Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Christopher Walken, Scarlett Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito
Disney has always had a knack for squeezing every last dollar out of their intellectual property. Their most recent endeavour has been to recreate their classic animations as live action films for a new generation. We’ve had Maleficent (a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty), Cinderella and now The Jungle Book. But to call Jon Favreau’s film live action would seem a bit of a stretch when Mowgli himself is the only live element on screen.
Scripted by Justin Marks, this Jungle Book draws in equal parts from Rudyard Kipling’s original stories and the 1967 Disney animation which is, for so many people, the definitive version. Bagheera the panther (Ben Kingsley) narrates the tale of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub raised by wolves in the jungles of India. While a much loved member of the pack, Mowgli develops slower than his brothers and sisters. Behaviours that are to them second nature need to be learned by him, and he is constantly being scolded for his tricks – using tools to solve problems rather than doing things the wolf way. Continue reading
Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Bobby Cannavale, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr.
Jon Favreau started his career as an indie sensation with Swingers and Made, but the overwhelming success of Iron Man in 2008 drew him into the world of the blockbuster. With Chef the talented writer/director/actor returns to his independent roots.
Favreau plays Carl Casper, a highly regarded but burned out Los Angeles chef. His career took off ten years earlier as a result of a glowing review from influential food critic Ramsey Michel, but since then he has fallen into a bit of a rut. The news that Ramsey is going to return to his restaurant for the first time since that original review inspires Casper to plan an exciting new menu especially for the critic. But the restaurant’s owner steps in, insisting that the chef cook the existing menu, that he play the hits. The result is a scathing review which starts a Twitter war between chef and critic, ending in Casper losing his job. On a trip to Miami to clear his head with his ex-wife, Inez, and son, Percy, Casper buys and refurbishes an old taco truck. With his son and sous chef, Martin, by his side he drives and cooks his way back to Los Angeles, via New Orleans and Austin.
It is hard not to read this film as at some level allegorical. Is this really the story of a successful movie director who longs to make films that inspire him and that he is proud of, but is convinced by the studios that pay the bills to stick to the tried and tested and give the people what they want, only to then be slammed by the critics for being tired and unoriginal? Whether Favreau intends for Chef to be read as somewhat autobiographical or not, one thing is for sure, his heart and soul are completely in this film.
Chef has the feel of a passion project. This is a film that was made because Favreau wanted to make it, needed to make it, not because any studio was demanding it. Clearly there have been some favours called in, with previous collaborators like Robert Downey Jr and Scarlett Johansson appearing in smaller roles and giving the film some weight by association. But that passion pays off. Chef is so vibrant and alive. The food, the flavours, and the Cuban inspired soundtrack all combine with Favreau’s passion to create a film with a real sense of joy.
A word of warning: Chef is not a film to see on an empty stomach. Favreau has clearly not only learned to cook food (he was tutored by Chef Roy Choi), he has also learned how to shoot food. The food in Chef looks amazing. There is even a scene where Casper makes a grilled cheese sandwich for Percy which is somehow made to look like the most delicious thing in the world.
Yet while Chef works as pure food porn, the film has enough heart to ensure that it is more than just that. As well as being a celebration of food and cooking, Chef is about the reconnection of a father and a son. There is a great chemistry between Favreau and Emjay Anthony, the young actor who plays his son. As writer, director and performer, Favreau clearly has a great affection for this character and delivers the best performance of his career, and the ten-year-old Anthony gives an impressively natural performance, particularly in the scenes with Favreau and Leguizamo which would appear to be quite improvised.
Once the truck has been collected Chef becomes a meandering road trip, a film about taking the time to engage with your family, your friends, and your passions. A deceptively simple story, the film finishes quite abruptly, but that is not surprising because there is very little that needs resolving. Chef is an endearing celebration of food, cooking, creativity, passion and family which you can’t help but embrace.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Chef? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Ben Kinsley, Jon Favreau
Iron Man 3 provides our first look at ‘Phase Two’ of Marvel’s Avengers plan – that is, the movies that come between The Avengers and its sequel – and our first insight into how that process is going to work.
For starters, there is continuity from the events of The Avengers into this next Tony Stark adventure. However, these events have resulted in a logical shift within realism of the ‘Iron Man universe.’ For the first two films in the trilogy, Stark existed in a world that was more or less realistic. Our heroes and villains may have been ultra-rich and incredibly smart, but they were always basically human beings transformed into superheroes and villains through the use of technology. But The Avengers broke this realism by introducing aliens and gods, alternate dimensions and portals. Iron Man 3 acknowledges this shift in reality, giving a prominent narrative place to Tony Stark and other characters coming to terms with what they experienced in New York (“In New York” becomes code for the things that happened in The Avengers). Stark himself is traumatised by the events to the point that he suffers from anxiety attacks.
This shift in reality also allows for a scaling up of the threat in Iron Man 3. Our villain this time is the mysterious terrorist, the Mandarin, played menacingly by Ben Kingsley with a voice that is some combination of Richard Nixon and Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Mandarin is resourced by jaded scientist Aldrich Killian, continuing the tradition from the first two films of it being a battle of the brains. However rather than resourcing him with weapons or super-suits, Killian resources him with an army of genetically modified super soldiers. Therein lays the break in realism which would not have been acceptable without The Avengers.
Of course, not all our questions are answered. The primary one being, when the world comes under threat again, why does Tony Stark have to face this particular challenge on his own? At what point does a catastrophe become significant enough to warrant getting the band back together?
For this third instalment in the Iron Man trilogy, Jon Favreau has handed over directorial duties to Shane Black. Black’s only previous directorial experience was 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a brilliant if under-appreciated film which represented a very important step the comeback of Robert Downey Jr. which ultimately culminated in Iron Man. Black had made his name as a screenwriter of action-comedies, most notably the Lethal Weapon series, making him a pretty good fit for Iron Man 3. And Black does what he does best in this film, ramping up the laughs and the sense of fun in the film without undermining its drama and tension. Black taking over as director has also enabled Jon Favreau’s character, Stark’s body guard Happy Hogan, to take on a much larger role than he did in the first two films.
For a film about a superhero who wears a mechanical suit, Drew Pearce and Shane Black’s screenplay surprisingly sees Tony Stark spending the vast majority of the film, including a number of the action sequences, not suited up. That they felt the freedom to do this is indicative of the fact that over the span of this franchise the writers have successfully achieved what all superhero scribes wish for; they have got the audience invested in Tony Stark as a person, not just as Iron Man. When Christopher Nolan and David Goyer set about writing Batman Begins, one of their primary goals was to get the audience to care about Bruce Wayne as a person so that they weren’t just killing time until he put on the suit. In the case of the Iron Man franchise, you could almost go so far as to argue that audiences have a greater investment in the character of Tony Stark, and the charisma of Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him, than they do in the figure of Iron Man. Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is the trump card this franchise has to play, so it makes sense that Black set out to give him as much screen time as possible. This is further assisted from within the unfolding narrative of the series, with the constant evolution of the suit now seeing it as a piecemeal set of armour, which enables him to have any combination of his arms, legs and torso suited up without necessarily having to have his face covered.
Amazingly, Iron Man 3 represents Downey Jr.’s fifth appearance as Tony Stark – the Iron Man trilogy, The Avengers and a brief cameo The Incredible Hulk. This is staggering considering that the first Iron Man film was only released in 2008. It took Bruce Willis 25 years to appear five times as John McClane. Stark is now without a doubt the role with which Robert Downey Jr. will be forever associated. The way in which he has brought this character to life could also be arguably his greatest acting achievement, although he is excellent in Chaplin. It does not necessarily go hand in hand that the role for which an actor is remembered is also their best work, so he is quite fortunate there.
Iron Man 3 also contains a very brave plot twist, which I’ve been careful not to give away here. Brave in the sense that it is in equal parts fantastic and disappointing, and has thus far left audiences very divided.
Where Iron Man goes from here is anyone’s guess. We know there is going to be a sequel to The Avengers, there is no way that Marvel will let that not happen, and Iron Man 3 finishes with a Bond-esque “Tony Stark Will Return,” but it also has a sense of wrapping up which makes gives the impression that this may be the last solo Iron Man adventure. If that ends up being the case, Iron Man 3 is a fitting completion to a rollickingly fun trilogy.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean