Capsule Movie Reviews (May 7): 'Chef' and five more
R, 1 HR., 55 MINS.
Jon Favreau spent most of the past decade directing the cinematic equivalent of two cheeseburgers (with extra cheese) in the form of the first two Iron Man blockbusters and one expensively overcooked turkey in the shape of Cowboys & Aliens. Now the former indie-scene hotshot (remember Swingers?) is attempting to prove he’s still capable of whipping up a character-driven comedy via the more modestly budgeted Chef.
In addition to directing and writing, Favreau plays Carl Casper, a Los Angeles chef with two chatty underlings (John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale), an ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), a lover (Scarlett Johansson), and a boss (Dustin Hoffman) who insists he crank out the same menu night after night. After Carl gets a negative review from a food blogger (Oliver Platt), he quits his job, gets behind the wheel of an old food truck, and embarks on a cross-country trip during which he dispenses Cuban sandwiches and culinary-themed wisdom to his son (Emjay Anthony).
The first two thirds of Chef crackle with hunger-inducing imagery and laughter-provoking gags. But the concluding road-movie section is less third act than travelogue. While Chef may be a much-needed palate cleanser for its creator, the result doesn’t quite seem like a full meal. B —Clark Collis
NOT RATED, 1 HR., 55 MINS.
Based on Mara Leveritt’s book about the infamous West Memphis Three trial, this engrossing drama tackles the mystery — why were three young boys murdered in a small Arkansas town in 1993? — through the stories of a victim’s mother (Reese Witherspoon) and an investigator (Colin Firth). The movie doesn’t grab you emotionally, but director Atom Egoyan (Exotica) teases apart the case’s details with grim fascination. (Also available on iTunes and VOD) B —Adam Markovitz
R, 1 HR., 33 MINS.
Meek office grunt Simon (Jesse Eisenberg) is flummoxed when he meets a new co-worker (also Eisenberg) who looks just like him — but has a surplus of confidence and a way with the ladies, including Simon’s crush (Mia Wasikowska). Director Richard Ayoade (Submarine) gets a huge impact from minimal expressionist sets, but the thin story — loosely based on Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella — plays like a pale reflection of a more exciting tale. (Also available on iTunes and VOD) B- —Adam Markovitz
PG, 1 HR., 39 MINS.
Yes, sugar is killing you. But the government is killing you faster, by bowing to major food corporations that just want to get kids addicted to processed food. So claims this fascinating, Katie Couric-narrated doc, which makes a strong case that junk food should be regulated like Big Tobacco. Some lessons are overfamiliar (almonds good, corn syrup bad), but the section on corporate influence over school lunches is enough to make you spit out that 20-ounce soda from the concession stand. B+ —Melissa Maerz
R, 1 HR., 28 MINS.
A collection of working-class zeros repeatedly mishandle both life and death in the mixed-bag feature directorial debut from Mad Men‘s John Slattery. In one of his final roles, Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a man whose no-good stepson is killed on a construction job, while John Turturro, Richard Jenkins, and Christina Hendricks round out a formidable cast that isn’t given much to work with. (Available on VOD May 14) C —Keith Staskiewicz
R, 1 HR., 28 MINS.
The Venn-diagram overlap between stage-musical fanatics and slasher-movie diehards has got to be about as thin as a knife’s edge, but this singing-and-dancing genre mash-up actually has some good, bloody fun. A drama-camp owner (Meat Loaf) puts on a revival of the musical that led to his actress wife’s (Minnie Driver) murder, and it seems someone’s looking for a killer encore. It’s half Friday the 13th, half Phantom of the Paradise, and just cheesy enough to work. (Also available on iTunes and VOD) B —Keith Staskiewicz