Chef

New from the desk of The Movie Snob.

Chef (C+). This movie has been playing in Dallas theaters since the beginning of the summer, so I thought I’d better see what could justify such a lengthy run. It was pleasant enough, but nothing to write home about. Jon Favreau (Couples Retreat) writes, directs, and stars as Carl Casper, a well-known Los Angeles chef in a swanky restaurant. A Twitter feud with a snarky food critic gets Casper fired, and he decides to reconnect with his love for cooking—and with his 10-year-old son, whom he hasn’t had much time for since a divorce—by starting up a food truck. It’s a perfectly decent movie, but it felt a little slight for the big screen. And occasional brief appearances by big stars—Robert Downey, Jr.! Dustin Hoffman! A tatted-up Scarlett Johansson!—are more distracting than anything else.

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Last Chance Harvey

New review from Nick at Nite

Last Chance Harvey

I took a long flight to New York recently. The diversion on the plane was this film. The film features Dustin Hoffman (Barney’s Version) and Emma Thompson (Men in Black 3) in a unlikely romance. Hoffman, the boorish American, stars as a somewhat pathetic and distance father who is about to lose his job as a jingle writer. He bumps into and then spends the day with Thompson, a lonely and proper Brit, in London. Hoffman is in London for his daughter’s wedding. After several awkward exchanges, Hoffman leaves his daughter’s wedding early, misses his plane home, is fired from his job, and starts to court Thompson in an airport restaurant. I recommend this movie if you are stuck on an airplane. I give it a “smelly food, screaming child, and captain has fastened his seatbelt.”

Last Chance Harvey

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Last Chance Harvey (B-). A jingle-writer/would-be jazz pianist is going to London for his daughter’s wedding. He is none too close to his daughter, not to mention his ex-wife and her successful and handsome second husband. While in London, he chances to meet a woman who has never been married, spends most of her free time with or on the phone with her divorced mother, and has more or less sealed herself off from life. Things unspool from there. There were things I liked and things I didn’t about this breezy little 92-minute movie. I have never cared much for Dustin Hoffman (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium), and so I found the lead character difficult to like. Emma Thompson (Dead Again), on the other hand, is a pleasure to watch as the Londoner that Hoffman’s character meets. I really liked the various wedding-related scenes, especially the reception. It is sort of a cliché to film a scene of a wedding dinner or reception in which a character threatens to ruin everything with an inappropriate impromptu speech, but this movie does it deftly. I guess my main beef with this and similar movies is the astronomical unlikeliness of two strangers meeting by chance, spending just a little time together, and getting convinced almost immediately that they’ve discovered a soulmate. I’d be tempted to say it never happens, but the Borg Queen reminded me of an acquaintance of ours to whom something reasonably similar did happen. Still, it’s got to be rarer than Hollywood makes it out to be.

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Nick at Nite goes to the dollar theater

Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

The dollar theater is close to the house, so sometimes we see some strange or forgotten films. This was not strange, but it was forgotten. This Dustin Hoffman (The Graduate) and Natalie Portman (Black Swan) film must not have been too well received since we saw it in the dollar theater only a month after its release. The film deserves better treatment. It is a somewhat disjointed tale about a magical toy store, its owner, and the toy store manager. Jason Bateman (The Switch), plays an accountant who is thrown in as the straight man to all of the other characters in the movie. This is a good movie for the entire family. It is rated “G.” A rarity. It sends typical good messages of believing in yourself, finding a meaningful purpose to life, etc … As for plot the toy store has problems, its owner seems crazy, the toy store manager is a lost young adult, and the accountant is an unhappy bean counter living an unfulfilled life. Somehow they all work it out. I give it a “B.”

Stranger Than Fiction

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Stranger Than Fiction (B-). This new Will Ferrell movie may look like a comedy from the trailers, but it really isn’t — it’s more of a morality tale. Ferrell (Casa de mi Padre) plays Harold Crick, a polite, soft-spoken, mildly obsessive-compulsive IRS agent whose apartment is even more sparsely furnished than my house. His completely routinized existence is suddenly upended when he begins to hear a woman’s voice simultaneously and accurately narrating his life as he is living it. The voice belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson, Men in Black 3), a novelist living in the same city who is plagued with writer’s block as she tries to write a novel about Harold Crick, a polite, soft-spoken, mildly obsessive-compulsive IRS agent. She has no idea that Crick is a real person, and Crick becomes more than a little upset when he hears the voice toss off the observation that his death is imminent. He spends the rest of the movie (a) trying to find the mysterious narrator so he can talk her out of killing him and (b) trying to make something of the potentially very short remainder of his life. Maggie Gyllenhaal (Crazy Heart) does a nice job as a free-spirited bakery owner that Crick first audits, then romances; Dustin Hoffman (Barney’s Version) plays a literature professor that Crick consults to help him in his quest. More interesting than entertaining.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

A new review from Movie Man Mike:

A Series of Unfortunate Events. (B-) To begin with, the most unfortunate event was that I went to see this movie at the theater. It will be more enjoyable if you don’t pay full price for it. J.K. Rowling has nothing to fear from this little upstart of a film series. The cast of this movie was promising, with Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, and an actor who looks suspiciously like John Cleese, but who is not credited as John Cleese. With the exception of Jude Law, who narrates, each of these actors plays intriguing and humorous characters. The story seemed to drag a little, which was surprising since it appears that the producers tried to fit 3 of the books into one movie. One thing missing from this film were some of the laughs. Most of the humor was mildly amusing. This movie might appeal more to children, but I personally would not recommend it for children because it’s a little dark given that it begins with the children learning that their parents were killed in a horrible fire. The rest of the film involves attempts to place the children with various relatives and the scheming of one relative, Count Olaf, to acquire the children’s inheritance even if it involves the killing of other relatives. The whole time I kept worrying about the impact of this film on my impressionable nieces and nephews. Leave the kids at home, and if you rent it, watch it after the kids have gone to bed.

I Heart Huckabees; What the #$*! Do We Know!?

The Movie Snob sounds off:

Have a touch of the existential blues? There are some films in current release that are just what the doctor ordered for people in our condition….

I Heart Huckabees (B). An impressive cast comes together for this philosophical comedy. The main character is a deadly earnest young fellow named Albert (Jason Schwartzman) who works for something called the Open Spaces Coalition or some such thing; his passion is the defense of undeveloped woods and marshes; and his current enemy is a mushrooming chain of department stores called Huckabees. But Albert is having a philosophical breakdown, proximately caused by his multiple coincidental encounters with the same Sudanese refugee, but encompassing the eternal questions about the meaningfulness/meaninglessness of life, the universe, and everything. More pressingly, he is getting squeezed out of his own organization by a smooth-talking Huckabees man named Brad (Jude Law). Albert turns to Bernard (Dustin Hoffman) and Vivian (Lily Tomlin), who are self-styled “existentialist detectives,” and they assure him that everything is connected and meaningful. They introduce him to fellow searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg), a firefighter who is convinced that everything involving the use of petroleum is tainted with evil. Tommy and Albert are then beset by a mysterious Frenchwoman, Caterine (Isabelle Huppert), a former associate of Bernard and Vivian who now preaches that the universe is actually blind, cruel, and chaotic. Trying to figure out what Albert is up to, Brad goes to the existentialist detectives himself, with consequences that threaten to upset the equilibrium of his relationship with live-in girlfriend and Huckabees model Dawn (Naomi Watts). Not surprisingly, there are few philosophical answers on offer, and the possible existence of theological ones is not even considered. But the cast digs into the late-night-college-dorm-sounding script with gusto, and there are some laughs along the way. And Naomi Watts is always pleasant to watch.

What the #$*! Do We Know!? (B-). This is a very odd, very independent little movie that’s really two movies in one. The more important seeming part is more or less a documentary–a bunch of short clips featuring a bunch of talking heads, mostly doctors and physicists. They try to explain, in lay terms, the state-of-the-art thinking in two fields: the bizarre world of quantum physics, and the more fathomable but amazingly complex world of cellular biology and biochemistry. (Interestingly, genetics is left completely alone.) Their ruminations are frequently illustrated with cool animated effects. The other, less successful part of the movie is a series of vignettes about a depressed photographer named Amanda (Marlee Matlin), whose life more or less embodies whatever topic the talking heads are discussing at the moment. It’s an interesting film, and the weight of the “scientific” opinion surveyed in the movie definitely seems to side with the view that there is an underlying unity and connectedness to the universe. But the moral implications of their theorizing are murky, and a couple of the talking heads seem to want to jettison talk about right and wrong, good and evil, altogether. What is supposed to replace them, I’m not sure. The theological implications of their speculation are equally nebulous. A few of the heads clearly express belief in some sort of God or at least godlike rational substructure to reality, but no one has any kind words for religion or traditional views of God. Like Huckabees, the movie is long on questions and short on answers. Maybe they’ll get to the answers in the sequel, probably called something like Not a Whole %&@! of a Lot.