I can’t say I have ever loved the work of Jon Favreau. I watched and moderately enjoyed his early career. I am one of those people who was confounded by the adverse reaction to Made. I think it was one of the few times I laughed at Vince Vaughn. His cringy dumb guy who thinks he is smart schtick made me laugh. I never found his studio pictures like Elf, Zathura, or Iron Man very remarkable. It could undoubtedly be an age thing when it comes to those pictures. So when Chef originally came out, it zoomed past my radar with zero interest in watching it. The world would keep spinning. However, my brother and patron Matt chose this for his April pick, so I sat down and watched the thing.
Listen Up Philip (2014) Written & Directed by Alex Perry Ross
Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry continued his interesting development with this marked improvement from The Color Wheel. Noam Baumbach and Wes Anderson’s influences are even more apparent here; however, Perry does manage to keep his picture from feeling derivative. Thematically, he’s approaching John Cassavettes territory without the earnestness and more overtly toxic male figure. Ross walks a tightrope where he can’t make his main character so unlikeable we lose all sympathy for him, and he does this by letting the narrative shift to different character’s perspectives throughout the story. The result is a picture I enjoyed quite a bit, helped by having seasoned actors in the roles.
There was a period in the mid to late 2010s where horror anthologies had an enormous surge in popularity. They are reasonably cheap movies to film, directors are asked to work on small budgets, and many are already used to that expectation. The risk you run with anthologies of any kind is that tones and style will be so varied that it’s just simply not possible to make one of these films that appeal to everyone from start to finish. The ABCs of Death series was like a horror anthology in overdrive as it touted 26 shorts in one package, a film for each letter of the English alphabet. This means there will be films you love and ones you will outright hate; your mileage may vary. In this review, I will talk specifically about the shorts I enjoyed.
Space Station 76 (2014) Written by Jack Plotnick, Jennifer Elise Cox, Sam Pancake, Kali Rocha, and Mike Stoyanov Directed by Jack Plotnick
Space Station 76 is as much about its aesthetic as it is any plot or character arcs. Now, that can be an incredibly frustrating thing if you aren’t into the aesthetic. I completely understand if someone was turned off by this film because they just don’t care for the look and tone. I thought many parts of the movie were a little too self-indulgent and leaned into some weak improv. Overall, I think it is an interesting little oddity, clearly made by people who have a vision of what they wanted to do, and they did it.
Cooties (2014) Written by Ian Brennan, Leigh Whannell, and Josh C. Waller Directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
Genre movies can have problems. When a filmmaker loves a genre so much, and they make a film under that umbrella, they often become derivative without bringing anything new to the table. No kind of film is guilty of this more, in my opinion than zombie movies. American zombie movies look to Night of the Living Dead and now in the 21st century, 28 Days Later, and just mimic what they see there. Each film has some sort of unique hook but inevitably breaks down into predictable pablum that we’ve seen playing out dozens of times before. Cooties starts with promise but does down that same disappointing path.
Please, Kill Mr. Kinski (1999) Written & Directed by David Schmoeller
In 1986, director David Schmoeller worked with notorious actor Klaus Kinski on the set of his film Crawlspace. As expected, Kinski was a nightmare to direct and continuously tried to find ways to throw a wrench in the production. It became especially terrible when Kinksi learned that Schmoeller went to the producers to get the actor thrown off the picture. This is a short essay film, a docu-comedy, sort of like a story Kevin Smith tells in his live shows. I haven’t seen Herzog’s My Best Fiend yet, but I suspect it covers the same territory with more depth.
He Took His Skin Off For Me (2014) Written by Maria Hummer and Ben Ashton Directed by Ben Ashton
He Took His Skin Off For Me walks that line between grotesque and beautiful, a contemporary fairy tale with relationship dysfunctions working underneath. The story is told entirely in voice-over from the unnamed female protagonist. She explains that she asked her male partner to take his skin off for her, a move that is never questioned and makes sense in the magical realist logic of the narrative. He does so but immediately encounters problems. There are bloodstains everywhere, sanguine footprints and crimson smears on the floors and furniture. His job is public-facing, and he tells her clients are pulling their business because of their discomfort with the man’s appearance. The woman tries to look on the bright side of all these setbacks, but her partner is withdrawing. During a dinner party, he answers in monosyllabic single word responses, a behavior that is very unlike him.
Big Hero 6 (Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams) From my review: Every element of Big Hero 6 feels like a classic Marvel comic. The teenage hero struck by tragedy, using his own wits and intelligence to build what he needs to make things right. A powerful masked villain with personal ties to the hero. Like Brad Bird, the creators of this film understand those fundamental principles of what makes superhero media appealing to kids. One place where Marvel has been lacking was in the musical score of their movies. Big Hero 6 has a beautifully triumphant and classical superhero sound, big heroic themes to highlight Hiro & company swinging into action and sweeping notes to underscore the tragedy. There are genuinely touching moments in the story, and this is not an animated film where everything gets tied up nicely with everyone turning out safe. People die in this story, and the villain is more complicated than the audience will initially realize. Much like the comic books that inspired this movie, the creators respect the intelligence of children and know that, with a well-written script and strong creative choices, a “kids’ film” can be something powerful.
Big Hero 6 (2014) Written by Jordan Roberts, Robert L. Baird, and Dan Gerson Directed by Don Hall & Chris Williams
In 2004, Pixar released The Incredibles, a superhero film ahead of the curve with Iron Man and the MCU not launching until four years later. My first thoughts after the end credits rolled were that Brad Bird and company had succeeded in making the best Fantastic Four film, which would be proven correct when Fox released the groaningly terrible FF live-action movie in 2005. Bird understood the core essence of these characters and about the fundamentals of what drives kids of all ages to lose themselves in an afternoon of comic book reading.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Written by Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth Directed by Doug Liman
Groundhog Day didn’t invent the “living the same day over and over” trope, but it sure made the thing popular and part of the larger cultural conversation. Edge of Tomorrow takes this idea and overlays it onto a science fiction action film playing the concept for thrills over laughs, though it does have moments of humor. Tom Cruise stars as Major William Cage who is involved in the global effort to push back an alien invasion. Cage is part of media relations and uses his position to avoid combat on the front until the general overseeing the upcoming assault has him shipped off to fight alongside a unit. Cage gets dropped into the D-Day style assault on the northern French coast and is blasted with an unknown energy source before dying. He immediately wakes up 24 hours earlier and lives through the same day, again and again, eventually meeting war hero Rita Vrataski, who knows Cage’s condition all too well.