Movie reviews: Chef; and The Hundred-Foot Journey

chef-uoWARNING: do NOT got to the movie Chef if you’re hungry. The Wife and I saw this film Sunday at The Spectrum Theatre in Albany, and we were practically salivating by the end. We’ve seen a lot of foodie movies, notably the classic Big Night, and this was among the best. I mean, a grilled cheese sandwich looked “to die for.”

Moreover, the music was great. The Wife is chair dancing, in the theater, and she is not traditionally a chair dancer. (I am in my office, but I was too.)

Chef Carl Casper (the movie’s writer/director/co-producer Jon Favreau) is a high-powered chef at a chic Los Angeles restaurant, has a good crew (John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale), and an ambiguous thing with Molly (Scarlett Johansson), who runs the front. If he could only ignore the controlling owner (Dustin Hoffman), life would be great.

OK, not so great. His work ethic has wrecked his marriage to Inez (Sofia Vergara) and has strained his relationship with their young son Percy (a very solid Emjay Anthony).

I could explain more, but all I’ll say is that the Oliver Platt and Robert Downey, Jr. characters play important roles in what comes next in the film, which is a relationship movie, a road movie – did I mention the food? The Wife thought the first half could have been tighter, and some critics agreed, but I liked it all. A scene involving Carl and Molly was very sensuous, but it involved no sex, only food. The film is rated R, largely for language, which is salty.

hundred-foot-journey-quadThen on Wednesday we saw The Hundred-Foot Journey, about a family forced to leave India, who ended up in a little town in France, aided by fate and a young woman named Marguerite (the lovely Charlotte Le Bon).

This is another food movie, as the papa (Om Puri) decides to open a restaurant VERY close (see title) to a Michelin star restaurant, much to the resistance of his family, even his culinarily-gifted son Hassan (Manish Dayal) and his siblings. But open it they do, much to the consternation of the competing establishment’s head, Madame Mallory (the always great Helen Mirren).

There’s a bunch of stuff about intolerance and acceptance, and a fun little war between Madame and Papa. Marguerite is often enigmatic. But by the time Hassan makes a major breakthrough, you know how the film is going to conclude. And given the long exposition at the front end, it was a difficult film for me to love.

I mean it was fine, it was nice, it looked nice – filming in India and France helps. The language was much cleaner than Chef, rated PG. It’s your basic 2 1/2 to 3 star film; 65% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. It was like a movie you might expect to be produced by Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, which, with Juliet Blake, it was. But while there was lots of delicious food, it wasn’t filmed as beautifully as the cuisine in Chef, and I cannot explain, on a technical level, why.

I wish I had seen these movies in the opposite order.

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