If time was controllable, I would write an individual review for EVERY MOVIE I saw. But alas, the day job and everyday adulting needs don’t allow the words to flow whenever. Life shifts, and in turn it shifts your priorities around with the passing of time. So, let’s review a few new or recent movies, with the hope of producing an escape for everybody… reading this post. Let’s get started with THE MENU, currently playing in theaters around the country.
First thing, Ralph Fiennes makes ANY movie better. One of the most versatile and polished actors of his time or anyone else’s era, Fiennes is a master at unearthing immoral and moral qualities in a character that doesn’t strike you right off the bat. They slowly bleed off the screen, kind of like how a steak can only get better as you cut further into the center. In Mark Mylod’s ridiculously fun and original film, “The Menu,” Fiennes is Julian Slowik, the renowned chef of a getaway restaurant located off a deserted island.
To eat here, you not only need distinct reservations, but you need a helicopter or boat to reach the shore. Once there, several groups of foodies and influencers of all kinds huddle into a fancy dining hall where Fiennes’ head of the kitchen walks out to the center and CLAPS. That means the first course is coming soon, and I don’t think the people at the table understand what’s going to happen. Neither does the audience.
If you think you know what’s going to happen, rest assured that around the 30-35 minute mark, what does happen isn’t anywhere near your guesses. Fiennes isn’t some superhuman cooking zombie, hellbent on destroying all the bad eaters around the globe. He isn’t a secret agent, sent overseas and shores to eliminate a terrorist who likes exotic fish. What Slowik and his staff (including Hong Chau’s sinister yet polite hostess) have in store is wild, unhinged, and bloody.
My immediate thought was screenwriters Will Tracy and Seth Reiss were pulling a page from an earlier 2022 horror delight in “Fresh,” which starred Sebastian Stan as a freelance chef who cooked up human organs for elite clientele. But that’s not the game for “The Menu,” which sits closer to a restaurant-version of “Saw” than any other film in the genre. It’s a slow-building revelation that will result in a gasp, and then it just builds on the “out there” abilities of a thriller/horror hybrid.
Along with Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy puts on her usual seductive and cunning ways as the girlfriend of a Slowik fanatic (Nicholas Hoult), a guest who immediately smells bullshit intentions at this fine dining facility. She matches wits with Fiennes’ brilliant culinary mind, and that creates some of the movie’s better moments. “Succession” fans will recognize another disrupted customer in Rob Yang’s guest, someone who figures out that a nice Yelp rating doesn’t really mean shit to this cook. John Leguizamo and Janet McTeer (Tall, blonde drug lawyer from “Ozark”) also dine in here for unexpected delights.
If I went on, the gourmet meal at the center of “The Menu” would be spoiled. I’m better than that, even if I can’t get this ingenious film, one that’s more funny than most people could guess, out of my mind. You can cook up a fine gumbo if you add enough spice to the equation, and Mylod did here with his ingredients. (Apologies, but the food puns can’t be avoided.)
A darkly humorous ride through the minds of the decrepit and the souls who wish to punish those who do wrong is a ride that I needed. “The Menu” will make your food belly hungry with its “Burnt” style of high-end European cuisine, but it will also feed the movie addict in your soul who craves an original screenplay with a very talented cast. Fiennes, Taylor-Joy, and Chau make a great idea sing.
A movie that makes you appreciate the simplicity yet precision of a double-cheeseburger, one that you can enjoy from a yacht while watching a large fire. “The Menu” grows more bizarre and witty by the minute. Give me more of this.
What about other movies?
“Bones and All” has been beloved by the critics for its daring exploration of fine, young cannibals (Timothee Chalamet and Taylor Russell) drifting around the US looking for a fresh meal and twisted romance. Mark Rylance lifts up the show with this creepy, older eater who tries to take Russell’s free spirit under his wing. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross put together a beautiful score and the film definitely walks to its own beat, but it’s one that grows increasingly predictable by the third act. Also, if you’re not up for a young woman having her finger chewed off on camera, I’d steer clear. Easier to admire than love or get close to. Film Buffa Rating: 2.5 out of 4.
“Aftersun” surrounds a father (Paul Mescal) and his young daughter (Frankie Corio) on a European trip, and how the daughter as an adult looks back on that momentous trip. A slower film than I expected carries the rhythm of “Lost in Translation” or the under-appreciated Stephen Doriff film “Somewhere,” a pacing that takes time and patience to understand. Most of the movie is a series of events and moments that mean more to the characters later on in the story. Delicate and not rushed, the full brunt of this film’s impact didn’t strike me. However, the final scene does wrap a deft bow around the lingering mystery. Film Buffa Rating: 2/4.
“The Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” wasn’t as good as the first one, even if the sequel is mildly entertaining and carries a woke script. In other words, Rian Johnson turns the mirror on the world and how it’s adapted and underdeveloped over the past few years of new age isolation and desperation. Daniel Craig returns to the scene as the greatest detective with a cool French name, and this time he’s dealing with another group of spoiled, whiny guests of a wealthy tech god (Edward Norton). But the run time carries extra fat on its bones, and the third act drags along. Worth catching on Netflix on Dec. 23? Sure.
“Women Talking” doesn’t carry the blunt force of “She Said,” at least for me, but it’s a well-done and supremely well-acted movie about a series of horrible incidents within a religious community back in 2010. Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, and Jessie Buckley set the screen on fire with this tale of how religious beliefs clash with inhuman actions, leaving a group of women grappling with the choice of leaving their home or staying to fight bad people. It’s got a real stage play vibe to it, which isn’t my cup of tea, but the overall power of the film’s climax helps the film stick its landing.
For more expanded thoughts on these and other films, give my recent episode of “In The Buff” on my YouTube channel a look.