Chef

June 14, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Posted in 2014 | 2 Comments
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Ya know, I have seen my fair share of crap this year, including well reviewed crap.  Yet, I still seem to trust critics and, when this film got only a 68% on Metacritic, I ruled it out.  That is, until a friend recommended that I see it.  The funny thing is that this film shouldn’t work.  It’s like every cliché feel good movie I’ve seen a dozen times: it’s the road movie, the foody movie, the father-son movie, the redemption movie, and on.  Yet, it does work.  Really really well, in fact.  Jon Favreau is what you might call a Hollywood quadruple threat.  He directs (“Elf” and the “Iron Man” films), produces (“Iron Man,” “The Avengers,” the “Revolution” tv series) and he acts (“The Wolf of Wallstreet,” “Daredevil,” and, yes, “Iron Man”).  However, where he really shines is when he writes.  He appeared on the scene in 1996 when he wrote, directed and starred in was “Swingers.”  Now again, for the first time in almost 20 years, he wrote, directed and starred in this film and managed to recapture much of his original magic.  What makes “Chef” work is how sincere, generous and good-hearted it is.  So many films are cynical money makers.  Even “indie” films are self-consciously so.  But I could feel Favreau’s affection for his story, his actors and the audience in almost every scene.  It’s no surprise that he can get this cast of amazing actors to do walk-on parts.  Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Amy Sedaris and Bobby Cannavale all spend just a few minutes (sometimes one scene) on film.  But the movie really works because the trio of Favreau, John Leguizamo, and young Emjay Anthony, play beautifully together.  The story is strongest during their scenes together; it manages to be charming, funny, tender and kinetic.  Combine that with some amazing looking food and a rich soundtrack including blues, Zydeco, jazz and Cuban music, and you have one of my favorite films of the year, so far.  I can’t remember the last time I was so thoroughly charmed by a “feel good” movie.  After the steady dose of the cynical or the sad that I have seen lately, this was a welcome surprise.

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Ida

June 12, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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“Ida” (pronounced ee-da) continually reminded me of the German film, “The White Ribbon” in tone, imagery and sound.  These stark Polish film takes place in the early 1960s as a young nun novice goes on a journey of discovery when she discovers she is actually Jewish.  Her efforts to uncover her past transform her and those around her.  This is not easy stuff.  Any time you are dealing with the Holocaust, you are going to encounter the darkest parts of the human experience. What differentiates European storytelling from American storytelling is how understated it is.  This often fails for me (think of the French film, “Stranger by the Lake” from earlier this year) because it can rob a film of tension.  However, when the subject matter is already wrought with with emotion, this more subtle approach can be so powerful where American cinema tends to be heavy handed and melodramatic.  The film is black and white and each image is so lavish it could have been it’s own framed photograph.  The director, Pawel Pawlikowski’s, eye for detail is astonishing.  Often, I was drawn to the smallest details, like what was happening over a person’s shoulder; not relevant to the plot but completely relevant to the mood.  Everything in this world speaks of isolation and decay.  The film has no score beyond a few songs played by a band or on a record player.  Many scenes happen in complete silence, adding to the depth of emptiness the film exudes.  The lead actress, Agata Trzebuchowska, was unearthly as the young nun.  Not only was her cold reserve a perfect fit for the mood of the film but her preternaturally black eyes made her look otherworldly, undead almost.  Agata Kulesza, who played her aunt, is a well established Polish actress.  She brought a needed bite to the film. Her character’s wry, sarcastic and jaded observations were a nice contrast to Ida’s innocence. She brought some humor to the story and, more importantly, she was the character the audience could relate to.  There should be no surprise in my saying that the film does not end happily but it does end exactly as it should.  There is some comfort in that.

 

Edge of Tomorrow

June 12, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Posted in 2014 | Leave a comment
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I can see just how the idea for this movie came to be.  The writer (who is probably a good 10-15 years younger than me) was playing a video game, dying, starting over, dying again, until he had each step on each level memorized and could sail through; the novice became the expert.  Therein lies the plot for “Edge of Tomorrow,” which is a pretty silly (and utterly vague) name for a clever concept.  What makes this film work at all is that the writers manage to infuse humor throughout what is, otherwise, a very bland action plot line: the hero overcomes impossible odds to beat the alien invaders (didn’t Cruise do that already in “War of the Worlds).  The laughs along the way (and there is a fair number of them) makes the movie more than just palatable, it actually makes it entertaining.  All the action, the special effects, the budding romance… they all feel like business as usual for a film like this.  They aren’t unenjoyable; they’re just not enough by themselves because they are too predictable to be that much fun.  In the end, I had a good time which is all you can ask from a film like this and more than I have gotten from most of them recently.  This may be the best summer blockbuster I have seen so far this year, which isn’t saying much, but it is saying something.

The Dance of Reality

June 4, 2014 at 2:04 pm | Posted in 2014 | 1 Comment
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After having just recently seen the documentary, “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” about director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempts to make his own fantastical film of the famous book, I felt compelled to this this, the first movie he has written and directed in almost 20 years. In this deeply personal story, Jodorowsky tells us of his own growing up as a Chilean Jew, caught between an autocratic and a-religious father and a smother and spiritual mother. To make clear how personal this story is, Jodorowsky’s father is played by his own son, Brontis, and the movie is filmed in the actual town he grew up. But, true to his reputation, Jodorowsky does not make a straight forward movie. Rather, he tries to get at a deeper, emotional truth about the confusion, isolation and pain he experienced as a child. The film works largely in metaphorical and phantasmagorical imagery that could be very off putting for someone wanting a more traditional narrative. Jodorowsky is also not afraid to shock and shows his penchant for the transgressive here in a way that would weaken the resolve of most American directors. More than once, I was made uncomfortable by what I saw on screen but I was always prompted to ask, “why this image?” “What is he trying to say here?” Jodorowsky’s skill is in never making me feel like any of the scenes (no matter how weird, shocking or silly they seemed) were gratuitous; every image seemed to be saying something important for him. At times, Jodorowsky appeared as himself, always right behind the boy who played his childhood self, speaking to us about the beauty and fragility of life. These moments made clear how personal this story is and how vulnerable Jodorowsky was being. They were often lyrical, insightful and touching. My one complaint is that, at 2 hours 10 minutes, it was about 30 minutes too long. I can imagine that every piece of the story felt critical to Jodorowsky to share but I began to lose focus toward the end and I think the film would have had more punch if he had shortened the long story of his father’s transformation. It’s a critical part of the whole but parts of that story could have been left off, I think. That aside, this was a strange and thrilling journey through what is possible when film defies the ordinary. I did not get all of what I saw on screen but I could see what he was trying to do and I respect him for it.

I have not done this before, but I also wanted to add this short featurette because it does a much better job than I can of capturing how deeply personal and touching this film is (even while being really strange):

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