Burnt

The world’s obsession with food and the people who cook creatively has led to the third film in 18 months about a chef seeking acclaim and/or redemption. After last year’s Chef and The Hundred Foot Journey, here comes Burnt.

Liked the 2014 films, Burnt is filled with “food porn,” beautiful images of food that will make you hungry. The story is standard fare about overcoming life challenges, learning to trust others, etc.

Most people, when they hit bottom and then get a new chance, come back humbled and grateful. Adam Jones (Bradley Cooper) is not most people.

After a flameout in Paris, the acclaimed chef returns to Europe clean and sober, yes, but still arrogant. He chastises a rookie cook for being humble and even coaches the kid to get an attitude and say, “F.U.” to his cooking rivals.

He manages to line up a restaurant in London and even puts his name on it, Adam Jones at The Langham. He is a talented tyrant who demands perfection. “If it’s not perfect, throw it out” is his guidance.

Complicating his comeback attempt is a debt Jones owes. A pair of thugs hovering in the wings promise serious damage if Jones doesn’t pay off what he owes for all the drugs he consumed in Paris.

Opening night is a disaster. Slowly, things get better. Is it because of Jones’ intimidation of his kitchen staff or despite it?

After the thugs administer the inevitable beating, Jones bravely heads back to the kitchen. Michelin reps are spotted in the dining room. Their food is so bad it gets sent back. Jones has a breakdown.

Helene (Sienna Miller) is a kitchen staffer who provides Jones’ romantic interest. Their chemistry simmers but rarely reaches the boiling point. (Could it be because of her awful haircut?) Emma Thompson plays a London doctor who Jones visits for drug testing. She dispenses motherly advice along with good cheer. Alicia Vikander is a face from Jones’ Paris past who appears at an opportune moment.

Those of us who love dining at great restaurants rarely go behind the scenes into the kitchens except via TV cooking shows. In Burnt, we get to see Adam Jones in his sparkling clean, beautifully equipped kitchen with plenty of staff to make sure his dishes are perfect. As industry personnel know, when a kitchen is humming smoothly, it’s a beautiful thing.

Burnt challenges audiences to root for Bradley Cooper’s character, whose charm is somewhat muted by his raging ego. If you can embrace Adam Jones and his comeback attempt, you’re more likely to enjoy Burnt.

The 10 Best Films of 2014

Birdman red Again this year, the 3 things that make a film great—a fresh story, indelible characters and clever story telling—have come together beautifully in several movies. Beyond those on my “Best Of” list are a few that simply made me feel good (which signifies a different kind of greatness). The Best of 2014:

  1. Birdman. Creativity unleashed. A fantastic story with a memorable lead character who elicits a variety of responses from his incredibly strong cast as well as from audience members. And what an ending! Excellent use of the film medium.
  2. Boyhood. Richard Linklater’s idea of telling the story of a young man growing up, using the same actor from start to finish, was risky. So many things could have gone wrong, but, based on what is on the screen, they mostly went right. Ellar Coltrane was a perfect choice for the lead role.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s masterpiece is zany, madcap, silly fun. Anderson’s attention to little details and inspired performances from a large cast of stars make this his best yet.
  4. Whiplash. The concept doesn’t sound that exciting: a music instructor who’s an abusive bully meets up with a cocky young drummer. But the story, the music and the over-the-top character that J.K. Simmons inhabits combine for a movie that sizzles.
  5. The Lego Movie. Filled with fun and surprises. This film doesn’t just use Lego pieces as characters, it captures the way kids use Legos. The live action postscript was a beautiful touch.
  6. Snowpiercer. Praise begins with love for the French guys who did the graphic novel. And to the publisher who chose to sell the book in Korea, where the director/co-writer discovered it. Strong multinational cast. Dystopian class warfare at its best.
  7. Gone Girl. Everything works here. Acting, directing, scriptwriting. The most meaningful soundtrack of the year. Gone Girl satisfies on so many levels. Thanks to (most) everybody who resisted spoiling.
  8. The Theory of Everything. A British genius tries to channel his immense brilliance into something useful, while dealing with a challenge that could torpedo his efforts. For Stephen Hawking, it’s ALS. Multiple Oscar noms on the way for this one.
  9. The Imitation Game. A British genius tries to channel his immense brilliance into something useful, while dealing with a challenge that could torpedo his efforts. For Alan Turing, it’s closeted homosexuality—a crime in the UK in the 40s. Cumberbatch shows again why he’s the “go to” guy for so many movie makers.
  10. Nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal is, as they say, a revelation as a free-lance videographer who crawls throughout the underbelly of L.A. for sleazy TV news footage. His story is well-crafted and his performance is maybe his finest ever.

My “feel good” list for 2014:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy. Characters, soundtrack, story, effects—wow!
  2. Chef. Beautiful food, wonderful music. And it gets social media right. Thank you, Jon Favreau!
  3. Big Hero 6. Appealed to my inner 12-year-old boy. I loved lovable robot Baymax and the film’s cool blending of U.S. and Japanese culture.
  4. St. Vincent. Bill Murray is loathsome, pathetic, hilarious, generous and sweet all in one movie. Good supporting cast, especially the kid.
  5. Get On Up. The James Brown biopic may have been too raw to be a big hit but it made me feel good. (I knew that it would.)
  6. Life Itself. The talented Mr. Ebert had a wonderful life.
  7. Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. I met Glen Campbell and am a longtime fan. His good humor in dealing with Alzheimer’s plus the love shown by all his family was what made me feel good.
  8. Edge Of Tomorrow. The structure of this movie, similar to Groundhog Day, could’ve come off as dumb. Happily, it’s clever and fun.
  9. Draft Day. As an NFL fan, I enjoyed the football parts of the movie. The flyover shots of the stadiums were beautiful.
  10. Into The Woods. Sondheim songs and a mighty cast. A pure delight.

Chef

Chef is a film that fills me with joy. The food is gorgeous, the music is superb, the characters are (mostly) likeable and this redemption story is neatly presented. This movie is a good time.

Jon Favreau is the cinematic chef for this delicious entrée. He wrote it. He directed it. And he stars as chef Carl Casper, a man with a passion for cooking.

In Chef, the Los Angeles restaurant where Carl cooks is about to get a visit from noted food blogger Ramsay Michel (Oliver Platt). Carl is ready to prepare a creative menu when the restaurant’s owner (Dustin Hoffman) intercedes and orders Carl to cook the same menu the restaurant has featured (successfully) for a decade.

When Michel rips Carl for serving the same old same old, Carl is upset. When he sees that Michel’s slam has been shared on Twitter, he replies obscenely, not knowing how Twitter works. (In real life Favreau is a Twitter master with 1.71 million followers.)

Carl asks for a re-do and invites Michel to come back and let him cook what he wanted to cook in the first place. The owner steps in again and says no, causing Carl to walk out. But he walks back in during dinner service, and launches into a dining room tirade against the critic that is captured on iPhones and shared across the internet.

Any creative person who’s every wanted to rip into a critic for knocking their work, but had the self-control to resist, can appreciate watching Carl rage out of control.

With his career wrecked after this fit of anger, his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) invites him to join her and their son Percy (Emjay Anthony) in Miami. Shortly after arriving, Carl visits Inez’ previous ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr.) who gifts Carl with a commercial van that he converts into a food truck.

With an assist from his LA kitchen staffer Martin (John Leguizamo) he equips the truck and begins selling Cuban sandwiches on South Beach. Along with Percy, they take the truck to acknowledged food meccas New Orleans and Austin, before coming home to LA and a storybook ending.

Scarlett Johansson appears as the LA restaurant’s hostess and Carl’s girlfriend. Russell Peters has a funny turn as a Miami cop who wants to take selfies galore with Carl and his food truck crew.

For foodies and those in the food and beverage industry, Chef is a “must see.” Favreau shows great respect for those who cook in Chef. He captures the passion that the best chefs (and kitchen staffs) bring to work every day and night. Impressively, he has good knife skills. That’s no stunt double chopping carrots.

Chef gets a special commendation, too, for getting social media right. Twitter helped bring about Carl Casper’s downfall. And, as anyone who owns a food truck will confirm, Twitter is a valuable tool for telling people where you’ll be parked and serving next. Young Percy is the chef’s social media guru whose Twitter savvy brings crowds to the truck’s windows as soon as they open. Twitter giveth and Twitter taketh away, as Chef clearly shows.

I promise that if you see Chef on an empty stomach, you’ll leave hungry. And I bet you will also walk out happy. Chef is a tasty treat. Savor it!