New this week:
The Hundred-Foot Journey—If Oprah likes your book, you’ve got it made. A few years ago she took a shine to Richard C. Morais’ tale of a rivalry between an established upscale restaurant in provincial France and the upstart Indian place a hundred feet across the road, showed it to Steven Spielberg, and now it’s a lavishly produced movie directed by Lasse Hallstrom, with a cast led by Helen Mirren and Om Puri.
After leaving Mumbai under tragic circumstances, and a brief stay under the flight path at Heathrow, the Kadam family settles in a small town in southern France, mainly because the brakes on their wreck of a vehicle fail there. Gruff, handsome Om Puri plays the widowed patriarch, who insists on opening “Maison Mumbai” in the ruin across the road from Le Saule Pleureur, a classical-French place with a Michelin star. It’s presided over by Mirren as the elegant, imperious Madame Mallory, who at first attempts to sabotage the new enterprise. But the star of the Kadam family is Papa’s son Hassan, a culinary prodigy so gifted that Madame Mallory wants him to cross the road and learn the Ways of the Heavy Sauce, in hopes that he can help her to a long-coveted second star.
Lushly photographed by Linus Sandgren and goosed along by another rousing score from A.R. Rahman, The Hundred-Foot Journey is, I suppose, the most calculated and shameless sort of unthreatening cross-cultural feel-good/foodie movie. But it gives good value as such; the setting is idyllic, the cast is splendid—not just Puri and Mirren but also Manish Dayal as the open-hearted Hassam and the charming Charlotte Le Bon as his besotted love interest—and there’s just enough conflict to keep the story going but not so much as to spoil the pleasant atmosphere. And, of course, the food looks wonderful: The movie left me with a serious taste for sea urchin.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles—Like the Transformers, the TMNT came along in the mid-‘80s, when I was already old enough to find them annoying, so I don’t have a nostalgic attachment to them. I was surprised, therefore, to find myself sort of enjoying this new film version.
Concocted by artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a send-up of by-the-numbers comic book clichés, the Turtles were soon turned into the very kind of marketing and merchandising juggernaut they originally sought to spoof. The four are sewer-dwelling New Yorkers, each named, for some reason, after a Renaissance Old Master: Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michaelangelo, and parented by a sagacious old rat, Splinter, who trains them in martial arts, he says, as an alternative to the distractions of pop culture—the best, and nerviest, joke in the movie.
The lads are pitted here against a villain in hulking robotic samurai armor and his legions of henchpersons, who are trying to do something terrible to the Big Apple for some stupid reason that doesn’t matter. Their clashes provide headlong action, and their jabbering and antics, while they aren’t exactly on the Oscar Wilde level of wit, keep the energy level high.
The Turtles also have allies, especially in their Lois Lane equivalent: plucky TV reporter April O’Neill, played in the new film by Megan Fox. In what appears to be an attempt to market the film to girls, April is very much the lead role here, and this approach proved effective with regard to my own 12-year-old, who grumbled about the prospect of sitting through a movie for boys but got caught up in it all the same.
This TMNT is also a minefield of really bald-faced product placement. Pizza Hut and Orange Crush are the most heavy-handed, but there’s a surprising—and amusing—nod to Victoria’s Secret, in anticipation, presumably, of the fast-approaching days when the target audience loses its interest in turtles.