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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Chef

September 30th, 2014

Chef - Buy from Amazon: DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack

Jon Favreau's career behind the camera started out with smaller movies. He co-wrote Swingers and wrote and directed Made. However, recently he has directed a number of major movies. He was the one behind the camera for the first two Iron Man movies, for instance, and the average budget for his three most recent films he directed is close to $175 million. With his latest film, Chef, he went the opposite direction and created a much, much smaller film. Was he able to still maintain his usual high level of quality? Or does he need the spectacle to make a compelling movie?

The Movie

We first meet Chef Carl Spencer as he is prepping his restaurant before the staff show up. It's a big night, as a critic, Ramsey Michel is coming to the restaurant. This gives him a chance to pick up his son, Percy. They head to the farmer's market where Carl has to pick up fresh produce and tries to impart some food advice onto his son about the value of fruit over kettle corn and they talk about going to New Orleans. When Carl gets back to the restaurant, he's pestered by the owner, Riva, who wants to discuss the menu. Carl wants to add more artsy items, but Riva demands he sticks with the classics. Carl relents, but it doesn't work and he gets a bad review. He commiserates with his co-workers, including Molly, the hostess, but it is still a bad night.

Upset by this review, Carl stays up all night working on a new menu. When his line chef, Martin, and sous chef, Tony, come in and try the food, they love it. They also tell Carl to, "Forget Twitter." ... Okay, that's not exactly what they say. They use a different F-word. Carl doesn't even know what Twitter is. That night, Carl asks his son to sign him up to Twitter. That's when he finds out the review went viral. Just before going to bed, Carl sends a nasty message to the critic, one that he thinks is private, but it was public. The critic responds with another nasty tweet and then Carl challenge's the critic to come by the restaurant again and Carl will cook him a whole new menu. When Carl drops off Percy, Carl's ex-wife, Inez talks to him about his twitter-capades and again suggests he shouldn't work for someone else, but should start his own food truck. It's an idea he rejects, again.

When Carl returns to the restaurant, he's pumped. He's ready to prove the critic wrong. ... That is until Riva shows up. Originally the deal was Carl would control the menu, despite Ravi owning the restaurant. However, now Ravi is telling Carl that if he doesn't cook the food he sets, he's fired. Carl decides to take the second option.

The film then splits time watching Carl cooking at home, as well as the restaurant. When Ramsey gets the same boring meal as last time, he asks Molly about the meal and asks to speak with Chef Carl, but Riva tells him the Chef left. He tweets out that it was a lack of heart that caused the bad food last time and why he didn't show up this time. This is too much for Carl, so he heads back to the restaurant to confront Ramsey. It is not a very well thought out attack, but it attracts a lot of attention and the video of it goes viral.

Sadly, Carl proves there is such a thing as bad publicity and there are no job offers. Molly encourages him to find something where he will be the boss, and more importantly, he will be able to spend more time with Percy. Left with no choice, he decides to go with Inez to Miami, meets with Inez's first ex-husband, who helps him get a food truck. Martin comes out to Miami to help him and after a successful start, Carl, Martin, and Percy decide to drive back to Los Angeles selling food along the way.

Chef is obviously a much smaller movie than we are used to seeing from Jon Favreau, but it's certainly one of his best and I wouldn't be surprised if some people think it is his best. I think I will rate Iron Man above this film, but it is close. There are a number of reasons why this movie is so fantastic. First of all, it is clear that Jon Favreau really wanted to make this movie. His enthusiasm is evident from the opening scenes where we see his character prep the ingredients for the restaurant and throughout the movie we see Carl's love of food and can't help be drawn into that. Of course, we are drawn into the movie thanks in large part to that acting. Not only is Jon Favreau great, but so is John Leguizamo, while Emjay Anthony is great for such a young actor. In many of the scenes, the dialogue is so natural that I began to suspect the lines were improvised on the spot. A quick Google search showed I was correct.

On a side note, there are many, many "food porn" shots in the movie. I was originally going to say not to watch this movie while you are hungry, because you will have to pause the movie to get something to eat. But I had eaten just before starting the movie and it didn't help. The food looks so great that I became hungry before I was halfway through the movie.

The Extras

There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray. Things start off with an audio commentary track with Jon Favreau and Roy Choi, who is a chef in real life and helped create the food in the movie. It is quite entertaining and worth checking out. There are also ten minutes of deleted scenes.

The technical presentation is good, but not fantastic. The previous Blu-ray I reviewed was Transformers: Age of Extinction, which cost more than $200 million to make, while this film cost 5% of that figure, maybe less. So there's not a lot of visual flair on screen, but there's also no issues to complain about. The level of detail is high, the colors are vivid, the shadows are deep, etc. There are no compression issues or digital artifacts that I noticed. The audio is not showy, but hits all of the marks a dialogue-driven comedy should hit. The dialogue is always clear and the surround sound speakers are used effectively. Don't expect a lot of dynamic effects, but overall you won't be disappointed.

The Blu-ray combo pack costs $20, which is $5 or 33% more than the DVD. That's on par with most other similar releases and it is certainly worth the upgrade.

The Verdict

After reviewing a big-budget noise machine, I was really happy to see a film like Chef. It is much smaller, but focuses on characters, interesting characters, who have real growth by the end of the movie. The Blu-ray Combo Pack isn't loaded with extras, but there are enough here to be a contender for Pick of the Week.

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Filed under: Video Review, Chef, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Iron Man, Dustin Hoffman, Bobby Cannavale, Robert Downey, Jr., Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo, Oliver Platt, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony