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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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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.