Chef Flynn

When he was a young boy, Flynn McGarry started cooking because his mother Meg’s cooking lacked variety. Meg McGarry being a filmmaker, she recorded her son’s evolution as a haute cuisine genius. Flynn has a kitchen set up in his bedroom, and when he was 12, the family started $160-a-head dinning club Eureka in their home in Los Angeles. Chef Flynn‘s director films Flynn as he is preparing to open a pop-up version of Eureka in New York. Opening night was disastrous in the young man’s view, but the second night goes very well and Flynn is happy. Then he moves to live by himself in New York when he is 16. Now Flynn is 20 and Gem, his restaurant, is located at 116 Forsyth street, New York. Director Cameron Yates also uses Meg’s archives to show a younger Flynn, a cute, freckled, red-headed kid. This is a nice story to tell with nice enough people. There is a minimum of dysfunctionality. Except for the facts that his parents are divorced and his dad is a reformed alcoholic, Flynn seems to be a well-adjusted youth who loves his older sister, his mom and his dad. There is the occasional camera weary moments, as Meg doesn’t seem to be able to stop filming. There are things to be thankful for, otherwise we would not get to see these images of a loving family.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from December 14 – 18
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/chef-flynn

Chef Flynn

Directed by:
Cameron Yates

82 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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At eternity’s gate

At eternity’s gate is about the last years of Vincent van Gogh’s life. Living in France with Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) at Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) shows early signs of mental illness. How do we know? We know because director Julian Schnabel’s camera is telling us in no subtle ways, by blurring and discoloring van Gogh’s point of view or overlapping images and dialogue tracks to imitate a sense of confusion (duh!). But he has other camera tricks. At eternity’s gate has the most unstable camera since The Blair witch project (remember?), and the cameraman seems unable to focus or keep his footing and takes extreme close-ups of van Gogh’s face, his nose, his mouth, his head and his scalp. (Oh no! It’s The Blair witch project part 3!) The painter’s disagreements with Gauguin seems to be the cause of all his anguish. He has a very loving relationship with his brother Theo (Rupert Friend) who helps him as much as he can. After spending some time in a mental institution, van Gogh is released and moves to Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône where he will spend his last 80 days and create 75 paintings. Yes Willem Dafoe is great, but his efforts are muffled by Schnabel’s patchwork approach to cinema. It’s annoying and a mess. Avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on December 30 & 31
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/at-eternitys-gate

 

At eternity’s gate

 

Directed by:
Julian Schnabel

Screenplay by:
Jean-Claude Carrière
Louise Kugelberg
Julian Schnabel

Starring:
Willem Dafoe
Rupert Friend
Oscar Isaac
Mads Mikkelsen
Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner

110 min.
.
In English and French with English subtitles

A private war

Being a war correspondent is a dificult and dangerous occupation. Placing oneself in the middle of battle, in the trenches with the soldiers or meeting the affected population to shine a light on the attrocities of this world is no easy task. American journalis Marie Colvin was one of those fearless reporters. In 2001, While she is covering a conflict in Sri Lanka, Colvin (Rosamund Pike) loses the sight in her left eye and she starts wearing her trademark eyepatch. But she suffered from post traumatic stress disorder throughout the remainder of her life. There are images of the horrors she has seen that keep coming back to her. She has a horrific vision of a dead little girl that is recurent. Colvin is hospitalized for her PTSD, but she soon goes back to war zones as a reporter for British newspaper The Sunday times where her editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) is concerned about Colvin’s mental state. But she goes back again, and again. To cope Colvin drinks. A lot. Sometimes she comes home to get an award and have sex with “friend with benefit” Tony Shaw (Stanley Tucci, in a blink-and-you’ve-misted-it performance. Actually, to be fair if you blink a few times.) But Colvin goes back to report on wars, as if it was a cumpulsion, like she wants to bury the war in her head. Her last assignment was in the Syrian city of Homs in 2012. With photojournalist Paul Conroy (Jamie Dornan), they showed photos and films of injured children being treatted under terrible conditions in makeshift hospitals and the grieving parents. On February 21 she is speaking via satelite with Andreson Cooper on CNN. The next day she dies in an attack by the Syrian government. Conroy survived. A private war is a harrowing reminder of the dangerous job of journalists around the globe. It is necessary because of the anti-media rhetoric coming from some. A private war‘s main draw is Pike. Here she gives an even more fierce and complex performance than she did in Gone girl. One of the producer is Charlize Theron and you wonder why she did not keep that juicy part for herself. But Pike is so powerful and moving. But A private war has very good production values and good direction by Matthew Heineman. It will be hard for some to watch, but it is worth it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A private war

 

Directed by:
Matthew Heineman

Screenplay by:
Arash Amel
Based on the Vanity fair article Marie Colvin’s private war by Marie Brenner

Starring:
Rosamund Pike
Jamie Dornan
Stanley Tucci
Tom Hollander
Corey Johnson

106 min.

Studio 54

Ah, the good old days of disco and New York’s Studio 54. Co-founders Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell bought and renovated an old CBS studio (called then Studio 52) on 54th Street. Studio 54 opened in April 1977 and was an instant success. Why? This was a place where gay people felt safe to be themselves. Gays, lesbians, drag queens, cross dressers, anything goes. And you could not get admitted unless you were famous. We see a lot of photos with Andy Warhol, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger, Truman Capote, and even Margaret Trudeau. It was THE place to be. The documentary is interested as much with the lives and friendship of the owners than with the Studio. Schrager met Rubell in college and they became lifelong friends. The fact that Rubell was gay was not a problem with Schrager, and it gave them an idea for a new concept for a disco club: diversity. But there was also drugs and liquor sold without a licence. Schrager and Rubell were investigated by the IRS, they pleaded guilty to tax evasion and spent 13 months in prison. The life of Studio 54 was short. In February 1980 it was over. And soon it would be over for disco too. Later Schrager and Rubell had other business opportunities. And then Steve Rubell died of AIDS in 1989. Ian Schrager still remembers his good friend. Ah, those good old days of disco.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Studio 54

 

Directed by:
Matt Tyrnauer

99 min.

Rated 14A

Maria by Callas

Casta Diva, che inargenti
queste sacre antiche piante,
a noi volgi il bel sembiante
senza nube e senza vel…
Tempra, o Diva,
tempra tu de’ cori ardenti
tempra ancora lo zelo audace,
spargi in terra quella pace
che regnar tu fai nel ciel…

English translation:
Pure Goddess, whose silver covers
These sacred ancient plants,
we turn to your lovely face
unclouded and without veil…
Temper, oh Goddess,
the hardening of you ardent spirits
temper your bold zeal,
Scatter peace across the earth
Thou make reign in the sky…

Casta Diva, from the opera Norma by Vincenzo Bellini

Before the documentary Maria by Callas, I knew almost nothing about Maria Callas. I am probably too young, or opera has never been very interesting to me. Director Tom Volf does some very clever editing choices. As the title suggest, Callas herself will tell her story in her own words in TV interviews and letters and other writings read by Fanny Ardant and Joyce DiDonato. There are also plenty of photos and archival films. Many aspect of her life is explored. Her frosty relationship with her mother, her education and training as an opera singer, the many scandals, the bad reputation that Callas had as a “difficult” woman, her off and on affair (Callas calls it “friendship”) with Aristotle Onassis (who left her to marry Jackie Kennedy), the love/hate relationship with her fans, her bouts of depression and her poor health toward the end of her life. Volf keeps bringing us back to a 1970 interview with David Frost. Whatever we see, the reputation that followed Callas as a tempestuous artist is I think false. What is true is that Callas had great respect and love for her fans. She did not want to sing unless she felt she could deliver the most stellar performance. The interviews are punctuated by performances that are meant to comment on Callas herself, and her life. The lyrics for Bellini’s Casta Diva are talk about a “pure Goddess” with a “lovely face unclouded and without veil”, who is called to “temper your bold zeal”. For her affair with Onassis, there is Bizet’s L’amour est un oiseau rebelle from Carmen. And for her most depressed period we see her sing Verdi’s Addio del passato from La Traviata. But these performances serve another purpose. The younger generations, who like me knew of Callas but never heard or seen Callas sing, are going to be surprised by her voice and the emotional impact of Maria Callas. Without knowing much about opera, then and now, I must ask the question: Is Maria Callas still the best opera singer? Ever? She’s hard to top. Technically perfect and with such intensity that it must have been hard to maintain that high quality of performance. The demand on her body and her mind might have been what has made her so fragile. We learn as much about Callas when we’re looking at Callas sing than in the interviews. Here we have a complete portrait of the “pure Goddess” of opera “unclouded and without veil”.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maria by Callas

 

Directed by:
Tom Volf

113 min.

In English, French and Italian with English subtitles.

Bel Canto

Based on actual events (the1996 Lima hostage Crisis) but adapted from an Ann Patchett bestselling novel that has almost nothing left, if anything, from the real events, Bel Canto is a most amusing political drama/soap opera. Amusing to me at least. Among the international cast, the most well-known are Japan’s Ken Watanabe, France’s Christopher Lambert and American actress Julianne Moore. Watanabe plays Japanese industrialist businessman Katsumi Hosokawa who travels to a South American country to celebrate his own birthday. President Ochoa wants Hosokawa to open a plant, but has refused the invitation. Knowing very well that Hosokawa is an opera fan, the President has hired Hosokawa’s favorite singer, Roxanne Coss (Moore, with the singing voice of Renée Fleming) to give a concert in the President’s residence. But Hosokawa has no intention of doing business with the dictator and only come for the concert, and Coss only accepted because of the money they were willing to pay her. The concert has just begun in front of dignitaries, ambassadors and their wives, when a group guerrillas with machine guns crash the party. They keep everyone hostage and they demand that President Ochoa, who could not attend the concert because he was sick, release all political prisoners. At first the relations between the hostages and the guerrillas are tense, but over time, call it Stockholm syndrome if you want, things get friendlier. Hosokawa and the opera singer are obviously in love, so they start an affair. There is also attractions between Hosokawa’s translator (Ryô Kase) and a female guerrillas (María Mercedes Coroy). The film has a lot of credibility issues. Laughable scenes like the one where, after the government has cut off the water, Roxanne Coss goes on the balcony and sing so they’ll get the water back. And they do! Moments like this, and others even crazier, only work if you are good and innocent, or if, like me, you don’t take the film too seriously. Yes, there are beautiful things and marvelous music. Yes, Julianne Moore is very good, as always. I just think that the whole thing could easily have become a parody in the Airplane style. It ends in chaos and predictable tragedy. Predictable, but still disturbing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bel Canto

 

Directed by:
Paul Weitz

Starring:
Julianne Moore
Ken Watanabe
Sebastian Koch
Ryô Kase
María Mercedes Coroy
Christopher Lambert

Screenplay by:
Paul Weitz
Anthony Weintraub
Based on the novel by Ann Patchett

101 min.

Rated 14A

In English and some Spanish, French, and Japanese with English subtitles

Science fair

Jack Andraka runs to the stage screaming and shrieking as if he was a contestant on The price is right. (“Come on down!”) It’s 2013 and Andraka, 15 at the time, won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair’s big prize and the $75,000 that comes with it. On stage, Jack hugs the presenter with such a joyous enthusiasm that she seems to be afraid he’s going to crush her. He stands for the camera with his mouth wide open. And it stays open as if his brain was screaming OH MY GGGGGGGGGGGODDDDDDDD!!!!!!!! This highly comic moment informs us of the importance ISEF will have on the lives of the students who attend. Directors Cristina Costantini (a previous ISEF winner) and Darren Foster have chosen to follow some students from diferent backgrounds who are going with a variety of science projects. There is Robbie Barrat who although he is failing maths, he’s good with computers. His project is about computers and algorithms. Team mates Ryan Folz, Harsha Paladugu and Abraham Riedel-Mishaan are bringing their invention: an electronic 3D-printed stethoscope. There’s Anjali Chadha from the same school. There is two teens from Brazil, Myllena Braz da Silva and Gabriel de Moura Martins, young Ivo Zell from Germany. Muslim-American Kashfia Rahman is from a South Dakota school. Even if Kashfia is already an award-winning science student, the school has ignored her accomplishments, due to the too great importance they put on team sport activities. Same old story everywhere. And then there is Dr. Serena McCalla, a science research teacher at a New York High school, who tries to give her students the drive and the tools they need to succeed. Dr. McCalla is very hard on her student. But the fair is not an easy thing to go through. Although the cameras are not allowed during the judging, we know as the contestants are locked in a room for 6 hours and have to answer tough questioning from the judging panels. At the end, very few of them will receive an award. If they do win, they will go back to their school where again their award will be ignored. But no matter, all of them, winners or not, are already heroes on their ways to become important scientists. And change the world, of course.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Science fair

 

Directed by:
Cristina Costantini & Darren Foster

Screenplay by:
Cristina Costantini & Darren Foster

90 min.

Free solo

In its opening sequence new documentary Free solo is enough to induce vertigo. Husband and wife directing team Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s incredible film is about Free solo climber Alex Honnold and his attempt to climb El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park. Free solo (soloing) is the dangerous sport of climbing cliffs without the safety of ropes or harnesses. They use their bare hands and light climbing shoes, finding small crevices to hold onto. It looks like a crazy stunt or an impossible task to us mere humans. El Capitan stands at 3,000 feet and is the mother of all cliffs. Any fall will surely be fatal. If Honnold lives in his van it’s not because he’s poor. He’s a successful author and lecturer. He lives in his van because it’s more convenient. He can park his van near the mountains he plans to climb. We see him climbing El Capitan with ropes and a harness until he’s ready soloing. Now Alex Honnold has a new girlfriend. He met Sanni Mccandless at a book signing. So Alex has someone else beside himself to think about when he decides to climb El Capitan. Meru was an earlier documentary by Chin and Vasarhelyi and as we see in Free solo, their images are nothing short of spectacular. In its last segment Free solo becomes the best edge-of-your-seat, hold-your-breath documentary. Most impressive.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Free solo

 

Directed by:
Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

97 min.

What they had

After putting some make up, Ruth (Blythe Danner) goes out into the Chicago snowy winter wearing only a nightgown and her slippers. Ruth has Alzheimer. She does things like fail to recognize her own children or talk into the stapler when the phone rings. Realizing that she’s gone, her husband Burt (Robert Forster) phones their son, Nicky (Michael Shannon). Then Nicky phones his sister Bridget (Hilary Swank) who flies in from California with her highly depressed/sleepy daughter, Emma (Taissa Farmiga, Vera Farmiga’s younger sister). Burt did not want Bridget to be called, claiming that all is fine and that he can take care of his wife. They find Ruth unharmed, but the problem remains, according to Nicky: What are we going to do with mom? The family members react differently depending on the way they usually respond to crisis. Dad/Burt wants to be in control and thinks he can manage, even though there are ample proofs that he can’t. Nicky, who has already looked for a memory center, rages and rants when nobody listens. Bridget has the perfect solution: Do nothing. And Emma sleeps. This is a complex family portrait, with the family’s dysfunctions (hey, we all came from dysfunctional families) highlighting everyone’s failing in their personal lives. What I liked about What they had is the excellent ensemble cast. What I liked most is the great performances from two veteran actors: Robert Forster and Blythe Danner. Danner is all subtlety here as she bring sweet and sour nostalgic humour to the film. Forster plays the central character in the film. He’s really the master conductor in an orchestra of great actors. I’m hoping to see Danner and Forster be Oscar nominated. Who knows? Only time will tell. In the meantime enjoy!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

What they had

 

Directed by:
Elizabeth Chomko

Screenplay by:
Elizabeth Chomko

Starring:
Hilary Swank
Michael Shannon
Robert Forster
Blythe Danner
Taissa Farmiga

101 min.

American chaos

Six months before the 2016 Presidential Election, Jim Stern took his camera across the USA with the aim to understand Donald Trump’s appeal to some of his supporters. They look friendly enough, except that they only trust Trump, even when they know he’s lying, and they hate Hillary Clinton with a passion. Among the people who Stern meets are some descendants of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys, except that they are now friends. The closer he gets to election day, Stern gets more and more depressed. Of course we remember the outcome. There’s nothing new that we don’t see it every weeks on cable TV. Maybe some people might find it to their liking, but there’s not much interest from me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

American chaos

 

Directed by:
James D. Stern

90 min.