Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

East Side Sushi, or: Tako Taco

I love movies.  I love food.  How pleased am I when I find ways to happily bring these interests together?  Almost as pleased as I feel about the idea of Mexican/Japanese fusion cuisine, conveniently depicted in this week’s pick.

The Film:

East Side Sushi

The Premise:

A Latina single mother struggling to support her daughter is determined to master the art of sushi despite the objections of…I mean, pretty much everyone.

The Ramble:

Juana is a single mother living with her father in Oakland, California.  She is far from living the dream as she works odd jobs trying to make ends meet and fund her daughter’s education.  The family’s main source of income seems to be a fruit cart–that is, until one day Juana is robbed at gunpoint.

Disheartened and quite shaken, Juana’s luck takes a turn when she stumbles across a Help Wanted sign hanging in a sushi restaurant.  Though she’s a talented cook and has some serious skill with knives, the help needed is for a kitchen assistant–cleaning, washing dishes, making rice, and doing some other food prep.

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Insert super quick knife action here.

It’s not long before Juana gets a chance to show off her talents when the kitchen is short-staffed, and sushi chef Aki begins to respect her expertise.  Though initially Juana claims she has tried sushi and didn’t like it, she gives it another try and falls in love with the flavors.  Her father and daughter are less than thrilled, however, when Juana begins making sushi at home instead of their usual Mexican fare.  Juana’s father in particular remains stubbornly critical of her venture into Japanese cooking and her ambitions to master sushi.

Even as Juana makes progress at home, she is held back by the traditional views of the restaurant owner, Mr. Yoshida, and several of the sushi chefs, who claim women’s hands are too warm to make sushi(…?).  However, with the encouragement of Aki, she begins to observe the sushi chefs and pick up their techniques.  When the restaurant is down a sushi chef, Juana impresses Aki with her sushi making, but must create her sushi rolls in the stock room, out of sight of patrons and Mr. Yoshida.

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“Yeah, but is it gluten-free?”

On her own, Juana decides to enter a local sushi competition to prove her skills and perhaps win money for her daughter’s education.  At last, Juana’s father begins to support her efforts as he helps her film a video submission.  It doesn’t hurt at all that he gets to taste test her fusion sushi rolls, featuring jalapeños and poblano peppers.

Her sushi skills ever on the rise, Juana tires of receiving no recognition for her work and decides to make sushi up front with the other chefs.  Of course, this is not received well by Mr. Yoshida or by the bullshit white dudes who complain about the lack of authenticity.  After being denied the option to even apply for the open sushi chef position at the restaurant, Juana chooses to quit rather than endure the disrespect.

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Sake it to me? (Sorry/not sorry)

Once again working low-paying jobs, barely scraping by, and with no passion for sushi or any other kind of cooking, Juana feels utterly without hope.  Remember that sushi competition, though?  Maybe an opportunity will present itself when a mysterious envelope arrives from the organizers of the competition.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

As a somewhat belated disclaimer, I’m such a sucker for the formulaic following your dreams, overcoming adversity, feel-good film…especially if there’s food involved.  This does follow that formula pretty closely, but brings a unique perspective and presents its characters with nuance and care.  There’s a slow build, but the emotional impact of the film suddenly creeps up–when Juana’s father finally comes around (and gives her one of her mother’s scarves for luck), I had so many feels.  Diana Elizabeth Torres is an absolute gem as Juana, whose quiet determination, compassion, and curiosity come across beautifully on screen.

The film is very interested in questions of authenticity in the restaurant world, and to what extent those ideas are used to maintain the status quo.  In one of Juana’s rare outbursts, she points out the hypocrisy inherent in the sushi restaurant’s illusion of authenticity, as well as the irony that so many Latinos are behind the scenes in every great restaurant yet just one in public view is not accepted.

I also love the subtle yet sweet relationship between Juana and Aki.  Really all they do together is make and eat food, so I feel they have the ideal relationship.  Aki is adorable, supportive, and incredibly proud of Juana’s successes.  Refreshingly, the romance is very subtle and not at all the focus of this film.  It’s nice for Juana to have someone who’s always in her corner, though, and who gifts her with beautiful sharp knives.

However, I’m extremely angry that I can’t actually try any of the mouthwatering combinations Juana creates during this film.  Streaming this film should also come with at least a couple of sushi rolls.

Would Christa chop this one up and roll it into sushi or toss it with last week’s King Salmon? Find out here!

 

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Hurricane Bianca, or: It’s a Poncho, Bitch

This week’s film is brought to you by false eyelashes, skin-tight sequined dresses, and enough concealer to recolor the walls of a small apartment.  Drag queens, ok?  It’s about drag queens–and one rather renowned in particular.

The Film:

Hurricane Bianca

The Premise:

I mean, technically there’s a plot, but mostly this is a vehicle for Bianca Del Rio to throw shade at homophobes.

The Ramble:

Richard is a long-suffering science teacher who genuinely cares about learning–if only his students felt the same way.  Meanwhile, his interest in stand-up comedy seems to be horribly misguided as he persistently gets a cringeworthy number of laughs.

Feeling completely disheartened, Richard finally gets some good news in the form of a call from the head of a teaching ambassador program (played by a fantastically sinister Alan Cumming).  The catch?  The position is in Milford, a small Texas town into football, nepotism, and traditional gender roles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Richard is a bit of a fish out of water as a gay man whose masculinity doesn’t jive with the gun-toting football fanatics.  Richard fails to make it through the first day of class when his students blow up the chemistry lab.  While the principal may have overlooked this incident, when he discovers Richard’s sexuality, it’s all over.

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In Texas, this is the only acceptable makeup for men.

In an attempt to drink away his sorrows, Richard ends up at a bar only to discover he now lives in a dry county.  However, he does manage to befriend a trans woman named Karma, who invites him to a drag show that evening.  After Richard has one too many drinks, he performs in drag and finds inspiration to return to Milford…as Bianca.  Not only could Bianca win $25,000 if she wins Teacher of the Year, but perhaps more importantly could whip the smart but unmotivated students into shape and seek revenge on those responsible for ending Richard’s career (including Rachel Dratch?!).

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This is not the face of approval.

With no small amount of scathing sarcasm, Bianca gets to work.  She shames the students into being nicer to the closeted gay kid while also giving him some fighting tips.  When the students fail to complete their chemistry reading, they’re in for a nasty surprise that would definitely get a teacher fired IRL.  Bianca also gives hilariously harsh nicknames to all of the students, including labeling one of the cheerleaders “Bathmat.”

Meanwhile, the school’s football coach Chuck takes a shine to Bianca.  When she discovers Chuck is Karma’s estranged brother, Bianca can’t resist doing some meddling…which has some unexpected consequences.  After learning of Bianca’s scheming, Karma is furious and insists she leave.

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Nothing says romance like beer and roller skating.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, Bianca is nominated for Teacher of the Year.  When her drag queen besties arrive in town from New York, a rival teacher makes one last bid to earn the title for her daughter, and rumors of Lady Gaga’s appearance at the ceremony abound, shenanigans ensue.  Of course, it’s all going down at the Teacher of the Year Awards.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a sweet and irresistibly bubbly film that still manages to touch on real issues LGBT people contend with.  At times, the lightness of the film does undermine the message somewhat–the ending is all a bit after-school special.  While I wasn’t going in expecting Dallas Buyers Club, there were still times when I wanted the film to embrace its serious themes more fully.

Also minor bone to pick:  some of Bianca’s insults come from a fat-shaming/body-shaming place that I just can’t get behind.  It seemed to send a message that it’s ok to body shame people who are fat or have had plastic surgery as long as they’re assholes.  I did find most of Bianca’s sassy quips delightful, but IDK if I can really get behind fat-shaming anyone.

There are some excellent cameos to be seen, and even if the cast may not be getting any Oscars, they are charming and charismatic enough to make up for it.  Overall, the message is positive and does shine a light on some of the BS laws making it even more difficult for people to identify as LGBT at work, school, and in their private lives.

Would Queen Christa cheer for this one in all its glittery glory or don her finest pair of stilettos and show it who’s boss?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Permission, or: Just Get a Cat Instead

We’re kicking off April with a tried and true Blog Free month as part of our precisely planned and impressively elaborate themes.  Okay, mostly out of laziness and an unwillingness to commit to a specific theme long-term.  Which, given this week’s pick, is perhaps surprisingly on the nose?

The Film:

Permission

The Premise:

Childhood sweethearts spice up their relationship by pursuing sexual affairs on the side with…permission.

The Ramble:

Brooklyn hipsters, young and in love, seem ready to settle down.  Anna and Will have known each other since childhood and have been in love ever since.  While Will owns an incredibly hipster-y carpentry business with his bff Reece, Anna is a grad student focusing on music performance.  On a side note:  Reece is also the serious boyfriend of Hale, Anna’s brother.

Just before Will decides to propose at dinner with the four assembled, Reece decides to be a complete tool.  Before settling down with Hale, Reece made quite a few notches in his belt and adopts a bit of a condescending know-it-all attitude to Anna and Will’s commitment to each other.  In reality, Reece is merely shifting the subject from his own relationship issues with Hale, unknowingly setting all four on an incredibly stupid journey of narcissism and poor decisions.

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“I have really nice hair and some cool hipster clothes but am an absolute dipshit at decisions.”

Though Anna and Will initially laugh off Reece’s suggestion that they sleep with other people, Anna keeps coming back to the idea and is rather keen on it.  They both believe the idea of monogamy is BS and question the idea that a relationship could be so fragile that it would be ruined by a sexual affair.  After some consideration, they decide to give this whole idiotic idea a try, reasoning that it isn’t really an affair if they give each other permission to pursue other sexual relationships.

Predictably, this is much more difficult than anticipated.  Almost immediately, Anna feels an emotional connection to the guy she hooks up with, Dane.  Like Anna, Dane is a musician, plus he also makes her breakfast at night because he knows she won’t stay until morning.  Initially, Anna and Will decided against seeing any of their hook ups again, but the two quickly scratch that rule.

Meanwhile, Will finds a romantic partner in the form of Lydia, played perfectly by Gina Gershon.  Lydia buys a table from Will, who delivers it to her late at night, which is a euphemism but also a real thing that happens in this film.

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Prob one of the more unique affairs on film.

I have neglected Hale and Reece’s relationship drama, which centers around Hale’s wish to start a family and Reece’s reluctance to do so.  Though I find all of the leads insufferable in their own ways, Reece is an exceptionally horrible douchebag who refuses to even talk to Hale about this.  As the two seem to grow farther apart, Hale meets a father with a young child at the park and grows more attached to the idea of having a child.

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Also featuring a rather pointless appearance by Jason Sudeikis?

At a certain point, Will wants to stop with the arrangement he and Anna have made and get back to their life as it was before they forgot how to be adults.  But can they ever go back to the way things were?

The Rating:

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Those PPHs are mostly for Rebecca Hall’s hair in this, which is gorgeous.  I don’t think there’s any room to complain about the acting either, but the supporting characters far outshine the leads.  We get much too close for comfort with our main four, who treat each other horrendously and all seem to be quite removed from reality.

I’m annoyed because I completely support the ideas Anna and Will discuss dealing with sexual liberation, monogamy, and non-traditional relationships.  However, up to this point they have been the most fucking monogamous couple ever–as much as they may think of themselves as free spirits in this context, they have very much internalized societal norms surrounding relationships.

With both sets of relationships, the film seems to explore what happens when partners no longer want the same thing–if indeed, it’s possible for both to truly want the same thing from their relationship.  That’s another element here too–expectations for relationships and what they will (or will not) fulfill.  Better bet?  Just get a fucking cat/dog/literally anything besides a pointlessly stupid human.

My main problem with this film really boils down to how often I sympathized with men throughout.  I hate how bad I felt for both Will and Dane, who of course don’t inherently deserve Anna’s (or any woman’s) love.  However, it’s difficult to see her completely disregard their feelings and deny any wrongdoing.  Though I don’t think she’s initially aware of her interest in exploring other possibilities outside of the relationship, Anna nevertheless comes across as incredibly manipulative almost to the point of being a sociopath.  Admittedly I’m also a sucker for anyone who makes breakfast at any and all hours.

Would Christa…deliver a table to this one or ditch it for a day out at the dog park?  Find out here!