Sunday, September 07, 2014

REVIEW: Chef (2014)

Who says a movie needs to be dark and edgy, filled with conflict, heartbreak and drama, to be taken seriously? Sure those can be quite the brain food and a good watch as well (Chris Nolan's filmography comes to mind) but can't a heartfelt uplifting movie with nothing nasty to say reach a spot on the same shelf? Although truth be told, one could read a bird being defiantly flipped between the lines of this feel-good food fest.

High-end chef Carl Casper, divorced without knowing why from a woman he still loves and father to a son he can't find time to raise, comes up to an important milestone in his career: the restaurant he works for will be reviewed by the Nikki Finke of Food named, curiously enough "Ramsey" (a slimmed-fast Oliver Platt) . Being torn apart by words is only the beginning of his end: next he'll discover Twitter, and take his meltdown viral. Now out of a job and unemployable, he finds himself at the bottom with only one way to go: across the country in a foodtruck with his most loyal friend (John Leguizamo), a son he can finally get to know, and a new appreciation of himself.

One thing can't be denied to Jon Favreau for this personal endeavour of his: he mightily challenges Box-Office mammoth Guardians of the Galaxy for best soundtrack of the year.  The Cuban-laced rythms, perfectly fitting co-star Sophia Vergara as the Jimminy Cricket of this tale, carries the tone with a fresh optimism too seldom showcased in a  year so dark at the movies that even goofy lovable nightfuryToothless was turned into a mindless killer. Tito Puente and his contemporaries infuse this movie with such delight that Marvin Gaye might find eternal peace in knowing that someone managed to make an incredibly engaging cover of Sexual Healing.

"Why the f**k are they all pouring ice on themselves? Aren't we in a  serious drought???"

Favreau doesn't shy away from how personal this project is to him, surrounding himself with people he truly wants in his movie and vice versa, even if it means a 90 seconds-only presence for Rob Downey who, let's face it, could in such a short appearance school any given Oscar winner of the last 20 years. Even John Leguizamo, the king of playing it over the top, has the good sense to be a truly supporting actor in a performance that made me forgive him for One For the Money, while ScarJo herself plays... well ScarJo, and why shouldn't she for the man who made her into a powerhouse ass-kicker!

The only thing better than the cast is the food, ever present and so perversive the droll each side of my mouth made my own culinary talents recoil in jealousy. Honestly, weight watchers, stay away. Case in point: Favreau's girth. You KNOW the guy "practiced" a lot before filming...

So what's this about the director flipping the bird? Well... the film concerns Jon Favreau's character who, after being hailed in his debut for his independence and spirit (Swingers, Made), reaches the big time with a splash (Iron Man) but then succombs to corporate droneship which gets him shredded by haters and vitriolic critics (Iron Man 2, Cowboys & Aliens). So he goes back to his smaller, personal roots to do something for himself, something that truly makes HIM happy (this movie). Success of which re-opens the door for bigger yet still-personal projects (The Jungle Book).

"No, Porthos was just a character I played. I wasn't really friends with Charlie Sheen."

Just take that one scene where Carl goes publicly berserk on the mega-critic; "It hurts" the man keeps yelling to his tormentor, as if to remind everyone who turned on him that he made the movie which Marvel built their cinematic empire on (not to mention he had to fight tooth and nails for Downey to be Tony Stark, one of the greater casting decisions of modern cinema).

That being said, seekers of low-brow, high octane entertainment will surely find a bore in this effort from Favreau, but even the most casual viewer won't resist the salsa being served on a smiling platter, both musically and mouth-wateringly. If it doesn't boast an original plotline, at least it serves a full order of sincere hope and optimism, something much needed right now amidst the darkness rapidly covering our entire world.

Final Word: 4 out of 5 Stars

Sunday, March 09, 2014

REVIEW: I, Frankenstein (2014)

One of the plot points throughout this movie is a quest for a fabled journal that could spell doom for humanity. The good guys have it, and though it's completely useless to them while the bad guys need it desperately, they decide to do the obviously logical thing: lock it in their vault, instead of, say, burning the damn thing. Which is what they surmize should be done once they lose posession of it. I, Facepalm.

I, Frankenstein is not so much a bad movie as it is disapointing. Even though it's a barely veiled remake of Underwold (both created by mountain-man Kevin Grevioux), the basic premise should've assured it instant awesomness. You have Chis Nolan's Two-Face Aaron Eckhart playing the Frankenstein creature who still lives 200 years later and finds himself at the center of a war between two factions of supernatural warriors. Where can it go wrong??? Everywhere, that's where.

First off it makes it easier to understand why the movie adaptation to teen-lit hit Tomorrow, When the War Began was a complete let down; director Stuart Beattie, who also wrote the script for both films, tried to make them a spectacle but, like the creature, didn't give them a soul. The visuals are interesting and the fight sequences more than adequate, but the tired dialogs and nauseating clich├ęs make it just as empty as the non-stop plot holes.

I did something truly awful... I read the script!

All those things wouldn't be so bad if at least it was fun, an adjective that is resoundly missing from start to finish. Everybody tries like hell to avoid being campy in favor of seriousness, which is the last thing this sad mess needed. If you can't make it good, at least make it enjoyable. But Beattie takes it too seriously and doesn't have the ingredients to deliver that. Instead we get a maelstrom of missed opportunities and microwaved moments that made me pine for someone like Gareth Edwards to cut the fat and give me nothing but a story.

I do however have to give kudos to Aussie bombshell Yvonne Strahovski. After helping make Chuck into a cult show and bringing Dexter back from the abyss of its Colin Hanks storyline, here she completely surpassed herself with a dead-center Kristen Stewart impression, complete with wooden face and absolute lack of interest whatsoever. It might even have been enough to finally have me pay for membership with the Golden Raspberry Foundation so that I can log a vote in her favor.

I, Frankenstein is frankly not as disastrous as other similar genre entries like Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing or Nicholas Cage's post-Las Vegas filmography. But the gargantuan misuse of a great cast and of a promising setting makes it one of the biggest disapointments in recent memory, despite the foreshadowing of it's ominous release date (late January rarely EVER produces good movies).

Final Word: 3.5 out of 10

Thursday, February 27, 2014

First Impressions: Global's REMEDY

If CBS had any sense (and seeing as they promoted Nina Tassler to chairman, well...) they would've given Enrico Colantoni's Person of Interest villain Elias a spin-off of his own so much he made that character rich and irresistible to watch. But while the Eye remains happy with putting him on a few minutes here and there, Global made the smart play of putting their new medical show square on his shoulders.

Remedy, Global's answer to CTV's massively popular Saving Hope (NBC may have dropped it after one season, it's still the most watched Canadian drama) stars the Flashpoint vet as Doctor Conner, the head of a medical family all working in the same hospital (and not all of them voluntarily). Nikita Vets Sarah Allen and Casey Dillon co-star alongside Vampire Diaries alum sara Canning as the Conner siblings, with resident Warehouse 13 psychic Genelle Williams and the always-hilarious Martha Burns on board for the ride.

While 'Hope is a romantic procedural with fantasy undertones, Global's latest offers right off the bat a microcosmic look at social classes and standings still very present today. The Star's Tony Wong compared it to Downton Abbey, which is a pretty accurate analogy; one of the main characters, a resident doctor who boasts of having studied for ten years but has little to show for, faces-off against an orderly who clearly knows more than he lets on but remains mum about it due to his position of a simple porter. I was almost expecting Lady Grantham to drop by with a sick burn.

At the center though, Remedy reminds of a heartfelt Edward Burns movie with its looks at a dysfunctional family that really tries to be the nuclear kind, but seems to fail at every turn. Medical shows might be a dime a dozen, this one stands out with such a heart, and at the center of it an already-strong cast that perfectly juggles dramatic turns with impeccable comedic timing. It's all about family, and this team doesn't need to rely on the tired trick of flashbacks to get you in on the clan's history; their demeanour for one another speaks volume, and rewards us for having tuned it to this little gem.

Unlike for our American neighbours, here mid-season shows usually are just as good if not better than the line-up starters, and Remedy is no exception. The production on the whole season had already wrapped before going on air, which gives the show an air of excited exuberance at pushing forward without constantly cringing at ticker-tape feedback. This one truly deserve the moniker of "original" series, and while it would probably flop belly-up down South, over here it could well be the next big thing.

Remedy airs Mondays at 9pm EST on Global.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Being Human put to rest

"This entire season was, from inception, designed to be the last one. All stories are tied up. This was how we wanted to go," Sam Witwer tweeted yesterday. "Wanted to tell a great story from beginning to end. We didn't want to bleed the concept dry. Believe it or not - artistic decision." We see what you did there, Sam.

The story might not be bled dry, but Syfy soon will at the rate their going. The network announced earlier this week a heartbreaking cancellation for their fantasy drama Being Human, which will bow out of the air entirely this spring and make the current fourth season its last.

SyFy has been litterally cleaning house of their genre shows over the last couple of years, with fan-favorites like Sanctuary, Warehouse 13, Eureka and Alphas having all tasted an early axe while reality series and  competitions keep growing in number and season orders. Laura Vandervoot This latest cancellation though is only a first for the cabler's new chief of programming Bill McGoldrick, who took office 4 months ago.

"Cast and crew have done an amazing job bringing this show to life over the past four seasons and we sincerely thank them and the series," the network said in its press release.  “They’ve saved the best for last with the final six episodes".

The show, filmed entirely in Canada and consistently employing local actors and crew, was based on a British series of the same name which suffered a steady decline in ratings and quality after most of the original cast left the show only 3 seasons in, and ended its run last year after 5.

So how WILL the adventures of Aidan, Josh and Sally end? Tune in for the next 6 weeks as the show airs without further hiatus until it's April 7th finale. Tweets Sam, "Next weeks episode?@MarkRPellegrino called it "The best #BeingHuman episode" he'd seen up til then".

In the mean time, let's go back to square one, shall we?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Heaven just got a little funnier

He was a man never seen without a smile, and seldom around people who could resist smiling back at him. He was among his genration's pioneers in the art of making people laugh, pushed the enveloppe for so many others to express their art free of censorship and marked his time with work that will outlast any of us.

Canadian actor, writer, director and comedian Harold Ramis passed away today, and all of sudden Canada feels a lot more sad to live in. Without him there's no Ghostbusters, Animal House, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day, Meatballs & Stripes, No movie career for Rodney Dangerfield and no big break for Rick Moranis, John Candy, Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy.

The last 10 or so years were really counter-indicative of the massive contribution and influence he's had, and that infectious smile of his never faded. Heaven will be filled with a lot more laughter now that he's joined too many of his friends, and God forbid Dan Akroyd be taken from us anytime soon.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

REVIEW: Drinking Buddies (2013)

Let's be honest right off the bat: Drinking Buddies is the very definition of an independent movie, from hand-held cam tracking shots to the ass-kicking soundtrack to a set of low-to-no name actors clearly having their own personal little blast. It has NO budget, but most of all, No SCRIPT either. Those who DON'T like dialogue-based character pieces where very little happens while Michael Bay is elsehwere in the Milky Way, will certainly NOT like this one either. Unless you're in it for Olivia WIlde's hotness. Which cranks up to Eleven here as she plays a beer-guzzling, couch-slumping tumboy who happens to be really hot.

The story, so much as there's one, follows BFFs Luke & Kate who work together in -of all places- a brewery. If I may slightly segway here and say that if such a place really exists, where you you can freely "sample" the product strainght from the source, I'll apologize to everyone whom I bragged at for having what I thought was the world's greatest job (I mean I'm paid to watch movies all night long, com'on!). Back to our Brewy Bunch, the pair find each other at a somewhat similar stage of life: she's dating a music producer who wants something more, he's dating a teacher who can't wait to get married. The only sure thing in either's life is their friendship. Or is it?

Beer. It makes a buddy look good.

It's a premise we've seen so many times before -can men and women be best friends without blurring the line- but never get any kind of answer for other than "oh just get it ON already". The interest is thus not in what it has to say so much as HOW it is said. The movie exists for the sole purpose of allowing its players to improvise everything from top to bottom with only an outline of what needs to happen. It makes for a tense viewing because the actors are themselves understandably tense, which in the end becomes the most honest viewer-to-viewee experience you can get from a movie. It doesn't thrill and spill and dazzle, but it makes you honestly feel. Period. Like a reality show, but without the scenario.

Jake Johnson, whom I'll forever refer to as Jealous Jesus thanks to Harold and Kumar, offers a fun, heartfelt lead performance that makes it impossible to not want a friendship of our own with this scruffy dude, despite the Billy Carter cap and attitude. The sheer chemistry he shares onscreen with Wilde, probably due to pressure of having to ad lib everything as they go, makes them both irressitible to watch. The gravy, though, is with support players Ron Livingston and Ann Kendrick whose own awkward moment together makes for one of the more touching scenes of the cinematic year.

Plenty will see in this movie a 90-minute bore that just drags on without intent or purpose. And that's OK. But then again there are those who will see in the exercise an echo of the early 90's indie boom spearheaded by Reservoir Dogs among others, which probably explains why Tarantino pinned it in his 10 Best of '13 list. I'm just sayin. *cough*

One thing above all is clear: it'll make you wanna have a beer.

Final Word: 7.5/10