Chocolate a sweet confection

by Robert J. Hawkins | Jul 31, 2001
Chocolate a sweet confection There is no limit to what we can endure, with the right amount and type of chocolate.

I must admit that I wished I`d had a nice soothing one-pound bar of Cadbury`s finest to get me through "Chocolat" (Miramax, PG-13, VHS/DVD, available Aug. 7), last year`s critical darling. Now, granted, I arrived at this film with high expectations, fueled by the sugary confections sent up by theatrical reviewers - and its five nominations for Oscars. And it does have its moments of charm, magic and character. And yet, for a romantic, comedic tale, it is eerily short on engaging romance and warm humor. It all seems a tad underrehearsed, with a cast of heavyweights, who never quite got past themselves and into their characters.

Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench, in particular, seem ill at ease in their skins, often sending off lines to each other as if they weren`t in the same room. And they are the two around which this tale revolves.

Binoche is Vianne Rocher, a woman of mystery - part French, part Mayan - who takes up residency in a miserable little French village and opens a chocolate shop. Dench is her landlady, Armande Voison, a sour old puss, who is understandably estranged from her daughter and grandson and most of the townspeople.

Vianne has a rootless past, following a mysterious north wind to the places in the world where hearts are most laden with pain, regret and sorrow - just as her mother did before her. Upon arrival, she opens a chocolaterie from which she dispenses healing products crafted from 2,000-year-old recipes. It seems there is a form of chocolate for every ailment of the heart and soul.

Reluctantly along for the journey is Vianne`s young daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol). She longs for a permanent home, an ailment which her mother`s chocolate can not seem to cure.

Vianne seems to have landed in the epicenter of misery. This otherwise postcard scenic village is populated by more misery than a Welsh coal town. Presiding over it all is the town`s guardian of virtue, rectitude and propriety, the mayor Comte de Reynaud (played with superbly pinched reserve by Alfred Molina). A miserable and lonely man in his own right - his wife long ago fled for fresh air and the life-affirming energy of Vienna - the repressive Reynaud makes it his business to ensure that the townspeople share his attachment to hard work, modesty and self-discipline.

Vianne`s libertarian ways soon have her crossing paths with the mayor - and here is where you can appreciate the contemporary metaphor: Their confrontation is not direct. No, the mayor maneuvers through innuendo, rumor, suggestions planted in the minds of feeble townspeople. He even rewrites the Sunday sermons of the young priest as veiled attacks on the danger of frivolity and self-indulgence.

Vianne`s allies are few but formidable - among them cranky old Armande; Josephine Muscat (Lena Olin), the battered wife of the town`s tavern owner; Jean Marc and Francois Drou (Antonio Gil-Martinez and Helene Cardona), a weary couple who discover the Viagra-like properties in unrefined cocoa leaves; and Armande`s grandson, Luc (Aurelien Parent Koenig), a creative lad, who chaffs under the overprotective wing of his mother (Carrie Ann Moss).

The confrontation between the forces of liberty and repression endure a fresh twist with the arrival of a small fleet of "river rats" - wandeing minstrels, artists and vagabonds, who tie up at the town dock and sell their gypsy wares.

The guitar-slinging Irishman Roux (Johnny Depp) captures the attention and a bit of the heart of Vianne and the discrete wrath of the mayor. Reynaud`s veiled suggestion that something must be done about the vagabonds leads to tragic consequences and a fracturing of his own rigid values.

The mayor is a not-so-subtle metaphor for contemporary intolerance, the movie itself a gentle cautionary tale that advises you to indulge in at least some of life`s sweeter temptations before time and opportunity pass you by - like love, chocolate, frivolity, friendships, art, music. How sweet it is.


"The Brothers" (Columbia Tri-Star, R, VHS/DVD) - A romantic comedy about four lifelong friends, each with a very different take on love, relationships and commitment.

Jackson (Morris Chestnut) has a deep fear of commitment; Brian (Bill Bellamy) is a confirmed bachelor; Terry (Shemar Moore) wants to change his womanizing ways and settle down; and Derrick (D.L. Hughley) is a solid family man with a demanding wife.

"The Trumpet of the Swan" (Columbia TriStar, G, VHS/DVD) - Animated feature drawn from the E.B. White children`s classic. Voices are handled by a cast that includes Jason Alexander, Seth Green, Reese Witherspoon, Carol Burnett, Mary Steenburgen and Joe Montegna.

Louie is a young mute swan who craves to have his own voice. He gets it with the aid of a trumpet, and eventually becomes an acclaimed jazz trumpeter. The moral - everyone`s got something special to share.

"In the Mood for Love" (USA, PG, VHS) - Set in Hong Kong in the early 1960s, this romantic drama from director Wong Kar-wai is the story of a man and woman in adjacent apartments who discover that their respective spouses are having an affair. They seek comfort in each other, a more-innocent relationship that begins to grow until they must chose between giving in to their own desires or remaining in their existing marriages.

"The Royal Family Collection" (Paramount, VHS, 13 vol., $16.95 each) - There are people out there who never tire of watching the United Kingdom`s royal family at work, play, divorce and whatever. We know a few, and so we`re going to be diplomatic here. You can start with "14 Weddings and a Divorce: A Family`s Story" and "50 Golden Years: The Queen and Prince Philip" then work your way through a couple on Princess Diana or a pair on Fergie, two on Charles and two on the kids, William and Henry. There`s even one on Camilla and another on Edward and the glib Sophie Rhys-Jones.

"Clifford`s Schoolhouse" and "Clifford Tries his Best" (Scholastic/Artisan, unrated, VHS) - Two new tales from the popular children`s animated series "Clifford the Big Red Dog" - as seen on public television. Each video contains four episodes. Each is priced under $13.

"American Tragedy" (Trimark, PG-13, VHS/DVD) - From the pen of Norman Mailer comes this sordid look at the behind-the-scenes machinations of O.J. Simpson`s legal team - a powerhouse collection of legal egos vying for the spotlight as much as their star defendant. Cast includes Ving Rhames, Ron Silver, Bruno Kirby and Christopher Plummer.


One year ago, ABC News gave television viewers an extraordinary look behind the curtain at the operation of a major U.S. hospital in the six-part "Hopkins 24/7." We saw the medical staff of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, both heroic and human. The hospital gave the network news department unprecedented access, 24 hours a day, seven days, and the result was a candid, insightful and fascinating glimpse into the practice of modern medicine.

ABC has bundled the six episodes into a three-disc package with additional related content - two "Nightline" programs and a "20/20" segment. For now, the $79.95 "Hopkins 24/7" is available only through ABC, either on the Web at or by calling (800) 225-5222.

Available this week on DVD, "Hanover Street," the 1979 war drama starring Harrison Ford and Christopher Plummer as soldiers in love with the same woman and dependent on each other for survival. Extras include a commentary track by director Peter Hyams. Also stars Lesley-Anne Down, Richard Masur and Patsy Kensit.

Holy DVD, Batman! Yes, the original Batman - Adam West, with Burt Ward as his young protoge Robin, made a feature-length movie that was every bit as Bif!-Pow!-Bam! as their TV series. That was in 1966. Now, 35 years later, that pop culture phenom, "Batman the Movie," makes its digital debut.

West and Ward stepped up to the microphone to add a running commentary track and also to add new interviews. There`s a tour of the original George Barris-designed Batmobile, a gallery of photos and some exclusive shots from Ward`s private collection. You can even watch the movie in Spanish.

Others in the cast include Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Caesar Romero and Lee Merriweather. Look for Batman to land Aug. 21, priced under $23.

It wasn`t the first prom to go all to hell, but the one in Stephen King`s "Carrie" is probably the most unforgettable, even 25 years after its theatrical debut. Well, she`s back. ... The Brian De Palma-directed classic horror tale makes its DVD debut Aug. 28. The extras include two mini-features, a King biography, a photo gallery and a feature on "Carrie the Musical."

The disc is priced under $20 from MGM, which releases two other De Palma movies on DVD that day: "Dressed to Kill" and "Blow Out."

More pop culture comes to digital video disc: "Felix the Cat Collector`s Edition" featuring 10 complete episodes from 1958-59, pitting Felix against evil Professor and his henchman Rock Bottom, from Golden Book on Aug. 15, priced under $20.


Aug. 14: They`re pop stars! They`re crime fighters! They`re "Josie and the Pussycats."

Aug. 28: The cool kittens are followed by a real dog: the David Arquette comedy "See Spot Run."

Aug. 31: Steven Segal is back after a lengthy hiatus in a action-thriller titled "Exit Wounds."

Aug. 31: Australian outback scientists and townsmen scramble when they learn their antenna will be the only one capable of picking up the historic Apollo 11 moon landing in "The Dish."

Sept. 2: Heath Ledger will rock you in the hip adventure "A Knight`s Tale."

Sept. 11: Warner Bros. debuts three animated Tolkein tales: "Lord of the Rings," "The Return of the King" and "The Hobbit" on DVD and VHS - timed to leverage the anticipation building toward the December theatrical debut of the live-action "Lord of the Rings."

Sept. 18: Back before thousands of dot-coms became dot-bombs the documentary "" was shot.

Sept. 18: Sylvester Stalone is the aging driver who must nurture the rookie in "Driven."

Sept. 18: Paul Hogan returns as the unflappable Aussie in "Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles."

Sept. 25: A reality TV show in which contestants are each issued a gun and turned loose - last one living wins - is the basis for "Series 7" - a satire just days ahead of real television.

Sept. 25: Liv Tyler and Matt Dillon head the cast of "One Night at McCools" - which is just about how long this comedy survived in theaters.

Oct. 2: Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt are a seductive mom-and-daughter scam team.

Oct. 14: Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz strike gold in the sequel "The Mummy Returns."

Oct. 16: See, this guy drinks all night in a pub and wakes up a giant "Rat." The punchline? I think that was it.

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins


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