Saturday, May 5, 2012

Even at my age, in my work... I haven't reached perfection.

Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

Deep in the heart of Tokyo, in a place where you'd never expect it (in a subway station), sits one of the greatest restaurants in the entire world: Sukiyabashi Jiro. To the untrained eye it looks like a simple family-owned sushi shop but to everyone who has ever eaten there, they can tell you it is anything but ordinary. Run by Jiro Ono and his son (with another location also run by one of his sons), documentary filmmaker David Gelb takes a crew inside this 3 star Michelin restaurant so that we can get an idea of who the man behind the counter really is.
 Though regarded by many as the best sushi chef alive, 85 year old Jiro believes that his quest to perfect the art of sushi will never end. He dreams about it, spends almost every waking minute thinking about it and meticulously crafts every piece of fish as though it was Van Gogh painting one of his masterpieces. He loves his work, and deeply cares about it in ways that most people wished they could care about anything. The hard part, and one of his struggles, is dealing with what will happen after he dies. His son works diligently beside him, Jiro taking plenty of time to teach him and help him in whatever way he can, but at the end of the day Jiro will always be the master chef. He's a one of a kind and many believe that his son will never live up to his fathers reputation. Will Jiro's son ever surpass his father? Will Jiro's quest to perfect the art of sushi ever end? What of his other son, who runs a similar restaurant but in a fashion that is exponentially different than his father? These and more are questions we are presented with as the film goes on.

 Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a brief film, clocking in around 80 minutes, but even if it was longer David Gelb's impeccable pacing is some of the best I've seen recently (documentary or otherwise). It never feels rushed, most scenes, with the exception of maybe one or two, run perfectly and you can tell that Gelb was making this film for a broad audience, not just those who are used to documentary films slow, more deliberate pacing. The cinematography is great as well but I will say, see this film on a full stomach because even if you hate sushi, Jiro and Gelb make everything look delicious. It's food porn, but brilliant food porn. 
Jiro himself, as well as his son, are fascinating characters who are extremely passionate about what they do. You can see that they pour their heart and soul into everything they do. Jiro especially is fascinating to listen to because the way he describes everything, from making sushi to the art of sushi is intriguing and heartfelt. You feel his struggles and his hardships because you really care about him as a person. If you can get behind and care about the subject of your documentary then you've done a good job.

Love or hate sushi, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a brilliant documentary and one that should be enjoyed by everybody.

MY VERDICT: OWN IT (4.5 out of 5)

Friday, May 4, 2012

There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so that when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could.

Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will. 

After 12 hours of film building up the hype to a fever pitch, after countless years of development and writing, after all the marketing tie-ins that you could possibly throw into a product, it's finally here: The Avengers. Earth's Mightiest Heroes gathered into one movie to fight alongside (and sometimes against) one another in order to save everyone from certain destruction. Captain America (Chris Evans), the first Avenger and former poster child for the United States Army. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the demigod who fought his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and saved Asgard. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) aka Iron Man, the egotistical billionaire genius with a suit that makes him as powerful as any other hero. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) aka Hulk, a scientist fighting against a monster raging inside him. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) aka Hawkeye, the archer with a knack for never missing. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) aka Black Widow, the super spy who fills out a catsuit better than most could dream. And of course Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson), the man behind it all who brings these people together. After all that has happened, does the film live up to the hype? Depends on which hype you're looking at.

You see there are two hype trains rolling down  the tracks right now. One is the hype that Marvel, Disney and the past six (yes I count the terrible 2003 Ang Lee Hulk film) films have established and the other is the hype that fans and critics have built after seeing the movie. These people are saying that The Avengers is the greatest comic book film ever and will vehemently bash anybody who even breathes in the wrong direction when it comes to this film. I only agree with one of these hype trains. Marvel has done a fantastic job building these worlds and establishing these characters and Joss Whedon and everyone involved does a brilliant job crafting an amazing film. But I hesitate to throw "best" at the movie only because while it's certainly the funniest, biggest and most action action packed comic book film I've seen, its only lacking area is in any true depth or sense of danger. Unless you've seen the previous films you might be a little lost on who most of these people are. The film does a good job re-establishing and reminding you of who most of these people are but most of the character development is saved for the heroes own film. In terms of danger, you never really feel like these people are going to fail, you know they will win at the end of the day. With some other films (cough Dark Knight cough) you aren't as sure and it takes some of the wind out of the film. 
 Nick Fury and SHIELD are in the possession of an unlimited power source known as the Tesseract. One day the Tesseract starts to act up and out pops Loki, who steals the Tesseract, enslaves Hawkeye and Dr. Selvig (from Thor), and levels the SHIELD base. Loki plans on unleashing an army and enslaving the human race because freedom, at least in his mind, is overrated. Fury decides that to restart the Avengers Initiative and gathers Iron Man, Black Widow, Hulk and Cap to go find and capture Loki. Along the way Thor joins them (although not without some initial disagreement) with the idea that he wants to take the Tesseract and hold his brother accountable for his crimes in Asgard. That's really all I can say without spoiling the rest of the film but needless to say a lot of things blow up, get shot and are destroyed. The action is intense, always a joy to watch and I found myself bouncing up and down with excitement on many occasion.

The story isn't anything we haven't seen before but Joss Whedon's lightning fast wit and impeccable pacing makes it all seem new again, or at least appear to. The film is split into two halves, the first half bringing everyone together and establishing the characters motives and major conflicts with the second half being an all out brawl in the middle of New York. It seems simple when you write it out but everything builds up well and by the time it does reach New York you are already as pumped as you'll ever be. Like I mentioned before there IS a lack of danger or any real threat since you know these guys will win in the end, but it's a well written film and unless you really think about it, you'll enjoy every minute of this film. Even the post credits scenes. Yes, there are two, so make sure you stay for both of them.
 The acting in the film is actually improved from the heroes previous films. Evans and Hemsworth both feel more comfortable with their roles and have grasped some more of the nuances of their character. Cap is still a straight arrow trying to adjust to living in the future, but despite his old ways he knows how to lead and you really feel for his character. Thor struggles with protecting Earth (and the woman he loves) from afar while also dealing with his brother who, despite being evil, is still his brother in the end. Stark is as snarky and egotistical as before but you can see that there is still a man underneath it all, especially now more than ever. Downey owns his role and if anybody stole the show, you can easily make the argument that it is him. Johansson's Black Widow and Jackson's Fury are also both improved with the real surprise being Johansson. Usually I don't care for her all that much but she does great with a more fleshed out Natasha and proves to be more than just eye candy in a catsuit. Jackson is Jackson...take it or leave it.

The two new additions, Ruffalo as Bruce Banner and Renner as Hawkeye, do well but Ruffalo is certainly the better of the two. He captures the hectic and almost neurotic nature of Banner better than Edward Norton and Eric Bana ever could and he has a heart and humor to him that makes him a joy to watch. He plays off everybody extremely well and his Hulked out self looks amazing. Third time is the charm I guess. Renner does well with Hawkeye but his role isn't really big enough to say much more. He's good, he does justice to the character but that's about it.
 Overall The Avengers is a wonderful, action packed blockbuster with brilliant writing, intense action, great acting, big laughs and is a joy for everyone whether you read comics or not. I hesitate to throw around the term best when it comes to this movie but you get what you paid for and more and you shouldn't leave the theater disappointed.

MY VERDICT: TOP FILM (5 out of 5)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I've been in resturants all night, all I got served was lead.

Hello I am the movie encyclopedia and if no one else will see it, I will.

It doesn't really take a lot to sell me on a Jason Statham film. Is he kicking ass and taking names? Is he mumbling and chewing all of his words like a dog with peanut butter? Is he a hitman/cop/bounty hunter/guy in the wrong place at the wrong time who somehow knows martial arts? Is Neveldine&Taylor nowhere to be found on the film's production credits? Is it at least competently written? If the answer is yes to all (or at least a majority) of the questions then chances are I probably will go out and buy a ticket without any hesitation. Don't get me wrong, Statham is not my favorite actor and a majority of his filmography is nowhere near Criterion quality, but there is something enjoyable about watching Statham do that voodoo that he does so well. 
 In Safe, Statham plays Luke Wright, a former cop turned cage fighter who, after refusing to throw a fight, has everything taken away from him. He loses his house, his money and his wife is brutally murdered with the promise that anybody he ever befriends, helps or talks to will be murdered as well. While all this is going on, a 12-year-old Chinese girl named Mei, who has a knack for remembering things, is taken by the Triads and used as a walking ledger of sorts. She remembers all the numbers, locations and people so that they don't have to write anything down.

A year goes by and Luke is now homeless and on the brink of suicide while Mei is brought to America to be used for some business in town. Mei and the Triads are attacked by the Russians and after the Russians kidnap her, she soon escapes and finds herself wanted by every criminal organization and corrupt official in town. Luke sees what's going on and brings it upon himself to save and protect Mei from all harm and danger.

On the surface, Safe is a predictable, paint-by-the-numbers Statham film. It's nothing you've never seen before and it's certainly been done better. It bogs itself down with a ton of exposition and explaining and some of the dialogue is definitely on the cheesy/kitschy side, but in the grand spectrum of Statham movies, it's right down the middle. Statham does his usual shtick, so if you like what he does normally, chances are you'll like his performance in this. The other acting is pretty average but nobody besides Mei and Luke get a ton of development.
If it sounds like I'm being harsh, I'm not, I'm just pointing out what everyone probably already expected. Like I said before, "on the surface." But I decided to dig a little deeper than I usually do and pay attention to the movie from a technical side and this is where the movie surprises itself. Honestly I don't think it expected to be as well shot and edited as it ended up being. From a technical side this film is actually quite good and a step in the right direction for "typical Statham films." The soundtrack is appropriately placed and adds tension where needed, the sound design is Bourne quality with every gun and fist sounding heavy and hitting with the right bang or thud and the cuts/edits/cinematography are all hectic but controlled at the same time. It does things that a normal film goer wouldn't give a second thought to but re-watching Statham's filmography it seems leaps and bounds better than the established norm.

Overall Safe is a competently written and acted film that hits all the beats that Statham films have been known to do. Predictable, yes, but entertaining nevertheless. On a technical side, however, it shines as one of Statham's better shot and made films, even if the script and everything else makes the film just okay. If you like action films and you like what Statham usually does than you can do a lot worse in terms of films. Just don't expect the next Snatch.

MY VERDICT: RENT IT (2.5 out of 5)