A few DVD buys this week, including Leverage's first three seasons, China Beach Season 3, Labor Day and Nebraska.
At the movies: Chef feels to me like the second part of diptych Jon Favreau started with Swingers. Where that earlier film featured a man connection with his passion through dance, Chef has an older man RE-connect with his passion for food. In both cases, Favreau captures what it means to be a certain age (his own) and does so with as charming a cast as he can put together. Chef is, in fact, full of big stars in small roles, and feels like a labor of love for all involved, friends playing together without it ever turning into indulgence. It's a quiet film, but a funny and touching one, the father-son story at its core definitely worthy. Food preparation is beautifully filmed and will make you hungry (and then disappointed by your own culinary efforts), and I love the use of social media in the film as well. Chef's story isn't formulaic, but it does feel like familiar comfort food. Favreau still manages to spice things up with surprising casting, improvised scenes and the script's techno-savvy. #Foodpuns
DVDs: It was almost two years ago when I started running through the complete Bond DVD set and after Octopussy, we just got too busy with other things and are only now getting back to it. Finishing off Roger Moore's long stint as 007 is A View to a Kill, not the best Bond film by a long shot, it's nevertheless vaguely entertaining. It was one of the first I saw, so that could be it. I rather suspect, however, that it's because it's a "Bond's Greatest Hits" with barely connected set pieces we've seen in some shape before - the skiing teaser, the turned henchman, the business partner killed for disagreeing with the villain à la Goldfinger/Austin Powers, etc. - and it has one of the more memorable Bond villains in Christopher Walken and Grace Jones. They really deserved a better script, one that had a coherent story line that didn't conveniently forget Bond's original goals, one that used Q's gadgets for more than the final punchline, one that didn't completely stall when we hit anti-exotic San Francisco, and one that wasn't so damn bloodthirsty, killing characters for killing's sake. In his commentary track, Roger Moore says this was his least favorite on account of the death toll, and I agree it's rather tedious (and a waste of Patrick McNee!). The second commentary, an assemblage of experts, cast and crew is more informative, as usual.
I'd never seen Leverage, but was attracted to it by 1) the low low price, 2) I love grifter stories and this seemed like an American version of Hustle, and 3) Gina Bellman's in it (and almost too good for it, bringing the same mix of funny, sexy and touching she did to Coupling). While Hustle sets up that you can't cheat an honest man, so the people who get scammed are necessarily baddies, Leverage goes for a clearer moral divide that should remind you of the A-Team. They're thieves who use their abilities to help people in need, modern-day Robin Hoods if you like, and normally go up against corporate types. In the first season, it's entertaining enough, though early episode take the comedy slightly too far at times by making law enforcement and the bad guys kind of dumb and ineffectual, which takes away from our heroes' achievements and paints an over-simplified world. The tone adjusts across the season's 13 episodes, and I gladly started watching Season 2 as soon as I was done with 1 (which is what I'd generally call a success, especially on a series that isn't cliffhanger-based). The DVD set has lots of deleted scenes and a few short featurettes.
Cultural Exchange night and we wound up watching 1965's Beach Blanket Bingo, the fifth Frankie/Annette Beach movie, an amusing diversion, never to be taken seriously. The three-pronged plot concerns a beautiful singer all the boys want to ogle, skydiving lessons that cause relationship trouble for the two stars, and a mermaid(!) falling for one of the beach crowd, with the recurring bikers (I'm sorry, cyclers) causing cartoon trouble. They're annoying, but redeem themselves in the final chase sequence which is filmed and scored like an old silent film's. The director is an obvious fan, because Buster Keaton shows up all through the film doing his shtick. That's part of the goofy fun of this film that its stars basically trade on who they really are. The singers sing (and while it's not the greatest of musicals, there are a couple of fun songs), Keaton does slapstick, and Don Rickles gets to insult everyone. Don't look for anything deep, it's pretty much a teen humor comic book as written by Bob Haney. And that's fine.