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Television and restaurant chef Peter Grey has got it all going right for him. That is, until popular food blogger J.T. Franks publishes a scathing review of Grey's restaurant. This causes a downward spiral for Grey, costing him his restaurant and his television job. Grey, being of sound mind, kidnaps J.T. Franks and forces him to undergo a series of "challenges" where Franks must prove his ability and worth as a cook, or suffer increasingly brutal beatdowns.
I'm sure I'm not the first to say that BITTER FEAST sounds like a cross between SAW and The Food Network. Even with the SAW comparison, this sounded like an intriguing premise of a chef gone off the deep end over something said by that guy from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. But enough name-dropping. Does BITTER FEAST bring anything new to the well-worn path that we've all been down before?
The strongest part of the film is its performances. Admittedly though, it's kind of hard to pick out who stands above the other in terms of acting, as both LeGros and Leonard do a great job in their respective roles. To complicate matters, both aren't exactly your model citizens. On one hand, you feel sorry for Grey that his life has gone down the crapper thanks to Franks, but you also know that the guy has a serious lack of people skills. On the other, you feel for Franks, whose life took a downward turn before all of this, which turned him into the prick that really hates life. It's a strange sort of predicament, made even stranger by Franks' self-loathing, and so Grey has to work extra hard at beating Franks in order to obtain some satisfaction. Also, for those who watch The Food Network (and not just the Iron Chef), there's a cameo by Mario Batali that has the real-life chef handling his own quite nicely.
The kind of 'switching sides' thing I admittedly did like from writer/director Joe Maggio, who has put together a rather admirable presentation. Be it Jeff Grace's score that keeps the tension high, or Brian Spears' makeup department for creating some nasty-looking appliances for Leonard's face, there's certainly some nail-biting here. Cinematography was also nicely done, with Director of Photography Michael McDonough focusing in tight and keeping the tension and 'intimacy' between our two loggerheads up high.
Given that both main characters are such jerks, the film suffers in that you don't empathize with either of these guys. It's interesting to have your protagonist that's not a goodie-goodie, but it's not exactly easy to root for the guy when you know what kind of person he really is. Also, there's a lost opportunity in trying to develop a sort of emotional reaction with the secondary characters like Franks' wife, played by Amy Seimetz. The character is there, but languishes from the lack of further development. The same can be said of Larry Fessenden's private investigator character (who also produced the film, by the way). Also, while the pacing of the film is rather by-the-numbers, there are few scenes that feel out of place, and the later part of the film shifts away from the battle of the chef and critic in favour of the underdeveloped characters mentioned above.
Overall, BITTER FEAST offers a nice little diversion for those who enjoy the torture porn niche but want something a little different. Leonard and LeGros both put in some great performances, but it all boils down to two guys who are unlikeable assholes that you can't get attached to. That might be your thing, it might not. For myself, I'd like something more in between the beatings and the blood.
Video: Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the film looks pretty good. Colours are nicely saturated, with good detail in the brighter scenes. Things tend to degrade a bit in the darker scenes however, but nothing dramatic. Grain is minimal and unobtrusive.
Audio: The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track presents Jeff Grace's minimalist score nicely, while keeping the dialogue clean and distortion-free.
First up is commentary with writer-director Joe Maggio, producers Larry Fessenden, Peter Phok, and Brent Kunkle and sound designer Graham Reznick. Despite the absence of Leonard and LeGros, this is an entertaining commentary that's full of energy. Makes you wonder how much better it would've been with those two involved.
Making Bitter Feast is a half-hour making-of piece that goes over the usual production process with interviews of the director, producer and more (including the food stylists) mixed in with production footage and scenes from the film.
Joe Maggio Interviews Mario Batali about his experience working on the film, and about food critics and bloggers. One problem I had with this was that Maggio and Batali really should've been properly 'hooked up', as it's hard to hear Maggio asking the questions.
Also included is a deleted scene, which is actually kind of creepy involving coffee. There's also an alternate ending that was wisely cut in favour of the ending that's in the film.
Finally, there's a photo gallery and the film's teaser and theatrical trailers.
It's an interesting twist on torture porn with some good performances, but in the end you're left with a film that walks the same road as other films before it with characters that you just can't decide who you despise less. Dark Sky Films still offer up a good set of extras and specs for the film, so it's still worthwhile to check those out.