Wednesday, July 23, 2014


On Saturday I saw Chef, starring Jon Favreau and Sofia Vergara.

Carl (Favreau) is a chef who is predictably passionate about food. He cares about the flavors, the art, the romance—all of it. And he cares about the review he’s going to receive from a famous critic due to dine in his restaurant that very night.

After he’s visited his local farmer’s market stand, crafted an exciting menu with his team and has his A-game ready to go, his boss throws a wrench into his creative plan and instructs him to cook the same menu he’s been cooking for years. Devastated, he complies. 

Unfortunately, the critic is not pleased and rakes him over the coals in his review. This sparks a Twitter war between the two and Carl is left without a job (or options).

The mother of his child, Inez, (Vergara) has a connection that she thinks can help him get back on his feet and before he knows it, he’s cooking again, making himself (and everyone around him) very happy.

The story is a great illustration of the benefits of following your bliss. 

Sure, there’s a bit of the “corporate big brother” feel in the boss character; and the point of him ignoring his boy is driven home more than it needs to be, but the joy Carl finds in his passion for food is nothing short of inspiring to see.

Let it be a lesson to us all.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

A Hard Day's Night

Today I saw A Hard Day's Night, which has been restored for its 50th anniversary.

The 1964 classic, which could have been named for another Beatles hit, "A Day in the Life," shows just that as it follows the four most famous men in the world around on a 'show day.' Though not a documentary, the parallels between the real lives of the stars and their fictitious counterparts cannot be understated.

At this time in their lives, John, Paul, George and Ringo most certainly had screaming girls chasing them around every corner and most definitely made light of their unprecedented circumstances with sharp sarcasm. This, along with a clean grandfather, an important concert gig, a spirited train ride, a dance club and a wandering Ringo round out the main activities in the film, not one of them bordering on dull.

I think what I love most about this movie is the joy.

The men are still boys—barely scratching the surface of their talent—but they're already dominating the world. They've amplified England and cheered up a sad America in the wake of their president's assassination. They've created the happiest, catchiest, music around, and its melodies are infectious.

It's hard not to smile while you watch A Hard Day's Night.

Aside from the clever dialog, the abundance of brilliant music is its greatest asset. Though the live tracks at the end bring the true crescendo of 'happy,' there are several performances sprinkled throughout to keep even the most hungry of fans satisfied.

Seeing this restored version, with digital restoration approved by its original director, is a cinematic feast for the eyes and ears not to be missed.


Friday, July 04, 2014

Life Itself

Today I saw Life Itself, a documentary about the legendary Pulitzer-prize winner Roger Ebert.

When Steve James set about to direct a film about the world's most famous film critic, he knew there was a chance his subject wouldn't live to see its completion. Unfortunately, that prophecy came true.

In some ways, though, it feels as if it was timed just right. Ebert deserved a public coda to that amazing life of his, and capturing some of his last moments and words brings a depth to the poignancy and prestige of the project.

The film begins with the star's birth in 1942 and shares memories from his youth as an only child in Illinois as well as his drinking days as an early "newspaper man." There's no glossing over his alcoholism or his tendency to be pompous, especially after he won a Pulitzer. The man wasn't perfect—but he was refreshingly real.

Much of the commentary is provided by Ebert himself, along with his beautiful wife Chaz; Gene Siskel's widow Marlene; various newspaper buddies; former producers of his television shows; his stepchildren and stepgrandchildren; and a few famous directors. Everyone speaks candidly and from the heart, which is both hilarious and heartbreaking at every turn.

Equal time is devoted to the romanticism of his past and the devastating realities of his last decade of life, which was spent overcoming one medical battle after another. The sheer strength of his wife dealing with all of this pain will leave audiences in awe.

The remarkable thing is that he never felt sorry for himself.

Here was a man who had lost the ability to speak and eat, but was as sunny and happy as ever, offering his trademark "thumbs up" in response to those checking in on him. He became a trailblazer in the social media space and spent his hours doing what he had always done best: writing.

Although I could watch footage of he and Siskel arguing until the cows come home, I did wish there was more of the love story he shared with Chaz included. Perhaps the DVD will be packed with extras and I'll get my fill.

I grieved the day we lost him and I continue to grieve every time that I see a film and instinctively go to check IMDB to see what Roger thought of it too, only realizing after a few seconds that his reviews ended a year ago.

I'm thankful that Steve James made this moving portrait of his life, as his influence will live on forever.


Thursday, July 03, 2014


Tonight I saw Tammy, starring Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon.

Tammy (McCarthy) is a mess of a woman—both physically and mentally. She's lost her husband, her job and her car all in the course of one day. This trauma causes her to go of the rails and seek escape. The trouble is, the only way she can get out of town is to use the car owned by her grandmother Pearl (Sarandon), and that comes with strings attached: Pearl wants to come along for the ride.

And so it goes, the cliché road trip begins.

I adore both of these ladies, I really do, but their talent is wasted here. After a series of mistakes and hints that these two family members have a more serious past than the tone would imply, some not-so-fun things start to happen.

Thank God Mark Duplass arrives to save the day!

He plays Bobby, the most normal, sane person in the story. He meets Tammy at a bar where his father is shamelessly pursuing her grandmother. Tammy embarrasses herself going after Bobby and then they both bond over embarrassment. It's as if the screenplay said "Just kidding! This is really a heartfelt drama," and picked up in the middle of a different film.

Unfortunately, I liked that other film better.

Duplass and McCarthy have a lovely chemistry, but they barely get enough screen time to explore it. Every time he appeared on camera I'd breathe a sigh of relief and then before I knew it he'd be gone.

Also refreshing are Sandra Oh and Kathy Bates as a wealthy lesbian couple who throws a lavish party that the misfits attend. And I would be remiss to mention Dan Akroyd and Allison Janney who play Tammy's parents. Of course, they're awesome.

McCarthy will always succeed in getting a laugh out of me, but here it feels as if she's trying too hard.


Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Deliver Us From Evil

Tonight I saw Deliver Us From Evil, starring Eric Bana and Edgar Ramirez.

Ralph Sarchie (Bana) is an undercover detective for the NYPD. He has a knack for sensing harm and an unfortunate habit of putting his family last. Father Mendoza (Ramirez) is a young priest who keeps turning up where Sarchie seems to need him the most.

When a mother loses her mind at the Bronx Zoo and throws her child into a ravine, Sarchie and his partner are called upon to investigate. What they find is a disturbed woman and a mysterious painter who disappears into the night.

After reviewing surveillance tapes, and putting puzzle pieces together from a few other calls they've responded to, Sarchie and his partner (played by an especially youthful Joel McHale) trace the chaos to a trio of soldiers who served together in Iraq.

Though Sarchie doesn't want to admit it at first, their problems run deeper because all parties involved are influenced by a supernatural force.

Reluctantly, Sarchie allows Mendoza to offer his services and the real "fun" begins. The crucifixes come out, Latin is spoken, insects appear and ... welll ... you know the rest.

Though certain shots are definitely creepy and the actors completely "sell" their fear, I can't honestly say I was too disturbed by it. For a horror movie that's "based on true events," I was actually expecting much worse (and of course, once I did my research I realized that the narrative here is almost completely fictional with the exception of the priest and the cop working together to battle demons, which they apparently still do to this day).

There's a lot of gore and children's toys that get unruly, but nothing here will really send shivers down your spine.

If you want to watch a few hot men battle evil for a few hours, you're in luck, but that's about all you'll get.