Chef

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, including some suggestive references
Profanity: Very strong and graphic language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 16, 2014
Date Released to DVD: September 29. 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00KQTGWPC

You’re writer/director/actor Jon Favreau.  You’ve been making big-budget films, mostly huge blockbuster successes (“Elf,” “Iron Man”), but also a big-budget bust (Cowboys & Aliens, which I liked).  This might put you in mind of a simpler, more chef poster headersatisfyingly creative time (Favreau wrote the indie smash “Swingers” and wrote and directed “Made”).  And that might inspire a movie like “Chef,” with Favreau as writer. director, and star and a small-scale story with, thanks to his connections, a big-scale cast, about an artist who, like a movie director, creates the kind of art that must be appreciated by others to be satisfying.  And director Jon Favreau brings the same loving care to the creations made by his character that the chef does himself.  This movie will be on lists of “Great Food Films” forever, along with classics like “Big Night” and “Babette’s Feast.”  The food is so lusciously photographed you can almost smell it.  And the music perfectly matches the food, sensual and spicy.  This is an utterly delectable treat.

No surprise — it is about a guy who has a big-time, high pressure job, loses his mojo, his inspiration and his sense of creativity, and then finds it again in a smaller venue.  The job is in the title.  Favreau plays Carl, a passionate chef at a high-end restaurant, frustrated because the owner (Dustin Hoffman) wants him to stick to his “greatest hits,” the solid, reliable favorites that Carl now finds boring.  “You remember what happened when you put guts on the menu?”  When an influential restaurant critic gives him a bad review, Carl quits in a fury.  Then, in an even bigger fury, he tweets what he thinks is a private response to the critic (he is not sure of the difference between Twitter and email). It goes viral.  (“You’re trending, bro.”) Carl goes into a shame spiral fueled by self-pity and blame, both self and everyone else.

Carl’s passion for his job led to the end of his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara).  He is a devoted but harried father to Percy (Emjay Anthony), a young social media expert who enjoys the fun activities his dad plans for them when he has time but wishes they could just plain hang out more.  Inez, wanting to get Carl out of his funk, invites him to come with her on a business trip to Miami, so he can watch Percy.  It will get him away from the Twitterverse gaffe of the day crowd and give him some time with his son.  She also has another plan.  Her previous ex-husband (a movie-stealing performance by the scene-stealing master thief and “Iron Man” star Robert Downey, Jr.), who gives Carl a food truck.  Well, apparently there is a food truck there underneath the layers of grime and fry oil.  Joined by a friend (John Leguizamo) and Percy, they drive the truck back home to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to feed the people who have been following Percy’s social media updates.

There are no surprises in the story, and there is not one female character with any reason to exist other than supporting/adoring Carl, but the characters feel genuine and the food is mesmerizingly luscious.  Favreau has his mojo back, and I hope he will keep ours going by serving us food truck movies along with his five star restaurants.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong and crude language and some vulgar references.

Family discussion: What is your favorite meal to cook?  Why was it hard for Carl to just hang out with Percy before the food truck?

If you like this, try: “Big Night” and “No Reservations”

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Comedy Date movie Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Independent

Comic-Con: The Director Mash-Ups

Posted on July 24, 2011 at 11:45 am

One of the great pleasures of Comic-Con is hearing film-makers talk to us about their movies.  But it gets exponentially better when we get to listen in to them talk to each other.  The infinitely generous Guillermo Del Toro (he gave out his email address and invited fans to write to ask to visit him on set) shared the stage at Comic-Con’s largest venue in two separate events, one with Jon Favreau and one with protege Nicolas Winding Refn.

Del Toro co-wrote and produced a remake of the cult classic “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”  The original, a 1973 made-for-television movie starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton was about a young wife who discovers scary creatures in a house she has inherited.  In the new version, it is a little girl living with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) who hears the creepy rasp, “Saaaaaally, Saaaaaaally….”  In the first-ever Comic-Con event from impressive new studio Film District, he appeared to discuss the film with Danish director Refn, of “Drive,” also produced by Del Toro.  “It is our duty to produce first-time film-makers,” Del Toro, told the crowd.  He spoke about the power of fantasy.  His background was in special effects and creature fabrication and he speaks lovingly of the monsters he creates and the importance of details.  “Context is everything in a fable because every story has already been told.”  Refn said that “tracking is good, but still imprints on our brains.”  He loves the images where what matters is what is behind, when what is in the background engulfs the image.

Later, Del Toro appeared with Favreau to compare and appreciate each other’s approach.  Favreau, as shown in “Iron Man,” likes mechanical effects.  Del Toro (“Hellboy”) takes advantage of whatever illusions technology can provide. “There was not a single real thing in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.'”   Favreau called in Del Toro for advice on some of the action scenes in “Cowboys & Aliens.”  And he urged us all to be on the lookout for a new book about Del Toro’s “Bleak House,” his very own haunted mansion.  Speaking of which, one thing these two directors have in common is forthcoming films based on Disney theme park attractions.  Favreau is working with Michael Chabon on “The Magic Kingdom,” and Del Toro will direct “The Haunted Mansion,” which will do its job if it erases the memory of the Eddie Murphy version.  Del Toro assured us that this one will not be a comedy.

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Directors Festivals

Couples Retreat

Posted on February 10, 2010 at 8:00 am

I’m guessing that what happened here is that BFFs Jon Favreau (director of Iron Man but here as an actor), Vince Vaughn, and Peter Billingsley (star of A Christmas Story-turned director) decided that it would be a lot of fun to go off to a beautiful island together and so they decided to make it a business trip by creating a story they could film there.

And I am guessing that their home movie of that trip would have been more entertaining than this dull, drawn-out, mess of a film about four couples who go to a resort that is somewhere between “Fantasy Island” and “Dr. Phil.”

These are the kinds of couples with a friendship you only see in movies. They have nothing in common. They do not particularly seem to like each other. They do not appear to know anyone else. And yet, they are always up in each other’s bidness, hugely involved in the tiniest details and decisions, far more than in their own, so much so that they are constantly conference-calling each other on their cell phones, inviting each other to make crucial decisions about their lives. Possibly the hardest to believe, they are not only mandatory attendees at a birthday party held for a very young child of one of the couples, they all wander off in the middle of the party, including the child’s parents, for a power point presentation on one couple’s marital breakdown (apparently a welcome relief following a previous series on the husband’s testicular cancer). The couple (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) have arranged for a group rate at a resort and guilt everyone to going along with them: the couple who are distracted with young children (Vaughn and “Watchmen’s” Malin Akerman), the couple who are furious with each other (Favreau and “Sex in the City’s” Kristin Davis), and the recently separated Shane (Faizon Love) with his new 20-year-old girlfriend (Kali Hawk) who calls him “Daddy” and wants to party all the time.

While the other couples planned to relax and enjoy the island, it turns out that the couples counseling is mandatory, starting at sunrise — sort of Dr. Phil boot camp. There is much attempted hilarity from a scantily-clad male yoga instructor getting very up close and personal with both the men and women (a lot of homosexual and adultery panic in this movie) as he demonstrates the poses. There is much attempted hilarity from the counseling sessions and from a child twice confusing a store display with a working toilet. None actually occurs.

Individual scenes drag and the movie as a whole sags. Episodes are thrown together haphazardly and run on forever. There are innumerable references, for some reason, to Applebee’s and there is an extended and pointless, even by the low standards of this film, excruciatingly drawn out game of Guitar Hero. And we are supposed to care about these people and believe that they have actually learned some important lessons about communication and not taking each other for granted. It fails at comedy, it fails at warming our hearts and it fails at making us care enough about any of these characters to want them to work out their problems. Instead, we just keep wishing they would get out of the way and let us enjoy the pretty scenery.

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