Posted on October 29, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Tormented but brilliant chef Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) invites the sous chef he hopes to persuade to come work for him to lunch. At Burger King. They are both food snobs. She does not want to touch anything in the fast food outlet and is barely willing to sit in the booth. And he, improbably but only slightly more improbable than pretty much everything else in the movie, tries to persuade her that it is part of the rich tradition of “peasant food.” Yes, it is a lesser cut of meat, but that is why it is so imaginatively prepared.

Uh, no. That is not true of Burger King, and it is not true of this film, a lesser cut of meat indeed, and not deserving of the terms “imaginative” or “peasant food.” We don’t believe the praise for fast food from a guy who says anything less than perfect must be thrown away, that a chef must apologize not to the boss or to the customer but to the piece of turbot for inferior preparation. We don’t believe that a man who says he does not want customers to appreciate his food — he wants them to ache with longing — would eat a Whopper.

Most important, we just do not believe Adam, even with Cooper’s piercing blue eyes and movie star magic, is more than a lesser cut of meat himself. Here’s a hint, Hollywood — it is often fatal to a movie to have its characters more in thrall to the lead than the audience is.

We meet Adam as he is completing his self-imposed penance for sins we will spend the rest of the film learning about. The three-year expiation — shucking one million oysters. Does that have anything to do with making amends to those he harmed? No, but it is picturesque and it gives him a chance to tell us that oysters and apples cannot be improved upon, but it is the duty of the chef to try.

It turns out that Adam was once a star of the foodie world, but hubris — and many, many drugs — led to his downfall, taking lots of other people down with him. And so, we see him visit his old friends, enemies, and frenimies, to see if he can put the old band back together to make culinary history and achieve a third Michelin star.

For those who missed the Michelin star lecture in The 100-Foot Journey, we get the “Star Wars” version here. One star from the legendary rater of restaurants is Luke Skywalker. Two stars are “whoever Alec Guinness was” (Obi-Wan Kenobi). And three stars is the Jedi Master: Yoda. (I actually prefer Michelin’s own cost-benefit analysis approach: worth a stop, worth a detour, worth a journey.)

Or, in movie terms, worth a theater ticket, worth a Netflix rental, wait for cable. This falls somewhere between the second and third category. Food and food preparation are presented with loving, luscious care far in excess of the attention to the story or characters, neither especially well seasoned or fresh.

Parents should know that this film has constant very strong language, some sexual references, references to drug abuse, some angry confrontations, and brief violence.

Family discussion: Would you want to eat in Adam’s restaurant? What do you think of his million-oyster penance?

If you like this, try: “Chef” and “Babette’s Feast” and reality shows about Mario Batali and Gordon Ramsey, who worked on this film

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Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, including some suggestive references
Profanity: Very strong and graphic language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: May 16, 2014
Date Released to DVD: September 29. 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00KQTGWPC

You’re writer/director/actor Jon Favreau.  You’ve been making big-budget films, mostly huge blockbuster successes (“Elf,” “Iron Man”), but also a big-budget bust (Cowboys & Aliens, which I liked).  This might put you in mind of a simpler, more chef poster headersatisfyingly creative time (Favreau wrote the indie smash “Swingers” and wrote and directed “Made”).  And that might inspire a movie like “Chef,” with Favreau as writer. director, and star and a small-scale story with, thanks to his connections, a big-scale cast, about an artist who, like a movie director, creates the kind of art that must be appreciated by others to be satisfying.  And director Jon Favreau brings the same loving care to the creations made by his character that the chef does himself.  This movie will be on lists of “Great Food Films” forever, along with classics like “Big Night” and “Babette’s Feast.”  The food is so lusciously photographed you can almost smell it.  And the music perfectly matches the food, sensual and spicy.  This is an utterly delectable treat.

No surprise — it is about a guy who has a big-time, high pressure job, loses his mojo, his inspiration and his sense of creativity, and then finds it again in a smaller venue.  The job is in the title.  Favreau plays Carl, a passionate chef at a high-end restaurant, frustrated because the owner (Dustin Hoffman) wants him to stick to his “greatest hits,” the solid, reliable favorites that Carl now finds boring.  “You remember what happened when you put guts on the menu?”  When an influential restaurant critic gives him a bad review, Carl quits in a fury.  Then, in an even bigger fury, he tweets what he thinks is a private response to the critic (he is not sure of the difference between Twitter and email). It goes viral.  (“You’re trending, bro.”) Carl goes into a shame spiral fueled by self-pity and blame, both self and everyone else.


Carl’s passion for his job led to the end of his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara).  He is a devoted but harried father to Percy (Emjay Anthony), a young social media expert who enjoys the fun activities his dad plans for them when he has time but wishes they could just plain hang out more.  Inez, wanting to get Carl out of his funk, invites him to come with her on a business trip to Miami, so he can watch Percy.  It will get him away from the Twitterverse gaffe of the day crowd and give him some time with his son.  She also has another plan.  Her previous ex-husband (a movie-stealing performance by the scene-stealing master thief and “Iron Man” star Robert Downey, Jr.), who gives Carl a food truck.  Well, apparently there is a food truck there underneath the layers of grime and fry oil.  Joined by a friend (John Leguizamo) and Percy, they drive the truck back home to Los Angeles, stopping along the way to feed the people who have been following Percy’s social media updates.

There are no surprises in the story, and there is not one female character with any reason to exist other than supporting/adoring Carl, but the characters feel genuine and the food is mesmerizingly luscious.  Favreau has his mojo back, and I hope he will keep ours going by serving us food truck movies along with his five star restaurants.

Parents should know that this movie includes very strong and crude language and some vulgar references.

Family discussion: What is your favorite meal to cook?  Why was it hard for Carl to just hang out with Percy before the food truck?

If you like this, try: “Big Night” and “No Reservations”

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Trailer: Chef

Posted on April 19, 2014 at 8:00 am

Jon Favreau follows his big-budget special effects movies (“Iron Man,” “Cowboys and Aliens”) with a return to his small, indie roots (“Swingers”) as director/writer/star of the scrumptious-looking “Chef.”  (WARNING: Some strong language)

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