First-Time Viewings in 2015: #1-3

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#1 Maverick (1994) dir. Richard Donner

I’ve seen the opening 20 minutes of Braveheart (1995) six times now because I’ve never been able to watch any further. I’m either laughing or rolling my eyes or cringing. On the other hand, I’ve seen What Women Want (2000) more times than I care to mention, and I enjoy it every single time. All this to say that Mel Gibson has some great comedic chops and he should probably stay the hell away from dramatic roles from the foreseeable future. Maverick is a comedy-western that has Mel in his most charming and most likeable role yet (words I don’t usually associate with the guy). Mel is the title character, Bret Maverick, a yellow-bellied cardsharp trying to make it to a poker game where the winner takes home $500,000 cash. Tagging along for the ride is Annabelle (Jodie Foster), a card player as well as a phenomenal thief. Mel of course spends a good deal of time chasing Jodie’s beaver. Heh. Sorry. James Garner completes the trio as the law man acting as the moral compass in the snake pit of assholes that is the Wild West. Graham Greene also has a brilliant little role as a native chief who’s fed up with pandering to stereotypes just to please white mens’ image of Native Americans. Funnily enough, despite all his accolades, I still can’t help but associate Greene with his recurring role on the Canadian TV show, Red GreenOver all, Maverick has some fantastically witty scenes and moments of inspired slapstick, but the  near constant double-crossing, love-hate screwball machinations between characters is exhausting, and at times straight up convoluted. The film is just barely saved by the charms of its principal players. 

#2 Filth dir. Jon S. Baird

Filth, adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same name, continues to convince me that there are no happy movies about Scotland. It stars James McAvoy as Bruce Robertson (a name so Scottish I can practically hear the bagpipes), a police officer hell-bent on getting the promotion to Detective Inspector. Bruce is a calculative manipulative bastard with a fine-tuned pessimism for humankind which he uses to torture himself with the notion that he is above all of his coworkers. We might initially admire Bruce’s disdain for those around him and the confidence that comes with it. Even his scumminess is appealing. That mentality quickly dissolves as we remember that half of his radiating cool factor comes from his own inner narrative. And as more and more is revealed about Bruce’s character, the wife and child that are oft mentioned, though never seen, and the suspicious pills he gulps back, in the end, much of what is reality and what is hallucinatory is left up to the audience to decide. At times, Filth is fairly gimmicky in the 2edgy4u kind of 90s psychological-crime way, but it’s certainly engaging with fantastically unlikable characters and fast-paced kinetic editing (very similar to the style of Edgar Wright). It pales however in comparison toTrainspotting, another Irvine Welsh adaptation, which in spite of its similar filthiness, at least inspires some compassion on behalf of its characters. Filthalternatively, is obscene for the sake of being obscene. I’m also reminded of two adaptations of Chuck Palahniuk’s works, Fight Club (1999) and Choke (2007). The lives of these films, similarly to Irvine Welsh’s adaptations, Trainspotting (1995) and Filth (2013), boast a fresh avant garde first film, with the latter drowning in attempts to outdo its more talented big brother. Filth is still totally fun though. The title puts everything on the table and gives you permission to be entertained by depravity. 

#3 The Hundred-Foot Journey dir. Lasse Hallström

The hundred foot journey starts in a bustling Mumbai fish market, where we first meet Hassan, a little boy with a big appreciation for food. Everything he knows, he has Learnt from his mother. She lovingly teaches Hassan everything she knows about harmonies in taste and how to use spices to perfection. When the family restaurant is burned to the ground, Hassan's mother caught in the blaze, the newly motherless family relocates to the south of France, where despite the protests of his children, Hassan's father opens an Indian restaurant in the tiny ethnically-starved village. Unfortunately the restaurant they open is directly across from a Michelin-star winning restaurant, owned by the uptight madam Mallory, played the illustrious, always flawless Helen Mirren. The hundred feet in question is the small plot of land which divides the stifled traditional world of Madame Mallory and the bold, exciting one of the Kadam family. Although at first rivals, Madame Mallory recognizes Hassan's outstanding talent and a bond between these worlds is forged. This is a plot I've seen before; The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Darjeeling Limited, to name a few. There seems to be a relentless longing for North American and British audiences to be shown the light as it were, and to experience an exotic Indian Renaissance. I'm not complaining though. The hundred foot journey is ridiculously charming and so lovely to watch for the foodie and the foodie-wannabes alike.

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