Tag Archives: Jon Favreau

Chef (2014)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Chef</strong> (2014)

(On Cable TV, April 2015)  Once you get past the pseudo-intellectual nonsense and fancy vocabulary, one of the basic questions to be answered by movie criticism is this: Has this movie made me happier than I was before watching it?  It’s not a universally-applicable test (I’m not seriously proposing that all great movies are feel-good movies) but it’s one of the big ones.  And it gives me some pleasure to report that among Chef’s best qualities is that it’s a movie that made me happy.  It’s a bubbly, charming, energetic-but-relaxed comedy about food, relationships and criticism as a path to self-improvement.  The plot isn’t exactly tight, but it is about a chef forced to make life-altering changes in the wake of a disastrous restaurant review and ensuing social media kerfuffle.  From Los Angeles to Miami and back again via New Orleans and Austin, Chef offers a loose comedy with quirky characters, up-to-the-moment techno-social commentary, fantastic food imagery and an unapologetic upbeat ending.  Jon Favreau not only stars, but produces, writes and directs the film, which raises all sorts of fascinating questions about vanity projects with valid artistic intentions: It’s hard to see this tale of chef reinventing himself by going to his roots and avoid comparison with a filmmaker with three massive Hollywood movies under his belt going back to his independent film origins.  (Note to Favreau: I’ll take one fresh Chef over ten reheated Cowboys versus Aliens.)  Not only is Favreau reaffirming his directing credentials with a lower budget (the film is a breeze to sit through), but his credibility is current enough to be able to attract an astonishing cast in supporting roles from Robert Downey Jr to Scarlett Johansson to Dustin Hoffman to Oliver Platt.  Sofia Vergara has a rare non-irritating role, while John Leguizamo turns in one of his most likable performances to date and ten-year-old Emjay Anthony features strongly.  The script may not be fined-tuned (the episodic structure can feel disjointed and the ending, as positively-happy as it is, feels abrupt) but it hits a likable tone strongly supported by a peppy soundtrack.  Chef is one of those (too-rare) films that make you happy, make you feel alive, make you feel as if everything is fine with cinema.

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Cowboys & Aliens</strong> (2011)

(In theaters, July 2011) There’s no real reason to dislike the western/Science Fiction hybrid Cowboys & Aliens, but no real reason to love it either.  It plays surprisingly straight, what with Daniel Craig and Harrison out-gruffing each other on the way to rid the Earth of an alien menace.  The SF elements are weak (Mining gold?  Really?  Did they miss all the asteroids on their way here?), the action sequence lack a certain oomph and the film seems happy just delivering the goods in more or less the same way the audience expects.  Given that even competence is sometimes missing from Hollywood blockbuster, the acknowledgement that Cowboys & Aliens does deliver on its promises should be seen as a compliment.  (If nothing else, you do get both Cowboys and Aliens.  Happy?)  The problem is that there’s little more to director Jon Favreau’s film.  After a thorny first act, everything reverts to unthreatening adventure with a perfunctory finale and the self-simplification of the script is particularly harmful to its SF elements: There’s little rhyme or reason to the aliens’ capabilities except for dramatic effect, and at the point it becomes harder for the viewer to actually form expectations or build any kind of suspense if narrative rabbits are going to be taken out of various orifices.  Interestingly enough, some of the better works comes from supporting actors: Sam Rockwell is once again unrecognizable in an atypical role far from his better-known characters; Adam Beach is earnest and sympathetic; whereas Olivia Wilde manages to carry an element of ethereal difference to her character beyond simply looking pretty.  Oh, Cowboys & Aliens plays well and satisfies base expectations.  There’s just a nagging feeling that the film could have been just a little bit more…

Iron Man 2 (2010)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Iron Man 2</strong> (2010)

(In theatres, May 2010) As one of, apparently, only half-a-dozen people who didn’t go completely crazy about the first Iron Man film, my expectations for the sequel were kept in check.  So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself nodding in agreement at this follow-up’s overlapping snarky dialogues, well-choreographed action sequences and pleasant character beats.  The force of the film remains the character of Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr, one of the few superheroes around to actually enjoy the superpowers at his disposal.  Contrary to many of his brethren, this sequel tackles the responsibilities of power from another direction: while the parallels with alcoholism get heavy at times (in-keeping with the source material), it’s a neat bit of character affliction that keeps things interesting even when stuff is not exploding on-screen.  Add a little bit of honestly science-fictional content in how Stark manages to synthesize a solution to his problem (“That was easier than I thought”, the movie self-knowingly wisecracks) and there’s enough fun here to pave over the film’s less convincing moments.  Never mind how a single suit-equipped billionaire can apparently create world peace, or Sam Rockwell’s unconvincing grandstanding as another, dumber billionaire, or the shoe-horned intrusions by the rest of the Marvel universe, or the lengthier stretches in which Iron Man 2 occasionally bogs down.  At least the film has a good understanding of the character’s strengths, and works hard at maintaining them.  I can’t say enough nice things about the replacement of Terrence Howard by the ever-dependable Don Cheadle, nor of Gwyneth Paltrow’s adorable reddish bangs: director Jon Favreau is fine on-screen and even better directing the whole thing.  Iron Man 2 is, unlike other superhero movies often dominated by angst, about joy –and the feeling is infectious.  It may not be a classic, but it’s a decent follow-up.