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Helen Mirren

Review: O Lucky Man!

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

One of the most interesting things about O Lucky Man! is that it is readily comprehensible at the same time that it consistently achieves a sense of mystery. Nearly three hours in length, it is another social-consciousness film from Britain’s Lindsay Anderson, and it’s also much more than that. A picaresque tale for the 1970s with strong political leanings, it’s also a satire, a set of Brechtian parables, a rock film, an ironic pilgrim’s progress, etc., etc. Like Anderson’s If…, it has Malcolm McDowell in the lead as a character named Mick Travis. But the character is different here, and while the politics of If… turn up now and then, O Lucky Man! goes well beyond both of Anderson’s previous feature films (the other being This Sporting Life). Along the way, Anderson through the persona of Mick takes on big business, imperialism, the police, the class structure in Britain, Cold War politics and paranoia, scientific irresponsibility, and bourgeois hypocrisy, while also building a sweeping vision of human limitation.

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Videophiled: ‘Dawn’ of ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’

100ftjourneyThe Hundred-Foot Journey (Touchstone, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) is a film for our culture: a feel-foodie drama of racial tolerance, cross-cultural acceptance, and fusion cuisine. It’s produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and directed by Lasse Hallstrom (the classiest of contemporary feel-good filmmakers) and it stars Helen Mirren as the bastion of fine French cuisine and unshakable tradition in the prettiest little village in the South of France you’ll ever see in a movie.

The journey of the title is the distance between Mirren’s French restaurant, a one-star Michelin bastion of the region, and a new Indian restaurant opened by an immigrant family headed by Om Puri and represented in the kitchen by Manish Dayal, who learned the art from his late mother. There is a very underplayed romance between Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon, the young sous chef of Mirren’s establishment, but it is so understated you wonder if it’s actually catching fire at all.

There’s not a beat here that you will surprise you, nary a narrative turn you won’t see coming. While the proprietors go to war, hammering the Mayor with hassles about noise, zoning, and all sorts of nuisance complaints, Le Bon introduces Dayal to French cooking and it turns out that he’s a natural. Competition turns into cooperation and Mirren sponsors his entry into the world of competitive cuisine.

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Film Review: ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’

Charlotte Le Bon and Helen Mirren

If you were working from a menu of “crowd-pleasing movie conventions,” you could do worse than to mark these boxes: the South of France, food, Indian culture, Helen Mirren. Mix with a generous amount of sugar and a brief nod to social concern, and you’ll have a surefire profit machine that goes by the title The Hundred-Foot Journey.

To be sure, this film doesn’t stumble into its formula by mere calculation. There’s a great deal of expertise involved: Director Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, etc.) knows how to keep things tidy, and screenwriter Steven Knight has the fine Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things to his credit.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Film Review: ‘The Long Good Friday’

Harold Shand is a man with a plan. Although many call him a gangster, he prefers to think of himself as “a businessman with a sense of history.” As such, he wants to buy up a vast, mostly disused section of the London docks and erect a superstadium to house the 1988 Olympics. A major challenge, that; but he has some key city officials in his pocket, and he’s coaxed the US Mafia to send over a representative to pass final approval on his scheme. As Good Friday dawns, everything’s moving smoothly. Then somebody starts blowing Harold’s friends and holdings off the map.

Harold’s enraged. He’s also perplexed. Among the local mobs, things have been pretty peaceful for a decade; besides, none of them is big enough to take Harold on. The Americans? No, they’re too practical: why wreck his “corporation” when it’s so much more logical to do business with a well-set-up organization? So who’s left? Or, as Harold himself rasps, “‘O’s ‘avin’ a go at me?”

The answer does not become clear for an hour-and-a-half ‘s worth of screen time. Without divulging it here, we can say that it provides a contemporary and revivifying twist on the generic gang-war formula, as ritualized over the sixty years between D.W Griffith’s The Musketeers of Pig Alley and F.F Coppola’s The Godfather. More importantly, within The Long Good Friday itself, the assault on Harold Shand’s empire proves to have nothing to do with the many theories and motives Harold considers. It’s a mistake. And that qualifies Harold Shand as the English-language cinema’s first absurdist gangster hero.

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