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 October 6, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death of parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters,
Date Released to Theaters: October 7, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B004UFA0RE

“Being normal is overrated,” a young boy’s friend assures him.  “You’ll probably turn out to be very interesting.”

He was right.  British chef and food writer Nigel Slater tells his own story in “Toast”. His mother was a terrible cook.  When he suggested they try fresh produce, she explained that they were better off with canned food because you don’t know where the fresh vegetables had been.  She would boil the food in the can and if it came out especially badly they would have toast for dinner.  She loved Nigel with all her heart and he adored her.  But he never felt close to his gruff father (Ken Stott).  And then his mother died.  Nigel correctly discerned that the cleaning woman his father hired (Helena Bonham Carter) was determined to be promoted to lady of the house.  She and Nigel were engaged in an all-out war that was tragic but darkly comic because the battlefield was the kitchen.

This film was produced for BBC television and it assumes a familiarity with British dialect and culture that may be confusing for American audiences, even the Masterpiece Theatre-loving Anglophiles.  And some family members have disputed the accuracy of Slater’s portrayal.  It spends too much time on the early part of Slater’s life (played as a child by Oscar Kennedy) and not enough on his teen years (played by Freddie Highmore).  The tone keeps it engaging, though, because Slater’s point of view does not get maudlin.  When his stepmother is portrayed as a grasping shrew we understand that it is through his eyes as an unforgiving teenager and, as the last scene makes clear, that he recognizes that living well is the best revenge.  Except for maybe being the one to tell the story.


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Julie & Julia

Posted on December 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

“Julie & Julia” is — I can’t help it — a scrumptiously satisfying film about writer/director Nora Ephron’s two favorite subjects: food and marriage.It is based on two true stories. Julia Child revolutionized American notions about food with her cookbook and PBS series that brought haute cuisine to the “servantless” American housewife in the early 1960’s. Cookbooks and magazines in those days had recipes that included canned peas and crushed potato chips. But Child (Meryl Streep), newly settled in Paris with her diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) fell in love with the fresh, subtle, deeply sensual quality of French cooking and decided to study at the Cordon Bleu. She was an unlikely epicure and an even more unlikely spokeswoman, over six feet tall and with a rather horsey quality, a voice with a trill that made her sound like a cross between Eleanor Roosevelt and Miss Francis of the Ding-Dong School. But she was passionate, knowledgeable, accessible, and completely fearless. She boned a duck with knives that could slice through granite and scooped up food from the floor and put it back on the plate, crisply assuring her audience that it was all right because no one could see them in the kitchen. Americans fell in love with boeuf bourguignon, chocolate mousse, and with Julia, too. Half a century later, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) was in need of some of Julia’s resolute forthrightness. While her “cobb salad lunch” friends made million-dollar deals on their cell phones, Julie had a half-finished novel and a job answering the phone in a cubicle, listening to the problems of people seeking help with their 9/11-related injuries and losses. She and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) lived in a tiny, dingy apartment over a pizza place, with a handkerchief-sized kitchen. But Julie wanted to do something big and important. She wanted to finish something. And so she decided to work her way through Julia’s famous cookbook, to take on every recipe including deboning a duck, to do it all in one year, and to do it in public, on the then-novel outlet of a blog. Both Julie and Julia were drawn to the literally hands-on nature of cooking, the sense of purpose and mastery, and the generosity of it. Ephron’s screenplay, based on memoirs by each of its main characters, touches on the parallels without overdoing it. And one of the sweetest is the rare portrayal of tender, devoted, and, yes, very passionate married love, even more palpably luscious than the abbondanza array of diet-busting delicacies.It is the Julia story that is the heart of this film and it is Meryl Streep who is at the heart of this story. A little bit of movie magic makes the 5’6″ actress tower over her co-stars and even the furniture. But it is sheer, once-to-a-planet acting that makes Child so touching and inspiring. No one is more adorable than Amy Adams, and she wrinkles her little nose and throws her little tantrums as a twinkly romantic movie heroine must. But Streep as Child is revelatory, real, and irresistible. In one scene, when she responds to some good news from her sister (wonderfully played by Jane Lynch), the mixture of emotions that cross Streep’s face in a moment tell us of decades of pain. In another, as the Childs and their friends celebrate Valentine’s Day, we see an expression of love and trust so deep and enduring and joyous and sexy that it makes most expressions of movie romance feel like whipped cream made with skim milk and fake sugar.This is a movie about food and love and courage and dreams and lots and lots of butter, and doing something — cooking or acting — brilliantly and with gusto. And it is delicious, nourishing, and good to the last drop. (more…)

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Irene Cooking With the Stars

Posted on August 14, 2009 at 3:59 pm

You know the old saying “No matter where I serve my guests, they seem to like my kitchen best?” Well, that’s what I think of when I watch Irene and her new cooking show, Irene Cooking With the Stars. She is an award-winning actress and comedian who has cooked for much of Hollywood and now they will be joining her on her online show. Her warm and winning personality will make you feel like you’re sitting in her kitchen and can almost smell the food. A sneak peek from the first webisode, featuring Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, is available now.


Follow Irene on MySpace and visit her new interactive website for recipes, blog posts, and information and on Twitter at Irenecooking to learn about fun, healthy, and affordable cooking. She even features “Top Ramen Fridays” to help families save money.

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No Reservations

Posted on February 12, 2008 at 8:00 am

It may be a three-star movie about a four-star chef, but it is still a sweet summer treat and a great date night hors d’oeuvre.
Kate (Catherine Zeta Jones) just does not understand what everyone’s problem is. All she wants is to have every single detail in her kitchen meet her uncompromising standards. And for every single detail in her life to be as easy for her as coming up with an exquisite new recipe to enchant her foodie groupies. Is that too much to ask?
Apparently, it is, because the owner of the restaurant where Kate presides (one could never say “is employed”) has insisted that she get therapy if she would like to continue to preside. It is not good for business if Kate insults customers who fail to appreciate the subtle flavors and delicate complexities and just want undercooked steak. So, Kate goes to therapy, where she recounts the details of her food preparation in terms so swoonably delectable that for a moment both patient and therapist get a glimpse of a perfectible world. But that would mean a world in which we could be in control. And Kate is reminded of just how little control she has when her adored sister is killed in an automobile accident, leaving Kate as guardian for her young niece, Zoe (Little Miss Sunshine’s Abigail Breslin).


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