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.
Well, after every hot streak, there’s a cold spell when it comes to movie viewing. After the cinematic nirvana that was the fearsome foursome of To the Wonder, The Place Beyond the Pines, 42 and Mud…I got lost in the boredom of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Iron Man 3 and Wuthering Heights.
A mirror with no depth.
For a film that is purportedly about SO MUCH, Mira Nair’s mostly inept The Reluctant Fundamentalist fails to shed any depth of light on current geopolitics, the American Dream, East vs. West or terrorism in our post 9-11 world. There are the seeds of a good film here, but nothing is fleshed out sufficiently. There’s some good acting (Kiefer Sutherland is especially effective as a Bain Capital-style Wall Street exec) and some god-awful acting (Kate Hudson delivers possibly her worst performance, all quirky mannerisms and crocodile tears) – but it all amounts to a big shrug of the shoulders and sleepy eyes. Nair’s career has been in a downward spiral since Monsoon Wedding – her films now shed of all her signature cross-cultural color, class clashing and heart. It’s shocking to watch this film and think that this was made by the same director of Salaam Bombay.
It’s nice to see RDJ talk shit to a kid in IRON MAN 3.
Meanwhile, to call Iron Man 3 boring is a bit unfair. I was entertained for most of its runtime as this was probably (and thankfully) the funniest film of the series with some really great dialogue for Robert Downey Jr (and one particularly mean-spirited jab at a kid that had the audience howling) and (SPOILER ALERT!) a hilarious performance from Ben Kingsley. The acting here was all around swell, especially Guy Pearce who has become really good at playing dastardly fellows in his middle-age.
Let’s get one thing straight – Scarlett Johansson is so smoldering in The Avengers, I was aghast. I mean can this woman get any sexier? And director Joss Whedon wisely places her in tight-fitting outfits and under perfect lighting and has her kick wall to wall ass as super assassin Black Widow. As ho-hum as some of the rest of this film was, for me, bottom line – Johansson and how Whedon utilized her assets were worth the price of admission. But enough of that…
Break out the extra-large, layered butter, heavily salted popcorn and enjoy this thing for whatever deviant or nostalgic or escapist reasons you so choose. Here’s the patented Schleicher Spin rundown: Continue reading →
The crown prince of America’s premier weapons manufacturer Tony Stark (a sober Robert Downey Jr.) grows a conscience after being captured by terrorists in Afghanistan and decides to fight for what’s right in an innovative piece of body armor technology that will henceforth be known as Iron Man in Jon Favreau’s predictable but fun Marvel comic film adaptation.
Wisely abandoning the corny mawkishness of the Spiderman films and the recent attempt to revive the Superman franchise, Iron Man instead offers up some light satire, bright-eyed cynicism, and an attempt at witty banter. The always lovely Gwyneth Paltrow is a delight as Stark’s sassy assistant Pepper Potts, and it’s nice to see her doing something light and fun for a change. Also part of the off-kilter cast are Terrence Howard as Stark’s inexplicable military friend and Jeff Bridges bald and bearded as Stark’s mentor (and dun dun dun…enemy?) Downey Jr. apparently ad-libbed much of the dialog, which sometimes falls flat, but for the most part works. It’s certainly far more enjoyable than the typical fan-boy in-jokes that plague most comic book movies.
Certainly this is no Batman Begins in terms of depth and scope of drama, but with slam-bang special effects and an effortless feel (despite a slow build up to the action), Iron Man certainly fits the bill as a better than average comic book/action film. Is it any wonder critics and audiences have embraced it so warmly after suffering through loud obnoxious dreck like Transformers? While it has been a bit oversold, Iron Man proves that great special effects can be built around a smart story that doesn’t have to pander to the lowest common denominator. Until The Dark Knight it will have to cure our cinematic anemia.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database: