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…


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.

Iron Man 3 (PG-13)

9 Stars

Ever wonder what a great superhero movie looks like?

Iron Man 3 is #9 on my ‘Top Films of 2013’ list.

The efficiency with which Marvel executes their film franchise is delightful. It’s almost unbelievable what they’re accomplishing in a timely fashion, while retaining quality in their product.

Iron Man 2 did not meet the usual standard, by any stretch of the imagination. If you think about it, the sequel retells the same story as The Great Mouse Detective.

Mind blown?

The third’s different.

First and foremost, the fights and action sequences are spectacular. Elaborate cinematic moments are captured through beautiful camerawork and near-perfect CGI.

And boy oh boy the story’s gripping. It’s packed with tension and emotional.

Here’s what works about the fourth installment (counting The Avengers) in Iron Man’s narrative arc.

First of all, it’s a deceptively small but tight cast.

Robert Downey Jr. is easily the weakest part of this film.

I’m kidding of course. He’s perfect as always.

Some critical opinion has been directed toward the adoption of voiceover narration so late in the series. While this claim’s easily permissible, it’s just as easily argued.

I never considered the voiceover out of place, and it’s certainly not off-putting. It’s a much more personal story with a character whose heroism we’ve grown accustomed to.

One might even say the narrative’s improved by the voiceover.

Stark feels locked up inside his own head. He’s a thinking machine without enough waking minutes left in his lifetime to reach full potential.

He is afraid. He literally awakes in midair; the audience and Tony become conscious of it simultaneously.

This scene utilizes a noteworthy camera technique – as if the audience is watching from the interior of the iron faceplate.

And it’s all interwoven seamlessly.

One might find these plot points contrived. I would disagree on these grounds: From what other material is the writer supposed to draw? He is bound by restrictions set in pre-existing narratives, and anxiety over these issues is exactly what a Tony Stark in our present reality would be struggling with.

Shane Black deserves a hearty round of applause for not only directing; he’s also credited as one of the writers.

Has Don Cheadle ever been less than delightful?

Again I find it hilarious no one noticed Terrence Howard’s replacement in the second until way after the third. (For more on this topic, read my review of Prisoners.)

There are the moments where Jon Favreau’s character (Happy Hogan) is so funny, you’re certain the painful comedic moment’s imminent. And of course it never shows up. Favreau’s spot-on.

Guy Pearce turns in a transformative performance as Aldrich Killian in two separate timeframes. Even though he’s more an unknown, he’s as good as the rest.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts is excellent. I’m surprised looking at her cinematic history, because she hasn’t done much outside this role.

I think Paltrow’s really great in this film, and her character’s one of the reasons Iron Man 3 goes above and beyond.

Pepper is supposed to be the lovable and dependable love interest. Tony’s constantly struggling to physically protect her while maintaining their relationship. As a fan of the comics, that’s all I’d expect from her portrayal on the big screen. But there’s a scene where Pepper ends up inside the suit and actually protects the unarmored Stark from certain death.

That’s great writing and the moment’s touching, fun and empowering. It also serves to satisfy the snootier audiences who require such details.

And as a final note, speaking of good writing, Ben Kingsley is an excellent villain.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the comic books or superhero movies, Iron Man 3 is a spectacular film for audiences of all sorts.