Movie Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

January 28, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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I must admit I was not all that enthused about seeing The Hundred-Foot Journey, even though it’s supposedly a comedy about an Indian restaurant opening next to a Michelin-starred one in France. And being the pig I am, that should have made it a must-see. The poster, however, just made it look…boring, and it didn’t help that it had Helen Mirren acting all Queen-like on it.

Anyway, I ended up watching the movie on my flight back to Sydney because I had more or less seen everything else on offer. The premise is better thought-through than I imagined: an Indian family that ran a restaurant in Mumbai is forced the leave India for the UK due to civil unrest, and then relocates to France because English vegetables suck. They eventually settle near the village Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and decide to open a loud Indian restaurant in the abandoned building across the road from an upscale French restaurant owned by Helen Mirren (who plays an English-speaking woman with a French accent), sparking a competitive “war” between the two sides. I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away, though I will say I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that there’s a lot more to the story than this initial chapter.

It’s never a bad thing to have Helen Mirren in any film, and she is as brilliant as you would expect as the seemingly stuck up Madame Mallory. Indian-American actor Manish Dayal plays the central character, the culinarily gifted Hassan, with veteran Om Puri playing his traditional yet feisty father. French actress Charlotte Le Bon plays the attractive sous chef at the French restaurant who develops a friendship with Hassan, though I found the chemistry between them to be somewhat lacking.

The weird thing is that while the film turned out very similar to what I had expected, I actually ended up quite liking it.  Not that I would have minded, but the film is nowhere near the food porn that Jon Favreau’s Chef is because it’s all about the characters and their respective journeys. It’s mildly amusing but not super funny. And the romance(s) isn’t a central focus of the film, so it’s never given proper attention.

It’s really a mish-mash of several ideas that can’t really decide what it wants to be (as reflected in at least two direction changes in the plot), and yet the final product is undeniably likable. The food is nice, the story is pleasant and the characters are affable. Nothing about it will blow you away, but it’ll more than do the trick if you’re simply after a feel-good experience. If we’re comparing it to cuisine, The One-Hundred Foot Journey is no Michelin star banquet, but it’s a lovely and warm home-cooked meal some might find just as enjoyable.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Good Lie (2014)

January 28, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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The Good Lie is probably the best of all the films I caught on two red eye flights recently. Starring Reese Witherspoon, it tells the story of four Sudanese refugees after they win a lottery for relocation to the United States. Sure, it’s a Hollywood production, but for the most part this is an educational, eye-opening and deeply moving drama with fundamental themes that anyone should be able to appreciate.

The movie starts off with a recount of the Second Sudanese Civil War between 1983 and 2005, and how the four protagonists — three boys and a girl — became a part of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, basically tribal children who were displaced or orphaned during this period and ended up in refugee camps.

The foursome are given a second chance at life when they win the relocation lottery to the US, and the next part of the movie details their profound culture shock after their arrival. Some of it is quite amusing, though I wonder how much of it was exaggerated for effect.

With the help of Carrie Davis (Witherspoon), a woman with a job placement agency, the boys (the girl was separated from them for stupid bureaucracy reasons) start working in menial jobs in factories and supermarkets, wondering if this is all their lives in this strange and new land will offer them.

I had concerns that The Good Lie was going to be one of those “Americans are so awesome for helping out these refugees” type of movies, with Witherspoon’s character as some sort of selfless hero, though I’m glad to say this was not the case. The focus of the film is firmly on the four refugees (in particular the three boys), who are all well-developed, strong characters with individual personalities. The film is seen through their point of view, and the the bond that they have growing up together is the true heart of the story. Even their little frictions and fights are fascinating to watch.

The acting from the largely unknown cast is superb, and Witherspoon delivers a steady performance that doesn’t steal the limelight. It helps that her character is seemingly normal and doesn’t have a god complex. It was also good to see House of Cards and The Strain’s Corey Stoll in a supporting role as helpful friend Jack.

I was really touched by this film despite its fairly by-the-numbers approach. It’s heartbreaking but does not come across as manipulative, with light bits of humour sprinkled throughout. While there are some inevitable cliches, the depictions of both the Sudanese and American characters are executed with respect thanks to the steady hands of director Philippe Falardeau and the script by Margaret Nagle. It’s an honest story with a lot of hardships and reminders of the brutal reality of the world, but ultimately it also delivers a warm message of hope.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Million Dollar Arm (2014)

January 27, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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As a fan of baseball, cricket, true stories and Hollywood movies, I was naturally attracted to Million Dollar Arm, the biographical sports drama about the discovery of Indian baseball pitchers Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel by sports agent JB Bernstein via a reality TV program.

The true story is out there for people who want to learn about their incredible journey, but for the sake of those interested in watching the movie I will keep spoilers — including whether they actually succeeded or not — far far away.

The film stars Mad Men’s Jon Hamm as Bernstein and comedian Aasif Mandvi as his business partner, with Life of Pi‘s Suraj Sharma playing Singh and Lake Bell playing Bernstein’s love interest. Alan Arkin co-stars as an ancient baseball scout, while Bill Paxton plays real-life pitching coach Tom House.

The premise is that Bernstein comes up with the idea of finding baseball pitchers in the world’s last untapped talent market — India — and convinces a financier to create a reality TV show that can help the winner rake in potential prize money of up to a million US dollars (hence the title). After a long and arduous search, he finds Singh and Patel, and brings them back to the States to train, with the aim of having them participate in a Major League tryout within a year.

What should be noted upfront is that Million Dollar Arm is a Disney production, meaning it’s very pleasant, family-friendly, safe and sappy, with some bits of light humour that won’t risk offending anyone. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is not where you will find gritty, hard-hitting drama that pushes the envelope. This is one true story that feels pretty made up.

In some ways, Million Dollar Arm is like a Disney version of Jerry Maguire, where a down-and-out sports agent tries to revive his career with a potential star(s), except he kind of loses his way along the journey and must find himself before it’s too late.

The entire ensemble cast is very good, though there is nothing particularly special about the script or the direction of Craig Gillespie (Aussie director of the 2011 remake of Fright Night), which treads on the safe side in delivering themes and an overall trajectory that will feel eerily familiar if you’ve ever seen any American sports movies.

I found it interesting that the film change the backgrounds of Singh and Patel to make them cricket players, when in real life they were javelin throwers. Perhaps it was a marketing decision to appeal to all the cricket fans in India. Those who want to know just how faithful the film is to real events can check out this very informative link.

Anyway, Million Dollar Arm is what it is — a Disney-fied inspirational true story with likable actors that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Despite the overlong running time of 124 minutes, this is definitely a fastball right down the middle of the pitch for those don’t mind the family-friendly feel and the typical sports drama manipulation.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Let’s Be Cops (2014)

January 27, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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With all the cop scandals around the United States lately, it kind of a very strange time for a film about two losers whose fortunes get turned around when they start impersonating police officers. But shit title aside, Let’s Be Cops is just a typical screwball buddy comedy that’s probably a little better than you thought it would be. Not that it’s saying much, but I actually think it’s better than Kevin Hart’s Ride Along.

The story follows two loser buddies, Justin (Damon Wayans Jr), a video game designer, and Ryan (Jake Johnson), a washed up college quarterback. Justin can’t catch a break in his career, while Ryan still tries to relive his glory days by dominating kids at the park. One thing leads to another and the two start to impersonate police officers, first as a joke, but when it turns them into popular dudes they decide to keep the charade going despite committing a very serious crime. Of course, they also end up getting caught up in real police work involving dangerous mobsters and all hell breaks loose.

I’d say the strength of the film likes in the chemistry between Wayans Jr (damn I feel old knowing that Damon Wayans has a son who is acting in movies of his own now) and Johnson. If this were Harold and Kumar, Wayans would be Harold, the straight-faced and more uptight of the two, while Johnson would be Kumar, the mischievous one always getting them into more trouble.  So the humour comes from the same type of dynamic, with Johnson’s daring acts setting up outrageous situations and Wayans squirming to get out of them.

There are a few fairly funny gags in the film, but really nothing particularly witty or memorable. The rest of the stuff is mostly lame, though unlike Ride Along it never gets irritating or grating. The film doesn’t swing for the fences and is perfectly happy settling for mild, cliched humour that will give audiences a few safe chuckles but nothing more. I guess it’s both a blessing and a curse to say that Let’s Be Cops is pretty harmless entertainment.

I really like Rob Riggle’s deadpan face and deliver, so it was good to see him playing patrol officer Segars, a poor sap who is convinced that Wayans and Johnson are real cops despite all the hints to the contrary. Andy Garcia makes a shocking appearance as a corrupt detective, shocking because I didn’t realise he had become a “keep gettin’ ‘em cheques” actor. And smoking Nina Dobrev from The Vampire Diaries proves that she isn’t quite ready to make the leap to the big screen as Wayan’s love interest.

It’s easy to shower hate on Let’s Be Cops because it sounds and looks like a tame, formulaic B-grade comedy. But because that’s exactly what I expected, I actually came out of it thinking it wasn’t that bad for a conventional buddy flick. Like most films of this kind, the set-up was relatively strong and the final act grew weaker and weaker, though on the whole I didn’t have any major problems with it.

2.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Dumb and Dumber To (2014)

January 26, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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I had a lot of trouble deciding which Oscar-nominated film I should watch next, so I did what any reasonable person would do: I watched Dumb and Dumber To instead.

Hard to believe, but it’s been 20 years since the Farrelly Brothers brought us the original Dumb and Dumber (it was actually their first movie), a comedy that has its fair share of critics but has somehow withstood the test of time with many die hard fans still able to recite the film’s famous lines. I’m not sure if I had even hit puberty when the original was released, but I do recall it being largely forgettable albeit with a couple of huge belly laugh moments.

The sequel starts off strong, with Harry (Jim Carrey) having been in a vegetative state and relegated to a mental institution since pretty much the end of the first movie after his romance with Lauren Holly fell apart. It’s a brilliant way to allow the film to pick up right where the first one left off after 20 years, and reminds the audience just what kind of nitwits we are dealing with.

It is then revealed that Lloyd (Jeff Daniels), who had been looking after Harry all this time, might have a hot young daughter named Penny (Rachel Melvin), whom he conceived with an old girlfriend (Kathleen Turner). And so begins a wacky adventure cross-country to track this long lost daughter down at a KEN Convention, while an evil duo (played by Laurie Holden and Rob Riggle) tries to get their hands on some priceless invention created by Penny’s adopted father. Trust me, it’s a lot less complicated than it sounds.

If you’ve seen the original, you’ll know what type of humour you’re in for. Most of it is really stupid, juvenile stuff most people won’t find funny, though like the original there is the occasional moment of genuine wit that harks back to some of the Farrelly Brothers’ best work. I admit I laughed a good half a dozen times, the rule of thumb for an acceptable comedy. However, it remains to be seen whether there are any iconic scenes in this film that people will still remember years down the track (I don’t think there are). There were of course many more misses than hits, but because they came so fast and furiously it was easy to just move on to the next one.

Carrey’s career has tapered off, but he is in his best form as Harry. It’s like he hasn’t missed a beat. As for Daniels, it’s great to see him being a moron again after witnessing his Emmy-winning turn in The Newsroom. Kathleen Turner is surprisingly good too, while Rob Riggle is always a welcome addition to any comedy ensemble.

My guess is that Dumb and Dumber To will probably enjoy the same fate as its predecessor. Those who love it will love it and watch it over and over, while those who don’t find the humour endearing will think it is the worst thing ever. I do feel, however, that it is the type of film that people will tend to remember for the handful of classic gags rather than for all the other failed or lame jokes.

3 stars out of 5

PS: I was surprised to discover that the Farrelly Brothers have actually had a very stellar career (perhaps it was the atrocious Movie 43 that threw me off, though that POS was only produced by one of them so it doesn’t technically count). They have obviously fallen from their peak since 1998 after There’s Something About Mary, but even7 their worst effort, most likely the remake of The Heartbreak Kid, is just below average by today’s lowly comedy standards. The original Dumb and Dumber is arguably their second or third best film — depending on your thoughts of Kingpin. As for Dumb and Dumber To, I’d like to think it falls somewhere around the halfway mark if you were to rank all their films in order.

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