Tag Archives: Dustin Hoffman

Chef

ChefChef is basically two hours of Jon Favreau working through his issues with the studio system.  Mainly because of this, it’s rather entertaining.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

Chef is Jon Favreau: The Movie.  Any pretence that this film is telling a story about characters that have no relation to the film’s writer, director and star is jettisoned the moment Dustin Hoffman swaggers in and orders Jon Favreau’s chef to cook by menu, “play [his] hits,” as it were, and that, if he doesn’t like it, there are a million other people that Dustin Hoffman could easily replace Jon Favreau with as director of the kitchen.  If not by then, then it will most certainly become clear when Jon blows up at a food critic who trashed his cooking, questioning whether he cares that the hurtful stuff he writes genuinely hurts those he writes about.  This is not subtle.  It makes the high school parallels in Divergent look like the lyrics to a They Might Be Giants song.  The film permanently seems five seconds away from actually dropping all of the pretence and having everyone just dramatize Jon Favreau’s post-Iron Man life.

One, therefore, may see Chef as a vanity project and little more, what with its extremely unsubtle real-life parallels, starring role for Favreau that lets him stretch himself beyond ‘funny comic relief guy’ and that he casts both Sofia Vergara and Scarlett Johansson as his ex-wife and possible ex-lover respectively (the latter of which outright tells Favreau’s character at one point that he’s the best chef she ever worked with).  And… well… yeah, it kinda is.  The actual character work, and characters in general, populating the film are flimsy and undercooked and, once things head to Miami, nothing ever goes wrong for Favreau ever because he is the world’s greatest chef if people will just LET HIM DO WHAT HE DOES BEST INSTEAD OF CONSTRAINING HIS CREATIVE GENIUS, DAMMIT!!  That being said, I’d recommend not writing off Chef sight unseen.  It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s nothing memorable, but it is mildly amusing, rather entertaining, nearly always interesting and, brace yourself for the big one, it’s a comedy that runs for two hours… that I can’t see cutting down to 100 minutes!

Oh, I have your attention now, do I?

Our story, then.  By the by, I’m going to dispense with much of the pretence and just straight up tell you the “subtext” cos it’s that unsubtle and it saves me time later on.  Jon Favreau is a chef, a very well-respected chef, at that, who caused a splash ten years ago as a hungry guy wanting to make a name for himself.  He’s currently employed at a big, fancy and relatively famous restaurant that’s about to get reviewed by the biggest food blogger in town and he wants to surprise the guy, cook up something original and shocking and biting and all that jazz.  The restaurant’s owner, Dustin Hoffman, thinks that’s not a good idea, being too risk-averse, and orders Favreau to cook by menu, reasoning that people who go to see The Rolling Stones want to hear them play ‘Satisfaction’.  This ends disastrously, Favreau’s heart is clearly not in it and the critic tears apart both the food, which is too safe and generic, and Favreau himself, believing him to be over-the-hill and also fat jokes cos critics are dicks.

Favreau does not take this well, with the review and Favreau’s resulting meltdown at the critic going viral.  Fired from his job for refusing to follow orders, Favreau’s ex-wife (played by Sofia Vergara) convinces him to meet her successful first ex-husband, Robert Downey Jr., and get back to basics.  Gifted a food truck, Favreau decides to take his little low budget venture on the road, making smaller products with more heart that may connect with the public more and revitalise his love for his art.  Tagging along are his son, EmJay Anthony, who doesn’t see his dad much but aspires to follow in his culinary footsteps, and his old workmate, represented here by John Leguizamo, where father and son may just bond together and learn a thing or two about a thing or two.

It’s even less subtle than that, before you ask.  A good 50-60% of Chef really is just Jon Favreau working through his frustrating studio experiences via the thinnest of metaphors.  Not that that’s a bad thing inherently, mind.  A fair bit of the film’s entertainment value comes from just how far the metaphor goes, in much the same way that 22 Jump Street’s appeal comes from just how far that film is willing to push its central joke, “we are a pointless sequel and we’re well aware of that fact.”  It also helps that the execution is rarely cringe worthy or overly blatant, the lone exceptions come during the times when Favreau meets up with the critic that wrote the nasty things about him (embodied by Oliver Platt).  Those times trot out the usual “what you say hurts me! I make art, what do you do?  Just sit behind your computer and vomit words” clichés that typically accompany artists ranting against critics.  (It’s not the heckler bit from Louie, is what I’m getting at.)  Otherwise, the execution remains interesting, it becomes a kind of fun little exercise to see Favreau working through his problems and seemingly rediscovering his love for filmmaking.

See, the film does have characters, which makes this a landmark point in Sofia Vergara’s acting career if nothing else, but they take a backseat, along with nearly everything else that’s not related to the metaphor.  Even the food stuff feels more like an extension of that metaphor instead of a total love of food, there are several scenes where Favreau explains his creative process to his son that come across far more as his creative process to filmmaking than food-making (especially when he mentions that he first goes looking for ingredients and only then decides what he’s going to cook, he doesn’t go in with a fully-formed pl-it’s a reference to the creation of Iron Man, alright).  The whole enterprise feels less like a story that Favreau wanted to tell and more like he just decided to make a film and see if it made him fall in love with filmmaking again.  Such a theory is practically confirmed when it comes time for the film’s ending to occur, which the film practically crashes into and is over before it has a chance to become satisfying.  Again, though, it is fascinating to watch, feeling relatively raw and personal instead of pretentious and whiney.

Look, I apologise for spending so long fixated on the metaphor side of Chef.  I know a lot of you will be able to get past it, or maybe not even clock onto it (although I have no idea how you would, I have seen South Park episodes with subtler allusions and metaphors), but it really does constitute the meat of the film.  Outside of it, you have the barest of plots about a father and son bonding over a shared enthusiasm (if you choose to read it like that and not, say, as the kid merely being a representative vessel for Favreau’s increasing realisation that he does still love making movies) and a very glossed over subplot of Favreau reconnecting with his ex-wife Vergara because… I actually don’t know, it’s that glossed over.  I should note that I’m not knocking the film for these things, I’m just letting you know how incidental the whole thing is.

Besides, there’s really not a whole lot to talk about with regards to the film outside of that subtext.  It’s all fine and pleasant.  There’s a runtime that’s just shy of two hours and though it feels like that at times, the film is paced well enough, and its content serves the whole metaphor point enough, to make it hard for me to find scenes to cut out to reduce that time to 90-or-so minutes.  There aren’t really any big laugh out loud moments and I guarantee that there are no jokes you’ll think back to 12 hours after seeing the film and go “that was hilarious” or some such, but the film is still funny.  It has very charming actors and actresses striking up a great enough chemistry with one another to make exchanges amusing, even if nothing particularly funny is being said.  Praise should especially go to EmJay Anthony who is not only hugely non-irritating, he’s able to keep up with Jo(h)ns Favreau and Leguizamo.  Food, meanwhile, is very often shot excellently, which is a hard thing to do right on film and television.  Not up to Hannibal standards of “mmm, that looks de-licious” but enough that I felt legitimately peckish for some high-quality grub as I left the cinema.  Also, for whatever it’s worth, I really like the film’s soul, Cuban and groove-laced soundtrack; Jon Favreau (and/or his music supervisor) has excellent taste in music.

Yes, I am stretching for stuff to talk about but there’s one last thing that deserves some conversation.  Chef loves social media.  Chef loves social media.  If social media and Chef were embodied by real life people (which the film kinda is, anyway), they would have a hopelessly romantic meet-cute, followed by a whirlwind fairy-tale romance that culminates in a magical beach-side wedding at sunset.  Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Vine, the celebrity gossip website Holy Moly!; all these and more get prominent screen time and are actually relevant to the plot, as well as being the subject of hi-larious gags about how Favreau has no idea how the Internet works (he tweets an insult at the food critic who wrote the negative review cos he thought the service worked like text messaging).  It’s equal parts toe-curlingly awkward, like when your dad posts a “selfie” of himself having a day out in Scarborough, and strangely progressive.  Like, yeah, the film does mine the expected jokes out of Favreau not knowing how social media works and his son being a whizz with it because kids today and their computermabobs, but the usage of social media is actually vital to the plot.  It ends up being utilised as a tool for good, a way for Favreau and his low-budget venture to travel around drumming up buzz and connecting with the people who matter.  It’s refreshingly free of cynicism or confused-dad-“when-I-was-YOUR-age”-ness which, if nothing else, puts it above f*cking Transcendence.  It does officially go too far when 1 Second Everyday comes up for the sole purpose of adding some feels to the finale, but get over the initial “oh, no, Dad’s trying to get down with the kids” response you will inevitably have when it comes up and it’s not actually a problem.

Chef, then, is more of an extended therapy session for Jon Favreau than it is a movie in its own standalone right.  That therapy session, though, is always interesting and frequently entertaining; it’s definitely the most personal thing Favreau has been involved in in a good decade and it’s nice to see him seemingly fall back in love with his art again.  Outside of that, there’s not much here.  There are funnier films available now, there are more heartwarming films available now, there are TV shows with better food porn on the air right now.  On the surface level, it’s a mildly entertaining way to spend two hours.  I would, however, be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the film for what it is under that surface.  You may too, but that depends on both your knowledge of the film industry and your tolerance for “inside-baseball” stuff.

So, with Favreau having rediscovered his passion for filmmaking by going back to his roots and delivering a deeply personal work, I look forward to seeing what he’s going to transfer that passion into next!  … …“he’s making a live-action, CG version of The Jungle Book for Disney?”  Well, in that case, either he’s a quick forgiver, or I eagerly await the spiritual successor to this in 2020!

Callum Petch saw you standing on the opposite shore.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

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A Decade In Film: The Eighties – 1982

A continuing series where Failed Critics contributors look back on a particular decade in the world of cinema and choose their favourite films from each year of that decade. Matt Lambourne has lucked out with arguably the most entertaining, balls-to-the-wall decade of all. This week he takes us through his choices for 1982.

5. Space Adventure Cobra

spaceactioncobra“So, are you taking any bets on how this is going to end?”

Space Adventure Cobra is perhaps the oldest in a line of 80’s/90’s Anime that adorned my Video shelf as a teenager. Being released only a few years after the original Star Wars, it steals from the source material incessantly even beginning with a large Starship flyover, however it is far from a film for all the family.

The story follows Cobra, the most wanted man in the galaxy who is on a voyage to protect a beautiful female bounty-hunter whom is being hunted by the evil ‘Space Mafia Guild’. Cobra himself is the happy go lucky, overly confident macho hero who is very much Han Solo crossed with Mega Man, due to the ability to morph his left arm into a powerful Psycho Cannon.

The aesthetics of the movie certainly complement the era it’s trying to imitate, with vivid colour and a Vengelis-esque soundtrack, it may lack the polished animation that later Manga will trademark yet is still so easy on the eye.

Every Star Wars wannabe needs a bad guy and that comes in the form of the seemingly indestructible ‘Lord Necron’, who resembles more Dr. Doom (of the Marvel Universe) or perhaps even the camped up bling-bling diva that is Emperor Xerxes from ‘300’ more than the Sci-Fi baddie archetype Darth Vader.

The film is a charming love-story, brilliant sci-fi and hypnotic psychedelica all crammed into the right running time for easy viewing. The saga continued in a popular anime comic and has spawned a cult following. If a movie has ever paid a better tongue-in-cheek homage to classic sci-fi then I’d very much like to see it! Cobra provides a bite-sized action adventure that defies its age and leaves a lasting legacy that it is ‘Love’ not good, that will conquer all.

4. Tootsie

TootsieI was a better man with you, as a woman… than I ever was with a woman, as a man. You know what I mean?

The 80’s did two types of movies better than any other decade, action movies and great comedies. Tootsie is a delightful example of taking a ridiculous concept, adding a great ensamble cast and making on screen hilarity ensue. The focus of the film is on Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) an actor who is a notoriously difficult to work with, as he struggles to line up his next big role. He takes matters into the extreme by creating a female counter-part, Dorothy Michaels to enable to find work. However he never banked upon falling in love with the lovely fresh faced Jessica Lange or the number of men who’d fall for his less than classical feminine character!

The cast really makes this movie so watchable. Aside from Lange and Hoffman, you have a typically funny supporting role from the legendary Bill Murray, a creepy TV actor has-been in George Gaynes (better known as Commandant Lassard in Police Academy) and a very early mini role for Geena Davis. Hoffman is quite brilliant as Dorothy, much more so than he is as Michael. His no nonsense approach to his professional and personal life which rendered him so unemployable as a male makes him a prime candidate for a full time soap opera role as powerful leading lady.

This allows him much closer access to Lange’s character who is a single mother being taken advantage of by the show’s creepy producer, she slowly gains a remarkable liking for the mysterious and refreshing hard-nosed approach of Dorothy, wishing she could emulate her. Dorothy begins to spend more time with Lange outside of work and there is a particularly disturbing heart to heart part way through the movie whereby you actually wonder if Lange’s character is falling in love with a transvestite, unbeknownst to her! It’s an awkwardness so convincing that it landed her the Oscar for Best Supporting actress!

It goes without saying that Hoffman really delivers when thrust into extreme roles, such as that he will later take up in Rain Man. This movie really sets a blue print for those that follow in the 90’s such as Mrs. Doubtfire, but even that does not match the innocence and delight of Tootsie, which was 1982’s 2nd highest grossing film behind E.T!

3. First Blood

first-blood-knife-rambo“I could have killed ’em all, I could’ve killed you. In town you’re the law, out here it’s me. Don’t push it! Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe. Let it go. Let it go!”

It’s the movie that defined the action hero archetype. Sylvester Stallone is John Rambo, vagrant Vietnam veteran, passing through a sleepy mountain town that simply does not want him spoiling their idyllic scenery. He crosses the path of Teasle (Brian Dennehy), Sherriff of the town who makes it clear on no uncertain terms that he should leave town immediate and escorts him to the town borders. However when Rambo marches back the wrong way, he is taken into custody having committed no crime.

He eventually escapes into the wilderness and begins a one man guerrilla war against the inept local law enforcement. It likely encouraged a generation of youngsters to enter into their local woods planting booby-traps and getting gimped up in camouflage face-paint, or was that just me and my friends?

Unlike later Stallone action romps, the action here is subtle and realistic; it’s a stealth war against meandering nincompoops. It’s also one of the few movies where Stallone talks fairly eloquently, it would seem he perhaps dumbed himself down for many roles he played later.

Whilst the action is clever and satisfying, it poses a greater moral concern to the American viewing public as to how veterans are perceived upon leaving service, particularly those deployed to Vietnam. It demonstrates a common disregard for soldiers who served in a messy war, something that Hollywood was slow to highlight. Later efforts such as Born on The Forth of July picked up the mantle, though it is arguable that that ‘First Blood’ is more mainstream friendly, thus ramming home the undeniable truth to a wider audience.

The Rambo character does for the action-movie genre what Hoover did for Vacuum cleaners. It became the synonymous figure for the unstoppable one-man army genre that dominated the 80’s. It spawned 3 sequels, non of which live up to the original in my opinion, but First Blood was the movie that established Stallone beyond Rocky and saw his career go supernova!

2. Blade Runner

Blade Runner“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

It was a difficult decision in regards to the positioning of my favourite two movies of 1982, both are worthy of the grandest title of them all. I think you’ll approve of my final choice, however there is much time to discuss the grandeur of my number two choice.

I was fortunate to only see Blade Runner for the first time in my twenties, a good 25 years after its release. I feel much of its subtle appeal and nuances would have passed me by at a younger age. Co-produced by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is sci-fi indulged on the most epic of scales. From the monumental soundtrack by Vengelis, to its dark and wet Urban backdrops dashed in Neon lighting creating a Future Noir masterpiece. Blade Runner is easily one of the most visually impressive movies ever created.

The film follows Deckard (Harrison Ford) who is a Blade Runner, a group of specialist police assembled to hunt Replicants, which are near perfect human duplications with enhanced strength and tolerance to pain. He is assigned one last case to hunt down 4 recently escaped Replicants and ‘retire them’ before they cause havoc on the LA populous and ultimately meet their maker.

Ford puts in a great performance as the care-free and seemingly nonchalant Deckard, who shows no sympathy for those he is trying to hunt, or those whom his spiteful tongue might disturb, namely that of the seemingly emotionless Rachel (Sean Young) who is introduced to Deckard as test subject for Replicant interrogation, yet she is unaware that she is even a Replicant.

Lining up for the Replicants is Darryl Hannah and a career defining performance from Rutger Hauer, whose soliloquy as quoted at the beginning of this piece brings together a fitting finale that ties up many of the movies deeper residing themes,  which can be easily lost when distracted purely by the visual brilliance of the film.

A particularly favourite piece of eye-candy during this film is the scene where Deckard shoots one of the escaped Replicants following a chase from a strip club, A a rather stunning young lady is fleeing her would-be assassin wearing nothing but spiked boots and a see-through PVC rainmack.  The moment that she is shot in the back by Deckard as she crashes through several panes of glasses, all of which are illuminated by an abundance of neon is one of my all time favourite scenes for sheer visual impact.

The greatest gift the movie leaves for the viewer is that of an ending open to interpretation, is Deckard a Replicant or a human is ambiguous at best with strong cases for either. Fortunately this is one classic movie whose legacy has not been destroyed with a meaningless sequel meaning you can decipher the evidence and make your own conclusions.

It’s yet another IMDB Top 250 for Harrison Ford who was really at the top of his game during the few years either side of this movie, Blade Runner resides as a Science Fiction hall of famer and one of the best films ever made.

1. Gandhi

Ghandi Ben Kingsley“The function of a civil resistance is to provoke response and we will continue to provoke until they respond or change the law. They are not in control; we are.”

There are few movies that have stirred me as much as watching this movie for the first time. Directed by the mighty Richard Attenborough, the film follows the tribulations of Mohandas Gandhi, an English educated lawyer and Indian immigrate who is assigned to a practice in South Africa and is immediately subjugated to horrendous treatment due to his ethnicity. He leads a minor rebellion against the white British establishment, seeking equal rights for all races in South Africa and becomes a national hero back in India.

Upon returning to his home nation seeking peace and tranquillity he finds the problems of subjugation have not eluded him and the rape of his country’s resources prompt him to become the spearhead for India’s claim for independence from the British empire. This is accomplished using a innovative tactic of ‘peaceful rebellion’ or more accurately referred to as ‘non-cooperation.

Ben Kingsley is brilliantly cast as Gandhi and is entirely convincing in playing the hero of the movie, both in terms of aesthetic suitability and the humility he brings to the screen. It’s very difficult to take your eye off Kingsley during the whole film, it’s almost as if you’re watching the real Gandhi and it is truly a remarkable performance considering he’d done very little outside of TV roles at this point in his career.

It leaves a somewhat nasty taste in the mouth to see Kingsley selling himself short in movies such as 2012’s ‘The Dictator’ playing a somewhat stereotyped and foolish middle-eastern politician, it removes some shine from the legacy he build for himself in the Gandhi role and directly insults the magnitude of his performance. That said he deservedly bagged himself the 1983 Best Actor gong at the Oscars and the movie itself taking a tremendous haul of 7 further Oscars. It really is a heavyweight of a movie and is a must see for fan of history, particularly that of the civil-rights movement or the British Empire

In regards to the latter, it opens up some scar tissue and painful memories of how the British treated their colonial Empire. This is particularly emphasised in the excruciatingly merciless killing at the Jallianwala Bagh massacre where up to a 1000 men, women and children were trapped and shot by the British army during a peaceful protest. The movie closes out with the crushing division of Indian Territory following independence prompting the founding of Pakistan and the eventual assassination of Gandhi himself.

A lifetime of defiance in the name of justice, Gandhi established himself as one of the most important persons of the 20th Century and this movie more than does him worthy and is an incredible addition to the IMDB Top 250 and my best movie of 1982.