Thursday, November 24, 2022

"The Menu" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new Ralph Fiennes movie "The Menu" as well as the Netflix film "The Luckiest Girl Alive" and the latest season of "The Crown." The Book of the Week is "Lessons in Chemistry" by Bonnie Garmus]


The Menu (2022)


We foodies know that fine dining is not just about the food.  It's also about the experience and Chef Slowik wants you to have the experience of a lifetime!

Ralph Fiennes plays Chef Slowik, the famed chef who runs the finest of fine dining restaurants, Hawthorne.  It's one of those restaurants where you have to make a reservation a year in advance and it costs what would be a month's wages for many people.  It is so exclusive, it's on an island all by itself.  It's also one of those restaurants that serves an expensive prixe fix seven course menu where each course is teeny tiny but delicious. You are also likely to go away hungry.  As the mysterious and scary maitre de, Elsa (Hong Chau), whispers to one customer, "You will get less than you desire and more than you deserve."  Oh, yes.

Chef Slowik has gathered a disparate group of the very rich for a very special seven course menu, one served "cold," if you know what I mean.  Yes, this is all about revenge and is to be the culmination of Slowik's career.

They are mostly an entitled bunch. There is Lillian (Janet McTeer), the restaurant critic and her yes-man editor, Ted (Paul Adelstein). Her bad reviews are so powerful that they can close a restaurant.  Then, Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light), they are a rich, married couple who have been to the restaurant more times than they can count, but they can't name any of the dishes served despite the fact that Chef Slowik introduces each dish with a clap of his hands and a bit of oversharing and three tech bros, Soren (Arturo Castro), Bryce (Rob Yang) and Dave (Mark St. Cyr), who work with the restaurant's owner and are there just so they can say they have been to the restaurant. Also a once popular actor (John Leguizamo) on his way down and his assistant, Felicity (Aimee Carrero) are there. And finally, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), the slavishly devoted food snob who has brought Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) as his date, she being a last minute substitution who Slowik did not expect. And there is more to Margot than first meets the eye.

Slowik knows everything about everyone (except Margot), and he doesn't like them. They may pay over $1000 a person to eat his food but they don't respect him as the artist he is. He plans to change that tonight.

Slowik holds a grudge against the critic; he hates rich people like Richard and Anne who don't really know anything about good food; he hated the movie that the actor on his way down was in - it ruined his only day off; and he has a big surprise for the three men who work with the owner.  The owner is on his way down, too, literally.  And as for Tyler and Margot?  Slowik really, really hates pretentious foodies (Tyler), but Margot was a last minute date for Tyler so she was not on his hit list.  Slowik discovers that she is not one of the 1%, so he has a soft spot for her, and because she is not a sycophant, he respects her.  The two have some sharp one on ones that are highlights of the film.

So since this is about a restaurant, let's talk about The Menu.  The film is divided like a seven course menu with onscreen descriptions and each course is introduced by Chef Slowik with a clap of his hands that will make you jump - I did - and it's real food prepared for the film by celebrity chef Dominique Crenn, though much of it is tongue-in-cheek, like the "breadless bread plate

But as we foodies know, and as we discover during the film, fine dining is also about the experience, and some of the courses are real intense "experiences." Likewise, the ending is way over the top and absolutely hilarious.  Let's just say that Slowik hates s'mores and just wants to blow that whole concept up...literally.

Writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy had fun with some foodie references: Slowik calls someone a "Donkey," which Chef Gordon Ramsay loves to do, and when Slowik gets rid of one of his enemies, he says one of the reasons was that the guy had wanted substitutions on the menu.  So as his enemy is being dispatched, Slowik yells "NO SUBSTITUTIONS!" We all know that on many menus substitutions are a big no-no.  There are many more foodie references like that you will have fun noticing.

Despite some big names in this ensemble case and an excellent performance by Taylor-Joy, this is all about Ralph Fiennes, who is one of our great actors.  

No matter what Fiennes is asked to do, he really cares about giving a good performance.  How do I know this?  He was recently on Andy Cohen's "Watch What Happens Live" show plugging this movie and, for a laugh, Andy had him read a Real Housewive's diatribe. If you are not a Housewives fan, you might not know what that is all about, but let's just say, most episodes have fights and someone going off the deep end emotionally. So Andy has Ralph reading a meltdown from a housewife, and he is really feeling it.  Afterwards, Andy put the script Ralph was reading from up to the camera to show that Ralph had actually made notes on it to help his performance and had written on the bottom "Coriolanus," reminding himself of his Shakespearean performance of that role and to play it like that. Now that's an actor who cares about every performance! Also a guy with a great sense of humor about himself. Whether he is doing Shakespeare or "The Real Housewives," Ralph gives it his all.  And this film is no exception. He is all in. 

Directed by Mark Mylod, this is a wonderful little dark comedy horror film that is in theatres now but I fear it won't be for long.  I was alone in the theatre.  Granted, it was 11 a.m. but even so, despite the star power, this is one of those small movies that doesn't last long in the theatres, which is a shame because this is why I go to the movies - to be entertained, yes, which I was, but to also be surprised, to enjoy a new take on a subject and to be challenged, to have to look at myself and wonder, "Am I like that?" This film needs to be seen, so if you can't get to the theatre this weekend, watch for it on your streaming platform.

Rosy the Reviewer says...an absolutely delicious but very, very dark satiric comedy that skewers pompous, pretentious foodies and those who slavishly follow what's in vogue.  You know who you are.  If you are one of those, you will probably not find this funny.  However, if you are a foodie with a sense of humor about yourself, you will find this hilarious.  And by the way, remember this. In the end, there really is nothing better than a good, old-fashioned cheeseburger! (In theatres)


The Luckiest Girl Alive (2022)


A woman who seems to have everything is haunted by her past.

I couldn't help but think this was more like an episode of "Dateline" than a movie.  But, hey.  I love "Dateline!"  But let's just say our girl, Ani (Mila Kunis), is not very nice. She is a high-powered New Yorker on the fast track in her career. She is headed to the New York Times from her current job at a woman's magazine, and she is also planning a wedding to her boyfriend, Luke (Finn Wittrock).  But she is also haunted by her past and hiding a secret.  Well, more than one.  She is bulimic, she was a survivor of a school shooting and experienced date rape.

Ani is approached by a documentary filmmaker who wants to make a short film about the school shooting she survived as a teenager, but initially Ani doesn't want anything to do with it. Later, she runs into her former teacher, Andrew Larson (Scott McNairy), who knew something else that had happened to Ani.  As a teen, she had revealed to him that she had been gang-raped at a party by three boys she knew while drunk.  Mr. Larson had told her to tell her mother (Connie Britton) but she refused.  You see, Ani's relationship with her mother was strained.

In flashbacks to 1999, we see young Ani (Chiara Aurelia) at the Brentley School, a private school for rich kids.  Ani is there on scholarship and just wants to fit in.  She quickly befriends a clique of popular students, including Dean (Carson MacCormac) and his friends Liam (Isaac Kragten) and Peyton (Gage Munroe). Turns out, those are the boys who would eventually gang-rape her. Then when the school shooting occurs and Ani is spared, Dean plants a seed that Ani was involved and she is shunned.

Talk of a documentary about the school shooting and seeing Mr. Larson again has unleashed bad memories in Ani, and it starts to affect her relationship with Luke, who is not, shall we say a very understanding boyfriend? However, Ani agrees to the documentary and Aaron tells Ani that Dean (Alex Barone), now all grown up, wants to meet with her to apologize on camera; she agrees, under the condition that Aaron keeps them separate until she is ready. But Dean is not a good guy and has no intention of apologizing.

Later, we finally find out the true story behind the school shooting and what happened to those other boys involved in the gang rape.  Was Ani involved in the school shooting?  Will those boys get what's coming to them for the rape? Will Ani finally find her voice?

Written by Jessica Knoll, based on her best-selling novel, and directed by Mike Barker, this film is not without its problems, but it at least tried to tackle some important issues, some with better results than others. Rich vs. poor, men vs. women, victims vs. survivors and the question of what is luck? Is the luckiest girl one who survives a school shooting or one who gets vindication? Or is the title sarcastic because our girl lived such an unlucky life of guilt and shame?  You will have to decide.

Rosy the Reviewer says...compelling performances by Kunis and Aurelia in a film that just missed the mark for being compelling.


 The Crown - Season 5 (2022)


The saga of the British Royal Family continues, this time concentrating on the marriage of Charles and Diana.

Ah, "The Crown." It's back but surrounded by controversy. It seems that there are grumblings that Netflix should do a disclaimer reminding viewers that this is a semi-fictionalized version of the Royal Family. But really? Are we viewers considered that dumb that Netflix needs to tell us we are watching a dramatization? Do we actually believe that this series is a documentary? Do we believe that Netflix is trying to tell us that what the actors are saying in private was what they actually said? No! We know this is a dramatization! And the flap about the series being disrespectful to the Queen, especially in light of her recent death, is much ado about nothing. If anything, the series is very respectful, especially to the Queen but also to Charles, Camilla and Diana.

And speaking of The Queen. This series has a new Queen Elizabeth and Imelda Staunton embodies the Queen like no other, and that's saying a lot because both Claire Foy, who played the young Queen Elizabeth and Olivia Colman, who played her in her middle years, both won Emmys for their performances, and yes, they were wonderful. But there is just something so right about Staunton. She doesn't have big dramatic scenes but as the story plays out you see everything on her face and in her eyes. Just an incredible performance.

The marriage of Diana (Elizabeth Debicki) and Charles (Dominic West) is at the centerpiece of this season, but that is not all it's about. It sheds light on many facets of the Royal Family that might not be generally known if you haven't been a royal watcher. And what is particularly well done this season is the historical perspective and how each episode stands on its own, centering around a specific subject.

  • One episode is all about Prince Phillip (Jonathan Pryce) and his obsession with carriage driving and his subsequent "spiritual" obsession with his godson's wife, a much younger woman who he shares his carriage driving with.
  • Another fascinating episode goes back in time to show the relationship between the Windsor and the Russian Romanov families. Queen Elizabeth's great-grandmother Queen Alexandra married King Edward VII of the United Kingdom and her sister Maria married Czar Alexander of Russia. The episode explores the role the Windsor's might have played during the Russian Revolution.
  • There is also an episode about Mohamed Al-Fayed (Salim Daw) and his son Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) and Mohamed's desire to be a British gentleman.
  • And yes, the relationship between Charles and Camilla is also center stage, but I have to say the portrayal of both of them is surprisingly quite sympathetic. However, if you were expecting Diana's death to be a big part of this season, it's not. The series ends with Diana heading off on a trip to meet Dodi, leaving us with a sense of foreboding, because we know what will happen after that fateful meeting. But as for the series, we will have to wait until next season for that, for which I am grateful. (Diana's death was one of the worst days of my life, so I am glad I don't have to write about it here, yet, anyway).

As for this season, I can't rave about it enough.

For me, this is by far the best season and it rankles me that there was such a fuss made over it from the media even before it aired, grumblings about how much of it was made up and how disrespectful it was to the Royal Family. I did not see anything disrespectful or depicted that I didn't already know from my royal watching and reading over the years. Yes, we can't possibly know what was actually said in private between Queen Elizabeth and Philip, for example, but, people, this is not a documentary. It's a fictionalized version of what might have been said. But so far as for actual events, it's spot on and just dramatically compelling and wonderful.

  • Did that risque and embarrassing phone call between Camilla and Prince Charles really happen? Yes. I hate to admit it, but I read the transcripts of the phone call myself.
  • Did Mohamed Al-Fayed really hire the Duke of Windsor's valet? Yes.
  • Did Diana wear that "revenge dress" on purpose the night Charles did his interview? Yes.
  • Did Princess Diana confide in Prince William during the marital turmoil? Yes. There were many reports that when she was crying behind closed doors, he would slip a note under the door to try to console her. Also, after the divorce when she was stripped of her royal status (HRH), William told her that when he became King he would give it back to her.
  • Did Camilla and Prince Charles hire a PR person to help with their image after Diana's death. Yes.

What's also great about this series is how it is structured. Each episode stands on its own and you needn't have seen Seasons 1-4 to enjoy this one but I recommend it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...an absolute must see. This series created by Peter Morgan just gets better and better.



***The Book of the Week***


"Lessons in Chemistry" by Bonnie Garmus (2022)




How does a brilliant chemist become the beloved star of a cooking show?

It's the early 1960's and chemist Elizabeth Zott faces discrimination.  What's a beautiful woman like her doing in a lab? She should be home making babies and dinner for her husband, right? According to Elizabeth, no!  This woman is no push-over but despite that, at the Hastings Research Institute where she works, Elizabeth has to deal with the all-male team and they don't know what to do with a woman in their midst, except Calvin Evans, the lonely, homely but brilliant Nobel prize winner who falls in love with Elizabeth's mind.  But sadly tragedy occurs and Elizabeth finds herself not only a single mother but the star of a beloved cooking show, "Supper at Six." How does that happen?  

Elizabeth not only combines her knowledge of chemistry to whip up a meal, she also uses her platform to whip women into revolt!

There is also Elizabeth's dog who knows almost 500 words and shares his thoughts with the reader and her daughter, Mad, who in kindergarten asks the librarian for Norman Mailer's "The Naked and the Dead!"  You get the idea.  Quirky, funny, original and a reminder that, though the sixties was a time of revolution and change, women were yet to find equality...and we still haven't.

I don't usually read novels these days.  I am a nonfiction kind of girl but I was drawn to this because of my love of strong women characters and cooking shows! And Elizabeth is a strong female who doesn't suffer fools...at all!

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a very special book with an independent, liberated heroine who takes no prisoners! A must read!


Thanks for reading!


See you again soon!

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