You could draw a long, clean line from the 1996 film Swingers to the 2014 film Chef. On the surface they couldn’t be more disparate – one a generational touch-point about proto-hipsters creating their own culture during the swing revival of the mid 1990’s, the other a film about an artist chef getting back to his roots and reigniting his passions. But they both have at their center a sad man (Jon Favreau) at a crossroads in his life. In Swingers he was a young guy who couldn’t get over the heartbreak of his first love lost while struggling to break into acting. Then in Chef he’s a middle-aged guy stuck in a rut after a divorce and struggling to fuel his passion for cooking. Both films show the prototypical artistic man at different stages in his life struggling to find balance and deal with feelings of loss. As it turns out, Favreau, when not directing perfectly serviceable blockbusters for the Hollywood machine, is capable of tapping into the male psyche with great sensitivity and humor through really good indie screenplays.
Carl Casper (Favreau) is a formerly renowned chef who’s lost his zest for life while working at a successful Los Angeles restaurant run by a man (Dustin Hoffman) who stifles his creativity and forces him to stick to the same old menu even when a top critic (Oliver Platt) stops by for a visit. He has a loyal crew (Bobby Cannavale and a shockingly likable John Leguizamo) and a sassy sexy hostess/waitress (Scarlett Johansson) who urge him to reignite those fires, but it takes a public blow-up with the critic who pans the tired menu that goes viral through Twitter to force him to take stock of his life after losing his job. When his ex-wife (the saucy and smoking hot Sofia Vergara) suggests he come with her to Miami (where he originally got his groove on for cooking), he reluctantly takes the opportunity under the guise of bonding with his smart, tech-savvy ten year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony, one of the most unaffected and casually natural child actors to come down the pike in a while). Still, it takes his ex’s ex (Robert Downey Jr.) gifting him a food truck before he truly seizes the moment to find his passion again and reconnect with the ones he most loves.
In a cinematic world overrun by rehashed ideas, sequels, prequels and reboots…it’s both ironic and a minor miracle that a film about resetting time over and over and over would be such a solid piece of entertainment.
There’s absolutely nothing revolutionary about Edge of Tomorrow, Doug Liman’s polished adaptation of the Japanese book All You Need is Kill (a much snarkier title that fits the themes very well), yet it all works. Here’s Tom Cruise as another smug character unwittingly thrust into saving the world…yet he manages to imbue his performance with a dark sense of humor that allows you to forgive the tropes of this quasi-messianic overcooked tripe. Here’s yet another “grunts vs. aliens” invasion/war set-up…yet when handled in a competent way, the cliché can still be fun to watch. And here are the hive-like aliens…called mimics (for what reason???)…who can meld time (naturally) to anticipate enemy moves…that look something like a Lord of the Rings reject monster wrapped in Matrix machinery and move like octopi…that, hey, as silly and derivative as they are, when brought to life by slick effects and well-orchestrated battle madness can still seem special and cool. Oh, and the coup de grace…let’s add a Groundhog Day element (remember the mimics can reset time) that leads to inevitable scenes of Cruise dying over and over and over again while he tries to get others to believe him and locate the Omega mimic (essentially the queen)…and in one humorous montage repeatedly is shot by Emily Blunt (his trainer and cohort in this time tripping madness) like an injured horse. Continue reading →
In 1960’s Greece, a dapper middle-aged American chap named Chester (a groggy but dashing Viggo Mortensen) on holiday with his trophy bride Colette (an effortlessly alluring Kirsten Dunst) spot a charming but suspicious young fellow (a cool Oscar Isaac) eyeing them at various locales. Daringly, Collette confronts him while in line at a rest room and finds out he’s an American, too, and a freelance tour guide named Rydel. Much to her husband’s chagrin, she’s invited Rydel to show them around the markets. The audience already knows Rydel is a bit of a scam artist, pretending to haggle in Greek with the merchants for his clients and pocketing the difference in price or flim-flamming them during monetary exchanges. After a night on the town for dinner and drinks, Chester has Rydel all figured out, though he and his wife have been thoroughly charmed by the con man’s company. Later at their hotel, a private investigator comes searching for Chester and sets off a series of unfortunate events that leave the couple in deep trouble and turning to Rydel for help.
The Two Faces of January deals with the duplicity of human beings and the fragility of their relationships. It’s adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel (the author best known for creating the character of Tom Ripley) and is competently scripted and directed by first time helmer Hossein Amini (best known for his sparse and effective Drive screenplay). With its beautiful travelogue vistas and breezy charm, it echoes the highbrow classiness of a bygone era of filmmaking…suspenseful without being salacious, intriguing without a whiff of trashiness.