Ep. 132 – Ready or Not, American Factory, and the rise of Disney Plus

August 26, 2019 by  
Filed under Podcast

This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review “Ready or Not” as well as “American Factory,” the first Netflix film from Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company.

They also talk Disney+ programming reviews, and the likely divorce of Disney and Sony and the fate of “Spider-Man” in the MCU.

Click here to download the episode!

Chef

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.

Identity Thief

February 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Jon Favreau
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“Horrible Bosses”)
Written by: Craig Mazin (“The Hangover Part II”)

Though Kirsten Wiig might have been the star and creative force behind the smash hit “Bridesmaids,” perhaps nobody benefited more from the films success than actress Melissa McCarthy. Not only did she have the entire country talking about how funny she was, but she rode that level of acclaim and popularity to heights like hosting “Saturday Night Live,” winning an Emmy for her work on “Mike and Molly,” and even being nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Bridesmaids.” Like many before her, McCarthy’s status now gives her the chance to jump from scene-stealer to leading lady. She starts that venture off in the new comedy “Identity Thief.”

When Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) notices that his identity has been stolen, he must travel to another state to catch the person who is using bank accounts. His trip leads him to Diana (McCarthy), a long-time criminal who uses illegal schemes to excessively spend other people’s money. When Sandy and Diana’s safety is threatened by a crime boss Diana scams, they must travel cross country together before trouble finds them both.

With the television show “Arrested Development,” Bateman proved himself to be one of the best straight-man comedic actors around. His seemingly normal character surrounded by complete chaos served as a perfect springboard for others to play off of him. What made Bateman so great, however, was his ability to find laughs himself through reactions and subtle humor. Unfortunately, Bateman’s post “Arrested” career has him stuck in a similar role to the Michael Bluth character he played on the show. Like his characters in “Horrible Bosses,” “The Switch,” and “Extract,” Bateman once again plays an uptight, seemingly normal man who can’t catch a break. In “Identity Thief,” most of Bateman’s purpose is to stand back and let McCarthy do her thing. Because of this, he does not get to showcase the comedic talent he possesses. It’s unfortunate to see a talented actor fall the victim to typecasting, but Bateman can’t seem to shake this particular persona.

In her first post-“Bridesmaids” leading role, McCarthy whiffs in the humor department, though it isn’t entirely her fault. Flat out, the biggest issue is that director Seth Gordon banks on the most of the humor in the film coming from the audience finding McCarthy unconditionally funny. Time and time again throughout “Identity Thief,” the audience is expected to laugh at the barrage of unfunny scenes and situations simply because it is McCarthy doing it. Simply put, it is putting faith that audiences find her inherently funny. It’s the same thing that happens with Will Ferrell. Someone pitches “Will Ferrell as a figure skater” or “Will Ferrell as a 70’s basketball player.” They skimp on quality, bank on people to find laughs because they find everything that Will Ferrell does funny, and end up with massive duds like “Blades of Glory” or “Semi-Pro.” There are more than a few scenes in “Identity Thief” that dig for cheap, lazy laughs rooted in a woman of McCarthy’s size doing physical acts or acting over the top.

Of course, the main reason why the comedy in “Identity Thief” fails is because of screenwriter Craig Mazin, who penned “The Hangover Part II” and the last two movies of the “Scary Movie” franchise. It’s hard to tell what the goal of the film is, but whatever pieces that are attempted fall short. The film doesn’t evoke the mismatched chemistry and build the complex and humorous relationships that road-trip comedies typically have. This also includes the few scenes of raunchy, gross-out comedy. The films few amusing moments come from clear improvisation from its two leads. There is a tonal shift towards the end of the film that features some attempts at dramatic moments that don’t fit. Even though the scenes don’t work in the context of the film, McCarthy is able to show her emotional range as an actress and proves that if perhaps given better material, she can really shine in a role that calls for humor and dramatic chops.

One of the more interesting storylines to follow with “Identity Thief” will be if McCarthy can prove herself to be a big box-office draw as a lead actress. Perhaps there are enough people who do find her funny in any situation and will devotedly show up at the box office for her latest films. While her time as a burgeoning lead comedy star is off to an inauspicious start, one wonders what she can do if she’s not forced to be the female version of Kevin James.

Cowboys & Aliens

July 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”)
Written by: Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”), Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”), Mark Fergus (“Iron Man”), Hawk Otsby (“Iron Man”), Damon Lindelof (debut)

Throughout movie theaters across the country, the trailer for “Cowboys and Aliens” was met with uproarious laughter when the title card was revealed. Although seemingly not any more preposterous of a plot than a teenager infused with spider DNA, audiences chuckled incredulously. With audiences laughing at the mere concept of the film, there was added pressure on director Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”) to keep a serious tone and to strike a convincing balance between the western and sci-fi genre. What we actually get is a film with no true identity.

The film opens with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) waking up in the middle of a desert not knowing where or who he is and with a strange device attached to his wrist. When he heads into the nearest town, Lonergan discovers that he is a wanted criminal and is set to be turned over to the feds. While Jake is intercepted by the begrudging Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), aliens attack the town of Absolution, taking many of its residents with it. Though confused and shocked by the events, Jake, Colonel, the mysterious Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde), and others band together to go on a rescue mission to fight the alien race and recover their loved ones who have been abducted.

For a film starring two strong actors and a supporting cast to match, the acting in “Cowboys and Aliens” is incredibly flat. Both Craig and Ford seem to be going through the motions, giving plastic performances with only a few explosive moments. Not even the always-dependable Sam Rockwell (“Moon”) can muster a memorable performance.  However, the actors are not totally at fault here. With a cheesy, cliché-ridden script, the writers (five accredited ones to be exact) take a solid cast and give them nothing to do with their characters. No effort is made to give us a reason to root for these people other than the obvious “us vs. them” reasoning.

One of the biggest problems surrounding “Cowboys and Aliens” is that it attempts to combine two genres, and in the process fails on being a good version of either. The Western elements are not nearly compelling enough. While the familiar costumes and sets are there, the swagger and strong characters of true Westerns are sadly missing. The film incorporates its sci-fi elements with generic and predictable action beats, there for the sole purpose of showing the aliens and what they can do. It has the same tired and predictable sci-fi moments that you’ve seen a hundred times before.  You know when an alien is going to meet its end and you know when some unsuspecting human is going to get snatched.  It’s been done before, and in much more interesting ways. When coupled with some spotty CGI work, the end product is a film that turns out being a mediocre sci-fi movie set in the Old West.

But beyond all of its shortcomings at mashing genres and at a run time of about two hours, the biggest problem is that “Cowboys and Aliens” is unnecessarily long-winded and isn’t very much fun. It relies so heavily on mesmerizing you with its visuals that no care is given to the story.  And while the trailer provided audiences with laughs, the actual film is more likely to produce yawns.

Iron Man 2

May 7, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Iron Man”)
Written by: Justin Theroux (“Tropic Thunder”)

If personality makes up the majority of a superhero’s likability, Iron Man should be considered the Marvel comic book character you’d love to hate.

That’s not to say two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. has lost all the charisma that made the 2008 original blockbuster film so downright entertaining and original. Even when Downey Jr. isn’t donning the maroon and gold mechanical suit that transforms him into a weapon of mass destruction, he has another captivating persona he can fall back on.

Meet Tony Stark. While you might know him from the first “Iron Man,” the sequel, aptly called “Iron Man 2,” allows us to meet the man inside the machine on a more personal level. In the film, Tony seems to be running on fumes. As Iron Man, he can still hold his own against anyone that comes his way, but as a mortal, the genius billionaire industrialist has a serious problem.

The power source embedded in his chest, which is keeping him alive, is also slowly poisoning him. Along with his health issues, Tony is butting heads with the U.S. Senate, who wants him to turn over his Iron Man machinery. The Senate says his invention is a threat to national security especially if a country decides to copy the technology and use it against the U.S.

Tony refuses to relinquish his work stating that it would take years for someone to duplicate what he has done. He is oblivious to the fact that Russian physicist Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has already engineered his own version of the suit and fastened it to himself to transform into the electromagnetic super villain known as Whiplash. When he teams up with Tony’s major weapons competitor Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), the two set out to develop an army of drones that would take the arms race by storm.

Replacing Terrance Howard from the original, Don Cheadle plays Lt. Col. James Rhodes, who later attempts to put a stop to Tony’s destructive ways caused by his alcohol problem. Although he manages to spiral downward fairly quickly, love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) doesn’t give up on him that easy. Neither does S.H.I.E.L.D. front man Nick Fury (Samuel L.  Jackson) who makes sure Tony’s talents aren’t wasted. His stubbornness to join the secret agency known as the Avengers will be short-lived since all these Marvel movies are linking together for one giant superhero reunion in the next few years.

No matter what is being planned for the future, “Iron Man 2” is able to stand on its own. It works well with enough action sequences, fight scenes and some interesting characters, none of which match the humor and charm of Downey Jr. who again makes the movie his own personal and egotistical show.

Couples Retreat

October 9, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell
Directed by: Peter Billingsley (debut)
Written by: Vince Vaughn (debut), Jon Favreau (“Swingers”), Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”)

Pack light. “Couples Retreat” might seem like an island paradise at first glance, but the star-powered date movie quickly turns into something as enjoyable as the most annoying parts of a free timeshare vacation.

Directed by Peter Billingsley (he played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”), “Couples Retreat” is not the kind of comedy anyone should take their fiancé (or fiancée) to if they plan to keep the thought of marriage positive before the big day. With so many unlikeable and featureless characters and a script that reads like a fall TV sitcom begging to get axed after six episodes, “Retreat” recoils into childish and repetitive jokes, character clichés (Carlos Ponce steals Hank Azaria’s role from “Along Came Polly” and plays a macho womanizer) and a whole lot of unfunny foolishness.

Basically, the film capsizes right from the start. Married couple Jason and Cynthia (Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell) are thinking about getting a divorce. They’ve weighed all the pros and cons of splitting up, but don’t think they can come to a conscious decision unless they make one last effort by going to a tropical island resort where they can spend quality time with each other and get some much-needed marriage counseling.

Problem is, Jason and Cynthia can’t afford the trip on their own (here’s an idea: plan a cheaper trip), so they ask their friends to go with them so they can take advantage of the group rate. It takes some groveling on Jason’s part, but before anyone can say Beach Blanket Bingo Dave and Ronnie (Vince Vaughn and Malin Ackerman), Joey and Lucy (Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis), and Shane and Trudy (Faizon Love and Kali Hawk) are getting off an airplane at a destination described as “Disneyland for adults.”

But what is supposed to be a fun-filled week for a majority of the group becomes a dreaded marathon of couple-building exercises when relationship guru Monsieur Marcel (Jean Reno) makes everyone wake up a the crack of dawn to talk about their feelings and participate in other nonsensical icebreakers (who knew throwing bloody chum at sharks could save a marriage!).

Each couple has their specific problems, but none of them are of much significance in the hands of screenwriters Favreau, Vaughn, and Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”). What the writing trio identifies with the most isn’t the deep-seeded problems of a broken relationship, but instead how far they can push their couples (and the audience) to the brink of boredom.

The funniest scene of the movie comes when the men are discussing whether or not thinking about other women while having sex with your wife should be considered cheating. It’s not a groundbreaking joke or anything, but the guys refer to it as a personal “highlight reel” (the best sexual experiences of one’s life), which is fairly clever in terms of sports metaphors. A few misplaced chuckles, however, don’t make up for the movie’s major limitations.

“When you’re married, love is having someone to go to Applebee’s with,” Vaughn’s Dave proclaims by the end of the movie. It might sound like the same kind of cute gibberish you would hear someone like actor Michael Cera deliver in a romantic comedy, but something about “Couples Retreat” makes us think all the characters involved are just dense enough to believe it.

Four Christmases

November 28, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Vince Vaughn, Robert Duvall
Directed by: Seth Gordon (“The King of Kong”)
Written by: Matt Allen (debut), Caleb Wilson (debut), Jon Lucas (“Rebound”), Scott Moore (“Rebound”)

You have to feel a little sorry for director Seth Gordon. After helming 2007’s “The King of Kong,” a well-received and very entertaining documentary about a video game rivalry between two Donkey Kong world-record holders, he somehow finds himself stuck with four unproven screenwriters during his first feature, “Four Christmases.”

To make matters worse, “Four Christmases” isn’t the kind of holiday family movie a writer can really use to spread his or her wings. It’s a basic Christmas slapstick comedy where most of the characters end up on their backs in the most painful ways and someone learns a valuable lesson about the importance of family.

Unlike other crappy Christmas comedies in recent years like “Christmas with the Kranks,” “Deck the Halls,” and “Surviving Christmas,” the only thing “Four Christmases” has going for it is likeable albeit mismatched lead characters. Vince Vaughn (who was also pretty bad in last year’s holiday horror “Fred Claus”) and Reese Witherspoon star as Brad and Kate, a couple who decides to take a vacation to Fiji instead of visiting their families for Christmas.

The weather, however, doesn’t cooperate with their plans and Brad and Kate are forced to make four separate trips to their divorced parents when they’re caught on the local news trying to make a break for it at the airport.

Each home visit brings along its own cliché family calamity. For example, at the backwoods home of Brad’s dad Howard (Robert Duvall), social statuses clash when Brad’s cage-fighting brothers Denver (Jon Faveru) and Dallas (Tim McGraw) are offended when he buys the family expensive gifts. Other parents on the list to receive a yuletide house call: Brad’s mom Paula (Sissy Spacek) and her much-younger lover, Kate’s mom Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen), who has started dating a church pastor (insert baby Jesus jokes here), and Kate’s dad Creighton (Jon Voight), who’s really the heart of the whole movie but is cut short by a thinned-out script.

Cheesy joke after cheesy joke, “Four Christmases” might not make you gag as badly as Brad does when he sees a baby puke, but you definitely won’t feel good after watching these family members butt heads under the mistletoe. Nor should director Gordon feel too terrible for squeezing as much as he possibly could from the mess he was handed. Making mansions out of matchsticks probably isn’t easy either.

Iron Man

May 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrance Howard
Directed by: Jon Favreau (“Elf”)
Written by: Mark Fergus (“Children of Men”), Hawk Ostby (“Children of Men”), Art Marcum (“Shadow of Fear”), Matt Holloway (debut)

Flamboyancy goes a long way when it comes to superhero attractiveness, and in “Iron Man,” actor Robert Downey Jr. delivers the character’s unique mythology with enough exuberance you almost forget about letdowns like “Spider-Man 3.” It seems like someone has finally found his niche in the mainstream.

In Marvel’s “Iron Man,” based on the comic book by Stan Lee and crew, Downey Jr. plays billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark. Call him a genius. Call him a lady’s man. Call him a war profiteer. If Tony is anything, it’s confident in his ability to provide the U.S. military with the most sophisticated weaponry ever created by man or machine.

Completely satisfied with his self-indulgent life of fast cars, loose women, and high-powered technology, Tony’s attitude toward his profession changes drastically when his convoy is attacked and he is kidnapped by insurgents in the Middle East. He is there to demonstrate to the U.S. Air Force the destructive power of his latest missile, the Jericho.

The tables are turned when Tony, while imprisoned in a cave somewhere in Afghanistan, is forced to build a Jericho missile for the enemy by using other Stark Industry weapons the insurgents have somehow gotten their hands on.

Believing they will most likely kill him whether or not he complies with their request, Tony, who has been injured and must now wear a magnetic device on his chest to keep the shrapnel from entering his heart, decides to instead use the scrap metal provided for him to build a full-body armor, which can be controlled from within like a robot.

Thus, the prototypical Iron Man is born and later enhanced once Tony gets back home and begins working on a model as sleek as his personality. There to keep all his day-to-day responsibilities in check is Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), a loyal assistant who will most likely become a more integral part in Tony’s life in a future sequel.

Yes, sequels are in this franchise’s future, which means, unlike one-hit flicks like “Daredevil,” there’s actually some gusto behind the directorial style of Jon Favreau and a solid start for “Children of Men” screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby and their team of comic book adaptors.

Despite some hollow characters played by Paltrow, Terrance Howard, and Jeff Bridges (Iron Monger just isn’t that interesting), it’s Downey Jr. who takes control of this entire prelude from start to finish. The others, however, are just making their debuts (Howard gives us a clue that he could be donning his own metallic suit in a future film), so it will be fascinating to see where the story can take us from here.

Don’t call Favreau Christopher Nolan just yet. Place him somewhere around the vicinity of Sam Raimi (“Spider-Man”) and thank whoever needs to be thanked for casting Downey Jr. and passing on names like Nicholas Cage and Ashton Kutcher.