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Film Review: Today's Special

November 18, 2010 10:27 p.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "Today's Special" and suggests a menu of films for the holidays.

Related Story: Review: 'Today's Special'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

KPBS-FM Film Review: "Today's Special"
By Beth Accomando
Air date: November 19, 2010

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's the perfect time for a foodie film. KPBS film critic Beth Accomando has this review of "Today's Special" plus a few suggestions for a Thanksgiving film menu.

SPECIAL(ba).wav SOQ 3:55 (music out at 5:00)

(Tag:) "Today's Special" opens today at Landmark's La Jolla Village Theaters. For a list of foodie films or to suggest your own go to K-P-B-S-dot-O-R-G-slash-cinema-junkie.


CLIP Chaos in kitchen

Samir works in a restaurant. But he's not too happy about it.

SAMIR: I'm a sous-chef right now. The sous-chef is the one who runs the kitchen, he oversees all the cooking, takes care of administration, inventory, and basically solves any problems that come up, and the chef is the one who gets all the credit.

If Samir were a dish he'd be a bitter one. What he longs for is a restaurant of his own. But that's not about to happen or at least not in the way he expects. When his father has a heart attack, Samir is left in charge of the family's Indian restaurant, which is not just a dive but a health hazard. Soo there's a lot of work for him. The problem is that he knows nothing about Indian cooking. Then he meetsa mysterious cab driver…

AKBAR: So do you cook Indian food?
SAMIR: Never.
AKBAR: I make a masala that will haunt you like a lost love.

Akbar may be driving a cab but he's also cooked for Indira Gandhi. And he assesses Samir's problem as a lack of passion. Samir cooks by the book rather than from the heart and soul.

SAMIR: What are you doing?
AKBAR: Mmmm. Masala. Masala is the soul of Indian food.

Akbar makes cooking a sensual experience ­ it's about taste, texture, smell, memories, and passion. Just buying the ingredients is an adventure.

AKBAR: Cumin. Cumin is a saucy wench!

Samir slowly learns to appreciate his own culture and to trust his own instincts. Only then does he come into his own as a chef. "Today's Special" is a feel good foodie film loaded with luscious images of food. "The Daily Show's" Aasif Mandvi stars as Samir. He also wrote the play on which the film is based. "Today's Special" is a little too neat and pat. But the cast is appealing and there's lots of fun in the kitchen. In the end it's a delightful confection rather than a substantial meal.

If this film has whetted your appetite for more food, here's a suggested menu. Some films provide teasing appetizers, like "Tom Jones" in which a meal between Albert Finney and Joyce Redman turns into foreplay, or in "The Godfather" where Clemenza tries to teach Michael how to cook spaghetti.

CLEMENZA: You start out with a little bit of oil, then you fry up somegarlic.Then you throw in tomatoes and tomato paste you fry it, make sure it doesn't stick. bring it to a boild. shove in all your sausage and your meatballs, a little bit of wine, a little bit of sugar, and that's my trick.

Then there are main course films in which food figures prominently. "Mostly Martha" mixes a by-the-book German chef and a freewheeling Italian for a tasty romance; while cooks of varying skills spice up the tender drama "Eat Drink Man Woman"; and the wacky Hong Kong comedy "God of Cookery." And of course there are the sensual delights whipped up in "Like Water for Chocolate."

For dessert there¹s the delicious pairing of Juliet Binoche and Johnny Depp in "Chocolat" or the everlasting, gobstopping Gene Wilder in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory." Then for the kiddies there's the animated "Ratatouille" in which a rat named Remy becomes a 4-star chef. The film displays a love for food and the ability of a good meal to warm the soul. The scene in which the snobbish critic samples Remy¹s ratatouille and is whisked back to childhood memories of his mother's cooking is the single best moment in the film.

CRITIC: I can't remember the last time I asked a waiter to give my compliments to the chef.

But if I had to pick the most satisfying food film of all time, it would have to be "Babette¹s Feast." This exquisitely simple tale focuses on a French woman who prepares an elaborate meal for villagers who pride themselves on their ascetic lifestyle. The glorious way in which the food transforms the dinner guests is something to savor. This is truly a film to be thankful for.

For KPBS, I'm Beth Accomando.