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Warner Home Video presents
Kate: No matter what I make, she doesn't eat it.
DVD ReviewHollywood as a rule cannot leave well enough alone, and that's certainly the case with Mostly Martha, a small film that just had to be remade with a big budget and star power that drains a lot of the life out of it. Even given that issue, No Reservations manages to still keep a fair amount of charm once you get past the inept marketing campaign that tried to portray a movie centered on death and grief as a romantic comedy.
Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as Kate Armstrong, the obsessive and driven master chef at a fine Manhattan restaurant. When her sister is killed in a car wreck, Kate must take on the task of raising her niece Zoe (Abigail Breslin). Unprepared and totally at sea, Kate cannot break through the girl's shell. In the meantime, Paula (Patricia Clarkson), the owner of the restaurant, hires sous-chef Nick Palmer (Aaron Eckhart) to help while Kate takes some personal time. Antagonism grows immediately between the two, with Nick's vivaciousness coming into conflict with Kate's desire for control. But Nick is appealing to Zoe, and before long the girl is playing matchmaker. When Kate and Nick have a falling out, Zoe's world falls apart and her grieving comes back to the forefront.
Zeta-Jones comes across as a caricature most of the time, with a hard edge that may be appropriate but which doesn't make her terribly appealing. She does have a reasonably good chemistry with Eckhart, whose winning free spirit seems equally unlikely to have survived intact in the high pressure world of culinary arts. The glue that really makes it work is Breslin, who is again adorable when called upon to be but who also demonstrates an impressive range in her sense of loss and desperation, acting out in unpredictable ways and finding novel ways to cope. She does a fine job with the part. Brian F. O'Bryne is heartbreaking as Sean, Kate's long-suffering neighbor who would like to see more of her but ends up with Nice Guy Syndrome; the movie won't even give him a tiny concession that could distract from the central romance, which is more than a little annoying.
The picture seems a bit afraid to touch on the issues related to a romance between coworkers, especially in the high pressure situation of a fine restaurant kitchen. There are some hints, however, that are dropped especially in the otherwise inexplicable actions of Paula, undercutting her longtime chef on a systematic basis and in the process demolishing the coherence of her own menus. One can only expect that such a restaurant in real life would collapse of its own interior dramas before the Times' reviewer could print his first pan of the place.
Although sold as a romantic comedy, it's certain nothing of the sort. The exception would be a handful of slapstick moments that seem utterly out of place in an otherwise serious drama and romance. One area that the picture excels in, however, is both the sense of teamwork inherent in such a kitchen operation, and in a thoroughly visceral appreciation of fine food, which particularly comes across in the HD version. The vivid portrayal of the food itself (whether attractive or disgusting) is certainly memorable, and this will be required viewing for Food Network devotees.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: One of the last of Warner's HD DVDs, this disc shows that they've really come a long ways in mastering the VC-1 encode. The picture is crisp and detailed throughout, with tons of texture present. The starchy white of the uniforms comes across exceedingly well, and there is plenty of texture and pop. There's no sign of either edge enhancement or digital noise reduction, though there is some minor mosquito noise around the opening credits. A delightful viewing experience.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Most of the audio is presented in a rather lifeless front-oriented mix. However, during the restaurant scenes the ambience of the busy kitchen comes to life, which no doubt is an analogy to the fact that Kate only feels alive when cooking. Dialogue is quite clear, and the score, an engaging and unobtrusive effort by Philip Glass, has very good presence.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Extras Review: Two extras are included on the HD DVD, though they're only in standard definition. Only on the HD DVD side is the episode of Emeril Live, which offers Eckhart and Breslin in tandem with Emeril Legrasse to tell anecdotes and present recipes for a number of dishes featured in the picture, including Kate's signature stuffed quail with truffle sauce. This episode also includes the theatrical trailer, which appears nowhere else on the disc for some reason, though it gives away the entire picture. The second bonus feature, which appears on both sides of the disc is an episode of the Food Network's Unwrapped (21m:02s), which features all three of the principals as well as the real chefs who prepared the food and the menus seen in the main picture. It's a shade annoying since the same interview moments are repeated in a brief space of time, but it's at least modestly interesting.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsA rather thinly-painted remake that's mostly saved by the outstanding work of child actress Abigail Breslin, No Reservations seems to want to have its heart in the right place but can't quite bring it off. The HD transfer is first-rate, however, and there are some out-of-the-ordinary bonus materials that may prove enticing.
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