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.
“I can’t live in a world of dressed up dogs! It makes me sick!”
Famous last words. A would-be assassin somehow ends up at a dog costume contest where his “kangaroo dog” wins worst costume. It gives him the opportunity to be on stage as his target…the tyrannical Chilean president…makes an appearance at the canine debacle. He pulls a gun on the man, gets wrestled to the ground by a competing would-be assassin and then turns the gun on himself when he realizes the absurdity of it all.
This is just one of many moments of hilarious lucidity amidst emotionally bombastic absurdity in Alejandro J0dorowsky’s carnivalesque nostalgic coming-of-age crackpot epic, The Dance of Reality. It’s one of my favorite moments – the others being the comically melodramatic demise of a beloved horse scene and the signing in the church full of freshly sanded chairs sequence – and these moments prove the old adage that you don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water, even if that bath water is filthy and the baby is deformed. Jodorowsky is in a bit of renaissance period as this first feature film in over twenty years comes on the heals of the documentary detailing his failed attempt at a Dune film back in the 1970’s. I’ve never seen a film of his all the way through before this (I’ve sampled bits of El Topo and have been too scared to taste Santa Sangre), though he’s the stuff of midnight movie legend and I’ve read plenty about him. I’ve always howled out loud at one of his more infamous quotes – “Most directors make films with their eyes. I make films with my balls.” Well, okay then. He proves that again here.
Clearly sampling from his own childhood growing up in Tocopilla, Chile, the near ancient Jodorowsky has turned his Oedipal issues and desire for his Communist father’s approval and warped it into a psychedelic freakscape with a paradoxical sweet undercurrent amidst reverent, uplifting music and bright colors. It’s a minor miracle that once you get through the weird circus-centric opening moments, the weirdness just is and the episodic narrative following the boy (as he struggles with his fears) and then later his father (on some kind of botched assassination turned vision quest to get back home) is shockingly coherent in the way “that really crazy dream I had last night” is. Continue reading →
In honor of the release of The Master later this month, The Spin is turning its wheels towards Paul Thomas Anderson – writer/director extraordinaire – a true auteur. The great chronicler of Southern California, cancers both physical and metaphorical, dysfunctional makeshift families, deranged father-figures, damaged sons, melancholy and death is arguably the most ambitious American filmmaker working today. But he has only achieved that status through evolution…through finding his voice. Here we will revisit his three most signature works: Boogie Nights, Magnolia and There Will Be Blood and track the course of his discovery.
“This is the film I want them to remember me by.”– Jack Horner, Boogie Nights
On its surface, Boogie Nights – the grand piece of nostalgia celebrating a pre-AIDS, pre-video porntopia – would appear as a lark – a jokey, ballsy, “Look, Ma, I’m a Hipster Director!” type feature designed to showcase a young man’s skill behind the camera and his cocky nerve to tell a scandalous tale. When you look deeper, the film is anything but that.