Chef

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Jon Favreau wrote and directed Chef, a little movie with a very big heart. He also stars as celebrity chef Carl Casper, who has a very public social media meltdown and loses his job and his pride, as well as his home and his wife. He’s also on his way to losing his son and his passion about food. But that all changes when he takes on a rusty old food truck and drives it back across country.

Chef is predictable, there’s no getting away from that. But in spite of that, it burbles along gently, kindly, and with no ill-will whatsoever. The cast is great (big people on a small project), the food preparation footage is exceptionally, mouth-wateringly good, the sound track is pitch perfect. The trek takes them from South Beach through Louisiana and Texas back to LA, and all of the stops look magnificent and friendly and fun. I’d be very surprised if some of the establishments that feature don’t get an upswing in film tourism business as a result. I’m still hankering for a Cuban pork sandwich, a cold cerveza, and a sultry salsa beat driven by the horn section; very sweet indeed.

Lucy

LUCY

Scarlett Johansson plays the title character Lucy in Luc Besson’s latest skop skiet en donder. Unwittingly embroiled in the affairs of the Taiwanese mafia, she wakes up with a pack of CDH4 – an exceedingly powerful new leisure drug – sewn up in her midriff. However, following a sound beating by an evil henchman, the bag in her tummy bursts, and she overdoses on a substance that grows her brain capacity from 10% to 100% over the course of the movie. This permits her to kicks ass and names names, seek revenge and fly to Paris. I’m not sure why she chooses France – there are some fairly stupendous plot holes (particularly if you’ve sat through the conclusion of Limitless) – but I’m also not sure that it matters. Lucy is meant to be enjoyed, not analysed to death, and on that front, it’s really just a mindless, Euro-trashy, guilty pleasure.

Under the Skin

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In Under the Skin, Scarlett Johansson is an otherworldly, not-quite-human alien disguised as a voluptuous young woman who’s out scouring the streets of Glasgow for vulnerable and isolated young men to hunt and kill. She’s enabled in this task by a stern male alien in motorbike leathers, who begins to hunt her when she starts sympathising with her human cohorts.

Under the Skin is quite a slow film, but it’s clever. I really really loved the fact that the alien lands in flippin Scotland, so no-one could understand the accents, let alone a bloodsucking flesh-eater from outerspace. The incomprehensible cacophony just adds to Scarlett’s other-ness. I also absolutely loved the visuals depicting exactly what happens to the victims once Scarlett’s trapped them in her evil lair: awesome sci-fi. On the negative side, I didn’t like the director’s decision to use a lot of amateur performers filmed with hidden cameras; it makes the dialogue jolty and wooden, and I didn’t think it did justice to the script. On the whole though, I found Under the Skin compelling and worth a watch. One thing’s for sure: Mizz Johansson is not afraid to be far far away from Hollywood glamour.

We Bought A Zoo

I know. Matt Damon sunk low in a family tear-jearker about a widower who – guess what? – buys a run-down zoo. On the whole it’s completely dreadful – Elle Fanning plays home-schooled like she’s a a lobotomized moron, and Scarlett Johansson grins her way through the reflective bits with the glee of a complete psychopath.

I shall say this only once however, and quietly lest anyone hear me: I totally sobbed my way through it and I really really liked the fatter, slobbier Matt Damon as the grieving Dad. In fact, I found myself wishing the movie was a three-hander between Matt, his two kids (who are great) and a few cutesy animals. We Bought A Zoo filmed in Thousand Oaks and Pasadena California, though the zoo of the original was in Dartmoor, England, and the actual Benjamin Mee looks like this, not like this.

The Other Boleyn Girl

I’ve mentioned before that I’m something of a Tudor history buff; I didn’t perhaps mention why. I grew up in a remote part of rural England, in a small village that happened to be near the birthplace of the infamous Anne Boleyn. Anne is the first historical figure I ever really became aware of, and my entire childhood was steeped in stories about this glamorous, grasping woman who rose above her station, married a King, and suffered the tragic consequences of her social climbing. (Anne is a perpetual reminder of what it means to be British: class matters, you’re a whore even if you don’t sleep around, we’ll loathe you for your uppitiness but root for you for 500 years as long as you’re the underdog.) So Anne Boleyn has been with me since childhood, a kind of wayward sister, a symbol of all the immutable, closed-minded, stultifying things I always hated about the old country.

So it was with anticipation that I went to see The Other Boleyn Girl the other evening. I had of course read Philippa Gregory’s book (there’s a fascinating insight into her historical research on her website), and being completely in love with Natalie Portman, I was really looking forward to the movie. But what can I say? Three days later and Anne Boleyn is still with me, but the film – the film was something of a disappointment. 

For the “show – don’t tell” constructs of film making, it was always going to be difficult to turn Anne’s sister Mary – famous only for being a dim, passive pawn – into the lead figure of any movie. Scarlett Johansson does a good job, but ultimately, Mary is only ever going to be the other Boleyn girl in this story. This has always been about Anne, and Natalie Portman is great. But she’s ultimately let down by a script that attempts History 101, in scenes shot with too few extras and too few costume changes, and with raggedy, fast-paced editing that makes the film feel like a first draft.

Even the Kent locations don’t ring true; although the Tudor homes of Penshurst Place and Knole Park feature significantly, they always feel like sets, and the execution scene (kudos for the glum and unusual ending for a Hollywood movie) is played out at Dover Castle, rather than in the Tower of London, where Anne was actually killed and dumped in an unmarked grave. It kind of feels disrespectful. 

Fortunately, Visit Britain again shows that movie tourism does not need actual locations to generate visitor numbers – it can simply be “inspired by”……..

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