Tuesday, March 18, 2014



Dr. Wufflestein, Norman’s neurosurgeon, made a house call this weekend and removed the stitches from his lobotomy scar. It’s barely noticeable except under bright lights but Norman will have to make a trip to Maxine’s Maxillofacial Plastic Surgery Clinic and Botox Center for a buff and tuck before he goes back before the cameras again. Norman felt quite rejuvenated and was tearing around the house until a sudden arctic windstorm blew through Beverly Hills leading to several days of downed power lines and no heat. Norman feels the cold quite acutely so he tried to raise his internal combustion with a combination of Prestone and lighter fluid mixed up with Vermouth; but he only succeeded in inducing a flaming gas attack which nearly required the local fire department for containment.

As Norman has been rocketing around the house, I decided it was time to resume our usual matinee outings to the local Cineplex. I have recently purchased a new Daewoo Mu-tang, a fabulously sleek motorcar that matches my own inimitable style. I loaded it up with Norman, his oxygen cart, his pills, and his nurse, Tameka and we all headed out to the mall to see Chocolat , Miramax’s Oscar bait for the 2000 season.

Chocolat is a gentle fable of tolerance and inclusion, which takes place in late 1950s provincial France. A mysterious woman (Juliette Binoche) arrives in a staid town and has the effrontery to open a chocolate shop during the season of lent; much to the chagrin of the defenders of moral order, especially the mayor and local aristocrat (Alfred Molina). Her chocolates, mixed with a dash of red pepper, prove to have somewhat magical qualities and start influencing the lives of the townspeople; and soon we’re off in magic realism land. To underscore this, the chocolate shop, named Maya, is decorated with various pieces of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art. It’s as if the filmmakers think the audience won’t buy magic realism unless they give it some trappings to link it to the Latin American literary tradition. I have news for them – it existed prior to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his ilk.

Soon, battered wives (Lena Olin) are leaving their husbands (Peter Stormare); old flames (John Wood and Leslie Caron) are rekindled; grandmothers (Judi Dench) are reconciling with daughters (Carrie-Anne Moss) and grandsons; and a bunch of river gypsies (led by Johnny Depp with an improbable Irish accent) mix everything up. Needless to say, by the end of the movie, the good are rewarded, the wicked are not, the mysteries of the chocolates are unconvincingly explained and the town moves forward to a better place.

The performances are nuanced and delightful (although I did keep expecting Daniel Day-Lewis to show up with a bowler hat and tell Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche to take off their clothes during their scenes together). Juliette is more lovely and radiant than ever. She must have a very congealed looking portrait in her attic. Judi Dench does the curmudgeon with the heart of gold to a tee; it’s the type of role she could phone in from London and she keeps what could be an overly sentimental part from descending into bathos with her tart line readings. Johnny Depp delivers his usual quirky ‘outsider’ character. He always puts an interesting spin on even the dreariest parts. Alfred Molina does super work in his role as the ostensible villain and, by the end of the piece, we realize he is not so much evil as wounded. There is also some amusing work by Hugh O'Conor ( My Left Foot The Young Poisoners Handbook ) as a village priest with an Elvis fixation. Leslie Caron has little to do but look decorative which she does well. I auditioned for this part but the producers found me a little too ‘all American’ for rural France.

Lasse Hallstrom directs with his usual light, but assured touch. The settings in the quaint medieval town are gorgeous and lovingly photographed. This is also, on some levels, a 'food movie' like Babette’s Feast or Big Night and the chocolates and their making are delivered up with loving care and are likely to give you an appetite. Norman, Tameka and I had to make a quick stop at Godiva for truffles immediately after our outing.

Despite all the positives, there is little really surprising or new in the movie making it little more than a chocolate meringue, light and fluffy but insubstantial. The Oscar nominations, I feel, owe more to Harvey Weinstein and his publicity juggernaut than to the inherent merit of the film. It’s pleasant, but will pass from the memory as quickly as a Hershey’s Kiss slides down the throat.

Dress destruction. Chocolate fish. Cremated mothers. Gratuitous dead pigeon. Exploding barges. Red pumps. Red capes. Gratuitous diabetes as plot device. Mesoamerican ceremonies.

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