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Films I Neglected To Review: The Cook, The Kids, The Artists and Their Lovers
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton," "Chef," "For No Good Reason," "Palo Alto" and "Young and Beautiful."

"Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton" tells the story of an artist whose name may not be familiar to most people but whose work continues to influence people to this very day. As a filmmaker of boldly experimental shorts, he rejected the overtures of Hollywood and became a pioneer in the American independent film movement long before most people knew of such a thing and his equally challenging poetry was a clear influence on the Beat Poetry movement of the 1950's. His personal life was just as complex as his work--he was married twice (the first time to none other than Pauline Kael) and had children with both before abandoning his families to take up with men, the second time with a much-younger men. Co-directors Stephen Silha, Eric Slade and Dawn Logsdon convey Broughton's story by utilizing the usual array of talking head interviews, archival material (including a 2001 audio interview with Kael) and excerpts from his work and while it does suffer a bit from the lack of well-known people offering commentary (other than poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and author Armistead Maupin, most of the observers will be complete mysteries to most viewers), the film as a whole is still an interesting look at the man, his work and the changing times that he lived in.

Semi-autobiographical and supremely insufferable, "Chef" is the kind of syrupy and simple-minded self-indulgence that even the hardiest of viewers will have a hard time swallowing and as trite and obvious as that might sound, that comment is a virtual fount of originality and incisiveness compared to what the film itself has to offer. It stars Jon Favreau, who also wrote and directed, as a once-edgy chef now serving up the same old stuff at a high-end, low-inspiration restaurant until his desire to impress a snarky food blogger with something original leads to a public meltdown and the loss of his job. Eventually, he acquires a food truck and with the help of his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and son (), his loyal best pal (John Leguizamo) and the financial help of his ex's supremely rich former husband (Robert Downey Jr.) he begins to rediscover his love for creating food on a cross-country trip that finds him morphing into a maverick sandwich maker who impresses everyone with the simple purity that he brings to applying meat to bread.

The whole thing is, of course, Favreau's thinly disguised look at his own career which started with him coming out of nowhere with the indie favorite "Swingers," squandering that credibility on increasingly formulaic junk like "Zathura" and regaining his critical and commercial standing with the invaluable assistance of Robert Downey Jr via the first two "Iron Man" films. Although I cannot imagine anything less interesting in theory than Jon Favreau going meta, I suppose there was a chance that it could have yielded some interesting thoughts regarding the creative process but that is most definitely not the case here. Instead, the film is a shallow and often-tedious affair that probably would not have even received a major release were it not for all the familiar faces that Favreau was able to guilt into appearing (besides the aforementioned stars, Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman also turn up). Trust me, you would be much better off settling in with a nice home-cooked meal and a DVD of the superficially similar but infinitely better "Big Night" than you will have trying to keep this one down.

Best known for the surreal sketches that he drew to accompany the equally odd words of the late journalist Hunter S. Thompson, the most notable and influential being his contributions to the legendary "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas," British artist Ralph Steadman is the subject of the genial new documentary "For No Good Reason" and for those viewers with a specific interest in his particular and peculiar artistic process, it offers up a few intriguing glimpses into the mind behind such mind-bending imagery. The problem with the film is that it seems just as interested, if not more so, in delving into his long history with Thompson and this leads to another retelling of tales that anyone with even the vaguest interest in the subject has already heard numerous times before through other documentaries, biographies and the like and the choice of actor/professional Thompson disciple Johnny Depp as narrator only serves to heighten the sense of the familiar. It has its moments and Thompson/Steadman completists will probably want to check it out despite their working knowledge of the material at hand but others are advised to wait for it to hit cable, where I suspect its modest charms will play better than they do on the big screen.

Based on a collection of short stories penned by the seemingly inexhaustible James Franco (who also co-stars), "Palo Alto" offers up yet another examination of ennui-ridden teens using booze, drugs, sex and wispy hipster music to combat the oftentimes overwhelming pain and sadness that is an inevitable byproduct of being white and privileged. Suffering these indignities this time around are April (Emma Roberts), a sweet young girl who finds herself attracting the attentions of her much older high school soccer coach (Franco), Teddy (Jack Kilmer), a basically decent kid with an unspoken crush on April who is constantly getting into trouble thanks to the influence of his deeply unpleasant and possibly disturbed best friend Fred (Nat Wolff) and Emily (Zoe Levin), whose self-esteem issues are so pronounced that she finds herself taking up with the loathsome Fred despite his often-cruel behavior towards her. The film follows these characters through an endless series of parties, assignations and awkward encounters with the adults in their lives while viewers gradually begin to discover that--Spoiler Alert!--life can sometimes be ugly even amidst the well-manicured lawns of upper-class suburbia.

"Palo Alto" marks the debut of writer/director Gia Coppola and while it isn't fair by any means to make any comparisons between her and the numerous other filmmakers in her extended family, I can say that her work her gravitates more towards the dreamily lyrical tone established by her aunt Sofia in films like "The Virgin Suicides," "Lost in Translation" and "Somewhere" than the operatic flamboyance favored by her grandfather Francis in his most memorable works. As a director, she definitely shows promise--she presents the material in an undeniably stylish manner and elicits good performances from her cast (with Levin delivering perhaps the most striking performance of the group)--but she is unfortunately hampered here by a weak storyline that offers viewers a narrative that they have seen dozens of times before, characters that are for the most part difficult to develop any interest in and not much in the way of an overall point. Because of these flaws, I can't quite recommend going to see it but at the same time, it is just good enough to make me curious to see what Gia Coppola has to offer next time.

For his latest cinematic provocation, "Young and Beautiful," French filmmaker Francois Ozon (best known in these parts for his brilliant and highly erotic head-spinner "Swimming Pool") gives us Isabelle (Marine Vacth), a privileged 17-year-old girl who, as the story opens, loses her virginity in a deeply unsatisfying manner to a dopey boy while on summer vacation with her family. When we next see her a few weeks later, she is working as an online escort whose assignations (almost invariably with significantly older men) take place in high-class hotels for 300 euros a shot. As she clearly doesn't need the money and seems fairly indifferent to the sex itself (let us just say that she takes a lot of showers), the inevitable question arises of what is it that compels her to do it, especially after her secret is exposed after one of her clients expires at an especially inopportune moment.

Isabelle herself doesn't seem to have much of an explanation as to why she does it--at least none that she is comfortable in articulating--and for that matter, neither does Ozon. Instead of imposing a rationale for Isabelle's actions, he is more content to simply observe her existence and let viewers contemplate for them selves what, if anything, it all means. The end result is certainly interesting and Vacth is an undeniably striking presence (and not just because of her frequent nudity) but moviegoers who like having everything wrapped up in a bow for them are likely to come away from it grumbling about the lack of closure. Put it this way--if you were one of those people who came out of "Belle du Jour" (the 1967 erotic classic that was clearly an influence on Ozon's work here) upset over never being told what was in that box, you may have a few problems with this one but if you found that part to be fascinating precisely because it didn't have a cut-and-dried answer that might not affect all audiences in the same manner, there is a very good chance that you may find "Young and Beautiful" to be of interest as well.

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originally posted: 05/17/14 03:50:33
last updated: 05/17/14 04:33:08
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