Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

My Extracurricular Films for the Month of May

Chopstick Cinema

This Month's Film: Lawrence of Arabia
Cuisine: Middle Eastern

Throughout each month, in addition to my Chopstick Cinema selection, I watch lots of other films. Here's what I watched this month:

Dinner with Friends - This month I suddenly got the notion to watch a few films starring Andie MacDowell. I liked her in Groundhog Day and in Sex Lies and Videotape, but haven't seen that many of her lesser known films. This is an HBO production, which stars Andie MacDowell and Dennis Quaid as a chic New York couple whose writing and lifestyle are frequently featured in Gourmet magazine and the New York Times. Best friends Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear suddenly announce that they're getting a divorce, which sends their friends reeling and precipitates an analytical examination of marriage. Although it is stylishly presented and well cast, this overwrought portrayal of marital angst is a tad too self-indulgent to recommend it.

Just the Ticket - Another Andie MacDowell film, in which she plays an aspiring chef who is trying without success to extricate herself from her relationship with her ticket scalper boyfriend Andy Garcia, who is desperate to score a fistful of tickets to the Pope's appearance in Yankee Stadium, in hopes of amassing enough dough to invest in a restaurant for his ladylove. Despite the unlikely pairing of the classy Andie MacDowell character with streetwise mook Andy Garcia, this film is sweet and satisfying.

Midnight Express - While watching television with my son Will a few weeks ago, it came up in conversation that he'd never seen Midnight Express, so I decided that it was a 'must see' for him and put it on my NetFlix list. On the evening we chose to watch it, I was a little apprehensive at the effect it might have on him, yet I was amazed that upon seeing it again, the film did not have nearly the impact that it carried the first time around. Will and I decided that we've most likely grown inured to such horror and violence by a steady diet of forensic mysteries and police procedurals, not to mention the unflinching depiction of gore in such films as Saw and Sweeny Todd. For those who have not seen Midnight Express, it's the cinematic production of Oliver Stone's screenplay based on the real-life story of Billy Hayes, an insolent young man who dared to try smuggling two kilos of hashish out of Turkey. Through a series of bad decisions and worse timing, he ends up with a life sentence in a Turkish insane asylum, and by virtue of a near-miracle, manages to escape and lived to tell. At nearly thirty years old, Midnight Express has held up amazingly well over time, and is still a compelling, if over-embellished adaptation of a true story.

The History Boys - The History Boys is a brilliant cinematic gem, starring the original Tony Award winning ensemble cast of stage actors who portrayed a group of English prep school students and their teachers, who live in hopes of the boys being accepted into Oxford. Within an academic context, the film explores such topics as teaching, history, politics, literature, philosophy, sexuality, and friendship with subtlety and wit. The History Boys is rife with droll British humor that will probably sail right over the heads of most American viewers, unless they were English Lit majors. But don't let that stop you from watching it. It's a absolute gem!

The Naked Jungle - Based on a short story titled 'Leiningen Versus the Ants', Charlton Heston plays Christopher Leiningen, an American cocoa plantation owner in the Amazon jungle. The film begins with the arrival of Joanna, a mail-order bride played by Eleanor Parker. Their relationship gets off to a rocky start when she shows herself to be a little more feisty than he expected, and is made even worse when he finds out she's already been married and widowed. Their tenuous marriage is put to the ultimate test when a deadly swarm of soldier ants invades the landscape. It's funny how the memory works. I saw this film as a child, and again a few days ago, and was amused at how, in my childish memory, I had completely forgotten the love story element, but vividly remembered the heroic battle against the ants. Even though I'm not a big fan of Charlton Heston, and the film wasn't at all what I'd remembered, oddly The Naked Jungle holds up well over time, and the fractious chemistry between Heston and Parker was a delightful surprise to enjoy as an adult.

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