Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Review: 22 Jump Street (R – 112 minutes)

I really enjoyed 21 Jump Street – the TV show, which ran on Fox from 1987 through 1991, and launched the careers of many young actors, including Johnny Depp, and Holly Robinson (you’re welcome, Hanging with Mr. Cooper fans).   The premise of the show was that young-looking cops would go undercover in high school to handle some serious issues.   Because of that, I was really hesitant to get on board with the re-imagining that was 2012’s movie version.  However, it was really funny, due mainly to some great writing from Jonah Hill, and the great chemistry between Hill and Channing Tatum – not to mention some great cameos from the show’s original stars. 

Because that one was so funny, and was a pretty big hit, it’s no surprised that we are now blessed with a sequel, cleverly titled 22 Jump Street.  Incidentally, one of the genius bits of this movie is the complete self-awareness at the fact that a sequel is being made.  They make a joke that they are wanted to the exact same thing they did last time, that their address has shifted across the street to 22 Jump Street, and that next year they will probably move back over to 23 Jump Street. 

Again, there are some really great jokes.  I didn’t laugh as continuously all the way through as I did with the first one, but it was still really funny.  Hill’s Schmidt and Tatum’s Jenko have to go undercover again, this time at college, to bust a drug ring.  Flipping it this time, Jenko is the popular one when he quickly gets involved with frat life, and Schmidt is the one who feels left out – his ‘walk of shame’ moment is really funny.  They follow their leads and find their suspect while destroying then rebuilding their relationship; exactly the same as the first one.  Really – that’s about it as far as plot is concerned.  The rest is comedy hijinks.

This movie is directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who did the first Jump Street movie as well as the Lego Movie…and that’s why Superman and Green Lantern are hilarious in the Lego Movie – it’s Tatum and Hill.  The action sequences are fun, and the laughs are rapid, but there were just way too many jokes about how the partners’ relationship is just a bit too close – which was funny one time, but then over and over gets really dull.  Also – forgive me for being a chick on this one, but really, just too many dick/fart/drinking/frat type jokes.  Yawn.  I’d rather clever humor over that any day.  It was fun to have the cameo from Rob Riggle and Dave Franco from the first movie (honestly a cameo is about all the Rob Riggle I can handle, and even the cameo started to wear a little thin), but honestly, the funniest part of the movie is the fake clips/posters for upcoming Jump Street sequels that feature more cameos and more fun stuff (24 Jump Street – Culinary School!).

  • Jonah Hill is still proving that he can do a low-brow comedy between Oscar Nominations.  He’s smart, he’s funny, and he’s talented.  And yes, I do believe there is an Oscar in his future.  In this, he’s boring and average, and that’s exactly the point.  His final physical fight with the bad ‘guy’ is hilarious.

  • Channing Tatum is still really good looking, and I for one am thrilled that he just got confirmed to play Gambit.  He does a good job this playing Jenko as the complete meat-head, and his genuine happiness when he gets asked to join a frat is hilarious.

  • Peter Stomare is essentially just playing the same Peter Stomare character you’ve seen before as the  big bad drug dealer in this, no surprise, he’s good at that.  He’s best at playing a crazed villain.

  • Wyatt Russell (Kurt’s son) plays Zook, the frat guy who instantly bonds with Jenko, causing a rift for both his best friend and for Schmidt.  He’s certainly capable and pulls off ‘dumb guy’ pretty well.

  • Amber Stevens plays Maya, the pretty poetry girl that Schmidt hooks up with, except – spoiler alert – she’s also their captain’s daughter, so that allows for some funny nonsense after he finds out.

  • Ice Cube once again plays the ‘angry black captain’ with perfect enthusiasm.  Also – the fact that when they first enter his new office they say it looks like a cube of ice is a good quick joke.  He does get to go crazy on a buffet server who does not give him enough green beans, which I found pretty funny.

  • The Lucas Brothers, identical twin comedians play identical twins Keith and Kenny in the movie.  They are in the dorm room across from Jenko and Schmidt and they get some really funny twin stuff to do. 

  • Nick Offerman plays the same Deputy Chief role he did last time, and it is equally as funny this time around.
  • Jillian Bell steals this movie as the crazy roommate of the dead girl they come in to investigate.  She is deadpan flat with her delivery, and as more of her character is revealed, she quickly becomes one of the funniest pieces of this movie.

All in all, funny, but not nearly as hilarious as the first one.  The post credit sequence was great, but what I really wanted was a gag reel.  Oh well, perhaps on the Blue Ray?

7 out of 10 – the first one was an 8.  Gained points for the self-awareness on the sequel bit, but lost points on just way too much repetitive humor.  Gained points for their trip-out sequence, which was one of the funniest moments in the first one, and is again here.  Lost points for just way too much Rob Riggle at 11.  I could have used him at about a 6.  Loud and disgusting doesn’t usually equal funny.  Gained big points for the college prep scene where the duo go over the things they will need.

Bonus Video 1:  The Lego Movie Trailer – if you haven’t seen this, it just got released on DVD/BluRay.  See it now.

Bonus Video 2:  This is the trailer for the new Wachowski Sibling project Jupiter Ascending, starring Channing Tatum as a space wolf-man.  It was supposed to be out this summer, and has recently been pushed to early next year – not a good sign, but then, after you watch this trailer, you’ll understand why.  It looks terrible.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Movie Review: Maleficent (PG – 97 minutes)

The Disney animated Sleeping Beauty came out in 1959.  It told a story that was loosely based on a Brothers Grimm (and they got it from old German lore) story about a princess who was placed under a curse to sleep for 100 years.  In the animated story, a malevolent fairy is snubbed by the royal family, and places a curse on the princess which can only be broken by a prince with true love’s kiss. 

The standout character in the animated movie is the bad fairy, named Maleficent.  She’s stunning, and in terms of old-school Disney Villains, she is one of the absolute best.  Disney animated villains don’t have nearly the heft they used to have.  Case in point – at the climactic battle between Maleficent and Prince Phillip in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent tells Phillip just before she turns into a dragon, “Now you will deal with me, and all the powers of Hell!”  Nowadays, Disney villains do not call upon the powers of hell.

Since Maleficent was so striking, it makes sense to make a live action movie featuring her.  It especially makes sense to make a live action movie featuring her if you have one of the most striking actresses on the planet playing her.  In terms of movie stars – Angelina Jolie is one of the biggest.  Disney has not been subtle about the fact that this movie is 100% marketed on Angelina.  The first image released from the movie was just her face and head.  The posters are just her standing there in the costume (and yes, let’s give the costume its due – it is incredible).  The trailers are just her and some fancy CGI.  The entire movie marketing was about “hey!  Come look at Angelina as this classic Disney villain!”  And guess what?  She delivers.

The movie focuses on the same story that is told in the Disney animated Sleeping Beauty (not the original Grimm version, which is way weirder).  The difference is that it is told from Maleficent’s point of view.  We see her as a young fairy, growing up in the Moors, which border a human kingdom, ruled by a wicked king who is seeking to stretch his borders.  

Maleficent indirectly rules the Moors, and knows better than to socialize with humans, but sure enough, a young man shows up (stealing from the Moors; that ought to have been a clue right there) and Maleficent spends way too much time hanging out with him, and telling him her weaknesses – namely that Iron burns fairies (everybody knows that, right?).  As they get older, the man, Stefan, tells Maleficent of his dreams of ruling the human kingdom, and eventually gives Maleficent what he calls true love’s kiss.  Maleficent is smitten. The wicked old king sets out to take the Moors, Maleficent and her tree-people fight them off.  

The king retreats to his castle, angry and defeated.  He is dying and decrees that whoever kills the “winged creature” will rule his kingdom.  Stefan can’t pass up that opportunity, and sets out to find Maleficent.  He drugs her, and finds himself too weak to kill her, but not too weak to take her wings while she is sleeping.  She awakens without them, and realizes she’s been betrayed.  She gives in to darkness, retreating to the forest and giving herself a crown and a throne, as well as changing a crow (she’s magic) back and forth to a man so that he can be her wings.  

He flies back and forth to the castle, learning that Stefan traded the wings for a throne, that he married the old king’s daughter, and that eventually, they have a daughter of their own.  The entire kingdom comes to celebrate, and Maleficent heads to the castle.
We then get the scene that is almost word for word the same as the animated version as the good fairies give their gifts to the princess, and Maleficent interrupts.  In the animated version, she curses the princess that “before the sun sets on her 16th birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, and DIE!”.  Then one of the good fairies still has a gift to give, and so counteracts the curse by stating that Princess Aurora will not die, but fall into a sleep that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.  

In this movie – Maleficent curses the child, then the king begins to beg, and she herself states that the curse will be broken by true love’s kiss.  But since that was the phrase Stefan used with her earlier, she means it as a curse, because she does not believe it exists.

Similarly to the animated version, the three good fairies take Aurora to the woods to raise her as a peasant.  Dissimilarly to the animated version, Maleficent is aware she’s there from day one, and occasionally looks in on her, and assists the fairies, since they are basically inept when it comes to raising a human baby.  Aurora keeps wandering out into the woods, and running into Maleficent as she grows.  believing her to be her fairy godmother.  Charmed by the child, Maleficent lets that go, and spends many days with her.  She tries to lift the curse, but her own magic is too powerful, and she is unable to do so.  Eventually Aurora has her meet-cute with Phillip in the forest, just like in the animated version, then is told the truth by the fairies, and that it’s time to go home, and she confronts Maleficent about who she really is.  Well, she goes to the castle, learns her dad is by this time a completely paranoid psychopath who has conversations with the wings he keeps in a box in the castle.  He’s prepping for war, deciding that Maleficent will come after them the night of Aurora’s 16th birthday.  Sure enough, Aurora pricks her finger as Maleficent brings Phillip to hopefully break the curse.  There’s a huge climatic battle scene that is absolutely stunning – and of course, (spoiler alert) a happy ending. 

This movie is directed by Robert Stromberg, who is a Visual Effects Master and has worked on more than 90 films.  The most notable are Life of Pi, Hunger Games, 2012, Tropic Thunder, Ghost Rider, and Pan’s Labyrinth.  You can really see his effects knowledge in this movie.  There are several scenes that feel like CGI effects are used just for the sake of having cool CGI effects, and plenty of scenes of people just looking at the environment.  I mean, really, as Maleficent tours Aurora around the Moors, there is a lot of time spent looking at things.  However, the things that are being looked at are stunning, and certainly worth the look.  This is also where the 3D pays off.
  • In terms of cast – really – it begins and ends with Angelina Jolie.  Yes, they built this movie around her, and yes, she carries it easily.  I’ve never seen her have this much fun in anything, and I could have watched the scenes of her flying for even longer.  The wings were amazing, the facial prosthetics were amazing, and her portrayal of a bitterly angry fairy was amazing.  I particularly like the scene where a toddler Aurora walks up to Maleficient and demands to be picked up.  They had to use Angelina’s daughter Vivienne, because all the other child actors were afraid of her makeup.  She really delivered, and she’s incredibly watchable in this movie.

  • Elle Fanning does a good job of portraying the young innocence of Aurora.  Mainly, her job was to stand around looking shocked a lot – but she did that well.  She also does a good job of getting angry when the time comes, then falling asleep.  Hey – what can I say – not a ton for her to do.

  • Sharlto Copley adds yet another psychopath to his growing list of psychopaths.  At least in this as compared to Elysium, we didn’t have to watch his head get caved in.  As Stefan devolves into complete paranoia, his performance gets better and creepier.  Also – we know he’s South African, so the choice of Scottish as the accent was interesting, but at least it was mostly consistent with everyone in the kingdom.

  • The three good fairies are played by Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, and Juno Temple.  In the animated version, they were named Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. 

  •  In this version, they are named Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistletwit.  They were actually really annoying because they were so incapable in this version.

  • Sam Riley plays Diaval, the crow.  He stole a couple of scenes, and for a second, I thought maybe he was going to be the one to break the curse. 

  • Brenton Thwaites plays Prince Phillip, and he basically shows up to flirt with Aurora once, then kiss her.  In the animated movie, that was enough to be true love’s kiss.  This movie does a better job with that, because as you know, old-time Disney movies were all about teaching that girls were worthless on their own, and only mattered when they had a prince to marry and look after them.  Thank goodness this movie takes steps to attempt to change that.  It’s a weak attempt, but it is an attempt.

Overall, the movie does feel a bit empty, it’s mostly CGI and Angelina’s performance.  Honestly though, those two things are good enough to carry it.  It was a little tough to tell who it was aimed at – it’s not exactly a kids’ movie (the dragon and final fight are probably too scary for little ones), and it’s not really an adult movie.  It is just an Angelina and her wings movie.

7 out of 10 – Gained points for the wings, lost points for Copley going crazy.  Gained points for the beauty that was the moors, but lost points for the excessive amounts of scenes with weird little creatures doing weird little things – are those water nymphs painting the top of the water?  Gained points for Angelina, delivering on the marketing and carrying the hell out of this movie.

Bonus Video 1:  Hackers…because you probably forgot about Hackers, and Angelina was pretty awesome in that too.  This was way before Johnny Lee Miller could do a decent American accent, and right before they got married.

Bonus Video 2:  Lara Croft: Tomb Raider…because you probably forgot about this too, but it’s pretty entertaining, plus it’s before Daniel Craig could do an American accent.

Bonus Video 3:  Cast interviews

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow (PG13 – 113 minutes)

I found something on the internet the other day about a possible remake of Starship Troopers.  That very idea is ludicrous, as Verhoven’s original is near-perfect (except for Denise Richards, of course), and secondly, because it was super cheesy and fun (with some interesting thought behind it – would you like to know more?) – and it seems that all the recent remakes of super fun, cheesy, slightly thoughtful older movies have removed all the fun, and therefore are way less successful (see the RoboCop remake, the Total Recall remake, the Conan remake… or better yet, don’t see them.  Just re-watch the originals).  

I have heard many refer to Edge of Tomorrow as Oblivion crossed with Groundhog Day with a bit of Source Code.  I would say it’s Starship Troopers crossed with Groundhog Day with a bit of Source Code. 

Also – it’s based on the book “All You Need Is Kill” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, first published in 2004.  It is about a young soldier, Keiji Kiriya, a new recruit in the United Defense Force.  They are fighting against the mysterious ‘Mimics”, which have attacked earth.  Keiji is killed, but then wakes up the day before, and gets caught in a time loop – living the same day over and over as he becomes a better soldier to try to change his fate.

Sometime in the near future, there’s a meteor crash in Germany.  Except, it’s not a meteor, it’s the beginning of an alien invasion.  From the meteor is released a swarm of “Mimics”.  They seem to be flailing, tentacle-laden, rolling whip monsters.  The Mimics start to spread across Europe.  This part of the story is told very quickly through news reports on TV screens and we are introduced to Major William Cage, who is essentially a military PR guy.  He’s there to make you feel better about our chances and look good giving interviews on TV.  He goes to visit the General in command in London, and the General decides to drop Cage in on the front line.  Cage protests, and the General has him arrested and knocked out.  He wakes up dumped on the base, where he is quickly introduced into his squad (J-squad, the typical military movie ‘loser’ squad filled with all the military movie stereotypes you could ask for.  He gets thrown into an exo-suit (essentially a robotic exo-skeleton that makes you stronger and has weapons in it) with little to no direction and dropped onto the beach of France (read your own WWII inferences here if you like) and promptly witnesses the majority of his squad killed very quickly.  He grabs a grenade as a Mimic comes close – a bigger, bluer Mimic than the rest.  The grenade takes out him and the Mimic, and as he dies, he gets a whole bunch of Mimic blood on him.  He then wakes up dumped on the base again – where once again he is introduced to his squad – and so on. 

This repeats over and over again as he learns more about the weapons and remembers the sequence of events on the beach – so he progresses a little bit further each time, but he still keeps getting killed on the beach.  Eventually he runs into Rita Vretaski, the ‘angel of Verdun’.  She’s the hero of the last major battle that the humans won.  He is able to save her from a couple of Mimics, because he’s done it about 12 times at this point already – and she mysteriously tells him to come find her when he wakes up.  The next time, he goes to find her, and she recognizes what is happening to him, because it happened to her at the battle of Verdun.  However, once she was injured and taken to a hospital, they gave her a blood transfusion, and she lost the Mimics ability to jump back a day.  Despite that, she was able to learn that in order to win, the humans have to find the Omega because of her visions (don’t ask).  The Omega is the source of the Mimics…power?  Their home base?  Their ship?  Their big, glowy ball of energy that they keep underwater?  I’m not entirely sure.  It’s not really explained, and it doesn’t really need to be.  The Mimics brought it with them.  If Rita and Cage can destroy it – chances are they will win the war. 

Director Doug Liman has done his fair share of cool action flicks (Jumper, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and The Bourne Identity).  This movie is cool – the action is great, and the story is interesting.  My issue is mainly with the Mimics themselves.  I felt like I never really got a good look at them.   I found myself thinking of the bugs in Starship Troopers, (or the Aliens in Aliens) and the care taken with them, and how much of a great look we got at them, and how believable they were.  The truth is, the Mimics move so fast and seem so completely unbeatable, I found myself mentally checking out whenever they were on screen, and fondly thinking of the practical/CGI effects that made those other enemies look so good.  This movie would have benefitted from some practical aliens.  You never really get a sense of what exactly the Mimics look like.  There are a couple of shots where you get a look at the “Alpha” Mimics (the bigger, bluer ones), but the smaller ones look like rolling whip-balls.  

  • Say what you will about Tom Cruise, he does commit 100 percent to whatever he’s working on.  He has been stomping the marketing trail fairly hardcore for this movie.  And he’s great in it.  The issue with Tom Cruise is that he’s such a movie star that you often don’t remember his character name, because he’s just Tom Cruise.  Do you remember the name of his character in Oblivion?  You should, he said it a bunch of times.  But you might not, because essentially he’s just Tom Cruise again.  That works fine, and I don’t have an issue with that, as long as he keeps to these roles that fit his personality.  He’s great in the front of this movie where he’s not sure what is happening, only that he doesn’t belong on the front line; but he’s even better in the back end of the movie, where he has started to fall for Rita, because he has spent so much time with her, even though to her, it’s only one day.

  • Emily Blunt was a bit of a surprise to me in this because she pulled off action hero pretty convincingly.  She gives Rita a haunted look, one that is completely weary of war, and then suddenly hopeful when she realizes she may have a weapon of advantage in Cage.

  • Brendan Gleeson plays General Brigham who is completely and totally by the book, and also completely and totally not impressed with Cage’s PR bullshit. 

  • Bill Paxton is easily the most fun part of this movie.  He’s the perfect contradiction to Tom Cruise’s just being Tom Cruise in every movie, Paxton is someone who can blend in to whatever character he decides to play – but can also stand out when needed (if you haven’t been watching Agents of Shield, shame on you – if you have, but haven’t yet seen the season finale – It is Paxton-tastic!).  Go back and watch him be brilliant in a small scene in the original Terminator, and then in Aliens, Navy Seals, True Lies, Haywire, Predator 2, etc. etc.

  • Noah Taylor – who, despite all the things he has done (including removing Jaimie Lannister’s hand), I still think of as Lara Croft’s buddy (the one that isn’t a hologram – that’s a deep pull, kudos to you if you got that reference) – plays Dr. Carter, the scientist who has done the most Mimic research.  Really – why aren’t there all kinds of scientists working on analyzing the Mimics and their power and what they can do?  Instead, we just see the military throwing more and more soldiers at these unbeatable aliens. 

  • The rest of the J squad is played by Jonas Armstrong (Skinner), Tony Way (Kimmel), Kick Gurry (Griff), Franz Drameh (Ford), Dragomir Mrsic (Kuntz), Charlotte Riley (Nance), and Masayoshi Haneda (Takeda).   Again, they don’t have a lot to do, just various versions of the same thing over and over again.  They get some minor character development, and do what they can to help Cage on his Omega-destroying mission.

Overall, the movie was certainly entertaining, but in a summer where a lot of things have been great, it falls a little flat.  Cruise is insanely watchable, Blunt is a pleasant action surprise, and everyone else in the movie is capable.  The story is interesting, and there are plenty of humorous moments mixed in the “resetting” that Cage has to do. It’s exactly what you want from a summer popcorn flick – I don’t think you need the 3D.

7 out of 10 – Gained points for Emily Blunt being a bit kick-ass, Lost points for not really giving us a good look at the aliens.  Gained points for the interesting exo-suits as military hardware – Lost points for having only one scientist in the whole movie who is analyzing the aliens, and he got booted down to janitorial duties for his efforts – where are all the military scientists analyzing the enemy to find the weakness?  Come on, guys – that’s alien fighting 101.
Bonus Video 1:  Paxton is pretty spectacular in True Lies, which is a super fun movie if you forgot or hadn’t seen it in a while.

Bonus Video 2:  Doug Liman has done some great movies – but Mr. and Mrs. Smith is my favorite.  This is what ‘chemistry’ looks like.
Bonus Video 3:  The SDCC 2013 Edge of Tomorrow Panel

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Movie Review: Chef (R – 115 minutes)

Jon Favreau’s career began in 1996 when he wrote a movie based on the experiences of he and his best buddies, who were all up and coming actors meandering around the L.A. night scene.  Director Doug Liman sent the script to studios, and they wanted to finance it, but when Liman insisted on casting the writer and his friends, they changed their minds.  The money was raised independently, and for $200,000 they made Swingers, which went on to make over $4 million.  It also launched the careers of Favreau, his best friend Vince Vaughn, their friend Ron Livingston, and others. 

Since then, Favreau has gone on to write and direct other movies.  Most notable is Elf (one of the best Christmas movies ever), Made (starring Sean Combs – yes, that Sean Combs), and Cowboys & Aliens (a movie with two lead actors so grumpy, you don’t care about any of the characters).  You can also make a case for him being responsible for the current state of excellence in the Marvel cinematic universe, as he directed Iron Man, and was the one who wanted Robert Downey Jr. to play Tony Stark.  RDJ’s charisma and the success of that movie allowed Marvel to build their multi-phased plan to create the most entertaining movies ever.  While loving that, Favreau wanted to ‘get back to his roots’; and write and direct something a little smaller.

Chef is the story of Chef Carl Casper, who is too busy running the kitchen at a big time L.A. restaurant to notice that he is not spending enough quality time with his son, Percy, and that he doesn’t really know him.  He has his buddies in the kitchen, and an on-again off-again relationship with the maĆ®tre-d, Molly.  He cooks because it’s his passion and his love.  He creates amazing dishes in the kitchen; however, he encounters a roadblock in the domineering restaurant owner, Riva.  When finding out that a major food critic is coming to the restaurant, Carl prepares an astounding and daring menu for him, but Riva insists on using the same menu they have always used.  This backfires, and the critic writes a horrible and mean review that personally attacks Carl – who used to be inspired.  Carl gets upset upon learning from his friends and son that the review has gone viral, and takes to twitter to demand a re-match – asking the critic to come back in.  He again prepares a fantastic menu – but due to the twitter hype, the restaurant has more reservations than it has ever had, and Riva again insists on the same menu.  Carl walks out – the critic again blasts Carl personally.  Carl comes to the restaurant and loses it very publically at the critic, which of course, goes viral as well. 

Feeling lost, Carl agrees to go on a trip with his ex-wife and son to Miami to see her father.  While there, they go to restaurant, and she Inceptions him into agreeing to get a food truck from her first ex-husband to be able to cook what he wants and how he wants.  He, Percy, and his buddy/sous chef, Martin set out across the country, stopping here and there, teaching Percy to become an amazing line cook, and bonding on the way.  Percy uses twitter to promote the truck, so by the time they hit L.A., they are a huge success.  The critic comes by to eat and talk with Carl, and offers to partner with him on a restaurant of his own.  Bam – happy ending, a simple story, but the joy is in the cast and the execution.

  • This is the first time Jon Favreau has starred in a movie.  We already know he's a great director of comedies with heart.  He is usually a member of an ensemble, or a bit character who steals a few scenes.  He is fantastic as Carl – equal parts determined, bull-headed, and lovable and lost.  He does a wonderful job, especially in the non-verbal moments of just him and the son.  Also – he did learn to cook for the movie, from Chef Ray Choi, who does have a food truck.

  • This is also the best I have seen John Leguizamo in a long time.  Probably because Favreau let him mainly just be himself.  He is fast-talking, genuine, and hilarious.  Martin promises to stand by Carl’s side, and when Carl is in Miami and starting over with the food-truck, Martin is literally on the next flight to be there to help him.

  • Emjay Anthony plays Percy, the son, and does a great job of being quietly hurt in the beginning when his father does not have time for him, but then excited at the prospect of a cross-country trip and learning to cook.  Also – the bit about him being more internet-saavy than his father is pretty accurate, and his building a crowd for the truck based solely on social media was a nice touch.

  • Bobby Cannavale plays Tony, who was Carl’s sous-chef, but then gets the head chef job when Carl implodes.  Cannavale has been good in multiple things for a long time, and it was nice to see him get the opportunity to cut loose a little in this.

  • Scarlett Johansson plays Molly, and she really is a supportive friend for Carl when he has no clue what to do next.  I also enjoyed the ‘love scene’ between them.  In other movies, it would have been a drunken sex scene – in this movie, she excitedly watches while he cooks her pasta.  Fantastic.

  • Dustin Hoffman plays Riva, who is as close to a villain as the movie has – not counting the critic.  While he’s a bit of a dick, it is easy to see where he is coming from.  His menu in his restaurant has worked for the last 10 years, why change it now?  I could have used one more scene where he got his comeuppance; as it stands, he gets to just quietly escort Carl out of his place.  I needed one more scene where he was proven wrong, and is chagrined to see the success that Carl has cooking his own menu.

  • Sofia Vergara plays Carl’s ex-wife, Inez.  It’s never really explained what she does for a living, but she is wealthy as all hell.  She seems to be some sort of party planner.  She obviously cares for Carl and only wants to see him happy.  It was nice to see her more toned down than she is on TV.

  • Oliver Platt expertly plays an Oliver Platt-type as Ramsey Michel, the food critic.  He has very little to do up front, but just look pompous as Carl screams at him in the middle of the restaurant.  His excellence comes in the final scene when he approaches Carl to tell him how good the food truck food is, and how he always knew that was what Carl was capable of, and yes – let’s open a restaurant together.

  • Amy Sedaris has a very brief cameo as the publicist who Inez hires to speak with Carl after his outburst.  She’s not especially helpful, but she is fun.

  • Robert Downey Jr. plays Inez’s first ex-husband, Marvin, who provides Carl with the food truck.  The reality is that he probably worked one day on this movie, and that Favreau let him improvise almost the entirety of his scene, but the beauty of that is that it is one of the funniest scenes in the movie.  He’s completely ridiculous, and it really works.

  • The true star of this movie is the food, and I cannot emphasize enough that you should not see it on an empty stomach, unless you have plans to go out to dinner immediately after.  The Cuban sandwiches look amazing, the pasta looked great, the beignets…all of it.  My favorite is the grilled cheese sandwich he makes for Percy.  And as a bonus, over the credits, there is a scene of Chef Ray Choi teaching Jon Favreau how to make that grilled cheese sandwich.  And now I need a grilled cheese sandwich.

  • It is also important to point out the music in this.  If you’ve seen either Swingers or Made, you know how big the music is in a Favreau movie.  I still play the Swingers soundtrack in my car, because it’s awesome.  I ordered the soundtrack to this the day after I saw the movie – it is excellent, and there is a great scene of Gary Clark Jr. playing as the food truck stops in Austin.

This movie is easily my biggest surprise hit of the year, and mostly because I wasn’t a huge fan of Swingers, or Made.  They both felt a little pretentious to me (Favreau can come off as a pretentious filmmaker from time to time), and I wasn’t sure I would like this.  This movie is very straightforward, with a simple story, but with excellent execution – and sometimes, that’s all you need.  It is still playing with a limited release, but make the effort to go see it – it’s well worth it.  I saw it in a packed theater, and the audience applauded after it was over.  Sometimes you just need a hilarious, touching story with a supremely happy ending.

9 out of 10 – Gained big points for RDJ, he almost stole the whole movie.  Lost points for not getting to see Hoffman’s character get what was coming to him.  Gained points for Leguizamo being Leguizamo.  Lost points for the over-use of Twitter, but honestly, that was half the story.  Gained points for the food – all the amazing food.  This movie needs an accompanying cookbook.

Bonus Video 1:  Chocolat – the other movie that makes me hungry.

Bonus Video 2:  The Hundred-Foot Journey.  An upcoming movie based on a book that looks like it will make me hungry.

Bonus Video 3:  Four Christmases – the movies not that good, but it’s almost worth it for the one scene with Favreau…

…same thing for the movie Couples Retreat.  If you rent either of them, you can fast forward through the nonsense.

Bonus Video 4:  Cast Interviews: