The director who used elaborate special effects to make Iron Man soar through the night sky and a spaceship land in the Wild West says, “there is nothing more cinematic and exciting than watching food be prepared.”
Jon Favreau, helmer of blockbusters like Iron Man 1 and 2 and Cowboys & Aliens, adds, “Modestly budgeted films like Eat Drink Man Woman or Jiro Dreams of Sushi are as compelling as any big budgeted Hollywood movie.”
In his new film Chef (which he wrote, directed, produced and stars in), Favreau plays Carl Casper, a chef set on a new culinary path after an influential food critic gives his restaurant a savage review.
The nugget of inspiration for the movie came two decades ago when Swingers, another film Favreau wrote and starred in, became a hit.
“The Big Night came out the year Swingers did,” he says, “and I remember seeing that film and feeling like they had really accomplished so much. With Swingers we had certain modest accomplishments. I was satisfied with it, but Big Night felt like a movie and felt like they had captured something larger.
“Maybe that was in the back of my head for the last 20 years. There was an envy that I had of what they were able to accomplish with the music, the culture, the performances, the food and how delightful it was. So I finally got to make my food movie.”
In those 20 years, Favreau has been in the Hollywood trenches as a producer, director, actor and writer and is quick to note the similarities and differences between the story of Chef and his real-life work in the movie business.
“The archetypes of the players on the stage in the food world and the movie world are very similar,” he says.
“The stakes are a bit higher in the food world, which is why it is dramatically appealing. One bad review can shut you down. Right now, the way reviews work in movies is that you’re reading 90 reviews. It’s all on Rotten Tomatoes, a compilation of numbers and you don’t really have that personal relationship with a specific critic as you do in the theatre world or the food world. In the food world you are eye-to-eye with that critic and you are eye-to-eye with the customer and when that food gets sent back to the kitchen you are looking at that plate. It’s a lot different.”
Favreau’s next film is a live-action remake of The Jungle Book, but he says he’ll likely flip-flop between big- and small-budget films in future.
“If I knew I could come up with a small story that I’d be excited about, next year I’d do this again but honestly, it hasn’t been since Swingers that I’ve been able to sit down and write something so fully formed so quickly.
“I somewhat envy the filmmakers who can come up with a small story each year because this was the best experience I’ve ever had.”
Chefs are the Food Network’s stock in trade. From Bobby Flay to Giada De Laurentiis, and Iron Chef to Top Chef, the delicious channel has created a cult of celebrity around the people who make our food.
A new film, Chef, takes a celebrity, actor Jon Favreau, and casts him as a restaurateur who has lost his way and desperately wants to reclaim his cooking cred.
In the film, he plays Carl Casper, a Los Angeles chef who hightails it to his Miami hometown when his fancy restaurant gets a scathing review from an online food critic (Oliver Platt). There he buys El Jefe Cubanos, a food truck he plans on driving across the country with his son (Emjay Anthony).
High on food porn — there’s even a shrimp scampi seduction scene — and Cuban sandwich recipes, Chef is a movie that may whet audience appetites for other movies about the people that make our food.
In The Big Night, Stanley Tucci plays Secondo, owner of an Italian restaurant called Paradise. The place is slowly going broke but may get a boost from a visit by singer Louis Prima. If Prima shows up, the restaurant will have a big night and be saved from bankruptcy.
It’s not only one of the greatest food movies ever made (you’ll want to go for risotto afterward) but it also features what Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called “an unforgettable acting duet” between Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, who plays his temperamental chef brother, “that is as richly authentic as the food.”
Ratatouille takes a different approach. An unusual cross between America’s Next Top Chef and Willard, the Pixar movie does something no other film has been able to (not that a lot have tried): It makes rats cute. Lovable, even.
The story of a cooking rat is chef and TV presenter Anthony Bourdain’s favourite food film. “They got the food, the reactions to food, and tiny details to food really right,” said The Taste host, “down to the barely noticeable pink burns on one of the character’s forearms. I really thought it captured a passionate love of food in a way that very few other films have.”
Real chefs are featured in the documentary Spinning Plates. Weaving together three stories from a trio of very different restaurateurs, the film shows the personal and professional side of the food biz as well as the connection to the community that’s so important for success.
It cuts through the Food Network’s simplistic food-family-and-feelings approach with a tagline that sums up its philosophy: “It’s not what you cook. It’s why.”
Is Stanley Tucci the busiest actor in Hollywood? This year alone added five movies to his IMDB page with five more in the pipeline for 2014.
This weekend in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, he plays Caesar Flickerman, the elaborately coiffured host of The Hunger Games television broadcasts. Despite being disguised with wild wigs, fake teeth and plenty of bronzer, it is unmistakably Tucci, one of the most interesting actors working today.
He made his big screen debut in the 1985 gangster comedy Prizzi’s Honor followed by several years of dues-paying stage work and movie roles like Second Dock Worker in Who’s That Girl before landing recurring spots on Miami Vice and Wiseguy.
A succession of supporting roles lead to the one-two punch that made him a name actor. Producer Steven Bochco’s television drama Murder One cast Tucci as Richard Cross, a Machiavellian multi-millionaire accused of the strangulation of a 15-year-old girl.
The following year a much different part earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best actor. In The Big Night he plays Secondo, owner of an Italian restaurant called Paradise. The place is slowly going broke but may get a boost from a visit by singer Louis Prima. If Prima shows up the restaurant will have a big night and be saved from bankruptcy.
It’s not only one of the greatest food movies ever made — you’ll want to go for risotto afterward — but it also features what Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called “an unforgettable acting duet” between Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, who plays his temperamental chef brother, “that is as richly authentic as the food.”
Since then Tucci has played everything from villains — strangling a Supreme Court justice in The Pelican Brief — to a flamboyant nightclub manager in Burlesque, to the God of wine Dyonisius in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Opposite just Meryl Streep alone he’s played everything from a gay art director in The Devil Wears Prada to Julia Child’s loving diplomat husband Paul in Julie & Julia.
In 2010 he received his first (but probably not last) Oscar nomination for his work in The Lovely Bones. He played the murderous Mr. Harvey, all twitchy movements and squeaky voice; he was Norman Bates without the overbearing mom.
“I don’t like to watch things about serial killers or kids getting hurt,” he said, “but this was something beyond that. It was an exploration of loss and hope.”