Joys and pains of parenting
SCENES involving the preparation of enticing-looking food accompanied by catchy Latino music and a feelgood plot about father-son bonding — how could such a formula fail? It’s true that writer-director-lead actor Jon Favreau isn’t exactly stretching himself with this upbeat material, but after directing — with great success — the first two films in the Iron Man franchise and — with less success — the hybrid Cowboys & Aliens, he seems relaxed here working in a very minor register.
He plays Carl Casper, a celebrity chef who has made his reputation with the high-quality but pretty traditional food he cooks at a Los Angeles restaurant owned by Riva (an amusing Dustin Hoffman). opens with Casper eagerly awaiting the anticipated visit to the restaurant of food critic and blogger Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), and he’s preparing a new, more radical, menu for the occasion — until Riva intervenes and demands Casper stick to the tried and true bill of fare. This results in a punishingly bad review and Casper’s exit from the restaurant, along with Martin (John Leguizamo), one of his assistants.
Meanwhile, Casper’s relationship with his 11year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), is requiring a lot more attention; the boy, who adores his dad, is frustrated at being kept at arm’s length, even though his mother, Inez (Sofia Vergara), encourages a closer bond between her son and her estranged husband. When Casper leaves the restaurant, Inez persuades him to accompany her and Percy on a trip to Miami, where he originally started in the food business. With help from another of her ex-husbands — a scenestealing performance from Robert Downey Jr — he reinvents himself as a purveyor of Cubanstyle fast food sold from a truck and, during the drive from Miami back to LA, cements his bond with his son.
This undemanding narrative is bolstered with lengthy scenes involving the preparation and cooking of scrumptious and cholesterolpacked food, resulting in a movie that probably shouldn’t be experienced on an empty stomach. There are a few unresolved and untidy subplots — one involving Scarlett Johansson in a black wig — but the film’s main theme, the restoration of the father-son relationship, while not very original, is sympathetically handled and young Anthony gives a winning performance as a sensible, loyal child who is able to teach his jaded father a thing or two. DURING the past few years, Romanian films have punched above their weight at international film festivals, with directors such as Cristian Mungiu and Cristi Puiu winning awards for their probing, socially conscious reflections on Romania in the years since the end of the communist dictatorship. These films are almost all distinguished not only by their intense, unflinching approach to their characters but by a less appealing visual style — the “queasy-cam” effect — that unfortunately makes experiencing them a trial for anyone prone to vertigo.
The oddly titled winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin last year, is no exception, thematically or visually. Director Calin Peter Netzer’s brutally tough movie homes in on the country’s upper class, exposing it as selfish, manipulative and dishonest. The central character is Cornelia, played with exactly the right lateBette Davis level of intensity by Luminita Gheorghiu. Cornelia is self-centred and well-todo; she wears furs, drives a BMW and is openly disdainful of anyone she considers to be inferior. Her husband, a mild-mannered doctor, doesn’t get much of a look-in.
It’s while attending a performance of the opera that Cornelia receives the message that her beloved son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) has killed a 14-year-old boy in a road accident in a provincial town. Together with her sister Olga (Natasa Raab), Cornelia drives immediately to the police station where Barbu is being held, where it quickly becomes clear to her that he was responsible for the boy’s death (he was speeding and overtaking another car at the time of the accident).
Working from an incisive screenplay by Razvan Radulescu, Netzer constructs a number of key scenes in which this controlling and obnoxious woman attempts to ensure that her son Chef (M) National release Child’s Pose (Pozitia copiluliu) (MA15+) Limited release The Broken Circle Breakdown (MA15+)
Pose; The Broken Circle Breakdown is exonerated or, at least, let off lightly. Her discussions with the unimpressed police, with the driver of the car Barbu was overtaking, with her son and his live-in girlfriend, Carmen (Ilinca Goia), and, eventually, with the working-class family of the dead boy are revealing in their portrait of a born-to-rule attitude, though Cornelia is more complex and nuanced than she at first seems (the Bette Davis analogy isn’t far from the mark).
The film is so powerful that the camerawork (Andrei Butica) seems particularly regrettable for its lack of subtlety and for the way it forces itself on the viewer almost in the way Cornelia forces her will on the characters in the film. Maybe that’s why it was shot this way, but it reduces the impact of what otherwise would have been a powerful portrait of obsessive mother love.
is a Belgian production that also accumulated awards on the festival circuit last year — in addition to being nominated for a best foreign film Oscar — and which is also saddled with a conceptual decision that tends to diminish its impact.
The film opens in a hospital in Ghent where Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) and Elise (Veerle Baetens) are watching over their small daughter, who is desperately ill with a form of cancer. A title “7 Years Earlier” suggests that the rest of the story will be told in flashback, but the title is deceptive, because co-writer and director Felix van Groeningen, adapting a stage play written by Heldenbergh, constantly flits back and forth in time as the film progresses — annoyingly so.
It’s a pity, because there’s so much here that is interesting. Didier is a bluegrass singer who adores everything about America, especially its culture, most specifically its music. Elise is a tattooist who turns out to be a pretty good singer herself and joins Didier’s band. They begin a relationship and soon Elise discovers she’s three months pregnant (during which time she has been smoking and drinking to the max). A baby girl, Maybelle, is born and all seems well; Didier works on restoring a house for them. And then the cancer manifests itself.
Didier’s rose-coloured vision of America undergoes a sea change when he comes to believe that religious fundamentalism in that country is frustrating experiments in stem-cell treatment that might save his child, so the film eventually moves into some pretty interesting territory. Basically, though, it’s a film about a couple whose tumultuous relationship is severely challenged, and the performances are excellent.
Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau