Film Review: Chef

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th May 2014.

There really should be a warning on the poster of John Favreau’s Chef that informs cinema goers that they must eat before attending a screening. Because if you wander into a midday screening like I did, with nothing but a coffee in the tank, the onscreen depictions of some of the most gorgeous cuisine ever will have you feeling hungry and cheated by your overpriced bland popcorn.

Carl Casper (Favreau) is a chef stuck in a creative rut. Once considered a promising talent, he is now struggling to hold his family life together and work in a restaurant where the owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), insists on the same menu day in and out. When a war of words with food blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) gets out of hand, Casper loses his job and his only option appears to be a dilapidated food truck which he must renovate and then drive from Miami back to Los Angeles with his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and fellow chef Martin (John Leguizamo), stopping to serve hungry mouths along the way.

Favreau, most recently at the helm of the bloated Iron Man 2, returns to his independent film roots with this delicious morsel of cinema. Part road comedy, part family drama, part MasterChef, Chef has an all star cast. With supporting turns from Scarlett Johansson, Bobby Cannavale, Sofia Vergara and Robert Downey Jr, the film could easily have become a messy ensemble pic, but Favreau smartly keeps the focus on his bearlike protagonist.

To prepare for the role, Favreau apparently spent months working his way up from a kitchen hand to qualified chef and it shows on screen. The opening scenes of Casper preparing ingredients, including a whole pig, in his kitchen will have your mouth watering, unless you are a vegetarian (or a pig). By the time you witness the most amazing depiction of a cheese toastie being made, you’ll be wishing that the candy bar sold sliders and cuban sandwiches.

Casper is a genius in the kitchen but not so strong in the family and fatherhood department. When forced to accept help from his estranged wife’s ex-husband (Downey Jr) in a hilarious scene, the dirty taco truck he accepts is his salvation, career-wise and more importantly, for his relationship with his son. Once on the road, the father and son bonding scenes are heartwarming, without stepping into saccharine territory.

With a soundtrack to die for, Chef is a gem amongst the bangs and crashes of endless superhero movies. With uniformly strong performances throughout, Favreau has crafted a concoction that is as tasty and satisfying as the dished created on the screen. Highly recommended.

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Published in: on May 12, 2014 at 00:12  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: Iron Man 3

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th April 2013.

Avengers assemble again…in an orderly fashion over the next two years!! Phase 2 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has begun in earnest with the first of four superhero movies rolling out of the Walt Disney Pictures factory this past week. Iron Man 3 will be followed in October by Thor: The Dark World. Next we have Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April next year, then Guardian of the Galaxy in August, before the superhero mothership mark 2, otherwise known as The Avengers 2, lands on May 1 2015.

The good news is that Iron Man 3 maintains the fun quotient set by its predecessors and isn’t a letdown following the smashingly brilliant geekout that was The Avengers. The storyline picks up directly after the Chitauri invasion of New York and finds Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) unable to sleep following his near death experience free falling from the alien portal. To keep busy, he has designed a further 35 armours, as you do, and is experimenting with a mind-controlled version (Mark 42 for the nerds). A mysterious terrorist attack masterminded by The Mandarin brings Stark back into action as he confronts a new enemy and his own demons.

The challenge for new director to the franchise Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) was finding a villain menacing enough to follow an evil alien race. To his credit, he manages to find two, in Ben Kingsley’s The Mandarin and Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian. Kingsley is joyously over the top (and very non-Asian) in a role reminiscent of his turn as The Hood in the terrible Thunderbirds movie. Pearce also seems to be carving a niche for himself in the movie villains department with yet another crazy moustache twirling bad guy, following a similar role in last year’s Lawless.

Alongside the dependable RDJ, Don Cheadle and Gwyneth Paltrow return as James Rhodes and Pepper Potts, respectively. Original franchise director Jon Favreau also reappears briefly as newly appointed Stark Head of Security, Happy Hogan. It’s a testament to the quality of the film, and the whole Marvel Universe franchise generally, that a balance has been found in the storytelling which allows each major character to have their moment in the spotlight and not get lost in a plethora of villains and minor characters.

As with most major Hollywood tentpole releases, Iron Man 3 is available in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX versions. Filmed in 2D and post-converted, the movie is not a remarkable 3D experience and after a few minutes I forgot about it altogether.

Tony Stark is armour free for the middle third of the film, and it was a refreshing contrast to enjoy a superhero using his brains rather than his brawn, or his powered suit of high tech weaponry in this case. Of course, fans of mega-armoured suit battles aboard oil rigs will particularly enjoy the finale. A rescue of multiple passengers falling from a crippled Air Force One is also exhilarating.

Make sure you stay right to the end of the credits for the traditional Marvel Movie Universe bonus scene. It’s a corker.

A healthy blend of action, humour and melodrama, set in a comfortable, now familiar universe, makes Iron Man 3 a winner in the superhero stakes.

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 17:51  Leave a Comment  
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