Chef (2014) by Jon Favreau

Warning: do not watch on an empty stomach.

Lost every year amid the summer blockbuster craze is the indie films that are released on much lower budgets. One of those films is Chef, which was written and directed by Jon Favreau, who also plays the lead character.

It’s about a Los Angeles-based chef named Carl Casper (Favreau) who works at a fancy restaurant but is at conflict with his stubborn, Chefuptight boss (Dustin Hoffman) about creative kitchen control. He wants to experiment and cook different food, but his boss wants him to stick to the traditional “fan favorites.”

Long story short, he quits, and rediscovers his culinary love by opening a food truck, allowing him the freedom to cook whatever he likes. He’s joined by his loyal friend Martin (John Leguizamo), who becomes his sous chef, and his son Percy (Emjay Anthony).

The trio travel from Miami to Los Angeles, making stops along the way and quickly becoming a popular mobile eatery.

The movie follows a pretty conventional story arch, and quite frankly, Jon Favreau is annoying throughout. It pains me to say it, because I still love him so much for Swingers, but this movie really asks the viewer to stretch their imagination.

For one, he spends the entire first half of the movie yelling at people. That was the first annoying thing.

Secondly, we’re supposed to believe that Favreau — who’s fatter than he’s ever been — was married to Sofia Vergara, who plays his ex-wife, and then began hooking up with Scarlett Johansson, who plays the maitre’d at the restaurant he quits.

Come on. I just couldn’t get past that. Fat slobs do not date — let alone marry — women who look like that. Especially two of them.

There was also a weird dynamic involving technology. I think it was going for a humorous angle about how technology is completely lost on older folks, but it overdoes it. Percy teaches his dad about Twitter, Vine and other apps throughout the movie, and it takes on too big of a role.

Everything in the movie happens to conveniently. The struggles are not believable.

That being said, there’s ton of familiar faces in the film (including a Robert Downey Jr. cameo), and whereas the conventional story-arch of a lost soul rediscovering his craft without any real struggle may have bored me, it’ll appeal to many others who prefer a straightforward movie.

As I mentioned, there’s also plenty of close-up shots of delicious-looking food.

There’s worse ways to spend two hours, but don’t expect to see anything that you couldn’t pick up at the 99-cent rack at your nearest Walmart.

Watch the trailer here.

 

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Give a 9-year-old an Uzi, somebody is probably going to die.

The “Bizarre Story of the Day” label yesterday went to a shooting range in Arizona, where a 9-year-old girl, who was learning from a certified instructor how to shoot an Uzi, accidentally killed him when the powerful gun recoiled.

The girl, who is not yet 10, was learning how to use a machine gun.

From an instructor.

While her parents not only watched, but filmed it.

It’s hard to even decide where to begin. A 9-year-old should not be learning how to use any type of weapon. Let alone a gun. Let alone Uzi girla machine gun. And her parents were all for it.

People that young don’t need to know how to work a gun. This is 21st century America, not the Wild West. We’re also not shipping her out to Iraq anytime soon. Give her a goddamn Barbie doll.

The instructor, 39-year-old Charles Vacca, is a veteran, to make the story worse. He survived war, but not a 9-year-old. I don’t mean to kid (no pun intended), but it’s just a crazy story.

The incident has sparked conversation nationwide about kids and gun laws, which, probably should have been a conversation sooner.

No charges are expected to be filed against the girl, who has not been identified to the media. But she and her family live in New Jersey. Ironically, there is a 9-year-old sharpshooter from New Jersey named Shyanne Roberts, who is not the same girl involved.

Lost in all of this is how terrible the 9-year-old girl who was involved must feel. She killed a guy. Killed him. And she has to live with that.

It was a complete accident, and her parents are more to blame than any one else, but she physically pulled the trigger and now has to live with the knowledge that she was responsible for a death.

Because of the circumstances in which this happened, I’ve seen people call this an act of Social Darwinsm, which, I can’t blame them for. The entire story is mind-boggling.

Just because there are child soldiers in Rwanda doesn’t mean we should start arming our own children. Joseph Kony isn’t coming stateside anytime soon.

I wouldn’t even trust a 9-year-old girl with a slingshot.

I don’t even trust myself with a slingshot.

And who actually uses a slingshot besides Bart Simpson and Dennis the Menace?

But anyway, let’s confine Uzis to video games like Call of Duty, and out of the hands of 9-year-olds. K?

 

CiCi Bellis, America’s 15-year-old tennis star

There’s 15-year-old in the U.S. Open. Scratch that. There’s a 15-year-old winning matches in the U.S. Open.

Catherine Bellis, who goes by the nickname Cici, made headlines Tuesday by defeating 13th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova to advance to the second round of the final grand slam major of the year.

As I type this, she just lost that second round match. But it’s astounding that she even got there.

I can’t imagine the feeling to be a young teen experiencing success in the ultimate level of your sport. She qualified by winning a CiCi Bellisprerequisite junior tournament earlier this month, and became the youngest person to win a U.S. Open match since Anna Kournikova did it in 1996.

The best part of the run is that she is an American excelling in an American tournament. She’s from California. That’s a pretty good way to pick your spot. If she pulled off a first round upset at the French Open, or even Wimbledon, not too many would really care.

It’s well publicized how long its been since the U.S. has produced good tennis players, so any small success will do. And it’s awesome to see how much the crowd got behind little Cici.

Honestly, watching her play felt like I was watching a junior varsity girls tennis match, given how tiny she is. Which, I assure you, is something I don’t do very often.

It’s a little reminiscent of when Melanie Oudin in 2009, who, as a 17-year-old from Georgia, reached the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open, also becoming a fan favorite.

Tennis is really the only sport a 15-year-old can succeed in at the utmost level. Every now and then you hear about a 15-year-old golfer (or even younger), but they usually don’t accomplish much. Bellis did.

It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment indeed and I can’t imagine what this week must have felt like for her. Most 15-year-old girls are busy taking selfies on Instagram, or gossiping with their friend on the phone about the boys in their high school. When I was 15, I spent most of my time in my room reading wizard literature.

15-year-old CiCi Bellis, meanwhile, played a national televised tennis match in the second round of our nation’s biggest tennis tournament.

I long ago stopped thinking about how many professional athletes are younger than me. I’m also trying hard not think about how Bellis is almost half my age. Instead, I have a newfound appreciation for young athletes. Where there was once bitterness, there is now respect.

In an age where we have television shows called “16 & Pregnant,” it’s nice to see a 15-year-old make headlines for doing something positive. Color me a fan.

Plus, her name is CiCi.

How can you not root for a CiCi?

The Fault in Our Stars

Movies don’t make me cry. Plain and simple. At least not since I saw Free Willy when I was 6. And that was more more than 20 years ago.

I’m not telling you this to taut my masculinity. Movies make me feel emotion all of the time. But I have the ability to detach myself just enough so that emotion doesn’t consume me. If a fictional character dies, there’s always something in the back of my head that fault-our-stars-movie-postersays … “remember, this isn’t real.”

Well, with The Fault in Our Stars … I still didn’t cry.

But I came as close as humanly possible to crying.

The story is about two kids with cancer who fall in love. It’s an adaptation of the popular book written by John Green. What makes this movie more real than any other romance is because our two protagonists are more than just fictional characters.

For every person who has cancer, there’s 10 people who love them who are fighting it right there with them. It’s a disease that affects so many people.

So to see a tragic story of two lovers plagued by such a familiar disease, it hits home.

And that’s what makes The Fault in Our Stars so easy to connect to.

The movie wouldn’t have worked without perfect casting. And I’d be hard-pressed to think of two better young actors to have portrayed Hazel and Gus than Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. Let’s face it — we knew Woodley was going to knock it out of the park. She’s been great in every role she’s performed.

But Elgort was the question mark. It was only his fourth movie ever. But apparently he’s a late bloomer because he was terrific, portraying Gus with a quiet air of self-efficacy that was mandatory to personify his character.

The two lead characters are likable not only for sympathetic purposes. But because of their humor. And wit. Throughout the book, they go back-and-forth, playing off each other’s quips and complementing one another perfectly. That same chemistry existed in the movie.

Add a talented supporting cast (Laura Dern, Nat Faxon, Williem Dafoe), a quality soundtrack and just the right amount of voice over, and you have a movie whose quotes are going to be posted on Twitter by hopeless romantics from now until the end of time.

Such as:

“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world. But you do have some say in who hurts you.”

Or:

“I fell in love like you fall asleep. Slow at first … then all at once.”

Poetry to my ears.

The source material was such a great story, that all director Josh Boone had to do was not screw it up.

He didn’t.

The result? A very good, tear-jerking movie.

Watch the trailer here.

 

 

How I learned to skip the VMAs and watch the Emmys instead.

I actually didn’t watch a second of the MTV Video Music Awards, and I must say my life is much better for it.

I usually make a point to watch all major awards shows, but the VMAs is pretty worthless.

Think about it. The awards don’t actually mean anything. What even is the criteria to win a Video Music Award? To be the most loved artist Bryan Cranston Emmyamong the 13-18 age range? To have the most YouTube views?

The performances don’t mean anything, either. Every now and then you’ll get a solid rendition of a popular song, but the VMAs are more about spectacle than authenticity. It’s about one-upping each other. No one just stands there and sings.

So I avoided it this year, and have no desire to catch up on what I missed.

I did, however, watch the Emmys. There was a lot of story lines this year, the predominant one being Breaking Bad vs. True Detective, and as an avid watcher of many of these shows, I wanted to tune in and see who was rewarded. It’s also the golden age of TV. The Emmys is the new Oscars.

But let’s be real. Matthew McConaughey deserved to win. Did Bryan Cranston portray arguably the best television character of all time? Sure. But if you’re judging one year’s work — as these shows are supposed to — McConaughey was absolutely phenomenal as Rustin “Rust” Cohle.

Cranston’s win was an overall achievement award. It wasn’t undeserving, but, it still was a snub for Mr. “Alright, alright, alright.”

Breaking Bad was awarded profusely throughout the night, with Anna Gunn and Aaron Paul also picking up awards, and the broadcast ended with it winning the coveted Best Drama Series.

There was also a very suggestive kiss between Cranston and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a touching, poignant tribute by Billy Crystal to his friend Robin Williams, and a safe, good-natured hosting job by Seth Meyers. Oh, and Weird Al.

Maybe I’m just getting old. But I didn’t need to see Miley Cyrus twerking. Or the next European boy band perform. Instead, I’d rather watch dudes in tuxedos and women in elegant dresses poke fun at one another in a civilized way. That’s what you get at the Emmys.

Alright, alright, alright.

 

Arcade Fire at the Barclays Center

Arcade Fire played three shows at the Barclays Center this weekend, and it appeared the venue had trouble selling out Sunday’s show, as a $30 Groupon for the concert made the rounds on the Internet a couple of weeks ago. A few friends and I made sure to snatch them up — $30 to any show is a solid deal, let alone a prominent band in a major venue.

The downside of a $30 Groupon ticket is that you’ll end up sitting in the nosebleed section, which is why, on Sunday night, I found arcade-slide-H745-jumbomyself sitting in far right corner of the Barclays Center, watching Arcade Fire from the side of the stage.

Fortunately, Arcade Fire’s awesomeness resonated throughout the entire arena, regardless of where you were sitting.

I took photos and a couple of videos, but no one wants to see crappy side stage shots. So I stole something I found on Google instead. If I ever become famous, I promise I’ll go back and give retroactive credit to the photographer.

Arcade Fire, headed by husband-and-wife duo Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, are not only musicians, or even performers — they’re showmen. Or showpeople. They turn their concerts into one big party, bringing dancers onto stage as they sing, and encouraging the audience to come in costumes.

Their latest album, Reflektor, is a dance rock album. So that’s clearly the direction they were going.

But they still mixed in some of their popular songs from their previous three albums, like “Rebellion (Lies),” “No Cars Go,” “Sprawl  II” and “Wake Up.”

The band gained mainstream recognition when they took home the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011 for The Suburbs. Their prior two albums, Funeral and Neon Bible, like The Suburbs, are borderline masterpieces. Quite simply, the band knows how to make music.

Reflektor, in my eyes, is a slight downgrade. But even a subpar Arcade Fire album is still much, much better than most other music you’ll hear elsewhere.

If you had any doubts about Arcade Fire’s live abilities, need not worry. If you’re a fan, their performance will validate your appreciation for them.

Their two-hour set was fun, vibrant, gimmicky and sounded great.

More than worth the price of admission — even if the band members looked like tiny specks from where I was sitting.

 

Let’s all collectively remember how great The Simpsons is

It’s hard to believe that new episodes of The Simpsons are still airing.

Next month marks the beginning of the show’s 26th season, making it the longest running American sitcom in history, as well as the longest running animated show ever.

Any one can make the argument that the show has long run it’s course, that it should have been canceled years ago, and that it’s way past its hey day.

The SimpsonsIn fact, I compare The Simpsons to the animated TV version of Bob Dylan. They were both greatly appreciated in their prime, but had they died earlier in their lives, they’d be hailed as legends.

That made sense to me, at least.

But there’s no doubting that The Simpsons is a fantastic show. It epitomizes the American family. The dim witted, beer-bellied dad. The obedient, submissive mom. The brainchild middle daughter. The rebellious son. The baby.

Maybe those roles have evolved a little bit over time — the show did begin 25 years ago — but it’s still inherently American.

In case you forgot how brilliant it is, you’re in luck. FXX, which landed the syndication rights to the show last November in a $750 million deal, began airing every single episode this morning at 10 a.m., from start to finish.

In other words, if you have your DVR automatically set to record The Simpsons, then you’re about to enter Dante’s ninth circle of hell.

I was a big fan of the show in the mid-90s. Many say that’s when it was at its best. I was 8ish, approximately the same age as Bart, and at a perfect age to absorb the show’s homely, campy sense of humor.

I made a point to watch a little bit today, from the show’s first and second seasons, and I must say it still holds up pretty well. I’m also genuinely excited to see those episodes from the seventh, eighth and ninth seasons, which I have long forgotten.

It’s also a brilliant marketing strategy for FXX, a channel most people likely didn’t know existed until today.

I’m actually uncertain why more channels don’t do this with other popular shows. If a network aired every Friends episode back-to-back, I’d be all over it. I wouldn’t care if it’s Oxygen or Women’s Entertainment. I’d be game.

(I have Women’s Entertainment on my favorites, anyway.)

For a couple of weeks, there’s going to be a lot of nostalgia. Bart riding on his skateboard. Homer strangling Bart. The word “D’oh!”. Mary Bobbins. The Tree House of Horrors. And the creative way the family sits on the couch at the open of each episode.

Family Guy was the “it show” that stole a little bit of The Simpsons’ thunder a decade or so ago. But Family Guy is old news at this point. Its cheap, borderline-racist humor could only last so long. The Simpsons has lasted two and a half decades while appealing to people of all ages, and without resorting to lewd humor.

That deserves some recognition. And for two weeks, it’ll get it.

Thanks to a channel whose name I already forgot.