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"Chocolat"

Directed by Lasse Hallström ("The Cider House Rules").
Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs.  Based on the novel by Joanne Harris.
Starring Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina and Johnny Depp.
Release Year:  2000
Review Date:  2/15/01 

Folks--

Imagine it is 5:45 on a Monday morning.

You are supposed to get up today to work out at the local Y before work and you've just hit your alarm clock to shut it off.

But, you don't want to go.  In fact, you are silently wondering right now if you EVER want to lift weights again.  Something inside of you says, "Look, you fat tub o' lard, you need to work out today or that steak dinner you had last night is going to continue to sit on your hips like a frat guy on the den couch."  (Or something.)  And finally, unhappily, you get up.

That is what is was like for me trying to psyche myself up to go and see "Chocolat" (which, I believe, is Spanish for "vanilla") this evening with my friend Carrie "Spades" Booker.  You see, after the Academy Award nominations were announced on Tuesday, I decided that I couldn't do a fair round-up of my picks until I at least saw all of the Best Picture nominees, and I had seen four of the five before tonight.  So, to be a fair reviewer, I *had* to see "Chocolat"...but it was tough--real tough--getting excited to watch this film.

But somehow I made it and thankfully, I enjoyed myself.  "Chocolat" stars Juliette Binoche as a roving chocolatier that sets up shop in a small French village and somehow shocks the world.  Her incredible treats amazingly change the once-staid town into a festive communal village in a matter of just a few weeks...in fact, during Lent of all times, which makes her a bit of a sinner in the eyes of the town's mayor (Alfred Molina) since she is continually tempting the townsfolk into her merry shop (wait...I think in other countries it is "shoppe").  Sure, there is a little more to it than that--the chocolatier has a daughter that is tired of the gypsy lifestyle and Binoche's character also finds romance with a river rat played by your friend and mine, Johnny Depp.  But, it is mostly about the lessons that the chocolatier teaches the town about its rigid morals while giving us a stunning amount of screen time to chocolate desserts.

You know what?  This has been done more times than I can count, and while it does things very well and the movie is very funny at times, it just didn't feel...special.  The movie goes down very easy, it is very predictable, and you walk in and out of the theater with a big ol' grin on your face.  But, a question:  how the hell was this nominated for Best Picture?  Sure, some of its acting turns--by Judi Dench (M in the Pierce Brosnan Bond films) and Lena Olin in particular--are very good, but its story, direction and setting are really very ordinary.  Lasse Hallstrom ("The Cider House Rules") directed this movie and I am betting that he is as surprised as anybody that his film was nominated for this award.  Again, it's a very good movie, but not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination.

Now, I'll tell you what IS spectacular:  Kit Kat.  Is there a better chocolate snack around?  There is something truly thrilling, even now in 2001, about biting into a Kit Kat.  I think it is the wafers...man, can you taste it right now?  Kit Kats, more than most other chocolate bars, really feel like a good meal, too.  The way you have to break it into four parts to eat it, means you gotta do a little more work than biting into a Snickers, you know what I'm saying?

A close second in terms of pure chocolate sensations:  York Peppermint Patties.  Damn, those are good!  A great snack that has just the right combination of mint and chocolate flavor, the patties can pack quite a wallop if you have three or four of them at the same time.  Not only that, but your breath doesn't stink for hours after eating them...cause it's a damned mint!  Fantastic.

JUSTIN!  JUSTIN!  FOCUS, MAN!

Whoa.  Sorry about that.  Anyway, "Chocolat" is a good film but very, very far from greatness.  This is a good mix of comedy and drama that makes for a truly perfect family film.  Just don't come in expecting for it to light the world on fire.

Rating:  $8.25 Show

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09