“The Giants who formed this world and now seem to live in it in chains are actually the cause of its life and the source of all activity. But the chains are the cunning of the weak and tame minds…”
Confused yet? That’s how Bitter Feast opens, and while it does have a witty premise, the film continues to confound and confuse throughout. The opening poem is the backdrop for a game that turns violent between two brothers in a wooded area. I have to be honest. It made my brain literally hurt trying to figure out what director Joe Maggio was trying to say.
The premise is actually deliciously simple. Peter Gray (LeGros) is a chef with some renown. He hosts a cooking show but has little tolerance for his co-host or any attempt to make the show entertaining. He doesn’t care about the ratings; he rants and then appears shocked that it’s heading for cancellation. To make his life worse, a blog critic named JT Franks (Leonard) has written a scathing review of his cooking which leads to him being fired at the upscale restaurant he was running. Life is spiraling downward for Gray, but he appears to take it all in stride. He continues to prepare his own meals with concise order and begins to prepare his own “just desserts”.
He kidnaps Franks and chains him first to a tree in the yard and eventually in his basement. He intends to teach the thoughtless critic a lesson. He orders him to perform rather simple cooking chores like making eggs over easy. If he can make them perfectly, he can eat them. If not, he goes without food. A few beatings to instill other rules eventually find Franks in pretty sorry shape. Then, without warning, the film becomes The Most Dangerous Game, with Franks given a head start before Gray hunts him down. For some variation on the theme, the film offers us a private detective who is closing in on Gray.
Maggio made a serious mistake here. He had a pretty clever idea with a bit of sardonic wit going for him. He even picked actors with an awkward style that really places them outside of human normality. Of course, I mean beyond the whole capture-and-torture thing Gray has going for him. This is the perfect setup for a brilliant black comedy, and for the first hour or so that’s exactly what we get. But Maggio doesn’t want this to be a black comedy. He decides to throw in this odd flashback to a violent incident in Gray’s past that is just too confusing to fit into the piece. Still, he has a pretty wild black comedy going. At some point he changes lanes at warp speed without ever checking his mirrors to see if he’s clear. Suddenly we have a typical hunter chase scene that just doesn’t fit the mold of the movie. I can’t tell you how much I want to see the film that should have been made here. I love dark, funny stuff, and this could have been absolutely twisted and humorous.
The film makes a lot of promises from the beginning. But just like my favorite Italian restaurant, it just doesn’t deliver. If Maggio truly wanted a straight-out horror film, he terribly miscast his leads. The quirky nature and almost disengaged attitudes do not make them interesting enough characters. I don’t really give a crap what happens to either of them. Once that’s set in motion, why am I watching this anymore? I’m not being entertained. It ends up being a pretty good waste of time. That’s pretty sad, because Maggio absolutely had something here, he just overcooked the meat. I like Dark Sky, and usually they offer some solid low budget horror. Unlike Joe DiMaggio, this guy swings and he misses… by just an inch.
Bitter Feast is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The movie suffers from some serious compression issues on DVD. The exterior shots often shimmer and lose focus. There is an odd surreal aspect to the image quality that again might have been perfect for the kind of film it should have been. It’s just real enough to bring us in, but something about the image just doesn’t sit quite right. Black levels are really terrible. Shadow definition is so poor that the action is completely lost in low lighting.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is probably everything Maggio intended it to be. Again it’s just a little off, but that’s kind of okay. The piano score is very discordant and is effective at keeping you a little off. Dialog is fine. There’s not a lot of sub happening here, but again I don’t really have a problem with that.
Deleted Scene and Alternate Ending: (6:11)
Feast Portraits: (1:57) A montage of stills.
Making Of: (29:40) Most of the interview stuff here is with Maggio. It is often silent with score music only. Everything is covered; I’d just have liked to see it a little more directed.
Mario Batali Interview: (7:47) Interview with the real chef who had a small part in the film.
I hope that Joe Maggio doesn’t take a page out of his own script here. I’d rather not be kidnapped and forced to perform some basic film studies tasks with equal horrific consequences for failure. Like making me watch the film again Clockwork Orange style. It’s almost as if he’s inviting harsh treatment by critics. I think he’ll wear it like a badge of honor. Still, if you start to notice it’s been a few days since I’ve posted a review, have someone check Maggio’s flight plans. If he’s come to Tampa send out the search parties. By the way Joe, you’ll notice that I did not say it lacked excitement. “Man, I don’t want to play this game any more.”