Jiro dreams of sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi delights as it presents the story of a sushi master par excellence. Like Bill Cunningham: NY, this documentary gives us a glimpse of a man whose a master in his field and finds great joy in his art. Jiro is 82 and has a small, unassuming sushi restaurant in a mall that seems to be part of the subway pedway in Tokyo. You would not expect this to be a 3 star Michelin restaurant. It’s maintained that elite status for years.

Jiro and his two sons will make anyone appreciate sushi, even folks like me who don’t particularly like fish. He works so hard at making his food perfect. He’s probably the only chef who insists his apprentices massage octopus for 50 minutes so that it’s perfectly tender. Some may find this sexist, but he gives women smaller portions so that both male and female diners finish eating their sushi at the same time. Evidently, he’s noticed that women would take longer to eat the same size sushi as a man.

I found each moment of Jiro Dreams of Sushi mesmerizing. His description of his childhood and getting kicked out of the house to fend for himself at age 7 or so, his reunion with old classmates, the trips to the fish market – it was such a joy to watch Jiro delight in his work.

The Glee Project: Actability

Executive Producer, Ryan Murphy considers who should go

This week’s homework was Robert Palmer‘s “Addicted to Love” and Dianna Agron was the mentor. While the Glee Project contestants sang they each had to portray an emotion written on a big flash card Dianna held. It was pretty artificial and as there’s little context and the feelings on the cards weren’t necessarily aligned with the lyrics, the assignment felt like an exercise in a bad acting class.

No one was particularly natural in their interpretation, but Dianna was complimentary and especially thought Ali and Michael did well. Dianna chose Michael as the winner, which he could use as acting lessons. He’s going to have to demand a lot of himself to remain in the running.

Addicted to Love (song)

Addicted to Love (song) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The group number was Pink’s “Perfect” and the video was a fake movie trailer, so no dancing again this week. Dianna coached Michael with some useful advice on creating a back story to help with the ad libbing. The information she imparted was probably the most specific and helpful.

Robert, Nikki and Zach were very emotional as they announced that everyone was doing a last chance performance so that all the writers could see them. That rather sucked as if they all did so well, why should they all be in jeopardy. Professional writers should be able to work with any of these and don’t need to see

There were writers and of them only one was a woman. Michael did a fine job, but why one earth did they have a boy sing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”?

As Lily (Mae) sang, I thought she lacks the vulnerability Ryan Murphy wants. Yes, she’s got a weight problem, but she carries her weight well enough and she’s so confident. It’s not a liability.

Some people are deliberately big as their heft makes them more heft in a group. It’s a power thing with them and I think Lily’s such a person.

Ryan said the thought Ali didn’t perform well in the video and seemed skeptical when Zach and Robert defended her. She belted out her song. Ian liked her and envisioned her as a promisculous bitch. Why that came to mind baffled me.

Blake was cute when he sang delighting the writers with his leading boy charm. Ali Adler missed his wound, honing in on what I see as Blake’s deficit.

Aylin was introduced to the writers as the Muslim in the contention. Robert mentioned that her parents are conservative, as Aylin reminds us each week, though I wonder. They did send her to a rather progressive They were excited about the freshness of Aylin’s religion. One writer thought that she was an absolute original as opposed to say a “new Rachel” or a “new Finn.”

Ryan asked the writers if they felt they were compelled to pick someone completely new and different or were they compelled to “just pick a new star.” It was a loaded question as it was posed just after they saw and discussed Aylin. The reply was pick a star, which I’d say makes the most sense. The new and different is likely to backfire, especially if the writing sticks with the goal of being provocative and comes from writers who tend to stick with slightly skewered stereotypes.

Then Ryan suggested they eliminate two more more contestants. At the start of the series, they said they’d only have one, not four winners. (Of course, they could hire someone who lost.)

I could see eliminating any of them. There’s no clear winner or losers this week. No one messed up on the words. Blake did have trouble in the studio, but no one else did. Lily dominated her scene, so that might cost her.

In the end Michael and Lily are sent home. That’s fine. Though I thought Michael’s sharp improvement had earned him a place for the finale, I see that like Lily he’s not what the writers are looking for.

The Queen of Versailles

I haven’t seen Keeping of with the Kardasians or The Real Housewives of Anywhere, but I imagine that The Queen of Versailles is one or two steps above them. American, opulent and way overstated, The Queen of Versailles is an anti-Downton Abbey.

This Sundance award winner documents the riches to rags story of the Siegels a nouveau riche  couple with 8 children building the biggest house in America. Mr. Siegel made his fortune in the time share business and got caught in the banking scandal of 2008. For most of the film, we see how this couple deals with the downward spiral.

Their goal is to keep the time share dynasty afloat and to stay one step ahead of the bankers, whom David Siegel sees as Shylocks and Jackie compares to vultures. Apparently, they’re blind to the irony. David’s fortune was also built on overselling to customers whose desires outstrip their ability to afford. Still since David really is anguished and is working hard to fix his problem concerned that his 7 children with Jackie will have to actually go to college and train for eventual careers. (I do admit that I was smirking as I wrote that last sentence.)

The family seems to be living in a fog and  always has been. Real conversations between them are few and far between. They talk towards each other and deflect a lot of what is said. Everyone ignores the real problems, just as they ignore the dog droppings that are in room after room of their garish mansion.

Enthroned, David and Jackie Siegel

The most genuine people are Jackie, Victoria, age 14, David’s middle aged son from his first marriage and David. Victoria’s endearing when she goes to bat for her mom, telling her dad that he ought to snap out of his funk for a few minutes for dinner since she and her mother went to the trouble of making it. The subtext is clear. You need to consider us more than the finances and the Shrek movie you’re watching in your man cave.

Interestingly, everyone’s more honest and authentic (as much as these folks can be) when they talk to the documentary maker. Victoria sees that her mom was a trophy wife in this May December relationship. She doesn’t put down either parent for that, but calls it as she sees it.

Jackie has charm and generosity that carry the film. I liked her in spite of myself. Yes, she goes way overboard; yes those boobs must be fake; yes, she needs to get with it and start saving and get her life together, but she’s likable and funny. She gives her high school friend whose suburban track house is in foreclosure $5000. Her comments could win Emmy’s if they came out of the mouths of sitcom characters.

Typically, I’d have nothing but contempt for these sorts of people, but they are just so hopeless and a few are funny, that I sort of like them. This may be wrong-headed, but I blame the system more than the people in this film.

The Glee Project: Romantic-ality

They’re down to 6 contestants. Only two guys remain: Michael and Blake so I’m guessing they’re safe. The theme is romantical-ity. Lily admits to having a crush on Blake and figures the others do too. So we’ve got a little romance to kick off the theme.

The homework song is “More than Words” by Extreme and the songwriter will accompany them on guitar when they perform. I’ve never particularly liked this song. It’s just way too saccharine.

The contestants decide to pair up and the pairs come down to Shanna and Michael, Ali and Blake and Lily and Aylin, who are fierce rivals. Going for some shock value, Lily and Aylin decide to kiss when they sing. Aylin seems to really not care how her parents will react to having the world see their daughter flout their religious beliefs.

Darren Criss returns as mentor. He saw Michael and Shanna as stiff and Lily and Aylin did not ge the reaction I think they expected as no one mentioned their kiss. Instead they were seen as too serious.

Blake won because he was earnest, not a quality that fits the theme. When he won, he was happy and mocked the girls who mention their previous winnings. He seemed like a poor loser when he won. Since he won, Blake could choose

Shanna struggled in the studio. Michael was good in the studio, which surprised Nikki. Lily and Ali were great when recording as well while homework winner golden boy Blake stumbled. He can’t sing harmony.

Lily toned down her acting while Michael brought his up and that really impressed the judges. Shanna and Aylin had trouble looking natural and like they weren’t just dancing.

The video takes place on a Saturday during detention. Implausibly enough it’s on a Saturday and the principal leaves all the kids in the classroom and they easily run out of the room in pairs and get “romantic” in various parts of the school. The singing was good, but the What’s weird is that although the theme is “romanticality” none of the judges make any of the performers sex it up as they forced Nellie to do. Why the difference?

[Digression: Adam Levine from Maroon 5 appeared in an ad for ADHD meds. Doesn’t singing and songwriting pay any more? Is this what happens when kids download pirated music? So sad.]

Shanna, Aylin and Blake had to perform for Ryan. Shanna harped on the fact that she felt Micahel belonged in the bottom three and that she thought they were too terrific to merit that. Blake got “Losing My Religion,” Aylin got “The First TIme Ever I Saw Your Face and Shanna had “

Aylin forgot the lyrics. Ryan asked Aylin about how she thought Muslim girls would react to seeing someone like her on TV. It seems like he’s trying to do market research as well as cast the show. His naivete is showing. I suppose he’s never heard of a fatwa. I don’t think it’s particularly bold or wise to present the Muslim teen rebelling against religion. It would be interesting to show one living out that religion, believing in it whole heartedly. Weith Aylin, we’ve only gotten superficial glimpses at her faith and culture. That’s true of all the contestants and a failing of the show.

Astutely, Robert asked her about the backlash. However, the elimination round is not the time he’d get a real answer. Usually, people say what they think will keep them in the game. I wouldn’t expect Aylin to say that “While, my family’s pretty peace loving, there are some folks I know who’d hunt you all down if you disrespect Islam the way you kinda do with Christianity.”

Ryan notes before Blake comes out that Blake lacks a bottom, depth. How true. He’s petrified to sing. He does fine with the song, but he shows no vulnerabilities.

Shanna comes out dolled up with curly hair and a short red dress, after Ryan’s told that she’s too “bubble gum-ish.” Ryan did think there isn’t much to Shanna as far as creating a character. He asked her if she was complaining about her position in the bottom three. When he asked her what kind of character she could be, Shanna suggested she’d play the athletic girl who was in a bunch of activities. Boring. Later she admitted that she thought she didn’t believe she should be in the bottom three. Kudos for speaking up to Ryan. He then said he could write for the feisty Southern girl. (That could be a character, the Southern Red State Girl, though it would be better if she played up her family background.)

The judges thought Aylin didn’t offer much beyond good singing and that Blake coasted on his charm. Nikki thought all of them cracked. Before they presented the result, a trailer for next week showed Aylin in a hiljab, so obviously she stays. Nikki also brought up the issue that they only have two remaining men so it seemed unlikely that Blake would be eliminated, despite his

Note: Turks don’t usually wear hiljabs (the head coverings worn my Muslim women, called jilbabs in Indonesia.)

As they walk up the the list, Aylin and Blake express pessimism and Shanna seems rather confident, which was kind of a “tell.” Shanna was sent home. She’s basically too mainstream and didn’t know how to develop a character for the writers. She hadn’t been in the bottom and didn’t know what to expect. It’s a point in the competition that those who’ve been up for elimination have an edge as they know how to talk with the judges. If she had thought to mention how her mother was a druggie and that was hard, she might still be on.
Now my current favorite to win is Ali. I hope I haven’t jinxed her.

Woody Allen’s Life and Death

I have it on good authority that Woody Allen‘s To Rome with Love isn’t worth seeing. I’m watching Luther a lot and need some comedy. I figured some old time Allen would fit the bill. It did. This movie was pure fun in a way we don’t see any more.

Set in Russia, when Napolean is invading. Love and Death is smart, broad comedy with lots of jokes especially for the bookish. Allen plays a nebbish and Diane Keaton is great as his hard to attain love. It’s silly and smart, a good way to pass the time and lift your mood. It made me want to watch more of Keaton’s early films. Maybe I’ll rewatch Annie Hall.

For a taste of the humor here’s a monologue:

Quotes:
[last lines]
Boris: The question is: have I learned anything about life? Only that… only that human beings are divided into mind and body. The mind embraces all the nobler aspirations, like poetry and philosophy, but the body has all the fun. The important thing, I think, is not to be bitter. You know, if it turns out that there IS a God, I don’t think that He’s evil. I think that the worst you can say about Him is that, basically, He’s an underachiever. After all, you know, there are worse things in life than death. I mean, if you’ve ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know exactly what I mean. The key here, I think, is to… to not think of death as an end, but think of it more as a very effective way of cutting down on your expenses. Regarding love, heh, you know, what can you say? It’s not the quantity of your sexual relations that count. It’s the quality. On the other hand, if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into it. Well, that’s about it for me folks. Goodbye.