The Hundred-Foot Journey


Helen Mirren serves up a treat.

Helen Mirren serves up a treat.

(2014) Dramedy (Touchstone/DreamWorks) Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon, Amit Shah, Farzana Dua Elahe, Dillon Mitra, Aria Pandya, Michel Blanc, Clement Sibony, Vincent Elbaz, Juhi Chawla, Alban Aumard, Shuna Lemoine, Antoine Blanquefort, Malcolm Granath, Abhijit Buddhisagar, Rohan Chand, Masood Akhtar, Arthur Mazet, Laetitia de Fombelle. Directed by Lasse Halstrom

Some directors have an abiding patience for place and story. They allow the tale to unfold onscreen naturally, never or at least rarely forcing the action and allowing things to happen organically, giving the film a richness that comes from life’s own richness. Few directors possess such patience and trust. Lasse Halstrom is such a director.

In a small French village (mainly Castelnau-de-Levis but also Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, both in the Tarn region) there is a restaurant with a single Michelin star presided over by the iron-willed widow Madame Mallory (Mirren). Across the street is an abandoned and dilapidated former competitor which now stands empty. However, when an Indian family of restaurateurs, led by redoubtable patriarch Papa Kaddam (Puri) has their sketchy rented van break down in the village, she is distressed to discover that Papa has taken an interest in the vacant property and means to put in a new Indian restaurant.

At first she isn’t too impressed; after all, presidents have dined in her classical French establishment and the village may not be ready for the exotic spices, smells and sounds of the new Mumbai Maison. However, she didn’t reckon on Papa’s son Hassan (Dayal) being a tremendously talented but untrained chef. She also didn’t reckon on her sous chef Marguerite (Le Bon) falling for Hassan and lending him some books on French technique and recipes.

When the house is vandalized by French nationalists, one of whom working in her own kitchen, her attitude begins to soften a little bit. Eventually she recognizes that in Hassan she has found an amazing talent, the sort that could win her restaurant a second Michelin star. However, if she woos him away from his family and if he is as successful with her as she suspects he will be, undoubtedly world class Parisian restaurants will come calling and will Hassan be able to survive everything that goes with being a rock star chef in Paris?

Halstrom has crafted a movie in many ways not unlike his 2000 similarly-set film Chocolat in that it is about culinary talents in a bucolic French village with a romance taking place between two young people from completely different worlds. On the surface it may seem that this movie is about the preparation of food – it actually isn’t and to underscore this, about a third of the way through the movie Hassan discusses with Marguerite the mastery of five basic French sauces including Hollandaise which he asserts is made with olive oil. The sauce is actually made with egg yolks, butter, a bit of lemon juice and white pepper. Although this is a detail only a foodie or food industry professional might know, it’s the kind of detail that a movie obsessed with the preparation of food would get right.

Instead, the movie – based on a novel by Richard C. Morais – uses food as a metaphor. Meals are memories, asserts Hassan, reminding us of places and times in our lives. Good food can take us back to childhood, to magical moments of our youth, to family meals long after the family has scattered to the four winds. He’s not wrong on that score.

But whereas the mercurial and rigid Madame Malory is stuck on the same cuisine and in doing so, stuck on that single Michelin star (she dreams of being awarded a second), it isn’t until the passionate Hassan enters the picture melding French techniques and recipes with Indian spices and techniques that the restaurant flowers and approaches that lofty mark.

And in Hassan’s case, his love for French technique and cuisine is symbolized by his love for the French sous chef, as his passion for his heritage cuisine is symbolized by his love for his father and family. Close to both of his inspirations – Marguerite and Papa – his imagination and creativity are inspired. Taken away from both, his passion is drained from him. His success becomes empty because his food has become hollow.

 

Mirren is one of the finest actresses in the world and any chance to see her should be taken without hesitation. However, American audiences may be less familiar with Puri who is as revered in his home country as Mirren is here, and he is one of those actors who fills every role he plays with humanity and gentle humor. He is truly a treasure.

Unlike the first two movies in our Films for Foodies series, you won’t necessarily be hungry for French or Indian food when you leave the theater, although I have to admit a nice samosa wouldn’t be a bad thing at all right about now. However, this is a movie with a great deal of heart and a story told with a gentle touch. This is a village you’ll want to live in and restaurants you’ll want to dine in and more importantly, people you’ll want to spend time with. As slices of life go, this is a particularly delectable morsel.

REASONS TO GO: Gently paced. Lots of heart. A place you’ll want to stay in and people you’ll want to hang out with. Mirren and Puri are treasures.

REASONS TO STAY: A little bit less about food than the logline would lead you to believe. A bit predictable.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a bit of violence, a distressing scene involving a personal tragedy, mild language and some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Dayal is of Indian descent, he was actually born in Orangeburg, South Carolina.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/16/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 66% positive reviews. Metacritic: 55/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Le Chef

FINAL RATING: 8/10

NEXT: Into the Storm

We’re the Millers


The cast gets their first look at the finished film.

The cast gets their first look at the finished film.

(2013) Comedy (New Line) Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts, Nick Offerman, Kathryn Hahn, Will Poulter, Ed Helms, Molly Quinn, Tomer Sisley, Matthew Willig, Luis Guzman, Thomas Lennon, Mark L. Young, Ken Marino, Laura-Leigh, Crystal Nichol, Dickson Obahor, Brett Gentile, Kelly Lintz, J. Lynn Talley, Deborah Chavez. Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

What could be more middle America than a road trip vacation with the whole fam damily in the ol’ RV? Nobody is going to take a second look at one of those, not even George Zimmerman even if the entire family is wearing hoodies and munching on Skittles.

David Clark (Sudeikis) is a low level drug dealer; he has a certain moral compass (he doesn’t ever deal to kids, even 18-year-olds) and is part of the neighborhood fabric, making deliveries like the milk man used to. He lives in an apartment building where his neighbors include the dorky latchkey kid Kenny (Poulter) and the grouchy stripper Rose (Aniston).

When David gets robbed of all his cash, he knows he’s in deep to his supplier, Brad (Helms). However, Brad gives David an assignment; go to Mexico, pick up “a smidge and a half” of weed, and bring it back to Denver and not only will the debt be forgiven but he’ll get the standard courier rate of $100K. David isn’t exactly leaping at the opportunity to be a drug smuggler with potential federal ramifications but he doesn’t have much of a choice.

He’s a bit worried on how exactly to go about it when he hits the idea of the family RV road trip. Nobody at the border will give him a second look, particularly if he clean up and shaves. However, David is single so he’ll have to rent a family. Kenny is all in, and David convinces a street urchin named Casey (Roberts) to be the daughter. That leaves mom.

David approaches Rose but she – having an ingrained distrust of drug dealers to begin with – isn’t having it. However her finances are, shall we say, in crisis so reluctantly she agrees to get on board. And of course, we know this isn’t going to be a trip one is going to show home movies of afterwards.

As with most R-rated comedies these days there’s a fair amount of raunchiness although surprisingly less than you might expect. There’s plenty of drug humor although not so much of the Cheech and Chong variety; this is a stoner film where nobody gets stoned. Then again, it really isn’t about the marijuana.

Aniston plays very much against type; ever the girl next door, she does one scene where she delivers a pretty hot strip tease (down to her undies – sorry pervs) and she’s not so much brassy as she is grumpy, but she is definitely the star attraction here. Sudeikis meshes well with her, maybe as well as any actor since David Schwimmer, and plays against his usual nice guy type as well.

Hahn and Offerman are hysterical as a straight-laced couple also on an RV adventure who aren’t as straight-laced as they might lead you to believe; Offerman’s career in particular is really taking off and I suspect it won’t be long before he’s headlining some big flicks of his own.

There are some really wicked bits here, including a girl-on-girl action scene, one in which Kenny is taught how to properly kiss a girl, and an adverse reaction to a spider bite. A lot of the humor has to do with taboo sex and those whose values are a bit straight-laced might be offended – of course not many of those will be lining up to see a comedy about drug smuggling I would think

I didn’t have particularly high hopes for the film – the comedies this summer have been a pretty dismal lot in general and I suspected that the funniest bits of the movie might well be in the trailer but that doesn’t turn out to be the case (although the trailer hints at them). While the ending is a bit predictable, the cast – particularly the core family cast – get on so well that you feel a genuine affection for the lot of them by the film’s end and do stay for the credit roll outtakes; one of the funniest moments in a movie I’ve seen all summer can be found there.

We’re the Millers is one of those summer movies that the expectations are pretty low for and manages to exceed them. In a summer where most movies haven’t met the expectations set for them, mild or not, it’s a breath of fresh air. Well, maybe Detroit-smelling air. Not really fresh mountain air. You smell what I’m cooking.

REASONS TO GO: Laugh out loud funny. Nice chemistry between Sudeikis and Aniston. Offerman and Hahn nearly steal the show.

REASONS TO STAY: Those who don’t like drug humor might take offense. Pushes the taboo sex angle a bit hard.

FAMILY VALUES:  Oh, where to begin? A ton of foul language, plenty of drug humor, a ton of sexual references and one scene of brief but unforgettable nudity (as in you can’t un-see it once you’ve seen it).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Poulter stayed up all night listening to TLC’s ”Waterfalls” in order to learn the rap portion properly for shooting the following day.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/27/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 47% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Pineapple Express

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Life, Above All

A Walking Tour of Hell


At the side of the road, the Jeep sat, steam and smoke rising from the engine. Fuck. Double fuck. I didn’t have to pop the hood to know that my reliable Jeep had run its last mile. Fortunately, the road was clear as far as I could see in both directions but it wouldn’t stay that way. Night would fall.

I had my backpack and my canvas bag full of what I needed just in case the worst happened – and it just did. I had plenty of fire power and as much ammo as I could carry, as well as my trusty katana sword for when the ammo ran out. The sun was high but night would come. Night was when they hunted.

I began walking north, always north. The probe had fallen in the south, two and a half years ago. It had crashed in the jungles of Central Mexico. NASA had sent it into the Dickering-Piedmont comet to pick up samples from the comet halo for reasons nobody fucking cares about except some science geeks who’d never gotten laid and were compensating by bringing in some alien biological material that fucked things up big time on the guidance system of the probe, causing it to malfunction and land thousands of miles from where it was supposed to. And that same biological material began interacting with the flora and fauna of the rain forest of the high plains, mutating them into hideous monsters each more ravenous than the last. Soon most of Mexico was overrun as mankind moved down a notch on the food chain.

At first the 100 foot high steel wall on the American border kept all the monsters in Mexico but the aliens were clever adaptors. Wings were sprouted an aggressive intelligent plants sent tendrils slithering under the walls, toppling them in some cases or popping up on the other side in others. The Southwest was an alien stronghold in less than 30 days.

But there was a limit. Apparently the aliens thrived only in a narrow temperature range. The cities in higher elevations and northerly latitudes survived. Elsewhere….let’s just say that those that didn’t leave the cities got eaten.

Yes, that’s right. These completely alien life forms that managed to survive in a comet halo found a taste for human flesh. It took a lot of biologists by surprise too (although not as much as the inhabitants of central Mexico who wound up as brunch for broodmares and psychobabblers – the names these things got were facetious at best and disrespectful at worst – but nonetheless it didn’t matter if you died in the fangs of a Gibbering Idiot or at the claws of a Razorslash. Dead is dead.

I kept my eyes open and my gun cocked and loaded. Although the visibility was excellent here – it always is along the Roads – there are things that can charge at 100mph like a Hell’s Pegasus or a Demonspeed. There are things that hide and things that adopt the shapes and forms of other things, like the Lurker and the Chameleon Beast. There are a million ways to die in the Infested Zone and here I was 50 miles from the nearest border.

I’ve walked in the Zone before but only with armed columns of men armed with big time bang bang and aerial support. The common school of thought is that a lone person in the Zone won’t last 24 hours. I’ve never heard of someone who walked 50 miles alone through the Zone and lived  to tell about it. Inside, I was screaming in fear but that wouldn’t do me any good. The only slender chance I had at survival was to stay calm, stay along the road and hope for the best.

I hadn’t gone 500 yards before the sweat began to pour. It wasn’t just the sun but deep down I knew that the odds are that I wouldn’t be around too long after the sun went down – and there were plenty of beasts that would do me in during daylight hours as well. I felt the shakes coming on – I’d seen a lot of good men die horribly at the hands, claws, stingers, fangs, pincers and venom of these things. I gave my own face a hard slap. I couldn’t afford panic. Panic makes people dead in the Zone, even in the company of highly trained soldiers. It was a fact that no matter how large, how well-armed the party that went into the Zone was, there would always – and I mean always – be at least a 10% fatality rate. Some battalions went in and were never heard from again.

I kept going at as fast a clip as I thought was safe. Part of me wanted to panic and sprint and keep sprinting but that would be fatal. Sooner or later I’d tire out and when that happened I’d be easy prey. My best defense was to be alert and focused. I scanned the horizons, keeping a hundred count on my steps and on one hundred I’d check the horizon behind me to see if I was being stalked. I kept that vigilance going for at least six miles.

It paid off, too. About 15-20 minutes in I heard a tell tale “ting-ting-ting” sounds coming from my eight o’clock. I turned to my left and saw it flying low over the hill. It was close enough that I could hear the buzzing of its wings. The Ting Ting knew I was there long before I knew it was there. It resembled a dragonfly with a kind of Dr Seuss-looking head  that had a long protuberance (kind of like a lily stalk) with a bell-shaped chitinous mass growing out of its end. It was from here that the ting-ting sound emanated from. For some reason the acoustic properties of the mass were stupendous – you could hear it coming from a mile away. Literally.

Ting Tings are impressive flyers but not really fine hunters – they really can’t sneak up on things. Humans can easily evade them and I did. It made a lazy pass in my general direction and rather than dive to the ground (which will get you killed; once you’re on the ground for any creature you’re not getting up) I waited until the last moment and leaped aside, a game of Infested Chicken. It went buzzing off, the ting-ting-ting of its bell ringing in my ears – Edgar Allen Poe, eat your heart out!

In fact, that’s how it immobilizes its prey; the sonic wave that it produces can actually cause temporary paralysis on certain smaller animals. On a human it can cause temporary deafness if the animal is large enough. This one was more of an adolescent sized which explains why a single one of them would take on a human male. This one had about a six foot wingspan – I’ve seen Ting Tings with spans twice that. It was making another pass at me which wouldn’t do at all – I couldn’t waste all day with a teenaged monster while there were other things lurking nearby that wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of tired-out prey.

I pulled out my trusty 12-gauge shotgun and took aim. Either this creature was too stupid to realize it was in danger or it was incredibly desperate. In either case I waited until it came close enough for a can’t-miss shot. BLAM! Ichor everywhere. Dead Ting Ting. Keep moving.

I did pick up the pace a little. The noise and the stench of the dead monster would bring others, including some Mama and Papa Ting Tings and those were large enough to kill a human adult. If they came at me one at a time I could pick them off all day but a swarm of them would be more than I could handle. I kept moving.

The Jeep, like any vehicle that is permitted in the Infested Zone, had a GPS system that keeps track of the local infestations. As the sun began to move further and further west, I heard the voice activated system in my ear – I’d removed the GPS and put it in my pack, linking it to my Bluetooth receiver. “Entering Ainsworth, Nebraska zone. Bad Emmetts and Devil Walkers detected here.

I cursed. Bad Emmetts were bad enough but easily avoidable; they hung out in trees and liked to drop down on their prey. They made little nests about the size of coconuts and secreted an acid out of their mouths that melted the bottom when they detected prey coming. They’d drop down onto their prey and burrow into them. They lay their eggs and as they do they secrete another liquid, this time causing full paralysis in the victim. Three days later their eggs hatch and a thousand Bad Emmetts eat their way out of the victim who is alive and fully conscious while it happens. It’s a real awful way to go and while I’m not exactly sure why it got the name, they are bad news indeed.

A Devil Walker is worse news. They are like a centipede on radioactive steroids. A Devil Walker is about a mile long and is all legs and teeth. They walk like a centipede but each segment has a mouth with mandibles that are sharp enough to cut through a tree trunk. Once spotted by a Devil Walker, a lone human is toast. They are far too big and far too fast to get away from and killing them is a waste of time; they can be killed but you have to kill every segment, not just the head and for full-grown adults it takes a rocket launcher to kill a single segments and an adult can have anywhere from 75-450 segments.

Needless to say, I’m not eager to run into one of those. The one advantage that I have over a Devil Walker is that they’re so big I can see them from far enough away to avoid them, but if I miss one and it crosses the road in front of me or behind me and it’s smell receptors (located just above their mouths) will detect me and I’ll be spending eternity being digested.

With the sun going down I had to be careful. In the dark Devil Walkers are much harder to spot. Still, keeping to the road would be the only way I could survive this and if I could keep to the road, I might live through the night. The problem is that there is no lights on the road – lights attract critters. For the same reason I couldn’t use a flashlight or a torch; for many of the creatures that’s just like ringing the dinner bell. I do have night vision goggles but they aren’t always helpful with far-off objects. Indeed, I’ll just have to keep my wits about me and hope I can walk the 50 miles before dusk of the second day.

Much of why patrols are still sent out is to pick up human stragglers like me and to make periodic “herd” thinning inroads so that the population didn’t get so large that the food supply would dwindle, forcing them to come north where the remaining people are. They don’t like the cold but it doesn’t kill them. At least, not as far as we know.

It was with a lot of relief I saw the river in the distance and realized I was approaching the Platte. I hadn’t seen any Bad Emmetts and only one Devil Walker but it was behind me, moving away thankfully. I hadn’t seen any up close and I wouldn’t mind keeping it that way.

The smugly emotionless voice of the GPS intoned. “Exiting Ainsworth, Nebraska zone. Now entering Platte-Keller Zone. Killfish, Deathshead Wolves, Yellow Terror, Lobstermen and Decapitators all detected here.” I swore quietly to myself. All of those were night feeders and it was well past dark.  I didn’t dare stay where I was – I was on flat prairie land and there was really no way to know if a Devil Walker was approaching.

But there was more forested land here. Trees. Places for things to hide. However I’d rather take on a thousand Lobstermen than one Devil Walker. However, my odds for survival in both cases were almost Nil. With a sigh I started my way into the Zone.

My hair was standing on end. I felt an unreasoning fear. I knew I was going to die and I was a sitting duck out on that road. Maybe if I got in amongst those trees I’d have a chance. They’ll offer some cover and…

I whirled around and started firing my rail gun into the trees. They exploded with a fiery bang and a shrieking Yellow Terror flew out and ambled away from the road. The monstrous creature had shaggy yellow fur and a half-formed face with large saucer-like black eyes, It had appendages but no recognizable hand or feet.

Yellow terrors aren’t physical specimens but they have powerful psychic abilities. They can project fear and curiosity and all sorts of emotions designed to get their victims to come to them. They really aren’t physical specimens but once their victims are near enough they have a spike like appendage in one and sometimes both arms that they stab their victim with which contains a toxin that stops the heart of their prey. They then drag their victim back to their lair and consume them at their leisure. They are easily frightened off.

I heard a bone-chilling howl and picked up the pace. Deathshead Wolves are the most dangerous predators that aren’t 50 feet tall. Like North American wolves, they hunt in packs. But Deathshead Wolves are far more vicious and deadly. Their skulls have no skin or fur – only gone with sunken eyes that are protected with a strong membrane that allows them to see much farther than terrestrial wolves.

They have razor sharp teeth that can tear chunks of flesh and entire limbs from their victims. They have powerful legs with sharp claws which they rarely use in an offensive capacity. No, they prefer to attack with their tails which have giant scorpion-like stingers which can be used as a sword and go clean through an adult body, or as a toxin which causes an agonizing feeling of pain that simply incapacitates their victims before being eaten of course. All these damned things eat us.

The woods were beginning to get closer and closer to the roads. Forested areas are far more dangerous than the plains. The trees can shelter and hide; things can attack without warning and the element of surprise can finish  you off. I looked at them nervously, dreading an explosion of fur and fang charging from the woods. I’m a pretty accurate shot but at night it is far more dicey to hit a charging animal than it is during the day.

Nothing came charging out though and I continued to move at a steady pace. Fatigue would be setting in; I took brief 5 minute breaks and sometimes slowed the pace a bit when there was more distance from the treeline. I had a long distance sniper rifle loaded with phosphorous tipped tracer bullets. Those were pretty lethal to anything that lived in this hellhole.

When I got to the Platte River it was nearly 2am and I was cold even in the warm clothes and armor I was wearing. I could see Killfish wriggling in the river from the bridge. I kept in the middle of the bridge – Killfish could leap high enough to grab someone from the side of the bridge and pull them down into the river. Also Lobstermen liked to hide under bridges and attack. I thought I could hear the clicking sound of their claws but so far none o those horrors had made their way out onto the bridge.

Crossing the Platte was nerve-wracking and twice I saw movement which led to shots being fired. I knew there were all sorts of things just under the bridge, but the sound of gunfire made them a bit more wary. However, near the end of the bridge I saw three of them emerging from under the side of the bridge. They were bipedal with large claws, two additional arms, a red carapace and a flat head with eye stalks protruding from the top. They were close so I pulled out my 12 gauge and blew off the heads of the first two. The third was on me before I could reload and was far too fast to outrun so I dropped the shotgun and pulled out the katana. The creature didn’t feint but came straight at me as most of these monsters always did.

I swung head on and severed one of it’s secondary arms. It shrieked, an unearthly sound but I’d been trained to ignore their noises. It came after me again and lost a claw for its troubles. When I took one of its eyestalks as well it decided to cut its losses and ran off but I knew its cousins would be making an appearance soon. Fortunately, I was close to the end of the bridge and crossed without further incident. When I looked back I saw a swarm of creatures including lobstermen feeding on the corpses that I’d created. Better them than me.

Daylight broke as I was passing from the Platte area and the terrain reverted to prairie. It would be a scorcher for sure. I began to think that I had a shot. After the bridge I’d seen a couple of Decapitators gibbering and lurching along like they usually do but I knew enough not to approach them. They lull their prey into thinking they weren’t a serious threat but once the victim came close enough they’d pounce and pull off their heads with terrifyingly lethal speed. They didn’t come any closer and I continued on my way.

The border was within reach. My feet ached and I was bone weary; I’d been walking for nearly 24 hours straight and I was conserving energy as much as possible. I was OK on supplies – my 12 gauge was gone but most of my other weapons were available, but that bag was getting heavy. I might have to lighten my load soon.

This was some of the more dangerous territory. Unkels roam this territory – ant-like creatures the size of a grizzly bear with a caustic acid that secretes from their mandibles. Not that hard to kill one at a time but they hunt in groups of hundreds and thousands.. You run out of ammo sooner or later and once that happens, they take you down to the nest and let the queen digest you. While you’re still alive from what I understand although how they figured that out I have no idea.

Some of the bigger monsters were out here, 50, 100 feet tall some of them. So tall they barely took notice of us humans but they could still crush us like a bug without even noticing. Many of my compadres have ended up a squashed bug on the bottom of their feet. And there were a few of the big ones who could be counted to take on a human battalion just for shits and giggles.

The day wore on and I was running low on water. I’d seen a few Pickle Groovers, little green buggers that love to find unprotected skin and burrow in. Get enough of them in you and that’s all she wrote but thus far none of them have been able to find a spot on me (thank God for head-to-toe body armor) and I was dripping sweat. I knew dehydration could be an issue but there was hope; on the horizon I could see the wall. I set my locator beacon on and hoped that someone was listening. Maybe they’d send a car out to pick me up. I started walking faster.

That’s when I heard it. The sounds of a thundering herd except it was no buffalo I was hearing. It was Unkels and from what I could see there were thousands of them. Heading my way, too. I said a few words that my mother were she still alive wouldn’t have approved of and started off at a gallop. I knew it wasn’t going to save me but there was a little rise a few hundred yards off. I could make my last stand there.

I wondered if the bastards watching this were enjoying the show. I figured there’d be no aid from the fuckers on the wall. I hope my horrible death would give them some entertainment.

I made it to the rise and ran up it, turning to watch the tide of Unkels heading towards me like a living carpet. I took out my Laws Rocket and clipped it into the shoulder launcher. I’d get only one of these before the herd reached me. I aimed it carefully and fired. A moment later fire and dirt and Unkel parts rained down from the sky. Calmly I dropped the launcher and pulled out my AK-47s, two of them and started firing. This was going to be some last stand. I didn’t let up and the pile of Unkel corpses had to be daunting for the Unkels although who knew if they thought anyway.

They were getting closer. 300 yards. 150. 100. 75. 50. I could smell the acid and I was down to my last clips on both the AK-47s. Then something amazing happened. The bastards turned tail and ran. I was so surprised I didn’t fire into the backs of the departing horde. I started to laugh. Maniacally. I was going to live. I was going to live! Then the earth shook and  I turned around and there was a Sentinel behind me, 150 feet high with a scythe like tail that was swinging for my head. Oh Shi–

The Next Three Days


The Next Three Days

Elizabeth Banks and Russell Crowe discover that this is anything but the Great Escape.

(2010) Crime Thriller (Lionsgate) Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Brian Dennehy, RZA, Olivia Wilde, Daniel Stern, Ty Simpkins, Jason Beghe, Aisha Hinds, Lennie James, Trudie Styler, Allan Steele, Helen Carey. Directed by Paul Haggis

Desperate men will do desperate things, all in the name of love. When we are backed up against the wall with nowhere left to turn, we can become capable of things both amazing and terrifying.

John Brennan (Crowe) and his wife Lara (Banks) live a decent life. John is an English teacher at a community college, and Lara has a more upscale job with a boss she detests. The two go out with John’s brother and his wife and have a spirited conversation about female bosses (which Lara’s boss is) and their ability to work with female employees.

The two go home and the next day share breakfast. All seems to be normal – until the police arrive to arrest Lara. It seems she’s been fingered as a suspect in the brutal murder of her boss, bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. The evidence is highly circumstantial at best; Lara was observed driving away from the scene of the crime (the parking lot at the office where she works), her fingerprints were on the murder weapon, she and her boss argued rather loudly earlier in the day and to seal the deal, some of the victim’s blood made its way to the back of her overcoat.

Lara claims that she didn’t see the body, and that she had bumped into another woman who was leaving the parking lot on foot, although nobody else saw her but Lara. Despite her protestations of innocence, she is convicted and sentenced to prison. Three years pass; appeal after appeal is denied and their lawyer (Stern) informs John that basically her options have been exhausted – she’ll have to do the time. Lara, who has grown increasingly more depressed, her relationship with their son Luke (Simpkins) deteriorating to the point of non-existence, attempts suicide.

John knows she’ll never last the full length of her sentence. He also is completely sure she is incapable of murdering another human being, no matter how angry she was at them or what the provocation. With no further legal recourse, he determines that the only other option is to break her out of prison.

Of course, he knows nothing of prison breaks other than watching them on TV. He meets with an ex-con (Neeson in what is essentially an extended cameo) who achieved notoriety by breaking out of seven different prisons and lived to write a book about it. The author informs him that he needs a plan and a timetable. Being that she’s languishing in Allegheny County Prison in central Pittsburgh, he needs to know that 15 minutes after the escape is detected the police will have the center of the city locked down, the bridges closed and all of the subway and train stations as well as the airports manned with officers. 35 minutes after the escape is detected, the city will be on lockdown with toll booths manned by police officers and roadblocks on every major road out of the city.

John begins to spend a heck of a lot of time studying the prison and trying to figure out a foolproof plan. He is also going to need a weapon and a whole lot of money. Then he gets even more devastating news – his wife is going to be transferred to a prison far away from where they live in three days. If he doesn’t break her out in three days, their window of opportunity will be gone.

Haggis is one of the most honored writers in the business and he based this motion picture on a French film called Pour Elle (Anything for Her) which I haven’t seen yet. Haggis is a meticulous screenwriter and tends to fill his stories with an amazing amount of detail and research. Much of the first two thirds of the movie is kind of a how-to, setting up the story in the first 15 minutes of the two hour plus movie, then spending the next hour or so showing John doing research for the break-out. Fortunately, it doesn’t involve tunneling under the fence, putting mannequins in the beds to fool the guards or masquerading as day workers.

Few actors can resonate as an everyman as Russell Crowe can. He is quiet and strong, a perfect husband and father. Yet there is a core of steel to him, one which glimmers from time to time through the sweaters and the tweed jackets. Several critics have complained that they never quite catch the transformation from bookish teacher to efficient criminal, but I disagree. He is driven by desperation; desperate people have lifted automobiles off of other people. You never know what you’re capable of until you’re put into an untenable situation with no other options available to you but to achieve the impossible.

Banks has become one of Hollywood’s more reliable leading ladies. She doesn’t get the due of a Katherine Heigl or a Cameron Diaz but she is nonetheless just as competent and in many ways a better actress. We literally watch her fall apart before our very eyes and it is a compelling and believable performance in every way.

The movie really picks up during the final third when the actual escape is taking place. That is handled with edge-of-the-seat thrills and more than its share of gotchas. If the movie had been able to sustain that pace throughout, this would have been one of the year’s best.

Instead, we get kind of a how-to of prison breaks for the first two thirds that often stops dead in its tracks, particularly as we watch John stumble around Pittsburgh’s underbelly looking for falsified documents. The movie might still have gotten a decent audience, but stacked up against Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 it was essentially doomed to underperforming at the box office. This is a pretty solid movie that may not necessarily fit into your holiday movie plans, but is certainly worth a look on DVD/Blu-Ray if you can’t make it out to the multiplex.

REASONS TO GO: The last third of the movie when the escape takes place is tense, fun and energetic. Crowe is one of the best in the business.

REASONS TO STAY: The first two thirds of the movie about the planning stages drags a bit.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence as well as some drug references and a bit of foul language. There is also some implied sexuality; basically this is fine for any teen and/or mature older children.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Haggis remains the only screenwriter to date to win the Best Screenplay Oscar in back-to-back years (for Million Dollar Baby in 2004 and Crash in 2005).

HOME OR THEATER: With all the holiday offerings coming out thick and fast, chances are you won’t be able to fit this into your movie going schedule which is okay – it will work just as well at home.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Painted Veil