Thursday, 30 March 2023

‘The Menu’ lavish satire; Dolly Parton’s “Christmas” on TV


The foodie culture has been satirized in many ways for its pretentious stylish presentation of fine dining, from the artistry of the food on the plates to the modern chic of the restaurant itself.

“The Menu” is taking the concept of haute cuisine to an insane level over the period of a five course (or it is six or more?), where the farm-to-table meal looks more like modern art than an edible experience.

The setting is a temple of exquisite gastronomy called Hawthorn, where the wealthy, celebrities and affected fools fork over $1,250 per patron to savor the changing menu of Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) who runs the joint like a cult leader.

Save for one person, nobody has arrived at the island restaurant not on purpose. The arrogant Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) considers himself an aficionado of the culinary arts but he’s more the buffoon.

Tyler’s date is Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a last-minute substitute for this excursion. From the start, she’s skeptical about the whole evening, and it turns out for very good reason.

As an unnamed movie star, John Leguizamo finds his acting career is fading and hopes instead to host a travel food show, and his assistant Felicity (Aimee Carrero) is desperate to quit and get away from him.

A trio of obnoxious tech guys (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang and Mark St. Cyr) work for Doug Varick, owner of the Hawthorn, which gives them an added sense of dubious privilege.

Lillian Bloom (Janet McTeer), an arrogant food critic with an overly inflated ego, has a history with Chef Slowik, and she’s joined by her editor (Paul Adelstein), a spineless yes man.

Reed Birney and Judith Light play a wealthy older couple who have been regulars at Hawthorn but over the course of the meal unsettling secrets are revealed about the husband.

Chef Slowik may be at the top of his game, but he’s come to loathe his elite customers, and himself, for being corrupted by them, and his disgust and contempt are a toxic brew for an evening that turns deadly.

The actors are the best thing on “The Menu” as they deal with the shocking surprises that put them on edge. Oddly interesting, the whole affair is a mysterious thriller mixed
with satire and strong violence.


Fans of Dolly Parton are almost certain to love NBC’s most highly anticipated television event of the holiday season in the new original movie “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas.”

The moniker GOAT usually applies to a sports superstar, someone like Tom Brady, but you could say the same goes for Dolly as the most honored and revered female country singer-songwriter with a multitude of awards and number one songs on the Billboard country charts.

Don’t worry about missing the premiere on the network because Dolly’s special will stream on Peacock, and apparently there will be an encore on NBC on Dec. 21 at 8 p.m.

While there are numerous songs that capture the spirit of Christmas and the importance of gathering with family during the holidays, Dolly gets to shine with her iconic songs “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You.”

There are a few things to be learned during this two-hour film. Such as, Jimmy Fallon may host his own eponymous late night talk show on NBC, but who knew that he was also a singer?

In a duet with Dolly for the song “It’s Almost Too Early for Christmas,” Fallon wears a black leather sequined jacket as the pair dance with backup singers in a scene that looks like a 1950’s diner.

Keep in mind that “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas,” which has opening scenes at Dollywood, is a movie musical about the making of a network TV special, with all of the frenetic backstage angst of a dress rehearsal.

Speaking of production anguish, Tom Everett Scott’s show producer Sam Haskell frets that they are behind schedule for their live performance, and things only gets worse when the choreographer leaves for a job with the Radio City Rockettes.

Throughout the movie’s production numbers and rehearsal chaos, Dolly finds herself taking a private journey into her past, guided by the mysterious appearances of her personal Wise Mountain Men.

Through the sparkle of magic dust, Willie Nelson tells Dolly to think of him as a wise old mountain man full of wisdom. Her response is to tell him that he is “full of it.”

When Dolly says that Willie Nelson taught her to remember that we’ll always be the kids we once were at Christmas, Billy Ray Cyrus shares his wisdom that who you are with in the present is what really makes it Christmas.

When the time comes for the special to air, a renewed and inspired Dolly goes rogue and shows the world that the real magic of Christmas lies in the hearts of the children and that Christmas is about the people we share it with.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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