Category Archives: Film

Chef

ChefI wanted to see this in theatres since it spoke to my longer term plans of opening a food truck. Alas, like most films, I missed it before they yanked from the market. Luckily today you don’t have to wait too long before the streaming version is available.

This film will appeal to people who love to cook, people who want to work for themselves and people struggling with relationship issues, both partner and children. For foodies, I don’t know if it will appeal unless you’ve worked behind the scenes in the food industry.

A innovative chef works in a old-school Italian restaurant whose owner resists change. Chef is divorced with part-time access to his son. There are multiple levels of tension. Chef is frustrated with the owner of the restaurant since his innovative ideas are squashed for the sake of the standards. He is also frustrated that he can’t spend more time with his 10-year old son.  There is also some background tension between he and his ex-wife and her other ex-husband.

The pace of the film, as Chef has his obligatory blow-up with owner and starts out on his own with a beat up food truck serving Cuban fare,  is fast, changes locations frequently and injects an odd lot of cameos from very familiar Hollywood faces. For a dramedy, the acting if good, particularly from Chef (Jon Favreau), ExWife (Sofia Vergara) and Son (Emjay Anthony). The dialogue feels very natural and realistic even if some situations seem chaotic and contrived.

Chef avoids what could have been a tangled mess of cliches when faced with the age-old dilemma of innovation building business and business destroying innovation. It shows the two can co-exist and its really a matter of determining where in the spectrum you belong, then aligning your life accordingly. Our protagonist does a good but hardly ideal job of doing just that and in the end balance is restored to the tense relationships between chef, son and ex-wife. Chef arrives at its light-hearted and happy ending without insulting your intelligence along the way; you can have your feel-good cake without having to choke on the liberally applied saccharin icing.

 

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Snowpiercer

SnowPost-apocalyptic films are interesting for the many ways film makers visualize the end of the world and what happens next. Dystopian films are interesting, albeit often brutal,  for the ways film makers tweeze out extreme human behaviour, usually in some flavour of oppression. Snowpiercer is both post-apocalyptic and dystopian. While I found the premise interesting, the film falters a little on execution, mostly in the screenplay.

The world is suffering from global warming and a scientist creates a cloud-seeding mechanism to bring down the temps. The result is less than optimal because Earth is plunged into a new ice age effectively killing off all life. All life except those people who boarded a train built by a businessman to circle the earth, withstanding extreme temperatures found at the poles. The film opens on board the train, 17 years after the Earth went into deep-freeze.

First, I get that scientists have had some negative PR lately with falsifying data then covering it up with poorly constructed spin. But, it seems there would have been some safeguards against annihilating all life. Next, why did this business man build a train to circle the earth? Is this really something that could be built? Did the people who conveniently boarded this train suspect there might be a problem with the cloud seeding?  I get that you could create a self-sustaining food supply in a closed system but that would require power. What is the source of power that keeps this train running for 17 years? Are we supposed to swallow the notion that in 17 years no parts of the train needed to be replaced; not a wheel or track needed to be replaced? Certainly there is no industry left to make those. All of this seemed to be pre-determined but it was not addressed.  In short, my disbelief was not suspended.

Back on the train a wealthy few violently oppress the poor majority. This doesn’t surprise. Later we learn there is a method to this madness, the poor serving a greater purpose and even their predictable rebellions are manipulations of the wealthy to that end.

That aside, cinematography is extremely well-done. The visuals of the futuristic, self-contained train-home are sharp; the poor living is what appears to be an overstuffed cargo bay, the others in a Ritz Carlton suite. Lavish and squalid interiors are occasionally  juxtaposed with the pristine frozen landscape from a window bay.

Acting is good and Chris Evans does surprisingly well. We a get a good back story for his character in segments throughout. Heavy guilt from some poor choices made in his early days in the train’s poor section are his motivating force. He is redeemed by poetic, if not heroic actions as he leads a rebellion against the wealthy. With all the tight shots on Evans’ face it would have been easy for him to come off not-so-guilt-driven, not-so-angry, not-so-willing to sacrifice. But, he nails it.

I can’t recommend this film to sci-fi nor post-apocalypse fans simply because I think the plot isn’t well-constructed. However if you want to see Evans in something other than his typical Marvel comic role, Snowpiercer is a good vehicle for that.

 

 

Mommy

mommyI watch about 100 films a year; about 10 of those are really good in some ways, only 2 or 3 are excellent across board. Mommy is one of the latter. All comments about film are a matter of personal taste but for me an excellent film starts with a good script telling a compelling story. It successfully executes with a director who can utilize all the tools available to express that story such that it resonate strongly with an audience. They should talk about it, think about it and probably see it again.

Writer and producer Xavier Dolan has done that with this story of a well-meaning single mother trying her best to raise a son with AHDH who is prone to violent outbursts. A mysterious, stuttering neighbor unwittingly enters their lives creating a balance, each filling a void for the other. While the story occasionally drifts off into melodramatic moments, those moments are both situationally believable and necessary for the film take you by the arm and persuade you to follow these odd but ultimately relatable characters.

Mommy2Dolan obviously took a step back from this story to consider how best to communicate the emotional components. The most obvious is the aspect ratio, a simply unheard of 1:1. I can’t say what Dolan was thinking with this but for me it had the effect of focusing intensely on the actors facial expressions rather than the props around them. Choices in color, hue, soundtrack and even the choreography of son’s skateboard moves pair so well with unfolding emotions, you really don’t need to read the subtitles. Dolan has a knack for understanding and communicating human behaviour.

The 1:1 aspect ratio put more focus and pressure on acting. All three of the leads were outstanding. Anne Dorval in particular, while looking like a reject from an Absolutely Fabulous casting call, gives an award-winning performance as the road-weary mother, ever hopeful in the midst of increasingly trying situations with her son.

Despite a few mom-son moments crossing the creepy line, I was surprised how much I enjoyed this indie film. What surprised me more than anything was that the director, Dolan, is 25 years old. It also surprised me that hes made 4 other films. I’ll be checking those out to see if he’s always had this level of talent.

Highly recommended for just about anyone.

Sriracha

sriOh, a short about food!

If you’re like me and use sriracha on everything but have no idea about its origins, how it arrived in the US or how its made, then this is the film for you.

In Sriracha’s brief 30-ish minutes, you will learn all about the which country claims sriracha as its own, how it came to be a major industry based in Southern California and who was responsible. Aside from a deluge of quirky testimonials, its a good watch for any foodie already sold on sriracha. The footage of how its made, in mass, is interesting, if only for knowing how much goes into producing what everyone knows colloquially as Rooster Sauce.

 

Ex Machina

ex-machinaI had just finished watching two SciFi series featuring the not-so-great effects of artificial intelligence – Battlestar Galactica and its prequel, Caprica – so I wasn’t interested in more. However, my SciFi friends started commenting about the interesting spin on the artificial intelligence theme portrayed in Ex Machina.

It is a new spin. In an unspecified future a Bill Gates analogue creates the dominant search engine then uses the knowledge acquired from the search engine to train an artificially intelligent entity. To validate the AI he chooses one of his star programmers to perform a Turing test. In case you are not a computer science geek, that is a test to see whether or not the AI appears human to another human.

This film works exceedingly well for mystery lovers due to its clever writing and direction. You know beforehand the programmer will test the AI. You see the tests and the results. You’re also fed a lie and a truth then left on your own to figure out which is which. Good luck with that, I didn’t figure it out until the last 20 minutes. I’ll definitely watch it again since it induced a curiosity to retro-analyze with latent knowledge.

While the robotics FX is truly spectacular, the director chose not to bombard the viewers with too many special effects. Also, the setting is a high-tech house in a remote, forested location only accessible by helicopter. Without the distractions of technical wizardry and chaotic city life, it lets the viewer wander into a reflective state to ponder many questions posed by the script.

Acting is good by Alicia Vikander (Ava the AI),   Domhnall Gleeson (Caleb, the programmer) Oscar Isaac (Nathan, the inventor). Vikander’s movements, facial expressions and speech patterns are almost human but still slightly affected. Gleeson projects a detached sense of analytical prowess combined with a powerful emotional drive, back-story given. Gleeson is counterbalance to Isaac, whose excessive drinking and questionable behaviour set him up beautifully as the antagonist.

I tried to find some parallel with the term Deus Ex Machina and this film. Deus Ex Machina, as you probably know, is the term used when a writer weaves together an impossible story line then creates some Hail Mary miracle event to escape. ‘It was all a dream’, ‘There was this masterplan’, etc. I still don’t understand how the title correlates with the film’s message.

No matter, Ex Machina poses some familiar questions about artificial intelligence. What are the characteristics that make us human? Is is possible to recreate these characteristics? And even if it is possible, are we as a society truly prepared to birth a new life form that is arguably better at being human than we are?

Highly recommended for SciFi fans, philosophical ponderers and mystery lovers.

Wild

wildAnother nominated film I didn’t see before the Oscars, they yanked from the Houston market after a few weeks.

I’m not sure this film will make quite the impact on you as it did me unless you’re into hiking. Obstacles the main character faces on her hike definitely spoke to me since I could relate it back to a hike I did in New Zealand. If you’ve ever over-packed a back pack then had to brace yourself against a wall to stand up, you’ll relate. If you’ve ever forgotten to pack the fuel to cook your meal-in-a-pouch dinner and had to eat it raw, you’ll relate. That feeling of quitting one day into a two day hike but knowing it is senseless; pragmatism is forced to the foreground whether you like it or not.

The story revolves around Cheryl Strayed’s response to multiple life tragedies. Her response , a form of self-imposed therapy, was to hike 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which spans the entire length of California from Mexico to Canada. Doing this in a group is challenging enough but she did it solo. This is a true story, apparently made into a book and then this film.

While most of the story is told linearly and in first person narration, there were plenty of flashback sequences to give you sufficient background to answer the question ‘why would someone do this?’ I liked the longer flashback sequences, mostly surrounding the relationship with her mother and husband. The shorter 1-2 second flashback sequences I found a little irritating midway through. I get that this is sometimes how we remember things, in small, disconnected bursts, but for me, it didn’t add much to the story progression.

A very un-glamourous version of Reese Witherspoon does an outstanding job portraying Strayed. I speculate that the director actually staged some of the situations to generate an authentic frustration from Witherspoon since you feel that viscerally throughout. Frustration at her failed marriage, her mother diagnosed with cancer, her impulsive hike which came to light after reading a hiking rag.

In the end Strayed’s hike along the PCT, though she faces unexpected obstacles, dangers and frustrations, is ultimately cathartic. You the viewer, in case you have not done this yourself, will get to see some amazing scenery mostly shot in Oregon and Washington. For me, the scenery alone was worth watching this film, it was a bonus to learn about Strayed’s amazing journey and to witness Witherspoon in yet another Oscar-worthy performance; shes come a long way since Legally Blonde.

I curse thee Wild film, since now I feel compelled to hike the PCT.

Furious 7 | IMAX

furiousNeed something to insert between those cinematic puzzles and heady, introspective foreign films? My solution has always been an action movie. With action movies you need not be concerned about plot, there usually isn’t one. Whether or not the acting is complex or nuanced is irrelevant. You’re there for the rush, all you need is the big, clear picture and loud volume you can get in IMAX.

The Furious franchise has always been that for me. While some of the installments were weaker than others, I could always count on good action, predictably snappy dialogue and  totally impossible car maneuvers thanks to FX. I have to say, despite an initial reluctance to see Furious 7, it was absolutely the best of the Furious lot.

I’ve been waiting for England’s action bad-ass to hop on one of America’s action franchises and now its done. Jason Statham enters Furious as Deckard Shaw, the retired black ops brother of Owen Shaw, a guy the crew took out in Furious 6. No surprise,  he’s out for revenge.

Aside from what is an anti-hero smack-down between Statham, Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, there was a hilarious entry of a new character, Mr. Nobody, a director of black ops stateside played to the hilt by Kurt Russell. I haven’t enjoyed Russell in a role so much since his easy-to-hate Stuntman Mike in Death Proof. Russell’s smooth-talking monologues delivered with wicked timing and priceless facial expressions were definitely the major comic relief moments.

I could go on about the plot involving a bit of tech stolen by a terrorist and Mr. Nobody contracting the crew to retrieve it before Deckard but that’s only the obligatory spark to start the action fire. Action you will get; in car hijackings at 100mph under machine gun fire, donut spinouts hugging jagged cliffs, multiple car jumps across (and through) skyscrapers in Abu Dhabi and even what seemed to be the auto analogue of a HALO jump.

While the business end of the Furious franchise has stated there will be 3 more installments, it remains speculative. To me, this would be a good place to stop but something about how they positioned Statham’s character at the end, tells me he not quite done.

As you know Paul Walker died before they could release this film. There had to be some mention of that in the film and the execution was impressive. In the final 5 minutes Vin Diesel gives a brotherly good bye speech to Walker, masquerading as an acknowledgment that he has retired from the life to raise a family. Visually we see both of them drive away in separate cars side by side, flash sequences of Walker’s happier moments from the previous six installments interleaved.  Walker’s car then veers off to the left at a fork in the road. Fade, Insert dedication with one simple sentence.

For Paul.