DID YOU READ

“Bitter Feast,” a horror flick for foodies.

“Bitter Feast,” a horror flick for foodies. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Los Angeles Film Festival.

During the post-screening Q & A for “Bitter Feast,” writer/director Joe Maggio declared himself not a fan of torture porn. But with all those butcher knives around, who could blame him for getting a little grotesque in telling the tale of a world-class chef who chains up a food critic in his basement after a particularly nasty review?

What separates “Bitter Feast” from most entries into that particular genre are the great lengths Maggio goes to show that both men were in dire straits long before any shackles were administered. Nearly 20 minutes pass before the film’s title card comes up, a prologue in which we see flashes of Peter Grey (a bearded James LeGros), a detail-oriented chef with a cooking show on the brink of cancellation and a career at a four-star restaurant over after a poor review from influential food blogger JT Franks (Justin Leonard). Yet Grey’s been through worse — as a kid, he fended off his brother’s roughhousing in the woods once by jousting a nearby spear into his neck, and was never caught.

Of course, Franks probably didn’t know this when penning his review of Grey’s Feast restaurant for Gastropunks, a site where 40,000 foodies show up daily to read which new high-priced eatery he deems “vomitous.” His wife (Amy Seimetz) wonders aloud, “how can you write this shit?” to which Franks responds, “just playing my role,” before comparing himself to wrestling bad guy The Iron Sheik. He, too, has his reasons to be taciturn; Franks’ son died of leukemia two years earlier, and his wife’s entreaties for another child only further irritate him.

06192010_BitterFeast2.jpgA retreat into the country might sound like an opportunity for both men to clear their heads, but when Grey seizes Franks from the streets of New York to repair back to the same woodsy home that bore witness to his last murder, it isn’t a picnic for either.

Which is not to say there isn’t food involved — as Franks is bound to a wall, he’s presented with a series of culinary challenges by Grey, like cooking a perfect overeasy egg or a medium rare steak, while Grey taunts him with his reviews that questioned others’ ability to do so. There are no Rube Goldberg contraptions around to punish Franks if he can’t fulfill the task, but when the yolk runs out on the aforementioned egg, Grey finds that an iron skillet can be used for other means than cooking.

This is where the smarts in Maggio’s screenplay come out, brought to life by a reserved LeGros and a devious Leonard. The tête-à-tête between Franks and Grey is invested with a sense of authenticity to back up its original spin on a well-worn premise. The culinary motif is no mere window dressing, but rather a clever way to show how what once was so beautiful to both men could become so ugly.

Although the film is somewhat betrayed by a third act where the action shifts away from the cook and the critic to the search for Franks by his wife and a private investigator (Larry Fessenden, who also produced through his Glass Eye Pictures banner), it’s not enough to spoil “Bitter Feast,” even if some of the complementary flavors threaten to overwhelm the whole.

06192010_MarioBataliBitterFeast.jpgThere was significantly less suspense in discovering that Maggio used to work in New York kitchens and stumbled upon the plot for his latest while reading an unfavorable Frank Bruni review in the New York Times of Gordon Ramsay’s London Hotel, in which Bruni said the restaurant lacked “excitement,” in turn leading Maggio to wonder what a hot-headed Ramsay would do to Bruni if he ever got his hands on him.

The hot topic of the post-screening Q & A, however, was how Maggio collared another celebrity chef, Mario Batali, to play a key cameo in “Bitter Feast” as the restaurant owner who first shows Peter Grey the bad review. As it turns out, Fessenden’s kid attends the same West Village school as Batali’s, and as Maggio remembered, an event at the school brought out all of the parents.

It led to what Maggio called “the Larry David moment” of whether or not to approach the chef. While Fessenden remained mum on the details, the actor/producer did say “I sort of imposed myself on Batali” to get the cameo and even built the film’s production schedule around him, saving an extra day of shooting in the fall, even though “Bitter Feast” was mostly shot in the summer.

“It was the kind of exciting freefall we like to do at Glass Eye Pictures,” said Fessenden.

“Bitter Feast” will be released in the U.S. by Dark Sky Films.

[Photos: “Bitter Feast,” Dark Sky Films, 2010]

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.