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‘The Menu’ Review: Eat, Pray, Run!

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy face off in this pitch-black satire of class and high-end dining.

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A chef and a customer stand in the kitchen of a restaurant talking. The customer has a disturbed look on her face.

By Jeannette Catsoulis

There is nothing subtle about “The Menu,” but that’s a large part of its charm. Like Hawthorn, the exclusive upscale restaurant where most of the action takes place, this brutal satire of class division — viewed through the lens of high-end gorging — is ruthlessly focused and gleamingly efficient. And by unabashedly flaunting its crowd-pleasing ambitions, the script (by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy) cheekily skirts the very pretentiousness it aims to skewer.

At Hawthorn, set on its own island in the Pacific Northwest, every dish comes with a side of ego and a lecture on its provenance by Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), a rock-star chef with a drill-sergeant’s demeanor. In his dining room, mere feet from an army of obsequious underlings, drooling one-percenters have each dropped $1,250 to wrap their gums around Slowik’s fabled tasting menu. Among them are a star-struck foodie (Nicholas Hoult) and his last-minute date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy); an arrogant restaurant critic (Janet McTeer); three odious tech workers (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro and Mark St. Cyr); and a fading movie star (John Leguizamo) hoping to pitch a culinary travel show. All except Margot have been carefully chosen, and all are about to become players in Slowik’s elaborate opera of humiliation, self-loathing and revenge.

From amuse-bouche to dessert, Slowik’s creations — and the diners’ punishments — grow steadily more bizarre and threatening. In service to a gleefully malicious tone, Mark Mylod’s direction is cool, tight and clipped, the actors slotting neatly into characters so unsympathetic we become willing accessories to their suffering. Fiennes is fabulous as a man so determined to turn food into art that he’s forgotten its very purpose; his disgust for the act of eating has long extinguished any joy in cooking.

“Even your hot dishes are cold,” spits Margot, the audience surrogate and the first to challenge the insult embedded in each course, like the “bread plate” with no bread. Intrigued by her working-class wiliness, Slowik is unsettled: He can see that she’s willing to take him on.

Whisking splashes of horror into culinary comedy (“Don’t touch the protein, it’s immature,” admonishes the forbidding hostess during a smokehouse tour), “The Menu” is black, broad and sometimes clumsy, attacking its issues more often with cleaver than paring knife. Yet everyone is having such a good time, it’s impossible not to join them. The movie’s eye might be on haute cuisine, but its heart is pure fish and chips.

The Menu Rated R for slaying, suicide and exuberant oversaucing. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. In theaters.

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The obscenely wealthy are having a tough time at the movies lately. Last month, Ruben Östlund stuck a bunch of them on a luxury yacht and watched them projectile vomit all over each other in “ Triangle of Sadness .” Next week, Rian Johnson will stick a bunch of them on a private Greek island to watch them wonder who among them is a killer in “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.”

But this week, members of the extreme 1% just get stuck—as in skewered, and grilled—in “The Menu.” Director Mark Mylod satirizes a very specific kind of elitism here with his wildly over-the-top depiction of the gourmet food world. This is a place where macho tech bros, snobby culture journalists, washed-up celebrities, and self-professed foodies are all deluded enough to believe they’re as knowledgeable as the master chef himself. Watching them preen and try to one-up each other provides much of the enjoyment in the sharp script from Seth Reiss and Will Tracy .

But the build-up to what’s happening at this insanely expensive restaurant on the secluded island of Hawthorne is more intriguing than the actual payoff. The performances remain prickly, the banter deliciously snappy. And “The Menu” is always exquisite from a technical perspective. But you may find yourself feeling a bit hungry after this meal is over.

An eclectic mix of people boards a ferry for the quick trip to their storied destination. Chef Slowik’s fine-tuned, multi-course dinners are legendary—and exorbitant, at $1,250 a person. “What, are we eating a Rolex?” the less-than-impressed Margot ( Anya Taylor-Joy ) quips to her date, Tyler ( Nicholas Hoult ), as they’re waiting for the boat to arrive. He considers himself a culinary connoisseur and has been dreaming of this evening for ages; she’s a cynic who’s along for the ride. They’re gorgeous and look great together, but there’s more to this relationship than initially meets the eye. Both actors have a keen knack for this kind of rat-a-tat banter, with Hoult being particularly adept at playing the arrogant fool, as we’ve seen on Hulu’s “The Great.” And the always brilliant Taylor-Joy, as our conduit, brings a frisky mix of skepticism and sex appeal.

Also on board are a once-popular actor ( John Leguizamo ) and his beleaguered assistant ( Aimee Carrero ); three obnoxious, entitled tech dudes ( Rob Yang , Arturo Castro , and Mark St . Cyr); a wealthy older man and his wife ( Reed Birney and Judith Light ); and a prestigious food critic ( Janet McTeer ) with her obsequious editor ( Paul Adelstein ). But regardless of their status, they all pay deference to the star of the night: the man whose artful and inspired creations brought them there. Ralph Fiennes plays Chef Slowik with a disarming combination of Zen-like calm and obsessive control. He begins each course with a thunderous clap of his hands, which Mylod heightens skillfully to put us on edge, and his loyal cooks behind him respond in unison to his every demand with a spirited “Yes, Chef!” as if he were their drill sergeant. And the increasingly amusing on-screen descriptions of the dishes provide amusing commentary on how the night is evolving as a whole.

Of these characters, Birney and Light’s are the least developed. It’s particularly frustrating to have a performer of the caliber of Light and watch her languish with woefully little to do. She is literally “the wife.” There is nothing to her beyond her instinct to stand by her man dutifully, regardless of the evening’s disturbing revelations. Conversely, Hong Chau is the film’s MVP as Chef Slowik’s right-hand woman, Elsa. She briskly and efficiently provides the guests with a tour of how the island operates before sauntering among their tables, seeing to their every need and quietly judging them. She says things like: “Feel free to observe our cooks as they innovate” with total authority and zero irony, adding greatly to the restaurant’s rarefied air.

The personalized treatment each guest receives at first seems thoughtful, and like the kind of pampering these people would expect when they pay such a high price. But in time, the specifically tailored dishes take on an intrusive, sinister, and violent tone, which is clever to the viewer but terrifying to the diner. The service remains rigid and precise, even as the mood gets messy. And yet—as in the other recent movies indicting the ultra-rich—“The Menu” ultimately isn’t telling us anything we don’t already know. It becomes heavy-handed and obvious in its messaging. Mind-boggling wealth corrupts people. You don’t say.

But “The Menu” remains consistently dazzling as a feast for the eyes and ears. The dreamy cinematography from Peter Deming makes this private island look impossibly idyllic. The sleek, chic production design from Ethan Tobman immediately sets the mood of understated luxury, and Mylod explores the space in inventive ways, with overhead shots not only of the food but also of the restaurant floor itself. The Altmanesque sound design offers overlapping snippets of conversation, putting us right in the mix. And the taunting and playful score from Colin Stetson enhances the film’s rhythm, steadily ratcheting up the tension.

It’s a nice place to visit—but you wouldn’t want to eat there.

Now playing in theaters. 

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire

Christy Lemire is a longtime film critic who has written for since 2013. Before that, she was the film critic for The Associated Press for nearly 15 years and co-hosted the public television series "Ebert Presents At the Movies" opposite Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, with Roger Ebert serving as managing editor. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here .

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The Menu movie poster

The Menu (2022)

Rated R for strong/disturbing violent content, language throughout and some sexual references.

107 minutes

Ralph Fiennes as Chef Slowik

Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot

Nicholas Hoult as Tyler

Hong Chau as Elsa

Janet McTeer as Lillian Bloom

Judith Light as Anne

John Leguizamo as Movie Star

Rob Yang as Bryce

Mark St. Cyr as Dave

Reed Birney as Richard

Aimee Carrero as Felicity

Arturo Castro as Soren


  • Peter Deming
  • Christopher Tellefsen
  • Colin Stetson

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The Menu Is Deliciously Mean

Portrait of Alison Willmore

Auguste Escoffier, the inventor of the brigade system that still informs how so many commercial kitchens are run today, was inspired by bullying and battlefields. As a teenager, he got pushed around while apprenticing with his uncle, and as a 20-something army enlistee during the Franco-Prussian War, he saw potential in repurposing military structures to bring order, cleanliness, and hierarchy to the kitchen. The bullying, you could argue, didn’t go away so much as it became sublimated into the profession Escoffier helped elevate to an art, with an emphasis on obedience and discipline. When the FX series The Bear , which is essentially about a group of restaurant workers trying to figure out a better way of doing things when the only models they have are toxic, came out in June, it prompted as many PTSD shudders from industry employees past and present as it did “Yes, chef!” memes.

The kitchen staff in The Menu , a deliciously mean movie from frequent Succession director Mark Mylod and Onion alums Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, bark “Yes, chef,” too, and when they do, it’s with an unsettling martial precision. Whatever haute cuisine’s pretensions — and The Menu skewers many; it is as much black comedy as it is thriller — the kitchen is not actually a war zone. And yet at Hawthorne, a fictional restaurant that seats only a dozen customers a night at $1,250 a pop, workers are pinned between the belief that what they’re doing is worth sacrificing everything for and the reality that they have surrendered their lives to grueling service work. A sad-eyed and scary Ralph Fiennes plays star chef Julian Slowik, who’s both the staffers’ chief abuser and a fellow captive, as well as the guiding force behind a particularly ambitious evening at his exclusive eatery. Fiennes is adept with a barely there sneer, which he puts to great use here in a role that’s the most fun he’s been since Hail, Caesar!

In terms of the diners, there are a few finance bros (Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang) more invested in the status that comes with a reservation than the experience itself. There are the celebrities: a preening food critic (Janet McTeer), her editor (Paul Adelstein), and a slightly tarnished movie star (John Leguizamo) in the company of his assistant (Aimee Carrero). Then there are the monied regulars (Reed Birney and Judith Light), as well as a simpering foodie named Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) whose date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), is the film’s heroine and lone unexpected attendee — the guest list has been as carefully curated as the meal. Tyler is a superfan prone to saying things like “Chefs, they play with the raw materials of life itself, and death itself,” and he’s increasingly exasperated with Margot’s indifference to the food and accompanying narrative, though you can’t really blame her. Hawthorne, located on a small island a short ferry ride from the mainland, feels inspired by the setting of Lummi Island’s the Willows Inn and the Scandi severity of Noma in Copenhagen. But the dishes, designed by actual chef Dominique Crenn, quickly take a turn toward the absurd with a fussily plated amuse-bouche giving way to a “breadless bread course” that’s basically a series of dips — then on to something darker.

There’s no tastier meal than the rich, though what makes The Menu more satiating than other recent, glitzier skewerings of ultracapitalism is that its satire isn’t so glib that it leaves you feeling comfortably outside of the proceedings. Instead, it summons the suffocating feeling of having no way out of a doomed setup. Julian’s breakdown owes as much to the personal and the petty as it does to the systemic. And he and his collaborators — among them an aridly precise maître d’ (Hong Chau) and sous-chefs played by Adam Aalderks and Christina Brucato — have pathos even as their actions veer toward the extreme, while Mylod makes the most of the limited location by turning Hawthorne’s luxurious trappings and surroundings into just a trap. The rage at the heart of The Menu is directed at the impossible melding of art and commerce, at the way we’re taught that success at the former requires the support of the latter, even if it means making crushing compromises that drain the joy out of, in this case, the expressly straightforward pleasure of food. The film has sympathy for the sentiment that there’s no way out of this bargain, but it also appreciates the outrageousness of its own apocalyptic scenario. After all, you can always quit, walk out the door — presuming, that is, that you’re allowed to.

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Review: ‘The Menu’ feasts upon the wealthy, our finest fear

The new film starring Anya-Taylor Joy and Ralph Fiennes offers a biting plate of class satire, served with a helping of pitch-black comedy and a dash of thrills.


Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in the film THE MENU. (Photo by Eric Zachanowich. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved)

Ekene Onukogu , Contributing Writer Dec 15, 2022

Content warning: This article contains spoilers and descriptions of suicide.

Director Mark Mylod — whose past work includes episodes of HBO’s “Succession” and “Game of Thrones” — is no stranger to commenting on the class inequities that divide our society, which seems to be a popular theme across contemporary TV shows and movies.

This array of critically acclaimed media, including “Parasite”, “Don’t Look Up” and the aforementioned “Succession,” all seem to have their own spin on how much we should hate the rich. “The Menu” doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but its masterful composition, snappy dialogue and haunting score provide a palpable, rich tension that marks it as a distinct work of its own.

The movie begins with the cool and collected Margot Mills (Anya-Taylor Joy), smoking a cigarette and getting reprimanded by her visibly nervous partner, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult). Already, we’re shown the constituents of this dynamic — Margot is a skeptic and lives to the beat of her own drum, whereas Tyler cares a bit too much about his image and standing. 

The two are whisked away by boat to a private island, where the exclusive Hawthorne restaurant rests. Among its elite guests — including but not limited to a food critic (Janet McTeer), a washed up actor (John Leguizamo) and an aging businessman (Reed Birney) — only Margot seems to note the off-kilter nature of things, which frames her as an out-of-place commoner that doesn’t know the dramatics that come with fine dining. The eerie island tour by the maitre d’or Elsa (Hong Chau) doesn’t seem to break up the creeping concern that something awry is cooking.

Veteran thespian Julian (Ralph Fiennes) commands the screen with a twisted performance as the megalomaniac head chef and king of the kitchen — he speaks almost exclusively in monotone , with not a glimmer of light in his eyes as he serves the guests delectable haute cuisine with increasingly hilarious description cards. His thinly-veiled contempt for his guests shines brilliantly through his terse body language, exasperated line delivery and acts of sheer pettiness as he condemns the actor’s girlfriend to death.

The film’s first turning point occurs when a course called “The Mess” is presented by Slowik’s sous chef, Jeremy. After an unsettling introduction involving Slowik utterly berating Jeremy’s relentless dedication to chasing the success that comes with being a renowned chef, Jeremy finally surprises the audience with the messiest dish of all: a gun in the mouth. He commits suicide in front of the entire restaurant, horrifying the guests. After a first act that was solid, but a little unsure of itself, “The Mess” cleaned things up.

The suspense became tighter, the dialogue became sharper and the camerawork became crazier. At any moment, it felt like all of these characters, with their various degrees of unlikeability, could die if they even dared to breathe wrong. Even with their elite statuses in the food, film or finance world, they are all feeble mice at the hands of Julian and his carefully curated crazy cuisine. 

The themes of class solidarity and parasocial celebrity culture particularly shine through in “The Menu.” Anya Taylor-Joy proves herself to be a worthy match for Fiennes’ aforementioned acting prowess, as her confident and cunning performance throws a wrench at Slowik’s “eat the rich” operation. Hoult puts on a dastardly performance as Tyler, a Slowik fanboy who has a chilling lack of regard for the frequent violence around him, and happily wines and dines as lives get cut short in front of him. He feels he is above dying at the hands of his idol, believing his expertise and vast knowledge of Slowik’s works makes him superior to the rest of the self-absorbed, parasitic guests who have supposedly committed the grave crime of contributing to the decline of Slowik’s mental state.

Sometimes lessons and metaphors come with the subtlety of a flambé, and “The Menu” is a delectable concoction. In a world where the headlines of the Earth’s richest can easily be confused with “The Onion,” and where “Don’t Look Up” got nominated for Best Picture, is heavy-handedness really such a crime? The magnificent ensemble cast, pristine production values and refusal to turn down the dial prove “The Menu” to be a film worth a taste of your time.

Contact Ekene Onukogu at [email protected] .

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hungryteacher • Dec 15, 2022 at 10:18 am

Can also highly recommend “Eat The Rich” (1987) [great queer radical anti-bourgeois food film] and “La Grande Bouffe” (1973), and “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” (1989), for more appropriately hit-you-over-the-head critique paired with food themes.

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‘The Menu’ Review: Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in a Restaurant Thriller That Gives Foodie Culture the Slicing and Dicing It Deserves

It's at once a Michelin Star version of "Saw" and a tasty satire of what high-end dining has become.

By Owen Gleiberman

Owen Gleiberman

Chief Film Critic

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The Menu - Variety Critic's Pick

If you’re someone who considers themself a foodie (and I totally am), chances are there was a moment in the last few years when you had The Awakening. It may have been when the waiter was describing the veal marrow with beet foam served with baby lettuces from New Zealand. It may have been when you were eating the red snapper that was cooked halfway through, like a rare steak, and you thought, “I love sushi, I love cooked fish, but I’m not sure this is really the best of both worlds.” It may have been when you saw the bill.

“The Menu” is a black comedy, but one played close to the bone. And it is a thriller, because after a while what’s being served to the diners segues from pretentious to dangerous. Even the danger becomes a form of snobbery: This is how much the food matters . Yet the tasty joke of “The Menu” is that the food doesn’t matter at all. The food is an abstraction, an idea , all generated to fulfill some beyond-the-beyond notion of perfection that has little to do with sustenance or pleasure and everything to do with the vanity of those who are creating the food and those who are consuming it.

The latter, in this case, are an ensemble of diner victims as brimming with theatrical flaws as the characters in a “Knives Out” movie. That’s why the knives are out for them. They’re getting what they deserve just for coming to this restaurant, for buying into the dream that this is the meal they’ve earned, because that’s how cool and prosperous and elite they are.

Tyler (Nichols Hoult), a devoted foodie geek, already knows he’s going to love everything that’s served. He had brought along a date, Margot ( Anya Taylor-Joy ), who is not nearly as into it — in fact, she turns into the audience’s cynically levelheaded, ordinary-person representative who sees through all the puffery on display. Lillian (Janet McTeer), a food critic, prides herself on writing the kinds of reviews that close restaurants, so we know she’s going to get her just deserts. There’s also a trio of tech bros (Arturo Castro, Rob Yang, and Mark St. Cyr) who, between the three of them, incarnate every flavor of obnoxious. And there’s a well-liked but fading movie star, played by John Leguizamo, along with his assistant (Aimee Carrero), who’s using the dinner as a pretext to part ways with him.

“The Menu” is divided into courses, with each dish, and its ingredients, listed on screen, and for a while the movie is content to satirize the food. The first dish features foam (a tipoff that it’s not going to melt in your mouth so much as evaporate before you can enjoy it). And that’s the down-to-earth dish. Each succeeding one represents more and more of a deconstruction of food as we know it. Chef Slowik is a mad scientist of gastronomy who has reduced the very essence of cooking to a glorified lab experiment. The diners are his guinea pigs, which may be why he harbors a barely disguised contempt for them. As it turns out, the menu he has masterminded is meticulously arranged for all of them to get their just deserts, as if this were the Michelin Star version of “Saw.”  

All the actors are fun, but the two lead actors are so good they’re delicious. Ralph Fiennes plays the art chef from hell as a high fascist of snobbery, as if his mission — to make food that’s to be savored but is somehow too great to eat — were exalting him and tormenting him at the same time. And Anya Taylor-Joy, as the customer who’s got his number, cuts through it all with a sparkle that grows more and more contemptuous, as she puts together the big picture of what’s going on: that the decadent aristocratic superiority of it all is the whole point. The grand finale is bitingly funny, as Chef Slowik deconstructs the ultimate junk food — the smore, a “fucking monstrosity” that will cleanse everything with its fire. “The Menu” says that the trouble with what high-end cuisine has evolved to is that it’s grown too far apart from the low end, leaving nothing in between. No matter how divine the food is, you wind up starving.

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 12, 2022. MPA Rating: R. Running time: 106 MIN.

  • Production: A Searchlight Pictures release of a Hyperobject Industries, Alienworx Productions production. Producers: Adam McKay, Betsy Koch, Will Ferrell. Executive producers: Michael Sledd, Seth Reiss, Will Tracy.
  • Crew: Director: Mark Mytod. Screenplay: Seth Reiss, Will Tracy. Camera: Peter Deming. Editor: Christopher Tellefsen. Music: Colin Stetson.
  • With: Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, Judith Light, John Lequizamo, Reed Birney, Paul Adelstein, Aimee Carrero, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr, Rob Yang.

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Review: Art is on ‘The Menu’ as biting satire serves up some mean cuisine

A male chef and a young woman in a dress in the movie "The Menu."

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An elite, motley crew assembles for a very special dinner in the deliciously dark thriller satire “The Menu,” a philosophical deconstruction of artists and their enablers. Written by “The Onion” veterans Seth Reiss and Will Tracy and directed by Mark Mylod, who made his name in prestige television directing episodes of “Game of Thrones” and “Succession,” “The Menu” is a tightly wound, sharply rendered skewering of the dichotomy between the takers and the givers, or in this case, the eaters and the cooks.

The recipe for “The Menu” is one filet of bloody class warfare à la “Ready or Not,” a dash of cultish folk horror in the vein of “Midsommar,” a puree of “Chef’s Table,” dusted with a sprinkling of “Pig,” and spritzed with an essence of “Clue.” We go along for this ride through the point-of-view of a classic Final Girl, the spunky, sarcastic and street-smart Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a late addition to the guest list who is an unexpected and unpredictable element in the sauce.

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The restaurant is Hawthorne, located on a remote coastal island in the Pacific Northwest; the chef is Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes). The guests include a food critic (Janet McTeer) and her editor (Paul Adelstein), a group of finance guys (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr), a diehard fan (Nicholas Hoult), a movie star ( John Leguizamo ) and his assistant (Aimee Carrero), and a pair of regulars (Reed Birney and Judith Light). The group submits themselves to the culinary experience they are about to have at the hands of Chef Slowik, his cult of sous chefs, and his stern hostess, Elsa ( Hong Chau ).

At first, it all seems painfully pretentious as the guests are served up dishes such as “The Island” (a scallop perched atop a rock) and the “Unaccompanied Accompaniments,” which take deconstruction to a whole new level. Then the menu becomes a walk down memory lane for Chef Slowik, taking a turn toward the uncomfortably personal, then accusatory, shocking, aggressive, and violent.

The central metaphor is plainly obvious. “The Menu” is not about food, or eating, but about the consumption of art, as well as the forces the artist finds himself subjected to while attempting to create. Chef Slowik has sold his soul for success, subjecting himself to the whims of the big money investors, the critics, the celebrities, his mindless consumers, and worst of all, his fanboys, who think they know more than the experts, and are willing to meddle too (the fanboys get it worst of all here). That’s not to say that Chef Slowik is a victim. No, he’s the antagonist here, but Fiennes plays him as a tortured soul who is attempting to reckon — violently — with his own selling out, and takes no pleasure in the process.

Reiss and Tracy have borrowed the increasingly pretentious and over-the-top world of high-end dining experiences to craft a screenplay that feels like an exorcism of sorts; a cathartic primal scream about the state of the industry of art, be it film, television, literature, visual art or food. The artist, despite his or her inclinations or inspirations, is always beholden to the critics, the investors and the fans, and “The Menu” is both a violent rejection of that paradigm as well as a darkly humorous acceptance of it all.

Mylod has taken this script, a wordy, writerly existential crisis, and presented a slick, somewhat cold, offering. The acting is flawless, Peter Deming’s cinematography crisp, Colin Stetson’s jaggedy score appropriately unsettling. If the outré ending jumps the shark, well, it’s been earned — the satisfying “Menu” has already left us much to chew on.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.

Rated: R, for strong/disturbing violent content, language throughout and some sexual references Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes Playing: Starts Nov. 18 in general release

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The Menu Review

Ralph fiennes shines in a darkly comedic thriller about haute cuisine..

The Menu Review - IGN Image

This is an advanced review out of the Toronto International Film Festival, where The Menu made its world premiere. It will hit theaters on Nov. 18, 2022.

The Menu is a slow-cooked meal with a murderous kick: a delectable full course with a bloody and comedic twist, several surprises along the way, a delightful cast led by Ralph Fiennes at his best, some gorgeous presentation, and a sweet and explosive dessert that sticks with you long after your bill arrives. It also happens to be a bloody good time.

It’s set in the world of haute cuisine, where rich people go to the most expensive place that deconstructs basic meals into senseless plates just for the sake of it, and the guests don't appreciate either the food or the staff because they're just there to show their class and station. We're talking about the type of restaurant that offers breadless bread plates, or courses consisting of a couple of leaves served on a big rock and covered with sea foam because it represents … something, whatever.

That is the world in which the renowned Chef Slowik (Fiennes) finds himself trapped in. This is a man who genuinely loves what he does – who has loved making food for others for years – but now is forced to cater to rich assholes who don't give a single crap about the food they're consuming. He leads the restaurant on the 12-acre Hawthorn Island, a place so exclusive the employees live in bunk beds in a warehouse smaller than a New York apartment. They slaughter, fish, skin, harvest, prepare, and cook every ingredient locally on the island day after day, catering only to 12 people a night, with tickets costing $1250 a head.

For tonight's distinguished guest list, we meet Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), a devout foodie who worships at the altar of Chef Slowik, recognizes every pretentious term Chef mentions, and uses words like "mouthfeel." He is accompanied by his new date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who simply does not care about the pretense and the stupid deconstructions, but is here for a good meal. Also arriving at the island is a famous actor in decline (John Leguizamo) and his assistant; restaurant critic Lillian (Janet McTeer), who loves giving pretentious descriptors to food (like "Thalassic") and her boot-licking magazine editor Ted (Paul Adelstein); a rich couple that considers themselves regulars at the restaurant (Judith Light and Reed Birney); and three tech bros who are objectively the worst. Soon enough, they realize their fancy meal comes with a very big bill, especially when the bodies start dropping.

What's the best Ralph Fiennes role?

If you’re thinking this sounds a bit like a Knives Out movie, you're not wrong. Though not really a whodunit, there is an element of mystery for a good chunk of The Menu. More importantly, writers Seth Reiss and Will Tracy relish in sprinkling the film with a healthy serving of social commentary about consumerism and class warfare. Director Mark Mylod ( Succession ) makes it a point to really close in on how each of the guests treats the staff in order to drive home how awful they are.

Though the cast is all-around great, without a doubt the standouts are the electric Fiennes as Chef and Hong Chau ( Watchmen , the upcoming The Whale) as maitre d' Elsa. Chau plays an almost cartoony supervillain; an elegant, sinister presence that makes you feel warm and welcome while telling you the exact manner your children will die. As for Fiennes, it’s about time someone let the Oscar nominee be the wicked comedic star he was always destined to be, as he brings Chef's soft-spoken, unblinking perfectionism and threatening stare to life in a way that is unpredictable yet predictably captivating. He exudes authority to the point that even as he lays out what is going to happen, no one dares make a move. This is a meticulous man who plans everything to the smallest detail, even if that detail hides deep pains and frustration.

And – drawing another similarity to Knives Out – The Menu is hilarious. The horror and gore are more aftertastes than prominent dishes, but the thrills and sinister humor bring to mind the wicked fun The Death of Stalin.

If there's one big negative it’s that, unlike its open kitchen, the script leaves backstories and explanations mostly unexplored. We know what is happening, but not why, let alone how it was planned out. Thankfully, the story picks up steam quickly enough and offers so much eye candy to make you forget about your questions.

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Speaking of eye candy, The Menu looks gorgeous. Shot like the fanciest of Netflix food documentaries, and presenting each dish with care, detail, and hilarious on-screen text explaining what's in it, this is not a movie you should watch on an empty stomach — that, along with the descent into horror, is not unlike the exquisite Hannibal . Likewise, the score brings a level of elegance that elevates this meal to the highest of high ends. The result is a heavy meal that leaves you satisfied, with a big grin on your face, and a desire for seconds.

The Menu is a hilariously wicked thriller about the world of high-end restaurants, featuring a stellar cast led by a phenomenal Ralph Fiennes, some of the most gorgeous food shots in recent film history, and accompanied by a delicious hors d'oeuvres sampling of commentary on the service industry, class warfare, and consumerism.

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How Much Would You Be Willing to Pay for the Meal of a Lifetime?

The new movie "The Menu" takes a savage bite out of chef-worship culture.

the menu movie review new york times

Eric Zachanowich / Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

In The Menu , the newest movie from Searchlight Pictures, edge-of-your-seat suspense comes from something familiar to anyone who has worked in or dined at a restaurant — the dynamic between the kitchen and the guest . 

At Hawthorne, the ultra high-end restaurant located on a middle-of-nowhere island akin to Willow’s Inn on Lummi Island or Cornelius Sjømatrestaurant in Bergen, Norway (which writers Will Tracy and Seth Reiss say inspired the film), 12 guests are able to indulge in an exclusive multi-course dinner from the mind of the creative genius, chef Julian Slowik, played by a menacing Ralph Fiennes. But the meal comes at a lofty price: $1,250 per head (wine pairings and tips included) and — just maybe — your very existence. 

Aside from Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who was invited as Tyler’s (Nicholas Hoult) last minute date, each of the diners represents some of the worst types of people to serve. There’s a prolific food critic who has the power to shut down a restaurant in a week with her thesaurus-worth of flowery words like “fiendish” and “vlasik” (which apparently means oceanic?). There’s a table full of finance bros who “know the owner,” and are ready to use that to their advantage at any moment. There’s a couple who have been to Hawthorne so many times that the entire experience feels like an everyday occurrence. And then there’s Tyler, the ultimate foodie, the Chef’s Table super fan. He’s convinced he knows just as much about food as any James Beard Award winner even though he’s never worked a single day in the restaurant industry . 

Each of these guests were hand-selected by Slowik to experience the dinner of a lifetime. Like many similar tasting menus, each of Slowik’s dinners have a specific purpose or theme, and part of the fun is trying to figure out exactly what that theme is. Well, it doesn’t take long for the guests to uncover this theme, and its horrific implications.

Slowik uses his menu as an act of vigilante justice. He is tormenting the very souls who strip the joy from cooking, and he’s having a great time kicking them while they’re down. And then there’s the final course which, for Slowik, adds to the drama of “the menu,” though in reality, it reflects the powerful chef’s state of mind. He is both godlike and utterly depressed. He walks around the kitchen with full confidence and command. He is praised by food lovers around the world, not to mention his entire kitchen. But after years of being put on a pedestal and creating sterile, albeit complex dishes, Slowik no longer enjoys cooking. Love, the “most important ingredient,” in the words of one diner, is neither in his food nor his restaurant. 

The back of house clearly knows what they’re doing; The Menu ’s director, Mark Mylod, purposely cast cooks who had kitchen experience. They appear robotic, exclaiming “Yes, chef!” and “I love you, chef!” on command as they pipe gel and tweeze microgreens. And there’s reference to extreme toxicity long before this night began. Slowik’s two sous chefs were both tortured in horribly true-to-life ways. Jeremy (Adam Aalderks) appears to have been constantly berated by Slowik for being good, but not good enough — never good enough to reach Slowik’s level of acclaim. Katherine (Christina Brucato) was given the treatment that so many women chefs are forced to endure in a male-dominated kitchen. Slowik eventually gives Katherine an opportunity for retribution, but it’s done in front of an audience in a rehearsed, manufactured setting, reminiscent of a PR-driven apology. 

And then there’s the food. The meal at Hawthorne, objectively, looks gorgeous. A lot of that is thanks to chef Dominique Crenn’s food styling as chief technical consultant for the film and the directorial assistance of David Gelb, creator of Chef’s Table . Slowik and his team serve fresh scallops, caught that afternoon, surrounded by a landscape of seaweed and smoke. There’s an amuse bouche of a single oyster, covered in a foamy mignonette and citrus caviar. There are deconstructed tacos with tortillas made from local corn which is obviously nixtamalized in-house. 

These first couple of courses bring the more enthusiastic guests like Tyler to tears, but Margout, the outsider of the group, is never wowed. It’s that ambivalence that shakes Slowik to his very core and distracts him from the flow of “the menu,” making him completely desperate to please her.

For a moment, Slowik is able to reconnect with why he chose to become a chef in the first place: cooking good food that makes people happy. But it’s not enough. He’s still committed to following through with his menu. 

After nearly two hours of observing how obnoxious the guests were, it’s hard to not root for Slowik, to almost idolize him as his kitchen and devoted fans do. But it’s that very power, that ability to so easily move a group of people with the clap of his hands, that proves so dangerous onscreen and in reality. It's something that we have seen time and time again as masochistic (though outwardly charismatic) celebrity chefs have created hostile work environments that ruin the lives of those around them. The kitchen team could have fought against their military-like brigade training to say “no, chef!” The guests were wealthy enough to skip out on the meal as soon as the evening felt off. Instead, they all decided to stay for dessert.

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The Menu review: A deliciously wicked food-world satire

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy go knives out at the restaurant from hell.

Leah Greenblatt is the critic at large at Entertainment Weekly , covering movies, music, books, and theater. She is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, and has been writing for EW since 2004.

the menu movie review new york times

If we cannot eat the rich, at least we can enjoy their suffering on screen with a side of fermented sea lettuce and light schaudenfraude in The Menu , a glossy, skewering satire in theaters this Friday. (That it comes from a director who helmed more than a dozen episodes of Succession feels, at the least, apropos.)

Anyone who has ever casually wandered through a high-end farmers' market or been cornered by that guy at a cocktail party who wants to talk about his yeasts knows the heights of obsessive fervor and small-batch self-regard that the mere act of putting food in your body engenders among a certain subset of people with enough time and money to call themselves gourmands. For Tyler ( The Great 's Nicholas Hoult ), it seems to comprise his entire personality: Whatever he does for a living — it's never said, though it must be lucrative — his interests begin and end with the dogged pursuit of elevated eating; if you cook it (or confit it, or turn it into a gelé), he will come.

That's why he's one of a dozen people boarding a boat to a small island to have dinner at Hawthorne, a modernist temple of molecular gastronomy overseen by a celebrated chef named Julian Slowik ( Ralph Fiennes ), and paying $1,250 per head for the privilege. "What, are we eating a Rolex?" Tyler's date Margot ( Anya Taylor-Joy ) scoffs, incredulous — though this crowd probably would, as long as it were served sous-vide. Among the guests, there's a washed-up movie star ( John Leguizamo ) and his fed-up assistant (Aimee Carrero), a starchy older couple ( Reed Birney and Judith Light ) who've already done this many times before, a vaunted critic ( Ozark 's Janet McTeer ) and her toadying editor (Paul Adelstein), and a trio of braying finance bros (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr). If anyone doesn't belong there it's Margot, and Julian, his unblinking gaze like an X-ray, seems to know it.

On arrival, the bespokeness of the Hawthorne experience does not disappoint. The windswept island is raw but beautiful, an entire ecosystem devoted to Julian's meticulous dishes; in the distance, a diligent staffer scurries, harvesting scallops fresh from the bay. But Elsa ( Watchmen 's Hong Chau ), the restaurant's unflappable hostess, seems to seethe beneath her faultless civility, and the kitchen staff treat Julian more like a cult leader than a man who makes entrées out of "charred milk lace" for millionaires. It doesn't take many courses — an opulent parade of breadless bread plates, elaborately tweezered proteins, and unknowable foams — for the bloody unraveling to begin.

The script, by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, has no shortage of broad targets on its dartboard; when have the follies of the rich and feckless not been easy fodder for black comedy? Hoult is very good at playing a priggish foodie fanboy, though if his character were a dish, it would doubtless be dismissed by Julian as one-note; all acid, no umami. Light, as a tremulous Stepford wife watching her world unravel with each glass of natural wine, does an enormous amount of acting with very few lines, and McTeer plays her imperious critic with casual, note-perfect hauteur. Taylor-Joy brings a cagey survivalism to Margot, a girl who gives the sense she's had to get herself out of ugly scenarios many times before, and the notes Chau hits are delicious, a symphony of passive-aggressive bitchery.

It's Fiennes, though, who most makes a feast of his role. The Menu 's swishy, gleeful satire is not his ordinary milieu, but he's too good an actor not to turn Julian into a far better monster than we probably deserve, careening between sniffy pique, red-hot malevolence, and small, strange pockets of tenderness. The movie loses some momentum in the final third, and tends to over-egg its caricatures of all these platinum-card fools and clueless masters of the universe. But its appetite for destruction is also too much fun in the end to refuse: a giddy little amuse bouche for the apocalypse to come. Grade: B+

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2022, Horror/Mystery & thriller, 1h 47m

What to know

Critics Consensus

While its social commentary relies on basic ingredients, The Menu serves up black comedy with plenty of flavor. Read critic reviews

Audience Says

The Menu 's got a great cast and plenty of fun moments, although the ending might strike some as a little tough to swallow. Read audience reviews

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The menu videos, the menu   photos.

A couple (Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult) travels to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef (Ralph Fiennes) has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises.

Rating: R (Some Sexual References|Language Throughout|Strong Violent Content)

Genre: Horror, Mystery & thriller, Comedy

Original Language: English

Director: Mark Mylod

Producer: Adam McKay , Betsy Koch , Will Ferrell

Writer: Seth Reiss , Will Tracy

Release Date (Theaters): Nov 18, 2022  wide

Release Date (Streaming): Jan 3, 2023

Box Office (Gross USA): $38.5M

Runtime: 1h 47m

Distributor: Searchlight Pictures

Production Co: Hyperobject Industries, Alienworx Productions

Sound Mix: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital

Aspect Ratio: Digital 2.39:1

Cast & Crew

Ralph Fiennes

Chef Slowik

Anya Taylor-Joy

Nicholas Hoult

Janet McTeer

Lillian Bloom

Judith Light

Reed Birney

Paul Adelstein

Aimee Carrero

Arturo Castro

Mark St. Cyr

John Leguizamo


Will Ferrell

Michael Sledd

Executive Producer

Peter Deming


Christopher Tellefsen

Film Editing

Colin Stetson

Original Music

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‘The Menu’ review: This darkly hilarious satire hits the spot

Movie review.

Who among us hasn’t found ourselves at an exquisitely exclusive, multicourse, hourslong, wildly expensive haute cuisine dinner and, looking around, wished everyone would die? Here’s the intolerable extreme foodie, out to show how much he knows in pedantic detail; the tableful of tech bros, braying and boasting; the wealthy older couple, oblivious zombies of privilege; the minor movie star acting like a major tool; and, yes, that is definitely the very important restaurant critic who seems to have digested a particularly pretentious thesaurus and showers the world with the results.

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Oh, but you get it from both sides here! The maître d’, beyond haughty; the staff, with barely cloaked scorn; the sommelier, excruciatingly pompous; and the chef, not just holier-than-thou but to be revered, godlike, commanding ultimate control in a way that could go dramatically sideways should it be taken to (any more of) an extreme. It’s no spoiler to say that’s precisely what happens in “The Menu” — the trailer tempts the tasting-menu obsessed along with those who loathe them (plus the abased middle of that Venn diagram) with glimpses of the ultimate dining experience turning maniacally violent. 

With 12 customers per night at an astronomical $1,250 per person, the fictional restaurant is Hawthorn, ostensibly on a remote Pacific Northwest island strewn with driftwood and ripe for foraging (though nonfictional Pacific Northwesterners may note that the driftwood and landscape do not look regionally correct). Anya Taylor-Joy as Margot is the fish-out-of-water and voice of reason here; corralled at the last minute as dinner companion for intolerable foodie Tyler (Nicholas Hoult, suitably hollow), she deadpans excellent one-liners such as “ Please don’t say ‘mouthfeel. ’ ” The dialogue for all the various diners cleverly hits the archetypes on the head — those in the audience with any interest in this sphere will bark-LOL with horrified recognition — and those comically predetermined characters are played with appealing in-joke joy. Janet McTeer as the restaurant critic and John Leguizamo playing the semifamous actor appear to be having extra fun here, chewing the uber-sleek restaurant scenery to very good effect. (And yes, that is Judith “Who’s the Boss?” Light as the betrayed wife at the next table.)

On the service side, Hong Chau is inspired as captain of service/intimidating sadist Elsa — she shuts down the tech bros’ “Do you know who we are?” brilliantly — while a scene featuring Christina Brucato as a sous chef couldn’t be sharper. Unsurprisingly, Ralph Fiennes magnificently turns the celebrated chef into a megalomaniacal madman, illustrating deftly that such a journey isn’t necessarily a long one (“THERE ARE NO SUBSTITUTIONS!” he bellows). He brings to the role of Julian Slowik, as (very) darkly comedic as it proves to be, both magnetism and gravity. Fiennes even manages to keep the parody mindful of the very real dangers of such men given dominion over their own worlds, run by their own rules, where the answer is always “Yes, Chef!”

That being said, “The Menu” should be designated as very possibly triggering, “The Bear”-style and far beyond, for those in the restaurant industry — one shocking, gruesome scene in particular, but certainly for overall themes as well. Those who can stomach it, though, may find the endless tweezering, Pacojet talk, breadless bread course and gratis broken emulsion very funny, not to mention how stiffly terrible the tortillas look and the vast unlikelihood of an entire chicken thigh being served in such a parsimonious setting.

While the over-the-top ending is undeniably, literally cheesy, director Mark Mylod (“Game of Thrones,” “Succession,” “Shameless”) has crafted an indictment of a specific set of vanities — narcissism, arrogance, idolatry, hubris, greed, elitism, more — that no one involved escapes. And, for the right audience, “The Menu” also succeeds as satire of the darkest possible, hilarious kind, best served with plenty of popcorn.

With Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau, Janet McTeer, John Leguizamo, Christina Brucato, Judith Light. Directed by Mark Mylod, from a screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. 106 minutes. Rated R for strong/disturbing violent content, language throughout and some sexual references. Opens Nov. 17 at multiple theaters.

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The Menu Is Not What You Expect— It’s Better

By Esther Zuckerman

Image may contain Human Person Door John Leguizamo Clothing Apparel Arturo Castro Anya TaylorJoy and Judith Light

Resist the temptation to think you know exactly what’s coming in The Menu . The "eat the rich" social satire has gotten quite a workout in cinema recently, even just at the Toronto International Film Festival, where this new film directed by Succession 's Mark Mylod premiered. Sure enough, The Menu was programmed opposite the Knives Out sequel Glass Onion , both movies that featured a bunch of wealthy assholes gathered on a remote island.

But Mylod’s riff on fine dining and the people who partake consistently zigs where you think it will zag. There is bloodshed and there is retribution, but it's doled out in a way that never feels expected or pat. At the risk of sounding hokey: it's a new spin on a familiar flavor, like pickle ice cream or a chocolate hamburger. The Menu lands its joke about the Chef Table -ification of cuisine while also finding nuance in its “capitalism is a plague” messaging.

The Searchlight Pictures release written by comedy veterans Will Tracy and Seth Reiss opens as a young couple board a yacht that will take them to the exclusive restaurant The Hawthorne, where a seating costs $1,250 a head. Nicholas Hoult 's Tyler is what you would call a "foodie"—he talks about "mouthfeel" and is desperate to photograph everything on his plate, rattling off facts about kitchen appliances. Meanwhile, his date, Margot, played by Anya Taylor-Joy just doesn't get it. With her black nails and combat boots, she's an ill-fit in this crew of bankers, celebrities, and uptight WASPs, and she ignores Tyler's suggestion that she refrain from smoking so as not to ruin her palate. Taylor-Joy radiates a chill, coolest girl in the world vibe, while Hoult is all a-titter. Tyler never gets a significant backstory but Hoult, proving himself again as an unusually talented actor, gives you everything you need to know about this eager-to-please rich guy who uses food as a way to make himself sound interesting.

For a while even after the guests take their seats, The Menu seems like it may just be a take on the ultimate silliness of conceptual food. The officious maître d' ( Hong Chau ) takes the group on a tour of the property, showing off the gardens and the smokehouse, "in the Nordic style." Mylod and cinematographer Peter Deming photograph the dishes as if they were making a Netflix documentary, highlighting the way the line cooks delicately tweeze tiny bits of substance onto a gorgeous but empty looking plate.

But there's a brimming tension that forces the audience to keep guessing just what kind of hell is going to break loose. Each table has its own grievances. Tyler's sycophantic food nerdiness clashes with Margot's "who cares" attitude. There's a frigidness between an older couple played by Judith Light and Reed Birney . A food critic ( Janet McTeer ) picks apart everything that comes across her plate. A movie star ( John Leguizamo ) is bickering with his quitting assistant ( Aimee Carrero ), and a group of bankers is in a never-ending dick measuring contest. The question remains whether this is going to become a vomit-fest like the recent Palme d'Or winner Triangle of Sadness or something supernaturally devilish like the horror movie Ready or Not . Maybe these cooks are just cannibals. The answer is: Not really any of that.

Because at the center of this all is Ralph Fiennes ’s inscrutable Chef Slowik. Fiennes is a master at portraying imperiousness, and Slowik certainly projects that, inspiring fervent loyalty amongst his staff, and thunderously clapping his hands before announcing each course. But Fiennes also strains against this stereotype. As Slowik opines about food as memory and ancient bread customs, you may start to wonder as to whether this guy really believes his own bullshit, a question that keeps nagging until the final shot.

It would be easy for The Menu to fall into blanket dichotomies, but the setting doesn't allow for those. Instead, it interrogates the motives of those who choose to spend their money Iat the The Hawthorne and those who choose to make the kind of food it provides. When Margot, the consummate outsider, is asked to pick a side in the class warfare that is about to break out, the decision is not, exactly, a simple one. Taylor-Joy's natural regalness allows her to slip between tiers, even if at times Margot is more of a dramatic device than actual character.

But the reason you go to a place like The Hawthorne is not just for the substance of the dinner, but also the pageantry, and Mylod provides that. The aesthetic of the uber-rich he helped establish on Succession comes in handy here. There's a beautiful sleekness to the visuals that the wily complications of the script undermine to great effect. It’s comfort food silliness with spiky commentary that leaves you satisfied—all in all, a good meal.

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Ralph Fiennes in The Menu.

The Menu review – revenge is served hot in delicious haute cuisine satire

A bunch of ultra-wealthy foodies get more than they bargained for in this riotous black comedy starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy

Succession director Mark Mylod has an acute eye for the absurdity of extreme privilege. So the preposterous world of haute cuisine is almost too easy a target: not so much about eating as worshipping at the altar of the chef’s ego. The chef in this case is Ralph Fiennes , sporting joylessly immaculate whites and an expression of patrician displeasure. The guests at his culinary temple, run with a cult-like devotion by the ferocious front of house manager Elsa (Hong Chau), are a tasteless bunch: a trio of braying investment bankers, a needy movie star, a miserable wealthy couple trying to buy some meaning into their lives. And then there’s Margot ( Anya Taylor-Joy ), the last-minute date of foodie fanboy Tyler ( Nicholas Hoult ). Margot is more interested in sneaking a cigarette than fawning over chef’s sous vide technique. She is the one errant ingredient in the evening’s menu.

Subtle it’s not, but it’s maliciously entertaining. It turns out that revenge on the ultra-wealthy is a dish best seared over a naked flame.

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The Menu review: an unpredictable and viciously funny thriller

Alex Welch

“The Menu is a scathing, satirical thriller that makes it easy to get lost in the power of Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy's lead performances.”
  • Ralph Fiennes' pitch-perfect performance
  • A clever, biting script
  • A well-cast ensemble
  • Several underwritten supporting characters
  • A third act that gets a little too silly
  • Two last-minute twists that fall flat

The Menu is a charbroiled, scathing piece of genre filmmaking. Its script, which was penned by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy, takes so many shots at so many targets that the film ends up having the same texture and bite as a marinated bird that’s still got pieces of buckshot in it. If that makes it sound like The Menu is a scattered blast of satire, that’s because it is, and not all of the shots that the film takes prove to be as accurate as others. It is, nonetheless, one of the more enjoyable and engaging social thrillers that have come out of Hollywood’s ongoing post- Get Out era .

That’s due, in no small part, to how The Menu cleverly uses the increasingly popular realm of avant-garde cooking as a vehicle to make many of its often blisteringly funny critiques of the world’s social and financial elite. By setting its story in a field that has only been explored in a handful of recent films, The Menu is largely able to keep many of its increasingly common social critiques from growing stale. The success of the film can also be directly linked to Ralph Fiennes’ straight-faced, pitch-perfect performance as the orchestrator of all of The Menu ’s many unpredictable thrills, chills, and laughs.

Fiennes stars in the film as Julian Slowik, a celebrity chef who has taken to living full-time on the isolated island where his high-end restaurant, Hawthorne, is located. The Menu doesn’t follow Slowik, though. Instead, it takes the perspective of Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a woman who has been invited by Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) to take part in an exclusive night of dining at Hawthorne. The pair are joined on their voyage by a number of snobbish patrons, including an arrogant food critic (Janet McTeer), a has-been movie star (John Leguizamo), and a trio of oblivious financial sector bros.

  • Where to watch The Menu
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Once Tyler, Margot, and the rest of Slowik’s diners arrive for their night at Hawthorne, though, things quickly begin to take a dark, surprisingly morbid turn. Before long, it’s clear that Slowik’s plans for the evening aren’t nearly as simple as his latest batch of patrons expected. His vision for the night is threatened, however, by the presence of Margot, who Tyler invited at the last minute after his original date (understandably) broke up with him.

Margot’s arrival allows The Menu to become not only a high-tension thriller , but also a battle of wills between her and Fiennes’ Slowik, who she has far more in common with than either might initially think. Although that might sound like a lot for The Menu to take on, especially given the delightfully mean-spirited streak of satire that runs throughout it, the film manages to successfully blend its thriller, horror, and comedy elements together for most of its runtime. Even in the moments when The Menu leans a little too hard into comedy or horror, most of which occur during its messy third act, the film always corrects itself quickly enough to stop it from going totally off the rails.

The film’s performers also clearly understand the assignment that they’ve been given and, as a result, everyone on screen manages to turn in performances that feel both slyly tongue-in-cheek and totally committed. Of the film’s many performers, no one stands out quite like Fiennes, though, who is given a role in The Menu that allows him to fully weaponize some of his greatest strengths, including his unique ability to combine Slowik’s attitude of knowing arrogance with a kind of raw, untempered rage.

Opposite him, Taylor-Joy turns in another reliably commanding performance in a role that really only lets her really spread her wings once, though the moment in question is one of the best that The Menu has to offer.  Hoult, meanwhile, gives a totally clueless performance as the ultra-annoying Tyler that not only calls to mind his scene-stealing turn in Yorgos Lanthimos ’ The Favourite , but which also cements him as one of the more quietly versatile actors of his generation. Hong Chau makes a similarly effective mark as Elsa, the tempered but ruthless second-in-command to Fiennes’ Slowik.

Behind the scenes, director Mark Mylod and editor Christopher Tellefsen ensure that The Menu maintains a fairly brisk pace for the entirety of its 106-minute runtime. Even the film’s exposition-heavy opening prologue clips by quickly, thanks to the operatic, almost Bong Joon-ho-esque cutting style that Mylod and Tellefsen implement throughout it. While there are moments when it seems like The Menu could stand to be a little nastier and more gnarly, Mylod wisely knows when to pause his constantly roving visual style in order to allow the film’s more uncomfortable scenes to truly breathe and build.

As has been the case with many of the social genre thrillers that Hollywood has produced over the past five years, The Menu doesn’t totally stick its landing. The film’s third act, in particular, attempts to stack gag-upon-gag-upon-gag in the hopes of heightening The Menu ’s stakes and tension, but most of them just end up creating unnecessary logic gaps. Those moments inevitably end up preventing The Menu from emerging as the kind of artfully prepared, five-star meal that its fictional chefs so desperately want to deliver. What The Menu does provide, though, is the kind of admirably bare-bones experience that’ll leave most patrons smiling and, above all else, satisfied.

The Menu is now playing in theaters nationwide. For more on the film, read our article on The Menu ‘s ending, explained .

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Alex Welch

Entergalactic isn’t like most other animated movies that you’ll see this year — or any year, for that matter. The film, which was created by Scott Mescudi a.k.a. Kid Cudi and executive producer Kenya Barris, was originally intended to be a TV series. Now, it’s set to serve as a 92-minute companion to Cudi’s new album of the same name. That means Entergalactic not only attempts to tell its own story, one that could have easily passed as the plot of a Netflix original rom-com, but it does so while also featuring several sequences that are set to specific Cudi tracks.

Beyond the film’s musical elements, Entergalactic is also far more adult than viewers might expect it to be. The film features several explicit sex scenes and is as preoccupied with the sexual politics of modern-day relationships as it is in, say, street art or hip-hop. While Entergalactic doesn’t totally succeed in blending all of its disparate elements together, the film’s vibrantly colorful aesthetic and infectiously romantic mood make it a surprisingly sweet, imaginative tour through a fairytale version of New York City.

From its chaotic, underwater first frame all way to its liberating, sun-soaked final shot, God’s Creatures is full of carefully composed images. There’s never a moment across the film’s modest 94-minute runtime in which it feels like co-directors Saela Davis and Anna Rose Holmer aren’t in full control of what’s happening on-screen. Throughout much of God’s Creatures’ quietly stomach-churning second act, that sense of directorial control just further heightens the tension that lurks beneath the surface of the film’s story.

In God's Creatures' third act, however, Holmer and Davis’ steady grip becomes a stranglehold, one that threatens to choke all the drama and suspense out of the story they’re attempting to tell. Moments that should come across as either powerful punches to the gut or overwhelming instances of emotional relief are so underplayed that they are robbed of much of their weight. God's Creatures, therefore, ultimately becomes an interesting case study on artistic restraint, and, specifically, how too calculated a style can, if executed incorrectly, leave a film feeling unsuitably cold.

Andrew Dominik’s Blonde opens, quite fittingly, with the flashing of bulbs. In several brief, twinkling moments, we see a rush of images: cameras flashing, spotlights whirring to life, men roaring with excitement (or anger — sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference), and at the center of it all is her, Marilyn Monroe (played by Ana de Armas), striking her most iconic pose as a gust of wind blows up her white dress. It’s an opening that makes sense for a film about a fictionalized version of Monroe’s life, one that firmly roots the viewer in the world and space of a movie star. But to focus only on de Armas’ Marilyn is to miss the point of Blonde’s opening moments.

As the rest of Dominik’s bold, imperfect film proves, Blonde is not just about the recreation of iconic moments, nor is it solely about the making of Monroe’s greatest career highlights. It is, instead, about exposure and, in specific, the act of exposing yourself — for art, for fame, for love — and the ways in which the world often reacts to such raw vulnerability. In the case of Blonde, we're shown how a world of men took advantage of Monroe’s vulnerability by attempting to control her image and downplay her talent.

The Menu: how to watch, awards and everything we know about the movie

Bon appetit with The Menu, a dark comedy/thriller starring Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy.

Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy in The Menu

Get ready to make a reservation for one messed-up dining experience, as the 2022 movie The Menu serves up a dark comedy treat for audiences. So what does The Menu have cooking up? (OK, think we've gotten all food/restaurant puns out of our system now).

In addition to an all-star cast, many members of the creative team behind The Menu have connections to one of the best shows on TV, Succession . This includes producer Adam McKay, director Mark Mylod and one half of the screenwriting team, Will Tracy. Is The Menu going to have the same satirical bite the HBO show has?

Here is everything we know about The Menu .

How to watch The Menu

The Menu is currently playing exclusively in movie theaters. Find out more about where it's playing and when it may be coming to streaming with our how to watch The Menu post.

The Menu plot

The Menu is an original idea from screenwriters Seth Reiss and Will Tracy. The movie is described as a mix of comedy, horror and thriller elements while being set at an exclusive high-class dining experience. Here is the official synopsis from Searchlight Pictures:

"A couple travels to a coastal island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises."

We get a bit clearer picture of the plot in the official trailer, which you can watch below. The dinner is just one part of the experience, as the guests also appear to be involved in a deadly hunt.

See The Menu and have some questions? Check out our The Menu ending explained piece.

The Menu trailers

Dig in with all of the released trailers for The Menu right here.

The Menu reviews — what the critics are saying

Critics are loving The Menu , with the movie scoring (as of November 17) a 91% "Fresh" on Rotten Tomatoes and a healthy 70 on Metacritic . What to Watch's The Menu review calls the black comedy "deliciously good fun."

The Menu awards and nominations

Here is a roundup of the major awards and nominations that The Menu has received:

Golden Globes

  • Best Actress: Comedy/Musical — Anya Taylor-Joy (nominee)
  • Best Actor: Comedy/Musical — Ralph Fiennes (nominee)

Satellite Awards

  • Best Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical — Ralph Fiennes (nominee)

The Menu cast

The Menu cast

The Menu is not short on star power, as its top billing includes Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult.

Ralph Fiennes is a Hollywood veteran, having starred in memorable movies like Schindler’s List , The English Patient , The Constant Gardener , the Harry Potter franchise and The Grand Budapest Hotel. He also had another 2022 movie, The Forgiven . Fiennes plays chef Slowik in The Menu .

Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult are the main couple in the movie, Margot and Tyler. Both Taylor-Joy and Hoult have been rising stars over the last few years. Taylor-Joy has starred in The Witch , The Queen’s Gambit and Last Night in Soho . In 2022, she appeared in The Northman and Amsterdam . 

Hoult first got noticed in About a Boy , but more recently he has broken out thanks to roles in Mad Max: Fury Road , The Favourite and the Hulu original series The Great .

The rest of The Menu cast are no slouches either. Filling things out are Janet McTeer ( Ozark , Albert Nobbs ), John Leguizamo ( Encanto , Moulin Rouge! ), Hong Chau ( Downsizing , Watchmen ), Judith Light ( Julia , Transparent ), Reed Birney ( House of Cards , Home Before Dark ), Paul Adelstein ( True Story , Prison Break ), Aimee Carrero ( Elena of Avalor , Maid ), Arturo Castro ( Mr. Corman , Broad City ), Mark St. Cyr ( High School Musical: The Musical — The Series ) and Rob Yang ( Succession , The Resident ).

How long is The Menu?

The Menu has a runtime of one hour and 46 minutes.

What is The Menu rated?

The Menu has been given an R rating in the US and a 15 in the UK for "strong/disturbing violent content, language throughout and some sexual references."

The Menu director

Mark Mylod is directing The Menu . Much of Mylod’s career has come on the TV side, directing episodes of Shameless (both the US and UK version), Entourage , Games of Thrones and Succession , including four episodes of the most recent season 3. Mylod is also an executive producer on Succession . His movie credits prior to The Menu are Ali G Indahouse , The Big White and What’s Your Number . 

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Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca , Moulin Rouge! , Silence of the Lambs , Children of Men , One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars . On the TV side he enjoys Only Murders in the Building, Yellowstone, The Boys, Game of Thrones and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd .

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Grand Appetites and “Poor Things”

By Anthony Lane

Emma Stone Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo illustrated by Agata Nowicka.

One of the funniest things about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is how unfunny it is. Who can stifle a snicker at the monster’s first chat with his creator? “Oh, Frankenstein, be not equitable to every other and trample upon me alone, to whom thy justice, and even thy clemency and affection, is most due,” the brute exclaims. Say what? He’s meant to be made from the spare parts of dead guys, but he talks like Mr. Darcy. In a way, Shelley’s novel has to be humorless. (Don’t forget that she was still a teen-ager when she wrote it.) One prick of a joke and the grandeur of her tragic tale—the Alpine sublimity of it all—would go pop.

No such caution attends the new movie from Yorgos Lanthimos, “Poor Things,” which is best approached as a rumbustious riff on Frankensteinian themes—or, in the pensive words of one character, “this diabolical fuckfest of a puzzle.” The creature at its core is Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman who—for reasons that I shan’t reveal—comes under the care of Dr. Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe). “Her mental age and her body are not quite synchronized,” he says. Initially, Bella expresses herself in guttural blurts and wild linguistic lunges: “Bud,” she declares, having whacked a man on the nose and drawn blood. Lanthimos charts the gradual improvement in her synchronicity, as her understanding blossoms from the childlike into the mature. If that makes the film sound like no fun at all, don’t worry. Only very rarely is it not fun.

“Poor Things,” written by Tony McNamara, is based on a 1992 book of the same title by the Scottish novelist Alasdair Gray, who died in 2019, and who didn’t so much spin yarns as weave them into complex—and magnificently unreliable—tapestries. He was a Glaswegian and a specifier, and on the page it is briskly stated that Baxter, a surgeon residing at 18 Park Circus, Glasgow, first encounters Bella in February, 1881. Onscreen, matters are less precise. The city is unnamed, and, as for the period, my guess would be late-Victorian steampunk, tricked out with modernist gewgaws. When Bella goes to Portugal, we see trolleys arcing through the sky on wires, like neighborhood airships. Time, in short, is a jumble.

But then almost everyone here, and everything, is constructed from bits and pieces. Consider Godwin Baxter, whose face is a roughly cut jigsaw of flesh, and whose Scottish accent wavers like a candle. His home has an operating room and an unusual menagerie, including a bulldog with the back end of a goose. The dog’s rump is attached to the front of the bird, and the result trots happily along. Baxter’s carriage is a horse’s head melded onto a juddering steam engine. These living collages are his proud handiwork, and Bella is his masterpiece. He’s like Victor Frankenstein minus the tortured conscience—a hyper-rational product of Enlightenment truth-hunting, splendidly played by Dafoe with a fierce benevolence, and without a shred of silliness. After lecturing students in anatomy, he invites the most promising of them, Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), to be his assistant, and to document Bella’s progress.

Sadly, we miss out on the fabulous pun cluster with which, in Gray’s book, Bella greets Baxter and Max together: “Hell low God win, hell low new man.” It’s like the plot of “Paradise Lost,” boiled down to eight monosyllables. (The philosopher William Godwin was Mary Shelley’s father, and, in the movie, Bella often addresses Baxter simply as “God.” You getting all this?) In most respects, however, Lanthimos is loyal to Gray’s vision of Bella as much more than a scientific curiosity—as someone through whose eyes and on whose inquisitive tongue the world is forever being tested and tasted, as if it were freshly made. Bella doesn’t have bad manners; rather, when she bumps into the laws of social conduct, she forces us to reassess how rum they can be and to wonder why we bother with them at all. On board an ocean liner, Bella approaches a passenger and cries, “Hello, interesting older lady!,” patting the woman’s frizzy hair to gauge its texture.

The narrative thrust of the film is itself a joke, being a parody of Romantic melodrama, and relying on what Bella calls “a confluence of circumstances I regard as almost fate-like.” Although Max (a gentle man, if not quite a gentleman) is attracted to Bella, and proposes marriage, he is trumped by an incoming cad named Duncan Wedderburn, played by Mark Ruffalo with a mustache, a calculating smirk, and a barrel-load of glee. Scooping up Bella, Duncan bears her off to foreign climes and schools her in mischief, only to be outsmarted by her fast-blooming intelligence. As she informs him, “my heart has become dim towards your swearing, weepy person.” Would that all relationships could be broken off with such forensic frankness. The action shifts to Lisbon, Alexandria, Paris, and finally back to British shores. There, in proper nineteenth-century fashion, a devilish twist awaits.

One of the funniest things about “Poor Things” is the headline that appeared in Variety after the film’s première at the Venice Film Festival, on September 1st: “Emma Stone’s Graphic ‘Poor Things’ Sex Scenes Make Venice Erupt in 8-Minute Standing Ovation.” Laying aside the giveaway verb—no eruptive dysfunction here —one can but marvel at the blush of puritan shockability in such a response. It’s a charming idea that the audience was stirred not by any dramatic skills on the part of the leading lady but exclusively by her valor as she dared to feign the gymnastic arts of love.

There is indeed a fair dollop of carnality in Lanthimos’s movie, but it’s hardly a torrent. “Furious jumping,” Bella calls it, in a fine example of her poetic plain speaking, and, having sampled it, she wants more. Sprawled in postcoital languor next to Duncan, she asks, “Why do people not do this all the time?,” an excellent question to which I, like Duncan, have no satisfactory reply. What matters most is that the sex, pace Variety , is not some isolated bout of friskiness; it takes its place in a larger comedy of appetites, as Bella hungers to steep herself in experience. If she dislikes a mouthful of food, she spits it out. When she dances, she jerks like a doll gone mad.

Lanthimos, one might say, has been here before. In his breakout work, “Dogtooth” (2009), two sisters gesticulated and shuffled in front of their parents as if obeying some absurdist ritual. And did Stone not display a Bella-like deadpan candor in “The Favourite” (2018), Lanthimos’s previous feature? Yes, but here she is more forthright still, pacing the metamorphosis of her character with warmth and wit. “The Favourite” felt arch and knowing, whereas “Poor Things” is about the act of knowing, and, much as Boris Karloff uncovered tenderness in horror, Stone takes a cautionary fable of the early machine age and crowns it with a generosity of spirit—aided, it must be said, by Holly Waddington’s sumptuous costume design. Check out Bella’s sleeves. They are not merely puffballs. They are explosions.

Can such dedication to excess become de trop ? Lanthimos and his cinematographer, Robbie Ryan, repeat the fish-eye-lens trick that they used in “The Favourite,” whereby landscapes and roomscapes bend and curve under our gaze. I often had the uncomfortable sensation that I was spying on “Poor Things” through a keyhole, like a prying butler. Although such visual contortions are a neat fit for the director’s elastic imaginings, one could argue that the basic conceit of the film is already so crazily swollen that there’s no need to pump it up any further. Mind you, Gray had a habit of adorning his own texts with gaily stylized illustrations, so maybe Lanthimos felt that he had a license to pump.

It’s no surprise, perhaps, that so brazen an attitude should fail when confronted with genuine suffering. In Alexandria, Bella catches sight of a huddle—the poor, the sick, and the starving—and realizes, as she has never done before, how cruel existence can be. The problem is that we barely see the huddle; it’s an indistinguishable mass, far away, at the foot of a slope. Such is the price that “Poor Things” must pay for its interrogative good cheer. “Tell me about myself. Was I nice?” Bella asks, and “Do you believe people improvable, Max?” That is the authentic voice of meliorism; William Godwin would have recognized it at once, and I like to picture his wife, Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelley’s mother), sitting and staring, with eyes as wide as Emma Stone’s, at the audacity of “Poor Things,” and at the pure feminist logic that propels its heroine to insist on her rights, not least when she finds employment in a brothel. Lined up with other sex workers, to be picked out by the male customers, she says to her boss, “Would you not prefer it if the women chose?”

Given this quizzical air, it’s only natural that someone in the movie should expire—a rebuff to those of us who feared that deathbed scenes were dying out. The same goes for “Maestro,” but that is a respectable weepie, whereas “Poor Things” revels in the notion that, even at the last gasp, there may be a chance for Homo to grow a little more sapiens . If, as Bella points out, being alive is fascinating, why should the conclusion of the process be any less of an education? Hence the final words that we hear on the lips of the dying person: “It’s all very interesting, what is happening.” All’s well that ends. ♦

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‘The Three-Body Problem’ Is Brilliant. ‘3 Body Problem’ Is Better.

Netflix’s new sci-fi series from the makers of ‘Game of Thrones’ doesn’t just honor Liu Cixin’s remarkable books—it improves on them

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the menu movie review new york times

My favorite quote about science fiction comes from longtime editor Frederik Pohl, who paraphrased Isaac Asimov when he wrote, “Somebody once said that a good science-fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam.”

In other words, it’s not the piece of technology or scientific advance itself that matters in spinning a sci-fi yarn, but rather the advance’s ramifications for humanity. Anyone can predict that humanity might one day, say, make first contact with aliens. But under what circumstances? And what might that contact say about our place in the universe? And what would those events mean for successive generations?

In the Three-Body Problem trilogy, Chinese author Liu Cixin constructs the most magnificently intricate, wildly ambitious traffic jam ever imagined. After the series’ first book was translated into English in 2014, Liu became the first Asian winner of the annual Hugo Award for best science-fiction or fantasy novel. His work received praise from the likes of Barack Obama and George R.R. Martin. It was so influential that it even coined a name for an actual scientific theory. (Don’t Google “the dark forest,” the title of the series’ second book, or else you will encounter massive spoilers.)

And now former Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with True Blood ’s Alexander Woo, have brought that impeccable cosmic traffic jam to Netflix, in what The New York Times called the “apotheosis of the nerd-tech takeover of our storytelling culture.” All eight episodes of the adaptation’s first season will be released on Thursday, with the streamer hoping to rival the book series’ smash success.

3 Body Problem (as the show’s title is stylized) is a proper fit for Benioff and Weiss, even though one of their adaptive sagas takes place in a medieval fantasy world and the other is in modern and futuristic sci-fi settings. 3 Body Problem is sexless, but in tone, it’s sci-fi’s answer to Thrones ’ grimdark sensibilities: In his essay anthology A View From the Stars , which reaches shelves next month, Liu writes that this series was his attempt to “try and imagine the worst universe possible” and that the second book’s title is fitting because “my universe is unbelievably dark.”

His story exploring this “worst universe possible” is the hardest of hard science fiction, with long passages about orbital mechanics, quantum physics, solar radiation, and the speed of light. Both the books and show open with a dual-timeline story. In one timeline, set in China during the Cultural Revolution, a traumatized young woman finds a home at a mysterious military base; in the other, modern-day law enforcement officers investigate a string of scientist suicides while other characters are invited to play a state-of-the-art virtual reality game.

Such a hard sci-fi story would seem “unadaptable”—but Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was viewed the same way, once upon a time, before evolving into a creative and cultural darling, a show that simultaneously set records for both Emmy Awards and HBO viewership. Crucially, while Thrones faltered at the finish line as it outran its still-incomplete source material, 3 Body Problem won’t face the same challenge, as the ending to Liu’s book series is already written. That difference gives Benioff and Weiss the opportunity to do what they do best: adapt an unadaptable genre story for the masses.

They have a “knack … for making what seems like completely inaccessible material totally accessible,” actor John Bradley, who played Samwell Tarly in Thrones and features as a snack-food tycoon in 3 Body , said in a press packet provided by Netflix. “I just couldn’t see how they were going to do it, but then as I started to read the scripts, I realized what a magic touch they’ve got in terms of taking this very dense source material and making it into an entertaining mainstream show.”

Bradley’s right. I’ve seen screeners for the entire season, and I was astonished by its quality; 3 Body Problem holds mostly true to the spirit of the source text, preserving its strengths while also shoring up its weaknesses. The book series is remarkable. The Netflix show might be an even better version of the story.

When I first discovered Liu’s trilogy and tore through all three books, their plots and themes dominated my waking thoughts and dreams for months afterward. I have since read everything Liu has ever written that’s been translated into English. When I joined an online baseball simulation league—my sci-fi fandom is not my only über-nerdy interest—I named my team the Trisolaris Droplets. (If you know, you know.) My wife’s gift to me for our first wedding anniversary (traditionally associated with a “paper” theme) was a gorgeous art book inspired by the series.

I offer all these anecdotes to establish my bona fides as a massive fan of the trilogy, so you’ll know I’m speaking in good faith when I admit that it’s also weighed down by several major flaws. The books’ timelines can grow confusing, especially when Liu doubles back to previous events and shares confusing flashbacks. His treatment of romantic subplots—and of some gender dynamics more broadly—is uncomfortable. His characters, most of all, tend to exist as two-dimensional vehicles for ideas rather than as 3D flesh-and-blood creations.

Fictional stories can draw readers in because of beautiful prose or compelling characters or a riveting plot; rare success stories, like Martin’s ASoIaF, combine all three. But Liu thrives through plot alone. He devotes far more attention to building his ideas and worlds than to building his characters. (This is especially true of a main character in the first book, whom a coworker—who didn’t enjoy her reading experience—called “the most boring man in the world.”)

This imbalance is partly a matter of cultural exchange. In a New Yorker profile of Liu, Chinese American writer Jiayang Fan wrote of China’s development over the course of Liu’s life, “The scale and the speed of China’s economic transformation were conducive to a fictive mode that concerns itself with the fate of whole societies, planets, and galaxies, and in which individuals are presented as cogs in larger systems.”

Yet the lack of individually compelling characters is also a choice (or a limitation) of Liu’s. He’s a power plant engineer by trade, not a trained writer. As he told Fan for that profile, “I did not begin writing for love of literature. I did so for love of science.”

That inversion wouldn’t work on television, which is, at its heart, a medium driven by character and dialogue. “I started as a playwright, so that’s the only way I know how to write: character first,” Woo said via Netflix. “For a television series, that’s the thing that gives you an emotional attachment to the story and makes you think about it after the credits roll.”

Part of the creators’ adaptive solution was structural. In Liu’s trilogy, the sequels’ protagonists don’t appear in the first book, and the various main characters don’t know each other before the events of the series.

So Benioff, Weiss, and Woo decided to pull those later protagonists (under different names) to the start of the first season of TV. They also connected those characters in a manner that might be less realistic—is it actually likely that the most important characters in a world-spanning story would have been friends before the crisis began?—but makes for a more cohesive viewing experience. Audiences love an ensemble.

“What you gain by making these changes is a greater level of emotional engagement, which is at the heart of any TV show,” Woo said.

In the case of 3 Body , that ensemble consists of five characters whose friendship dates back to their days as physics students at Oxford. The members of the quintet have since branched out into different scientific subfields: Jin (Jess Hong) is a theoretical physicist, Saul (Jovan Adepo) works in a lab, Auggie (Eiza González) applies her education to a job constructing nanomaterials, Jack (Bradley) owns a popular snack-food company, and Will (Alex Sharp) is a schoolteacher.

Those characters offer not only more emotional engagement than their book counterparts, but also a greater variety in tone. Jack, for instance, adds welcome humor and sarcasm to an otherwise overly serious show. (Benedict Wong’s Da Shi, an intelligence officer, supplies his fair share of levity, too.)

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There’s a lot of TV out there. We want to help: Every week, we’ll tell you the best and most urgent shows to stream so you can stay on top of the ever-expanding heap of Peak TV.

Altering character presentation is a common tactic for hard sci-fi shows that move from the page to the screen. The Foundation adaptation on Apple TV+ took a similar approach to its ostensibly unfilmable source material, another dense sci-fi story that emphasizes world-building over character-building. As Asimov’s story skips across time, most characters appear for no more than a few chapters. (Incidentally, Liu directly references Foundation in the second book in his series.)

The Foundation adaptation introduces cloning and cryogenic procedures to extend its characters’ life spans—and keep its high-profile actors on-screen. “I think the secret sauce for adapting Foundation was really rooting it in emotion,” showrunner David S. Goyer said in 2021. “Really rooting it in character.”

Elsewhere in the realm of hard sci-fi adaptations, Dune: Part Two condensed its time frame and cut out the book’s precocious toddler , which would have been trickier to depict on-screen. The Expanse TV show also fiddled with character timelines, including introducing a fan favorite who doesn’t appear until the second book in the pilot episode. His Dark Materials is more fantasy than sci-fi, but HBO’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s trilogy employed the same solution in transporting a character who debuts in the second book to the show’s second episode.

The Expanse adaptation also added more dialogue and banter in place of a detective character’s mostly internal narration. Daniel Abraham, one of the coauthors and executive producers of the series, told me this change was necessary because “watching the guy sit at home and drink whiskey and think—not great television.”

The same rationale shapes the 3 Body adaptation. Where in the book one character plays the virtual reality game alone and must think through its problems by himself, the show engages multiple characters in the VR world so that they can collaborate and share their thoughts with both one another and the audience.

One other major change in the 3 Body cast, versus its book equivalent, stems from the globalization of a story that originally transpired almost entirely in China. (The sequels spend more time globe-trotting and even traveling beyond our pale blue dot .) While the first season’s two largest roles went to actors of Chinese descent, other Chinese characters from the book are, in the show, played by white, Black, Pakistani, and Mexican actors. And while flashbacks are still centered in China, much of the present-day action shifts to London instead.

According to the creators, Liu gave them his blessing to swap characters’ races and genders, and the cast and creators have stressed repeatedly that these changes were intended to tell a better global story, not to whitewash an inherently Chinese tale.

“We wanted to represent, as much as possible, all of humanity,” Benioff said, per Netflix. “We wanted people from all over the world. We tried to make this a very diverse, international cast to represent the idea that this isn’t just one country’s struggle against the threat of aliens; it’s a global struggle to survive.”

Some viewers may rebel against these changes, but cast members quoted in Netflix’s press materials applauded the resulting opportunities for greater representation. Switching a scientist character from a Chinese man to a Latina woman, said González, “allowed me to be a bit more subversive in this take on a scientist. I feel like we have a very specific idea when it comes to doctors or scientists that’s very sterile and clean-cut. Being a woman from Latin America, I really wanted to create a role that reflected a Latin American woman in a different, more beautiful light.”

Not all of 3 Body ’s adaptive changes can compensate for the source material’s relative weaknesses. To return to the Thrones comparison, none of 3 Body ’s characters are as rich or complex as Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, or many of Martin’s other creations. Nor does 3 Body ’s dialogue crackle like Thrones ’ at its best.

But elements of production design—such as props, costumes, effects, and score—unique to the screen elevate other aspects beyond the capabilities of plain words on a page.

“The thing that’s amazing about filmed entertainment,” The Expanse ’s Abraham said, “is it has a musical score, and there’s this whole layer of emotional evocation that you just get for free. It’s amazing. It’s a powerful tool. If you could do that in a book, it would be astounding.”

In addition to reconvening Thrones actors like Bradley, Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), and Jonathan Pryce (the High Sparrow), 3 Body calls on many of the below-the-line standouts who shaped Thrones ’ look, sound, and feel, including composer Ramin Djawadi, who’s back with a delightful soundtrack for the new show. Thrones and 3 Body visual effects producer Steve Kullback said via Netflix that “the level of complexity of the visual effects is similar, in many ways, to some of the things we did on Game of Thrones .”

This series looks expensive, and it feels all the more immersive for its attention to portraying an entire world. 3 Body expands even beyond Thrones ’ great sprawl, leaping, in the VR world, from ancient China to Tudor England to 13th-century Mongolia to 16th-century Italy and, in the real world, from England to Panama to Switzerland to Florida.

The effects work carries over to the show’s infrequent action scenes. A midseason sequence on an oil tanker, which transforms a one-page event into a jaw-dropping visual spectacle, is one of the best set pieces Benioff and Weiss have ever produced. It’s not quite Hardhome or the Red Wedding , but it’s not far behind. ( 3 Body ’s actual version of the Red Wedding would come in Season 2, if the show is renewed.)

This action is played up in part because, as my colleague Justin Charity wrote , both the books and show are “sci-fi thrillers, but the books put the emphasis on sci-fi where the show puts the emphasis on thriller .” This streamlining mostly works. The most confusing part of the first book—and, in my opinion, the entire series—unfolds over 25 dense pages, as Liu details the construction of a new piece of advanced technology that makes use of extra dimensions. On the screen, however, 3 Body condenses this sequence via a quick summary before moving on—again, focusing more on the traffic jam than the automobile itself.

Still, cutting down on the science nerdery in the interest of broader viewer comprehension means that, for some fans, the books’ appeal will be lost in translation. I couldn’t help but wish that other missing parts had been included in the adaptation: a scene that uses a billiard table as a metaphor for a particle accelerator; Liu’s deeper exploration of the VR game, which allows the reader to try to untangle its collection of mysteries along with the characters instead of just watching them solve it; more details about the ingenious “human computer” in VR, which looks cool but isn’t really explained on-screen.

For viewers who want more sci-fi in their sci-fi thriller, or frankly more sci in their sci-fi, a competing Chinese-language adaptation aired in 2023 and is now streaming on Peacock. This version of the story, produced by the Chinese conglomerate Tencent, is almost unflinchingly faithful to the book, as it stretches over 30 episodes and thus has much more room to delve into all of the novel’s scientific minutiae. Tencent’s series is not entirely faithful, however: It elides the integral aspects of Chinese history that influence characters and catalyze the plot.

When drafting his book, Liu front-loaded scenes showing the brutality of the Cultural Revolution, but as a New York Times piece explained , his “Chinese publisher worried that the opening scenes were too politically charged and would never make it past government censors, so they were placed later in the narrative, he says, to make them less conspicuous. Liu reluctantly agreed to the change, but felt the novel was diminished.” Now, Liu recommends that bilingual readers choose the English translation of his book—which returned those chapters to the front of the novel—instead of the Chinese version.

The same dynamic apparently played out in the dueling adaptations. The Tencent adaptation downplays these scenes, while the Netflix show—just like the English translation of the book—opens with them, as a physics professor faces opprobrium from a mob because of his beliefs about science and religion.

Liu himself is an atheist, but he still believes it’s his role to inspire a spiritual response in his readers. In one of his essays in A View From the Stars , he writes, “The religious feeling of science fiction is a deep sense of awe at the great mysteries of the universe.”

The show captures that same sense of wonder and reflects it back to the audience from the start. At the end of the first episode, when the stars in the night sky behave in an unusual way, the hair on my arms stood up, just as it had when I discovered the great mysteries in the book.

“We want to do justice to the books and create a show that makes people feel the way the books made us feel,” Benioff said. “And the best way to do that is not to just schematically take things from the book and put them on-screen in the order and manner in which they appear in the books.”

Those more holistic changes alter character and story structure but not Liu’s propulsive plot or, most of all, the way his books made so many readers feel. With the aid of TV-friendly tweaks and Netflix’s massive reach, the 3 Body adaptation has the opportunity to fill even more audience members with that deep sense of awe.

“A lot of people who said, ‘I don’t like fantasy’ became big fans of Game of Thrones ,” Benioff added. “And our hope is that we’ll get a lot of people who normally are not into science fiction to love 3 Body Problem .”

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March 26, 2024 - Baltimore Key Bridge collapses after ship collision

By Helen Regan , Kathleen Magramo , Antoinette Radford, Alisha Ebrahimji , Maureen Chowdhury , Rachel Ramirez , Elise Hammond , Aditi Sangal , Tori B. Powell , Piper Hudspeth Blackburn and Kathleen Magramo , CNN

Our live coverage of the Baltimore bridge collapse has moved here .

Crew member on DALI said everyone on board was safe hours after bridge collapse, official says

From CNN’s Amy Simonson

A crew member on the DALI cargo ship sent a message hours after the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed Tuesday saying everybody on board was safe, according to Apostleship of the Sea director Andy Middleton.

Middleton, who spent time with the captain of the DALI Monday, told CNN’s Laura Coates he reached out to a crew member after hearing about the incident Tuesday morning. 

He said there were 22 members aboard the ship from India who were setting sail earlier Tuesday morning and were heading toward Sri Lanka.

“I was able to reach out to a crew member very early this morning around 5:30 (a.m. ET) or 6 (a.m. ET) and get a message to them asking if they were OK,” he said. “That crew member responded within just a few minutes advising that the crew was safe, and everybody that [was] on board was safe.”

Middleton was told by the ship's captain Monday that the vessel was going to take a longer route to avoid risks along the Yemen coast.

“When I was out with the captain yesterday, we were talking while we were driving, and he advised that they were sailing down and around the tip of South Africa in order to avoid the incidents that are going on off the Yemen coast, and it was a safer way to go,” he said.

Middleton said the  Apostleship of the Sea  is a ministry to seafarers with members that spend time in the port and on the vessels as a friendly face to the seafarers that visit the Port of Baltimore, “taking care of their needs to make sure that they're reminded of their God-given human dignity when they're here in Baltimore.”

Search operation ends in "heartbreaking conclusion," Maryland governor says. Here's the latest

From CNN staff

The Dali container vessel after striking the Francis Scott Key Bridge that collapsed into the Patapsco River in Baltimore, Maryland, on Tuesday, March 26.

Six people, who were believed to be part of a road construction crew, are presumed dead after Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning. The collapse came after a 984-foot cargo ship hit the bridge's pillar.

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore told reporters Tuesday evening it's a "really heartbreaking conclusion to a challenging day."

Late Tuesday, it was discovered that two of the construction workers who went missing after the bridge collapsed were from Guatemala , the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said late Tuesday.

Here's what you should know to get up to speed:

  • The victims: Eight people were on the bridge  when it fell, according to officials. At least two people were rescued — one was taken to the hospital and was later  discharged , fire official and the medical center said.
  • The incident: Video shows the moment the entire bridge structure falls into the water, as the ship hits one of the bridge's pillars. CNN analysis shows that the  ships lights flickered  and it veered off course before it hit the bridge. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said the crew on the ship were able to issue a "mayday" before colliding into the bridge, which allowed the authorities to stop incoming traffic from going onto the bridge.
  • Response efforts: Earlier, dive teams from various state and local agencies were brought in to assist in search-and-rescue operations, according to Maryland State Police Secretary Col. Roland L. Butler Jr.. The mission started with 50 personnel and continued to grow before the Coast Guard announced Tuesday evening that it was suspending its active search-and-rescue operation and transitioning to a "different phase."
  • The investigation: Authorities are still working to establish exactly how the crash occurred. The National Transportation Safety Board will look into  how the bridge was built  and investigate the structure itself. It will "take time to dig through" whether the bridge had ever been  flagged for any safety deficiencies , NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said.
  • Rebuilding the bridge: US Sen. Chris Van Hollen said the path to rebuilding the bridge will be "long and expensive." Senior White House adviser Tom Perez told reporters Tuesday “it’s too early” to tell how long it will take to rebuild the bridge. President Joe Biden said Tuesday he wants the federal government to bear the full cost of rebuilding the collapsed bridge, noting that it will not wait for the company who owns the container ship DALI to shoulder the costs. Funding could come from the Federal Highway Administration as well as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, but it may require additional funding from Congress.

2 of the missing construction workers from bridge collapse were from Guatemala, foreign ministry says

From CNN’s Allison Gordon, Flora Charner and Amy Simonson

Two of the construction workers missing from the bridge collapse in Baltimore were from Guatemala, the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement late Tuesday.

Those missing included a 26-year-old originally from San Luis, Petén. The other is a 35-year-old from Camotán, Chiquimula, the statement said.

The ministry said both were part of a work team “repairing the asphalt on the bridge at the time of the accident.”

The statement did not name the two people missing, but it said the country’s consul general in Maryland “went to the area where the families of those affected are located,” where he hopes to be able to meet with the brothers of both missing people.

The consulate   also issued a statement Tuesday saying its consul general in Maryland "remains in contact with local authorities," and also confirmed that two of those missing "were of Guatemalan origin.”

Six people, who were believed to be part of a road construction crew, are presumed dead after Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning when a cargo ship hit the bridge's pillar.

State and federal officials have not released information about the identities of any of the six missing workers.

Underwater mapping of bridge collapse area to begin Wednesday, Baltimore fire chief says

From CNN's Jennifer Henderson

Search operations near the Key Bridge collapse have shut down for the night due to dangerous conditions, but the process of underwater mapping with many local, state and federal dive teams will begin Wednesday, Baltimore City Fire Chief James Wallace told CNN’s Anderson Cooper Tuesday night.

Wallace said the portion of the Patapsco River is “tidal influenced, so it goes through tide cycles just like the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay does.”

The water depths in the area under the bridge vary from 40 feet to more than 60 feet, Wallace said. The deeper the divers go, the colder the temperatures they encounter, and the visibility is zero, he added.

 Wallace said when crews arrived Tuesday morning, the surface water temperatures of the Patapsco River were about 47 degrees with an air temperature of 44-45 degrees.

Here's what you should know about the historic Francis Scott Key Bridge

The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday after a massive container ship lost power and crashed into the iconic Baltimore bridge, sending people and vehicles into the frigid Patapsco River.

Six people, believed to be part of a road construction crew, are presumed dead and the Coast Guard has ended its active search and rescue mission.

Here's what you should know about the historic bridge:

  • How old?: The Francis Scott Key Bridge, also referred to as just the Key Bridge, opened to traffic in March 1977 and is the final link in the Baltimore Beltway, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA.) It crosses over the 50-foot-deep Patapsco River, where former US attorney Francis Scott Key found inspiration to write the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner, the MDTA says.
  • How long?: The bridge was 1.6 miles long when standing, MDTA reports.
  • Traffic volume: More than 30,000 people commuted daily on the bridge, according to Maryland Gov. Wes Moore.
  • How much did it cost?: The bridge cost $60.3 million to build, MDTA says. Since its collapse, President Joe Biden said he’s committed to helping rebuild the bridge as soon as possible.
  • About the port: Baltimore ranks as the ninth biggest US port for international cargo. It handled a record 52.3 million tons, valued at $80.8 billion, in 2023. According to the Maryland state government, the port supports 15,330 direct jobs and 139,180 jobs in related services.
  • About the ship: The bridge collapsed after a container vessel called Dali collided with one of its supports. Dali is operated by Singapore-based Synergy Group but had been chartered to carry cargo by Danish shipping giant Maersk . The ship is about 984 feet long , according to MarineTraffic data. That’s the length of almost three football fields.

Baltimore woman says bridge collapse was "like a piece of family dissolved"

From CNN's Kit Maher

For longtime Baltimore resident, Ceely, who opted not to share her last name, seeing footage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse  Tuesday was deeply personal.

“I was very heavy-hearted,” Ceely told CNN. “Very tearful, thinking about the families whose loved ones may be in the water and just remembering when the bridge was constructed, and it was just like a piece of family dissolved.”

Ceely was at a prayer group Tuesday morning when she saw the news. She recalled being afraid when she first crossed the bridge while in Ford Maverick in 1975, but grew to like it because it saved time on the road.

“It was a main artery just like a blood line. It was a main artery to the other side of town. It was awesome. It beat going through the city all the time,” she said.

Elder Rashad A. Singletary , a senior pastor who led Tuesday night’s vigil at Mt. Olive Baptist Church told CNN that many church members watched the bridge's construction.

"It’s a part of the community. A lot of our individuals in our congregation drive that bridge to go to work, and so now it’s really a life changing moment,” he said.

"Heartbreaking conclusion to a challenging day," Maryland governor says as Coast Guard ended search operation

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

People look out toward the Francis Scott Key Bridge following its collapse in Baltimore, Maryland on March 26.

More than 18 hours after the collapse of the Baltimore bridge, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore said it was a heartbreaking conclusion after the Coast Guard ended the search-and-rescue operation for the six people who were on the bridge when it collapsed.

It's a "really heartbreaking conclusion to a challenging day," he said.

"We put every single asset possible — air, land and sea" to find the missing people, he told reporters on Tuesday evening. "While even though we're moving on now to a recovery mission, we're still fully committed to making sure that we're going to use every single asset to now bring a sense of closure to the families," the governor added.

6 people presumed dead after Baltimore bridge collapse, Coast Guard says. Here's what we know

As the sun sets in Baltimore, six people are presumed dead after a major bridge collapsed overnight Tuesday, according to the Coast Guard. The Francis Scott Key Bridge came down around 1:30 a.m. ET after a cargo ship collided with it.

The Coast Guard said it has ended its active search-and-rescue operation for the missing construction workers who were on the bridge when it collapsed.

  • What we know: Eight people were on the bridge when it fell, according to officials. At least two people were rescued — one was taken to the hospital and has been discharged . The Coast Guard has been searching for six other people. But, around 7:30 p.m. ET, the Coast Guard said it has transitioned to a “different phase” of operation, now it did “not believe we are going to find any of these individuals alive,” Rear Adm. Shannon Gilreath said.
  • About the ship: The bridge collapsed after a container vessel called Dali collided with one of its supports. The vessel is operated by Singapore-based Synergy Group but had been chartered to carry cargo by Danish shipping giant Maersk . The US Embassy in Singapore has been in contact with the country’s Maritime and Port Authority, a State Department spokesperson said.
  • The investigation: The National Transportation Safety Board is leading the investigation into the collapse. A team of 24 experts will dig into nautical operations, vessel operations, safety history records, owners, operators, company policy and any safety management systems or programs, said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. A voyage data recorder will be critical to the investigation, she added. 
  • Vehicles on the bridge: Officials are also working to verify the numbers of how many cars and people were on the bridge, Homendy said. Gov. Wes Moore said the quick work of authorities in closing the bridge had saved lives . Radio traffic captured how authorities stopped traffic and worked to clear the bridge seconds before the impact . Maryland State Police Secretary Col. Roland L. Butler Jr. said there is a “ distinct possibility ” more vehicles were on the bridge, but authorities have not found any evidence to support that.
  • Looking ahead: NTSB will look into how the bridge was built and investigate the structure itself, including if it was flagged for any safety deficiencies , Homendy said. The federal government has also directed its resources to help with search and rescue, to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge, Vice President Kamala Harris said . Earlier, President Joe Biden said t he federal government will pay to fix the bridge.
  • The economy: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg warned the collapse will have a serious impact on supply chains . Until the channel is reopened, ships will likely already be changing course for other East Coast ports. Ocean carriers are already being diverted from the Port of Baltimore, where the bridge collapsed, to the Port of Virginia to “keep trade moving."

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