El Bulli: Cooking in Progress


 

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

Chef Ferran Adria conducts his restaurant like a symphony

(2011) Documentary (Kino Lorber) Ferran Adria, Oriol Castro, Eduard Xatruch, Eugeni de Diego, Aitor Lozano, Katie Button. Directed by Gereon Wetzel

 

About a two hour drive outside of Barcelona on a picturesque cove called the Cala Montjoi sits the best restaurant on the planet. It is small and unassuming, seating only fifty at a time. You do not order off a menu; meals last approximately 4 hours and are taken up by 35-40 courses. No, not full plates – more like a lot of little tasting plates, some no more than two or three bites.

The food that was served there was magic, a symphony of texture, taste, form, and appealed to all of the senses, not just taste. Flavors that shouldn’t have gone together blended like they belonged that way all along. Unexpected surprises would dot the meal like little bombs going off.

With only 50 seats, the demand to get into the restaurant was intense. Two million reservations were received annually for the season – yes, the restaurant was open only six months out of the year. The other six months, Executive Chef Ferran Adria and his team would repair back to Barcelona in their lab where the team would come up with new ideas, new creations for the coming year.

Every facet of the meal is examined, from the cocktails to the pastries and nothing that is normal or usual is considered. In fact, Adria snaps at his right hand head chef Oriol Castro “Don’t bring me anything that doesn’t taste great.” Adria is not generally the one executing the creations; he is more of a creative overseer and it is his vision that guides everything.

He is constantly on the phone, being summoned by one chef or another to sample the creations and he gives his feedback. He argues with Oriol who is as passionate as Adria is in his own way. The two go back and forth but at the end of the day, what they come up with is amazing.

When it comes time to re-open the restaurant, there is a small army of chefs and servers (nearly one chef per diner, one of the reasons the restaurant eventually closed its doors in July of last year, apparently for good). Watching Adria orchestrate all of this is like watching a general execute a battle plan. The complexity is amazing but when it works in harmony, is something beautiful.

This German documentary was recorded in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, including the off-season while the restaurant was closed. It’s a good looking documentary, what Anthony Bourdain sometimes calls “food porn,” as the filmmakers lovingly dwell on images of food being prepared and served.

However, there are almost no interview segments here; we are strictly flies on the wall, watching the process without getting any insight from those in the process. Who decides to make a cocktail with hazelnut oil? How many times is a dish prepared before it’s presented to Chef Adria?

We hear none of that. We simply observe so in many ways the documentary violates the spirit of El Bulli; it appeals to a single sense, that of the observer, the voyeur. It is watching without understanding and that is much like eating without tasting.

REASONS TO GO: An interesting look at the creative process. Adria and Castro have an interesting dynamic.

REASONS TO STAY: Somewhat dry and doesn’t give you much more than an idea how the process works; you never really get into the minds of those doing the creating.

FAMILY VALUES: Nothing here that you couldn’t share with the entire family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: El Bulli operated at a loss from 2000 onward. During that time Restaurant Magazine named it the #1 restaurant in the world an unprecedented five times.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/30/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100. The reviews are decent.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Food Fight

FOOD LOVERS: The dishes here look incredibly strange – and incredibly delicious.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Grey

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Killers


Killers

Katherine Heigl prays for a better movie next time after checking out how much she made on this one.

(Lionsgate)  Ashton Kutcher, Katherine Heigl, Tom Selleck, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Mull, Katheryn Winnick, Kevin Sussman, Alex Borstein, Lisa Ann Walter, Rob Riggle, Casey Wilson, Usher Raymond, Letoya Luckett. Directed by Robert Luketic

How well do you really know your mate? You can take at face value what they tell you about their past, but how truthful are they really being? More importantly, what could they be leaving out?

Jen Kornfeldt (Heigl) has just been dumped by her boyfriend. They had been planning a vacation to Nice on the French Riviera but she winds up going with her parents instead – her dad (Selleck) a dour, straight-laced former airline pilot and her mom (O’Hara), a borderline alcoholic whose free spirit has been drowned in an endless ocean of cocktails.

In Nice she meets Spencer Aimes (Kutcher), a handsome, ripped and nice young man who yearns to settle down with the right girl and put down some roots. He’s a consultant working for a company that has him travelling all over the world, and he’s ready to get off the merry-go-round. At first, Jen is reluctant to confess her status as recently dumped and vacationing with her parents but eventually she comes clean, particularly after she’s had a lot more to drink than she normally does, confiding in Spencer her dating past as a “nerd magnet.”

Fast-forward three years. The two are happily married and living in a quiet Atlanta suburb with block parties, nosy neighbors and the sound of riding mowers. Jen is a consultant for a computer software company while Spencer has his own construction company. Life is pretty idyllic for the two, with Jen’s parents a mere five minutes away. Okay, maybe not so idyllic.

It’s Spencer’s birthday and he really doesn’t want to make a big deal of it. In fact, he seems pretty moody lately and Jen’s at a loss to explain why. She makes arrangements to throw a big birthday party for him, with her dad in charge of driving Spencer to the house. The party goes pretty well, although again Spencer seems distant. Jen’s friends attribute it to the Three Year Snooze, the point in a marriage when routine begins to dominate. Jen wants to question Spencer further but she has to go out of town to deliver a presentation on her company’s new software at a San Francisco computing conference.

She returns home and is horrified to discover her husband and his best friend Henry (Riggle) locked in mortal combat. After Spencer subdues Henry and they get him tied up, she is understandably shocked and demands an explanation.

It turns out that Spencer’s past is catching up with him. The “company” he used to work for is in fact the CIA and he was a contract assassin for them. Having left the agency to be with her, he has discovered that nobody just “leaves” the company. After questioning Henry, they discover that there is a $20 million bounty on Spencer’s head and there is more than one assassin planted among their neighbors and friends just waiting to collect it.

From that point on they are dodging bullets and homicidal killers, all the while trying to get Jen’s pregnancy test done. When they try to question Spencer’s former boss (Mull), they find him as dead as a doornail – two shots to the heart and one to the head, very old school. If Spencer’s boss didn’t let loose the hounds, who did? Jen is angry and bitter, feeling that Spencer had lied to her all this time about his past. In the meantime, people they thought were friends and neighbors are trying to kill them. If they survive the attempts on Spencer’s life, will their marriage survive?

Heigl has been repeatedly cast in romantic comedies of late, few of which match her breakout role in Knocked Up. Here they even add the pregnancy card to try and maybe recapture that magic but quite frankly this isn’t the right role for Heigl. While she isn’t really called upon to be the action hero here, she is probably more comfortable in straight comedic roles.

Her chemistry with Kutcher isn’t what you’d call scintillating. At times you wonder what they saw in each other to begin with. The relationship is so central to the movie that if it isn’t believable, the whole movie falls apart. It’s not quite unbelievable but it’s close.

The action sequences are a bit rote which doesn’t help matters. This is primarily a comedy with the action secondary, but even so I would have liked a bit more edge to the action. That’s one of the things that made the similarly-themed Mr. and Mrs. Smith so delightful. Here there’s nothing surprising so you tend to stifle a yawn.

What does work in the movie is Tom Selleck and Catherine O’Hara. Selleck has fun with his image as a tough guy and brings a little DeNiro into the mix. The combination works very nicely. O’Hara is an underrated comedienne and steals nearly every scene she’s in. It’s nice to see her do what she does best – create a character that’s funny and believable at the same time.

Killers isn’t really a bad movie, it’s just not a very good one. It’s diverting and has its own charm but certainly it isn’t a movie you should feel the need to run right out and see. It has its moments and if you are fans of either Kutcher or Heigl you’ll probably see it anyway, but otherwise this is one you can safely wait for its appearance on home video or cable.

REASONS TO GO: Kutcher and Heigl are amusing. Selleck and O’Hara just about steal the movie.

REASONS TO STAY: Not a lot of chemistry between the two leads. The action sequences don’t really compete with other summer movies out there.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some comic violence as well as a good deal of sexual innuendo, and a bit of bad language. It’s suitable for teens, but probably not for the really young kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While filming a fight scene, Kutcher accidentally knocked out one of the stunt men with a punch to the head.

HOME OR THEATER: While this is clearly an action movie, it doesn’t have the kind of big action requiring a big screen.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Lucky Ones