Sunday, September 30, 2012

September Quick Picks and Pans

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) In an age when most of us will change our career several times during our lifespan, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine that someone could work at (let alone love) the same job for 75 years.  David Gelb’s documentary features 85-year-old Jiro Ono, as he and his middle-aged son Yoshikazu carry on the art of sushi making in his tiny restaurant.  We witness the laborious process that goes into each dish, and hear from Ono’s fans, critics and protégés as they describe what it’s like to be in the presence of a master at the top of his craft.  His legacy is defined by working with care and unerring precision, while continually striving for improvement.  It’s also about loving your job and doing it well.  Like Ono’s fantastic culinary creations, Gelb’s film is uncluttered and simply told.  It doesn’t get bogged down in the side stories, but focuses on his passion for great sushi.  If you like sushi, the stunning photography will prompt you to hop on the next plane to Tokyo to visit Ono’s restaurant.  Even if you’re not a fan of sushi, you’ll be drawn in by this true-life tale of craftsmanship, family responsibility and honor.

Rating: ****.  Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix Streaming.

The Fall (2006) This visually impressive film from Director Tarsem Singh reminded me of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (the Terry Gilliam version), where several characters took on double roles in an elaborately realized fantasy world.  The bridging story takes place in a 1920s Los Angeles hospital, where a little girl with a broken arm, Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), meets paralyzed movie stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace).  He entertains her with a tall tale to pass the hours, while trying to coerce her into securing a lethal dose of morphine.  The fantasy scenes are distinguished by beautiful cinematography (shot on location over a period of four years) and imaginative costumes that immerses the viewer in a storybook land where anything seems possible.  While I wanted more depth from the characters in the fantasy world, the visuals resonated in my mind.  Even if the parts are better than the sum, The Fall is a sumptuous treat for the right side of your brain.

Rating: *** ½.  Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix Streaming

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) I felt conflicted about this cult favorite. On the one hand, I appreciated director/co-writer Sam Peckinpah’s artistry, but I found it difficult to connect with the film’s misogynistic tone, and its protagonist, the hard-drinking, ne’er-do-well piano player Bennie (Warren Oates).  Bennie enlists the aid of his former prostitute girlfriend Elita (Isela Vega) to discover the whereabouts of Alfredo Garcia, whose head carries a $1 million bounty.  It’s a race against time as he drives across Mexico, with others hot on the trail of the elusive Garcia.  Populated with mostly unlikable characters, but skillfully directed, I can’t quite bring myself to condemn this odd movie.  Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia leads up to a brutal, nihilistic climax that’s as compelling as it is numbing.  This has been touted as one of Peckinpah’s most personal films, presumably culled from his life experience.  If so, I suppose I’d rather hear about his life than live it myself.

Rating: ***.  Available on DVD

Deadhead Miles (1972) This obscure film (unavailable on DVD) from director Vernon Zimmerman and writer Terrence Malick stars Alan Arkin as con-man turned trucker Cooper.  He runs into a series of misadventures as he travels the highway with a stolen big rig truck, hauling a load of bricks and chickens.  One of the highlights is his encounter with a ghostly trucker who assists stranded travelers (could this have been the inspiration for the “Large Marge” scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure?).  I wanted this film to be more than it was, but it’s never quite witty enough to work as a satisfying comedy, nor quirky enough to qualify as more than a second-string midnight movie.  Still, it might be worth a look if you’re cruising the list of Netflix Instant movies for something competently made and just a little off the beaten path. 

Rating: ***.  Available on Netflix Streaming


  1. When I took my brother-in-law to see The Avengers in May the two screen theater was also showing Jiro Dreams of Sushi. My brother-in-law asked me, rhetorically, who would ever want to see that? I looked it up afterwards and made a note to watch for it. It is now in my Netflix Instant queue, but I haven't had a chance to see it yet. From your review, I should bump it up.

    I've seen The Fall. I agree that the visuals are stunning. I actually hadn't connected it to The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and I should have because I love that movie.

  2. Thanks Chip! On the surface, Jiro Dreams of Sushi might seem like a tough sell, but it's really an involving portrait of family honor and doing one thing especially well.

    With The Fall, the visuals were almost too much to take in during one viewing. Looking forward to seeing it again.