Burnt (2015)

A friend enjoys food-related films, so what can I say, I went along to see Burnt despite its almost uniformly terrible reviews. Therefore my first observation is that the end product is nowhere near as bad as those suggest. Of course it’s still essentially that — Hollywood product, albeit set in London and ticking off a lot of the tourist views of that city — but it coasts by on the charisma of its lead actors, all of whose work I enjoyed even if they’re hardly stretching themselves. If it’s a “comedy”-drama, then the comedy is in the broad strokes; I wouldn’t call it laugh-out-loud funny or anything. It’s more of a character study of one borderline-unstable man trying to find himself by learning to work with and trust other people. The film’s greatest weakness then is undoubtedly in the screenplay. The characters are stock and overly familiar (Gordon Ramsay is an executive producer, and Bradley Cooper’s Adam Jones isn’t far from his own carefully-constructed and endlessly-repeated media stereotype of the highly-strung rebellious bad-boy chef). The exposition, too, is wretchedly clunky, with characters like Omar Sy’s sous-chef Michel expected to recount their past dealings with Adam when meeting him, so as to catch us all up (oh sure, Adam’s drink/drug-fuelled youth is called on as a reason why this is necessary, but it’s a thin veneer). There’s lots of tedious to-do about Michelin stars, which as someone who used to care about such things when eating out is boring enough (I’m so done with tasting menus by the by), but will surely be of less than no interest to the rest of us (Jon Favreau’s Chef dealt with street food last year, which may not have been any less predictable a script, but it was at least a more likeable milieu). Worst of all is Adam’s hackneyed character arc, plotted out with plodding predictability, as he learns to work with others, repair his relationships, learn to temper his controlling behaviour, blah blah blah. But it all looks very nice, the actors have an easy charm, and I quite like workplace dramas even if every plot point here is punctuated by food p0rn.

Burnt film posterCREDITS
Director John Wells; Writer Steven Knight (based on a story by Michael Kalesniko); Cinematographer Adriano Goldman; Starring Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, Omar Sy; Length 101 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Saturday 7 November 2015.


あん An (Sweet Bean, 2015)

BFI London Film Festival This film was presented at the London Film Festival. There was no introduction or Q&A afterwards.

Naomi Kawase had a film out in the UK earlier this year (Still the Water), and judging from the two films side by side, she has an affinity for a sort of nature-based spiritualism, with evocations of the trees and the moon looming large for her characters. This aspect, however, is more muted in An, which focuses more clearly on two characters: Sentaro (Nagase Masatoshi), a chef making Japanese sweets (dorayaki, pancakes with a red bean paste centre, the latter of which is the an of the film’s un-googleable title) at a roadside canteen, and the elderly woman Tokue (Kirin Kiki) who drops by to offer to help him make the bean paste. Of course, one can sense the direction of the film fairly easily from the outset, as Sentaro at first resists the advances of Tokue and then at length gives in when he finally tastes her an, and it certainly plays well on a sentimental level. Yet this is generally underplayed and never overcomes the film, which remains resolutely low-key and gentle. Over its running time, it becomes clear that both these central characters, for all their differences, share a history of entrapment, which provides the film’s emotional payoff. Yet An never forces itself on the viewer with any urgency, preferring a narrative of gentle undulations, and when seen alongside other festival films dwelling on emotional alienation and terror, it’s quite a refreshing experience.

Sweet Bean film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Naomi Kawase 河瀨直美 (based on the novel by Durian Sukegawa ドリアン助川); Cinematographer Shigeki Akiyama 穐山茂樹; Starring Kirin Kiki 樹木希林, Nagase Masatoshi 永瀬正敏; Length 113 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank, London, Thursday 15 October 2015.

Chef (2014)

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW || Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Saturday 28 June 2014 || My Rating 3.5 stars very good

© Open Road Films

I’ve lived in London for just over ten years now, and if you’ve known me over that time, you’ll know I’ve put on a bit of weight. I’m pretty sure it’s not from lack of exercise, though having a job (and a hobby!) that involves sitting down all day probably doesn’t help. No, I suspect it’s because I like food, and anyone who also likes food (especially if they live in a large metropolitan area) can scarcely have failed to notice the rise of food trucks over the last decade as a delivery mechanism for more than just ice cream and hot dogs. You can get just about anything from trucks these days. In some American cities (like their spiritual heartland in the Pacific Northwest), they are often to be found rotating around a set of fixed locations (‘pods’, if you will) and turning up at all kinds of outdoor, beer or food festivals. Indeed, the concept of ‘street food’ has really taken off, especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. So this new film starring and directed by my compatriot in girthfulness, Jon Favreau, can at the very least be said to be on-trend.

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