The Danish Girl


Talk about perfect timing! The Danish Girl arrives at the end of a year when the world’s trangender population has received more attention than ever before.

And those stars! The Danish Girl’s title role goes to the incumbent Best Actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. Alicia Vikander, the gorgeous Swedish actress who appeared in Ex Machina and The Man From UNCLE this year, is his wife. Both have been nominated for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for their performances in this film.

The problem with The Danish Girl is, to borrow the Gertrude Stein line, there’s no there there. The story is weak and fragile. Husband Einar (Redmayne) and wife Gerda (Vikander) are artists in century ago Copenhagen. She asks hubby to slip on a gown so he can pose for a painting. He finds likes it!

Gerda paints more pictures of her new model and Einar hits the streets in a dress and wig. He even strikes up a relationship with a man, Henrik (the ubiquitous Ben Whishaw).

She and Einar (now going by Lili) take their art to Paris. They encounter Einar’s old friend Hans (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is not particularly surprised by Einar’s new alter ego.

The support that Gerda gives her husband as he transitions to his identity as a woman is remarkable. It recalls the support given Caitlyn Jenner this year by her family members. (There is a fringe benefit for Gerda: her paintings of this “woman” are a big hit.)

In time, Lili pursues and undergoes surgery to make the transition complete.

Even with this sensitive treatment by director Tom Hooper, it is not easy to fully grasp what exactly sent Einar on this path. He and Gerda appear to be a happy, loving, sexually active young couple. Then, in short order, the movie’s story is set in motion.

Because of its subject matter and its topicality, The Danish Girl will likely receive huge amounts of praise. But there are, I hope, better, more substantial stories about the transgender population waiting to be told on screen.


The world’s obsession with food and the people who cook creatively has led to the third film in 18 months about a chef seeking acclaim and/or redemption. After last year’s Chef and The Hundred Foot Journey, here comes Burnt.

Liked the 2014 films, Burnt is filled with “food porn,” beautiful images of food that will make you hungry. The story is standard fare about overcoming life challenges, learning to trust others, etc.

Most people, when they hit bottom and then get a new chance, come back humbled and grateful. Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is not most people.

After a flameout in Paris, the acclaimed chef returns to Europe clean and sober, yes, but still arrogant. He chastises a rookie cook for being humble and even coaches the kid to get an attitude and say, “F.U.” to his cooking rivals.

He manages to line up a restaurant in London and even puts his name on it, Adam Jones at The Langham. He is a talented tyrant who demands perfection. “If it’s not perfect, throw it out” is his guidance.

Complicating his comeback attempt is a debt Jones owes. A pair of thugs hovering in the wings promise serious damage if Jones doesn’t pay off what he owes for all the drugs he consumed in Paris.

Opening night is a disaster. Slowly, things get better. Is it because of Jones’ intimidation of his kitchen staff or despite it?

After the thugs administer the inevitable beating, Jones bravely heads back to the kitchen. Michelin reps are spotted in the dining room. Their food is so bad it gets sent back. Jones has a breakdown.

Helene (Sienna Miller) is a kitchen staffer who provides Jones’ romantic interest. Their chemistry simmers but rarely reaches the boiling point. (Could it be because of her awful haircut?) Emma Thompson plays a London doctor who Jones visits for drug testing. She dispenses motherly advice along with good cheer. Alicia Vikander is a face from Jones’ Paris past who appears at an opportune moment.

Those of us who love dining at great restaurants rarely go behind the scenes into the kitchens except via TV cooking shows. In Burnt, we get to see Adam Jones in his sparkling clean, beautifully equipped kitchen with plenty of staff to make sure his dishes are perfect. As industry personnel know, when a kitchen is humming smoothly, it’s a beautiful thing.

Burnt challenges audiences to root for Bradley Cooper’s character, whose charm is somewhat muted by his raging ego. If you can embrace Adam Jones and his comeback attempt, you’re more likely to enjoy Burnt.

The Hundred Foot Journey


The Hundred-Foot Journey has excellent credentials. Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg are among the film’s producers. The great Helen Mirren is the main star. The film is set in France. It’s based on a popular novel. It promises and delivers gorgeous food images.

But it’s not a particularly good movie.

The Kadam family is forced to leave India. Their ultimate destination is France. They take over a building directly across the street from a Michelin-starred restaurant owned by Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). The Indians, led by Papa (Om Puri), are boisterous in sharp contrast to Mallory and her refined crew. They are just 100 feet away. (And I’d always thought France was on the metric system!)

One of Mallory’s cooks, the gorgeous Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), befriends young Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal), sharing cookbooks with him and encouraging him to elevate his ambitions. He gets hired by Mallory, passes Marguerite on the kitchen pecking order and, thanks to his spicing up the food just a bit, brings the restaurant up a notch to two Michelin stars.

He then moves on the to big leagues, nabbing a chef gig in Paris. He leads an active social lifestyle, but begins to miss the folks back home.

Why does The Hundred-Foot Journey fall short of greatness? The characters are not particularly compelling. It’s pleasant to watch Hassan and Marguerite’s chaste budding romance, but I wasn’t particularly concerned about their ultimate fates. Meanwhile, it’s not a surprise when Papa and Mallory are shown to have soft spots in their hearts despite their tough exterior personalities. Still, I did not have a soft spot in my own heart for either of them.

Despite my misgivings, here’s why you may want to see The Hundred Foot Journey: It’s rated PG. No language, sex or violence. It’s like a Hallmark Channel movie with a bigger budget. Also, the food looks great. (Although this year’s other foodie movie, Chef, caused me to leave the theater hungrier than THFJ did.)

The film’s message—that different cultures (and cuisines) can combine to deliver great outcomes—is an admirable one. It’s also one that can be observed in dining establishments and other businesses around St. Louis every day.










Three Days To Kill

Kevin Costner is not the best actor in the world, but people like him. Men like him because he’s a man’s man who made three movies about baseball. Women like him because he’s rugged, yet sensitive. Of course, he is a handsome man, too.

In Three Days To Kill, we get Costner the gun-toting action hero. We also get Costner the absent husband and dad who’s trying to make up for time spent apart from his family. In TDTK, when those two worlds intersect, the results are funny, frightening, ridiculous and/or deadly.

Following a shootout and chase on foot, CIA agent Ethan Renner (Costner) collapses. A doctor tells him he has just a few months to live. He goes back to Paris to reconnect with his teenage daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld) before he dies. He tells his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) that he’s done with spook work.

Up pops the CIA’s Vivi (Amber Heard), driving a fast car and looking like a fantasy babe, offering Ethan an experimental drug that might save him from death. But only if he will eliminate CIA targets “The Albino” (Tomas Lemarquis) and “The Wolf” (Richard Sammel).

Ethan’s pursuit of these weapons dealers happens at the same time he is mending fences with the family, leading to a few cute intersections of the two story tracks. In the midst of tense action, his “I Don’t Care” ringtone signals a call from Zoey. A bad guy who is duct-taped to a toilet shares his mother’s recipe for spaghetti sauce by phone to Zoey.

Another storyline that reveals Ethan’s good nature (not expected from a CIA operative) involves squatters. When he finds his Paris apartment occupied by a large African family and learns the law protects them, he eventually shrugs and accepts it.

Does the action pic/family drama crossover work? Generally, yes. The action, including decent chase scenes, exciting shootouts and gory death, is good. And the family part, featuring some nice bonding between Ethan and Zoey, is sweet. Hailee Steinfeld’s performance is significantly better here than in 2010’s True Grit.

Three Days to Kill, directed by McG of Charlie’s Angels fame, moves along nicely and does not bog down. And, while the film’s outcomes are not unanticipated, McG keeps it interesting with quick transitions back and forth between the film’s two tracks. Costner fans, male and female, have a good movie to enjoy together.

TDTK is rated PG-13. Gunplay is excessive but the sex and cursing are minimal.

Now You See Me

Now You See Me presents illusion on a grand scale. Not only the outsize magic tricks, but the characters and the plot points, too, are not always what they seem to be. The result is a vastly entertaining movie.

At the movie’s start, four magicians are introduced in brief vignettes: Daniel (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson), Henley (Isla Fisher) and Jack (Dave Franco). After demonstrating their talents, each gets a mysterious card inviting them to a meeting that results in their forming a team.

The Four Horsemen, as they call themselves, begin with a true WTF? illusion in which they rob a bank in Paris from their Las Vegas stage. Hard to explain the depth of the illusion here, but it’s a mind-blower. (The audience volunteer for this trick looks, on first glance, to be a very big star in a cameo. Whoa! But, no, it’s not actually Robert Downey Junior, just a guy who looks a bit like him.)

When the Paris bank finds that their Euros have gone poof, FBI agent Dylan (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma (Mélanie Laurent) question the four, but release them. Also entering the story is Thaddeus Bradley (played by Morgan Freeman), a former magician who has made a career debunking and exposing other magicians’ tricks via a line of successful videos. Michael Caine appears as the Four Horsemen’s manager/advisor/benefactor.

As the fast-moving storyline progresses, the main question to be answered is who assembled these four and what is this person’s motivation? Following a trick/stunt in New Orleans that includes the apparent criminal theft of more money, our gang of four retreats to New York. As authorities close in, they run. Magician Jack is pursued in an exciting chase through Manhattan traffic that results in a fiery crash on the 59th Street Bridge. Jack’s apparent demise leaves no one feelin’ groovy.

After the Four Horsemen’s penultimate bit of business atop an NYC rooftop, all is explained and the elaborate, tangled web is unraveled.

With some films, you might hope to get to know the characters better, but with Now You See Me, it’s the plot that keeps the wheels turning. Mere surface awareness of the film’s individuals turns out to be for the best, I believe. Because, as Eisenberg’s character Daniel says at the movie’s beginning, “The closer you look, the less you see.”

(Rated PG-13.)

Hugo—*Good News, Bad News*

Hey, it’s Martin Scorsese in the director’s chair. Is he capable of making a bad movie? Of course not! “Hugo” is good, but that judgment comes with a few caveats.

First the good news: “Hugo” is set inside an amazing Paris train station several years after World War I. The public spaces of the station and the “backstage” area where Hugo hangs out are fascinating places that have a great look on screen.

The effects in the movie are fun and entertaining, from the subjective camera shot that flies into the station at the film’s opening to the runaway train sequence. If you like 3-D, you’ll enjoy “Hugo’s” 3-D—effective, not gimmicky.

The kid actors are strong. Asa Butterfield, in the title role, resembles a baby James McAvoy with his blue eyes. Chloe Grace Moretz, who impressed in a “30 Rock” episode this year and in “Kick Ass” last year, is his friend Isabelle.

Ben Kingley’s character has a cool flashback to the early days of filmmaking, which caused me to flash back to Mr. Hartsook’s History of Cinema class at Alabama.

Now the bad news: “Hugo” has pacing issues. It starts with good energy, bogs down for a long while and then picks up steam (literally, in scenes with trains) in the last act.

“Hugo” may not be the movie you think it is if you have seen the preview trailer. The movie is not so kinetic as you might have expected and it brings in a major storyline that is barely referenced in the trailer. Jude Law’s screen time in the movie is not much more than in the preview.

Preteens and teens will, I think, like it. Grades from grownups may be mixed. Small children could get restless during segments of the movie, so leave your 5-year-old squirmer with the sitter.

“Hugo” is good. I had hoped it would be better.