Viewing Diary (5/19/14)

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 8.43.52 PM

Nothing but new releases in the ol’ Viewing Diary this week, as I discuss a busy week featuring Godzilla, The Disney sports film Million Dollar Arm, Jon Favreau’s Chef and an early look at Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West. If you’re aching for older movies, fear not! Next week’s diary will feature not one, but two black and white films! Try to contain your excit– wait, come back!

NEW RELEASES

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 8.42.34 PMGodzilla (2014)
Dir: Gareth Edwards

No sense going much deeper on this one, since I wrote a bit about it at the end of last week. I did want to briefly return to these complaints about the human characters, however. Are they under-developed in this film? Of course, and often glaringly so. I’m just really confused as to why this is where we’re drawing the line, since I feel they cheapen what is one of the most beautifully-shot, expertly directed disaster films to be released in quite some time. By no means do I believe it’s perfect, but Edwards put this thing together so brilliantly and uniquely. So many films like this feel like they’re coming off the same assembly line, and Godzilla is at least trying to do something mildly unexpected. On a plot level, it’s a completely standard monster movie. What impresses me is how Edwards and company went about making it. Anyway, how about I throw in a reading suggestion while you’re here? Over at The Dissolve, David Ehrlich makes the interesting argument that the thinness of the characters was actually quite purposeful. In this case, I might agree and disagree in equal measure. I loved Godzilla to bits, and I think it does some really interesting things with point-of-view, but I’m not sure it made its humans boring entirely on purpose. I’m only willing to give a big-budget film like this so much credit.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 8.43.40 PMMillion Dollar Arm (2014)
Dir: Craig Gillespie

Million Dollar Arm is as generic and predictable as Disney sports films get, and it becomes painfully sentimental by the end, but up until then it’s such a crowd-pleaser that I’m surprised it didn’t do better at the box office this weekend. I saw it at 10:45 a.m. on a Saturday morning with several of my closest senior citizen friends, and they certainly seemed to eat it up. I suppose it did hurt itself by opening opposite a certain giant lizard movie, but I digress. Jon Hamm is wonderfully charming as a sports agent looking to find a major league pitcher in the untapped market of India, and the best moments of the film are easily when he is forced to look after the two players (Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma) he ultimately brings back to Los Angeles. There’s not a whole lot of substance to be found, but these scenes allow a very talented cast to play around a bit and deliver some really solid jokes. (It helps that the script was written by the perhaps-overqualified Tom McCarthy.) Ultimately, a film like this is contractually obligated to hit a set of predetermined beats, and that’s when it loses any steam it once had. As you might be able to tell from what I’ve written, Million Dollar Arm is not the kind of film that inspires a strong reaction of any kind. If you’re sitting at home in a few months and you want something nice and relaxing to watch on demand, this should fit the bill nicely.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 8.42.05 PMChef (2014)
Dir: Jon Favreau

Like Million Dollar Arm, Jon Favreau’s Chef is a charming movie that doesn’t have too many surprises up its sleeve. However, I greatly prefer the latter, since so much of Chef seems to be coming from a very personal place. When you listen to interviews with Favreau, he never seems particularly angry about his experience directing blockbusters like Iron Man, its sequel and Cowboys & Aliens, but it’s hard not to think he’s burying some negative emotions when you watch this new film. This is the story of a big-time chef (played by Favreau) who starts off in charge of a high-profile restaurant, but becomes annoyed by the constant requests of the owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman). In this scenario, Favreau is quite clearly the director and Favreau the meddling film executive. Their relationship ultimately comes to a head, and Favreau is left to start over from scratch. He chooses to start a food truck and adopt a “back to basics” approach. For Favreau, this story has to sound more than a bit familiar.

Once you get out of the first act of Chef, there are no real antagonists to be found. It’s a comedy about a bunch of decent people trying their best, and that can be awfully refreshing when done well. In this case, it is, and it’s a whole lot of fun to watch Favreau, his colleague (John Leguizamo) and his son (Emjay Anthony) drive across the country and serve delicious sandwiches to the people of America. It’s every bit as minor and harmless as it sounds, but it’s also an absolute delight. Also, do not watch this on an empty stomach. Trust me.

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 8.44.18 PMA Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
Dir: Seth MacFarlane

This comes out next week, so I’m going to hold off on any real review until then. I’ve already written one to go online shortly before release, and that’s all I will say on the matter. I will reveal that the review contains the phrase “poop de grâce.” It’s up to you to guess the context.

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