The one actor that did blow me away was the great Indian actor Om Puri, whose name even sounds like a fine dish, served with a side of raita. I didn’t find much that surprised me in the script either, although I wasn’t expecting the young Indian chef to cross the road and work at Mirren’s classical French restaurant . Whether or not you see him as a contemptible sell-out or not probably depends on your attitude towards fusion cuisine.
RC: Tone wise this movie reminded me of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It may not be the most original movie to hit screens this summer, but I liked the characters and left the theatre hungry for more.
MB: I just left the theatre hungry. The vindaloo has the best part.
Charlotte Le Bon, the Paris-based, Quebec-born star of The Hundred-Foot Journey was in Toronto recently to do a round of interviews to promote the movie. “How’s the day going for you so far?” asked your intrepid reporter.
“Amazing! I’m so happy answering the same questions over and over again. Be creative,” she says with a laugh.
So the standard, “How is it working with Helen Mirren?” is off the table. Ditto questions about producers Oprah and Steven Spielberg, although later she offers up that the idea of working with those powerhouses was enticing.
“When somebody calls you to say Steven Spielberg thinks you’re the one, you don’t go, ‘I’m going to think about it, read the script a couple of times and maybe I’ll call him back.’ It’s super overwhelming and exciting.”
In the film, she plays Marguerite, sous-chef to chef Madame Mallory (Mirren) in Mallory’s Michelin-starred French restaurant. When an Indian family, and their prodigiously talented chef (Manish Dayal) opens a restaurant just 100 feet across the street, rivalry and romance blossom between the two young kitchen stars.
Have you ever worked in a restaurant?, I enquire. “You’re the first journalist to ask that!” she says. “Yay! I worked in a sushi restaurant as a busgirl, just setting the tables. I realized how difficult working in a restaurant is. You have to be some kind of actor to be a good waiter because you’re always doing small talk and usually you don’t care about the people in front of you, but you have to act like you mean it.
“It’s a very difficult job and when you’re a chef it is over-the-top difficult. That’s why you have to be a control freak or a dictator to have a good restaurant and win Michelin stars.”
The 27-year-old vegetarian says she spent time in an upscale restaurant in Paris, “to learn how to act like a chef,” but don’t expect to see the impressive cooking talent she displays in the movie in her own kitchen.
“I’m really lazy when it comes to food,” she says. “I have experience in food in the way that I really enjoy eating people’s food,” she says. “I have no skills whatsoever.”
She prefers eating out because, “you don’t have to do the dishes, you can choose whatever you want and you don’t have to go grocery shopping.”