Friday, December 21, 2012

Jiro Waltzes with Vampires

     In this round of DVD reviews I take a look at a romantic dramedy with a couple of strong performances, a documentary about a famous chef, and a movie that I feel is truly a little bit evil.  No, really...

  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - When in doubt, lead with the evil.  I was purposefully not going to watch this film, but a friend bought it and momentarily overcame my better judgement.  In a culture where we seem to learn so little from history, this film seems like a positively nefarious creation to me.  Now the first thing your children are going to think of when they think of Abraham Lincoln is that he was the president that saved us from the Undead.  It's not funny.  Half of America believes that the deregulation of business operations in this country will lead to prosperity, not even knowing that it was the practice of the administrations that led us into the great depression.  The practice was known at the time as "Laissez-faire" economics.  No one knows THAT anymore, but they know Lincoln's favorite weapon for beheading was an axe.
     This film was over-acted, over and under-written (it's possible, trust me), and bad for you.  I mean, I don't know what else I really expected from a collaboration between the director of Wanted and the writer of Dark Shadows.  There are some talented people in the cast but even Dominic Cooper couldn't rise above this material the way he did in The Devil's Double.  Even the CGI was cheesy and obvious in places.  A few decently choreographed action sequences just barely keep this film from getting my minimum rating.  1 1/2 of 5 stars.

  Jiro Dreams of Sushi - This documentary shines a spotlight on the life of Jiro Ono, possibly Japan's most famous sushi chef.  It is a fascinating peek into the work ethic of a certain generation of Japanese culture, and that generation's efforts to pass those values along to their children.  Despite his belief that dedication to work made him a poor father, both of Jiro's son's have followed in his footsteps in a manner that suggests they have adopted his values with greater zeal than most children ever do.  He certainly never uses the word "pride", but you get the idea that he feels it just the same.
     Jiro himself is an interesting character.  He's so matter of fact and dispassionate on the surface, yet you can't help but see the passion of a true artist underneath.  Yet this art is more precisely created than you could possibly imagine without actually seeing how meticulously the fare at the world famous Sukiyabashi Jiro is chosen and prepared for yourself.
     The real star of the film, at least for me, is the sushi.  In Japan, the visual appearance of a meal is valued almost as much as the flavor, and Jiro's work is gorgeous to the eye.  If you are a sushi fan (and you either are or aren't, I don't know anyone who is ambivalent about sushi), you owe it to yourself to have a look.  Be warned, though, you will crave a trip to Japan to sample these dishes in person.  No movie has ever made me this hungry.  I have a wasabi craving right now, just thinking about it.  4 of 5 stars.

  Take This Waltz - I have not seen writer/director Sarah Polley's previous feature Away From Her, so this is my first exposure to her film making.  I found it entertaining and watchable, if not one of the most inspired or hilarious comedies that I have seen in recent years.  It was good, but my expectations for the film and especially for the performance of its star Michelle Williams, had been built by buzz to levels that the actual movie just wasn't quite prepared to reach.  I mean, Williams is good, but it is certainly not her best work.
     In fact, both her and "other man" Luke Kirby were completely overshadowed by supporting players Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman.  Playing the wronged husband, Rogan evinces both range and depth that I personally was completely unaware that he possessed as an actor.  It's not that he's not funny.  He is.  But he plays a real man who is funny here, in no way a caricature or an unbelievable buffoon.  He actually prompted empathy from me.
     Silverman is just as impressive, if a little less surprising, as the troubled sister-in-law.  She is actually one of the more dramatic characters in the film.  There is this one scene where an inebriated Silverman puts Williams' character in her place that may be my favorite scene.
     Ms. Polley definitely appears to be a film maker with the potential for greatness, but Take This Waltz isn't quite there yet.  It is, however, a rather GOOD film, with a strong ensemble cast that makes the most of the material.  3 1/2 of 5 stars.

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