Lost In Translation wasn’t Scarlett Johansson‘s screen debut — she had brushed up against leading lady status with a few films beforehand — but it was the first time people took real notice of her ability to hold their attention through her performance. (The underwear scene helped too, but let’s stay on point here people.) The next decade saw her star in twenty one films of varying quality — from the highs of Her to the subterranean lows of The Spirit — across all manner of genres from comedy to drama to action to kids movies. 2014 saw her continue that trend by appearing in four films — four fairly disparate films — that not only earned a collective $1.25 billion worldwide but that also saw her flex a wide variety of muscles, both acting and otherwise. The roles vary in what they demand of her and what she delivers, and they show a performer at the top of her creative, risk-taking game in a way that very few others (male or female) matched this year. (Sorry, but while we love Chris Pratt in The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy they’re both basically just Andy Dwyer with different name badges.) There were better performances in 2014, but none of those other actors found anything close to the critical and commercial success Johansson achieved while moving so effortlessly from blockbuster to art film to supporting role and back again.



Welcome back to This Week In Discs! If you see something you like, click on the title to buy it from Amazon. Space Station 76 The Omega 76 is a space station expecting two new visitors. First up is a new co-captain (Liv Tyler) who immediately sets the current captain (Patrick Wilson) on edge and disrupts the crew’s flow, but she’s still far less threatening than the second visitor. Because it’s an asteroid! Or meteor. Details aren’t important, but what is important is how the crew reacts to the impending danger coinciding with a bevy of personal dramas among them. Actor Jack Plotnick directs this surprisingly dark space-set comedy and delivers a lot of laughs along the way. The gags are both visual — this is sci-fi as envisioned in the ’70s meaning the tech is old fashioned and quaint — and dialogue/delivery-based as the script serves up plenty of great lines and humorous conflicts. It’s a goofy romp in many ways, but there’s a definite darkness beneath it all that comes creeping out over the course of the film. It’s definitely not for all tastes, but folks who like their comedies with a dash of edginess and a dollop of WTF will find much to love here. [DVD extras: Outtakes, deleted scenes, featurette]


Night Moves Movie

Superheroes rule the box office and the Guardians of the Galaxy have brought us the biggest film of the summer (which is about to dethrone Captain America to become the biggest film of the year). But talking about these big-budget behemoths with gigantic box office rewards (unless you’re the latest installment of the Expendables or Sin City brand) means talking about the same thing over and over again – a happy hour of strange creatures, diversified only by a couple comedies. Fortunately there’s a great mix of summer fare that kicked absolute ass on a very modest per-screen basis. One can’t exactly expect that a limited release in select big cities would fare as well if it expanded to thousands of theaters across the nation (averages generally shrink when/if they do), but it’s still great to see the “little guy” head into a release in a handful of theaters and earn a better average than the top summer film (Guardians had $23,118 on 4,080 screens). All of the following movies beat that average (save one that opened on only two screens), and offer everything from period dramas to modern comedy to films that took over a decade to capture. The men in tights, so to speak, may have won the box office, but I’m happy a selection of films like this still exists in this ever-mainstream movie world.


Godzilla 2014

In order to convince David Straithairn’s Admiral Stenz not to use nuclear power to annihilate the giant behemoths quickly approaching American soil, Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Serizawa brandishes a deceivingly quotidian object: a stopped pocket watch. It was Dr. Serizawa’s father’s during the bombing of Hiroshima, an instructive moment in history now literally frozen in time as a cautionary token. Though Ken Watanabe looks nowhere near 70, my (I thought, reasonable) assumption during this scene of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla was that Dr. Serizawa’s father had immediately perished alongside tens of thousands of others during the infamous 1945 atomic bombing. But regardless of this emblem’s status as a memento of death on a massive scale, that Dr. Serizawa’s father survived Hiroshima and Dr. Serizawa is a healthy mid-50s man now seems far more likely considering this film’s view of tragedy. Despite its keeping with the summer movie tradition of mass destruction, despite its conflagration of images evoking recent tragedies from the Fukushima to Katrina, and despite updating a film 60 years its junior that was in no way afraid of dealing with violent devastation head-on, 2014’s Godzilla is not a monster movie about understanding tragedy. It is instead a rather strange film about survivors, and it demonstrates how disingenuously low-stakes studio summer movies have become.


Three Stars Documentary

If you cast a superficial glance at movie times and television schedules, you might think being a chef was just about rote culinary competitions and dudes hitting the road to get their fried food on. Jon Favreau is the latest to add to the trend with the indie charmer Chef, a film about a man who reconfigures his relationship with food by hitting the road in a food truck. It’s familiar material; television’s been giving us heaps of men hitting the road to please their taste buds for years from Feasting on Asphalt to the fan favorite Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. But of course, the world of chefs extends well beyond rumbling engines, fried foods, and manliness, and cinema’s modern crop of chef-centric documentaries is a great way to see the expanse of experiences and techniques that go into being a chef, as well as the fundamental basics they all share. Some are exciting, some are thought-provoking, and all challenge our preconceptions about the craft of food.


Open Road Films

If someone said in 2001, “I bet this Jon Favreau guy — the star, writer, and director of Made – is going to help turn Marvel into one of the most successful film studios ever,” you probably would’ve written them off as insane. When you think about it, though, Favreau exhibited a voice for character, story and comedy in Made and Swingers that was well-suited for the Marvel universe. His sensibility made Iron Man a hit, impacting the tone and spirit of the Marvel films that followed. After his one-two punch at Marvel and a crack at a high-concept western, Favreau has returned to his roots with Chef, a film about a creatively unsatisfied cook, Carl Casper (Favreau), who also has to reconnect with his son. Some say the film is really about a filmmaker frustrated by the system, but, first and foremost, it deals with the important choices in life a creative has to make. “I knew I wanted to talk about the balance of career and family,” Favreau tells us. “By the time you hit my age, those little decisions you’ve made really affect your life and you think, ‘How did I end up here?’ A lot of people are confused by where they land. Often when you put all your effort into your career, it’s not as satisfying, because you don’t have that base and foundation.” What is success without people to share it with? It’s an age old theme, but it’s something that Favreau hopes resonates.


Jon Favreau and Aaron Franklin in Chef

Editor’s note: Our review of Chef originally ran during this year’s SXSW film festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in theaters. During his introduction of his new movie Chef on opening night of the SXSW Film Festival, Jon Favreau talked at length about how nice it was to be able to make a movie that is personal, to be inspired to make something that didn’t have to appeal to every demographic, as is the requirement placed upon so many blockbusters. He talked about being so inspired in a way that he hadn’t seen since Swingers. This got some applause, for sure, from an audience anxious to see him bring that kind of film. Because when he said that it was nice to make a movie that would appeal to a smaller, more passionate audience, it was almost as if he had made it for that particular audience. It is a movie about good food and music with a cameo from Austin’s favorite city (Austin), after all. The only problem is that with the sweetness with which Favreau has imbued his latest movie comes a bit of bitterness toward online critics, an aged view of social media and the Internet and a movie that comes away from the wreck of its conflict too clean for its own good. All things that, if they weren’t so drunk on BBQ, wouldn’t get by such an audience.


James McAvoy in Filth

Don’t let the bland, bloated, and messy The Amazing Spider-Man 2 fool you, this May is chock full of quality releases to start the summer off right with. While one would be better off seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier again this weekend for  a comic book sequel done right, there’s plenty of movies following The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s release that promise a good season for movie-going. One of those movies may or may not be A Million Ways to Die in the West. That film likely won’t change anyone’s mind, for better or worse, on Seth MacFarlane. It will be interesting to see if his fans have any interest seeing him in his live-action work, though. He’s a talented vocal actor, but does he have the chops for a live-action performance? The trailers indicate not, but maybe this super expensive comedy will surprise us skeptics. Before we see those 2 hours of “isn’t the old west crazy?!” joke play out, there are 10 releases not to miss this May before MacFarlane’s film arrives at the end of the month. Here are the must see movies of May 2014:


Chef trailer

“Be an artist on your own time! It’s my restaurant!” Metaphors are cool, okay? Similes and parallels and references are awesome literary devices that can often work wonders when translated into different realms of art — like filmmaking, where traditionally written nods to other things and people and senses can be portrayed visually. Or, in the case of Jon Favreau‘s Chef, they can be shown quite overtly, because there’s little doubt that the filmmaker’s latest outing is its own giant reference to the Hollywood machine that he is still a part of. Favreau pulls triple duty on the film — he wrote it, directed it, and stars in it — and it’s clearly a passion project for him. But how much of it has he pulled from his own life? In the film, Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) is a talented cook who gives into the demands of his boring boss (played by Dustin Hoffman, which sounds awesome) and subsequently biffs things big time. An unfavorable review sinks Carl, and he attempts to rebuild his life and career — one ruined by critics and people who don’t want to let him do his own thing — by setting out to make his own food in a rehabbed little food truck. The food truck may as well be the indie movie of the chef scene, and Hoffman might as well be wearing a shirt that says “executive producer” on it. See what Favreau’s cooked up (and how many parallels you can find with Hollywood) with the very first […]


Oliver Platt in X-Men First Class

It’s a scientific fact that if you add Oliver Platt to anything it gets 34% better. There are numerous examples of Platt elevating films even with his smallest of appearances. However, this week he took off his actor’s hat and served as a narrative feature juror member for SXSW. He also has a role as a food critic in Jon Favreau‘s Chef, which premiered at the festival, but Platt was in attendance to be a part of the festival, not to promote a film. And yet, he made the time to speak with us. Platt was my final interview of the festival, and it couldn’t have been a better note to end on. Interviews can be tough during SXSW. Sometimes you’re lucky to have more than 10 minutes with whomever you’re interviewing. In many cases, it’s never done in a helpful setting, either. Too often you’re in a small room or restaurant packed with people speaking at an excessively high volume. Or, in one instance, you’re on a stage under a spotlight in some darkly lit bar being watched by 15 strangers. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Platt. At the last minute, an interview slot opened up and we met him in his hotel lobby the following day for a lengthy conversation. It was an all around ideal situation, and we used it to explore the overriding theme of the festival.



Jon Favreau seems to be the type of guy who’s pretty into food. No, that wasn’t a fat joke—he who lives in glass houses and whatnot—it’s just an observation coming after he hosted a talk show called Dinner For Five that was based on a crew of interesting people gathering around a table full of food, and now he’s reportedly taking a break from making wildly profitable (when not involving cowboys *and* aliens) blockbuster tentpole pictures in order to put together a little independent project that will see him doing a lot of cooking. The project, according to a scoop that came out of Variety, will see Favreau writing, directing, and starring in a film called Chef, which is said to be a comedy about an emotional chef who runs a Los Angeles-based restaurant.


Bradley Cooper

Once The Hangover hit it big at the box office, Bradley Cooper and the rest of that film’s gang of miscreants suddenly found themselves in the position of transitioning from being utility players in the showbiz landscape to being viewed as commodities that could anchor films of their own. But ever since Cooper showed people that he could do a whole lot more than just play the cocky, funny guy with his Oscar nominated performance in Silver Linings Playbook, it’s looked like the sky is the limit concerning how far he can go as an actor. Today, with the news that Cooper has two big, new projects in the works, we see that sense of possibility begin to bear fruit. First up, Deadline is reporting that Warner Bros. has acquired the rights to the James Renner novel “The Man From Primrose Lane,” a book they intend on developing into a starring vehicle for our new favorite actor. Black List-approved screenwriter Chad Feehan (Beyond the Pale) will be doing the adapting of the story, which the book’s Amazon page describes by saying: “In West Akron, Ohio, there lived a reclusive elderly man who always wore mittens, even in July. He had no friends and no family; all over town, he was known as the Man from Primrose Lane. And on a summer day, someone murdered him. Fast-forward four years. David Neff, the bestselling author of a true-crime book about an Ohio serial killer, is a broken man after his wife’s inexplicable […]

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published: 01.30.2015
published: 01.30.2015
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