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OF THE BEST OF THE FEST"
- HUFFINGTON POST
PICK: Zesty fun for its actors... a sly parody... a creepy little chamber-piece...
Joe Maggio is a name that can be placed alongside Fessenden protégé Ti West as one to watch out for."
- L.A. WEEKLY
MUST SEE ... Razor sharp acerbic wit... perfectly crafted... meticulous...
- CULVER CITY OBSERVER
FEAST is a good meal. If you want a fun, scary thrill, go check it out."
satisfying and engaging... a special, worthwhile film... absolutely gripping."
plea for simple, basic humanity...
a low-budget, well-paced, impressively performed and quietly engaging indie horror flick
that's got two strong leads and a welcome sense of dark gallows humor."
sequences sprinkled with intensity...
enthralling and definitely engaging... an enjoyable snack."
for the gourmet. First-rate performances by James Le Gros and Joshua Leonard...
Helmer Maggio reveals a fluency in the horror-genre vocabulary while also translating it to his own twisted ends....
blends celebrity psychology, media criticism and basic cuisine... while also fusing Emeril Legasse and Norman Bates...
a hybrid of intellectual and visceral horror.... It's also funny...
Tech credits are tops, notably Jeff Grace's score and its recurrent themes,
and the beautiful work of d.p. Michael McDonough ("Winter's Bone")."
WEEKLY - Mark Olsen, June 17, 2010
Once the premise is launched, the film settles down to a simple series of mind-game one-on-ones between the chef and the blogger, each struggling to hold on to the safety of his carefully cultivated persona. Zesty fun for its actors, Feast is at once a sly parody of the celebrity-chef culture spawned by all the cable cooking shows and competitions, and a creepy little chamber-piece. Even Maggio's point of view on blogging captures something unique: Leonard's character likens himself to the Iron Sheik, applying an unlikely but apt wrestling analogy to online provocation.
The film's wonderfully
wicked sensibility should come as no surprise to fans who notice the
involvement of Larry Fessenden as producer and in a small role as
a sleazy private detective. Fessenden, recently feted at the Aero,
has become more influential and important as a producer and general
facilitator of low-budget horror (not to mention his work with art-auteur
Kelly Reichardt) than for the films he directs. If Bitter Feast is
any indication, Joe Maggio is a name that can be placed alongside
Fessenden protégé Ti West as one to watch out for. (Downtown
Independent; Fri., June 18, 9:45 p.m., Sun., June 20, 10 p.m.) (Mark
I'm glad I'm not a food blogger. You see, I could die...
I bring this up because I got a chance to watch BITTER FEAST, the new horror-y thriller (thriller-y horror?) flick from director Joe Maggio, about a celebrity chef that exacts revenge on a food blogger who torpedoed his career.
Is my front-door locked?
the revenge of chef Peter Grey (James Le Gros), haughty and unhinged,
who captures blogger J.T. Franks (Joshua Leonard), an influential
and notoriously snarky writer who crashes what's left of Grey's career
with a particularly malicious review of his food.
Matters spiral toward a dark desert when a meddlesome private investigator nibbles at Grey's toes, searching for the whereabouts of the captured Franks while Frank's wife worries if she'll ever see her husband again.
She really shouldn't. This is a horror movie after all. These things have a way of sorting themselves out. Lots of blood is usually involved.
Le Gros and Leonard are the centerpiece of the film. Both inhabit men driven to nastiness by way of tragedy, each more similar than they'd like to admit. Le Gros' Grey spends the bulk of the film subjecting Franks to the acid exactness that churns in his soul, a solution he's more than willing to share after Franks' review exposes it to the air.
The origin of
Franks' sting is the opposite, the result of wound forced on him by
the capriciousness of life ripping away the one thing he really loved.
He's determined to return the favor by savaging any chef's work by
filleting what they -- and in this case Grey -- holds most dear: cooking.
My only real disappointment about BITTER FEAST is that is that the one thing I wanted I didn't get: a final, ultimate, bloody -- I like the blood -- showdown just between Grey and Franks. Le Gros and Leonard had so much fun living in these characters, in playing the depths of their cruelties and in revealing their sadistic streaks, that I wanted all of the restraints to come off in the last act and watch them truly battle for the upper-hand. Instead, the movie adds a stalker / thriller element that, while fun to watch and still bloody and gory -- as I said, I like that blood -- it left me a bit peckish.
It's a minor quibble,
one that I hope won't have director Maggio waiting for me in the parking
lot, abducting me off to an abandoned movie theater and forcing me
to watch the entire oeuvre of David De Coteau movies until blood seeps
from my eyes...
Eat first, though.
- Peter Hall, June 19, 2010
I mention this not because Bitter Feast is one such film, but because that may be the type of film people are expecting from a plot that revolves around a chef, Peter Gray, (James LeGros) who exacts revenge on the food critic, JT Franks (Joshua Leonard), whose perpetually scathing reviews of his meals have finally cost him a career as a celebrity chef. So Peter kidnaps JT, takes him to his isolated house deep in the woods, and makes the blogger pay for all the bad reviews he's written over the years. Combine a plot like that with the current state of the genre and it's oddly natural to expect Peter to break out a pair of pliers and turn JT's body into a canvas of pain. What he actually does is, in a lot of ways, worse.
All Peter wants to do is make JT understand that because his words have consequences he better actually know what he's talking about. What he doesn't realize is that JT is a bit of a self-loathing jerk who has completely lost his lust for life. So it's going to be a little hard for Peter to break through to JT. Unfortunately for the latter, the former has all the time in the world and a house deep in the woods. Things start off simple. Peter reads to JT one of his reviews criticizing the chefs ability to cook an egg. He then gives JT a bucket of eggs and a frying pan. The critic is allowed to eat every egg that he cooks flawlessly over-easy, but if the eggs are imperfect in any way, he won't be eating. And thus begins an "eat your words (or don't) war between the two.
I usually hate to mention expectations for a film in its review, but I think it's important for Bitter Feast in order to understand just how unique of a film it is. Had Joe Maggio written the script and not directed it, it's easy to see all the corners most modern horror directors would have cut to make the film. The characters wouldn't have been as rich, their struggles wouldn't have the proper motivations and their clashes together would be a lot bloodier and far more in-your-face. But because Maggio is coming from a no-budget, character study background, his first stab at horror benefits from not having to give in to any trends currently going on in the genre.
On the flip side of that, however, I think his plotting in the script department is a bit too indicative of someone who is relatively new to the genre. Yes, this allows for a unique set-up of conflict, but the pacing and the highs and the lows may not come as complete surprises to watchers who watch more horror than any other genre. That said, even with a slight sense of pre-destination overshadowing the script, Bitter Feast is still a totally satisfying and engaging film. Maggio knows that showing less and implying more is a horror director's best skill. He also knows that actors who can do more than just fill a role, who can actually bring characters to life are his best tool.
James LeGros and Joshua Leonard both give completely to the essence of their characters. LeGros' Peter Gray is perfectly believable as a celebrity chef, but it's clear from very early on that he is completely unhinged and that the only thing that's prevented him from swinging wide open is a strong enough breeze in the wrong direction. Leonard, who most will recognize as "I gave you back the map!" Josh from The Blair Witch Project, is great as that strong breeze. He gives the character just enough damaging arrogance and swagger to keep his breaking point nearly invisible, which makes him a perfect match for Gray's tactics.
It's those very
tactics that really seal the deal on Bitter Feast being such a special,
worthwhile film. I always admire films that can take an otherwise
mundane setup and make it absolutely gripping. To that end, I can
guarantee that you've never been more invested in whether or not someone
can properly cook a medium-rare steak than you will be here. And if
Maggio can have you more fearful for what's going to happen if/when
that steak isn't cooked properly, then he's done everything he needs
to just right.
- Scott Weinberg, June 20, 2010
I know what a lot of you movie fans are thinking already: "oh, here's a horror flick about a chef (aka filmmaker) who exacts brutal revenge on a food blogger (aka film critic), so already I know where this is headed." Or if that's not what you were thinking, it's certainly what was on my mind as the opening moments of Joe Maggio's Bitter Feast ran across the screen. But considering Maggios' earlier films (the very fine Virgil Bliss and Milk & Honey, neither of which are horror films) and the presence of hard-working genre producer Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, Wendigo, The House of the Devil), I was more than willing to give Bitter Feast its fair 95 minutes.
Also of early note were the lead actors: namely, James LeGros (Point Break, Phantasm 2) as the fastidious and quietly intense chef Peter Grey, and Josh Leonard (The Blair Witch Project, Hatchet) as a thoroughly obnoxious lout who still (somehow) delivers a small shred of humanity. And considering how hateful his JT Franks character is, that's pretty impressive. Newcomer Amy Seimetz , as Frank's estranged wife, doesn't appear much, but does leave an impression. The multi-hatted Fessenden (a frequent actor in his own right) pops up and adds some color at just the right moments.
As for my earlier fears, I should have given Maggio a bit more credit. What I feared would be a horror/thriller about "filmmakers vs. film critics" is actually a plea for simple, basic humanity. Chef Grey is not averse to criticism (OK, maybe he is), but his main problem seems to be with people who bitch and moan and complain, loudly and incessantly, without any sort of basic consideration for other peoples' efforts. (I like to think my film reviews, even when negative, are written with knowledge and passion ... plus I never make things "personal." That's for low-end food bloggers like JT Franks.) Franks, for example, doesn't even know how to boil an egg, so Grey has a valid point: if a guy can't boil an egg, or tell ketchup from cold marinara, what gives him the right to (literally) ruin a good chef's career? And make no mistake: Franks kills Grey's career, not unlike , for example, he killed the man's dog. Considering Grey's family history and home life, that career was the only thing holding him to any semblance of sanity.
It's a low-budget,
well-paced, impressively performed and quietly engaging indie horror
flick that's got two strong leads and a welcome sense of dark gallows
humor. And it offers a good moral: think before you speak. And that
- BC, June 20, 2010
BITTER FEAST follows sous-chef/TV personality Peter Gray (James LeGros) who’s career tanks between his sh*tty onscreen attitude and a harsh review by blog food critic JT Franks (Joshua Leonard). Gray exacts his revenge by kidnapping Franks and torturing in an attempt to enlighten him on how difficult his job really is. Gray wants Franks to see the other side of the fence so he can truly appreciate the works he is reviewing, instead of violently destroying (with words) people’s hard work.
Problem A: Gray doesn’t intend on letting Franks survive. Since Gray wants to kill Franks, the lesson he’s trying to teach becomes obsolete.
Problem B: Peter Gray is a Grade A piece of sh*t. He’s arrogant, rude, and impossible to work with. He can’t be the protagonist, which means Franks must be, right?
Problem C: JT Franks is a Grade B piece of sh*t. He’s a bitter, angry individual who writes incredibly harsh reviews for absolutely no reason, right? The food is actually good, but he’s just mean, grrrrrrr – or does the food actually not live up to his standard? Maybe it’s just in the eye of the beholder? Nope. He’s a jerk, and he should die. But wait; apparently Franks lost his son in a bout to leukemia. Now the audience is all of a sudden supposed to connect with him and pray for his escape? I don’t think so.
Problem D: The prior leads me to my main point; there’s no protagonist. Both lead characters are douche bags that deserve everything they get. There’s no one to root for and no one to care about… until….
Problem E: All of a sudden Franks’ wife Katherine (Amy Seimetz) becomes the lead character. The only development her character has is that she talks with JT about the leukemia and the angry writing. Then all of a sudden she’s thrust to the forefront of the pic and the viewer is expected to care.
BITTER FEAST is more of a potluck than a delicious stew. There’s an intense lack of focus and it’s impossible to decipher what Maggio is trying to say. It’s also becoming lazy and incredibly trite to make the critic a villain. What would have been interesting is if JT was correct about Gray’s loss of focus, pointing out that Gray actually had lost his game. Gray in turn couldn’t accept this and loses it. Then the audience could have sat back and cheered on Mr. JT Franks.
It's a fun movie -- I just didn't feel any connection to the characters.
problematic in its ingredients, BITTER FEAST is still somewhat edible.
There are some fantastic sequences sprinkled with intensity. The games
Gray play with JT are enthralling and definitely engaging. While you
don’t really have anyone to root for, it is fun to watch just
to see how it plays out. If you don’t care who “wins”,
BITTER FEAST is still an enjoyable snack.
- John Anderson, June 20, 2010
Serving up that famous dish best served cold is Peter Grey (Le Gros), who hosts "The Feast," a delicious parody of a Food Network show -- one Peter thinks is supposed to be about green markets and sustainable foods, and his channel thinks is supposed to be about ratings. Saddled with an unctuously unfunny comic sidekick, Peg (Megan Hilty), and told audiences don't really want to learn anything, Peter has one foot out the door when a food blogger named T.J. Franks (Leonard) trashes Peter's restaurant online. Peter is fired by his boss (former Food Network personality Mario Batali, whose cameo seems pointedly sarcastic), his show is canceled, and soon Peter -- who, as glimpsed in flashbacks, had a rather troubled childhood -- decides to kidnap T.J. and basically run him through the meat grinder.
Helmer Maggio reveals a fluency in the horror-genre vocabulary while also translating it to his own twisted ends. He's said that "Bitter Feast" was inspired by what he saw as an unfair New York Times review of chef/martinet Gordon Ramsay (as if such a thing were possible), but Peter is much more suggestive of Alton Brown, host of "Good Eats," the last really instructive program on Food Network. For all his soup-to-nuttiness, Peter is actually the sympathetic character here; T.J. is one seriously unpalatable dude (Leonard is perfectly vile), although he is, at the same time, a fantasy figure: a food blogger who could close a restaurant? Don't think so.
But such are the topical grace notes of "Bitter Feast," which might have contented itself with being just another thriller, but instead blends celebrity psychology, media criticism and basic cuisine (what's your definition of an over-easy egg?) while also fusing Emeril Legasse and Norman Bates. Larry Fessenden certainly seems to be channeling Martin Balsam as a private eye who goes sniffing around Peter's remote New York State home in search of the missing T.J., and there's a bit of Vera Miles in the blogger's wife (Amy Semietz) as she's dragged into the nonfeeding frenzy. Fessenden, whose own directorial efforts have included the vampire-addiction pic "Habit" and the unnerving eco-anxiety chiller "The Last Winter," has geared production shingle Glass Eye Pix toward a hybrid of intellectual and visceral horror, and "Feast" is a prime example.
It's also funny: When T.J., tied up like a dog, runs out his chain trying to get at Peter's throat, you can see it coming a mile away and you still laugh. There are some implausibilities to the whole chef-vs. food-blogger setup, such as the idea that T.J. would post his picture on his site and actually take notes while reviewing a restaurant (as the staff virtually genuflects around him).
Tech credits are
tops, notably Jeff Grace's score and its recurrent themes, and the
beautiful work of d.p. Michael McDonough ("Winter's Bone").
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