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

The Jane Austen Book Club, or: You Don’t Talk About Book Club

Once again, we’re doing what we want on the blog this month.  This time around, we’re heading to California for a comedy of manners with plenty of relationship drama and connections to 19th-century classics of English literature.

The Film:

The Jane Austen Book Club

The Premise:

I sometimes don’t know if you really want me to state the obvious and/or if you don’t 100% understand how film titles usually work.

The Ramble:

In Sacramento, California, a host of seemingly unconnected characters lead rather unglamorous lives encountering everyday annoyances.  Unknowingly, they will all be drawn together by Jane Austen.  Book Club.

They are:

  • Bernadette, founder of the book club and divorcee who has been married 6 times
  • Sylvie, recently separated from her husband after a shocking revelation
  • Jocelyn, Sylvie’s bestie and perpetually single dog breeder
  • Allegra, Sylvie’s daughter and a born risk-taker
  • Prudie (Emily  Blunt), a French teacher feeling bored and dissatisfied with her marriage
  • Grigg, sci-fi nerd and the only male member of the club
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The Ice Cream and Isak Dinesen Club wasn’t quite as catchy.

After Sylvie’s husband discloses an ongoing affair, her friends attempt desperately to cheer her up.  Her daughter Allegra moves back in with her, having recently split up with her girlfriend anyway.  In a stroke of genius, Bernadette proposes a book club to distract Sylvie after encountering a distraught Prudie.  The book club may also help Jocelyn feel better, who recently held a funeral for one of her dogs (in an unexpected connection to last week’s film, Mr. Roosevelt).

By chance, Jocelyn meets Grigg at a conference center and inducts him into the book club.  Jocelyn recommends Austen to Grigg, while Grigg suggests Ursula K. LeGuin (bittersweet as I learned she passed away earlier today just prior to writing this post).

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BOOK POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORN.

As you have likely guessed, the 6 members of the book club discuss each of Austen’s 6 novels, discovering unexpected parallels between the works of fiction and their own lives.

Jocelyn, who invited Grigg to the book club to set him up with Sylvie, is very clearly the Emma of our film.  She begins to regret pushing Grigg and Sylvie together when she starts to develop feelings for him, but stubbornly carries on.

Sylvie and Allegra end up living their own version of Sense & Sensibility, with Sylvie as the voice of reason and Allegra as the reckless romantic.  Though she tries to move on, Sylvie still loves her husband and finds it difficult to end their marriage.  Meanwhile, Allegra is off skydiving, avoiding commitments, and meeting ladies.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that it’s more fun to watch adaptations loosely based on Austen novels than to actually read the books.

Prudie’s life ends up very similar to Persuasion when she seems ready to give up on her marriage in favor of a fling with a student who does quite a strong smoldering stare.  Like Anne Elliot, Prudie realizes she does love the man she’s rejected…but is the damage too great for her to repair?

As the book club approaches its final novel, tensions rise and personalities clash.  After Allegra falls while climbing a rock wall (a problem I am unlikely to ever relate to), the book club holds a meeting in her hospital room.  When a big fight erupts on several fronts, the book club and the friendships holding it together are in jeopardy.  Has Jane Austen broken up the band?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The relationships between the characters are great, and the idea of the book club is quite sweet.  Though the film clearly wants a nice happy ending, it does capture the group’s dynamic in a mostly realistic way–though the book club members support each other, there is still gossip behind each other’s backs and some rather petty fights.  At the end of the day, though, the relationships between women are the driving force of this film as they care for and heal each other.

That being said, I found some of the characters insufferable.  Prudie and Allegra both annoyed the bejeezus out of me, mostly because both of their characters make choices that are painfully terrible and may have negative consequences for others.  I absolutely loved Bernadette and would’ve completely supported a movie that was 75% about her.

This is a light-hearted movie akin to a soothing cup of tea–which, coincidentally goes along perfectly with a good book.

Would my blog wife watch this one again or just read the book?  Find out here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Shark Month: Sharknado

Shark Month continues with a modern classic!  Christa’s pick, so we can finally cross this off the bad movie bucket list.

The Film:

Sharknado

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Words fail me.

The Uncondensed Version:

Right off the bat there’s a surprisingly strong environmental message…?  The sharknado seems to be an almost direct response to a sea captain bragging about killing 20,000 sharks to sell and boastfully declaring, “Sharks should be afraid of us.”  (And I’m pretty sure most of them are.)  Oh, and global warming.  Also global warming.

Since this is a shark attack movie, we see what befalls the first victims of the sharknado, followed immediately by California beach party scenes.

Our main protagonist, Fin, is a surfer dude who also owns a bar/restaurant.  It seems Bikini, whose actual character name (Nova) I had to Google, actually does most of the bartending while he gets his surf on.  Btw, Nova also has a gigantic leg scar, but she doesn’t like to talk about it.  Dramatic foreshadowing:  she also doesn’t like to talk about sharks.

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SHARKSHARKSHARKSHARKSHARKSHARKSHARKSHARKSHARK.

So anyway, Fin is out doing his surfer thing when the sharknado rolls in.  It’s a hurricane made of sharks in case that isn’t clear.  Comprised of the exact same clip showed on a loop at repeated intervals throughout this film.

Fin is a bit of sleaze and apparently is irresistible to all women, including Nova as well as this random surfer lady.  After failing to save the surfer, Fin turns to his friend Tasmania, whose actual character name I can’t be bothered to Google.  He’s from Tasmania.  I never said I give particularly creative nicknames.

When the hurricane/sharknado begins in earnest, Fin closes the bar.  But it’s too late and, exactly like that scene in the diner from The Birds, the sharks begin attacking the building.

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EXACTLY.  LIKE.  THE HITCHCOCK CLASSIC.

Between the hurricane and the sharks, Santa Monica is decimated.  Even the Ferris wheel.  Points lost for not using Savage Garden’s “Santa Monica” anywhere in this movie, which got stuck in my head every time someone said Santa Monica.

Fin, Nova, Tasmania, and Bar Creep who is one of the most loyal regulars all manage to survive.  Their plan?  To find Fin’s ex-wife, Tara Reid, and their daughter to make sure the family is safe.

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What have I done with my life?

But our team will have to contend with flooding, sharks on the streets, sharks in houses, sharks on cars…you can see how the novelty of sharks being in bizarre places where they could never survive in real life wears off pretty quickly.

That will either appeal to you or it won’t.  Suffice it to say the brilliant plan our crew comes up with is dropping a bomb in the sharknado.

Yes.  I just typed that sentence.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I just don’t get why there are 3 of these (soon to be 4).  The characters are all painfully irritating, and it doesn’t matter to me at all when any of them die (or even make a surprise comeback).  We don’t even get a crusty sea captain stereotype and, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no point in even having a shark movie without one.  They try to add some character depth to Fin, struggling to be present in his children’s lives, and Nova, overcoming the trauma of her shark attack, but it all falls so flat.

The majority of those 3 stars are for the name, which is on par with Raiders of the Lost Shark (truly one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  Worse than Monkey’s Paw in terms of production values).

At this point I know I’m just nitpicking, but it’s unclear to me what exactly the sharknado is and why it happened.  Was the hurricane part of the sharknado?  Did it CAUSE the sharknado?  Should I stop searching for logic in this film???  (But also, how would the sharks survive for that long in a tornado??!?!)

Weirdly, 12 Days of Terror was way better.  Again, I need to be more consistent with my ratings because I gave this the same rating as Sabrina, Down Under, which isn’t fair to Sabrina.

Would Christa drop a bomb on the swirling bloody mess that was this movie or become one with the sharknado?  Find out here!