Archive for the ‘Movies & Documentaries’ Category
You do not have to be a lover of sushi to enjoy this documentary, it is actually about so much more than just a type of food. The focus of the film is on 85 year-old sushi master Jiro Ono and the workings of his tiny ten-seat Michelen 3 star restaurant in Tokyo. The Director, David Gelb, could have spent a lot of time interviewing famous chefs praising the food (this is the age of celebrity chefs) but instead he simply shows us Jiro’s process behind his tireless quest for perfection. Some scenes that, for me, quickly helped demonstrate the quest included:
- a sushi pilgrim has traveled hours, he enters the restaurant before opening to inquire about their serving times only to be politely informed that reservations need to be made a month in advance, there are no appetizers – only sushi, and starting cost is $300
- an apprentice trains to make the grilled egg (Tamagoyaki) only to be told each time that it is not right, after six months of making eggs Jiro tells him it is acceptable and he breaks down in tears
- Jiro’s son, Yoshikauzu, bikes to the fish market and meets with the Jiro equivalents of each specific seafood (the shrimp master, the tuna master, etc…) who save Jiro the best products
A main theme that comes from the interviews with Jiro and the employees is that of the passing of the torch to his son. It seems many believe that, despite the skills his son has acquired through extensive training, that the restaurant will never be the same simply because of the aura that surrounds Jiro. Without leaving the universe of Jiro’s restaurant, the film also touches on the history of sushi and what the future might hold with regards to fishery stock.
There are many gorgeous long shots of the sushi presentation combined with long silent contemplative moments with Jiro and his son. In this age of multitasking and diversification, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is an ode to focusing on just one thing and doing it to perfection. The soundtrack features a lot of classical music and I find Philip Glass music to be the perfect accompaniment for sushi. The only drawback for me was that no matter how good my local sushi might be, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop imagining what it could have been.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is at once terrifying and beautiful. Critics have pointed out that one could pause the film at any frame and find herself staring at a work of art.
The film has had a rocky journey to modern audiences. The original print was lost to fire shortly after its premiere, and though Dreyer attempted to recut the film from outtakes, the filmmakers believed the original cut to be lost. Then, the second negative was lost to yet another fire. Over the decades, many corrupted versions of the film were circulated, but none quite the same as the original. In a stranger than fiction turn of events, a nearly complete print of the Danish version of the film was discovered in 1981 in the janitor’s closet of a mental institution in Oslo, Norway. This print was restored, and the Criterion Collection version we have today is believed to be very close to the filmmakers’ intended vision.
The film tells the story of Joan of Arc after she’s captured by the British, and subsequently interrogated and tortured. The story is told through close ups of faces, and high contrast photography creates a dark, disturbing mood. As one blogger notes, “the 180 degree rule is not just broken, but flung down and danced upon. The result is disorienting and a little exhausting.”
Though this was Renee Maria Falconetti’s only prominent film role, she definitely left her mark; she plays Joan with a passion and grace that have been called “the finest performance ever recorded on film.”
A discussion of the film must also mention the wonderful score that Criterion has included with their DVD version. It is Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light,” an original opera inspired by the film. It compliments the intensity of Dreyer’s images beautifully, and enhances the viewer’s experience.
Personally, I recommend watching it on the largest screen possible with the volume set to loud. It’s the kind of film that washes over you. If you like films that are beautiful, full of emotion, and guaranteed to make you think, then this is one you can’t miss.
I recently watched “Hugo” with my 5-year-old and got to thinking about what other movies and books we have enjoyed together. Here’s a short list of family-friendly movies that kids and adults will both enjoy, and the books and other items in the collection related to them.
Hugo Cabret is an orphan boy living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station. When Hugo encounters a broken machine, an eccentric girl, and the cold, reserved man who runs the toy shop, he is caught up in a magical, mysterious adventure that could put all of his secrets in jeopardy.
Ben Kingsley is amazing (Isn’t he always?) as the toy shop owner, Sacha Baron Cohen shines as the station agent tasked with catching orphans at the station, Asa Butterfield plays the lonely and mechanically-inclined Hugo, Chloe Grace Moretz plays Hugo’s only friend, and Emily Mortimer and Jude Law also appear in the film.
I watched this film with my 5-year-old, and even at more than two hours, it held her attention, and mine. This movie has a wonderful magical quality, yet the story is based in reality. This movie would appeal to children, teens, and adults, especially anyone who loves old silent movies.
The film would be enjoyed by all ages, and the book by Brian Selznick is recommended for readers ages 9 and up.
Mr. and Mrs. Fox live a happy home life underground with their eccentric son, Ash. Mr. Fox used to steal livestock for a living, but promised his wife he would find a new line of work. He has been working as a journalist for some time when, against the advice of Badger, his attorney, he moves his family into a larger and finer home inside a tree on a hill. The treehouse has an excellent view of the nearby farms of Boggis, Bunce and Bean, the meanest farmers anyone has ever known. Mr. Fox decides to raid the farms, so the farmers try to dig the Fox family out. So Mr. Fox organizes a tunneling project to burrow under all three farms and steal all the chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys.
This animated film is really a star-studded one, featuring the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and others.
Anderson’s direction is spot-on, and the humor really shines through in the actor’s delivery of the lines. Of course, music plays a role in storytelling, with perfect song selection, just like in all of Anderson’s films.
This is definitely a film children and adults can enjoy together. It’s the perfect pairing of a tale from a master storyteller, transformed for the screen by an equally talented director.
The movie: “March of the Penguins” (a non-fiction, live action film by Luc Jacquet; 1 hr. 20 min.)
Companion book: “March of the Penguins” (A National Geographic book)
Also available: Seymour Simon’s “Penguins” (A Smithsonian book, ages 5-9, 31 pages)
In the Antarctic, every March since the beginning of time, the quest begins to find the perfect mate and start a family. This courtship begins with a long journey – a journey that takes emperor penguins hundreds of miles across the continent by foot, one-by-one in a single file. They endure freezing temperatures, in brittle, icy winds and through deep, treacherous waters. They risk starvation and attacks by dangerous predators, under the harshest conditions on earth, all to find true love, and bring new life to Antarctica by starting a family.
This amazing film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, offers an honest yet picturesque telling of the emperor penguin’s story. Accompanied by other books about penguins, you can watch the movie, read the books, and enjoy learning about penguins with your young child.
The movie: “Peter Pan” (the 2004 live-action version directed by P.J. Hogan, 1 hr. 54 min.)
Based on the book by Sir J.M. Barrie: “Peter Pan” (Classic Illustrated Edition, 170 pages)
Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s “Peter and the Sword of Mercy” (ages 10 and up, 515 pages)
Walt Disney’s animated sequel “Return to Neverland” (DVD, 1 hr. 13 min.)
Cathy Rigby in the Broadway musical “Peter Pan” (live-action DVD, 1 hr. 44 min.)
Disclaimer: This 2004-version of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale is one of my 5-year-old’s favorite movies of all time. And, I really like it too. I’m not at all irritated when she wants to watch it for what seems like the millionth time. And, we’ve read quite a few Peter Pan books as a result. If you’re looking for something other than the Disney version of Peter Pan, P.J. Hogan’s film could be for you.
Wendy Darling is the ultimate storyteller, mesmerizing her brothers every night with bedtime tales of swordplay, swashbuckling, princesses, and of course, the fearsome Captain Hook. The children become the real heroes of an even greater story when Peter Pan flies into their nursery one night and takes them on a journey over moonlit rooftops to the lush jungles of Neverland. Wendy and her brothers join Peter and the Lost Boys in an exhilarating life, free of grown-up rules, eventually facing the inevitable showdown with Captain Hook and his bloodthirsty pirates.
Special effects are well-executed and the film is solidly-acted by a cast that includes Jason Isaacs, Jeremy Sumpter, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Oliva Williams, Ludivine Sagnier, Richard Briers, Lynn Redgrave and Geoffrey Palmer.
The Library also has a variety of other Peter Pan-inspired items in the collection including the Peter and the Starcatchers series for ages 10 and up, and movie versions of Peter Pan from Disney to Broadway musicals.
Explore the fiction movie collection on the Library’s first floor, the non-fiction movies on the second floor, and the wonderful collection of books and other materials, including DVDs, in the first-floor Children’s Room at the Iowa City Public Library.
Recently, an article popped up on the interwebs which outlined a list of foreign films Martin Scorsese recommended a young filmmaker watch. At first glance I thought it looked like a pretty good list. (If you’re curious, the list is at the bottom of this post). Being a bit of a geek for this type of thing, I immediately created a spreadsheet with each title in the hopes that I might be able to watch or rewatch a few, if not all, of these gems. The first of the list I picked up is the French classic fantasty, Beauty and the Beast, from 1946.
This is a lovely, whimsical but dark film which reminded me quite a bit of The Wizard of Oz in its tone. Jean Marais’s Beast, while probably more frightening at the time of the film’s release, does read a bit cheesy with a modern viewing, but after a few minutes I no longer noticed. In fact, his low, growling voice reminded me a bit of Christian Bale’s Batman. Josette Day is lovely as Belle. She’s stunningly beautiful, and I also enjoyed her lavishly romantic haute couture gowns.
This film is a great example of early special effects. I found them to be quite enchanting, and I recognized many that have inspired modern films. It’s worth mentioning that a scene from the HBO miniseries Angels in America had an homage which included the candelabras held by arms and the “living statues.” ‘
According to IMDB, Jean Cocteau, the filmmaker, became ill during filming and had to be hospitalized and briefly replaced on set by René Clément. Cocteau is known for a great deal of additional artistic work including the films Orphée and Les Enfants Terribles.
In the 1990s, the American composer Phillip Glass began composing a trilogy of operas which were inspired by Jean Cocteau’s films and novels. For Beauty and the Beast, Glass composed an opera which coincided with the film itself. This allowed for the opera to be performed by live musicians and performers with the film playing in the background. The Criterion Collection version of the DVD (which is what the library has in its catalog) includes an option to view the film with its original soundtrack or with Glass’ opera as the audio track. Personally, I enjoyed both soundtrack options.
Romantic, enchanting, and a landmark example of early fantasy cinema, Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast holds up well nearly 70 years later. ~Enjoy.
Full disclosure: I have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo nor have I seen the Swedish language film. This either makes me the best person to review the 2011 remake or the worst. So what made me want to watch the remake after I had passed up the book and the original film? Director David Fincher. He’s the mastermind behind such films as “Seven,” “Fight Club” and “The Social Network.” I’m a huge fan of his movies, and I even enjoyed the ones that others considered duds like “The Game,” “Panic Room” and “Zodiac.” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is definitely in his wheelhouse.
For the three people who have not consumed the story: Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played by Daniel Craig) is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), an aging industrialist, to figure out who killed his niece 40 years earlier. Everyone in Vanger’s eccentric family, including a handful of Nazis, is a suspect. Lisbeth Salander is the titular “Girl,” a gifted hacker who helps Blomkvist piece together the mystery. Salander is played (inhabited is a better word) by Rooney Mara whose regular girl-next-door look is subverted into the pierced, alt icon. Mara is 100% devoted to the role, and she owns the movie because of it.
Fincher’s take is bleak and beautiful with atmosphere to spare. Every shot is purposeful and builds tension. The movie looks, for the lack of a better word, expensive. Which also might be a bit of a problem, because the movie didn’t perform quite up to expectations. So, Fincher led sequels are up in the air. In the meantime, I’m going to devour the books, which is something I obviously should’ve done a long time ago.
In 2005, Daniel McGowen, to the shock of his family and friends, was arrested by the FBI for his involvement in a domestic terrorist organization called the Earth Liberation Front (or ELF). One of his coworkers was so flabbergasted by his arrest, that her husband, Marshall Curry (a director known for the acclaimed documentaries Street Fight and Racing Dreams), made If a Tree Falls. The documentary follows the rise and activities of ELF in the United States and why someone like McGowen, a shy, quiet working-class kid from Brooklyn, was drawn to the group.
Although the development of ELF alone makes the film worth watching, If a Tree Falls also raises questions on the meaning of “terrorist” in a post-9-11 era. McGowen and other ELF members have committed acts of terrorism under the legal definition. However, the term is understood differently in the public sphere. Should McGowen be labeled a terrorist? It is certainly something you will think about days after watching the film. If a Tree Falls was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
Last night, The Artist captured Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Do you know when the last silent film took home that Oscar? 1929 (the year of the first Academy Awards); Wings was the winner. I’ve been stumbling across this fact in the majority of Oscar coverage and, as luck would have it, a restored version of Wings was released this year on DVD.
Wings‘ plot is a twist on the familiar boy meets girl story. In Wings, a boy falls in love with a girl, but she is in love with someone else, but there is another girl who is in love with the first boy. It’s not important. Wings has something better than plot: World War I fighter pilot action. And no CGI. They mounted the cameras on planes for all the flight scenes. The director, William Wellman, was also a WWI fighter pilot and used his experiences to recreate action. It also has star power. The film stars one of the most famous actresses from the silent era, Clara Bow. It also features a very young Gary Cooper, but not for very long (I’ve said too much).
Is the newspaper dead? This question underlies the film Page One: Inside the New York Times. The documentary opens with news clips and headlines of the Rocky Mountain News ceasing publication, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer publishing exclusively online, and the Tribune company bleeding cash and staff. At a time of decreasing circulation (as more people get news online), where does a storied institution like the New York Times fit in the new media landscape?
Although it is a scary time for newspapers, it is also an exciting time, especially if you work at the Media Desk at the New York Times. Page One follows the Times‘ media reporters for a full year as they cover the current state of traditional media and the emergence of new players. It is an interesting year too: WikiLeaks emerges, Comcast purchases a controlling interest in NBC, the Tribune goes bankrupt, and the NY Times is deciding whether or not to charge their online readers.
The documentary is a little choppy and its structure needed a little work, but I came away thinking about the future of news, which was the point. Plus, you should see the film just to watch David Carr.
There are documentaries about anything and everything. There is a documentary about a 12-year girl who wants to make a zombie movie. Pulling John takes a look at world arm wrestling champ John Brzenk as he decides whether to defend his championship title or retire. And The Parking Lot Movie follows the parking lot attendants of the Corner Parking Lot, a small piece of land located behind some shops and bars near the University of Virginia campus. However, these documentaries are rarely about their surface subject matter. The Parking Lot Movie is about more than a parking lot.
The pool of attendants and former attendants consist of grad students, artists, musicians (including the bassist from Yo La Tengo), and post-grads not sure what to do next. They come from the philosophy, anthropology, law, and religion departments of Virginia. According to their manager, it is only a parking lot. All they have to do is take the payment from the drivers. It isn’t that simple. Day in and day out, they argue with people over a few dollars, fight against drive-offs, and protect the lot and the cars from inebriated college students. They are often called names and told to get a real job. They experience boredom, anger, and burnout.
We’ve all been there. Most of us have worked in that kind of job, where pay is low, tasks are repetitive, and your patience is tried. Although they are hard to face each day, these jobs build character and a sense of self. At least the parking lot attendants seems to see the job as important to who they are now. Because the parking lot was more to them than just a business. It was a way to reevaluate one’s self and values as one watches the problem’s of society play out on a small scale. As one attendant says, “It was a lens of looking at the entire life experience through the parking lot.”