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Cowboys & Aliens was a big disappointment back in the summer of 2011. It had everything going for it. A really good cast, an amusing concept with lots of potential and Jon Favreau at the helm. So what happened? The story, based on Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s graphic novel, is just plain weak. From the aliens’ reason to being here, to all the conveniences that are used to move things along, the script is lazy and ho-hum…and it took six people to come up with that script and story. It takes this clever premise and utilizes it in the least interesting way possible. The top notch cast, including Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde, is wasted as all the characters are cardboard, two dimensional clichés and the performances have no energy or life to them. Another question need be asked…is where was the Jon Favreau that brought such energy and life to the Iron Man films? Even the dialog scenes crackled with energy in those movies and Favreau drew lively performances from his casts. Cowboys & Aliens is directed by-the-numbers and without any passion or excitement and there is no chemistry developed between any of the actors or their characters. When we finally get some action during the final confrontation, it’s too little and too late. Even the showdown between Wild West and Outer Space is pretty routine, as far as action sequences go, and there is little suspense or intense drama to what goes down. The FX at least are good, but the designs of the antagonists and their craft are nothing we haven’t seen before and are fairly forgettable. In fact, the whole film is fairly forgettable.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating





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CHEF (2014)

I love to cook and thus, I did have a fun time with with Chef, an entertaining movie written and directed by Jon Favreau that has a buoyant energy and is only held back by the fact that, at it’s c0re, it’s just another cliche’ story of a self-important person who is humbled and through that, reconnects with the family he has been ignoring.

Favreau also stars as Chef Carl Casper, the head chef of one of California’s top restaurants, Gauloise, who is always at odds with the owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman) over updating the long-standing menu. When forced to serve the same old cuisine to high profile food critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), it gets him a bad review which triggers a nasty online war with Ramsey, one that goes viral, including video of Casper loosing his cool with the critic in the middle of the restaurant and finds Casper now out of a job and options. Casper finds help in his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) and her ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) who convince him to start his own food truck. Armed with his line cook Martin (John Leguizamo) and the son he’s been ignoring Percy (Emjay Anthony) he finds himself getting a second chance at life and happiness selling Cuban sandwiches from his mobile restaurant.

I liked this movie. Favreau really gives this a crackling energy and a nice cast of characters to inhabit the world of Chef Casper and he certainly fills the film with some wonderfully shot and energetic cooking sequences to delight the foodie and inner chef in all of us. But, it’s just too bad that the story is just so predictable and cliche’ at it’s core, despite the delicious wrapping. We have no doubt that Casper will reconnect with 10 year old son Percy and just possibly rekindle his feelings for ex-wife Inez. And to make things even more cliche’, is how everything gets wrapped up in a perfect bow by the time the credits roll. Sure, it’s a feel good movie, so, we should not expect heart-breaking surprises or dire consequences but, did Favreau have to follow the formula so closely? The movie still has loads of charm to spare but, he could have made Casper’s rise after his fall a little more challenging. It appears Casper is just handed things to get his life back together whether it be from Marvin’s oddly convenient generosity or his Twitter savvy son’s ability to use the internet to garner them instant fame and success. It never seems like Casper is truly being challenged… though he is having fun and we do have it along with him. One of Favreau’s gifts is to make this move a good time in spite of the fact that it is so familiar. He adds some clever animated touches with Twitter feeds showing up on-screen and the flying off into cyberspace… though that wears out it’s welcome about half way through… and gives us some really endearing characters who are very well cast.

And as for that cast, it is one of the things that make this film so likable. Favreau himself is a lovable lug from the beginning, despite being too full of his own success to spend time with his son. We are right there with him when he  looses his cool and posh job and want to see him return to his roots and find happiness and success again… even though it’s obvious he will. Leguizamo continues to show he is a far more versatile actor than given credit for as the loyal and always upbeat Martin, Carl’s line chef. Sofia Vergara is fine as Inez though, I will admit I am not a fan of the actress and feel she always lays it on too thick. She’s like a new generation Charo and I don’t get her appeal beyond her ample cleavage. This leads me to Scarlett Johansson’s character of Molly. I really liked Johansson’s portrayal of the tattooed Gauloise hostess and felt she and Carl has a really interesting relationship and it seemed to make far more sense to pair them up but, the film is so set on following the formula that it abandons Molly halfway through, as it is insistent on reuniting Casper and Inez who seem to have little in common aside from Percy. And as Percy, young Anthony does a good job of playing the son who wants to be with his father more. He keeps him grounded and from being annoying and has a good chemistry with Favreau. Rounding out are Robert Downey Jr. giving an eccentric performance as the equally eccentric Marvin in an extend cameo as Dustin Hoffman is perfectly crotchety as Gauloise owner Riva, who follows a strong “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” philosophy to his restaurant’s long-standing menu. A very good cast of well written characters to keep the film floating about it’s sea of cliché’s.

Overall, I did enjoy Chef. It is a fun and very energetic flick with some very likable characters and performances and some deliciously mouth-watering cooking sequences. It’s just a shame that underneath it’s gourmet coating is basically an all too familiar and cliche’ Happy Meal that we’ve seen before, time and time again. The core story follows the formula so closely that there are no surprises and the story wraps up far to conveniently and predictably to really make this something special, but, at least it’s buoyant atmosphere and delightful cast of characters add a tasty sauce to what could have been a very mundane meal. Still highly recommend it.

3 Cubanos!






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double feature_ELF_FC


While Halloween is my favorite holiday and time of year, I do enjoy Christmas so, I thought at some point I should post something more in tune with the holiday season so here is a fun and festive double feature that I like to watch during this merry time of year…


ELF (2003)

Will Ferrell  teams up with director Jon Favreau (Iron Man 1 & 2), working from David Berenbaum’s script, and they have made a movie that is both entertaining comedy and charming Christmas tale and is considered a modern classic by many. Elf tells the story of a human baby that sneaks into Santa’s (Ed Asner) bag one Christmas Eve, while he is delivering gifts at an orphanage and isn’t discovered till he returns to the North Pole. Brought up by Santa and the elves…Papa elf (Bob Newhart) in particular…Buddy grows into a full grown man (Ferrell) who believes he’s an elf…until he finds out the truth, he’s not a cotton-headed ninny muggins, he’s a human. Faced with the reality that he is not who he thought he was, Buddy runs away to New York City to find his real father, a Scrooge-like book publisher named Walter Hobbs. But trying to bond with his father is the least of Buddy’s concerns as he meets his first crush, Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) when he voluntarily goes to work in Macy’s toy department, and must somehow return the Christmas spirit to New York City and his grumpy father to save Santa and Christmas on Christmas Eve.

I always felt Ferrell is funnier playing naive, instead of obnoxious, and here he is at his best playing the innocent fish out of water, Buddy. The supporting cast under Favreau’s direction know exactly how to play their parts with each actor playing it perfectly on the line between straight and camp..and it works. Caan is particularly effective playing the gruff and cantankerous Hobbs who initially has no interest in the man-child that has shown up at his door dressed like an elf. And he and Ferrell work very well off each other. Mary Steenburgen is also good as Hobbs’ wife…Buddy was sired with an ex-girlfiend who is deceased…who feels compassion for Buddy and would like to see him bond with his long lost dad. And Deschanel makes a sweet yet slightly eccentric love interest for Buddy despite her doubts of his North Pole origins. Favreau also gives the film a wonderfully whimsical tone with a touch of sarcastic humor and the whole flick is delightfully imbued with the holiday spirit. But it is Ferrell’s show and he gives one of his best performances and creates an endearing and wonderfully quotable character in Buddy who’s reactions to his first time in NYC are priceless.

A modern Christmas classic and a simply delightfully enjoyable comedy. Also stars Peter Dinklage as a self-centered and famous children’s book author whom Buddy mistakes for an elf with hilarious results.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Christmas trees!

elf rating




In this entertaining Christmas flick we find out that Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti) has an older brother named Fred (Vince Vaughn). Never able to live up to his younger brother’s saintly behavior, Fred became bitter and moved off to Chicago to become a repo man who delights in taking back Christmas presents. But Fred is also a shady person and his scams and schemes finally land him in jail. With no way to pay his bail, fine and owed rent, he calls his brother at the North Pole for help. Nicholas…Santa Claus to the rest of us…agrees to help on the condition that Fred come up to the North Pole and help prepare for Christmas, which is rapidly approaching. Being the good soul he is, Nicholas has never given up on or stopped loving his big brother. But Fred’s rivalry with his brother runs deep and his shady ways don’t exactly fit in t the North Pole. And worse still, efficiency expert with a grudge Clyde Northcutt (Kevin Spacey) would love to shut down Santa’s operation and is more then willing to use Fred’s antics to his advantage to do exactly that. But with the help of an elf named Willy (John Michael Higgins), Fred just might turn himself around, thwart Northcutt’s plan, help Willy win the heart of his human crush Charlene (Elizabeth Banks) and find the inner Santa that lies underneath the scoundrel he is on the outside.

Sure the story is cliché and predictable, but director David Dobkin does give the proceedings a sense of charm and fun. He keeps the story moving and the cast, which also includes Rachel Weisz as Fred’s long suffering girlfriend, Wanda and Miranda Richardson as Mrs. Claus, all seem to be having a good time and that is infectious and helps us to enjoy this routine but entertaining holiday tale. Vaughn plays the lovable rogue/loser to perfection and Giamatti is a jolly if not slightly neurotic St. Nick. The production looks good and there are some top notch effects and the film does carry the spirit of Christmas despite the familiarity. Maybe in this case the familiarity adds some charm as we know what to expect, but in this kind of holiday themed tale, it’s what we came to see and enjoy watching it play out. Either way, Fred Clause is a fun holiday movie, no classic, but an enjoyable and harmless bit of Christmas cheer that would make a nice addition to a holiday evening with pumpkin pie and egg nog in front of the TV.

A familiar but fun holiday romp. And who wouldn’t want Elizabeth Banks in her sexy Santa suit under their Christmas tree!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Christmas trees!

fred clause rating

Well Ho Ho Hell-o!