Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer 2014's Most Savory Film: Chef

Never have I ever left a theater craving a Cuban sandwich.  This savory reaction has been stirred by Jon Favreau's latest film, Chef. A post-film Cuban sandwich and pork sliders become a necessary evil, as a man gets back in touch with his liberating culinary creativity in such a sweet and satisfying fashion.    

Upon learning about the magical world of social media, LA chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) tweets a prestigious food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Pratt) that gave him a bad review.  He invites the critic to come back for a new menu, but is told he can’t cook it by the restaurant’s owner (Dustin Hoffman).  Casper walks out of the restaurant before Michel’s arrival, and returns only to lose his cool.  The fame that ensues is negative, even though there is no such thing as bad press. After losing his job, Casper goes on some soul searching in hopes to find happiness again, and cook for himself.  

On a trip to “nanny” his son Percy (EmJay Anthony) with his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara), he gets a food truck in hopes to start over and reconnect with those important to him.   The selling item: mouth-watering Cuban sandwiches.  Casper reconnects with his creative side, as he is inspired to pursue the “crazy food truck” idea that his ex-wife had been pushing for a while.  It turns out to be a turning point in his career—and his life—as he travels from Miami to LA with it, gaining popularity for the delicious sandwiches. 

This wonderful ensemble cast includes a hilarious five minute cameo from Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson as a restaurant manager, Dustin Hoffman as a restaurant owner, and Bobby Cannavale as a chef. To top it all off, John Leguizamo is the sous chef for Favreau, providing good vibes and comic relief throughout the film. 

To call this film “a feast for the eyes” would be hopelessly obvious, but it really is.  The scenes filmed where Favreau’s character is prepping and cooking his food—whether it was a simple grilled-cheese or an elaborate three-course meal—was colorful and fun.  If Food Network was directed by Favreau, I think it is fair to say we would all watch it more often than we already do.  (I’m kind of waiting for him to get his own show, but one thing at a time). 

Jon Favreau not only wrote, directed, and starred in the film, but he did his own cooking as well.  He trained with food-truck god Roy Choi, who helped him enroll in French culinary courses to learn the ins and outs of cooking.  "I brought him into the kitchen, and he just kind of fit in," Choi recalls. "I threw him a couple tests, like a case of chives, or a case of onions, or peel two cases of avocados. Just to see where his mind and his situation and his abilities were and how interested he was in these things. He just attacked them. He really became a part of it." Favreau looks natural as his character, as his cooking skills and culinary products are enough to make the audiences’ mouth water.

Chef is a feel-good delicacy.  Its wit keeps its audiences laughing and charm makes you smile.  The only letdown from seeing Chef was that there were no food trucks selling Cuban sandwiches in the Regal parking lot upon my departure from the theater.  The delicious nature of the film (and the food) is inspiring, and a must-see this summer.   

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Okay? Okay. The Fault in Our Stars.

The YA film genre blockbuster hit of the summer is unarguably the adaptation of John Green’s novel, The Fault in Our Stars.  The bestselling book has left many with teary eyes, as the star-crossed lovers between the lines (and on the silver screen) prove how limitless love can be.  Already amassing over $60 million domestically in the box office, The Fault in Our Stars
Enter Hazel Grace Lancaster (portrayed by Shailene Woodley), a cancer patient suffering from terminal thyroid cancer that has made its way to her lungs.  At a cancer support group one evening, she encounters Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), who is in remission of osteosarcoma, but has led to the amputation of his leg.  Her sarcastic wit attracts him immediately, and they embark on an infinity in their limited days together.  Featuring Laura Dern and Willem DaFoe, The Fault in Our Stars is a film that will reawaken the nature in which you love and show how strong it is.   
The unrequited love that Hazel and Augustus have for each other is beautiful, and the onscreen chemistry between Woodley and Elgort proves it so.  When Augustus proclaims he is in love with Hazel, it is pure.  Yes, his charm and good looks could easily make anyone groan, as he is what every girl in the young adult demographic would look for in a guy.  He was real and honest with her, and the basis of their relationship is more than enough to pull on the heart strings of a skeptic.   Hazel is bright, and despite the hardships that she feels she has put her family and others through, she looks for silver linings, especially once she forms a close bond with Augustus. 
The soundtrack to the film is phenomenal.  It features the talents of Ed Sheeran, Grouplove and Charli XCX.  It fit so perfectly into the film, as it carried the spirits of Hazel and Augustus with it. 
A portion of the film took place in Amsterdam.  The scenes shot there made it look absolutely breathtaking.  Springtime in Europe had never looked so extraordinary, yet was very modest as well.  The streets and rivers that cross through the city are simple and almost made me wish New York was like that. 
The film held very true to the book.  However, I noticed two things that were missing that would have made the film better.  First off, the book talks about how Hazel did have friends that she would try to remain in touch with, but it was difficult between all the doctors’ appointments and their still being in high school.  The film starts out with her at a doctor’s appointment being told she is depressed and should join a support group.  However, it isn't exactly significant to the love story of Hazel and Augustus, so maybe it’s okay that it wasn't included?
Another important nuance that somehow escaped the film was the namesake of the movie.  It is mentioned in the novel, but nowhere had I heard where the title of the film comes from.  In the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, Cassius tells Brutus, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/But in ourselves, that we are underlings."  It means that people aren’t driven to act based on fate, or destiny, but based on the human condition and feeling what they feel.  Pain is meant to be felt, after all.  This quote so perfectly fits in with the film, as it gives a richer meaning to everything that goes on from the opening scene to the end credits.  I was disappointed that it was left out, as it would have tied everything together quite nicely.    
Josh Boone directed the film, with the meticulous help of John Green onset during production.  He gave tips and advice to the cast to ensure that his novel would be brought to life in the way he hoped.  As the film went on, I felt all the nuances and details fill the screen, and the amount of attention spent recreating the events was hard work that definitely paid off.

Overall, The Fault in Our Stars is a compelling film (and novel, too).  The book is very cinematic in nature, as its fast-paced and engaging story keeps the pages turning and the tears coming.  Make sure if you go see Fault in theaters, you bring plenty of Kleenex, even if you are weary of the film’s ending.