Be honest: The Avengers made you want to eat shawarma, didn't it? Even if you didn't know what shawarma was beforehand, you wanted to, at the very least, learn about it, right? Indeed in some circles the food and the film are now indistinguishable., and I wouldn't be surprised to learn of mass post-Avengers exoduses to the nearest shawarma stand. Likewise with this week's Battleship. It'll be hard not to watch the gloriously stupid Battleship and not want a chicken burrito, a food item that was featured in an early plot point, and then rehashed in the epilogue. As the film's bland hero, having saved the day, approaches Liam Neeson at the film's end to discuss an important personal matter, the two agree to discuss terms over chicken burritos. And I'll be dipped if I didn't want to swing by my local Mexican joint for a burrito of my own.
I long ago gave up the practice of eating during theatrical feature films, as I found candy to be a mere distraction, and, after many years of working in various movie theaters, lost my taste for popcorn (although when at home, I often find myself eating full meals in front of movies). But sometimes, as in the cases above, I do find myself hungry for very particular food items when I see certain movies. Indeed, some movies have become so connected with single scenes of featured foods, that they become one with your next meal. Often, adding such a poetically connected meal to a feature film can only enhance the film experience, stretching your enjoyment of the thing into an entire evening of conversation, art, and commonly themed victuals.
Many films about food can make you hungry (Big Night anyone?), and others make you aware of certain brand names (E.T. springs immediately to mind) but there are far more films that feature lone scenes of commonly discussed foods that subtly stab at your salivary glands. Perhaps you haven't had the food in question, and you want to try it. Maybe it was already your favorite, causing you to run home and chow down. It's odd, isn't it? The way certain films make you wanna eat? Let's look at a few prominent examples.
Pancakes, from Uncle Buck
John Hughes' 1989 comedy Uncle Buck, starring the late great John Candy, was about the family's titular black sheep who had to spend an extended period looking after his nieces and nephew, much to the chagrin of his brother and sister-in-law. Buck was a jovial if slovenly fellow with little experience with kids, and perhaps too much experience with weapons and fists (not only does he threaten to circumcise his niece's scummy boyfriend, but he, perhaps rightly, punches out a drunken party clown). For his young nephew's birthday, Buck, in what is perhaps an utterly brilliant maneuver, prepares a special pancake breakfast with pancakes that are about four feet across. Buck requires a snow shovel to flip them. It's perhaps not believable that a griddle that size would exist in your average suburban home, but I don't care. 'Cause I'll be dipped in butter if I don't want a plate o' my own pancakes after that scene. Preferably pancakes I can roll up inside of. I would like to hope that if I ever become extremely wealthy that I would spend my money wisely. But I just know I would spring for four-foot pancakes at some point. Call it a wish as yet unfulfilled.
Apple Cider, from Fantastic Mr. Fox
Wes Anderson, I feel, finally hit his stride in 2009 with his first animated feature Fantastic Mr. Fox. Anderson's films are all notoriously mannered, and he likes warm colors to surround his perfectly framed actors. What better way to control an already semi-artificial and pointedly stagey scenario than by making it a cartoon? The film, based on a British children's book by Roald Dahl, follows an adult fox (voiced by George Clooney), and his merry misadventures trying to become a gentlemanly chicken thief again after too many years of simple domestic comfort. And while the scenes of the foxes and other woodland critters chowing down on chicken and apple snaps are, in their own way, kind of mouthwatering, it was the apple cider that really made my eyes light up. One of the human businessmen that Fox regularly steals from is well known for his delicious alcoholic cider, and there are plenty of scenes of animals and humans slugging the stuff back in huge quantities. And if that wasn't enough, late in the film, Fox's home is intentionally flooded with hundreds of gallons of golden apple cider. Watching the film is a pleasant enough experience, but it can only be helped with the addition of a champagne glass full of sparkling Martinelli's.
Pit Beef Sandwiches, from Pecker
I didn't even know what a pit beef sandwich is, and I don't eat meat, but I wanted one. John Waters' 1998 film Pecker is about an iconoclastic twentysomething artist (Edward Furlong) who takes arch and funny photographs around his native Baltimore, and becomes cheerfully and somewhat obliviously ensconced in the New York art world, which, ultimately, puts way too much pressure on him and his wacky family and friends. His little sister is a sugar freak. His girlfriend is a snippy laundromat manager. His best friend loves to play “Shopping for Others,” which is an awesomely fun game wherein you sneak groceries into other people's shopping carts. And his saintly grandmother runs a pit beef sandwich station just next to her house. The pit beef sandwiches Pecker's grandmother serves are all homemade, and they are immensely popular with all the local Baltimorean truckers. When I first saw the film, I pictured a nice big sourdough roll with long, smoky strips of thinly sliced prime beef laid in a cross-cross pattern across it. Then, for some reason, it has some nice hot Dijon mustard. Like I said, I don't even eat meat, but the thought of such a sandwich left me curious and salivating. I have since learned that “pit beef” is the nickname for Baltimore barbecue that is grilled rather than smoked, and is served with horseradish sauce on rye. If you've eaten one of these, could you please describe it to me?
Wild Boar, from The Twelve Tasks of Asterix
Yes, I read comics all throughout my youth, but, because I was a snotty kid even back then, I was fond of the obscure-in-America-but-world-famous-otherwise series of comic books starring the Gaul villager Asterix who lived in the only French village to repel the Roman Empire in AD 50. Think of a more historically meticulous version of Tintin and you'll be close to the Asterix books. Asterix has been featured in nine animated films, three live-action films, and several video games. My favorite (of the few I've seen) has been the 1976 animated film The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, wherein our heroes must prove they are godly by accomplishing 12 herculean assignments dictated by Caesar, which they easily accomplish with the aid of magic potion. In their down time, our inimitable Gauls like to relax with flagons of wine, and feasts of wild boar. The boars are large, drippy, golden orange spheres of meat, with four bony legs reaching to the sky. They are picked up whole, and munched into with gusto. They look soft and tasty and probably taste really good with wine and french fries. I've never had wild boar, but the images on display in this (and other) film(s) would have me at least giving them a nibble.
Pizza (of course) from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
the twelve trailials of asterix
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released in 1990 when I was 11 years old. At age 11, my palate was limited to say the least, and there weren't too many foods I would eat. Yeah, I was a fussy eater. What the Ninja Turtles movie did was more than make me hungry. They actually opened me up to one of the most important junk food staples of a young man's life: order-in pizza. Oh sure, I had eaten my share of pizza before age 11, but I had little passion for it, perfectly content to eat the discarded crusts of my friends. It wasn't until I saw the green mutant monsters worshiping at the alter of Italian pizza pies that I was forced to reconsider. I mean, if my favorite action movie stars/monsters loved pizza, surely I should give it another chance. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn't just make me want to eat pizzas, it is perhaps responsible for making me love it. By age 12, I was ordering pizzas on my own and piling them up for every sleepover party. These days, I can bake my own from scratch (and, if I may say, they're pretty dang good). In 1990, this was a very important film. In my kitchen, in an odd way, its legacy lives on.
From the Desk of William Bibbiani:
Movies have to get by with just two of the senses: sight and sound. Everything else in the sphere of human experience has to be evoked with just those two abilities. It works out okay most of the time. It’s rare to experience any one sensation in a vacuum. We can look at a texture and imagine how it feels, or hear the sound it makes as we scrape our hand across it. Something that smells bad usually looks pretty bad, too. We look at poo and think to ourselves, “Selves, let’s not stick our nose in that,” which is usually a wise choice. Taste is probably the easiest though. We look at a mouth-wateringly shot dish and hear the crunch as it enters a characters’mouth, and as they lovingly chew, it’s hard not to go, “I gotta get me some of that.”
It’s a common joke that Americans are some of the fattest people on the planning, owing to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and an abundance (some might even say overabundance) of rich, sugary, starchy grub. Our films seem to be representative of that. When food is presented in an American movie it’s usually little more than a treat, something hearty to chow down on for no other reason than “food is tasty.” But if you look at cinema from other countries, like Japan for example, you’ll find recurring themes of hunger. Many protagonists are motivated simply by the fact that they haven’t eaten in a while. Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai revolves around finding “hungry samurai,” and practically every episode of the iconic anime “Cowboy Bebop” begins with its heroes taking an illicit job because they’re sick of instant noodles. Come to think of it, most episodes of “Samurai Champloo” operate the same way, except Mugen, Jin and Fuu don’t even have noodles to be sick of.
What follows are six examples of movies with scenes, devoid of product placement, that make me super hungry. Yes, I stopped off for a burrito right after Battleship.
Fried Chicken, from Masters of the Universe
Gary Goddard’s 1987 live-action adaptation of the hit cartoon series “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” isn’t what you’d call a popular film. Most folks seem to complain that it has little to do with the original series, and that’s a fact. Funny thing, though: if you change the characters’names a bit, it’s actually a pretty solid adaptation of Jack Kirby’s New Gods comic book series. He-Man becomes Orion (he even flies a similarly clunky harness-like contraption), Gwildor’s “Cosmic Key”created “Boom Tubes”for interdimensional travel and so on and so forth. Masters of the Universe is actually kind of fun when you take it in that context, but more importantly it really makes me want fried chicken from KFC. Not that they call Kentucky Fried Chicken out by name, but as soon as He-Man (Dolph Lundgren) and his stalwart companions arrive on earth they make a pit-stop to steal a bucket of Robby’s fried chicken and ribs. Sure, they eventually realize that the food is meat, dreaded meat, and throw it away in disgust, but before that the coolest action heroes of the 1980s (sort of) chowed down on some tasty looking vittles, even chugging down an entire cup of barbeque sauce. Which I have since tried. And don’t recommend.
Ironically, The Help, a film with a scene dedicated to exalting fried chicken, had no such effect on me. Maybe they were just trying too hard.
Hawaiian Burgers, from Pulp Fiction
“Big Kahuna Burger? That’s that Ha-WAI-ian burger joint! I hear they make some tasty burgers! I ain’t never had one myself. How are they?”
They look delicious, Jules. Quentin Tarantino’s gamechanging 1994 crime drama Pulp Fiction is one of few motion pictures to almost singlehandedly change the cinematic landscape, popularizing dialogue steeped in cultural references, non-linear narratives and conscious, non-satirical homages to previous motion pictures. But it gets the little things right too. Pulp Fiction brought the minutiae of daily life to the previously over the top world of the criminal lifestyle, from reading on the toilet to debates about the erotic potential of foot massages to, yes, food. After an early, now iconic conversation about the cultural differences between American and European McDonalds, and before a memorable throwback diner with expensive milkshakes and bloody steaks, hitmen Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) get into character in order to threaten a room full of screw ups in possession of crime boss Marcellus Wallace’s prized, glowing briefcase. Part of their tough guy act is to improv a conversation about their future victims’choice of cuisine, Hawaiian burgers, and steal a bite. The act is mundane but filled with menace, and the burger looks tasty as hell. I’m not entirely confident what a Hawaiian burger is (do they put pineapple on it?), but I’ve always wanted one.
Mojitos, from Miami Vice
Michael Mann’s criminally underrated feature adaptation of his hit TV series “Miami Vice” was criticized for being low on action and high on atmosphere, as if that’s somehow a bad thing. It didn’t help that Miami Vice was marketed like a summer blockbuster. Although Mann does whip out a few memorable firefights in this 2006 crime drama, it’s mostly a quiet character study about undercover agents in Florida, spearheaded by Colin Farrell who, I’m estimating, drinks about 2,000 mojitos over the course of the film. “I’m a fiend for mojitos,” he says, and although a mullet would normally prevent me from taking any character seriously, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Damn, these so-called mojitos must be delicious.” I had one right afterwards. They were. I’m a bit of a fiend now myself.
Fried Rice, from A Better Tomorrow 2
John Woo’s action classic A Better Tomorrow was such a breakaway success that a sequel was inevitable. Pity they killed off the breakout character, played by Chow Yun-Fat. What was John Woo’s solution? Put Chow Yun-Fat back in the movie anyway, playing his old character’s (previously unmentioned) twin brother, Ken. In one of the better introductory scenes in any movie, Ken appears at his restaurant in New York, defending his rice from a particularly unappreciative customer yelling “This f*cking fried rice!” and spilling it on the floor. Oh sure, the guy’s really just trying to get a protection racket going, but that’s nothing compared to insulting Ken’s rice. “You don’t like my rice? What’s wrong with it? It’s beautiful to me, but to you, rice is nothing. To us, it’s just like my mother and father. Don’t f*ck with my family. If you have any dignity, apologize to the rice right now.” So he kneecaps a guy and forces the finicky eater to finish his plate at gunpoint. It’s ridiculous, it’s hilarious, and damn it, you come out of the movie really respecting the hell out of fried rice.
Alien Puke, from Bad Taste
Before he made megablockbusters, Peter Jackson was just a struggling home movie enthusiast who got his big break with the really, really low budget sci-fi comedy Bad Taste, about a group of Kiwi alien hunters trying to stop an invasion of E.T.’s who want to use human flesh for their intergalactic fast food chain. I’m not kidding about the low budget. Jackson had to record without sound and play several of the roles personally, including one memorable sequence in which the future Lord of the Rings director fought himself to the death. Bad Taste is perhaps most memorable for its gross out moments, including a particularly memorable sequences when one of the aliens vomits into a bowl, and then passes it around to his cronies to eat. One of the heroes, in disguise, is forced to take a swig to maintain his cover, and after the initial wave of nausea, he finds it delicious. It’s the ultimate example of “Just try it.” I always wondered what it tasted like. Apparently not bad.
Frosting, from Hook
A lot of people my age grew up with Steven Spielberg’s Hook, a film that cast Robin Williams as Peter Pan. The gag was that Pan has grown up, forgotten all about Never Never Land, and has to reclaim his lost youth in order to save his kidnapped children from Captain Hook. It’s a cute idea, sullied by some awful attempts at humor, a fair share of plot holes and enough Spielbergisms to fill a book. I’m not the biggest fan, but I don’t hate Hook. I certainly don’t hate the scene in which Williams discovers that in Never Never Land, food only exists if you imagine it. Once he finally rekindles his creative spark, the table fills with what appears to be frosting, in every color of the rainbow. Odd that an adult with a more refined palette would fantasize about eating frosting. Eating whatever you want is one of the first things you do when grow up, and usually you swiftly realize what a bad idea it can be. But whatever, he eats tons of frosting and, as a little kid, that’s what I wanted to do too. Yum.
What movies made you hungry?