There is nothing more compelling, fascinating, inspirational than watching someone excel at their passion: Julia Child in the kitchen, Bobby Fisher at a chess board, Michael Jordan on the basketball court or Jiro Ono, the sovereign of the sushi bar; at 85 his obsession with his profession eliminates complacency, questing daily for improvement, he is messianic in his devotion and love of his craft.
Sushi does not rank on my craving scale; this documentary is an enticement to revalue my taste buds; birthing a fantasy of making a reservation a year in advance, flying to Tokyo, savoring the delicacies served at "Sukiyabashi Jiro's" ( in possession of a coveted and rare Michelin Guide three-star rating)) ten-seat restaurant in a subway station. What fun experiencing the dedication of the fish merchants, a touch and a whiff determines the quality of the merchandise; the tenacity of the apprentices who "study" for ten years before graduating; it was mesmerizing viewing the forty minute massaging, tenderizing of the octopus; sifting of the rice. Perfection, the only, lonely, all- consuming, commandment.
Jiro and his sons Yoshikazu and Takashi are artists, their fingers pirouette, pas de deux , like Baryshnikov, defy the mundane, conquer the extraordinary; a transformation from benign to sublime; unremarkable tuna, magically revolutionized, like Cinderella, exhibited on a ceramic plate instead of a crystal slipper. Elegant compositions by Max Richter and Philip Glass accompany the skilled disciples of sushi.
David Gelb's "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" immortalizes a hero, an icon who for over forty years, has never deviated from his path, detests holidays; has climbed beyond the pinnacle but still searches for the illusive scent, delicious taste of the sushi in his dreams.
Deliberately chose not to experience the book but could not resist delving into the film; the seismic popularity surpassing all expectations. Jennifer Lawrence, as "Katniss Everdeen" is riveting and perfectly cast as the tough, savvy sixteen-year-old heroine; encapsulating the attributes of the mythical Diana, goddess of the hunt.
Suzanne Collins's book has become a Bible for young adults, especially girls, but the eerie, numbing premise I found profoundly disturbing; a futuristic, "Alice in Wonderland" universe where there is a yearly contest comprised of two contestants (boy/girl) from twelve districts; 24 children who are "reaped" , lottery style, from their starved villages, placed in a manipulated environment where only one will emerge victorious. Children killing children, "Lord of the Flies" on steroids.
Ms. Collins's main inspiration is the mythological tale of "Theseus and the Minatour" (monster with the head of a bull and body of a man); the King of Athens, every nine years sends to the King of Crete (to appease his lust for war), seven Athenian boys and girls to be fed to the Minatour; Prince Theseus of Athens puts and end to this horrific travesty.
If you view "The Hunger Games" as a gruesome fairy tale (historically we've had some "Grimm" ones, "Hansel and Gretel") is is easier to digest, even contemplate. The Orwellian overtones: the "Tributes" reminiscent of reality shows are under constant surveillance; controlled, exploited by a technologically sophisticated command center and watched by the masses; sickening acceptance of the sport by the populace. Survival rests not only with the fittest but the most cunning.
Stanley Tucci as the mad -hatter talk show host, "Caesar Flickerman" is humorously grotesque as he interviews the 24 death disciples. Lawrence has her best and most beautiful moments during these scenes. The freakishly, cartoonish, costumed and made- up cast include: Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, a recognizable Donald Sutherland as the stoic "President" of the Metropolis; missing was Johnny Depp who has to be mourning (along with Helena Bonham Carter) his exclusion.
The killing is handled sensitively; rooting for the star-crossed lovers (Katniss and "Peeta" Josh Hutcherson)) from District 12; with the exception of a lovely sprite- like contestant our empathetic genes are not provoked.
A fear that youth will be anesthetized, immune to violence; a game that should be locked in the imagination, never to be actualized, a hunger, never to be gratified.
TWO & 1/2 STARS!!
This Belgian film was one of the "darlings" of the Chicago Film Festival (October, 2011) and absolutely warrants its plaudits. Glittering copiously with the gems of a fabulously fine flick: fascinating and original scenario, masterfully unique individuals, pristine, gut-wrenching acting, elements of surprise that clutch your attention in an unrelenting, tenacious grip; never trust the obvious.
"Cyril" is an 11-year old, ward of the state who like all children believes in the ultimate trustworthiness of his father; his father would never sell his bike, his sole possession. The "bike" careens in and out of Cyril's proprietary control; the bicycle is an ever present metaphor for his absentee parent.
A guardian angel enters Cyril's life in the guise of a hairdresser, "Samantha" (beautiful performance by Cecile de France) and their conflicting relationship gifts pungency, potency and stunning power to this superb movie.
The soul of the film belongs to Thomas Doret as "Cyril"; he is shrewd, cunning, a convict in training; he fights for his autonomy; his will, a stronghold against a lonely, abandoned childhood; he tests the guardianship of Samantha, who possesses a streak of mettle equal to his; their debates redolent with strangled, smothered emotion.
In less than ninety minutes brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have blessed audiences with a refined classic; resonating with characters, who will deservedly, occupy permanent residency in your movie memory bank.
FOUR & 1/2 STARS!!!
As we tread through life certain ubitqtious lessons are revealed. One is that grief has no parameters and spares no one; the second vital, and surprising lesson, is that you do not choose who you love; it can come out of oblivion, tackle your blind side, imprison your heart in a fortress; its duration, ephemeral or eternity.
"Delicacy" expertly deals with these dual themes: delicately, sensitively, poignantly due to the effulgent performance of Audrey Tautou as "Nathalie", a waif- like beauty whose life is vivisected by a catastrophic incident. Tautou is nothing short of mesmerizing; she has matured from ingénue ("Amelie") into one of the screen's finest actors. She floats and imbues Nathalie with enough pathos that we understand her pain without pitying her; controlling her destiny, unaware of its outcome.
A Swedish coworker "Markus" ( startlingly, strong depiction by Francois Damines) breaks the facade, the invisible vitrine protecting the workaholic Nathalie; he is an unlikely lothario who like "Jeff Who Lives at Home" grows on you. Quirky, kind, funny and instantly infatuated; the comedic elements of the film revolve around his reactions to her, and everyone he encounters; he is a great big, loveable, huggable hunk.
"Delicacy" is wistful, gentle in its tale of loss, love, rejuvenation. For those who read the novel by David Foenkinos (also directs with his brother, Stephane) there are no surprises and eventually the film will fade, as does all fantasy but there was one line worth remembering: when asked about his love for Nathalie, Markus replies that she makes him "the best version of himself". A simple, succinct testimony of what one should search for and nurture in a partner.
"Bully" bravely address pubescent tormentors, ten and eleven- year -olds torturing their peers, ultimately, in some cases driving them to suicide. This is an epidemic of epic proportions; a disease that kills, maims permanently its victims and perpetrators. Why? How do we find the root of this groundless cruelty? What toxin to kill the source and fertilize a healthy remedy?
"Bully" paints the portraits of anguished and dead children plus the ruination of their families. Monumental issues and only vague answers as to why: teachers, bus drivers, parents and even the young victims are powerless to curb the insidious scourge that has blanketed, blackened the universe.
Director Lee Hirsch concentrates on Alex Libby of Sioux City, Iowa, the eldest of five, targeted by his school -mates, pounded daily with verbal and physical abuse, isolated because of his foreignness; has being "different" always warranted brutality, ostracism , isolation? Is this an inherited trait or learned attribute? It is sickening watching what Alex and other children who do not fit the mold of "cool" or "popular" have to suffer; more horrific: the Pavlovian response of birthing eventual "bullies" from the bullied.
This is an eye-opening documentary that I fear will fade quickly with movie audiences. Hirsch focuses on five children from primarily rural environments; the single flaw, avoiding the urban areas where sophisticated bullies thrive; monsters of mean, intelligent beasts praying physically, psychologically, emotionally on those whose fortress lack the strength to combat the onslaught of evil. We read daily about the atrocities, many accomplished through the internet, "a weapon of mass destruction", visited upon the innocent.
"Bully" does offer a ray of hope, a grass roots organization striving to give a voice to the "silent"; those who chose death to escape cancerous, demonic disciples; choosing the peace, solitude of the unknown, over the agony of reality.
A miniscule step in a pandemic that has raged throughout history.
Why did this well- written, decently- performed anachronism of a deceased era, bore me to oblivion? College women in 50's garb running a suicide prevention clinic; clinging to the mission of saving the sanity, with doughnuts, of those who have not shown an ounce of intellectual integrity or ingenuity in accomplishing the feat on their own. Or the rescue of the dumbest college boys, whose IQs wallow in the single digits; they were minimally salvaged by their mediocre skills on the dance floor.
The film is a metaphor for archival films (Astaire/Rogers) stereotypical, archetypal, female roles seen through the "male gaze".
Whit Stillman's "Damsels" are brainy beauties named for flowers (Greta Gerwig "Violet" gives a sound, even profound performance as the leader, philosopher, "depressant", dancing her way through a "tailspin", Jungian in perpetually scrutinizing her actions and reactions, decisions and indecisions).
The age of innocence on the college campus ended uproariously with "Animal House" in 1978. This tepid, saccharine, inane rendition of the elimination of the "Roman" fraternity system after a tepid, plagiarized toga, jousting party; fluffy, perfectly coiffed, analytical coeds, floundering in valueless relationships; reeling male stupidity, induced yawns of inertia from an unfortunate but sparse audience.
The blatant literary and historical references of "damsels in distress' (P.G. Wodehouse, "A Damsel in Distress"; Chaucer and his ribald tales; "Arabian Nights") did little to redeem the silly scenario. Even a dose of mythology: the myth of Sisyphus and his weighty, eternal nemesis did little to alleviate the triteness of this flick.
"Damsel" originated in the French language; a single, fair maiden, powerless, yearning to be saved, preferably by a handsome prince; the "distress" lies in the absence of any valiant "knight" to save or be saved by these "Damsels" that are anything but distressed; "damsels" a contemporary stereotype of feminist criticism.
My first thought was of Frank Sinatra's song of living his life, conquering massive professional and emotional hurdles, thriving on his terms, in hindsight, satisfied.
"My Way" is Kang Je-gyg's epic of WWII from the Korean/ Japanese perspective; at times melodramatic, testing one's believability in the quasi nonfictional story of two young men, privileged and poor, wizards at running, competing for the "gold" in marathon matches: "Joon-sik" ( Jang Dong-gun) a Korean boy whose family is indentured to "Tatsuo's' (Joe Odagiri) Japanese, entitled clan. They meet in 1928 and we share the next twenty years in their hostile, tempestuous, torturous, eventually glorious relationship.
Quite simply, although flawed, I simultaneously savored and cringed , during this exhilarating visceral spectacle of war and it heinous results. The blood- thirsty will be satiated with battles eliminating thousands; matching the invasion of Normandy flicks like "The Longest Day" and "Saving Private Ryan" the filming is breathtaking, realistically depicted. Viewing the atrocities and barbarism of the Japanese toward the Koreans and Chinese; Russia, systematically killing their prisoners of war; a myriad of examples of "man's inhumanity to man"; climaxing on the beaches of Normandy where the nightmare of Hitler's Third Reich is dealt a hemorrhaging, mortal wound.
Reminded of a quote by Bob Riley, "hard times don't create heroes, it is during the hard times when the hero is created"; it was deliciously entertaining watching two boys become men; multiple vicissitudes erased their disparate lineage resulting in two individuals ultimately living "their way".
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!
Serendipity. A phenomena when it unexpectedly strikes can be quite magical or extremely problematic. I recently returned from an art excursion, a blitzkrieg of culture revolving around Document 13 (an art fair of monumental proportions occurring every five years in Kassel, Germany) with a prequel in Vienna, Austria where I had a face â€“to- face encounter with enigmatic "Wally" (Walburga Neuzil, 1894-1917) in tandem with the self-portrait of her creator, Egon Schiele (1890-1918), iconic Austrian painter, in the Leopold Museum (Foundation).
The Portrait was owned, and lived complacently, comfortably in the home of gallerist Lea Bondi, pre- WWII , Vienna. There is irrefutable evidence supporting the painting's provenance. The Nazi regime closed her gallery in 1938 and gobbled greedily all her works; then Nazi art lover Friedrich Welz invaded her home, rapaciously stealing her precious"Wally". Lea and her husband fled to London and survived. She tenaciously and diligently quested for its return; always stymied by the belligerent and entitled; she died in 1969, unrequited.
Hence, the saga of the ethereal "Wally" commences; obsessive collector, Rudolph Leopold acquired, under vague circumstances ,the piece from the Belvedere Museum; in 1997 it traveled as part of a Schiele retrospective to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Here is where the proverbial"painting and its provenance" hit the fan; artistic bureaucracy, mayhem became the fodder for the press, courts, NPR correspondent David D'Arcy (lost his job because his reporting supposedly maligned MOMA; he rises from the ashes by being the prime instigator and co-writer of this documentary); a myriad of interviews between Bondi's heirs, government officials, historians, museum directors and curators, interspersed with scenes of Jewish persecution; an especially prescient one of the Viennese welcoming Hitler (Austria, always claimed to be a victim of Germany ) into their frenzied, cherished midst.
"Wally" vaulted, and held prisoner for over twelve years in a federal storage facility in Queens, New York; until her fate was equably determined by all sides.
Watching this valuable history lesson I kept pondering Lea Bondi, a lovely, brilliant, avant- garde art collector, who happened to be Jewish, and the millions of others, throughout millenniums who were shunned, scattered, savaged because of their faith; so many of these civilizations, perpetrators of heinous villainy, wasted with time, consumed by war, greed and myopia are gone, gone with the ages. But Jews and their inimitable, intransigent stubbornness thrive and strive to survive; a mystery unlikely solved, as to how or why; probably, maybe possibly they are"chosen" to bear witness until the end of time and mankind. This is an election year, I would not bet against it.
Yes, I confess I am an apostle, groupie, total sucker for the rock and roll genre; try to keep me shackled to my seat when Chuck Berry or The Beatles belt "It's Gotta Be Rock and Roll Music if You Wanna Dance With Me"; wholesome lyrics igniting sedentary soles; shedding chains of gloom or woe, tickling titillation smothering, with a healthy fever, all that ails the spirit; I love it and literally skipped to the first performance of "Rock of Ages".
The simplistic plot revolves around the Bourbon Room in 1987, Los Angeles (many shudder at the bleak memory of Monday October 19th, and the nauseating 508 point plummet of the Stock Market); raunchy, sensational performances by neophyte and seasoned rock groups. Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand are the proprietors, sinking into the quagmire of financial turpitude, determined to resuscitate the dying art of "rock'. This is a partnership made in Hollywood heaven; their sincerity coated with humor, hilarious and surprisingly sensitive; their majestic scene is one of the finest in the film.
Catherine Zeta-Jones in a cringingly embarrassing, single- dimensional role, as the "Susan B. Anthony" of L.A. determined to shutter the Bourbon Room and rid the town of its salacious blight, and destined ruination of its children (shades of "Footloose"); this one will remain absent in her personal filmography.
Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta play the would-be stars, almost-lovers, with enough skill to be passably entertaining; their youth, beauty as yet untarnished by the available substances which surround them. Herein lies total plot predictability.
Tom Cruise. As dedicated as I am to rock and role; the same holds true for my admiration of this gutsy man. He acts with the same fiery intensity as Jimmy Connors played tennis or Michael Jordon, basketball; as if this was the finale, culmination of his career. His characterization of "Stacee Jaxx" lends limited legitimacy to lewdness; his finely-honed tattooed form (second only to "Queequeg" in "Moby Dick") moves with the sinuousness of a naga, grace of Michael Jackson; he sings, worthy of the adulation he inspires in mythic proportions; he is Prometheus unbound, the quintessential, ageing god of rock, drugged and lost.
A slick production, featuring songs by Bon Jovi, Twisted Sister, Foreigner rocks with the musical numbers but plods stiflingly, monotonously with the narrative.
Exiting, one young lady said to her chagrined and disappointed friend, "you'll never understand how much I love Tom Cruise"; silently I responded, "oh, I do, I do".
TWO & 3/4 STARS!!
Jet lag, a temporary affliction can be cured by a two hour sojourn in a movie theatre; allowing the wizardly of the fantastical to envelop one's imagination, easing the vicissitudes of deprived slumber; entertainment: the elixir, aphrodisiac for somnolence.
It is seventy- five years since visionary Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsâ€ stunned and captivated audiences; now in 2012 we are eons away from "Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It's off to Work We Goâ€, but still as enchanted. Directed by Rupert Sanders "Snow Write and the Huntsmanâ€ is a twenty-first century spin on the archival tale of vengeance, jealousy, hunger for immortality and the superficial, hypnotic quest for a creaseless countenance.
The success of this visually mesmerizing scenario is the authoritative, dominating roles of Queen and Princess; light versus darkness, goodness sparring with the diabolical; stripping, emasculating, controlling male protagonists ( a formula Disney, figured out, almost a century ago), Sanders brings to fruition.
Charlize Theron as the consummate, quintessential evil Queen, "Ravennaâ€ gives a hallmark performance; she is beautifully terrifying and special effects imbue her character with the charm of Beelzebub; the ferocity, tenacity, semblance of a dictator. A megalomaniac cloaked in exquisite, magnificent finery, a wonder of pristine loveliness, masking a magnificent menace, a bludgeoning blight upon the kingdom.
Chris Hemsworth is the bucolic, grieving "Huntsmanâ€ forced to find "Snow Whiteâ€ who has fled into the malevolent, mysterious forest, domicile of the seven dwarfs (successful digital shrinking adds to the delicious effects of the film); sincerity, humanness, strength and fallibility grace his characterization.
Kristen Stewart as "Snow Whiteâ€, empowered, is endowed with the requisite beauty and physical attributes of our heroine but needs an injection of true grit mandatory for the transformation from "maidenâ€ to "knightâ€; still, her portrayal is genuine and her rallying speech, compelling and gripping.
"Snow White and the Huntsmanâ€, gratefully lacks the silliness of many recent renditions of timeless tales. Particularly satisfying is the absence of saccharine, harmonious, gagging love songs; a unique take on the "kissâ€ and a pungently powerful ending, lend intense viability and vitality to this unique and original interpretation of a fair princess in distress.
THREE & 1/2 STARS!!!