Stephen Romei

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Burnt (M) Na­tional re­lease Para­nor­mal Actvity: The Ghost Di­men­sion (M) Na­tional re­lease

One of the qual­i­ties of art, on the page or the screen, is the abil­ity to en­gage peo­ple with some­thing in which they have lit­tle or no in­ter­est. The Cana­dian writer Malcolm Glad­well has made a ca­reer of this. Closer to home, Syd­ney author Jane Glee­son-White won awards for her ab­sorb­ing 2011 book Dou­ble En­try, a his­tory of ... ac­coun­tancy. Si­mon Cur­tis’s re­cent film Woman in Gold made a sin­gle in­stance of Nazi art theft en­gross­ing in a way that, for this viewer at least, Ge­orge Clooney’s The Mon­u­ments Men did not. It’s all about the in­tel­li­gence and the power of the sto­ry­telling, and con­nect­ing us with the peo­ple who are liv­ing the story in ques­tion.

Which brings me to Burnt, a drama cen­tred on a world in which I have lit­tle in­ter­est, that of celebrity chefs, high-end res­tau­rants and haute cui­sine. Yet John Wells’s film did hold my at­ten­tion for the most part, helped by a meaty cast and a crisp script by the ta­lented Steven Knight (writer of Dirty Pretty Things and East­ern Prom­ises, writer-di­rec­tor of the re­mark­able Tom Hardy one-han­der Locke and creator of TV’s Peaky Blin­ders).

At first glance Burnt would ap­pear to be plucked from the pages of An­thony Bour­dain’s 2000 best­seller Kitchen Con­fi­den­tial, and as it hap­pens star Bradley Cooper had the lead in a short-lived 2005 Fox tele­vi­sion se­ries based on that book. But per­haps it’s fairer to say this film takes in­spi­ra­tion from the gen­eral mis­be­haviour of bad-boy chefs (and bad-girl ones, lest we for­get Martha Stew­art, or M. Diddy to use her pri­son nick­name).

Here Cooper is Adam Jones, an Amer­i­can chef who had it all — two Miche­lin stars, the top job at the land­mark Paris restau­rant where he started out wash­ing dishes as a teenager — but lost it due to a Bour­dainian ad­dic­tion to booze and drugs. Hence the dou­ble mean­ing of the ti­tle (though it was orig­i­nally called Chef, un­til Jon Favreau’s film of that name last year.)

We first meet Adam as he comes to the end of a self-im­posed pur­ga­tory in New Or­leans. He shucks his one-mil­lionth oys­ter (lit­er­ally; he’s been keep­ing a tally in a lit­tle book), throws off his apron, walks out the door and heads to Lon­don and the road to re­demp­tion. There, ad­mir­ers who re­mem­ber his salad days com­pare him with the Rolling Stones and with Yoda from Star Wars. More suc­cinct is the ob­ser­va­tion that “the bas­tard could cook gravel’’.

That last re­mark is made by Adam’s old Paris chum Tony (an ex­cel­lent Daniel Bruhl), now maitre d’ at a swish but strug­gling Lon­don eatery, who is per­suaded to give the now-sober Adam an­other chance. Adam hires a cou­ple more of the old Paris gang, in­clud­ing sous chef Michel (the mag­netic Omar Sy) and a young fe­male chef, He­lene (Si­enna Miller, Cooper’s Amer­i­can Sniper co-star). His aim is to pro­duce “culi­nary or­gasms” and win a third Miche­lin star, some­thing his great ri­val Reece (a scen­esteal­ing Matthew Rhys, from TV’s The Amer­i­cans) al­ready has.

What fol­lows is fairly pre­dictable but at­trac­tive enough to watch, with a cou­ple of stand­out scenes, such as when Adam has a tantrum af­ter a bad open­ing night, or when Adam and Reece share an un­ex­pect­edly hu­man mo­ment over an omelette. Uma Thur­man and Emma Thomp­son pop up in smallish roles that add in­ter­est (though Jamie Dornan, still cred­ited on some movie web­sites, was cut from the fi­nal film). There are some keen ideas briefly ex­plored, such as the pos­si­bil­ity that we are stronger with other peo­ple than with­out them, but ul­ti­mately this is not a deep film. Para­nor­mal Ac­tiv­ity: The Ghost Di­men­sion is the sixth and, we are told, fi­nal in­stal­ment in the found-footage su­per­nat­u­ral hor­ror fran­chise cre­ated by Is­raeli-Amer­i­can film­maker Oren Peli. The first film, in 2009, (the only one di­rected by Peli, though he’s been a pro­ducer on all the oth­ers) was made for $US15,000 and earned al­most $US200 mil­lion at the box of­fice. No won­der we have had five more.

This time around the fam­ily who find them­selves lit­er­ally bat­tling their de­mons are video game de­signer Ryan (Chris J. Mur­ray), his wife Emily (Brit Shaw) and their six-year-old daugh­ter Leila (Ivy Ge­orge). Also on hand are two house guests: Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill) and the at­trac­tive Skyler (Olivia Tay­lor Dud­ley), who helps out with Leila. When Ryan finds an old video cam­era. ap­par­ently left be­hind by the former oc­cu­pants, who dis­ap­peared mys­te­ri­ously, things start to go bump in the night. It seems the cam­era can see ghosts, and so can Leila. The ghosts, later iden­ti­fied as de­mons by a pri­est, want Leila, and it’s all con­nected to a man named Toby and prior strange go­ings-on in the house, which will be fa­mil­iar to fans of the se­ries.

De­but di­rec­tor Gre­gory Plotkin, who edited the pre­vi­ous films, re­lies on loud noises and sud­den move­ments for the scare fac­tor, with the ghosts/de­mons rather neb­u­lous for most of the time. The ten­sion does build, how­ever, and the end­ing is gen­uinely creepy.

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