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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Chef (Blu-ray)
Chef (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // September 30, 2014 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jamie S. Rich | posted September 13, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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THE MOVIE:

Please Note: The stills used here are taken from the standard-definition DVD included in the retail package, not the Blu-ray edition under review.

It's wonderful how a good movie can sometimes turn a night around. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. It's Friday night, about to become Saturday morning, and in the last seven days, I've seen ten movies. That's probably about an average week for me. Of those, I count myself lucky that I only had to write about eight. I'm not complaining, but sometimes, a fellow can feel like he's on a treadmill and Jane is too far out of earshot to hear he needs someone to stop this crazy thing.

Then you go and decide to put on Chef, even though the hour is growing late and you could go out and get something to drink. The second movie of the evening. After working the rest of the day like a normal person on other things. You're tired but, oh, what the hell. Why not?

And now it's 12:01, and I am deciding to sit and write about Chef rather than going to bed or reading something. I'm listening to the movie's soundtrack on Spotify and trying to figure out how to get started on my review. Because as Mr. Favreau says in the movie, these things matter and people work hard and there are times when you really need to get it right. So, why not be simple and just tell the people how I feel and how the movie worked to reinvigorate my mood while also reminding me just why we do the things we do? Because that's what it did. And it entertained me while doing it.

Favreau writes, directs, produces, and stars in Chef. He plays Carl Casper, head chef in a fancy Los Angeles eatery owned by a befuddled businessman (Dustin Hoffman) who likes to play it safe. For Casper, this means being stuck in a rut, and so when an influential online critic (Oliver Platt) trashes his meal, Casper goes on a social media rampage that makes him a viral laughingstock and costs him his job. It also focuses him a little. Casper has been neglecting his son Percy (Emjay Anthony from TV's Rake), and his unexpected freedom means he can go on a trip with his boy and his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) back to Miami where things originally happened for him. Feeling renewed, Casper decides to talk to his ex-wife's other ex-husband (Robert Downey Jr.) and take him up on an offer to let the man back Casper in a food truck. Next thing Casper knows, he and his best friend (John Leguizamo) and Percy are driving cross-country selling the kind of food Casper wants to make directly to the people. No controlling moneyman, no middle interference--just a couple of guys back on the line doing what they love and seeing results.

Even if Favreau hadn't gone out and stumped for Chef and explained how he was looking to get back to his filmmaking roots and make one for himself, the metaphor wouldn't be hard to see. The man who co-wrote Swingers has mostly been making big budget action flicks since, some of them successful (the first two Iron Man movies) and some not so much (Cowboys and Aliens). Like a critic with a pile of DVDs and Blu-rays, a director can get stuck on a Hollywood moviemaking treadmill that will trap an artist on a particular path once he or she's made people a lot of money and try to keep him or her making money in the exact same way. Why spend $5 million to make $8 million when you can spend $50 million and make ten times as much? It's a case of measured expectations.

Which is what Chef Casper will have to find out. It's fine to make less money doing what you want if you're happy. Granted, this could make for a pretty schmaltzy film. Chef has all the fixings for a bad Fox Family Channel holiday offering. A divorced father too focused on business who doesn't give his son enough time and maybe doesn't realize his ex-wife still loves him? John Stamos and Jennie Garth are wondering why no one sent them this script! Luckily, though Favreau has a heart as big as that andouille sausage po boy he eats at the start of the movie, he also has storytelling skills as sharp as a butcher's knife. Yes, he can sometimes lean a little heavy on the heartstrings, but give the guy credit, he puts the right pieces together to allow him to twang those chords in just the right way. Or, to put it in food terms, you can try to resist the cheese, but the man is grilling it to look and taste so good.

It doesn't hurt that Favreau populates his kitchen with such an incredible cast. I haven't even mentioned Scarlett Johansson, Amy Sedaris, and Bobby Cannavale. Whatever favors Favreau called in, they served him well. This ensemble has such a comfortable rapport, whenever they do their thing, they make the screen seem like a place the rest of us wish we could be. Whether it's a quiet conversation with Johansson, cutting up with Leguizamo, or losing his cool all over Oliver Platt, Favreau has brought in the right folks for the job. They give him what he needs so he can capture the emotions he desires, and also so he can be a better actor. Much in the same way he populates the awesome soundtrack I'm listening to with old songs that sound familiar but maybe for slightly different reasons than you might expect. I hear some fine old Latin-flavored soul that was later sampled by the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Tupac, as well as a strange Wu-Tang cover. Favreau is using music to connect past and present, to remind us of things we recognize but may have lost.

It's a neat little trick, one more layer to this particular cinematic onion. Some may resist Favreau's slick way with things, but I found Chef to be so finely prepared, I walked away happy and satisfied.

THE BLU-RAY

Video:
Mastered in 1080p and sized at the movie's original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the BD for Chef looks outstanding. Detail is plentiful, with strong resolution and lovely coloring. The movie maintains a filmic look without giving up any of the sharpness. Skin textures look natural, and dark scenes have good, inky shadows.

Sound:
The original soundtrack has been mixed in 5.1 as a DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue is clear, music is good, and there are lots of nice little touches in the back speakers and to the sides to give a sense of environment and ambience.

Subtitles are available in French, Spanish, and English SDH.

Extras:
Favreau and professional chef Roy Choi, who was also a producer on the film, sit down for a full audio commentary. This is a great choice for those who want to hear both about how the film was made and how the food was prepared.

There are also seven deleted scenes. Most are inconsequential, but there are two hilarious segments featuring Amy Sedaris improvising that are worth checking out. There are also two extra musical bits, including a marching band in New Orleans.

In addition to the Blu-ray, Chef also comes with a standard DVD and a digital code for a download. It's in a regular-sized BD case with an outer slipcover.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Iron Man-director Jon Favreau heads back to his roots and makes a scrappy low-budget drama about a man rediscovering his passion and the things that matter most to him. Chef is funny and sweet and finally structured to tell a familiar story but in a way that satisfies and sometimes surprises. An excellent ensemble cast bringing all the feels doesn't hurt either. Highly Recommended.

Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.

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