May 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Made”)
Written by: Jon Favreau (“Swingers”)

If the effectiveness of a food-based film is based on how much said movie makes your mouth water for the dishes cooked on screen, rank director/actor/writer/produer John Favreau’s new comedy among the finest dining experiences at the theater in recent years. It may not make you have a food orgasm like in “Like Water for Chocolate,” but Favreau definitely teases the tastebuds.

It all starts with Favreau’s spirited and realistic script that allows his actors to play their roles without any artifice. In the film, Favreau takes on the lead role of Carl Casper, a chef of an upscale restaurant in Los Angeles where he has built a solid following cooking really good food. But Carl wants to do more than play it safe in the kitchen. He wants to experiment and take risks. Restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman), however, wants him to stick to the menu and cook the dishes he’s been making for the last five years. After a nasty war of words on social media with high-profile food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), who lambasts Carl’s latest effort in the kitchen, Carl sees no other choice but to pack his knives and find a new start in the culinary world. Taking advice from his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), he heads east with her and their son Percy (Emjay Anthony) for the summer to Miami where Carl starts a food truck business.

While the film isn’t breaking any new ground thematically, Favreau seems dead set on making “Chef” seem as true to life as possible. Much of this comes through the dialogue and interaction between characters, specifically Carl and Percy whose father/son relationship is sweet, but never cloying. Favreau also finds a natural give-and-take rapport with actors Bobby Cannavale and John Leguizamo, who play support staff in his kitchen. The latter finds his way to Miami later in the film to lend Carl a hand with his new endeavor. Also joining the cast for bit parts are Black Widow and Iron Man themselves, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr., both of whom give the film a little more star power for those moviegoers who will more than likely overlook an indie gem like this and settle for superhero fare this summer.

After mixed results with the blockbuster projects he’s directed in the last few years (“Iron Man” good, “Cowboys & Aliens,” not so much), it’s refreshing to see Favreau find his way back to a more intimate story where character development and smart dialogue trump everything else. There is a lot of cooking going on in “Chef,” but it’s easy to see the main course in this film is about Carl’s shortcomings as a father. Favreau is able to balance this narrative well, especially with the effortless performance he gets from his costar Anthony. It’s a great pairing that’ll make both your stomach and your heart expand.

“Chef” was seen at SXSW 2014. For more SXSW 2014 coverage, click here.

Barney’s Version

February 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Richard J. Lewis (debut)
Written by: Michael Konyves (debut)

As far as cinematic schlubs are concerned, not many actors out there can play bitter more brilliantly than Academy Award nominee Paul Giamatti (“Cinderella Man”). Even those with the physical traits to be considered schlubby like Jon Lovitz, Danny DeVito, and Kevin James would have to dig pretty deep to give nuanced performances like the ones Giamatti delivers in 2003’s “American Splendor” as late comic book icon Harvey Pekar or in 2004’s road-trip wine adventure “Sideways” as a sourpuss writer.

Once again, Giamitti embraces his inner grump in “Barney’s Version,” a Canadian drama based on the 1997 fictional autobiography of the same name by Mordecai Richler. While the structure of the novel doesn’t figure into director Richard J. Lewis’ film adaptation (footnotes are used in the book to correct factual errors Barney writes due to Alzheimer’s disease), “Barney’s Version” is still a quasi-epic biopic centered on the paradoxical life of a man with nothing and everything to live for.

In the film, Giamatti portrays title character Barney Panofsky, a once-widowed, twice-divorced TV producer in Montreal whose entire existence has been an up and down battle between his heart and his head. Flashbacks mark moments that have impacted his life – from a drunken encounter with best friend Boogie (Scott Speedman), which may have led to his disappearance, to his longtime pursuit of third wife Miriam (Rosamund Pike), whom he meets during his second wedding reception.

Watching Barney search for happiness in the most graceless ways is uncomfortable at times, but his sincere personality peers out enough from behind his callous exterior to feel just enough sympathy for him without dismissing his countless flaws. There’s something uplifting about his stubbornness and refusal to conform. Barney stays the same as the world changes around him. It’s a life filled with disappointment, but one that’s still worth living even if it’s for the little glimpses of a better one.

The Tale of Despereaux

December 9, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson
Directed by: Sam Fell (“Flushed Away”) and Robert Stevenhagen (debut)
Written by: Will McRobb (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”),Chris Viscardi (“Alvin and the Chipmunks”) and Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”)

Don’t let the title fool you. “The Tale of Despereaux” is really only a third of what this Universal Studios animation is all about. Along with a little mouse named Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), screenwriters Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi and Gary Ross, make a mess of the narrative by adding layers upon layers of unimportant characters and situations.

The primary story itself isn’t all to interesting either. Despereaux, a small rodent who fears nothing, is banished from Mouse World because of his courageousness and ends up befriending Princess Pea (Emma Watson). There is also a confusing story about a rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) who accidently kills the queen during an event called Soup Day and later teams up with Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman), a lowly castle servant who looks like a computer-generated character from the movie “Gummo.”

Based on a Newberry Award-winning children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, not much of anything make sense in “Despereaux” and by the time you understand how everything is linked there’s really no reason to care. It’s not the worst animation of the year (watch “Fly Me to the Moon” and you’ll see why) but with gems like “WALL-E” and “Kung Fu Panda” already out on video, there’s no reason to see this dopey little tale about a mouse with Dumbo-like ears. “Despereaux” will make a cute plush toy, but as an animated feature it’s unlikable.

Kung Fu Panda

June 1, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: (voices of) Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman
Directed by: Mark Osborne (TV’s “SpongeBob Squarepants”) and John Stevenson (TV’s “Father of the Pride”)
Written by: Jonathan Aibel (TV’s “King of the Hill”) and Glenn Berger (TV’s “King of the Hill”)

Let’s not kid ourselves when it comes to recognizing the leader in animated feature films. Although Japanese anime like “Spirited Away,” has been a strong contender for the last few years, very few others can hold their own against Pixar Animation (DreamWorks Animation with their “Shrek” trilogy would beg to differ).

Since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a category to honor animated features in 2002, Pixar has won three out of the seven years and been nominated a total of five times (“Monster Inc.” and “Cars” failed to win during their respected years against “Shrek” and “Happy Feet”).

Leave it up to DreamWorks to revisit the fat, loveable character-driven underdog story to return them to grace after not so great showings with “Bee Movie” and “Shrek the Third.” In “Kung Fu Panda,” the animation company proves that Pixar doesn’t have a monopoly on the industry (even though deep down they are all really scared about how groundbreaking “WALL-E” might be later this year).

“Kung Fu Panda” tells the story of a lazy panda bear named Po (Jack Black) who would rather learn the secrets of his favorite kung fu masters than sell noodles with his loosey-goosey father.

Po gets his chance when Oogway (Randall Duk Kim), a wise, old tortoise choose him to fulfill an ancient prophecy over a group of real animal warriors known as the Furious Five – Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Mantis (Seth Rogan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Crane (David Cross). This happens much to the chagrin of their kung fu master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) who doesn’t understand why Oogway has chosen Po to protect them.

With the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (Ian McShane) looking for revenge against the village, there is no time to waste training a fat, uncoordinated panda bear to fight a vengeful kung fu expert. Or is there?

The great work with “Kung Fu Panda” starts where it should with perfectly cast voice work by Black, Hoffman, and Kim. The humor ranges from flavorful jokes for adults and silly slapstick humor that doesn’t go overboard for kids. To top it off, animators pay special attention to the action and fighting sequences, which are high on energy and detail (the slow-motion animation is especially brilliant). “Kung Fu Panda” is a smart and funny homage to martial arts classics of the past and is the best animated feature so far this year and Po is definitely a character you can cheer for.