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Films I Neglected To Review: Tower Chef
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "The Devil's Candy" and "Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent"

Effectively skewering the conventions of torture porn and the oeuvre of John Hughes and those inspired by his works, the grisly Australian genre film ''The Loved Ones'' was a generally inspired work that suggested interesting things in store for debuting writer/director Sean Byrne. Alas, his long-awaited follow-up, ''The Devil's Candy,'' while competently made and certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, sadly lacks the ingenuity and creativity that he invested in his previous project. Ethan Embry plays Jesse, a heavy metal-loving artist who moves his more straitlaced wife (Shiri Appleby) and head-banging teen daughter (Kiara Glasco) to a beautiful and sprawling house, complete with a massive space for him to utilize as a studio for his painting, that he is able to pick up for a song because of the unexplained (and icky) deaths of the aging couple who were the previous owners. As you can probably guess, there are satanic forces at work at the house that drove the previous couple’s metal-fanatic son Ray (Pruitt Taylor Vance) to murder them on their behalf and which now are beginning to infect Jesse’s mind as well. Matters are further complicated when the clearly deranged Ray shows up, wanting to be allowed to ''return home.'' Things quickly go sideways as Jesse and his family soon find themselves under siege from both the otherworldly influence of the demonic voices only he can hear and the less arcane, though equally deadly, dangers supplied by the relentless Ray.

If you have seen more than your fair share of horror movies over the years, I guarantee that you have seen examples of the genre that are far worse than ''The Devil's Candy'' but I can also guarantee that you have seen any number that are better, or at least more memorable, than what is being offered up here. Instead of deftly mixing together genres as he did with ''The Loved Ones,'' Byrne can't quite decide here whether he wants to make a full-out haunted house saga along the lines of ''The Amityville Horror'' and its ilk, a demonic tale of an ordinary family being beset by Satan and his minions or an ordinary story of an ordinary family under siege from an ordinary psychopath. Instead, he tries to blend them all together but the mix never quite molds itself into a whole that is either cohesive or scary--some viewers may find the ever-present metal score to be more terrifying that the film itself. Still, the performances are okay--relative newcomer Glasco is especially good as the daughter--and horror fanatics may find parts of it to be of interest. For everyone else, ''The Devil's Candy'' is more ''meh'' than anything else and while Byrne acquits himself okay here, I can only hope that his next film lives up more to the promise demonstrated by ''The Loved Ones'' than this one does.

''Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent'' is a documentary about a cult icon in a specific artistic field that suffers the same problem as too many other films of its type--it takes the importance of the subject at hand as such a given that it borders on hagiography while never quite making a case for their importance to anyone coming into the movie cold. The subject this time is Tower, a renowned chef who first achieved fame in the Seventies for helping to create and popularize California cuisine while working at the San Francisco restaurant Chez Panisse under Alice Waters until that relationship went sour and she literally rewrote history by publishing a cookbook that, despite his efforts in the kitchen, only cited him in the acknowledgements page. Undeterred, Tower started the hotspot known as Stars and while that was a success for a while, it eventually fell apart as well and Tower split for Mexico, where no one knew what became of him until he returned to the scene in 2014 to take over the head chef gig at New York’s fabled Tavern on the Green, another gig that ended in controversy. (Suffice it to say, he does not really play very well with others.)

With foodie culture all the rage, there is certainly an audience out there for a film like this and for them, it should prove to be an entertainingly dishy (in several senses of the word) night at the movies. For others, however, it may prove to be a bit more trying of an experience as director Lydia Tenaglia is so convinced of Tower's importance in the culinary arts, including helping to create the very concept of a ''celebrity chef,'' that she doesn’t feel the need to offer any explanations as to what it was about him and his work that made him so unique. The first section of the film, a would-be ''Citizen Kane'' explaining how he developed his interest in food as a poor little rich boy abandoned by his parents to a life of swanky cruises and lavish hotels where he got to sample the great meals of the world, is so lumpy and leaden that the entire section could have been deleted entirely. The most interesting section involves his days at Chez Panisse and his relationship with Alice Waters from its heady beginnings to the bitter end but even this part is undermined by the absence of Waters' voice to give her side to the story. The rest is occasionally interesting but not even the presence of such talking heads as Mario Batali, Martha Stewart and Anthony Bourdain (who co-produced) is able to really liven things up. The kind of film that will probably look best when it goes into heavy rotation on the Food Network, ''Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent'' will entertain fans of his work but will most likely leave other viewers hungry for a real movie.

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originally posted: 04/29/17 04:23:24
last updated: 04/29/17 04:31:55
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