Sunday, June 26, 2011

Movies for Noshing

Every once in a while a friend and I get together for movie night. There’s usually little or no rhyme or reason to the movies we pick other than we think we will both enjoy them. Last night into today we had another movie night and this time my friend suggested we use a theme. As I received both Julie and Julia and Eat, Pray, Love for Christmas (and haven’t watched either yet), I immediately thought of food-related movies as our theme. We ended up rolling with it as we both came up with other choices after racking our brains a bit and doing a bit of searching on the web. While we ended up watching only a handful of the many movies we came up with, I thought it might be useful to throw our entire list up on the web for other foodies looking for movies. So here is the list in alphabetical order (asterisks next to the ones we actually watched, with some comments about each of these below the list):

- Babette’s Feast

- Big Night*

- Bread & Tulips

- Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

- Chocolat

- Coffee & Cigarettes*

- Diner*

- Eat Drink, Man Woman

- Eat, Pray, Love

- Fast Food Nation

- Flakes*

- Food, Inc.

- Fried Green Tomatoes*

- Joy Luck Club

- Julie & Julia

- Like Water for Chocolate

- Mildred Pierce

- My Dinner with Andre

- Mystic Pizza*

- Nina’s Heavenly Delights

- Ratatouille

- Soul Food*

- Soul Kitchen

- Super Size Me

- Tale of Despereaux

- Tortilla Soup

- What's Cooking?

- Waitress

- What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

- When Fish Fall in Love

- Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

Some are these are more tangentially related to food (i.e., What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) whereas others do very much have food at the center of the movie (i.e., Like Water for Chocolate). And some of them, like Fast Food Nation are just not ones to watch while snacking.

About the ones we did watch:

Big Night

Basic plot: Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Stanley Tucci) are brothers who emigrated from Italy to the U.S. to start a restaurant that is now on its last legs. A neighboring restaurateur tells them that having a celebrity visit their restaurant will help create the buzz needed to save their business and offers to send his friend, jazz musician Louis Prima, to dine there.

I think this was probably the most popular one of the night … or maybe just the one I liked the most ;) This is a “slice of life” kind of movie with the viewer being privy only to a few days in the brothers’ lives. Nevertheless, there’s enough in these few days to come to know and care for the two characters along with a host of other people involved in their lives. There are numerous funny moments throughout the movie, superb acting by the two leads, and food scenes to make you long to find the nearest authentic Italian restaurant serving timpano. 5/5 stars for this one.


Basic plot: ?

We began this movie and gave up on within the first 20 minutes or so. As far as I could tell, there was no plot line or conflict introduced in that time, just a bunch of immature guys meeting up at the local diner and making raunchy comments (and bets, how charming!) about women.


Basic plot: A New Orleans café serving cereal faces competition when a rip-off restaurant opens across the street. The plot thickens when the manager of the original restaurant has a fight with his girlfriend, which results in her taking a job at the new restaurant.

While not a cinematic masterpiece, this was an entertaining with numerous amusing moments. It had its fair share of quirky characters (with Zooey Deschanel basically re-hashing every other character I’ve seen her play in the past) although oddly enough, hardly any of the characters had a Louisiana accent despite the movie being set there. This movie certainly meets the definition of “feel good” and leaves you pining for a real-life cereal café near your home.

Mystic Pizza

Basic plot: Three young women who work as waitresses in a local pizzeria enjoy the highs and experience the lows of falling in love.

We both fell asleep somewhere mid-way this movie and woke up to keep watching it without feeling like we missed anything (not a good sign in a movie). Julia Roberts, who I generally don’t care for much as an actress, was over the top in her brash “badass” girl characterization. None of the men presented as love interests were particularly appealing; the happy ending felt very much tacked on just to be there; and the pervading 80s-ness of the movie was bound to make it unappealing (although somewhat amusing) for me. Interesting for having a minor appearance by a then-very-young Matt Damon in one scene, and that’s about all…

Coffee and Cigarettes

Basic plot: Groups of two or three celebrities meet over coffee (or sometimes tea) and cigarettes and discuss such odd topics as genealogy, Tesla coils, and Elvis Presley’s supposed twin brother.

You have to go into this one knowing it’s going to be odd, quirky, and not a standard featured film. The movie is just full of these short vignettes of celebrities having awkward conversations with each other about random things. (Check out the trailer on this one for a feel for it.)

However, knowing exactly what I was going in for, and more often than not preferring the quirky to the predictable standard, I loved it. I found it laugh aloud funny at parts and enjoyed when certain lines would keep coming back (i.e., the frequent admonishment that coffee and cigarettes isn’t a healthy lunch; the suggestion that drinking coffee before bed would cause NASCAR rapid dreams to occur; etc.). Although everyone had interesting bits to play, I particularly enjoyed these sketches: Jack White and Meg White discussing Tesla coils; Roberto Benigni thanking Steven Wright for passing off his dentist appointment on him; Tom Waits reading insults into every conversation piece Iggy Pop tries to start; and Alfred Molina being thrilled to find that Steve Coogan is his distant cousin while Coogan rebuffs any attempt to get to know him better.

Overall, I liked this one a lot, although it’s not for everyone (and one of those ones that’s only tangentially related to food).

Soul Food

Basic plot: Three sisters and their families experience ups and downs in life while coming together for Sunday dinners.

So many good things in this one: all-star cast with excellent acting; great storytelling; adorable child narrator (who sees too much but who also is the linchpin in the family, perhaps as a result); a warm message about the power of family and tradition; and even an enjoyable soundtrack.

But on the down side, I found myself analyzing the underlying themes a bit too much. There was very much the undercurrent that the women’s roles were to prepare meals, please their men, and have children. The only one who strays from this in the least bit, Teri (Vanessa Williams), comes across as cold, is admonished for not ‘taking care of her own husband’ (also noted early on that she should tread lightly as she’s already on husband number two), and is slighted as not being a good cook even though she is also seen in the kitchen working on the big Sunday dinners. The relationship between Bird (Nia Long) and Lem (Mekhi Phifer) is particularly troublesome – Lem refuses to allow Bird to help him find a job because as he and Bird’s sister Maxine (Vivica A. Fox) put it, a man needs to feel like a man and find his own job (apparently, that means the woman he is married to and who shares in his woes or fortunes should not have any say in the matter). When Lem finds out Bird arranges a job for him behind his back, he throws a fit and bursts into her salon, shattering the glass door and pushing her around. He later admits to pushing her but defends himself by saying he would never hit her. Yikes. If that doesn’t paint a scary portrait of days of ahead…

Soul Food ends up being a fine example of how a movie can pass the Bechdel test and still not be a feminist movie. Despite my objections to the portrayal of women, I can’t argue that it’s an unrealistic picture; it’s just not the one I prefer to see. Still, I’d give the movie four out of five stars for all the positive points.

Fried Green Tomatoes

Basic plot: Evelyn (Kathy Bates) and Mrs. Threadgoode (Jessica Tandy) form an unlikely friendship as Mrs. Threadgoode tells stories about her family past, revolving around tomboy Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson) and good girl Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) who were partners in the Whistle Stop Café.

We didn’t get to this one on movie night but as I already had it rented, I decided to watch it again. The first time I saw this, I was a pre-teen and some of it was probably over my head at the time (although I surprisingly remembered a decent amount since that last viewing, perhaps aided by having read the book five years ago or so). What astounds me about this movie is how it is essentially about two sets of female friendships (albeit skirting for now the issue of whether Idgie and Ruth were more than friends) and yet covers a vast deal of heavy ground including death and grief, domestic abuse, religion, homelessness and poverty (the scene of Idgie and Ruth tossing food out of a train car to hungry families actually brought tears to my eyes, which does not happen often), civil rights and the KKK, and so on. So many things are perfect in this movie – the excellent storytelling, the impeccable cinematography, and the superb acting by all but especially by Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker. When the movie ended, I was struck by a desire to read the book again to spend more time with these characters.

In contrast to Soul Food, I was much happier by the portrayal of women here because even those who were treated badly learned to stand up for themselves. Unfortunately, however, I do feel that Fried Green Tomatoes might be a bit more wishful thinking and Soul Food a bit more realistic but as life sometimes initiates art (especially of the pop culture variety), I’d like to see more movies of the Fried Green Tomatoes type to encourage women to be brave and live without husbands that push them around.

Not to end on a sad note of downtrodden women, I will add that another themed movie night was suggested – childhood movies. Among the ones thrown out there were The Sandlot, The Babysitter’s Club, and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles. More on this to come if it bears to fruition…. (and suggestions welcome in the meantime!)

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