A hell of a weird, fun flick. The central story is a sort of Western parody: a couple of truckers come across a lousy ramen place run by a woman named Tampopo and decide to help her improve it, recruiting more experts until she has the best ramen in town, then disappear into the sunset. But the movie’s most genius idea was cutting little food-related vignettes into the main film, basically an improvement on the structure and focus of The Kentucky Fried Movie.

The first I’ve seen by Itami, who also made episodic comedy The Funeral, and died twenty years ago this week. Tampopo is Nobuko Miyamoto (Itami’s wife, star of Sweet Home), along with her team: main trucker Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki: Farewell to the Ark, Kagemusha, Rikyu), his sidekick Gun (Ken Watanabe, the most famous Japanese man in Hollywood), broth master Yoshi Kato (a bunch of Shinoda films including Silence), noodle expert Shohei (Kinzô Sakura of Itami’s A Taxing Woman), and hardass interior designer Pisken (Rikiya Yasuoka of some early Miike movies).

I’ve already forgotten half of the incidental sideplots, but the recurring one featured a white-suited gangster (Kôji Yakusho, the guy from Doppelganger, Tokyo Sonata, Eureka) and his girl (Fukumi Kuroda of Tales of a Golden Geisha) having weird food sex.

Sometimes in the middle of SHOCKtober you need to take a break and watch something called Life Is Sweet. Hoping the title isn’t a pun on the faux-punk character’s episodes of binging on candy bars then vomiting them up. The whole thing’s a bit less cheerful than the title would suggest, but it’s implied that everyone (except maybe poor Timothy Spall) will turn out alright.

Jim Broadbent (not yet an internationally beloved figure, he was at the time a Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam regular who’d recently appeared in Superman IV) and Alison Steadman (also in a Gilliam movie, and Mrs. Bennett in the Pride & Prejudice mini-series) live in a row house with twin daughters Nat (a boyish plumber) and Nicola (unemployed punk with gross food issues). There’s not much to the movie plot-wise – Jim buys a fixer-upper food truck from buddy Stephen Rea (The Crying Game, V for Vendetta) but doesn’t fix it up, and the family helps a very goofy Timothy Spall (who was unsurprisingly absent from cinemas for a half-decade after this performance, hopefully toning it down for Leigh’s Secrets & Lies in 1996) with his restaurant opening.

The restaurant thing is a huge failure and seems to take up half of the movie’s runtime. The simple family relations held more of my interest, especially when involving the grounded Nat (Claire Skinner of Leigh’s Naked) and unstable Nicola (Jane Horrocks in Roeg’s The Witches the same year, later star of Little Voice) who has a breakdown after her poseur politics get taken down by boyfriend David Thewlis, finally allowing herself to be consoled by her mom. Also, Broadbent and Steadman laugh constantly, all movie long, which is extremely comforting given what’s going on around them.

Mike D’A:

The mid-film reveal of Andy as a chef in charge of a large staff remains one of my all-time favorite “plot twists” … Life Is Sweet accomplishes everything Leigh would later attempt in Happy-Go-Lucky, except far more subtly and spread across multiple characters.

Simple, straightforward, obvious movie full of affable people, a pleasant diversion with some delicious-looking food but probably not even as great/interesting as something like Waitress.

Favreau’s smallest film in over a decade, but probably didn’t feel small since he was writer/director/producer/star/cook. Although it might’ve been ghostwritten by Twitter. His movie star friends come along – Avengers Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. play his restaurant hostess and ex-wife’s ex-husband. Sofia Vergara (vengeful brothel mistress of Machete Kills) is the still-friendly ex-wife, Dustin Hoffman the chef’s boss, Oliver Platt the restaurant critic who sends Favreau on a road-trip journey of self-discovery, starting from scratch and remembering what he loved about cooking (alongside longtime assistant John Leguizamo) and reconnecting with his favorite regional dishes and his 10-year-old son and ex-wife and finally making up with the critic (but not with Dustin Hoffman) and opening his own place and getting remarried.

I didn’t really get it. The guy introducing the film said that Blue is the Warmest Color was unusual, a departure in Kechiche’s (apparently pronounced keh-SHEESH) cinema, so my first thought was that’d mean the entire movie wouldn’t be handheld extreme close-ups of its characters faces, but apparently the guy only meant a departure in terms of the amount of lesbian sex on display, because the whole first two-thirds of Grain was handheld extreme close-ups. At least in Blue I came to accept the handheld closeups because it’s about the raw emotional state of its lead actress, but this one was more about family relations, so why can I only ever see one person at a time?

The ending cools down with the aggressive close-ups for a while (though they are welcome when Hafsia Hersi starts belly-dancing) in order to show off Slimane’s boat dinner party and to distantly track his run around the harbor after three boys who stole his scooter. But the style changes only to enable the plot to say “fuck you” to those of us who expected a climactic, triumphant meal bringing the feuding family members together. Instead, the troubles we noted in the first half (Slimane isn’t in the best health, his girlfriend’s family and ex-wife’s family don’t get along, his son Majid is a cheater) destroy the dinner and kill Slimane.

Sometimes Kechiche lets a complainer complain, just rant until you can’t bear it anymore, but for the most part it’s enjoyable company, and I agree with some reviews about the great acting, the naturalism of the characters. Loved when perspective suddenly turns to other hotel dwellers, a bunch of old musicians gossipping on the family drama.

60-year-old Slimane lives with girlfriend Latifa and her daughter Rym in Latifa’s hotel, provides food for the rest of his family when he can, but doesn’t eat with them, having a complicated relationship with ex-wife Souad. She ends up cooking for his restaurant, but when the giant pot of couscous goes missing at dinnertime, Latifa, who’d been reluctant to join the party, slips away during Rym’s bellydance distraction and comes back with a pot. If its her own couscous, which is rumored by the musicians to be awful, how did she cook it in time? The movie doesn’t show us what happens when the dance ends because it’s busy killing off Slimane.

W. Morris:

Once that belly starts undulating, the restaurant’s white faces look up, drunk and delighted. In this complexly conceived and realized moment, the dancer uses sex and cultural exoticism to distract tables of formerly civilized but suddenly restless white natives. Slimane’s daughters watch with a mix of personal envy and ethnic shame. But Kechiche invites us to acknowledge a fundamental truth about Arabs—or any people of color—in the history of the movies: stereotypes sell. It’s an astounding scene, even aside from the suspense that inspires it in the first place. Kechiche’s ideas of ethnicity, enterprise, and canny self-exploitation are conscious.

Won awards in Venice the year Lust, Caution got gold and took the film and director Cesars (over Diving Bell and the Butterfly, La Vie en Rose and Persepolis!). Hafsia Herzi (Rym) later costarred in House of Tolerance.

Lovely natural-light drama spanning many years in the lives of two puritanical Danish sisters. Muchache Man Lorens loved one of them, and the following year a French singer loved the other, but the sisters end up with only each other – and French cook Babette (played by the great Stephane Audran of so many Chabrol films).

sister Filippa and Mr. Papin the opera singer:

sister Martine and Lorenz:

Eventually it’s revealed that Babette was head chef at a world-class French restaurant, and after preparing the sisters’ very simple meals for thirty years, she spends her lottery winnings on one extravagant dinner for the sisters and their church friends (including a visiting Mustache Man Lorens).

Katy and I liked it. We watched on Valentine’s Day, coincidentally the week director Gabriel Axel died, and during the first earthquake I’ve felt while living in Atlanta. Adapted from a Karen Blixen story. IMDB claims it’s the current pope’s favorite movie.

M. Le Fanu:

We can agree, at any rate, that Audran’s performance is serene and authoritative. Could the woman she is playing have been based on a once living person? At bottom, one never really knows where stories come from, especially the good ones. Dinesen’s story has an absolute “rightness” about it that we recognize from classical fairy tales. Its tone, its humor, its kindness, its flashes of sardonic wit, the ease and confidence of its storytelling—all these attributes seem, at times, self-perpetuating, and independent of mere human agency. It is as if the best stories, miraculously, write themselves. Axel’s film manages to capture this anonymous and folklorish quality. Faithful to the story, he has made grace visible, and given us, in addition, a wonderful lesson in courtesy.

More slight than I would’ve thought possible from Akin after seeing his The Edge of Heaven. Injured chef Zinos runs a simple restaurant for locals, hires his fuckup paroled brother (Moritz Bleibtreu, Lola’s boyfriend in Run Lola Run) and a fancypants chef from the city (Birol Unel, star of Head-On), has a troubled long-distance relationship with his girl. Can they save the restaurant from the idiot brother, a scheming realty developer, health inspectors, their customers and themselves? Kind of. Loosely inspired by the life of lead actor Adam Bousdoukos, who ran a restaurant during the making of Head-On.

A fairly good drama centered more around family problems than food preparation. Katy and I want more food in our food movies, not just women with 80’s hair having romantic entanglements. Don’t get me wrong – the food scenes were very nice, but there could have been at least 15 more minutes’ worth.

Master chef Chu has lost his wife and his sense of taste, and now the coworker who acts as Chu’s taster has died of a heart attack. Chu’s repressed daughter Jia-Jen is a schoolteacher with a crush on a co-worker, tempermental daughter Jia-Chien is an executive, also with a crush on a co-worker but one whom she wrongly suspects of being her sister’s ex, and youngest daughter is still in school. Plus the daughters have a quiet friend with an obnoxious mom.

Now, it would seem that the two older daughters would sort out their relationship issues and end up happily together with their guys, and that happens for at least one, but the movie throws a couple love-interest curveballs when the youngest daughter gets pregnant and moves in with her boy, and the father announces that he’s marrying the young friend, not her mother. And when he cooks for his young bride he regains his sense of taste. Remade in California with Mexican-American cuisine, Nikolai Kinski and The State’s Ken Marino.

The producers (Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott) chose an interesting script (written by Stanley Tucci and his cousin) then hand-picked directors Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott, who cast Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Minnie Driver and Campbell Scott.

So a vanity project, and an obvious one (for everyone other than Ian Holm, who is too shouty and shifty and will hopefully not use this on his actor’s reel).

Italian brothers Tucci and Shalhoub (who is actually Lebanese via Wisconsin) have a restaurant that is failing because the food is too authentic for the locals and the atmosphere is dead. They have time for one final feast, their “big night” if you will, with special guest of honor Louis Prima (so movie is maybe set in the late 40’s), invited by their across-the-street rival Ian Holm who is suddenly all buddy-buddy with them. But Holm lied (to get the restaurant to fold, so the brothers will come work for him) and the bank will be foreclosing soon. Before that though, we must have a raging party with the best food anyone has ever tasted, and the brothers must fight then make up in the end, their futures still unwritten.

Such a typical 90’s indie movie. Really nothing to complain about, we enjoyed it pretty well, but it’s also no more groundbreaking or artistically exciting than Shalhoub’s directorial debut (written/starring his sister-in-law) eight years later Made-Up.

Isabella is here, but with too small a part to liven up the movie… it’s really all about the men.

Cinematographer Ken Kelsch (an Abel Ferrara regular) here tries to emphasize the fact that Ian Holm has a mustache, without actually showing the mustache. A risky artistic move that pays off. Holm does, it is later revealed, have a mustache.

The anticlimactic ending (all serious indie movies have anticlimactic endings):