My reviews of Blind Ambition, Mark, Mary & Some Other People, and Wolfgang from the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
Blind Ambition is a documentary that plays like an underdog sports movie in the vein of Cool Runnings, but there is no athleticism involved. This is a movie about a group of refugees from Zimbabwe who now reside in South Africa who try to win the global Wine Tasting Olympics. This is a charming, fascinating, inspiring documentary.
The world of competitive wine tasting is very white. There are old white faces everywhere and rarely do you see a person or multiple people of color. For Tinashe, Pardon, Marlvin, and Joseph, they plan on changing that. All four men are refugees from Zimbabwe, all of whom left due to violent, corrupt, terrible times in their country that wouldn’t allow them to make any money. They left family members and lives that they had in hopes that they could start something new in their lives. They all ended up working in the restaurant industry and all fell in love with wine, becoming the best sommeliers in some of South Africa’s finest restaurants. And now, the four of them are teaming up to try and be the countries first Wine Tasting Olympics team.
Blind Ambition makes sure we know our tasters and that we are rooting for them. The film gives us the backstories of each of them, giving us hindsight into everything that they’ve gone through and the struggles that they continue to face. You can’t help but love these guys and you want them to crush the competition. In between showing the each of their backstories and us getting to know them, the film shows us the world of wine tasting, which was fascinating and mind-blowing. I knew wine tasting competitions exist, but had no idea that there was a Wine Tasting Olympics, so that was already something interesting to learn. But the level of complexity in each sip of wine and watching the competitors break it down was remarkable and awe-inspiring. For the competition, the competitors must break down the wine in terms of grape variety, country, region, the producer of the wine, and the year the wine was made and watching the competitors get every single one of these things right just based on a couple sips was incredibly impressive.
Blind Ambition is a charming and inspiring documentary. It’s a beautiful look and an unlikely group of refugees who have the chance to make a splash in the world of wine, a world where people like them rarely exist. You’ll be rooting for Team Zimbabwe the entire time and even have a few heartstrings pulled along the way.
MARK, MARY & SOME OTHER PEOPLE
Mark, Mary & Some Other People is one of two films at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival that I have seen that deals with modern dating and the idea of an open relationship. This film looks at Mark (Ben Rosenfield) and Mary (Hayley Law), who have a chance encounter at a liquor store and go on a small date. This date leads to them exclusively dating and eventually getting married in a dinky chapel. A little over a year later, their relationship is still going, but feels a big stagnant. That is when Mary proposes to Mark the idea of an open relationship. Though Mark dismisses the idea at first, he eventually agrees to it and the two begin their journey living in an open relationship.
Mark, Mary & Some Other People is an interesting look at modern relationships and monogamy, both of which are interesting, but I wish the film did more with it. I wanted the film to dive into the beginning of Mark and Mary’s relationship a little bit more so we could see more of how they used to be and see the changes in them as a couple that got them to this point of an open relationship, which would also allow us to see how the open relationship changed them as people. Rosenfield and Law have strong chemistry and you care about them, I just wish we knew them more as a couple.
The movie felt very authentic in terms of how the characters acted and spoke, giving a fun atmosphere for the first act. But the movie makes a drastic and jarring tonal shift in the second act, where Mark and Mary deal with potential diseases, pregnancies, and what the open relationship has done to them as a couple. This tonal shift shows that this open relationship might seem all fun while it is happening, but if not careful, it could have serious consequences and though it really does get sad and not a lot of fun for Mark and Mary, I wasn’t emotionally connected to them as a couple or as people for this to have any sort of emotional affect on me.
Mark, Mary & Some Other People is an interesting millennial love story, though does not do enough to make us connect with our couple enough to feel happy in their highs and down in their lows.
Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri, and Rachel Ray are just a few of the modern celebrity chefs who we are seeing constantly outside of the restaurant kitchen and on our TVs. But before Flay, Ray, and the Mayor of Flavortown graced our screens weekly, there was one man who made the chef a celebrity: Wolfgang Puck. Wolfgang tells the story of the legendary chef, from his tough Austrian upbringing to how he took the L.A. restaurant scene by storm to become one of the most influential chefs in modern times.
I had heard of Wolfgang Puck before this documentary. I have even had the pleasure of eating at one his New York restaurants a few years back (which was delightful), but I didn’t really know much about him other than knowing he was a chef, he had some food in the frozen section of my grocery store, and he had a cameo on an episode of The Simpsons once. But watching Wolfgang really opened my eyes to who Puck was as a person and as chef and did so in a brief 78-minute runtime.
The film tells two stories simultaneously. The first story is about Puck’s life growing up in Austria. His life was tough. He was dirt poor, and his stepfather was a nightmare, drinking and beating him, his sister, and his mother. Puck found solace and happiness in the kitchen, much to the disapproval of his stepfather, who said that he would amount to nothing. This was the motivating factor for Puck and still is to this day. From there, he would get odd kitchen jobs until he earned an apprenticeship in France and eventually make his way to California.
The other story the film tells is how Puck changed the game of cooking. Following his apprenticeship in France, Puck came to California expecting the finest cuisine, much like he had made in France, only to be disappointed by the amount of processed food in family homes and restaurant kitchens. Puck eventually was able to make Ma Maison, a restaurant on the decline, one of the hottest in Los Angeles. And when he didn’t get the recognition he deserved, he opened up his own restaurant, Spago, in Beverly Hills. Spago became the “it” restaurant in California, where all the celebrities would dine, though Puck was the biggest celebrity in the room. He would use his French background and fuse it with food from other regions to turn classic dishes into Wolfgang specials. Puck made a name for himself in the kitchen and as a brand to become the biggest and most popular chef in the world.
Wolfgang shows that Puck’s determination to become somebody and prove his stepfather wrong is what pushed him to become “the first celebrity chef”. The film shows his skill as a chef and his genius as a marketer, while also showing the struggles he had growing up and the struggles he faced as a rising chef. This is a lovely, delectable, breezy documentary about one of the most influential chefs to ever step in a kitchen.
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