“Bitter Feast” Marks Acting Debut Of Mario Batali
So recently I was contacted about doing a review of the new independent film, Bitter Feast directed by Joe Maggio. So naturally I was curious. Why on earth would someone want a chef and food writer to review a movie? Scanning down the e-mail I saw why I was being offered this opportunity – the film featured the big screen debut of Iron Chef Mario Batali. Additionally the story centers around the friction between a chef and a food blogger
Now movie critic is not something I’ve ever done before, not officially anyway. My friends can tell you that I am not a fun person to see a movie with because I am so critical of them. I have seen great works of cinematic art like Amadeus, Schindler’s List and Apollo 13 and I am always left wondering if such original drama is possible why on earth does Hollywood churn out so much predictable rubbish like Speed. I am literally offended by movies that are not stellar. In short formulaic movies piss me off.
I have never been a big fan of slasher films either. Part of it is that they rely so heavily on formula but the other reason is that I fail to suspend belief. That’s because no matter how fierce the monster or how diabolical the psycho my inner-redneck is convinced I can take him. So for me to do an informed review of this film I have to keep my prejudices in check.
I mentioned that the central story is about the “friction” between a chef and a critic but that was a bit of an understatement. Chef Peter Grey (James Le Gros, Zodiac) heads the kitchen at a well regarded Manhattan restaurant and he is the star of his own cable cooking show, The Feast with Peter Grey. Grey’s success has fueled his narcissism, emboldened his control issues and nurtured an obsessive compulsive disorder.
But lately the ratings have been down because recession-strapped viewers can no longer afford the all natural, organic ingredients Grey insists upon for his recipes. To make matters worse a scathing restaurant review by food blogger J.T. Franks (Joshua Leonard, The Blair Witch Project) leads to Grey being replaced at the restaurant.
When his TV show is canceled Grey’s career is left in shambles. The stress sends him over the edge. In a fit of rage and revenge he abducts Franks, stashing him at a remote house in the country where he tortures him. Any chef who has ever weathered an overly harsh review is likely cheering at this point. The chef forces Franks to listen to his own critiques of restaurants. After which the blogger must perfectly duplicate the recipes he criticized or suffer the consequences. The chef in me loved this.
Batli plays Gordon, a restaurateur who oversees several establishments including Grey’s restaurant. Chef Mario is only in one scene but it is a critical point in the story as Gordon informs Grey of his termination. Batali brings instant credibility to the roll because you know this guy has done this in real life.
Of course none of this should come as any surprise since Mario studied theater at Rutgers before pursuing a career in the culinary arts. In 2009 he voiced the character of “rabbit” in the animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox. Also he is the cousin of Dean Batali, a writer and producer of “That ’70s Show” and “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”.
Also of interest to foodies is the accuracy of the character Peter Gray as an obsessive locavore often rambling for several minutes about the origin of a single ingredient. No scene better exemplifies his farm-to-fork OCD than the one after his firing where he stops by the local market to get the ingredients for a simple dinner of chicken with vegetables. Grey purchases a whole chicken (including head and feet) then meticulously butchers the entire bird just to get one 6 ounce chicken breast.
Bitter Feast is a decent thriller with ample blood and gore; the torture scenes are brutally graphic. It is well acted and the cinematography is adequate. Other than the inventive twist of having the psychopath being a chef who takes out his rage on a critic there is little originality in the story. The accuracy of the Grey character and the techniques and jargon of a locavore chef is deadly accurate. Hollywood has not done a very good job of accurately portraying chefs on screen but such is not the case here. Le Gros delivers a believable food snob, someone that most of us have either met or are ourselves.