October 30, 2015, - 4:07 pm

Weekend Box Office: Burnt, Our Brand is Crisis, Room

By Debbie Schlussel

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I would not spend ten bucks-plus and two hours of my life on any of the new releases in theaters today. Here’s why:

* “Burnt” – Rated R: I (and probably you, too) have seen what seems like a zillion addict-redeems-himself-and-makes-a-comeback movies. This is the latest, and definitely not the best. It’s not the worst, either. But it seems like I’ve seen what’s in this over and over again. The guy has a relapse. He blows it all and hurts his friends and lovers, but then he doesn’t really blow it all and gets back on the wagon. And so on. Check, check check. It’s all in this movie. (A protagonist for whom we root to overcome his addiction and make that comeback . . . well, not exactly, as the lead character here isn’t all that likable.)

I’ve also seen plenty of chef and cuisine movies, and this also isn’t the best of those, either. But, again, not the worst. It’s somewhat entertaining in that respect. I’d have to say that my favorite recent chef/food movie is last year’s “Chef” (read my review), which is far superior to this and a much better chef comeback movie on all levels. It’s funnier, heartier, relaxing, and much more pleasant to watch.

This stressed me out a little. I have no use for melodramas that are overly melodramatic just to hit me over the head over and over again with it, and for no legitimate reason. This did that. We’re treated over and over again to chef Bradley Cooper’s in-kitchen tantrums and scream-fests. It seems like he’s channeling a real-life chef who gets off on this overdone ranting, Gordon Ramsay. But that act has been worn out by Ramsay and is unwanted noise here. The guy is screaming just to scream (as Ramsay does), and it’s unnecessary.

The story: Cooper plays a world-class gourmet chef who was on top of the world at a fancy French restaurant. But he was a drug addict whose addiction ended his career and ruined everything, but not until after he’d earned two highly-coveted Michelin stars for the restaurant he helmed. After rehab, Cooper is working in a self-imposed penance of shucking a million clams at a dive restaurant. Once he’s reached the magic number, he sets out on his comeback, this time in London. Cooper convinces his former maître d’ (Daniel Brühl), the man he believes to be the best in the biz (and who also happens to be the son of a fatally ill, wealthy hotel owner), to open a new restaurant bearing Cooper’s name. Through dirty tricks, some groveling and even posting bail, he also gets the top restaurant staff with whom he used to work.

Cooper’s cooking style is considered “old-fashioned” because it’s five years old (who knew the styles of haute cuisine change that quickly?). But he’s striving to beat a rival to getting that rare, third Michelin star rating for the new restaurant. While he does that, he must overcome competition, resistance and revenge from his staff, and his own ego (something he doesn’t overcome even once in this movie).

The thing is, pretty much every other character in this movie is infinitely more likable than Cooper’s. They are all people for whom we feel sympathy and commiseration. For instance, the always excellent Brühl’s maître d’ character is the most likable (and the most taken advantage of by Cooper). Sienna Miller as a semi-romantic partner and sous chef is also a sympathetic character, but Cooper has no empathy for her, and yet, she makes out with the jerk and stands by him. Why (other than that a lot of women like jerks)? And, so, as I mentioned before, there is no desire on the audience’s part (or shouldn’t be) to hope for Cooper’s comeback. He’s just an egomaniacal jerk and bully. And his story is nothing new. This movie is being mentioned as an Oscar vehicle for Cooper. Not in my book.

As I noted, this movie is somewhat entertaining, but overly melodramatic for a movie about a chef. It’s just food. Not brain surgery or rocket science or winning World War II. Not even close. The best thing about this movie is that the ending is ambiguous and sudden–and I generally like that in a movie. If only the rest of the movie matched this master stroke.

By the way, with all of the scenes of food, sauces, cooking, tasting, and eating in this, if you do go to see it, don’t go on an empty stomach.

ONE REAGAN
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Watch the trailer . . .

* “Our Brand is Crisis” – Rated R: I really liked the first 85% of this movie, and was getting ready to write a great review, but then, as often happens, this flick let me down and turned into a bait-and-switch, far-left, anti-American sh-t-show. If you like politics and campaigns and their funny, clever, dirty tricks, then you, too, will like the first 85% of this movie. I thought this was going to be about how political advisers and their machinations can turn a campaign around, and for most of it, that’s what this was. In the end, though, this movie turns out to be about how the “evil” American gringos help prop up capitalist elites in poor countries and betray and rip off the poor, indigenous peoples. You know, the usual Hollywood hate-America narrative. Even worse, they don’t even tell or show you that the evil American gringos who did this were . . . liberal Democrats, including Clintonista James Carville. In this movie, they reverse the true story and make the Carville character into the adviser of the “honest man of the people.” And the fact that this is produced by lefty liar George Clooney has everything to do with that.

This movie is very loosely based on the 2005 documentary of the same name (it’s an annoying trend–documentaries remade as fiction movies), which followed American political consultants James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum–all of them liberal Democrats–as they advised the campaign of “conservative,” wealthy, American-born Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada and helped him win the 2002 Bolivian Presidential election over uber-Marxist America-hater Evo Morales. The left-wing documentary makers tried to sell their movie as an anti-Bush movie, pimping the absurd notion that Carville et al sold Sanchez de Lozada as an extension of America selling the world on the war in Iraq. Huh?

In this movie, Sandra Bullock plays a character that is essentially the composite of Carville and his minions. Her role was originally a male character. A bald Billy Bob Thornton is the Carville-esque adviser to the Evo Morales-esque candidate, who in this movie is an honest, likable man of the people, and not at all shown to be the evil, America-hating Commu-Nazi that Morales actually is.

Most of the movie is fun and enjoyable, as the film depicts the various dirty tricks and zingers traded back and forth between political operatives and their candidates–the same kind of stuff that goes on in the U.S. in election campaigns. And the Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner frenemy relationship between Bullock’s and Thornton’s characters is amusing and entertaining.

But then it veers into “evil America,” “Down wit’ da Latin America-hating struggle” territory. **** SPOILER ALERT ****: After Bullock’s candidate wins the election, a young peasant who has been helping the campaign gets disillusioned. He sees that their candidate, who is now President, was a liar–that he told Bolivian peasants and farmers that he would not bring in the IMF to interject itself into the Bolivian economy; but now he’s done exactly that as his first act of office, saying the peasants are too dumb to understand why it needs to be done, so they needed to be lied to. Apparently, in Hollywood’s view, this is the first politician on earth to lie. Amazing. Who knew they lied?

When confronted with this, at first Bullock tells the young campaign worker that her job is not about morality or truth-telling. She was hired to win a campaign, and the world moves on. But, then, she decides this is wrong, quits her job, and joins the anti-capitalist Occupy Bolivia protesters in the street (no, they don’t call themselves “Occupy Bolivia,” but same difference here). And after that, she founds the “Latin America Solidarity Network” to fight this horrible American capitalist “conservative” gringo liar she’s just helped elect. Yup, now she’s down wit’ da struggle. Viva La Hollywood!

In case you were wondering, the title of the movie is taken from the campaign strategy Bullock employs for her candidate (and which Carville et al employed for theirs) in order to win the election. The thinking is that, when your candidate has previously held office and is older, wealthier, and thought of as the establishment guy versus an upstart, younger, revolutionary candidate, your candidate’s brand must be “Crisis.” The only way to win the election is to paint the country as in a crisis–economic, national security, or whatever–and your candidate as the only one with the experience and toughness to get the country through it. Otherwise, the thinking goes, the electorate will pick the younger, newer, more revolutionary guy. By the way, my brand is American patriotism. And if you don’t like America, maybe you should take your movie and shove it you know where.

If this review were based on the first 85% of the movie, I’d give it THREE REAGANS or so. Most of the movie was funny, clever, and smart–not to mention, accurate as far as what goes into a winning campaign in contemporary Wesern elections. But since I’m reviewing it based on the whole thing . . . and the fact that Hollywood lied to you and me in marketing it as a campaign comedy (when it’s really more anti-American crap), I have to give it . . .

TWO MARXES PLUS TWO OBAMAS
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Watch the trailer . . .

* “Room” – Rated R: This movie is being raved about (and talked up for the Oscars) by most movie critics because, like them, it is dark, pretentious, and liberal. And unnecessary. America has this growing sick obsession with darkness and tragedy, and it’s a reflection of the growing nihilism of our ever-more areligious, amoral, liberal society in which anything goes and there is no god whose name isn’t Kim, Kanye, Kylie or Caitlin. Anything goes now, and we are so bored that we need the ever more dark and macabre to interest us. And so it goes with “Room.”

I note that Emma Donoghue, writer of the best-selling novel from which this movie is taken, insisted that all of the names of the places and items occupying the small space where a kidnap victim and her son live, not be preceded by adjectives, articles, or indefinite articles. So, no “the room” or “the door” or “the rat.” This pretentous author insisted that everything be called, “Room,” “Door,” “Rat,” etc., as if these are proper nouns. Any director interested in making her book into a film, who used adjectives or articles was immediately dismissed. That’s part of the pretentiousness of Donoghue, her book, and, now, this movie: they (she and the filmmakers) think they are much more important and magically insightful than they actually are. Instead, this is a tawdry, cheap tabloid story pretending to have some great message or contribution. It has neither.

The story is one you and I have seen in the headlines a few times already, and there was no point in fictionalizing it into a movie. It only adds to what I’ve coined the “Kidnapped Like a Kardashian” culture (or is that, “Kulture”?), in which kidnap victims, once freed, don’t go quietly into that sweet night and live their lives. Instead, they become instant celebrities, with Elizabeth Smart gracing the People mag cover several times and going on high-paid speaking engagements. Jaycee Dugard, not content with the $20 mill she got in a settlement with the State of California, sells products online bearing her name. They’ve branded themselves in a burgeoning industry of kidnaphood. “I’ve been kidnapped and raped. Now, buy my stuff!”

In this movie, the first half shows us a young woman (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son in a room. Oops, I mean, “in Room” It turns out the room–Room!–is a shed in the backyard of the woman’s kidnapper. The woman is a 24-year-old (or so) who was kidnapped in her neighborhood at the age of 17, when a child molester neighbor tricks her into helping him with his non-existent “sick dog.” The man has held her captive for seven years in the shed, and she has the five-year-old as a product of the nightly rapes she must endure. The son watches the rapes through the slats in a wardrobe where he is hidden.

Desperate to get out and realizing her son is now old enough, the woman comes up with a plan to escape and enlists her son, in the plot. He doesn’t know anything but the room–Room!–and must be convinced that there is a real world out there beyond “Room.” Since trailers for this movie show it, I’m not giving anything away by saying that they do escape.

Once mother and son get out, then the melodrama multiplies geometrically. And it’s not realistic or accurate. In contrast to most real-life kidnapees, the woman is not ecstatic to be free. Her parents are now divorced, with her father living in another city. Her father refuses to acknowledge the son that is the product of rape. I doubt that would ever happen in real life (unless the father were Muslim–in which case, Hollywood would whitewash that and make the guy the most loving rape-victim dad ever!). The woman is depressed, negative, sullen, and constantly moping, stewing, and yelling at everyone. She blames her mother for being kidnapped and losing years of her life, telling her that “it’s your fault because you told me to be nice to everyone.” But since I was a little kid, parents haven’t told their kids to be nice to everyone. The exact opposite, in fact. “Don’t talk to strangers” is a mantra which is decades old and something most parents in America have taught their kids since at least the ’70s. Ditto for “stranger danger!”

Also not real: the woman does a TV interview for money and the news anchor who interviewers her, blames her for having her son and raising him in captivity. Puh-leeze. No media personalities are ever the least bit challenging or accusatory when they interview kidnap victims (not that I’m saying that they should be, but someone needs to ask about the endless, overboard branding of female kidnap victims). On the contrary, they go overboard in the other direction. They fawn over the kidnapees, gushing over them effusively, and wrongly calling them “heroic” and “courageous,” when they are simply very unfortunate victims who managed to survive. I mean, has anyone missed Diane Sawyer and others fawning over Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, and Robin Roberts slobbering over the captives of Ariel Castro in Cleveland (and each of their unnecessary books)?

The ending features an unnecessary revisit to the scene of their captivity (which also is without the “Inside Edition” cameras you know would be there in real life, for yet another paid interview). And the mother takes her son there. That’s hardly motherly, nor “closure.” And if it is, that’s pathetic and says a lot about American victimhood.

The only parts of this movie that interested me were the moments of hope and nail-biting suspense, when the escape attempts (and success) happen. That was the only part of the movie that resembles more traditional and less tawdry and dark kidnap rescue movies–the type liberal movie critics pan (because they aren’t dark and negative enough and the victims are rescued and happy about it). Other than that, the one highlight of the movie is nine-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay as Jack, the five-year-old son and the product of the rape. He’s a great actor and very cute. But Tremblay, who was seven or eight when this movie was shot, shouldn’t have been exposed to the subject of rape and the material in this movie. His mother is the Teri Shields of this generation, and she should be arrested for child abuse. She took away her son’s childhood all for money, not via the force of a kidnapping child molester.

The movie ends on an ever so tentative, ever so slight positive or redemptive note. But it’s not enough to justify this cheap, dark exercise in the unnecessary.

TWO MARXES
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Watch the trailer . . .

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13 Responses

“I would not spend ten bucks-plus and two hours of my life on any of the new releases in theaters today.”

And I, for one, would not blame you, having read the unvarnished reviews of these wastes of hard-drive disk space that these movies are now put on (as a replacement for celluloid).

ConcernedPatriot on October 31, 2015 at 12:33 am

These were all so bad I didn’t even watch the trailers.

Steve G on October 31, 2015 at 9:09 am

Hi dear Debbie! Thanks for sharing and Thanks for the info!It would be wonderful if you would place my comment written here underneath my first and last name on USA Google Homepage America. Let me please say why? Because as i was scrolling down i saw our Most Wonderful U.S. President in U.S.History President Ronald Reagans Photo with his great cowboy hat and it says: (ONE REAGAN))We Love President Ronald Reagan from all of our hearts! Very Sincerlly Tirdad Gharib.

Tirdad Gharib on October 31, 2015 at 9:38 am

Thank you for your great and honest reviews.

I was forced by friends to go see the new Bill Murray movie “Rock The Kasbah”. What a waste of my time. So boring. Not funny and now story. What has happened to Hollywood. The older movies of the 20’s – 50’s were so much better. While watching the Billy Murray movie I wanted to scream. I did not walk out since my friends drove me there. After it was over I asked if they liked it and no one really did. CRAZY.

Fred on October 31, 2015 at 11:30 am

Sandra Bullock plays the same character in every movie that she is in. Worse yet, she has had so much plastic surgery she looks like a man in drag.

King David on October 31, 2015 at 12:48 pm

I don’t think I’m going to see any of those movies either. I’m waiting for “The Peanuts Movie” that’s coming out soon. By the looks of it,it’ll be A LOT better than the movies you just reviewed.

Ghostwriter on October 31, 2015 at 8:32 pm

Seems like Cooper is trying to make up with Hollywood for American Sniper which everybody saw and loved except the libs and the muzzies.

No one will see or care about Burnt….gone in two weeks.

gstarr on November 1, 2015 at 5:38 pm

Somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised about “Our Brand Is Crisis” being loosely based on Carville (among other Clintonistas) – seeing that pic, Billy Bob Thornton does seem to have “the Carville look.”

ConcernedPatriot on November 2, 2015 at 12:14 pm

So glad I took up reading at an early age, because with all its modern technology and inventive movie making aids, Hollywood is a cesspool of mind numbing, soul sucking dumbness ..

jack on November 3, 2015 at 11:40 am

I found your recommended “CHEF” online and am looking forward to watching it.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Ronbo Jin on November 3, 2015 at 4:55 pm

I’ve given up on Hollywood. Unless taking my nephews/cousins to see one of their superhero flicks (which I’ve had enough of too) I refuse to help pay the salaries of angry, spoiled brat actors and the producers and directors who are unable to come up with any new or interesting material. Technically, it’s not a boycott~that would imply that there was something of value in their product and that at one point I may resume theater going.

In contrast, I do find Debbie’s reviews entertaining.

YCHtT on November 24, 2015 at 7:31 pm

I was interested in reading Debbie Schlussel’s take on the new movie “Burnt,” with Bradley Cooper. Some friends had decided to see the movie thinking it would, at least, be an entertaining movie. They too were disappointed and their bottom line closely paralleled Ms. Schlussel’s: weak storyline, weak lead character development, but great shots of food and food preparation.

Cooper isn’t to blame for those results. Cooper has proven himself to be a versatile and exceptionally talented actor. And while it’s true that the theme of a drug/alcohol addict redeeming himself/herself has been done countless times, that theme isn’t the problem either. There have been many top screenplays with that same basic theme, and, in the hands of skilled, hardworking writers, there will be many more in the future. The most likely culprit for this movie’s weaknesses is the screenplay. I can tell from the brief reactions to the movie that the writer didn’t work hard enough on the lead character to address such questions as: why did he become an addict (a physical weakness)? what psychological/moral weakness did he also have (as good dramas have both for depth)? what caused him to want to change? Great screenplays always address these core issues and they are always superbly integrated into the story as a natural outgrowth.

When I asked my friends these questions about the lead character that Bradley Cooper played, they responded that they could only recall cursory coverage of those issue. But they did say that they didn’t feel they were rooting for character to succeed–an essential audience response for a good movie! Of course they didn’t. If the audience can’t relate to the character’s motivations — or the writer didn’t even address the character’s motivations, as seems to be the case here — why should the audience root for the character?

For some excellent screenplays that use the theme of the addict redeeming himself, see the movies “The Verdict” (1982) with Paul Newman, “Tender Mercies” (1983) with Robert Duvall, and “Flight” (2012) with Denzel Washington, as the respective addicts. Note that each of these movies is strikingly different and original. Yet, they each basically use the same theme as “Burnt” later does. The huge difference, though, was that The Verdict was written by David Mamet, Tender Mercies was written by Horton Foote, and Flight was written by John Gatins. (For an interesting bit of trivia, Horton Foote got Robert Duvall his first screen role, as Boo Radley in “To Kill A Mockingbird (1962),” in which Foote wrote the screenplay based on Harper Lee’s novel.)

There are really a much smaller number of themes and plots than you might imagine and I don’t think any new ones have been created or even can be created. What the writer can do to create new and engaging stories (not plots) is to learn the art of character development and to find new ways to tell the story. That is where the creativity and “magic” (i.e., hard work) of writing really takes place.

Ralph Adamo on December 8, 2016 at 1:21 pm

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