13 October 2010

Bitter Feast

I had heard about this awhile back and was intrigued, so when I saw that it was playing at the International Film Fest, I was stoked. The premise of the movie is that a chef loses his job because of a vicious review written by a food blogger (and also because, well, he's kind of a douche) and he then takes his revenge by kidnapping the blogger, torturing him and making him cook. Intriguing, right? You kinda wanna see it, don't you?

Well, so it's not great (yes, I'm mindful of the irony of writing a not-entirely-glowing review of a movie whose premise is that a vicious blogger gets tormented). It's not bad, but it's not quite as fantastic as I wanted it to be. This is partly because the the guy who plays the chef is somewhat wooden, but also because the movie overall feels kind of amateurish, like a first time film. Which is not a deadly sin, but, well, you do notice it. There's a sense that the movie is trying to do too many things with various sideplots - a private detective (although here there was one clever aspect, I don't want to give it away, but basically, something that I expected to be formulaic and predictable actually wasn't, and I appreciated that), a cooking show with an annoying hostess (who you fully expect will become a victim, which by the way is a sign that you see the chef as actually a psycho killer) who sort of dilutes the villainy that the chef is confronted with in a not-particularly-productive-way, and just, I dunno, a lot of stuff that you don't really care about. But if you cut all of it, you wouldn't have enough movie. So I dunno.

But, to prove that I'm not just writing negative things about it because I'm a narcissistic blogger (like the monsters on Yelp - have I mentioned lately how much I hate yelp?), I'm going to share some of my thoughts about the film. SPOILERS ABOUND.

The movie is actually framed by a kind of scene of originary trauma. Namely, the chef's older brother is some kind of bizarre, vicious child who quotes William Blake (I asked what the text was in the Q&A). The chosen quote is about two kinds of people, creators and destroyers. It's a little heavy handed for a movie that sets a chef against a blogger, but also slightly raised my hackles, because I resent the implication that criticism is purely parasitical or destructive. But that's my own beef, I suppose.

What's kind of fascinating about the movie is the way your sympathy is essentially flip-flopped over the course of the film, from chef to blogger. Now, this is apparently not what the director had in mind - he wanted the chef to be sympathetic throughout, he claimed in the Q&A. If so, well, sorry. But it's more interesting the way it is, I think. It is arguably also somewhat heavy handed - though the chef is not 100% sympathetic at the outset (like I said, he's sort of a douche), the blogger is an absolute monster - much more than he needed to be. He's an arrogant, hateful jerk, not only via blog, but also in his personal life, as evidenced by his unbelievably callous treatment of his wife. He sort of makes up for it with a cute apology, but it hardly redeems him. By the end of the movie, however, it's the chef who's a monster, and the blogger who you're cheering for. This is not purely because one is a killer and the other is a victim. Actually, at first, you're kind of enjoying watching the blogger suffer, despite the fact that it's pretty grisly stuff. What's interesting is how the shift happens. My boyfriend and I disagreed on when the chef became more evil, and thinking back on it, I'm really not sure. But there's a point at which his vengeance begins to seem more self-serving than reasonable, like he's starting to just enjoy sadism for the sake of it. What I found fascinating, however, is that the blogger, for me, was redeemed in a moment when, upon eating the chef's star dish spiked with poison, he gives it a bad review. This is interesting, because it's exactly the behavior that made me dislike him in the first place, but in this new context, it seems like some kind of triumphant affirmation of humanity, the ability to say fuck you in the face of death. By far the best scene in the movie.

The final scene, I have to say, was overdetermined and somewhat groan inducing. It's not the original ending, I learned, but from what I heard, it's better than the original ending - it's just not that good.

Anyways, overall - would I go see it in theatres? No. But it's definitely worth renting, especially if you're a foodie.

10 October 2010

Tuesday, After Christmas

So, I saw 4 Months, 3 weeks, etc etc, and yes, it was a great movie. I also saw Police, Adjective, and while the premise was interesting, man, it was sloooooow. I haven't seen 12:08 East of Bucharest or Death of Mr Lazarescu, but from what I've heard, they conform to my gradually developing sense of what is typical of Romanian cinema. Ie, slow, gray, and a bit of a downer. So I wasn't exactly rushing to see this at Chicago's International Film Fest, but somehow, my friend and I decided to go, so I attempted to shelve my somewhat snarky attitude about what the movie was likely to involve, and off we went. And wow. I'm so glad we did, because the movie is dynamite. Yes, it is kind of gray, and somewhat gloomy. But despite its emotional intensity, it doesn't feel like a downer. And it's not as relentlessly gray as a lot of Eastern European movies - maybe partly because the characters are upper middle class (which, my friend pointed out, is a nice change). They have macbooks and iphones. And a sporty car.

So, the movie is basically about a guy who is cheating on his wife. Sounds grim, and yes, the movie definitely does an incredible job making you conscious of how painful affairs are, for everyone. At the same time, what's impressive about the movie is that every single character is sympathetic and likeable. Even when they're being somewhat less-likeable - they're flawed, yes, but not in the narcissistic, inconsiderate way that most people mean when they say flawed, but in some kind of normal and not (to me) immoral way. In other words, at no point in the movie do you really blame anyone, nor do you have a clear sense of what should be done, or a notion that someone isn't doing it. The movie is oddly suspenseful, in that you really don't know what will happen next, and you're not really sure what you want to happen either.

As my friend pointed out, the success of the movie is partly dependent on its first scene - right from the opening, you're completely drawn into the world. It's so compelling (though I can't really say why), and that pull never lets up for the entire film, and does some really important work in terms of establishing both the characters' personalities, and they way you respond to them.

Seriously - it's a fantastic movie. Do not miss the chance to see it, should it come up.