Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Year 9, Day 129 - 5/9/17 - Movie #2,624

BEFORE: Just in case "Race" wasn't enough of a double-meaning title, tonight we've got a word that could refer to the state of the chef or the food that he cooks.  (He's burnt out, get it?)

Alicia Vikander carries over from "Ex Machina", and I kick off a Bradley Cooper chain at the same time - it's a good week for that.  OK, I admit it, I snuck out to see "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" tonight, and I'll post the review in a couple of days.  I need the linking that film provides to get me to "Mother's Day".

This film was originally titled "Chef", but then changed its title when the Jon Favreau-directed film "Chef" came out - I'm still waiting for some channel to run "Chef", what's the hold-up?  I was going to pair that one with this one, but I can't wait any longer.

THE PLOT: Adam Jones is a chef who destroyed his career with drugs and diva-like behavior.  He cleans up and returns to London, determined to redeem himself by spearheading a restaurant that can earn three Michelin stars.

AFTER: Chefs are the new rock stars, I get that - and it's been that way for a couple of decades now.  We started with Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud, and then once talk shows and reality TV hit, suddenly there were more superstar chefs than you could shake a stick (of butter) at.  "Top Chef", "Iron Chef", and "Chopped" all created their own TV heroes and villains, as if cooking could possibly have winners and losers.  Then came "The Taste", "The Chew", "Top Chef Masters", "Cupcake Wars", "British Baking Competition", "Chopped Junior", and now "Iron Chef Gauntlet", among many others.  (I admit it, I watch most of them...)

If it's even possible to designate a turning point in turning cooking into entertainment, I'm going to single out Anthony Bourdain, with his books "Kitchen Confidential" and "A Cook's Tour", the latter of which was turned into the first (and possibly best) combination of food and travel shows, as Bourdain left his NYC restaurant to travel to Europe, Asia and Mexico to not only eat, but to have the experiences that come along with eating in foreign places.  And the other book, "Kitchen Confidential", later got turned into a Fox sitcom starring, what a coincidence, Bradley Cooper.  Bourdain, meanwhile, burned all his bridges at the Food Network, which aired "A Cook's Tour", and then had a show on Travel Channel called "No Reservations", which ran for years before he burned all his bridges there, and now he's got a show on CNN which I don't watch, because it doesn't really feel like a "news" show, so I think it's blatantly on the wrong network, and I won't be tricked into watching CNN.

All of this food-based programming is fairly ridiculous, because there's no possible way for the audience at home to truly experience the food, at least not by just looking at it.  A movie about making food, even beautiful, meticulously crafted food, faces the same problem.  It has to rely on words and images to convince me that this food is GOOD, and that's just never going to work, we're missing the best part of the experience.  That's probably why we have the term "food porn", because the images, as enticing as they are, are merely a substitute for the real thing.  They will trick you into some kind of satisfaction, but that won't sustain you in the long run.

Still, there are plenty of food-based movies, with my favorite being "Big Night" - this film presented a visual feast of Italian food, which is still not as good as the real thing, but there have been restaurants that have replicated that film's food for theme nights, and now we even have a few movie theaters that will serve food that's in-step with what's on the screen, not just popcorn and nachos.  I'd love to see this trend continue, maybe someday chefs will be on staff at movie theaters to craft special meals for every movie.  Probably not.

But I've got another reason to bring up "Big Night" - that film had a temperamental, particular chef, a put-upon restaurant manager, and a rival restaurateur trying to shut them down.  Then there's a special dinner put together in anticipation of the arrival of bandleader Louis Prima, but then confusion over whether Prima is really coming.  "Burnt" has a temperamental, particular chef, a put-upon restaurant manager, and a rival restaurateur.  Then there's special preparations in anticipation of the arrival of the Michelin reviewers, but then confusion over whether they're really coming.  So, forgive me if I feel like I've seen all this before, so much felt cribbed from that 1996 film, combined with elements from Anthony Bourdain's past.

This confirms it, chefs really are the new rock stars - they talk about their drug habits and the background pieces on shows like "Chopped" look exactly like the ones on "American Idol", where they talk about how hard it is to overcome addiction, be a single parent, or deal with the death of their favorite uncle.  I'm sorry, but what does any of that have to with this person's ability to cook me dinner?

My point is, that a TV show or movie about chefs has to season things up with the personal drama, because it's really all they've got.  We can't taste the food, so we have to rely on backstory and personality to decide whether we want to root for this chef or not.  And those are all calculated formulas - the main character in "Burnt" is an underdog, he's trying to battle back from failure, addiction and failure caused by addiction.  He didn't just burn his bridges, he tore the bridges down and then smashed the pieces into smaller pieces.  Is a new restaurant really going to fix that, is the 3-star review somehow going to fill the void inside?  Is he going to learn to treat his sous chefs like valuable members of the team, and realize that team work makes the dream work?  Of course he is, because it's a movie.  How realistic this storyline is becomes a separate discussion.

Since I'm not part of the restaurant world, all I really have are my NITPICK POINTS.  Like the fact that no chef in this film ever wears a pair of latex gloves, so that's a sanitary issue right there.  Maybe the best chefs are so arrogant that they refuse to wear them, or maybe they're so professional that they keep their hands 100% germ-free, but this just seems like a clueless omission on the part of the filmmakers.  I cringed whenever anyone touched the food directly, or flipped a piece of fish with a spoon and their bare hand, or even worse, patted someone on the SHOULDER and then touched food right after.  How the heck can you imagine that their shoulder is clean, what if they were just leaning up against the dumpster in the alley while on a smoke break?  (To be fair, gloves aren't the end-all of sanitation, I've seen food-service people talking on their phones while wearing the latex gloves, and then go right back to preparing food.  Congratulations, you just contaminated the food by touching the phone, which was very close to your mouth, idiot.)

Other than that, are chefs really this petty and vengeful?  OK, probably.  But would one chef invite another chef that he HATED to his restaurant's opening?  Probably not.  What purpose would that serve, other than to draw the attention away from himself?  Would the "undercover" restaurant reviewers really have such specific quirks that a maitre d' or waitress would be able to spot them in advance?  That would defeat the whole point, wouldn't it?  That seems like another movie-based convention that doesn't even have one foot in the real restaurant world.  And a restaurant giving away free dinners for a week?  Don't even get me started on that - completely unbelievable.

And sorry, I gotta do it - another NITPICK POINT - who throws their daughter a birthday party on a Thursday afternoon?  If your kid's birthday is on a weekday, it's a teachable moment, they have to wait until the weekend for their party, because that's when the guests are free.  Or if you're a sous-chef, you schedule that kid's party around your work schedule, not the other way around.  Deal with it, kid.

And NITPICK POINT #3 - Helene introduces Adam to the benefits of using the sous vide method of cooking the fish, since his old way is so problematic.  But earlier in the film, he had a line about "before we were all cooking fish in little plastic bags", so clearly he already knows about the technique.  Now, maybe he doesn't like it, but if that's the case, then his sous chef vouching for the method would probably do very little to change his opinion.  And anyway, why am I now writing a work-around for some screenwriter's mistake?

Also starring Bradley Cooper (last seen in "Joy"), Sienna Miller (last seen in "Layer Cake"), Daniel Brühl (last seen in "Woman in Gold"), Omar Sy (last seen in "Jurassic World"), Riccardo Scamarcio (last seen in "To Rome with Love"), Sam Keeley (last seen in "In the Heart of the Sea"), Matthew Rhys (last seen in "Elizabeth"), Emma Thompson (last seen in "Sense and Sensibility"), Lily James (last seen in "Cinderella"), Sarah Greene, Henry Goodman (also last seen in "Woman in Gold"), with a cameo from Uma Thurman (last seen in "Gattaca").

RATING: 5 out of 10 drug tests

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