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2015/03/29

Binge-worthy TV

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Having the ability to stream TV shows online can be a beautiful yet dangerous thing. I wasn’t a big TV watcher in the past, but now, having the convenience of online streaming services and more networks who offer full episodes of their shows online, I’m on the slippery slope of becoming a TV series junkie.

I’m sure that I could write full-length articles on any of these, and, who knows; I just might do that in the future. But since some of these shows are still on-air, giving you the chance to jump in and start catching new episodes, I’m going to offer up a short list of series that I’ve settled in with for some serious marathon viewing.

Reign

After binge-watching (and enjoying) every season of The Tudors, I wasn’t sure if another monarchy-based period drama would hold up for me. I didn't need to worry--the first few minutes of the pilot episode of Reign are intense, which pulled me in right away, and the show has enough differences that I don’t feel like it’s a Tudors reboot. Following Mary, Queen of Scots (played by Adelaide Kane), as she arrives at French court as a teenager in the mid-1500s, she's betrothed and eventually married to the Dauphin of France, Francis (Toby Regbo). The show is a whirlwind of political intrigue, sex and romance, murder, betrayal, and determination.



Kane and Regbo do a good job of portraying royals who come to power at a young age, and the extreme pressure and occasional confusion that must have come with that. I have no doubt that Reign takes liberties with a lot of its historical details, but watching Mary and Francis try to rule and make good decisions for both of their countries while so many around them try to influence and manipulate them, you can’t help but imagine that this truly might have been what the real monarchs were up against.

And it’s not just the two main royals who handle their roles so well. I have an ongoing love/hate relationship with Catherine (Megan Follows), the Queen of France at the time Mary arrives at court. Just when I think I can’t dislike her any more, something will happen or be revealed that makes me reconsider and feel some sympathy.

In the US, you can find new episodes of Reign on The CW every Thursday. Catching up on past seasons, though, is a little tricky; Netflix carries only season 1, and Hulu only carries a select number of episodes from season 2.



Copper

I have to admit that halfway through the first episode of Copper, I was on the fence about this show. Gritty, sometimes violent, and touching on some highly-charged emotional issues, the BBC America program is set in the former "slum" neighborhood of Five Points in New York in the 1860s, and follows Irish immigrant Detective Kevin Corcoran (played by Tom Weston-Jones). As the series opens, Corcoran is struggling to adjust to his life and his job after returning from fighting in the Civil War, only to find that his young daughter has died and his wife is missing.

After the credits rolled on that first episode, I was invested in the story enough to keep pressing “play” on each episode after that. One of the things I like so much about it is that the characters are layered and complex. You can’t help but anguish with Corcoran as he tries to find out the truth about what happened to his daughter and wife, and admire him when he comes to the aid of Annie (Kiara Glasco), an orphan girl who’s been sexually abused. But even with his noble traits, in every episode we see how he’s flawed too, and how many tough choices he has to make. The same can be said of Corcoran’s friend, Matthew (Ato Essandoh), a doctor who’s a former slave and helps him with police cases, and his wife, Sara (Tessa Thompson), who still deals with trauma from her past. All of these characters are interesting, multi-dimensional, and well-played.

After blazing through the first two seasons of Copper, I was looking forward to new episodes appearing on Netflix. Getting impatient, I did an internet search to find out about the current season--only to read that the show had been cancelled. Like other fans, I’m not happy with this news. My visit to Five Points has been cut short, and the characters that I came to know and love didn’t even get to say goodbye. If I can take solace in anything, it’s that I can always re-watch the series, even if the excitement and anticipation of new episodes has been taken away. You can find both seasons of Copper on Netflix and Hulu.


Vikings

Vikings piqued my interest early on, when I was browsing around on the History Channel’s website and saw it being promoted. At first, I was busy binging on other shows, so I just tucked away the thought of it. When I finally came back to it recently, I tore through episodes at lightning speed—mostly because I was so enamored with it, but as a bonus, it’s early in its third season, so there wasn’t as much to catch up on. 

Launched in 2013, Vikings’ primary focus is the Scandinavian town of Kattegat and its people, especially Ragnar Lothbrok (played by actor Travis Fimmel), his family, and fellow warriors and friends as Ragnar rises to power in the Viking world.

Vikings has just as many—if not more—violent, bloody scenes as Copper, especially since there are battles galore. But once again, I was hooked by multi-faceted characters who are flawed yet often well-meaning. I like that there are quite a few strong female characters on the show, and Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick) is one of my favorites. A shield maiden who fights alongside the men during raids, she has courage and conviction, even as she rises to greater status.

Some have criticized the show for historical inaccuracies when it comes to Viking life and customs, and I can’t really argue. I don’t know much about Viking history, but I’ve caught phrases or other nuances that don't seem to fit with that time period. Still, this is a TV show, meant as entertainment. If you just indulge your imagination, you'll enjoy all of the things that the show does right, including its great sets, scenery, and the women’s elaborate braids/hair styles. (I’m only half joking here; check them out—they’re incredible.)

You can catch up on the seasons on Hulu, and can watch the most recent episodes by going to www.history.com/shows/vikings.


Bomb Girls

I hate to say it, but I almost gave up on Bomb Girls after watching the first episode. I love history, and the World War II time period is no exception (especially since my grandfather was an American veteran), but Bomb Girls didn’t immediately hook me like some other shows have. It enticed me enough to want to give it a chance, though—and I'm glad that I did.

Set in Canada, it’s the story of a group of young women who work in a munitions factory during WWII, and the floor matron, Lorna (Meg Tilley), who supervises and befriends them. Gladys (Jodi Balfour) comes from a very wealthy family but is determined to be hands-on in helping the war effort; Kate (Charlotte Hegele) has run away from her abusive street preacher father; Betty (Ali Liebert) is struggling with her sexuality and its nonacceptance during that era, and Vera (Anastasia Phillips) fights to regain her self-esteem and identity after she’s involved in an accident at the factory. 

Dramatic sub-plots involving each of the women’s lives have a way of coming back together and interweaving into the larger plot, and even with some almost over-the-top storylines (one of the women gets caught up in espionage at one point), there’s enough that’s relatable that you get invested in the characters and the everyday problems they deal with. There’s also plenty of social commentary, but most of it is done in a way that viewers aren’t bashed over the head with it.

Bomb Girls suffered a similar fate as Copper, and was cancelled after just two seasons. A two hour TV movie/series finale aired last year that brought some closure to some of the storylines, but I’m sure that I’m not the only fan who feels like the show was wrapped up too soon.

You can find both seasons of Bomb Girls on Netflix, as well as the TV movie, which they oddly list as “season 3.”



Sleepy Hollow

Like Vikings, Sleepy Hollow is a show whose hype preceded it; some of these television marketing execs really know what they’re doing. I started watching this series as soon as it premiered, and have been glued to the screen when I’ve fallen behind on episodes a few times and needed a quick watching marathon to catch up. Now, I’m impatiently waiting for new episodes.



Loosely based on Washington Irving’s short story of the same name, Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison), is suddenly thrown into the present day and crosses paths with Police Lieutenant Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie) after he rises from his grave 230 years after his death. It’s soon revealed that Ichabod and Abbie are connected by being the two “witnesses” who can possibly stop the Apocalypse and other evil threatening mankind.

Sleepy Hollow is an interesting mix: part supernatural thriller, part buddy comedy, with plenty of drama and action thrown in, it’s this mish-mash of genres that makes it work so well for me. Besides the chemistry of the friendship between Abbie and Ichabod, one of my absolute favorite elements of the show is Ichabod’s confusion with modern day advancements (cell phones, modern clothing, etc.). His efforts to adjust to living in the present produce some of the funniest snarky comments I’ve heard since Gilmore Girls.

Though a lot of emphasis is on the “witnesses” and their struggles to fight evil, the rest of the cast give great performances too, as characters who work with or against Ichabod and Abbie (some characters even do both, switching sides partway through). Not all of these characters are just “regular people” either; some “Founding Fathers” of the United States and other historical characters make appearances, with Ichabod sometimes giving hilarious insight into their personalities and personal lives. The show takes liberties with some historical events in American history too, offering up wild, fun possible explanations through Ichabod Crane’s memories of Colonial/Revolutionary War times.

Both seasons 1 and 2 are available on Hulu. Netflix has it available on DVD, but not online streaming.

There are other series that could’ve made this list, but when I was trying to decide which ones to highlight for this article, I realized that a few of these have ties to each other. On Reign, I thought I was seeing a familiar face when Bash (Sebastian), Francis’ half-brother played by Torrance Coombs, appeared onscreen. And I was right; Coombs was on The Tudors as well, as Thomas Culpepper. Déjà vu kicked in again watching Vikings, when I swore I’d seen Lagertha before. Turns out, Katheryn Winnick also played Hannah, another head-strong, independent lady, on Bones. (I like this seeming trend with her roles.) That wasn’t the only case of “Hey—I know you…” though. King Horik on Vikings (actor Donal Logue) was also police General Brendan Donovan on Copper.

So, what about you, readers? What are some of the TV series that you find yourself binge-watching?





2015/03/22

Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons

by Dave Gourdoux

Tim Holt and Agnes Moorehead on the famous stairway of the Amberson mansion.
As a classic movie buff, one of the questions I often get is, "Why is Citizen Kane considered the greatest movie ever made?  It doesn't seem that special to me."

My answer always begins with: I have no idea what the greatest film ever made was. I have no idea how you'd even judge something like that. There are so many things that go into making a movie, so many more than any other art form, that to pick a best movie of any given year seems to be an exercise in subjective nonsense, let alone the greatest of all time.

That being said, there are a number of things I can point to to help explain why Citizen Kane is held in such high regard:

  • Technical achievements: the film's director, Orson Welles, played with the camera like nobody before and few afterwards. There were shots from foot level, from inside a hand held snow globe, sweeping panoramic views, and expressionistic angles, tilting and distorting reality as Kane lost his grip. The editing and the cinematography are exceptional as well.
  • It's unmistakably the vision of a brilliant artist. At the time it was made (1941), film wasn't broadly accepted as a legitimate art form. Many intellectuals of the day looked at it as vulgar entertainment targeted at the unsophisticated masses, and few directors were recognized as true artists. Citizen Kane was unmistakably the extraordinary realization of the vision of an undisputed genius, who had already been recognized for his landmark stage and radio work.
  • The way the story was told, the many stories within stories, the shifting points of view, and the way all of the camera angles and the editing and the pacing matched the respective stages of Kane's life.
  • The psychology of Kane and the brilliant plot mechanism of "Rosebud."
  • The iconoclasm of going after William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon whose life the film was based on.
  • In 1941, the year the film was released, there was only about 30 years of film history to draw on. Kane was nothing like anything that went before, and has had a profound influence on many films that came after. The techniques Welles pioneered have been imitated countless times, lessening the impact they have on the modern viewer.

As great as Citizen Kane was, Welles' second film, The Magnificent Ambersons, is every bit its equal, and would arguably be held in higher regard than even Citizen Kane, had Welles not lost control of its making and release. Adapted by Welles from a 1925 novel by Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons is about the decline of an aristocratic mid-west family at the dawn of the 20th century, and about how the unstoppable advancement of time, technology and progress obliterates everything in its path.

As the film opens, the Ambersons are the richest family in Indianapolis, and live lavish lives of wealth and propriety. Isabel Amberson Minafer is recently widowed, as is the inventor Eugene Morgan (Joseph Cotten). Isabel and Eugene were once the loves of each others lives, even though Isabel refused Morgan and married another. The film begins with Eugene rekindling the old romance, much to the chagrin and dismay of Isabel's grown son, George (Tim Holt).

Most of Welles' films had a monster at its center--Kane in Citizen Kane and the character Hank Quinlan (played by Welles) in Touch of Evil being two notable examples. In The Magnificent Ambersons, George is the monster, universally reviled as arrogant and conceited by the townspeople, all of whom look forward to the day he receives his comeuppance.

George expresses nothing but contempt for Eugene and the automobiles he is inventing, seeing them as a complete waste of time and a threat to his comfortable life of privilege. When he learns from his spinster Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead) of Isabel and Eugene's past romance, he becomes outraged, and does everything he can to sabotage their budding new romance.

The plot is further complicated by the fact that Fanny is also in love with Eugene, and becomes George's accomplice in breaking up Eugene and Isabel's romance. George also falls in love with Eugene's daughter, Lucy (Anne Baxter).

All of these loves and passions are destroyed by George's stubborn devotion to his class and his refusal to allow his mother to "demean" herself with the vulgar new money of Eugene. George's relationship with his mother has Oedipal overtones. As she becomes ill and eventually dies, she is the personification of the fading aristocracy George so desperately clings to, while Eugene becomes a symbol of everything George despises.

As Eugene, Cotten gives another of his consistently solid performances. Holt's George is a great performance by a limited actor. Holt was primarily a star of westerns, best known to modern audiences as Humphrey Bogart and Walter Huston's prospecting partner in John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  In The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles uses Holt's lack of range as an asset, using it to articulate George's shallowness and emotional depravity.


It's Moorehead, as the unstable and hysterical Fanny, who delivers the most memorable performance. Tortured and agonized by loneliness and grief, it's one of the great performances in the history of film, and those who only know her as the character Endora from the 1960s television sitcom Bewitched will be astonished by her range.

The Magnificent Ambersons is one of the most beautifully photographed films of all time. The black and white cinematography by Stanley Cortez and Welles' use of soft focus are distinctive and poetic. Welles also makes great use of the central set of the Amberson mansion, with its huge staircase becoming the films geographic center, with many key scenes taking place there. There's also a stunning sequence early in the film when Eugene takes Isabel and the family for a ride in the snow in one of his early automobiles. The film's opening sequence, showing the exterior of the mansion and the street activity passing by while Welles narrates, is genius. Visually, you get the sense that the whole movie takes place within a snow globe similar to the one Charles Foster Kane drops while dying in the Rosebud scene in Citizen Kane.



Welles lost control of the film and more than 40 minutes were cut by the studio, and a terrible substitute happy ending was shot and tacked on in replacement of Welles' original ending. One can only imagine how great Welles's full version would be. The Magnificent Ambersons, even in its truncated form, is still an undeniable masterpiece, and confirmation of the genius and artistry of Orson Welles.




2015/03/08

U and Me and Nicholson Baker

by John Bloner, Jr.


Pay attention. This phrase sums up the work of author Nicholson Baker, as his novels and essays deal with the quiet moments in our lives when seemingly nothing is happening and find instead that they are filled with wonder. You've heard that our lives flash before our eyes at the moment of death, but I'll argue that the past is actually being played over and over in our minds at every moment. What we focus on is important.

Take for example, the Hubble Telescope. Over Christmas 1995, astronomers aimed it at a seemingly empty piece of the heavens and discovered 3,000 new galaxies. This image was not captured casually. It took ten consecutive days with an exposure time of about 100 hours for Hubble to deliver
its treasure.


Or, consider Japanese film. Critic Noel Burch coined the term "pillow shot" to refer to serene shots that reside outside the plot in pictures by Yasujiro Ozu. During a pillow shot, the camera rests its eye on a teakettle or rooftop, before the story engine takes control once more.

These images may linger longer with us than the twists and turns of a narrative and remind us to pay attention to the pillow shots in our own lives, for in them lies the depths of being alive.

Nicholson Baker (right) and his "imaginary friend," John Updike
Baker calls pillow shots by another name: clogs. In his third book, U and I, he purports to write an essay about his fellow East Coast writer, John Updike, but his approach is far from linear. Instead of a critical analysis of Updike, he takes his readers on a serpentine path, clogging the narrative with recollections of his in-laws' sewer, which is clogged itself with tampons, and on how he scored a free McDonald's Big Mac during New York City's penny shortage of 1981.

"The only thing I like are the clogs," he comments in U and I. "I wanted my first novel to be a veritable infarct of narrative cloggers." To this goal, he succeeds. His inaugural effort, The Mezzanine, is about a man who breaks his shoe lace and uses his lunch break to buy a pair of new ones. His second book, Room Temperature, is about a young father who is giving a bottle to his infant daughter. Both books search the mundane and find galaxies there.

They also demonstrate Baker's rebellion against (in his words) "the straightforward suspense that is built into a certain kind of novel--a first order plot anxiety." In U and I, he expresses his distaste for the "condition of the novel, it's obligation to generate suspense."


His admiration of Updike leans to the phrases that the elder author employed, such as the image of "a rain-wetted screen...like a sampler half-stitched" and of himself when he would "lean into the feeble glow of the radio dial as if into warmth." 

It's the snapshots like these, rendered in prose, that hold a book forever dear to us in our memories of it, long after we have forgotten whodunit. Our mind's memory reel plays out in similar ways. We forget names and petty wins and losses, while (as Baker writes) "the nod of the security guard, his sign-in book, the escalator ride, the things on your desk, the sight of colleagues' offices, their faces seen from characteristic angles . . .all miraculously expand, and in this way what was central and what was incidental end up exactly reversed."


My admiration of Nicholson Baker extends beyond the page. In my early encounters with his work, I found we had a few things in common. We were both born in 1957. Neither of us plays golf, and we were fathers of young daughters in the 1980s. I'm also in his debt for a few things.

In 1997, I applied for admission into an advanced creative writing workshop, where, as a pre-requisite, I had to call the instructor to convince him that I should be one of his students. During our talk, he asked me about favorite books and writers. I mentioned Nicholson Baker, which had a favorable result. 

When the workshop was underway, I met a woman who was enrolled in a beginner's course, but it quickly became apparent by hearing her work and talking with her about famous and not-so-famous writers that she did not belong there. She told me that she had also called the instructor, heard the same question about favorite books, but had panicked in that moment. 

"Romance novels," she replied.

She did not know why her lips had formed those words and didn't have the presence of mind to retract them. She was like Ralphie in the film, "A Christmas Story," who only wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, but finds himself saying "football" while he's on Santa's knee.

She was undone. Her brain may have been crying, "Wake up, stupid! Wake up!" but the message wasn't getting through. Her fate was sealed.


I am also in Baker's debt because of armpits . . . specifically, the applying of underarm deodorant to my hairy atria after I'm fully dressed. One of the things that my wife did not bargain for when we wed was my custom of applying deodorant after I had buttoned my shirt and tucked it into my trousers. I did not consciously decide to place this duty as dead-last on my list of grooming habits. It just turned out that way.

I lived in quiet shame for years, which was easier than relinquishing my routine, until I read Baker's first novel, in which the narrator shares this revelation:

"I had my coat on when I remembered that I had forgotten to put on antiperspirant. This was a setback. I weighed undoing the belt, untucking the shirt, untucking the T-shirt from the underpants: was it worth it? I was running late. Here was where I made a discovery. An image came to me--Ingres's portrait of Napoleon."


My voice trembling, I read this passage aloud to my wife, feeling justified, at long last. If Nicholson Baker--or at least one his characters--can slather on some Old Spice High Endurance Pure Sport Scent just before he heads out, what else might I have in common with my literary hero? 

I wanted to talk to him about the beauty of a closed door or the health benefits of eating the pith of an orange, but first I wanted some acknowledgment from my spouse that my grooming habit had been elevated from quirk to noble because the author of The Mezzanine practiced it, too.

She was not impressed, even when we both learned that my oldest sister had been doing the same thing for far longer than me, but not nearly as long as Napoleon.


Over 20 years ago, when I first put on a pair of glasses, I saw a world that had so subtly retreated from my sight that I did not notice its absence for a long time. Suddenly, leaves contained a universe. Letters in a book seemed to hover above the paper's grain.

Reading Nicholson Baker is like putting on eyeglasses. I see details I did not know existed. Baker observes and reports like an embedded journalist on the front lines of life, while at the same time, he's a sensualist, delighting in the body electric.

My Dinner with Andre (1981)
When I read his books, my mirror neurons fire. I'm no longer looking at letters, but instead have dropped into my own version of the film, My Dinner With Andre, replacing Andre Gregory with Baker and Wallace Shawn with myself. "Tell me more," I ask him, and he obliges with esoteric facts about drinking straws and hand dryers, and rants about the disappearance of card catalogs.  "Nick, calm down," I want to say, but really I don't want him to stop.

Nicholson Baker (b. 1957) and Joris-Karl Huysmans (b. 1848 d. 1907). Kindred spirits separated by over a century
Nicholson Baker's work has its roots in the novel-essay genre of late 19th century and early 20th century France. In his book, The Novel-Essay 1884-1947, author Stefano Ercolino credits Joris Karl-Huysmans with the genre's genesis. With the publication of Huysmans' book, Against Nature, Ercolino states that "a tear in literary history took place."

Huysmans himself said he felt a need "to open the windows . . . to break the novel's limitations, to bring in art, science and history . . . to do away with the traditional plot . . to do something new at any price."

Baker carries forward the banner of the novel-essay genre, avoiding story arc diagrams, in order to talk directly to us, as old friends.

I first read Nicholson Baker's work twenty-five years ago. A few days before I finished this 2FL article, I completed his latest novel, Traveling Sprinkler, and look forward to where his attention may turn next. I know I'll be ready to read about it.


Final Notes

In 2015, author J.C. Hallman published B and Me, his story of discovering and reading Nicholson Baker.

If you're new to Nicholson Baker, start at the beginning with his first novel, The Mezzanine, and read all of its footnotes, even if college textbooks caused you to swear them off forever. You'll thank me later.

If you've heard about Baker's connection to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and want to read the book they shared, find a copy of Vox and then press on to The Fermata and House of Holes, his so-called Sex Trilogy.

To visit the author's page at his publisher's website, click HERE.

Thanks for reading.





Jon Favreau's Chef

by Jav Rivera

Have you ever heard a song so good that you ended up playing it over and over on an endless loop? That's how I'd describe my experience with actor/director Jon Favreau's film Chef. I watched it on Netflix on a late Friday night and then again the following morning. When I watched it a third time a couple weeks later, it just made me want to watch it a fourth and fifth and sixth time. Honestly, I don't think I could ever get sick of it. Favreau combines great actors, a fun soundtrack, colorful visuals, and a spot on script.


The film is packed with A-list actors who are all on their A-game. The always entertaining Favreau put together a solid cast who all put their best foot forward, most notably Jon Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, and Oliver Platt. Even Dustin Hoffman and Amy Sedaris make the most of their limited screen time. And of course there's Favreau, who went above and beyond to prepare for his role. He trained with food truck chef Roy Choi who sent Favreau for a week of intensive French culinary schooling.

L-R: John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony, and Jon Favreau
Favreau, who directed the first and second Iron Man films, also gets some help from a couple of his Marvel actors: Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, both of whom provide nice scenes. Johansson shares a cute "sex" scene with Favreau, but don't take that literally (it's about the food). And Downey, Jr. creates an awkward, yet meaningful, scene later in the film. But most surprising is Favreau's onscreen son, played by Emjay Anthony. Anthony not only holds his own against the charm of Leguizamo and Favreau's likability, but his low-key performance could easily place him on a best supporting actor list. I see good things for him.

Chef Carl Casper teaching Percy how to be a line cook
Besides the film boasting all of these charismatic actors, it's Favreau's screenwriting that ultimately wins me over. It's not just a story about a chef having a falling out with the restaurant owner; I'd say it's more about a father and son trying to patch up their relationship. And it's what Favreau does with the story that makes it worth multiple viewings. In fact, the film's structure is so original that it actually threw me off. Most films follow a story pattern that make it easy for audiences to know where they are in the story. Without trying to go into a Screenplay 101 course, I'll just state that there's usually a moment in the later part of a film (the beginning of the third act) that gives the protagonist his biggest challenge, and usually when he's at his absolute lowest. This is referred to as Plot Point 2. Chef somehow avoids this. And even if it's technically there, it's not as dramatic as most films. And I couldn't be more happy about that.



From the first few seconds of the film, I was totally on board for the ride. It was so entertaining that I didn't want it to get off course. I kept dreading that impending third act, but then I realized that we'd gone well past the point of no return. By the time the credits started rolling I actually had a grin on my face because it never happened. Not only was it not needed, but it would have ruined a perfectly good ride. There were enough obstacles throughout the film that adding a dramatic third act wouldn't have added anything useful.

Changing that structure was like taking away a boring foundation that I had been standing on for decades. It's as if Favreau had played enough with his previous films to learn how to make a brand new recipe. I think Favreau's a confident enough writer to know how to tell a story in his own way. If you study his earlier films like Swingers or Made, both of which he wrote, it becomes apparent that Favreau is an actor's director. He knows the importance of dialogue, performance, and the skill of storytelling. And when you look at Iron Man, it's obvious that Marvel picked the best director to start off the Avengers films. He doesn't do things the ordinary way; he does what's right for the story.


Chef really does stand out among other films, especially those released in the same timeframe. There's no major stunts or actions sequences. There's no over-dramatic, Oscar Award-baiting performances. There's no mind-blowing twist at the end. It's just a great movie about a character recovering from a meltdown. And that's the kind of story I can relate to, and watch over and over. Oh and one last note; you may not want to watch this film on an empty stomach. It will make you hungry.

TRIVIA: Besides getting Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson to act in the film, there's another nod to Favreau's Iron Man films. During a scene in a movie theatre with his onscreen son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), a sound effect of Iron Man's repulsor charging up can be heard.

Iron Man's hand repulsors