“The Chef”

“The Chef” is a foodie’s comedy/slice of life piece that delights! Whether it is the passion of creating butter-slathered grilled cheeses, Cubanos or sizzled sauces that draws one in, this film centers on parenting and work, and how children are often excluded when they need not be. Emjay Anthony is adorable as a kid that anyone would wish to call his/her own. A softer Sofia Vergara is lovely as the insightful nurturer, and Robert Downey Jr. is more than memorable as the phobia ridden ex with ADHD. Dustin Hoffman adds another character to his repertoire, and Scarlett Johansson does her thing as the sexy confidant. One wonders how Jon Favreau, who wrote, directed and starred in “The Chef” could get so many “sous-chefs” into his “kitchen”. No one upstages another. Oliver Platt is a natural gustatory critic. Comedic actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo both add a special zest to a beautiful cast.

“The Chef” is so freshly current with its social media, with its “lay your hits” marketing philosophy, with its undocumented workers, that the audience immediately connects, or at least recognizes the lay of modern culture.

The music is so engaging that several patrons danced out of their seats and down the aisle as they left the theater. Tito Puente comes to mind. And “Mr. Bone Tangle” and the street artist highlighted our chef’s past laments. This film will cause me to research M. Favreau, who must love and respect women and it not afraid to show his softer side.

“A Most Wanted Man”

Espionage reigns this year and most years. Trust, motivation and ideology interest us. From the popularity of MI5 re-runs, to the publication of Ben MacIntyre’s book “A Spy Among Friends”, to the brilliant film ” The Imitation Game”, to the young adult novel “Code Name, Verity”, saboteurs of all types and genders intrigue. Counter-intelligence is murky and morally suspect, and sometimes necessary. “A Most Wanted Man” is so bleak and haunting that resignation sets in for the viewer. Yet, Director Anton Corbijn”s “A Most Wanted Man” captivates us, too. Based on the John Le Carre novel, Andrew Bovell”s screenplay crafts a cynical and twisted plotline, while a splendid cast has us cringing in our seats. Never have I been so tense while hoping that a charitable gift remain as initially written! John Le Carre is a best selling spy novelist for a reason.

The cast makes this a ” must see “,too. Flawless acting by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is restrained and explosive at the same time, and actors Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright and Rachel McAdams add depth and irony and obsessive weariness.

The cool, industrial frames of Hamburg are beautifully stark, and the beginning wave-sloshing shot reminds us to look below the surface.The film was morally disturbing and it brings up the question, “Who was the man”most wanted”? Could it be the man we most miss?

“Calvary”

Don’t bother seeing Brendan Gleeson in “Calvary” unless you want to see a film that plays to Irish stereotypes of the derogatory kind. The whole parish is filled with ugly types in the premise that the viewer will have fun guessing who is plotting the killing of the good priest. Rage over childhood rape fuels the revenge, and the offending priest is long dead, and besides murdering a good priest will produce more pain.The revenge film structure merges with dark comedy and mystery, yet a farce emerges.

Cheesy graphics mark off the weekdays in the left hand corner of the big screen, and cheesier music and lyrics guide the audience just in case the duller members can’t follow Mr. Gleason’s emotional state. Though the film attempts to prove that “forgiveness is the most neglected virtue”, this film actually does the opposite. The crude violence seems like it belongs in another movie. The lab scene where a cigarette is stubbed out on a heart specimen was too much for this viewer.

Disrespect of all kinds does not a noir film make, and this botched one seems like an ill-conceived morality tale to boot. The few positives were watching Brendan Gleeson emote, and the County Sligo environs. As the credits rolled,the afterward did capture the loss of this good man, crucified for the sins of others. Sadly, most of the audience did not stay for these last goodbyes.

“Birdman”

If you appreciate magic realism,love acting and the cinema then “The  Birdman” is for you. Its subtitle, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” sheds some light on every cliche you have ever known about actors and acting. Fresh and imaginative, the camera’s constant roll gives the viewer’s mind no time to rest or to breathe in a pretty frame. Surprises are everywhere,as are egos. The unmasking of an alter ego is one of my favorite jolts.

Michael Keaton is crazy good as the self-indulgent lead,but so is Ed Norton as the photographic- memory -logged genius. Emma Stone is memorable and archetypal as the now dutiful drug-rehabbed daughter–sassy-wise and risk- ready. Naomi Watts is  believable and fragile and dedicated to her profession.

Dark energy permeates and self-indulgent obsession pounds away. The drums are a tad too loud in the initial scenes and the soaring flights too long in the latter, but I was blown away at all there was to contemplate psychologically. Amid the tidy-whitey humor, I loved the toilet -paper- roll -hash -mark scene! Shakespeare’s “Sound & Fury” was given unique range.

“Birdman” is attributed to a Raymond Carver short story,known for its realism–yet, this film still smiles and spews a certain Latin joy of life that supercedes  the seven dealy sins constantly being portrayed. Dark,funny exasperating and celebratory all at once, I could easily enjoy this film again and again.

“Nightcrawler”

“Nightcrawler was a perfect creepy-crawling film to see on Halloween. Jake Gyllenhaal worms his way into your psyche as Lou Bloom. He walks like a man,talks like a man, but has no humanity. Lots of things are absent in Lou: no morals, no empathy, no ethics. Though, he does have a business plan with the vocabulary and the buzz words to push his grisly video ambulance chasing forward.

Gyllenhaal,33, and thirty-three pounds lighter, does some of his best work to date. We see an inner glow that is close to maniacal with utterly sharp cheek bones that would pierce a colleague who would dare to question his authority. This film is a satirical noir that mocks the entrepreneurial spirit and the language of start-ups. We are beyond the “cautionary tale” here and into the horror.

L.A. Looks hollow and ghastly,as does Rene Russo as the tawdry Nina. What won’t people do for a job?!  Riz Alymed,as Rick,the side-kick, is as haunting in his own way. I did not recognize Bill Paxton. He was so his character.  Age can give you this: One can lose oneself in a part because one is so sure of one’s real self. Jake,however, is the real star here. You will love his  rubber band hair snaps while fearing that there might be more of Jake’s Lou’s out there.

“The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” and “My Old Lady”

For Marie,who asked that I continue with my film commentary, and for Shirley who likes to read my cinema thoughts,I can only write that the last two films I have seen have disappointed. They should have been better. The story lines were interesting & the actors for the most part held their own. Why then did “My Old Lady” and ” The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” keep me from timely expounding ?

Both films shared common themes: suicide & escapism . The tempo of ” Eleanor Rigby” was way slower than the Beatle Song it alludes to. Loneliness is what the viewer felt sitting in the theatre for fifteen minutes before the first interesting line was heard,and it was addressed to a pet goldfish as “Hello, Ralph”.

James McAvoy is crazy in love with Jessica Chastain. He warns her to be easy on his heart. He only has one. They chew red licorice sticks together;they have and lose a baby boy. They go back to their parents’ homes at thirty-three, and try to escape pain. Viola Davis, Wm. Hurt and Isabelle Huppert ( of “Lace Maker” fame) try to help or at best hollowly philosophize.All this is enervating and exasperating for the audience. My friend Mary remarked that Chastain’s forehead has not a wrinkle of grief. Jessica’s frozen forehead makes her look hollow and the dark eye shadow looks garish in trying to give her some depth of feeling. McAvoy is the star actor here. J.C. seems like two separate people pre and post baby. She ,per usual, asks too much work from her audiences.

Kevin Kline is the disappointment in “My Old Lady”. I normally love his personas,but he channeled Robin Williams so obviously that his manic alcoholic rages seemed like practice mimics. Maggie Smith & Kristin Scott Thomas were wonderful,but the rather moralistic tone left me cold. Neither film was in any way romantic except for the Parisian setting & the graveyard scene.I guess unloved children,or those who feel unloved only have hope for happiness when they find each other. Dual families & lots of withholding & lies do not a romantic comedy make.

“Rosewater”

I am used to being awakened with a call for a recipe,but this mid-morning I was asked why my movie review from last night was not yet posted. Whoa, that felt good! Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater” felt good ,too. The Western spirit of freedom has never been so ironically portrayed. A trapped and tortured young man is more free than his captors. Thematically,this is a gem. Movies are for the senses as well as the mind and the initial frames of rose petals being pressed are a delight. I thought immediately of Patrick Suskind’s 1986 novel “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” where scent and the ancient art of making exquisite fragrances turn macabre.

Tension is built but beautifully through the words of the celebrated modern Iranian poet,Ahmad Shamlou. As a master of championing liberty, he writes” ..he knocks on your door in the middle of the night/his mission is to break your lamp/we must hide our lights in dark closets.” This verse presages our Tehran -born -Canadian Newsweek reporter’s visit to his mother and background info on the past imprisonment of this sister and father.

The acting is fine and Gael Garcia Bernal & his new found friend Dimitri Leonidas are easy to identify with in their banter and coaxing. A great line about the power of the video is dropped and the frustrated eyes of the interrogator,Kim Bodnia, are discernible and universal as the mark of one who is not getting the outcome he wishes. Shohreh Aghdashloo has the eyes of a mother who has suffered and knows she can not protect her loved ones from their own suffering. The middle imprisonment is a tad draggy,but maybe that is intentional. 118 days,much in solitary confinement,is well— long.

I wish I had read Maziar Bahari ‘s memoir”They Came For Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity and Survival” before I saw the film. Stewart seems to presume we know more background than we do, or he is trying to drive home the fact that we are fated by our circumstances and only the humanities of art,dance ,and yes,humor can get us through.

The middle did drag, though I loved the touching- the -wall -dance scenes and Bernal’s sly smile on the return trip when a seat mate puts on his night mask to bury the light. “What a strange time it is”, Stewart seems to be repeating. No agonized solitude here . Viewers of this film will have no “smiles cut from their lips”or ” songs from their hearts.” This reviewer likes Jon Stewart even more in this first attempt at film making!