Review – You Want Death With That? (“The Menu”)

Ever go to one of those fancy-schmancy restaurants in L.A. and order a really expensive meal, only to get a big plate with a tiny portion of food? They call it “an incredible gastronomic and epicurean experience”. Pffftt!! I’d rather go to Wendy’s.

The story goes that screenwriter Will Tracy dined at the ultra-prestigious seafood eatery, Cornelius Sjømatrestaurant in Norway when he got the idea for this dark comedy. Behold The Hawthorne, an exclusive, invitation-only dining experience located on a remote island that serves up only the finest in exquisite cuisine. The master chef behind it all is Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), an enematic and strict man that makes Gordon Ramsey look like a saint. He and his robotic staff serve up bizarre and fantastic dishes at $1250 a plate. But tonight is gonna be special!

At tonight’s lavish dinner is: unimpressed Margot & food geek Tyler (Anna Taylor-Joy & Nicholas Hoult), a fading movie star (John Leguizamo) with Felicity (Aimee Carrero), his fed-up manager, three odious employees of a company that owns the Hawthorne (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr), a snooty food critic (Janet McTeer) and her yes-man editor (Paul Adelstein), and a snobby rich older couple (Reed Birney & Judith Light). Overseeing the evening is the oh-so-serious hostess, Elsa (Hong Chau). As the menu items are served and discussed by Julian, things start to go off the rails by the third course. I won’t give away the turn of events but suffice it to say the diners didn’t pay for a floor show!

As the evening progresses, each of them realizes that this is not going to be a nice evening out and eating something different but a deadly game of survival, as the chef lays out his unusual plans. . . while serving up outrageously delicious food! The only one out of place in this circus of the pretentious is Margot, something that catches the eye of Julian who takes a particular interest in her. Meanwhile, each of the diners is trying to come to grips with their own lives, thanks to some tell-all tortillas (trust me, it’s pretty cool). The only one that isn’t freaking out is Tyler; is there something that he knows that the others don’t? By the end, you’ll never look at cheeseburgers or s’mores the same way again!

Written by a couple of first-time screenwriters, Will Tracy (Last Week With John Oliver and Succession) and Seth Reiss (Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Onion News) have come up with a diabolically strange, humourous, and quirky little film that features some dynamite acting but has a few flaws in the story. While the overall premise is unique and the plot has some excellent twists and turns, it lacks some cinematic gut punches that could have sent it over the top. There are also some puzzling red herrings that go nowhere. It needed to dial it up to eleven and be more bizarre. Still, it held my attention and made me want more.

The reason to see this film is Fiennes, who really makes a feast of his role. His Julian is a constantly changing palate of raw emotions that you never know what he’s going to do or say. Same can be said for Taylor-Joy who, with those big, beautiful almond eyes, can convey so much without saying a word. Hoult is great as a pretentious dick and Chau is positively chilling. Leguizamo has a nice turn as, well, playing himself and McTeer is superb as a presumptuous critic. Director Mark Mylod (Game of Thrones, Succession) knows how to shoot for great suspense and atmosphere, which heightens the threat level at every turn. And, I must say, he’s great at photographing food! Yummy!!

**Now showing in theaters

And Then There Were None (1945)

Also known as Ten Little Indians, this excellent Agatha Christie mystery novel has been remade and reimagined almost as many times as the 007 franchise, including many stage adaptations. Starring an incredible cast of A-list British actors, this BBC version went on to be distributed by 20th Century Fox and made a bundle in the U.S.

Don’t you just love parties? Well, eight people, all strangers to each other, are invited to a small isolated island off the coast of Devon, England, by a mysterious “Mr. and Mrs. Owen”. Once they all settle in at a mansion, they are greeted by two newly hired servants, Thomas and Ethel Rogers (Richard Haydn & Queenie Leonard), but their hosts are absent. In the center of the room is a peculiar figurine: ten little porcelain Indians. Thomas puts on a gramophone record and (WTH??!!) a strange man’s voice accuses them all. . . of murder! Gulp!

General Sir John Mandrake (C. Aubrey Smith), Emily Brent (Judith Anderson), Dr. Edward G. Armstrong (Walter Huston), Prince Nikita Starloff (Mischa Naur), Vera Claythorne (June Duprez), Judge Francis J. Quinncannon (Barry Fitzgerald),   Philip Lombard (Louis Hayward), and William H. Blore (Roland Young) have each done questionable, evil, or terrible things in their past to warrant them being there. . . but why? After they start to confess to their individual heinous acts, they realize that, not only are they stuck there on the island, but their host is a “U. N. Owen”, which stands for “unknown”. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, “It’s a trap!”

After Starloff is suddenly poisoned, the Indian figurine in the dining room is smashed and a connection is made. His death corresponds to the gruesome song lyrics of, “Ten Little Indians“, which was just sung by Starloff. As each murder occurs, it’s apparent that someone is killing off the guests according to the eerie poem. Example: “Six little Indian boys playing with a hive; A bumblebee stung one of them and then there were five.” Sure enough, Mrs. Brent dies via a hypodermic needle. As the body count starts to increase, naturally everyone starts to blame the infamous Mr. Unknown, but after an exhaustive search of the house & grounds it’s apparent that the killer is. . . ONE OF THEM! Dah dah dummm!

Panic ensues as, as hard as they try to keep alive and search for the secret killer, each one of them dies. The only ones that seem to have a foothold on what may be happening are Judge Quincannon and Dr. Armstrong, along with Miss Claythorne and Philip Lombard. Could one of them be the mysterious killer? Pretty soon it all comes down to the Judge, Miss Claythorne, and a hangman’s noose dangling in the lobby. This doesn’t look good. A prolific writer, Dudley Nichols adapted Agatha Christies novel into a cracker-jack script. Nichols was already a noted screenwriter, having penned such films as The Bells of St. Mary, For Whom the Bells Toll, The Big Sky, and many others.

Under the atmospheric direction of René Clair (The Ghost Goes West, Phantom of the Moulin Rouge), this movie is more creepy and sinister than any other remake after it, and you tell by the beautiful black & white photography and that haunting, jarring soundtrack. Then, of course, you have a cast to die for! The great Walter Huston as the tipsy doctor turned detective, Barry Fitzgerald playing against type as the Judge, Roland Young as the caustic Blore, and the ever-abrasive character actor C. Aubrey Smith as the General. Richard Haydn is wonderful as the butler, the only real comic relief in the movie. You probably remember him in Young Frankenstein as the courier who delivers Dr. Fronkenstien his will.

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