Movie Review: City of Gold (2016)

imageVariety is the spice of life in a misunderstood modern metropolis for the deep-thinking but soft-spoken subject of a new documentary. Director Laura Gabbert’s City of Gold (B-) traces the impact and resonance of Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold as he illuminates the cultural underbelly of the city by way of its salmagundi of cuisines. It’s quickly apparent how delicacies doled out to tastebuds and tummies can awaken intellectual quandaries ranging from what immigration or the race riots have done to shape pockets of diverse populations to how exotic cooking traditions should be re-examined in the face of extinction of certain animals used for food. While this iconoclast’s superb ideas and writing crackle with energy and authenticity, the man himself is only rarely a compelling cinematic subject; and Gabbert’s hit-or-miss vision undercuts the would-be savory storytelling. Grand in its filming of mariachi bands and taco stands and bustling Korean kitchens that inspire pop-up congregations but just as often lost in the mêlée of long car rides, editorial meetings or disconnected encounters, it’s hard to fathom why the loving film craft sometimes pulses and just as often sputters. While it’s notable that the populist critic who finds wonders in strip-malls and the underlying humanity in the oddest of edibles has sketched out his own map to the stars of the everyday dinner table, the film could use a bit more verve. Still it’s a loving and enjoyable tribute. Much as Life Itself demonstrated the power of Roger Ebert’s pen to raise unexpected voices into the multiplex mainstream, the City Jonathan Gold conjures wielding chopsticks, forks and folklore is its own utopian umami.

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