Category Archives: 3.5 Star

Captain Underpants: First Epic Movie – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Even though I haven’t read any of the books, I decided to give Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie a spin, and I’m glad that I did.  It was funny, well animated, well voiced and a good, silly little movie.


Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch voice George and Harold, two young friends who like to hang out together and draw and write their own comic books.  They have also been a thorn in the side of their principal Mr. Krupp (voiced by Ed Helms) for years, constantly pulling pranks and upsetting the order he demands in his school.  One day, when they’re caught and Krupp has absolute proof of their guilt, threatening to place them in separate classrooms, thus destroying their friendship the pair have to act fast.  With a cereal box prize hypno-ring, they hypnotize their principal into thinking he is the greatest superhero ever: Captain Underpants (a hero of the boys’ own creation).  Of course this new hero has no powers, he’s just a bald, overweight middle-aged man stripped down to his tighty-whities…and wearing his office curtain as a cape.  Tra-la-laaa!  Through a fluke of circumstance, mean Mr. Krupp fired a teacher and Captain Underpants’ secret identity or Mr. Krupp hires a crazed evil scientist (that wants to eradicate laughter worldwide) to replace him.  It’s up to Captain Underpants and his sidekicks George and Harold to save the day from Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll).


Okay, the humour was pretty juvenile, but so is the target audience.  There were a lot of good laughs, and a lot of potty humour laughs, but there was also a lot of intelligent humour hidden amongst the other jokes too, making Captain Underpants a lot of fun.  Kevin Hart really has a great voice for animation, and the rest of the casting was equally impressive. Given the title, I assume they’re setting up for more films in the series which wouldn’t be a bad thing, and the way the film ended certainly invites a sequel.  The whole creation of Krupp/Captain Underpants is pretty clever, (and the movie addresses this) for Mr. Krupp to become Captain Underpants under hypnosis, he must know who Captain Underpants is, so that means he’s read the comic books the boys had written.  There are billion dollar super hero franchise films that don’t catch little plot points like that. 

I have no idea how faithful to the books the film was, but from what I gathered it was a combination of aspects from several stories, still I think that Captain Underpants fans would be happy with the film.

Bottom Line: They’re kids books, but I’ll probably read the first one….

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Sense of an Ending – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to tell us our life is not our life. It is just a story we’ve told about our lives. A story about our lives told to others, but mainly to ourselves.


One of the closing lines of the film sums the story up so well.  Jim Broadbent plays Tony Webster, a man who has retired to run a small camera repair shop in order to keep himself busy.  He’s divorced, but on good and friendly terms with his ex-wife Mararet (Harriet Walter).  Their daughter Susie (Michelle Dockery) is pregnant and close to giving birth.  One day he receives a letter from a solicitor telling him he is owed an inheritance from the mother (Emily Mortimer) of an old girlfriend Veronica (played by both Charlotte Rampling in the present day and Freya Mavor as the young Veronica).  Tony tells us a story about his first love (mainly by relaying it to his last love), how they met, and how they broke up.  About meeting her family, and about meeting his best friends in school.  About how his friend Adrian fell in love with Veronica and about how he committed suicide.  Veronica’s mother Sarah, has left Tony Adrian’s diary in her will.  How did it come to be in her possession?  Why did she leave it to Tony?  Why is Veronica preventing him from getting it?  As Tony recalls the past, and reacquaints himself with Veronica and other old school friends, the blanks are filled in, and things are not how he had remembered it, and his distorted view of history takes its true shape once evidence of the past is revealed.


This was an interesting look at how we remember the events of our own lives.  We often “mis-remember” things, or embellish or omit details, especially when dealing with sensitive or painful memories.  When I tell the stories, I’m pretty sure everything was my ex-wife’s fault, but if I think back and concentrate really hard, I probably can remember doing one or two things wrong too…  That’s kind of what happens with The Sense of an Ending, Tony remembers a version of events that paint himself in a better light, not that it has really harmed anyone to this point, it has just been the version of history he’s been living with, and that allows him to sleep soundly at night.  As we learn the whole truth (and what we assume is the actual truth) from the film, we see that there are things that went on that he didn’t even know about, but we don’t see Tony as being an evil person, who has lied his way through life.  With his eyes opened, it actually becomes a coming of age story for this sixty year old man who learns how to deal with his past, and he tries to better himself in his own future.


The story was very well written, and was based on the book of the same title by Julian Barnes.  It was a compact tale, but I can see how some viewers could find it a little hard to follow with the flashbacks, memories and mis-remembered memories.  Jim Broadbent is tremendous as Tony and quietly delivers a powerful yet subtle performance.  His Tony is a bit of a curmudgeon, but still likeable and relatable.   I also really liked Freya Mavor (The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun) as the young Veronica, I just wish she was on screen a bit more.  Charlotte Rampling was also excellent as the rather aloof, and somewhat nasty older Veronica.  Director Ritesh Batra previously directed The Lunchbox, which I also quite enjoyed.


Quite enjoyable, and surprisingly not that heavy handed even though I guess the takeaway from the film is that we should all take an honest look back at our own lives.


Bottom Line: Hey, I’m finally caught up on my reviews!

Security – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Antonio Banderas plays Eddie, a retired army captain who has been out of work for two years since being discharged.  He probably suffers from PTSD and hasn’t seen his wife and young daughter in a year either, but he finally lands a job as night security in a mall.  The mall is set between two towns with high crime rates.  Drugs run the towns, so the drug users regularly try to break into the mall to steal anything they can sell to feed their addictions.  Eleven year old Jamie (Katherine de la Rocha) is a key witness in an upcoming trial who escapes to the mall when the US Marshall convoy bringing her to the trial is ambushed by a small army of criminals led by Ben Kingsley.  The small five person security detail now have to fight off the heavily armed criminals and assassins until help can arrive, help they aren’t even sure is on the way.


This wasn’t the best movie, but I did enjoy it, even though it drew on a lot of tropes and wasn’t overly original.  You had the retired military guy who has to take charge and lead the untrained troops, you had the mysterious bad guy, the super strong bad guy, the quirky and diverse group of good guys, and of course the protect a child trope.  The action was pretty good and the fights, while not always believable, were action packed.  It brings to live the fantasy of fighting off bad guys in a mall using anything you could find as a weapon.  The defenders have a few mall issued tasers, some archery equipment from the lousy sporting goods section of a department store, they mount a webcam on a remote controlled car and basically try to become lethal MacGyvers.  Banderas does a believable job taking charge of the situation and leading the security guards, and Ben Kingsley plays a fantastic and understated bad guy.


My only complaint really was the ending, and it’s not so much a complaint as something I wish they’d done, something I think could have made the movie better. Naturally the good guys come out on top, though not unscathed.  At the end of the film the FBI (or the US Marshalls, I can’t remember) arrive with paramedics and take care of the bad guys and the injured.   We see Eddie next in the hospital talking with Jamie about the trial and where she’ll go afterwards, then we see Eddie meeting back up with his own wife and daughter.  All pretty predictable.  I just wish they ended it like the old Dirty Harry movies, when Eddie is sitting at the edge of the ambulance, the cops are all there and everything is wrapped up, pull the camera back, get a big wide shot of the mall parking lot full of law enforcement and then fade to black.  Leave the family resolution stuff to the imagination.  Ah well, I’m not the director.


Bottom Line: Guilty pleasure admission, I really like the new rebooted MacGyver.

Kung Fu Yoga – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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China meets India in the latest action/comedy/adventure film from Jackie Chan.  I enjoyed Kung Fu Yoga a lot more than I did the last Chan film I watched, Railroad Tigers.  This time out, Jackie is a famous Chinese archaeologist (call him Jack) who has been contracted by a university in India to discover the resting place of an ancient treasure that was lost after a battle where a Chinese general and his army assisted the true rulers of India in an war against a hostile Indian general.  The treasure is naturally  being sought after by two sides; the bad guy is Randall (Sonu Sood) whose character is a descendant of the bad guy from the battle thousands of years ago, the good guys are Jack, two of his TAs,  Nuomin (Miya Muqi) and Xiaoguang (Yixing Zhang), a treasure hunter/tomb raider named Jones (Aarif Rahman) and the beautiful Indian archaeology professor Ashmita (Disha Patani) and her assistant Kyra (Amyra Dastur).  They travel from the ice caves of Tibet to the streets of Dubai to a mountain temple in India in search of even greater treasures.  Randall seeks the treasure to claim power for himself, Ashmita seeks it to give to the Indian people, and Jack seeks it for its archaeological importance.


Jackie Chan’s films are interesting to say the least.  There are are several different types now, in the past he did the classic kung fu, hardcore action films (New Fists of Fury, Police Story) , then he moved on and started doing family friendly action films and action comedies (Rumble in the Bronx, Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon) and recently he has done historical dramas (1911, Dragon Blade, Railroad Tigers) this was definitely in the realm of the family friendly action films, but not quite an action comedy.  Sure, the CGI lion in the back seat of the car he steals for a car chase was pretty funny, and there was a lot of comic relief in the film, but there was more action to it.  The hunt for the treasure leads to a big fight scene in the ice cave, and the discovery of the the first treasure.  There was some double crossing as Jones steals the treasure to sell it to the highest bidder, leading to a big chase scene.  The car chases were full of exotic cars and exotic scenery… and the CGI lion of course.  Randall kidnaps Kyra and Nuomin, holding them hostage for the treasure, which leads to them being rescued by a reformed Jones and Xiaoguang, but the bad guys get the upper hand again and have Jack and Ashmita (who is not really a professor, but the heiress of the ruling Indian army who had the treasure originally) lead them to an even bigger treasure which leads to an even bigger fight and showdown at a golden temple.  When the treasure promised by ancient prophecy turns out to be scrolls of scientific knowledge, the bad guys accept it and everyone dances!  Bollywood style!


Now, I haven’t seen a lot of Bollywood movies, but do they all just end with people resolving the conflict and dancing?  I guess if they do, writing the ending is a bit easier, but it seemed rather sudden.  I thought quite a few things in this movie happened a bit to quickly as well.  The team discovered the whereabouts of the ice cave on their first attempt, the bad guys hideout was easy to find, solving the puzzles to get to the right temple was pretty quick and easy, and then the final resolution that led to the dancing happened pretty quickly as I said.  The film was clearly pulling a lot of things from the Indiana Jones stories, but even Indy didn’t get it right the first time, every time.


Chan himself was enjoyable, and while he was involved in most of the action he was involved in fewer of the fight scenes.  He makes these films fun though, and that’s what I’m watching for.  The rest of the cast weren’t as capable as Jackie, especially the Indian actresses.  They were fine in the action scenes, but their acting wasn’t the best.  The villain of the piece was rather one dimensional, but he did deliver a better performance, even though the script didn’t give him a lot to work with.  And for a film titled Kung Fu Yoga there wasn’t a whole lot of yoga, even with Muqi Miya who is known as China’s most famous yoga instructor; she did deliver a good performance though.  The script still was the weakest thing in the film, but I could get by that for the most part to simply enjoy it.


Bottom Line: I saw a trailer recently for The Foreigner with Jackie Chan, and it looks really good!

The Hippopotamus – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Based on the book by Stephen Fry, The Hippopotamus follows disgraced poet Ted Wallace (Roger Allam) who is commissioned by his goddaughter Jane (Emily Berrington) to investigate a series of unexplained miracle healings that have supposedly occurred at Swafford Hall.  Jane has terminal leukemia but appears to be cured after a visit to the house.  Swafford is the country mansion of Wallace’s old friend Lord Michael Logan (Matthew Modine).  Wallace and Michael had a falling out some years ago, but he’s still part of the family, so he is given pretty much free range over the grounds where he meets with Michael’s wife Anne (Fiona Shaw) who apparently was cured of asthma.  The family is rounded out by the Logan’s teenage son David (Tommy Knight) and his older, more rational brother Simon (Dean Ridge).  David who is Ted’s godson, also wants to be a poet.  he house had always entertained various guests, but now they seem to be coming not for the English countryside but for the miracles.  The guests who  know how the miracles are performed, include a rich woman (Lyne Renee) brings her awkward teenage daughter (Emma Curtis) to be “cured”, and flamboyant theatre director Oliver Mills (Tim McInnerny) seeks a miracle for his heart condition.  Ted may be a drunk, and a lousy sleuth, but he has a fine nose for people, and something at the mansion smells rotten.  He soon discovers that everyone believes David has the “healing touch” and is responsible for the miracles.  It first manifested years ago when he saved his mother from a near fatal asthma attack with just a touch to her chest, now he continues to heal not only with his touch, but with his divine essence, a more powerful, more concentrated application of his healing powers.


The Hippopotamus was an extremely British film; dry wit, snappy dialogue, and the absurd magnified by a stiff upper lip.  Very enjoyable, but if you’re not a fan of British humour, you likely won’t enjoy it.  I laughed quite a bit throughout the story.  The performances were good, and I really think that Roger Allam fit the role perfectly.  Even though the film was set in the modern times, it still felt like an Edwardian mystery at times and that kind of lured me in.

Bottom Line: It seems that David naively did believe in his own healing powers, but he could have just been a horny teenager knowingly seducing everyone with the lure of his “magic” semen.

Rules Don’t Apply – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Howard Hughes is one of the most interesting people in American history.  Aviator, inventor, filmmaker, and possibly insane, Rules Don’t Apply opens with a packed newsroom awaiting a phone call from Hughes (Warren Beatty) who has holed up in an Mexican hotel room, to debunk a tell-all book about him, and prove to the world that he is still alive, and that he is not crazy.  The film then jumps back in time and tells us the story of hired driver Frank (Alden Ehrenreich), and one of Hughes’ contract actresses, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins).  Hughes of course has a strict no dating policy between his drivers and his contract actresses, but naturally sparks fly between the two, but ambitions on both sides get in the way. 


She wants to be an actress, he wants to invest and develop land with Hughes.  Both want to meet their reclusive boss, and when he does arrive on the scene and each does get to meet him, things get a little crazier and a lot more complicated.  Beatty’s Hughes is a character I’d love to meet.  He was a bit nuts, but often times he was still the smartest man in the room.


The film was enjoyable, both as a look at a bygone Hollywood age, and as a fictional biopic of Howard Hughes.  Warren Beatty really stood out in the film, which is not surprising as he was screenwriter, director and star.  That aside, his performance really was excellent.  He walked a fine line between sanity and insanity, between genius and insanity. The film almost felt like Sunset Boulevard with Howard Hughes instead of Norma Desmond.  Lily Collins (daughter of Phil Collins) had great chemistry with everybody, and I really enjoyed her singing too.  The film really brought together a great cast including Matthew Broderick, Martin Sheen, Candice Bergen and Oliver Platt among others.


At times I do think that the film lost it’s course a bit and couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be a comedy or a dramatic tragedy, but overall the story was light and it was enjoyable.  The pieces they chose to show of Hughes’ life were interesting and they even managed to throw a few twists in that I did not see coming.


Bottom Line: I thought I should watch The Aviator to get some more Howard Hughes, but I decided to watch The Rocketeer instead.  I love The Rocketeer!

Free Fire – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Usually the climax of an action film is the shootout, in Free Fire, the entire movie was the shootout!  In 1970s Boston, two sets of criminals arrange a gun deal, but one of the henchmen (Harry) recognizes one of the other henchmen (Stevo) from a bar fight the night before because the latter assaulted the former’s cousin.  Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), Stevo (Sam Riley), Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), Chris (Cillian Murphy) are the buyers and Ord (Armie Hammer), Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), Harry (Jack Reynor) are the sellers.  Just when things are almost settled between the two sides someone pulls a gun and shoots someone.  Though they are initially split by geography and loose loyalties, it soon becomes a deadly game of “everyone for themselves” as everyone grabs a weapon.


Set entirely in one place (an abandoned factory/warehouse) the story is a bit claustrophobic, but I think it was saved by the characters and the cleverness of the dialogue.  While the action was completely over the top, I found it to actually be fairly realistic.  Even though they seemed to have an endless supply of bullets, our bad guys (because they are all terrible people who you can’t really root for)  do have to stop and reload.  Every one of them got shot at some point: a bullet in the arm, a shot in the leg, one man gets grazed in the head exposing his brain; and while it may be gruesome, the violence wasn’t glorified.   I also appreciated that the bad guys were not really good shots, it’s difficult to shoot and hit your target especially when you’re a target yourself, and have been hit yourself as well.


Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) pretty much stole the show, but Michael Smiley (Luther) came really close too.  I loved the dialogue he had with Armie Hammer, almost as much as I loved the back and forths between Copley and Brie Larson.  There wasn’t really a whole lot of a message or purpose or complexity to the movie which is fine, it was pretty much just a black comedy thriller about two groups of trigger happy criminals trying to survive by killing the other guys.  It was fun, and that’s all it needed to be.  I think it’s safe to say this film was a bit of an experiment, so the runtime of 91 minutes was perfect.  I don’t think the film would have worked if it was any longer.

Bottom Line: It’s a good thing there’s no honour among thieves, because if the gun deal went down smoothly, Free Fire would have been an awfully short film…

All Nighter – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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J.K. Simmons.

I was thinking of leaving that as my entire review, but you deserve more….more J.K. Simmons that is!  I love J.K. Simmons, and this movie just kept that love going.  Simmons plays Frank Gallo, the no-nonsense, businessman father of Martin’s (Emile Hirsch) ex-girlfriend Ginnie (Analeigh Tipton).  Six months ago Martin had a disastrous “meet the father” night with Ginnie and Mr. Gallo, where he did everything wrong.  He didn’t pull out Ginnie’s chair for her, he sat down before her, he is a musician, he’s a vegetarian, he spilled wine on her father.  Things could not have gone worse.  Flash forward to today when Mr. Gallo knocks on Martin’s door looking for his daughter, not knowing that Martin and Ginnie broke up a few months ago.  Martin takes Mr. Gallo on a wild chase all across Los Angeles, meeting an array of characters, and following hints and slim leads that might lead them to Ginnie, who isn’t answering her phone.

As the night goes on, what you expect to happen pretty much does happen; Martin and Frank slowly warm to each other and end up forming a friendship.  They learn a bit about each other, and so do we.  We learn a bit about why Ginnie and Martin broke up, we learn a bit about why Frank broke up with Ginnie’s mother, and those same reasons are why he has a strained relationship with his daughter to this day.  The film was funny and just what I was expecting.  It carefully  balanced sarcasm and relatable situations with mild slapstick humour.  I think the term “predictable” is used too often when talking about movies.  I wouldn’t say that All Nighter was entirely “predictable”, I’d call it more of a “comfortable” movie.  I was comfortable with the way things unfolded because while a lot of what happened was what I expected, they also didn’t do the most expected things.  Martin did not get back together with Ginnie, and I’m glad he didn’t.  His character had fallen into alcohol and depression when she left, but the night with Frank did help him and moved him out of that funk.  To simply get them back together would have been a waste of every discovery Martin had made about himself that night.

The acting was very good, and I loved J.K. Simmons as the tough guy, sarcastic, smart-ass, in-charge-of-every-situation, father-knows-best character.  Emile Hirsch was very relatable as Martin and I think he wins the audience as a bit of an underdog.  The supporting characters were interesting, from Ginnie’s former co-workers to her former roommates.  Kristen Schaal and Taran Killam as Ginnie and Martin’s friends Roberta and Gary were funny at first, but in my opinion overstayed their welcome making their characters more annoying than humourous.  The other supporting characters simply did their job and didn’t stick around or return.

Overall though the film had some solid laughs and a decent narrative arc.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and would easily recommend it if you’re looking for some light entertainment for 86 minutes.

Bottom Line: I want J.K. Simmons to be my movie dad.

Last King – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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Just a quick timeframe update, I’m now only 8 movies behind in my reviews, and am finally reviewing things I watched over the Victoria Day long weekend!  Why is this significant?  The films I’m talking about are still fairly fresh in my mind and I’m only a month behind!  Alright, for some reason I got on a little foreign film kick which was quite enjoyable.  I’d seen the trailer for The Last King on several of the movies I rented and was quite intrigued.


In the year 1206 the throne of Norway is in turmoil. King Håkon is murdered by the queen who is in league with Gisle (Pål Sverre Hagen) who clearly wants the throne for himself, but is also in league with the church, who wish to convert the country to Christianity.  In order to seize power he dispatches a team of Baglers to kill t
he King’s illegitimate infant son, Håkon Håkonsson who is being guarded in secrecy by two members of the Birkebeiner.  The Baglers (or Bagli Party) was a faction during the Norwegian Civil Wars made up principally of the Norwegian aristocracy, clergy and merchants. The Birkebeiner were another key group and at this time supported the King.  Norwegian history credits the Birkebeiners’ bravery with preserving the life of the boy who later became King Haakon Haakonsson IV, who ended the civil wars in 1240 and forever changed Northern Europe’s history through his reign.


Skjervald (Jakob Oftebro) and Torstein (Kristofer Hivju) race through the snow, the mountains and the forests to get the baby to the seat of the Norwegian throne as they’re hunted by the Baglers, stopping briefly at farms and homes that are loyal to them.  Along the way, we see Gisle jail his own brother Inge (Thorbjørn Harr), accusing him of conspiring for the throne and killing the King, and to cement his own path he conspires to marry Princess Kristin (Thea Sofie Loch Næss).  The political scheming and intrigue are probably not much different from what they are now nearly 800 years later, just that they skied a lot more back then…


The camera work was excellent, and director Nils Gaup finely balanced the action and the drama of the moment with light humour.  The action was great, and the scenery was beautiful.  The fights were well choreographed, and the ski chases were very exciting, all making for a very enjoyable medieval action movie. What makes this even more impressive is that it is actually based on a true story. I’m certain the story was embellished for the screen, and what we saw was not 100% historically accurate, but I still enjoyed it.


Bottom Line: There sure were a lot of actors from In Order of Disappearance in The Last King

East Side Sushi – ★ ★ ★ ½ DVD Review

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After working long, early days for little pay at a fruit cart in Los Angeles (I think, I can’t remember), Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is robbed one day and has decided she needs to make a change in her life.  She is also frustrated with her night job at a local gym.  One day she sees a help wanted sign in the window of a sushi restaurant on her way home, and decides to apply.  Having worked in restaurants before, but unfamiliar with sushi, she still feels she’s up to the challenge.  Starting in the kitchen working prep and cleanup, Juana soon becomes intrigued by the culinary concept, and begins to experiment at home, recreating the restaurant’s menu with limited success for her Mexican-American family.  Eventually Aki (Yutaka Takeuchi), one of the sushi chefs takes her under his wing, and helps instruct her, which pays off one busy night.  Making dishes in the back room for the front house chefs, Juana yearns for more, but the restaurant’s traditionally  minded owner Mr. Yoshida (Roji Oyama) doesn’t think that women should be sushi chefs, especially if they aren’t Japanese.  In a feel good story, Juana learns and adapts to the ways of sushi as she struggles to overcome both the racism and the sexism of the restaurant industry.  When she enters an online sushi cooking competition, will she have proven herself enough to realize her newfound dream of becoming an actual sushi chef?


There is something about food movies that seems to draw me in, even though I’m not particularly competent in the kitchen myself.  I’ve never had sushi before either, but I do like Mexican food, so the premise of a Mexican woman making sushi but blending the foods and flavours of her own culture into the dishes made  East Side Sushi look interesting enough to me.  The story unfolded as predicted, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  This wasn’t a suspense thriller and wasn’t going to have surprises around every corner.  It was a feel good story that was meant to entertain, enlighten and maybe teach a little.  I enjoyed the performances as well as the story and how it was told, and I’ll also admit I was pretty hungry after watching.


The film hits all the usual notes and reminds us to take chances, get out of your comfort zone and to believe in yourself.  All in all, a solid little indie film that was worth watching.


Bottom Line: I still haven’t tried sushi, but I did go to a great Mexican place here in town last week.

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