Category: "Movies: Watch"

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

April 8th, 2013

Jiro Dreams of SushiJiro 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 three-star Michelin Guide rating, 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.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a thoughtful and elegant meditation on work, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro's life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world and as a loving yet complicated father.

This is a documentary about Jiro Ono, the world-renowned, master sushi chef. It should also be noted that this is a humanistic delight that touches on family, sacrifice, hard work, dedication, artistry, inspiration and leadership. Jiro has been making sushi for over 75 years. Sushi is his life's work, his passion. By all accounts he has perfected his craft and that earned him a 3-star Michelin rating. Jiro Dreams of Sushi tells the story of Jiro Ono, his sons, his apprentices, his accolades, his labor of love, his approach to life, his philosophies on success and his 10-seat sushi restaurant located in a subway station.

Watching this movie I learned that the world's best sushi chef is (seems to be?) the most humble man I have ever seen. I realized that I can do better. My inner fire was reignited; I was inspired to do better. This was not what I expected from this movie and I have never been more pleased by being wrong.

I work with small businesses and people looking to take control of their own professional destiny. While I don't think that this was the intended result of the movie, I think it just became a core tool I recommend to help people reach their goals.

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Nowhere Boy

September 14th, 2011

Nowhere BoyA lonely teenager, curious and sharp, growing in the shattered city of Liverpool. Two incredible women clash for his love. Mimi, the formidable aunt who raised him and Julia, the spirited mother who gave him up. Yearning for a normal family, John escapes into music. His fledgling genius finds a kindred spirit in the young Paul McCartney. But just as John's new life begins the truth about his past leads to a tragedy he would never escape. Poignant and powerful, the untold story of the boy who created The Beatles. Nowhere Boy is the highly anticipated debut feature from British artist Sam Taylor-Wood, written by Matt Greenhalgh (Control) and stars newcomer Aaron Johnson as John Lennon, Kristen Scott Thomas as Lennon's Aunt Mimi, and Anne-Marie Duff as his mother Julia.

This is the origin story of John Lennon's genius. As a teenager he was constantly in trouble; he had no interest in fitting in and playing by the rules. He wasn't like most other children anyway, growing up raised by his aunt and uncle as non-traditional parents. He lacked direction (despite the rigid upbringing from Aunt Mimi) and had no passion until he met his muse, his mother Julia. She was the non-conformist who teaches John that life isn't only about fitting in and doing what you're supposed to do. And she teaches him music; to play, appreciate and live music. I believe you know the rest.

I would never have thought of John Lennon as a renegade teen who cut his classes and idolized Elvis Presley. I had pictured him as the quiet, artsy poet. As it turns out, he was both. And that mix proved John to be revolutionary.

Aaron Johnson, most known to me as the titular character in the recent cult phenomenon Kick-Ass, was fantastic as John Lennon. I thought he did a great job singing and playing guitar on film. I am surprised that he went after such a cheesy role as a graphic-novel, kid super hero after taking on a challenging role as one of the most iconic musicians the world has seen. Let's put Kick-Ass behind you, Aaron. You are made for bigger and better movies. Nowhere Boy proved that.

It is always hard to watch a movie that is a true story, or even based on a true story, when you want the situations you witness on screen to be amazingly true and not just amazingly scripted for the movie. To think of how certain chance meetings and passing conversations shaped a person is crazy. I am not normally a fan of "biopics" and I think that is because I do not get very star struck. But I think even I have a hard time down playing the influence of John Lennon and this one was very well done. That, and I think of this less as a "biopic" since this was not about John Lennon The Beatle, it was about an awkward teenager named John who learns to love music. I enjoyed this movie immensely and am already telling everyone I know that they have to see it.

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Rory O'Shea Was Here

August 11th, 2011

Rory O'Shea Was HereAn inspiring story of independence that follows two unlikely friends determined to face the world on their own terms. Young Michael (Steven Robertson) is a patient resigned to his quiet life within an institution's safe, predictable boundaries. Then, the rebellious Rory O'Shea (James McAvoy) bursts onto the scene. Now, with the help of the beautiful young Siobhan (Romola Garai), who signs on as the boys' live-in aid, Rory will show Michael what it takes to truly be free.

Rory O'Shea moves from group home to group home rebelling against authority and rebelling against his handicap. All he has ever wanted is to be treated like everyone else. And when he comes to his latest group home, he meets another resident named Michael, who knows he will never been treated like everyone else. But then a strange thing happens when Rory shows Michael that they need not blindly accept their fates and their wheelchairs and teaches him how to live.

If, you hadn't heard of Rory O'Shea Was Here, you now have. And if it has been sitting in your queue, wait no longer. This movie has the right amount of creativity, intelligent writing, wit and heartbreak (almost a little bit modern-day One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). Like I did, hopefully you will care about Rory and Michael; you will be happy when they laugh and you will even be mad at Rory if you feel he's pushing Michael too far. I like a movie that can keep me engaged and gets me invested in the lives of its characters. I liked Rory O'Shea Was Here a lot.

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The Visitor

June 8th, 2011

The VisitorHailed as "one of the most intriguing drama" (Claudia Puig, USA Today), THE VISITOR stars Richard Jenkins (SIX FEET UNDER) in a "perfect performance" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly) as Walter, a disaffected college professor who has been drifting aimlessly through his life.

When, in a chance encounter on a trip into New York, Walter discovers a couple has taken up residence in his apartment in the city, he develops as unexpected and profound conection to them that will change his life forever.

As challenges arise for his tenants Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), Walter finds himself compelled to help his new friends, and rediscovers a passion he thought he had lost long ago. Written and directed by Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), internationally-renowned Hiam Abbass (Munic) co-stars in "the year's first genuine must-see film" (Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post) about rediscovering life's rhythms in the most unexpected places.

I was eager to see this movie. It was written and directed by the man who both wrote and directed a movie that I really enjoy: The Station Agent. Both movies feature a theme of a solitary man finding friends in the least likely of circumstances.

Richard Jenkins plays the protagonist in The Visitor and, while it is not the most dynamic role, he was great. It was not his performance, however, that should get you to see this movie. Haaz Sleiman may be a one-hit wonder, but I hope not. He is Tarek, the illegal immigrant that Jenkins's character finds living in his apartment in New York City. He is tremendously charismatic.

This is not the fastest-paced movie. Please be patient, this movie is worth your time.

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Y tu mamá también

April 18th, 2011

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0245574/

Y tu mamá también"Two thumbs way up" (Ebert & Roeper and the Movies)! From world-renowned director Alfonso Cuarón (A Little Princess, Great Expectations) comes this "provocatively and unapologetically sexual" (Los Angeles Times) coming-of-age tale. Nominated for a Golden Globe, this sizzling box-office sensation is not only "racuously funny" (New York Post) but also "one of the most compellingly sexy movies ever made" (The San Diego Union-Tribune).

Julio and Tenoch are two teens ruled by raging hormones and a mission to consume exotic substances. But one summer, the boys learn more about life than they bargain for when they set off on a wild cross-country trip with seductive, 28-year-old Luisa. Both boys taste forbidden fruit as Luisa schools them in the finer points of passion, but will their mutual desire for her destroy their friendship forever?

I may now cross yet another movie off my "When am I finally going to get around to seeing that?" list. This is a little obscure film that has seen an incredibly positive response from viewers, critics and the like. It seems that if you haven't seen it, you probably know at least one person who has. That is pretty impressive for an English-subtitled movie set in Mexico.

The nice thing about Y tu mamá también is that I do not feel it's overhyped. I am not sure anyone gushes over the movie; I don't think it incites that type of a reaction in most people. To draw a parallel to another Gael movie, like The Motorcycle Diaries, this movie can mean different things to different people...or maybe nothing at all. But it is well written, acted and directed.

The language can be harsh at times, and the movie has its fair share of nudity and sexual situations. Foreign films seem to have a much better handle on sex, using it as art adding dynamicy and depth to characters and situations in ways that a prudish American film industry cannot. I still would not let my kids (if I had any) see Y tu mamá también unless they were of a mature age.

Luisa joined Julio and Tenoch under circumstances which only she understood at the time. As the movie draws to a close, we get a glimpse into her world. The glimpse is not a necessary one, but really added some beauty to the movie.

I had a feeling come over me while I watched Y tu mamá también that it reminded me of a handful of movies. I have been driving myself mad since the credits ran trying to think WHICH movies make up that handful. Movies where two people who are as close as two people can be (whether they are siblings, best friends, or lovers) go through some unsuspected transformation in the face of a life-altering experience. An experience and a transformation that gently remove them from each other's future.

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Traitor

March 17th, 2011

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0988047/

TraitorAcademy Award nominee Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Crash) and Guy Pearce (Memento, L.A. Confidential) star in Traitor, a taut international thriller set against a puzzle of covert counter-espionage operations.

When straight-arrow FBI agent agent Roy Clayton (Pearce) investigates a dangerous international conspiracy responsible for a prison break in Yemen, a bombing in Nice and a raid in London, all clues seem to lead back to former U.S. Special Operations officer, Samir Horn (Cheadle). But a tangle of contradictory evidence emerges, forcing Clayton to question whether his suspect is a disaffected former military operative -- or something far more complicated.

Obsessed with discovering the truth, Clayton tracks Horn across the globe as the elusive ex-soldier burrows deeper and deeper into a world of shadows and intrigue.

Don Cheadle is Samir Horn, a man who makes unlikely friends with a Middle-Eastern terrorist group. Does he support their holy mission, in furtherance of the God he shares with them? Or may he be the catalyst to bring this group down...from the inside?

You can no longer count the number of movies about the global threat of Middle Eastern terrorism on one hand. It is a topic that gets headlines around the world, and movie makers must salivate over the screenplays. I have admitted my bias, and maybe that is what made this movie mediocre for me. I thought the Americans were portrayed as ruthless, witless cowboys. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with that viewpoint, but only that I grow tired of it.

Don Cheadle is my saving grace. He is one of the finest actors of this time. He has a seriousness about him that makes everything he says worth hearing. This movie followed him through some very difficult decisions and you feel torn in two directions almost more than he is. He is a talent worth keeping an eye on. He is also the only real highlight in this movie for me. The rest of the movie was just another take on these now-popular, religious Crusades.

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Smart People

March 10th, 2009

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0858479/

Smart PeopleFrom the producer of Sideways -- get to know a lovable yet dysfunctional family everyone can relate to in this lighthearted comedy People calls "smart and enjoyable." When Lawrence Wetherhold (Dennis Quaid) -- a widowed and self-absorbed professor -- falls for his attractive former student (Sex And The City's Sarah Jessica Parker), his all-too-predictable life suddenly turns sunny-side up. That is, until his freeloading brother (Thomas Haden Church) and his sharp-tongued overachieving daughter (Juno's Ellen Page) speak up, making "chaos" the word of the day. Now on DVD, Smart People is even funnier with never-before-seen interviews, deleted scenes and hilarious outtakes.

A self-absorbed college professor lost sight of the need to be sensitive of other people and their feelings when his wife died. Raising his daughter on his own has been difficult, but she's growing up just like her dad. And no, that is not a good thing. (He has a son, too, but he seems at least relatively well adjusted. So this movie is not about him.) The professor's dead-beat brother moves in with them and tries to give perspective to both the professor and his daughter.

Apparently there is a new formula in small-budget, independent comedies. What do you add to a pretentious lead character to create comedy? Thomas Hayden Church. It worked in Sideways, and it worked again here. He is the down-on-his-luck brother who weasles his way in to free room and board. While staying with his brother and niece he shakes them out of old habits and tries to implore them to take control and live their lives free from societal pressures to be something they do not want to be. Sounds heavy, but it wasn't that bad.

This was Ellen Page's big follow-up to Juno. I don't think this was what people were hoping for. As the professor's daughter she brought all of the attitude of Juno with none of the charm.

Dennis Quaid is our nutty professor, our single father. I like Mr. Quaid. I think that his often-exasperated mannerisms are enjoyable, almost Jack Nicholson-esque at times. I find comfort in his schtick, I guess. He was sometimes frustrating, but otherwise good yet again.

Smart People could have been called "Boring People and the Brother," but that is probably less marketable. This is an okay movie with a good cast. And the overall feel of the movie was saved by Thomas Hayden Church. I don't want to give him a reputation he cannot live up to, but the small resurgence in his career has been worthwhile for me.

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Run Fatboy Run

February 17th, 2009

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425413/

Run Fatboy RunIt's the London Marathon, and thousands of feet pound along the Thames Embankment. Two of those feet belong to out-of-shape, out-of-luck Dennis Doyle. He's running to gain the respect (and hopefully, the love) of Libby, the girl he left pregnant and heartbroken at the altar five years earlier. And running alongside Dennis is Libby's handsome, successful, self-confident and very fit new boyfriend.

Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz), Thandie Newton (Crash) and Hank Azaria (The Simpsons) star in a runaway laughfest from debuting director David Scwimmer (Friends). Can Dennis win back what he lost by lacing up some hi-tech footwear? One thing's for sure: He's putting his heart and soles into the attempt.

On the day of his wedding Dennis leaves his pregnant girlfriend, Libby, at the altar. When he meets her new boyfriend, five years later, Dennis decides that he had better make it up to her now or he might lose her forever. The difficulty lies in the fact that this new boyfriend is many things that Dennis is not. The new guy is successful, confident, responsible and he runs marathons for charity -- and that is held over Dennis's head as if that one thing sums up how Dennis will never be good enough. Dennis responds that he will run the marathon, too. So now he trains for 26 grueling miles as if Libby will be waiting for him at the finish line.

I will admit that my expectations for this film were low. I have enjoyed Simon Pegg in some of his other movies, but not enough to rush out and see this. (Not based on Simon Pegg's involvement, but) I was afraid that it would be one of the romantic comedies that tried to focus on the romantic rather than the comedy.

The movie was funny and charming. The supporting cast was made up with some great characters, including but not limited to Dennis's landlord/upstairs neighbor Mr. Goshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and Dennis's best friend Gordon (Dylan Moran). The involvement of these supporting cast members and the interaction between Dennis and his son were probably the high points of the movie.

This is probably not a movie that you will invite all of your friends over to watch, but it is worth seeing on a night when you stay in.

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The Reader

January 9th, 2009

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0976051/

A boy of 15 years is away from home when he becomes violently ill. But not for the kindness of a passing woman, he does not know how he would have made it home. To express his gratitude he goes back to her with flowers. His innocent act of thanks then leads to a torrid affair with this older woman. Their time together lasts only a few months before the woman disappears without saying goodbye, but the boy, Michael, will never be the same. Later, in law school, Michael's class goes to the courthouse to learn from courtroom experience. On trial is Hanna, the woman who changed Michael's life forever.

After a few days of soul searching I am finally ready to say if I liked this movie or not. And I did. I thought that there were a few things that detracted from the movie, but there are almost always things that detract from movies. I will try to be brief and discuss my main complaint with the movie first. It was in English. The movie bounces between different chapters of Michael's life, but except for a short scene at the end (that I would have left out if I had edited this film) the entire movie takes place in Germany. The movie, based on more than just the countless scenes of passion between Michael and Hanna, strives to become intimate with the audience. I found it strange that the movie was not in German with subtitles. I feel this would have given the movie a more authentic feel and bridged that final gap of intimacy.

With that out of the way, I may continue with what I enjoyed. Much early press suggests that Kate Winslet will take home an award or two for her role as Hanna. I have not seen every movie she is nominated, or might be nominated, against so I will not comment on that. I will say that in this movie alone her performance was second best. David Kross was young Michael. He is our protagonist. While it is hard to overlook Ralph Fiennes, who plays older Michael, most of the movie happens while Michael is young. David Kross, a young actor with very little experience, shows strong talent in The Reader.

I wanted to argue against the amount of nudity and "adult situations" that make up essentially the entire first half of the movie. I have gone so far as to jokingly call this movie pornography, but I think it was all necessary to lend credibility to the impact Michael and Hanna had on each other. Here were two people who yearned to be together and were physically intimate beyond all boundaries, yet secrets were kept. And the secrets drove them apart.

I cannot say that The Reader was any better or worse than the other movies I have seen where a boy has an affair with an older woman then sees her tried in a court of law. Shockingly, this is the only movie I have seen in that category. Since I cannot compare it to anything, I will say that I found the story to be deeply moving at times. I thought the characters were developed well and the things I didn't like did not make the movie unwatchable.

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Doubt

January 6th, 2009

Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0918927/

A very serious allegation is brought against a priest when Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) suspects that Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has developed an inappropriate relationship with an altar boy. The boy's history teacher, Sister James (Amy Adams) tells Sister Aloysius that the boy came back from a private meeting with Father Flynn acting peculiarly. Does Sister Aloysius suspect Father Flynn because he has done something wrong or is she biased against him because she disagrees with his progressive methodologies?

The story is an important one, but it is used as a vehicle to debate a broader topic. The movie specifically addresses an allegation of misconduct by a priest, but the characters generally disagree on the role the Church plays in people's lives. Should the Church continue as strict disciplinarian? or adapt to the changing times to become part of the family?

John Patrick Shanley wrote Doubt for the stage, and then adapted his own story into this movie, which he also directed. The story is brilliantly controversial. While you are left to form your own opinion of guilt or innocence, the arguments on both sides are incredibly persuasive.

I have not seen a movie with acting this good in a long time. (Stay with me because I will actually praise Philip Seymour Hoffman, something I normally do as infrequently as possible.) With three strong performances from the movie's three main players (Streep, Hoffman and Adams) one somehow managed to outshine the others. Both Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman were great. Meryl Streep brought the house down; she was fantastic.

Another performance worth noting was Viola Davis, who plays the boy's mother. She has maybe 5 minutes of screen time, but they are 5 of the most powerful minutes in an already powerful movie. It is probably a name you will hear again.

I will not delve into any conclusions I may have drawn from the movie, particularly because I opted against drawing any. The movie may leave you with a burning curiosity to know if he did it, but I invite you to see this movie with friends so you may discuss your thoughts. But I do recommend the movie; it is surely on my short list for best movies of 2008.

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