2014 has been a stellar year for movies and it continues with this week’s new releases and selections for Weekend Rundown. Let’s kick things off with Only Lovers Left Alive, the movie that I enjoyed most this week. Not only is it one of my favorite movies of 2014 (though it debuted last year), it’s also one of the better flicks from the unique talent that is Jim Jarmusch. The man that brought us modern classics such as Dead Man and Down By Law is back with what is undoubtedly the coolest entry in the vampire genre. He forgoes gore and cheap thrills to drop an atmospheric style-bomb, and tell a timeless tale of love and mortality.
The cast is superb; Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, and Mia Wasikowska all do a fine job. Swinton is supremely ethereal and I can’t imagine another living actress in her role. The true star of the film though is Jarmusch. He’s a master of tone and technique, and not only did he write and direct the movie, his band Sqürl provided the moody, evocative score. From the opening shot, the audience is entranced by the grungy yet elegant setting, and the terrific camerawork. Only Lovers Left Alive embraces the desolate emptiness of present-day Detroit to better effect than recent dud, Brick Mansions.
This film belongs to Jarmusch in every aspect, and through his otherworldly characters he offers a damning critique of modern-day humanity. The film works on many levels. I’ve seen it dismissed as a snobby-hipster-vampire-musician flick, but it bites a lot deeper than that. At it’s core, it’s a movie about limited resources and the people that rely on them, it just happens to be cloaked in a shroud of cool.
I rate this film 4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
After conquering the indie scene with his work on Swingers and Made, Jon Favreau went on to tackle the superhero genre, directing Iron Man and Iron Man 2. Then he dropped the big budget stinker Cowboys and Aliens. Since then, he’s been in the kitchen concocting Chef, a delectable crowd-pleaser and his most personal film yet.
Watching the movie, it’s obvious that Favreau and gang had a blast making it. It was truly a labor of love, and much of the star-studded cast (including small roles for Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, and Dustin Hoffman) worked for scale (a pittance compared to the their usual paychecks). Food and fun take precedence in a story about a disgruntled chef (Favreau) who has to get his life together after receiving a devastating review from a major food critic.
John Leguizamo and youngster Emjay Anthony fare well in supporting roles. They have a chemistry with Favreau (and each other) that feels natural and easy. I often find Sophía Vergara abrasive and unpalatable, but she’s likable here and does a fine job as the chef’s ex-wife. The food gets top billing though, and the movie is gorged with fantastic imagery that will spike your appetite. If you don’t have the opportunity to see this at an Alamo Drafthouse (or one of it’s food/film knockoffs), make sure you go in with a full stomach. Otherwise, you’re in for two hours of torture as everything looks tantalizingly amazing (we’re talking Big Night and Eat Drink Man Woman levels of appetizing).
One film that came to mind while watching Chef, is the 2009 German food comedy Soul Kitchen. Both movies have the perfect pairing of good chow and festive music, and it’s a recipe for success. The on-location shooting in Favreau’s latest serving takes us to some well-known Southern food havens and that adds to the fun.
My complements to the chef. Most of the film goes down nice and easy. It has a social-networking aspect that feels a little stale for 2014, and it gets a bit sweet during the dessert course, but I’ll be back for seconds. Chef is like a home cooked meal that is simple and familiar, but is prepped with care from fine ingredients. It’s easy to taste the love.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Fading Gigolo looks like a Woody Allen movie, feels like a Woody Allen movie, and stars Woody Allen, but it’s no Woody Allen movie. John Turturro directs and plays Fioravante, part-time florist-turned-gigolo. Allen plays his friend/pimp, Murray (aka Dan Bongo). The setup is fun and I was looking forward to this one, but it didn’t meet my expectations.
There’s a lot to like about the movie; Allen and Turturro complement each other well and I’m a sucker for anything that takes place in New York, especially if it’s shot during the fall. The Allen-esque jazz soundtrack is nice and I like the golden lighting and warm color palette of the film. It’s also enjoyable and has a few laughs.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t work and the character’s have no arc. It feels like a short story that was never fleshed out and doesn’t translate well to the big screen. It lacks polish, detail, plausibility, and strong supporting characters. Sharon Stone is past her expiration date, Liev Schreiber’s character is annoying, and Sophía Vergara is more irritating than enticing. The ending is also a letdown.
Fading Gigolo is like a cheap, attractive hooker that’s good for a bit of fun, but is ultimately unfulfilling.
2.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Locke is the story of a man with principles that makes a huge mistake and wants to do the right thing regardless of the drastic consequences. It’s a simple setup, but writer/director Steven Knight (Eastern Promises, Dirty Pretty Things) crafts a taught thriller and executes well.
Tom Hardy (Bronson, Inception) has the unique ability to disappear into his characters and look like an entirely different person. Knight couldn’t have pulled it off without him. The majority of the film consists of Hardy driving a car and talking on the phone. There’s no passengers, no car chases, and no crashes. It’s a credit to the actor and director that they were able to turn what is essentially a one-man stage play into an exhilarating movie experience.
Knight keeps the focus on Hardy. The camera is often moving and cutting, but it never wanders far from Hardy’s mug. There are plenty of blurred lights and double exposures that bring to mind Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Bringing Out the Dead. Hardy shows a range of emotion and proves why he’s often labeled as one of the elite actors of his generation.
This is a movie about one man facing a dilemma and all the people it affects. Locke is a perfect example of how a small movie can succeed without a lot stars, stunts, and spectacle.
4 out of 5 Nerdskulls
These movies are currently playing in Houston:
Only Lovers Left Alive– Landmark River Oaks
Chef– Coming Soon
Fading Gigolo– Landmark River Oaks
Locke– Landmark River Oaks
These movies are also showing in Houston. Click on the film titles to read my reviews.
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