Category Archives: 4 of 5

East Side Sushi (2014)

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East Side Sushi

East Side Sushi

Single mom Juana can slice and dice anything with great speed and precision. After working at a fruit-vending cart for years, she decides to take a job at a local Japanese restaurant. Intrigued by the food, she learns to make sushi on her own. Eventually she attempts to become a sushi chef, but is unable to because she is the ‘wrong’ race and gender. Against all odds, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
– Written by Anonymous

4
Sweet, saccharin, a bit predictable – but charming and quite enjoyable.

East Side Sushi is an ode to dreams for a better life, hard work, determination, and food. Beautiful food. I don’t eat sushi, but I love to watch it made. The rhythm and precision of the sushi chefs while they assemble the beautiful rolls makes for quite a show. Then the rolls are plated with lovely flourish, ready to be enjoyed … by someone other than me.

Anthony Lucero captures this process as Juana dedicates herself to mastering the skills of traditional sushi, despite the roadblocks in her way; wrong gender, wrong ethnicity. She gets varying degrees of support, as well as resistance, from her family and co-workers. And, of course, she steers the traditional Japanese a bit off the ethnic trail by including foods more to her family’s tastes.

East Side Sushi captures the grind and pleasure of the food industry as Juana shifts from numbing routine to a challenging cuisine.” [Village Voice]

East Side Sushi Awards posterThere are a few twists & turns on the way to a mostly inevitable conclusion, but it is no less satisfying an end despite its predictability.

I believe most in my circle will enjoy this one, earning it a 4 of 5 on the Word of Mouth Scale. Be prepared for subtitles, unless you speak Spanish, English, and Japanese.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 100%; Audience 91%
Vox AZ

The Book Thief (2013)

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The Book Thief

The Book Thief (2013)

Based on the beloved international bestselling book, The Book Thief tells the story of an extraordinary, spirited young girl sent to live with a foster family in WWII Germany. While subjected to the horrors of Nazi Germany, young Liesel finds solace by stealing books and sharing them with others, including a Jewish refugee who is being sheltered by her adoptive parents in the basement of their home.

4
I was unfamiliar with the book on which this movie is based, but wanted to see it because of the quality cast (Geoffrey Rush & Emily Watson). I also had found, while researching the music for a friend, video clips (like this interview, and this one) which intrigued me. After seeing this beautiful film, I will definitely put The Book Thief on my reading list.

Narrated by Death himself, this tale shows ordinary Germans during Hitler’s rise while focusing on Liesel, her adoptive family, and the working class residents on her street. Some of the neighbors embrace the Nazi party, some just try to survive, Liesel’s parents try to save the son of a Jewish friend.

As Liesel grows up, she finds great joy and comfort in stories. After the Bürgermeister arranges a mass book burning in the town square, the books that remain become even more precious to her – requiring some creativity and stealth for their acquisition. Hence the title.

The war progresses as wars do, the Nazis grow their evil as Nazis do. Death is always there keeping us abreast of his work: “The bombs were falling thicker now. It’s probably fair to say that no one was able to serve the Führer as loyally as me.”

Ultimately, what I appreciated most perhaps is the ability to convey humanity in the German people, without downplaying the depths of evil in which their country is submerged.

The performers that drew me to this film originally were definitely not a disappointment, heading up an impressive cast overall. Notably: Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse, who is luminous and heartbreaking, as our protagonist. As Rudy, her lovesick friend, Nico Liersch brings to life his hopefulness and longing.

This movie is perfect for most in my circle, though may be a bit slow and ‘small’ for a few.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 46%; Audience 75%
Vox AZ

Philomena (2013)

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Philomena

Philomena

A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.

4

Lovely and enjoyable movie about a heartbreaking true story.

Though some poetic license was taken (as well as some unnecessary editorializing), the basics of the story are intact. A young woman, naive about the birds & bees, finds herself pregnant out-of-wedlock – something shameful in the ’50s, and even worse for a Catholic girl in Ireland. Philomena Lee (Dench) is sent to a convent, where she will give birth & do her penance by working off her ‘debt’ to the nuns for 4 years.

After their children are born, the fallen women are allowed to see them only for brief visits always knowing that at any time the children could be adopted out. Anthony is taken away when he is 3 years-old, leaving a devastated Philomena to get on with her life.

Though she never stops thinking of him, and tries through the years to track him down, it is 50 years before she gets any satisfaction. Finally unable to suppress the longing, she tells her daughter about the boy who was taken from her all those years ago. Her daughter tells a journalist (Martin Sixsmith, portrayed by Steve Coogan) The journalist takes up the cause, throwing his considerable resources behind the hunt.

Though the story is fairly well known, and so you may already know how it ends, the beauty of this telling is not in the destination, but the journey. We get to know Lee and Sixsmith as they travel together in search of answers. In the featurette I’ve linked below they mention how the humor of their relationship makes the heart-wrenching search easier to take. It does.

It also gives Dench an opportunity to show why so many accolades and awards have been heaped upon her. The supporting cast here is fine, but it is clearly the Dame’s show.

This rates highly on the Word of Mouth Scale for having relatable humor and an accessible storyline. There are a few in my circle who would find it too “wordy”, but not every film can have be a Jason Statham shoot-’em-up. 🙂

Go ahead and see this one – odds are high you will like it.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 92%; Audience 90%



Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011)

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar. At the heart of this story is Jiro’s relationship with his eldest son Yoshikazu, the worthy heir to Jiro’s legacy, who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow. — (C) Magnolia

Who would have thought a film about a man making sushi could be so intriguing. Jiro’s singular focus on perfection is fascinating and inspiring. He is revered and respected, and perhaps a bit feared, by his apprentices, his children, his vendors, his customers…

At the start of the film he tells us, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.” We see that is exactly what he has done, and he is both successful and honorable.

The film covers more than sushi, obviously, but in my non-sushi eating mind, I expected to see the creation of complicated and creative rolls. After all, I enjoy watching that process when we visit our local sushi bar. What Jiro makes is sushi in its purest form; rice, fish, serve. Apparently that is enough – when you do it so well.

The lessons of life, the insight into Japanese culture, the idea of “perfection”…all make this a worthwhile film. There were a few scenes that were tough for me, though. For instance, some of the sushi (the mackerel?) is cut from the fish while it is still alive, pinned to the cutting board through his gills. Only after removing all the filets is his head cut from his body, an unnecessarily painful end, I imagine.

For that reason, and the need to read subtitles which turns off some potential viewers, Jiro Dreams of Sushi gets just 4 of 5 on the Word of Mouth Scale. It is a thoughtful, engrossing documentary, but it isn’t for everyone.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 99%; Audience 92%

The Way (2010)

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The Way

A father heads overseas to recover the body of his estranged son who died while traveling the “El camino de Santiago,” and decides to take the pilgrimage himself.

I’ve been a fan of Martin Sheen‘s smaller, quieter work since I saw him decades ago in Sweet Hostage. He is best when he is acting least, and playing a father mourning the loss of his son fit him like a glove.

As Tom (Sheen) makes his physical journey, he is making an emotional journey, as well. Along the way he meets fellow “pilgrims”, each with their own story. Some he meets for only a moment, some join him on his travels; Joost (Yorick van Wageningen), the sweet, sad-sack from Holland; Jack (James Nesbitt), the bold and brash travel writer from Ireland; Sarah (Deborah Kara Unger), obnoxious, judgmental Canadian.

The film treads gently through the poignant moments, giving us some laughs to lighten the mood. The location shots are beautiful and Emilio Estevez‘s direction is reverent. This movie also did more to inspire me to travel than anything I’ve seen since Shirley Valentine planted the “must see Greece” seed decades ago.

The story won’t be for everyone, I think a certain maturity will be necessary to appreciate it. Most of those in my circle are out of their teen years, though ;-), so I will be recommending it to most of them.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 82%; Audience 83%

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Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Ruby Sparks

A novelist struggling with writer’s block finds romance in a most unusual way: by creating a female character he thinks will love him, then willing her into existence.

I think D picked this one based on star Paul Dano; everything we’ve seen him in, D has liked. This role of Calvin Weir-Fields seems written just for Dano (and it may have been, writer Zoe Kazan is his real-life live-in girlfriend). He perfectly inhabits the quirky, insecure genius. Kazan co-stars as Ruby Sparks, Dano’s leapt-off-the-pages infatuation.

The idea is not entirely original, but this presentation is fresh and fun. As the author writes and rewrites his dream girl, Kazan gives life to the phrase “be careful what you wish for”. Her portrayal of the perfect (and not so perfect) girl is strong, flitting easily through a range of emotions and behaviors.

Unfortunately, the film falls down a bit when we meet Calvin’s parents. The characters are so ridiculous and over-the-top, and the performances by Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas so silly, it distracts from the gentle silliness of the rest of the film.

Overall, though, the story and direction are charming. If you like romantic comedies, especially with an intellectual bent, this flick is worth your time.


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 79%; Audience 79%

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The Women (1939)

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The Women

Oh, l’amour, l’amour, how it can let you down. Hmm. How it can pick you up again.

You’re passing up a swell chance, honey. Where I spit no grass grows ever.

No, dear, a man has only one escape from his old self – to see a different self in the mirror of some woman’s eyes.

The first man who can explain how he can be in love with his wife – and another woman – is gonna win that prize they’re always giving out in Sweden.

One of the earliest examples I remember of the full range of female archetypes was this great film with an all-star, all-female cast. It intrigued me to see something so bold as an entire movie without any men, though the influence of husbands, lovers and others is certainly felt.

Among the women we meet are:

  • Sweet, happily wedded Mary Haines (Norma Shearer)
  • Conniving man-eater Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford)
  • Catty scandalmonger Sylvia Fowler (Rosalind Russell)
  • Hopeless romantic, unlucky in love Countess De Lave (Mary Boland)
  • Middle-class housewife and mother Edith Potter (Phyllis Povah)
  • Wealthy in her own right, naive Peggy Day (Joan Fontaine)
  • and more – in all, there are 130 speaking roles all filled by women

Though slightly melodramatic (weren’t they all back then?) a witty script and snappy dialogue survive well the test of time. The ending of this movie had me believing in love and cheering for the power of real girlfriends, especially when you really need them.

Loses a star because it probably wouldn’t appeal to the men in my circle – and it will be a bit too melodramatic for some of the girls 😉


Rotten Tomatoes: Critics 90%; Audience 89%

Remakes:
Another favorite I will review on it’s own, The Opposite Sex. An adaptation that not only becomes a musical – but includes men in the cast.

An updated remake, The Women (2008) – with a horrific cast and general lack of cattiness. Why bother? Haven’t seen this one, doubt I will. UPDATE: Saw it, hated it

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