Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sunday double feature: God's Pocket & Chef

I don't know if there's a prize for a trailer getting a lot of play and then the movie barely coming out, but it feels like I've seen God's Pocket advertised before every movie I've seen at Kendall Sqaure and many of the independent or otherwise dramatic ones to play Boston Common over the past month and a half, which means it was genuinely surprising to see it only opening at the Embassy in Waltham last weekend. Even when Landmark was operating the theater more as a boutique house than it does now (I think the transition came when National Amusements shut down the Circle), what showed on its six screens was mostly a subset of what was at Kendall Square.

But, for whatever reason, that's the route they went with this one. I kind of get it - Kendall has one movie going per screen, and it looks like The Lunchbox is hanging around much longer than anyone expected; on top of that, God's Pocket has problems enough that it's not going to get great word of mouth. Fortunately, it's not hard to get to the Embassy at all - a straight shot up the 70 from my house, and that's far from the only bus that runs through Waltham Center (although I spent a panicked hour or two beforehand not able to find my Landmark discount tickets). It's also a nice little theater, with the smell of popcorn filling it enough to create a Pavlovian response, and a manager coming in to say hi before the movie. I suspect he knew that they'd be getting a lot of people visiting for the first time (or the first time in a while) for that one, and making a good impression couldn't hurt.

It is kind of a long bus ride back in, so even though Pocket started at 1:40 and only ran about an hour and a half, I wasn't waiting long to see Chef at Boston Common. Enough time to get some mozzerella sticks, which made me feel like a monster at first - a movie that spends so much time preparing delicious food, and I'm eating that. Sure, the movie would also spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of the frilled cheese sandwich (one of my favorite scenes is Favreau's character putting a lot of effort into making one for his son; it worked so well that I dug the mid-credits reprise), but, yeah, not gourmet dining.

The good news is that I loved Chef enough to feel magnanimous about God's Pocket's flaws. It looks like both are going to expand a little this weekend, with God's Pocket making its way to Kendall (though it will be sharing a screen with Fading Gigolo - John Turturro double feature!) and Chef opening at the Somerville.

God's Pocket

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2014 in Landmark Embassy #5 (first-run, DCP)

There are moments, especially toward the end of God's Pocket, when I wonder if John Slattery has made a Trojan Horse of a movie, giving an audience expecting an honest-but-affectionate story about earthy folks in a tough neighborhood a parody of the genre instead. He might have been better off committing more fully in one direction or another, as his early good efforts playing it straight don't quite translate so well into handling the second half's weirdness.

Things are admittedly a bit odd in the titular Philadelphia neighborhood from the start, as small-time crook Mickey Scarpato (Philip Seymour Hoffman) helps his butcher friend Arthur Carpezio (John Turturro) heist a truck full of meat. While he's doing that, Leon Hubbard (Caleb Landry Jones) is making a fatal mistake at his construction job, and while he's a mouthy twerp that only his mother will miss, that mother is Mickey's wife Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), who doesn't believe the story of a construction accident and implores both Mickey and the police to find out what really happened. Also on that beat? Richard Shellburn (Richard Jenkins), an alcoholic newspaper columnist who has been writing about the area for twenty years and is sent in when his paper gets every detail of even the official story wrong.

Nobody actually gets very far in figuring out what happened to Leon for at least the first half of the movie, although it's not in any way a mystery - he does on-screen in a way that's not particularly likely to have the audience clamor for things to come out on principle. But it's more or less okay; Slattery and his cast put together a comfortable group of small-timers, mostly in orbit around Philip Seymour Hoffman's Mickey. Mickey is the sort of guy Hoffman seems to have been born to play, a bit smarter than the folks around him but too lethargic to really take advantage of that, naturally at home on a barstool answering the next guy's questions in detail even though he looks like he wants to be left alone. Mickey maybe doesn't do a whole lot but get by, but Hoffman knows how to make that sort of guy connect and Slattery (adapting a novel by Peter Dexter) puts him in the right place for that to work. It's almost too effective, since Mickey is described as someone who can never truly be a part of God's Pocket because he wasn't born there, but Hoffman just fits in so well.

Full review at EFC


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2014 in AMC Boston Common #9 (first-run, DCP)

Jon Favreau's Chef has a line in the credits about being based on actual events, and I kind of suspect that those events may involve "fans" putting a lot of personal invective into their assessments of Iron Man 2 and Cowboys & Aliens as a real-life chef hitting the road to get back to basics. If that's the case, then this movie is a case of a good thing coming out of a bad situation, as it allows Favreau to put a great deal of himself into a movie that is not necessarily autobiographical.

He writes, directs, and plays Carl Casper, a chef at a popular L.A. restaurant who has been cooking the same menu for five years. On the night a major critic (Oliver Platt) is due to visit, he wants to present a new, special menu, but backs down under pressure from the owner (Dustin Hoffman). The review is a disaster, Carl's first encounters with social media afterward make it worse, and soon he's out of work and tagging when his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) takes a business trip to Miami, looking after their son Percy (Emjay Anthony). It may be a blessing in disguise, though - Carl and Percy haven't spent that much time together, and an old friend has a good truck that Carl could refurbish to re-establish himself.

Favreau takes a little time getting there, letting the audience get a look at Carl, Percy, and the world they live in before each time he upends things. He sometimes seems to be filling that world with big names just because he can, although every movie star there for little more than a cameo delivers something good, whether it be perfect fits like Bobby Cannavale and Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson turning in a small gem of a performance (she really is on a roll right now), or John Leguizamo sticking around longer than expected and turning line chef Martin into the glue that hold the movie together. Sofia Vergara brings some of her broad persona to Inez, but doesn't overwhelm the character. Using a cast of movie stars in this way - letting the audience's familiarity carry some weight and then getting nuance when he might otherwise be establishing the broad outline of the characters - is an underrated aspect of Favreau's career as a director; it can look like he's just gotten the studio to sign checks to put a cast on autopilot, but he's using it to build a well-populated environment and get to its details quickly where others might use this sort of cast as a substitute for doing so.

Full review at EFC

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