The Hot Seat – Jon Favreau

It’s got to be a lot of pressure being Jon Favreau. He’s made one of the most popular Netflix films of all time (that’s also special to chefs everywhere), some major pull in CGI (animated?) remakes of classic Disney films, and this little series of independent films he launched that surrounds a lot of superheroes from Marvel’s B-list. 

You know who the hell I’m talking about this time, let’s not mess around with it and just get to the rankings.

09 – Elf [2003]: That’s right, I freaking HATE the 2003 hit film Elf. Look, I get it,

for a lot of you this is the bottom line in Christmas films. It’s got a silly Will Ferrell eating spaghetti with sugary toppings, it’s got Zooey Deschanel during her early days of being “adorkable,” and You even get some fun imagery in the North Pole setting. This has such broad appeal that it’s been cemented as a modern classic and the perfect film. Thanks, and cheers to all of you that enjoy it, but I absolutely hate it. I think both Ferrell and Favreau have made much bigger accomplishments, the sugary tone of the film is enough to send me into diabetic shock, and I never bought into Zooey Deschanel’s entire public persona (which has been revealed to be a cover for her ego, her lack of real acting talent, and a nasty temperament). I get it, I’m a bad person, but that doesn’t change my feelings toward what I consider to be one of the most obnoxious Christmas films. Couple that with the fact that I’ll have at least ten different groups of people insist on watching it at parties this holiday season and it’s a recipe for my insanity. You wonder why I’m nuts? That’s why I’m nuts. 

08 – Iron Man 2 [2010]: So now that I’ve thrown my credibility out the window can we at least agree on this being an awful film? Marvel was still under the control of Ike Perlmutter at this point, a man who thought that non-white people and women didn’t care about superhero films, and forced a lot of his vision on the production of the early MCU films (in fact most of the first two phases). Multiple villains, played by fantastic actors, are hollow and lack any sort of character while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) spins his wheels and allows for no growth because the script demands it. There are obnoxiously forced Avengers Initiative references and a complete refusal to develop the universe beyond the status quo that is so frustrating that I nearly walked out of it. I distinctly remember dating a woman that loved it at the time, nursing a headache that felt like a hangover as she defended it on the phone after I walked out. What a freaking mess of a film.

07 – The Lion King [2019]: Hey, at least it’s better than Iron Man 2 right? Disney’s been indulging in quick, easy nostalgia plugs by remaking their films in live-action recently to capitalize on the age of most of their fans. The Marvel stuff has been profitable, but this is a new avenue. Favreau went full-on George Lucas with this one and embraced tech over final product. The result is a depressing visage of emotionless faces and creatures that have a bombastic sound with no bite behind it. The only two performers that sounds like they’re enjoying themselves are Seth Rogen and Billy Eichner and I pity their souls. Donald Glover, patron saint of the modern hip-hop movement and jack-of-all-trades, only sounds alive when he’s with them. How do you suck the life from Donald Glover? Favreau got a massive budget to make a massive failure of a film that somehow made a billion dollars (let’s face it…nostalgia accomplished a lot of that). Enraging, pointless, hollow, and frustrating, this is one of the worst films of 2019 and a misfire of a remake. 

06 – Cowboys & Aliens [2011]: So this is kind of the payoff for Jon Favreau but…not so much for anyone else. This feels like a concept that he wanted early in his career, a sci-fi western that was from the POV of those on the ground instead of those in the air. It’s got an absolutely stellar cast that involves Daniel Craig, Olivia Wilde, and Harrison Ford, but yet it still fails in an absolutely spectacular way. The visuals are fun, the performances are…acceptable…but the film itself is an absolute misfire of clashing ideas and visionary shotgun spread. None of the ideas, which should be fun together, come together in a cohesive way. Each piece of the puzzle fits together but they do so in a manner that suggests Favreau bashed them into each other with a hammer rather than finding the correct way to put them together. I adore a lot of it and each performer involved but…damn. 

05 – Made [2001]: It’s a neo-noir thriller starring Vince Vaughan, how is this not fun for the whole family? Turns out it’s not perfect but it’s still a good time. This is the one that most people haven’t seen and it falls smack-dab in the middle of his filmography, a story that plays with conventions and yet adheres to them. Favreau is a fresh face at this point, just realizing what his potential is, and he’s working toward that defining moment but before all that we got a fun little film for weirdos everywhere. I love what he’s doing here and while I don’t enjoy each moment of it the coherent bit of interplay between scenes winds up being enjoyale on a deeper level. You’ll see bits of this in every film on this list going forward but it’s woefully lacking in the previous four. It’s too bad that he left this kind of storytelling in the dust for a bit, only to rediscover it on the journey back. 

04 – Zathura [2005]: It’s Jumanji in space, how hard is that? Favreau was still on a tear in popularity at this point, adapting  the second book in the board-game-come-to-life franchise that enveloped American homes in the 90s. Each piece of this puzzle is a fun little bit of referential delight makes up for the lack of originality with a sense of wonderment. The higgity-jiggity pacing of the film means you’re never going to be bored and you’re never going to want and end to the story. Tie that in with a great early performance from Kristen Stewart (screw off, she’s wonderful outside of the Twilight franchise) and you’ve got a stew baby! One thing I like from my pulpy, blockbuster directors is to have a sense of fun about them and this is where I really see it. This film could have been so much more had he waited to cash it in later but as-is it’s a fun film that stuck with me for years afterward. I was too old for it when I saw it, but I’ve grown into the right age and wound up loving the film as an adolescent adult. 

03 – The Jungle Book [2016]: This has Bill Murray, playing a bear, convincing a child to acquire him honey that is renowned for it’s “medicinal properties.” Sounds great, right? Turns out this is a lot more fun than any of Disney’s other live-action remakes and that spot is deserved. Each moment of it is so much fun to play with and visualize for both the tech team and the audience, a cacophany of leaves and fur that plays like your favorite band onscreen. While Murray is my absolute favorite part of the film, I genuinely appreciate the performances put in by Ben Kingsley, Idris Elba, Lupita Nyong’o, Scarlet Johansson, Giancarlo Esposito, and Christopher Walken. That last one is a particular favorite of mine as he sings “I Wanna Be a Man, Man-Cub” in his particular scat-speak voice. It’s all delightful, but something about him as King Louis is just amazing. Look, wheres The Lion King is a soulless remake that doesn’t work on a lot of levels, this is a delightful romp that reminded me of how I felt about Disney as a child. Turns out I love them, and I still do. Things like this remind me that Jon Favreau is doing The Mandalorian for Disney+ and that it’s something I can’t wait for.

02 – Chef [2014]: C’mon, this is just your favorite cooking YouTub

e channel with a narrative. Admit it, you all wanted that grilled cheese and that Cubano. Nothing comforts us, challenges us, delights us, and saves us like food. It’s one of the binding ties that keeps humanity as a cohesive unit – we all like food, no matter what our preferences. Hell, most in every culture even consider it an art form. I know I do. Favreau takes center stage to star as Chef Casper, a bored cook that gets a chance to reinvigorate himself with a food truck after a review devastates his ego at a bland restaurant. Oh, and did I mention he turns Scarlett Johanssen on with pasta? Look…you won’t have a better time with a Netflix series, and when it grows beyond that into a television show that displays Favreau’s own cooking ability the whole thing becomes perfect. This is a Netflix movie from a food fan that spawned a television series for food fans. All on Netflix. Let that sink in. We’re in a weird spot now, but Favreau found his passion with this project.

01 – Iron Man [2008]: You knew this was #1. Look, it launched him into the public eye and created one of the most profitable (okay, fine, THE most profitable) franchise of all time. It also gave legendary drug addict and mess-of-a-human-being Robert Downey Jr. another chance at being a star. Turns out this worked for everyone involved and now the last Avengers film is a 3b grossing movie. Respect, yeah? Favreau is still having fun in this early installment in his career, taking a risk with a studio to develop a film surrounding a little-known-character played by a washed-up hack that somehow wound up being the biggest film of all time. You can argue that others have been more important, but this launched the biggest franchise ever and that should be respected. Go ahead, bend the knee. Favreau is responsible for this crazy Marvel shit.

That’s my list! Anyone have a hot take on Favreau? You like The Lion King? Do you!? Then tell me!

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