Review – Is This Movie Gluten Free? (“Chef”)

Chef? No, silly, this isn’t a movie about South Park’s elementary school cafeteria cook! It’s a movie about pursuing your dreams, no matter how ridiculous they are and how nothing bad is going to happen to you along the way to stop you!

*

Written, directed, and starring Iron Man movie fav Jon Favreau, we have the simple, yet fun story of a cantankerous master chef named Carl Casper (Favreau) who works in a swanky L.A. restaurant. But he’s tired of the owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman), and his narrow-minded attitude concerning the existing menu. Carl wants to add new and exciting food that’s he’s created, but Riva will have none of it. This really aggravates Carl when Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), a prestigious critic and blogger comes to eat in his restaurant and dines on the same ‘ol same ‘ol, consequently giving Carl a horrible review online the next day.

Molly (Scarlett Johansson), the restaurant hostess and line cook, Martin (John Leguizamo) tell him everything’s going to be okay, but it’s not. Carl gets on Twitter, thanks to his 10-year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony) and tells Ramsey to come back for a REAL meal! But, stubborn to the hilt, Riva refuses to change the menu for that night and Carl quits on the spot. Ramsey tweets that Carl still cooks lousy and Carl comes back and berates the reviewer so badly that the video tirade goes viral! Now Carl is broke, un-hirable, and a YouTube sensation… for all the wrong reasons.

Fortunately, Carl’s gorgeous and wealthy ex-wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara) has a solution: let’s go to Miami and ask her first husband, Marvin (Robert Downey, Jr) for a old food truck that he can convert into what he always wanted. . . a mobile restaurant where he can cook WHAT he wants and WHERE he wants. He agrees and with Percy and Martin as partners, they decide on cooking “cubanos”, a Cuban sandwich, along with other Latin specialties. Carl teaches Percy how to cook and in return, Percy (a tweeting and social media mastermind) tells everyone that his dad is back in business as “El Jefe” and touring the country from Florida to New Orleans to Texas to L.A., serving up delicious eats along the way. And the people love it!

Finally back in L.A., and the business taking off, who should appear than none other than food critic Ramsey Michel?! He’s so impressed with Carl’s yummy food that he’s willing to bankroll Carl and his food truck into a full-blown restaurant where he can cook what he wants anytime! And he does!

Yeah, it’s a happy ending. I mean a REAL happy ending. It’s SO happy, in fact, I thought I missed something along the way. There were no real plot complications in the main story and I counted at least 50 different ways where the plot could have gone askew, but didn’t. No car crashes, no one goes to jail, no father/son blow-up’s, no life threatening cuts or injuries, I mean, nothing BAD happens! Oh sure, Carl has his moments of doubt, but hey, in the next scene they’re solved! Tah-daahhh! I could hear Ren of Ren and Stimpy chanting “Happy, happy, joy, joy”.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I like a nice “feel good” movie as much as the next person, but I’d like SOME harrowing act to get me there! Aside from the plot holes and some bad continuity errors, it’s a cute self-gratifying movie that Favreau has made here with his friends that is wrapped around the world of food, cooking, and food truckin’.

I gotta tell ya, I did get rather peckish watching the delicious dishes being prepared and served on screen and wanted to chow down on those cubanos sandwiches, which looked extraordinarily tasty. The cast were all having fun with their roles, especially Leguizamo and Vergara, who get to speak quite a bit in their native tongue. And the short scene with Downey, Jr and Favreau looked fun and improv’d.

Like Water For Chocolate (1992)

*

You know how eating some foods can make you feel incredible? Hawkeye Pierce on TV’s M*A*S*H once remarked to Radar that “Adam’s Ribs (from Chicago) are so good, they’re better than sex!” Yeah, food can do that. But what if it could do something else?

In Spanish with English subtitles, this Mexican import won a staggering 11 Ariel Awards (the Mexican Academy Awards) and became the highest grossing Spanish-language film ever released in the United States. And for good reason.

We start with Tita (Lumi Cavazos), who is forbidden to marry. Period. So, when Pedro (Marco Leonardi), the boy she has fallen in love with, comes to ask for Tita’s hand in marriage, Tita’s mother, Mama Elena (Regina Torne) refuses. However, Mama Elena does offer her other daughter, Rosaura (Yareli Arizmendi) and Pedro accepts in order to be closer to Tita. Sounds logical, right?

Tita who has these, shall we say, interesting cooking skills, bakes the wedding cake with her own tears. Tears of sadness and despair which causes vomiting, crying, and a feeling of her longing for their true love in all those who eat it.

A year later, Tita’s emotions and passion get into her cooking and transfers it to her sister, Gertrudis (Claudette Maillie) who, overcome with lust, attempts to cool down by taking a shower and then runs off naked in the desert, only to be scooped up by a passing revolutionary soldier! That’s one lucky soldier!

Anyway, Tita soon forms a relationship with Dr. Brown (Mario Ivan Martinez) after recovering from an illness and reluctantly marries him after Mama Elena is killed by revolutionaries. But while Dr. Brown is called away, Pedro and Tita succumb to their emotions and sleep together. Mama Elena, not be outdone even in death, returns to haunt Tita, convincing her that she is pregnant with Pedro’s child. Geez! What a nasty mum! That night, Gertrudis returns to the ranch as a general with her revolutionary husband. She helps Tita banish Mama Elena and helps Tita realize that it was all just an imaginary pregnancy.

Upon Dr. Brown’s return, Tita confesses that she slept with another man and they divorce. Twenty years pass, Rosaura has died, and Pedro confesses to Tita that he still loves her, and wants to marry her. Tita and Pedro then make love, but Pedro dies just as he has an orgasm. Damn! Tita then swallows some matches, which erupt in flames inside her, setting her and the entire ranch on fire. Seriously, that’s how this movie ends!

Directed beautifully by Alphonso Arau (who also acts as well – he was “El Guapo” in The Three Amigos), the screenplay was written by Laura Esquivel, based on her 1989 novel. Not too shabby for a first time novelist! Yes, it’s a soap opera; a Tele-Novella, if you will. But, the story has such an quirky, unusal twist to it with the cooking and mystical aspect, that I didn’t mind the wild romantic overtones. Plus you have great actors and some extraordinary cinematography by Steven Bernstein and Emmanuel Lubezi. You just can’t go wrong with this movie. Rent it. You won’t be disappointed.

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