Thursday, November 25, 2010

A quick look at an art-house weekend

Here's one dog story you haven't seen before.
Here's a truth that's not generally discussed. The owners of dogs spend more time than they'd like to admit pondering their pets bodily functions. Now comes a dog movie that not only acknowledges this hidden truth but takes it to a strangely idiosyncratic extreme. My Dog Tulip is a creatively animated version of a 1956 memoir by J. R. Ackerley, who served as arts editor for the BBC magazine, The Listener. Beautifully drawn and boasting excellent voice work (notably from Christopher Plummer) as Ackerley), the movie is so unlike most animal movies that it can be as disconcerting as it is cozy. Not only is Ackerley obsessive about Tulip's bowel movements, he also devotes considerable time to finding the proper mate for the Alsatian he rescued from a neglectful family. Directors Paul and Sandra Fierlinger have made a one-of-a-kind dog story that boasts a literate narration and an intriguing view of a man who spent 15 years with a creature that came closest to fulfilling his notion of the ideal companion.

Think 'My Big Fat Indian Restaurant'

Less quriky by far is the comedy, Today's Special, a look at the relationship between an Indian-American son and his family in Queens, N.Y. Generally, I'm a sucker for food movies, particularly those that spend lots of time in restaurant kitchens. Although this one traffics in some heavily sketched cliches -- think My Big Fat Indian Restaurant -- it nonetheless benefits from the aromas we imagine in the food we watch being prepared and from its very particular New York City setting. The story begins when Samir (Aasif Mandvi) quits his job as a sous chef to travel to Paris. His plans are thwarted when his father becomes ill; Samir reluctantly fills in for Dad at his restaurant, a once prosperous Indian joint that's fallen on hard times. To save the restaurant, Samir hires Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah), a cab driver who understands the mysteries of Indian cooking, knowledge that somehow eluded Samir. Samir learns to put passion in his cooking as the movie moves to resolve his relationship with a difficult-to-please father. Alternately corny and warm, Today's Special holds few surprises, but the food and Shah's sonorous voice add welcome seasoning.

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