Chef (R)

8 Stars

Who knows if it’s always been this way, but the phrase ‘date movie’ is a surprisingly bad omen.

It’s synonymous with bad comedy and cheesy romancing.

The idea that a sequel to Valentine’s Day got produced…

Anyway.

Last year’s The Spectacular Now is a great example of what a ‘date movie’ should be.

So is this year’s Chef.

It’s a heartwarming story about a talented L.A. foodsmith finding his niche. In part a road-trip buddy comedy, Chef explores father-son relationships and the struggle to maintain balance.

‘Slice of life’ is what you might call it.

Jon Favreau is lights-out. That dude’s a boss.

He writes, directs and stars in Chef. Favreau directed Elf; he has a cameo in The Wolf of Wall Street, and plays a great supporting character in Iron Man 3. You may be surprised to find out he’s also Danny Bateman, the overzealous linebacker from The Replacements.

He’s also into comics and a big supporter of the Marvel franchise. (Yes, I can easily forgive him for Iron Man 2.)

Plus the off-type roles he wrote for Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Vergara in Chef are very strong. The whole movie’s well written. It’s not a comedy in the traditional sense, even though most websites categorize it such.

If we’re to get technical, Chef meets the prerequisite minimum of hilarious dick jokes. So in a scholarly sense it’s a comedy.

Perhaps ‘realistic fiction’ is the right name for it. I still prefer ‘slice of life.’

It tells a real story about a hardworking, driven middle-aged man who’s reached a seemingly insurmountable crisis. The interactions between Favreau and Dustin Hoffman are believable and compelling.

The viewer quickly forgets they’re watching the Hoffster, and can empathize with both sides of the conflict.

Between Scar Jo, Sofia, Dusty and all the rest, the supporting cast is phenomenal.

One final actor worthy of mention is John Leguizamo. He’s always great, and doesn’t disappoint here.

A common criticism is the initial half is far more compelling than the later. But I couldn’t disagree more.

It’s between six to eleven minutes too long but that’s the film as a whole; there is no greater or lesser half.

Chef also dives into social media and creatively incorporates animation to illustrate ‘tweeting.’

There’s no ‘stinger’ after the end-credits but if you wait until halfway through, there’s a short clip of Favreau learning to make grilled cheese from a professional. It’s not mind-bending, but it’s fun and worth the three minutes.

Chef’s not a blockbuster but it’s hilarious, heartwarming fun if you’re seeking a flick in-theaters.

I saw it for six bucks, which is a steal nowadays.

So don’t leave it on the backburner any longer.

Chef’s packed with laughs and just the right amount of sentimentality.

It’s a realistic date slice of comedic fiction life movie.

With a dusting of romance.

Annie Hall (PG)

10 Stars

What sets Woody Allen movies apart is the prerequisite.

You must be a certain age to truly appreciate them. I think you need at least two decades under your belt before you can grasp the implications behind the character interactions, the political banter and all the cultural references.

Annie Hall is only the third Woody film I’ve seen besides Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. And I like it just as much.

The plot is basically a self-narrated character study of Alvy Singer (played by Woody) during the time in his life when he loved Annie Hall (played by Diane Keaton).

This thirty-six year old movie holds up! I watched it with my Dad yesterday and we were both having a laugh.

It took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 1977 as well as three others: two for Woody himself (Best Director, Best Screenplay) and one for Diane (Best Actress).

Christopher Walken must be bummed because he was in two best pictures in back to back years (Deer Hunter nabbed the Oscar in ’78) and hasn’t been in one since.

What makes this film great is the humor and the style. I get the feeling that every beat, every complete thought contains some sort of joke. It’s all about subtlety, nuance, irony and implication when it comes to the funny.

At times I’m consciously deciphering the wording of a dialogue exchange, and will give up because the discussion’s moving ahead without me.

For example, there is a scene in which Annie and Alvy are talking on a rooftop, and subtitles translate the implications of each statement. I try to digest each sentence and corresponding subtitle, but can’t keep up.

And that’s how all of Annie Hall is: Packed with material and moving along at a lightning-fast pace.

The subtitles are only one example of the many occurrences in which the characters break the fourth wall. Alvy, Annie and Rob (Alvy’s best friend) revisit the scenes of his memories in a number of ways.

Rob, played by Tony Roberts, is great. There’s a scene where Alvy watches along disgusted as Rob orchestrates the laugh track for an episode of his sitcom. And, again, this is exemplary of the entire film, which keeps the audience chuckling ironically from a distance.

One narrative quirk that confuses me is an interaction between Rob and Alvy. Early on in the film, Alvy says, “Don’t call me Max,” and Rob replies, “Why? It’s a good name for you.” For the remainder of the movie, Alvy and Rob refer to each other as Max. It’s hilarious, and I’m sure it’s written that way for a reason, but these types of stylistic oddities are scattered throughout.

The plot revolves around the settings of New York and Los Angeles, and compares/contrasts the traditional Jewish and Christian families of the main characters.

I love how Alvy grew up beneath a roller coaster, and the scene where he’s introduced into the psychotherapy that never seems to work out.

There’s a smart scene in which the frame is split in two and the main characters conduct therapy sessions concurrently. In this dichotomy the monetary, sexual, emotional and psychotherapeutic health of each individual becomes a form of currency in their relationship. It’s a fascinating, not to mention pessimistic, method of breaking things down.

The discussion with his elementary school classmates, whose hair is similar to his adult self, is nothing short of brilliant. They remain children in his mind, but morphed slightly over time to better reflect himself.

I bet that sounds complicated. What’s not complicated is Jeff Goldblum’s cameo. He’s on the telephone at a party and says, “I forgot my mantra.”

Larry David pays homage to the Wagner joke in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. And that animation scene was probably very original filmmaking for its time, but if I hadn’t heard about it previous to viewing, it would have blown past me.

The ending is fantastic. Like the rest of the film, it’s nothing short of brilliant.

Hopefully Woody’s got a couple good ones left.