Friday, September 25, 2015

DVD(s) of the Week: Round Up! (Again!)

I  know I said I was done with catchup posts, but I guess that was a big lie! Well, it's partly due to some slackness at writing this stuff up, but also, truth be told, that none of these three movies have really fired me up, and all, for one reason or another, don't quite linger in the memory. It's strange that these sorts of films come in runs; the summer had a wave of excellent saturday night viewing as caught up with last years Oscar contenders, and now we seemto be getting the run-of-the-mill, fun, but forgettable filler. So with that glowing endorsement, lets get stuck in.

So writer/director/star Jon Favreau plays a chef who was once hailed as a Brave New Thing, and now finds himself earning a profitable living making good, but safe food in an upmarket restaurant. It's good work, he's well treated, he's the boss of the kitchens, but ultimately he is stuck making what the owner wants him to make for patrons with solidly middle-brow, mass-market tastes. He's made it, but he's unsatisfied, and critics look down on him, so he needs to go on the road and make indie food, for discerning people.

So yeah, this is totally a film about making Iron Man, isn't it? The shadow of Favreau's transistion from indie film-maker to blockbuster delivery man for Marvel Studios looms heavily over Chef, which manages to give it a more interesting subtext that perhaps it deserves. This is a funny, somewhat gentle movie that hits a lot of familiar beats and leans heavily on the central charm of Favreau's character. It's got a lot going for it, although you can largely see where its going in the opening minutes, although  I do wonder how dated it's "twitter-as-plot-device" element will look in a few years time.

Into the Woods
Musical Adapatations seem to crop up fairly regularly these days, with all-star casts and big location budgets, after the successes of firms like Chicago and Les Miserables. The latest is Sondheims Into the Woods, one of those dark fairy tale imaginings build around the idea of being careful what you wish for. A bunch of familiar characters are drawn together in The Woods, and lives are changed, and fortunes won and lost. Into the Woods was a bit of a forerunner in this regard, so it feels a little unfair that we've been deluged with alledgely dark fairy tale reimaginings in the last few years that take a little of it's freshness away.

That said, it delivers on the all star cast, with Meryl Streep especially giving a great turn as the Witch. Some of the big numbers - the Princes' ridiculously over-the-top "Agony" being a highlight - really click, and even Jonny Depp in a silly hat doesn't detract (too much). It lacks the flair of Chicago's clever transistions (which is strange, as it's the same director) which leaves it feeling a little "stagey" at times, and it's dark palette is maybe a little to literal. But, the music is good, and the story is good, and that carries it through.

What we Did On Our Holidays
One of the more successful recent UK sitcoms has been Outnumbered, which has taken for one of it's selling points a semi-improvisational structure that gives the kids a degree of free reign in what they do and say. Its not going to win many aways for challenging content - middle class English family hijinks abound - but it's funny enough by the standards of it's genre. What We Did On Our Holidays is a sort of feature-length version with a different cast, as a family head up to Scotland to visit a dying grandparent, whilst concealing the fact of imminent divorce.

What you get then is a mix of heavy subject matter and light farce that never quite manages to gel fully. By the first few minutes you can map out most of the main beats, and it feels very low stakes despite dealing with what should be higher-stakes issues. It's not funny enough, nor dark enough, for either half of the film to contrast with the other, and so ends up a gently, passably funny mush, that wastes a pretty great cast.