Author: Andrew Parker

Hot Docs 2015 Review: For Grace

Chef Curtis Duffy has worked in several Michelin Star earning restaurants throughout his career, and he has positioned himself to open his own restaurant, Grace, in Chicago’s trendy West Loop. A talented, oddly calm, focused, and unflappable veteran in the kitchen, nothing can prepare him for the stresses, cost overruns, and delays he faces in trying to make a name for himself. The surprising and disarming power of For Grace can’t be understated. It’s not merely an inside look at how hard it is to open a restaurant. It’s much more than that. It’s a portrait of a man who rose up from a rough childhood and the lessons he has learned along the way. It’s an intimate look at the physical, mental, and social stress that chefs place on themselves in a cutthroat, erratic, and fickle industry. It also moves outward from the personal to give a remarkably comprehensive overview of a difficult industry as a whole. From the minutiae of how a dish comes together to the different types of mentorships chefs can offer (both positive and negative), the film functions as both microcosm and macrocosm. As it moves towards its climax, the film becomes remarkably cathartic and unexpectedly meditative, with not one, but two exceptional motivational speeches about how restaurants are nothing without the customers and the dedicated staff that seeks to please them. Chicago Tribune...

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Hot Docs 2015 Review: Listen to Me Marlon

Once he became the youngest actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando was anointed as one of the greatest actors of his generation. It was a position that was at first tenuously embraced by the mercurial method actor, but it quickly became something that affected his quality of life. He became disenchanted with the dishonesty of his profession, constantly searching for something real instead of false notes. He removed himself from the public eye for long stretches, focusing on his decaying personal life and social rights issues. He was seen as a madman to some within the industry, and a shaman-like figure to others. Over the course of his life, Brando recorded over 200 hours of personal reflections and self-hypnosis sessions, most of which make up the bulk of Stevan Reily’s Listen to Me Marlon, a rare biopic told entirely from the perspective of its late, often misunderstood subject. As a result, the film gets deeper into what made Brando tick than thousands of misguided interviews (some of which are used sparingly to fill in narrative gaps) and ill informed behind the scenes gossip. Brando, even in his own words, doesn’t come across as a saint or someone fully worth of redemption, but as a hard working, flawed man who felt uncomfortable opening up to people while he was in the...

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Hot Docs 2015 Review: Deprogrammed

Between the 1960s and 80s, parents everywhere lived in mostly unfounded fears that their children would run off to join Satanic cults. Most of the cults people would join, however, were peace loving groups that had more skewed views of the role of Jesus or God rather than Satan. Organizations like The Christ Family, Love Family, The Moonies, and belief in Hare Krishna flourished, and so too did the work of deprogrammers, men and women who would attempt to take young men and women from the organization they seem so taken by and fix their minds so they could reintegrate themselves into “normal society.” The methods used by deprogrammers were often forms of psychological and physical abuse in and of themselves, with those going into treatment being kidnapped and confined against their will. Filmmaker Mia Donovan looks primarily at one deprogrammer in particular – the charismatic and soft spoken Ted “Black Lightning” Patrick – because she has a personal connection to him via her former stepbrother, a troubled man living alone in the woods who was one of Patrick’s last cases. Deprogrammed starts off deeply and sometimes uncomfortably personal and intimate before spending a lot of time with former cult members and people who shared the same job as Patrick. The general consensus is that while some deprogramming might have been necessary, it often wasn’t warranted, and the acts...

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Hot Docs 2015 Review: Finders Keepers

Shannon Whisnant and John Wood are two men from different backgrounds that find themselves metaphorically attached at the foot. When Maiden, North Carolina resident Whisnant acquires a new BBQ smoker from an auction as part of a lot from a defaulted storage locker, he’s shocked to find a severed, partially mummified human foot sitting on the grill. The foot belongs to the former owner of the grill, John Wood, who lost it tragically in a plane crash that killed his father and injured his siblings. A self-made entrepreneur with a twisted sense of humour, Whisnant sees the appendage as a potential springboard to fame and easy cash from morbidly curious lookie-loos ($3 for adults, $1 for kids), but he refuses to give the foot back to Wood who has a very obvious symbolic (and formerly physical) attachment to it. From this, an unprecedented legal battle commences and local media have a field day coming up with jokes. Filmmakers Bryan Carberry and Clay Tweel have lucked into a documentary goldmine with Finders Keepers, but they’re smart enough to not rest on the film’s admittedly outlandish story. Instead of treating Whisnant strictly as a fame seeking blowhard and Wood as a hard luck case battling addiction issues, Carberry and Tweel go the extra mile to figure out what makes them tick and why neither of them can let go of something...

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Hot Docs 2015 Review: Pinocchio

Quebecois documentarian André-Line Beauparlant one day receives word that her brother Éric has been detained in a Brazilian prison. He has been picked up not only because he no longer has a valid visa and faces deportation, but also because he’s apparently suicidal and deeply in debt, posing a risk to himself and to others. Around the same time, she also gets a phone call from a Canadian ex-pat living in Brazil who attempts to get back money he was defrauded out of by Éric through what seems like blackmail. There’s an interesting story inside of the obviously titled Pinocchio, but one that Beauparlant might be too personally invested in to convey properly. It’s hard to explain why Éric became a pathological liar and globetrotting drifter, especially since he comes from a well-to-do family that seems to care deeply about him. André-Line wants to show her brother some sympathy, but without digging deeper to discover what makes Éric tick, something feels missing. The film also suffers from a fractured, hard to follow timeline. It’s never clear if interviews with Éric were filmed before or after his legal troubles. Presumably it was after, but the way Beauparlant jumbles her footage together results in a disorienting feeling. It’s not a question of whether or not the viewer gets any truth out of the film’s subject, but dishearteningly about whether or not anything was learned at all in either...

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Hot Docs 2015 Review: A Woman Like Me

When filmmaker Alex Sichel is diagnosed with a metastatic breast cancer, she begins a journey of healing and self discovery. She eschews most forms of chemotherapy in favour of holistic healing (she’s a proud Buddhist) and a healthy dose of positive thinking. She stresses out over her quality of life in what could be her final days and about what she will be leaving behind for her daughter and sometimes frustrated husband. Alex’s husband wants to see her happy, but he’s unsure about her methods. Her parents think everything is a terrible idea. The only thing Alex seems in control of is a film project where she has cast actress Lili Taylor as a fictionalized version of herself in a happier, sunnier alternate timeline. Sichel enlisted the help of filmmaker Elizabeth Giamatti to aid in the completion of A Woman Like Me. It’s essentially three movies in one: a personal diary, a fictional film, and a behind the scenes documentary. Instead of seeming like an overstuffed mess, a great amount of care has been exercised by Giamatti to keep things relevant and on track. Overall, the film becomes a work of pure catharsis regardless if one agrees with Sichel’s views on her treatment. Alex is clearly a strong woman that has thought long and hard about how she wants to leave an impact once she’s gone. It’s a summation of a life’s...

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Hot Docs 2015 Review: Tuk-tuk

In Egypt’s still unstable modern, post-revolution economy, the poorest members of the working class haven’t seen any benefits from a change in power, and corruption remains at a constant high. Filmmaker Romany Saad takes a look at the new Egypt by profiling three young labourers that are barely into their teens. To make ends meet as the main breadwinners for their respective families, these tough talking street kids drive fares around on three wheeled tuk-tuks through the downtown core, despite the vehicles having been ostensibly outlawed. The kids are brash and thick skinned, often working under threats of violence from thugs, cops, and military officers, and from everyday citizens that see them as a scourge. Tuk-Tuk has an interesting subject and focal point. How can one of the world’s worst economies harden a child? Unfortunately after only about twenty minutes of its still overlong 75 minute running time, Saad runs out of things to say, repeating the same miserable points over and over again. It’s realistic to think that there’s little hope in the lives of these children and their families, but it doesn’t have to be so repetitive and monotonous. The kids are so misanthropic and annoying (which is kind of the point) that spending so much time with them feels like an eternity. Add in unnecessarily shaky camerawork (even when it isn’t warranted), far too literally translated...

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