Thursday, July 6, 2017

Chef

Year 9, Day 187 - 7/6/17 - Movie #2,681

BEFORE: I'm back on Netflix, but I'm going to take a break from animated films for a few days.  Yes, originally this was conceived as a straight block of just animated films, but that was a block that got me CLOSE to reaching "Spider-Man: Homecoming", and close just isn't good enough.  Then I decided to flip around part of the chain to work in both "The Lego Batman" movie and "Free State of Jones", and suddenly my animated block wasn't so animated any more.  I still think I've done quite well, with 7 animated films watched in the last 10 days, and I'm still going to get to 8 more before my Comic-Con trip, but it's a couple of live-action (there's that derogatory word again) films that are going to make the next few links in the chain possible.

This film has been on my radar for some time, I can't really say it's been on my Watchlist, because that's really for films I buy on DVD or that run on cable, and this one's been conspicuously absent from cable.  Why, I don't know - I'm not responsible for programming movie channels, but since I had access to it via an Academy screener, I put it on my "eventual add" list.  Then I realized that it's been available on Netflix, and that made it linkable and watchable.  It's funny, by moving films from the "eventual add" list directly to my "Seen already" list, skipping the watchlist altogether, it almost feels like I'm cheating, or at least subverting the process.  It means my watchlist is not shrinking at all, but at least I'm keeping the chain going.

Scarlett Johansson carries over from "The Jungle Book", and so do THREE other actors.  That's a linking opportunity that I just can't ignore.  You might also notice that two of these actors are also going to be in the new "Spider-Man" movie - this film was a back-up way to link to that film, and if I were planning to fight the crowds tomorrow and see the film on Opening Day, I had that option.  But I've got other ways to link there, one that will allow me to see the film next Monday and post the review the next day.


FOLLOW-UP TO: "Burnt" (Movie #2,624)

THE PLOT: A head chef quits his restaurant job and buys a food truck in an effort to reclaim his creative promise, while piecing his estranged family back together.

AFTER: This is a movie I can really get behind - a character who is motivated to produce great food at his restaurant, it's a noble cause I can support.  Though things get complicated when the restaurant's owner gets involved in the process, and a conflict arises between putting out food that's creative and daring, and food that's safe and expected, but makes people happy.  The unstated question here concerns whether food has to shock and surprise in order to delight, which might be more of what reviewers want to see, or whether it just needs to satisfy the public and keep putting asses in the seats.

I hate the term "foodie", but I am something of an expert - I've been eating for practically my whole life, after all.  And people often ask me where to eat, so often that I've determined that I must project either an air of intelligence, or a demeanor based on my consistent panda-bear shape that lets people know that I both enjoy food, and know where to find it. The combination means, even to strangers, "Hey, let's ask THAT guy where to get food, because clearly he knows something."  My own personal tastes have a large range, meaning I'm equally at home in a fine-dining establishment (especially if they're hosting a food & beer pairing event) as I am eating from a food truck.  I got really excited last week when a friend pointed out some new food stands a few blocks from my office, with all kinds of food, ranging from sushi burritos and Japanese tater tots to brisket sandwiches from one of my fave BBQ restaurants (name withheld here to keep more people from learning about it...)  More about brisket later on...

So the film creates a conflict between the restaurant's owner, who feels that as long as people are filling up the tables, they should keep the menu the same, because it's working, and the chef, who not only wants to stretch himself creatively, but he feels that he HAS to keep the menu cutting-edge in order to get good reviews.  If the cooking game is anything like the filmmaking business, then I realized right off this is a fool's errand, because if you're making movies for the critics, then you're compromising yourself, and you're not making the movie that you want/need to make.  According to this analogy, the chef is both right AND wrong - yes, he should keep challenging himself, and trying new dishes, but at the same time, he should realize that the basic menu is drawing people in and making them happy, and that's a good thing.

The answer, to me at least, would be to have a core menu that doesn't change, to satisfy the regulars, AND to have a special menu that's constantly rotating or changing.  Why can't he do both of these things, as lots of restaurants do?  Ah, but then we wouldn't have this triangle of conflict between the chef, the owner and the critic.  Another solution would be to have a special tasting menu just for the critic, feed him something that wows him - but then I suppose this would result in a skewed review, he's probably honor-bound to review the menu that an average person would encounter during their dining experience.

Instead the chef accidentally starts a flame-war on Twitter after the review gets posted, and his tweets not only "go viral" (this was a big thing way back in 2014, I assume) but he also loses it in the middle of the restaurant, and dozens of diners catch his meltdown on their cameraphones.  The critic remains above it all, and comments on the chef's downfall, and although there is a path given here for surviving negative publicity, the chef here chooses to quit and spend some time re-evaluating.  This involves a trip to Miami with his ex-wife and son, which introduces the possibility of getting his mojo back through a food truck.  Now, I've seen every episode of Food Network's "Great Food Truck Race", which is a bit like American Idol for food trucks - the winner gets a truck and some national exposure - and I approve of a character taking this track to success.

Now, it's a little hokey that having success with the food truck seems to solve ALL of the chef's problems - it fulfills his need to be creative, it allows him to cook what he wants again, he starts to have good publicity instead of bad, and he begins to have better relationships with his son and ex-wife.  The food truck is the (literal) vehicle for all of these good things, but I'm going to allow it, because a good business model has that potential, and the uplifting end sort of justifies the means.  But you know I'm going to find something to complain about...

NITPICK POINT: I'm not sure that Twitter is that hard to figure out, even for an older person.  I mean, our president can do it, and he's 71.  (I'm not saying he uses it WELL, but he does use it.)  But hey, maybe our chef character here is a total luddite, I know some people like that, who still have flip phones, but since they're in the film business of course they know how to tweet to publicize their projects, or they have people who tweet for them.  Either way, the concept is not alien to them - the only people I know who don't know how to tweet or text at all are my parents, who are 76.  I just can't buy that a 40-something chef would need to be taught how to tweet by his son, or that he wouldn't realize that everyone on Twitter could see his tweets.

Then again, Twitter hasn't exactly made it easy to distinguish between a public tweet, a private tweet, and a direct message tweet.  I know that it sort of involves where you put the handle of the person you're tweeting at, and whether you use a dot or something before it, but even I get confused by it at times.  For safety's sake, I just assume that every tweet is readable by all, and I don't say things that other people shouldn't hear.

NITPICK POINT #2: From what little I understand about food trucks, the cost of renovating and cleaning an old one is probably not much less than designing a new one, especially when you factor in the value of all that sweat equity.  But the food truck here is basically a metaphor for the chef's career and attitude toward food - like the truck, he's got to be stripped down to his basics, he's got to re-design his cooking style and also clean up his attitude in order to drive down the long road toward redemption.  A tangential N.P. is the fact that a used food truck would be much less likely to survive a cross-country drive without breaking down in some way.  I was waiting for the inevitable "we're stranded in the New Mexico desert" scene that never came - maybe they just got lucky?

NITPICK POINT #3: After relating to his son the glories of beignets in New Orleans, especially the ones from Cafe du Monde, Chef Carl treats his son to the famous treat, then they return to their food truck, where beignets are on his own menu.  What the what?  If he could make beignets on the truck, then why did they have to go out to Cafe du Monde to get them?  OK, maybe the ones at the cafe are better, but if that's the case, why is he serving inferior beignets from the truck?  Those won't sell very well in New Orleans, especially if people can get better ones a few blocks away.  Selling these in New Orleans doesn't make much sense, and for that matter, selling Cubano sandwiches in Miami isn't advisable, either, unless they're freaking spectacular.  But Chef Carl does this, plus he sells brisket sandwiches in Austin - where I'm guessing you can probably get great brisket on every corner.

It would have made more sense on this food truck road trip if they had taken the cuisine of each city and brought it to the next one, where it would be less common.  Perfect the Cubano sandwich in Miami, then drive to New Orleans.  While selling Cubanos in NOLA, learn how to make great beignets, and then drive to Austin, where beignets are less common.  Pick up the brisket in Austin and drive to, I don't know, Santa Fe or Phoenix to sell brisket sandwiches there.  And then by the time they arrive back in L.A., the food truck is serving a wide variety of foods that are uncommon in that city - now that's a recipe for success.

Also starring Jon Favreau (also carrying over from "The Jungle Book"), John Leguizamo (last heard in "Ice Age: Collision Course"), Bobby Cannavale (last seen in "Daddy's Home"), Dustin Hoffman (last seen in "Moonlight Mile"), Emjay Anthony (carrying over from "The Jungle Book"), Sofia Vergara (last seen in "Hot Pursuit"), Oliver Platt (last seen in "A Merry Friggin' Christmas"), Amy Seders (last seen in "Maid in Manhattan"), Robert Downey Jr. (last seen in "Captain America: Civil War"), Russell Peters (also carrying over from "The Jungle Book"), Jose C. Hernandez, Gloria Sandoval, with cameos from chefs Aaron Franklin and Roy Choi.

RATING: 6 out of 10 trips to the Farmer's Market

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