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Food on Film: Julie and Julia

5 Dec

Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Nora Ephron's Julie & Julia. Photograph c/o Guardian: Jonathan Wenk/PR

Using a complex algorithm, I have  determined that the absolute worst Meryl Streep picture is still 92.7% better than the best Sharon Stone film, so imagine my pleasure at discovering that she had taken on the role of Julia Child- the pioneering TV chef, master of French Cuisine, who also having been enrolled in the school of espionage services, was a World War 2 Spy!

Together with the intensely likeable Amy Adams, who plays Julie Powell, a thirty-something who found fame by blogging along as she cooked her way though Child’s most famous work, the 730-odd page ‘Mastering the Art of French cooking’ in her tiny apartment kitchen, they star in Nora Ephron’s flick about ambition, love, identity, success and, of course, cooking.

The film intertwines 1950s Paris with Twenty-First century Queens, New York and shows both women, restlessly trying to figure out what it is they should do with their lives that will make them excited and content.  It’s mostly a gentle, glamorous affair with very little conflict, but there are heartbreaking moments – Julia Child’s inability to have children made me cry like a baby, and when her husband (played by the wonderful  Stanley Tucci) declared: “you are the butter to my bread, you are the breath to my life” I am afraid there were hankies at the ready once more.

It’s a perfect Sunday afternoon film. I suggest you lock yourself indoors, get a thick winter stew bubbling on your stove, wrap up in a duvet and tuck in: mouthwatering chocolate cream pie, beef bourguignonne and buttery lobster awaits.

 

Food on Film: Fight Club

28 Feb

What Would Tyler Durden Do?

This blistering movie from 1999 is based on one of my all-time favourite books – the taut and beautiful debut by Chuck Palahniuk – and features incendiary performances from Ed Norton, Helena Bonham-Carter and one seriously ripped Brad Pitt.

The direction from Fincher is slick and whip-smart and evokes the bleak, sleep-walking dystopia of the narrator.  The film, like the book,  swipes at the sterility of modernity. At marketing and adverts.  At corporations. At family breakdown.  We see the anti-hero’s rebellion, his despair , his breakdown and his twisted romance with Marla Singer.

His critique of IKEA-living really smarts.  The lament when we enter his condo: “How embarrassing… a house full of condiments and no food” really cuts. Who hasn’t opened their own fridge, or seen berkish celebrities on Cribs, displaying jars of mustards and dressings, booze and snacks, but not a stick of proper food? He questions “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” exposing my own flirtation with design-porn.  I have been guilty of pouting when not being able to afford my dream cup-and-saucer-set. Can this be right?

He notes “Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends.” And who hasn’t felt queasy when seeing one of those “frozen Roast dinners for One” in the supermarket and considering the bleak circumstances in which you would eat one yourself.

The narrator also rallies against the injustice of the service industry.  We hear about how Tyler’s guerrilla activities.  About how: “Apart from seasoning the lobster bisque, he farted on the meringue, sneezed on braised endive, and as for the cream of mushroom soup, well…” and we’re asked to consider how we interact with those who serve us. Those who we pay to wait our tables and process our insurance application forms.  This film certainly makes us question what has happened to the food we order when we eat out (GULP) and it may also make us think about much much more. A perfect movie.

Food on Film: Goodbye Lenin!

13 Feb

He knew how to have a (Communist) Party..

This German movie, from 2003, is a sweet-and-sad comedy in which a widow – a politically active defender of the GDR -falls into a coma and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her son Alex and daughter Ariane try to conceal this from her, scared the shock will finish her off, and in doing so are stretched to preposterous lengths to recreate the old East which is also falling away around them.

Alex learns to recreate her favourite – and utterly naff – tv programmes and tirelessly scouts out vile and outdated foodstuffs – including pretty grim looking pickled gherkins.

It’s a film that conjours up the time of a food not just the place. It’s easy to think about foods of a place (the best pasta I ever ate in Sienna one dusty Summer or the first time I tried pho in a dirty hot cafe in Hanoi) but sometimes it’s poignant and fun to think about food that was eaten years ago, rather than miles away.

For me it’s the Findus Crispy Pancake (eeuuuurgh), the utterly amazing Artic Roll, or the slightly crapper Vienetta.  Tutti-frutti Gino Genelli made a big impact on me when I was little, and in retrospect it would seem that I ate alot of icecream. I remember begging my mum to buy slices of processed ham that had cartoon characters formed into the meat –  Jeez : how gross! – and spending what could have been hours in the local newsagent trying to work out the most ingenious combination to maximise my pocket money on penny sweets and pic n’mix.  It’s strange to think of  all of these flavours, some of them questionable, which are lost now.

Food on Film: Amelie

31 Jan

A fabulous little lady

I was absolutely gobsmacked when I first saw this whimsical and beautiful 2001 French movie. Audrey Tautou portrays Amelie, a beautiful lady living a solitary but fantastic life in Montmartre. She works in a cafe, brimming with eccentrics and spends her days looking after others – whilst she dwells in her own romantic otherworld – before falling in love with an enigmatic and magical young man, seen loitering around the photobooths of Paris.

And Paris – it has never looked more tantalising: blue skys heavy with fluffy white clouds, small steamy cafes on cobbled streets and market stalls stacked high with fruit. The food is a star in itself: sugarplum icecream, roasted chickens, crunchy crème brulees. This film always makes my heart swell.

Food on Film: Willy Wonker and the Chocolate Factory

28 Jan

Oompa Loompas scare me.

Johnny Depp is awesome, that cannot be denied. It’s a FACT. Yet as good as he is, and as much as I love him and Tim Burton for that matter, the best Willy Wonker has to be the original one, played by Gene Wilder, as a lunatic confectioner. Roald Dahl was always my favourite growing up and it was because he understood what children can be like (spiteful, petulant, greedy and nasty, and that’s just the good ones, boom boom) and what motivates them: getting one over authority figures, keeping out of trouble and above all, sweeties!! In this eccentric and downright mental movie, we meet Charlie Bucket, a good but poor kid who wins a trip to the chocolate factory and meets a procession of horrid children: Augustus gloop, violet Beauregard and mike teevee: one and all are amazingly awful little brats!

So, the food. The food. We have gum that tastes like a three-course dinner: with a roast beef main!, a deep and gloopy chocolate river, everlasting gobstoppers, geese that lay golden eggs, lickable wallpaper, Scrumpdiddlyumptious bars.  It’s a feast for the ears as well as the belly. I remember wanting to walk through the candy village with edible toadstools more than ANYTHING EVER when I was little and nothing has changed since then. This film puts the joy into food and inventiveness into scoffing. It also teaches you to be a very, very good child and do as you’re told. A valuable lesson for sure.

Food on Film: Sideways

27 Jan

...glug glug glug...

If there is anything that can rival good food in getting me excited it’s wine: good or bad. I am a complete peasant when it comes to wine and will generally knock anything back. In University I very happily worked my way through a box of Blue Nun and even when I go to France I manage to plump for the cheapo nasty bottles. But there is something about wine that produces a strange giddiness in me- a feeling that is at once hyper and also laconic- which I love.
This 2004 movie is one of my all-time favourites which explores food and drink, friendship and love and the way that life, with its string-pearl disappointments can break your heart. The main character Miles (the stunning Paul Giamatti) a wine-o, a lazy teacher and a struggling novelist, who together with his plucky best friend – the awesome Thomas Haden Church – drives through California, guzzling wine, cheating, eating and getting into trouble. The film tenderly explores how food and wine binds us to our relationships, Maya talks about how when you drink a glass of wine you can reflect on the pursuits you were following at the time the grapes were growing. It is lush and mean and funny and poignant. The lines “I’m not drinking any f**king merlot” and “are you chewing gum” nearly had me spitting out my pinot! A celebration of the imperfections and generosity of life.

Food on Film: Tampopo

24 Jan
Noodle Western

I haven’t seen this 1985 “Japanese noodle western” in a long time. And my memory is a little hazy. What I do remember though, is that it is a film in love, indeed, obsessed with food. Two guys set upon coming up with the perfect noodle bar and along the way we discover all kinds of culinary treats and fetishes. I had never seen food like it.  Forever with me is a scene where a gangster and his moll share a raw egg. Passionate and bizarre. I need to buy it again as my dusty old VHS copy is useless but just thinking about it makes me hanker after tasty Asian scoff.

Food on Film:Napoleon Dynamite

22 Jan
Gosh.

The eponymous dorky teenager in this movie rocks some awesome clothes, busts some incredible moves and has some incredible lines. Gosh. And he also eats some of the oddest, beige-coloured, food ever committed to celluloid. Whether it’s him eating ‘tots’ at his desk, feeding his llama – Tina the fat lard – or getting slapped in the face with a steak, what I would give to eat a meal with him and Pedro, just once (probably wouldn’t want second portions)… Apparently, every dish shown during the opening credits is eaten by a character later in the movie. Skills.

Food on Film: Like Water for Chocolate

20 Jan

This feast for the senses, a Mexican flick from 1992, shows a girl Tita who’s dreary life, spent cooking for her mother, is enflamed by her love for a young moustachio-d man.

When Tita’s mother refuses to let the couple get together, Tita takes revenge by expressing her passion through her food. In one scene she cooks a meal and is overcome with sadness. She weeps into the pot as she cooks. Later when her meal is served to guests they are overcome with abject sorrow and wail and sob.  Full of magic-realism, romance and mystery this is a film in love with love, food and life.

Food on Film: Hook

18 Jan

Thinking about Hook – a Spielberg kid’s movie from 1991 – I really start to question whether my film degree was a good investment.  It’s fair to say that this movie was universally panned but still, I love it. From Robin Williams acting out Big-like fantasies of staying forever young, Dustin Hoffman in the eponymous role managing to scare the children or to Julia Roberts as a cute and frisky tinkerbell, I adore it so.  “RUFIO” – a childhood crush that I don’t remotely regret – was a name that my brother and I would shout to one another across the house for years whilst we were growing up, much to my parent’s joy I don’t doubt and it was all so swashbuckling and silly…  The food bit though, wow. There’s an amazing scene when the kids are seated at a table. The plates are empty and tummys are rumbling, but then they imagine really hard that they’re presented with dinner and a Technicolor feast appears. I still remember the vibrancy of the food – bright blues and reds and yellows – it looked soooo good – and the fun the kids had at stuffing it all into their mouths before descending into a food fight was truly epic. Must recreate some day…