ONE YEAR I HAD TO TAKE two history classes back to back, one was US and the other was European. The instructor for the US history class was an older man who, you will not believe, looked like Benjamin Franklin, but with shorter hair. He was balding on top with a ring of hair around the sides. When he wore glasses, they were small frameless lens that kept sliding down to the tip of his nose. When I first met him, I thought of Benjamin Franklin immediately; all he needed was a kite with a key tied to its tail. For some reason I equated his appearance with being a good teacher. From the class syllabus, I knew we had a lot of ground to cover regarding US history. The first class is usually devoted more to introductions and expectations; his was no exception. He went over what was expected of us, the testing he would be administering and his grading system. Nothing he said was out of the norm; though and this is just me, I thought his delivery was a bit dry. The 2ndclass I had with him laid the groundwork for what was going to be a grueling year; he was boring. Most of our time was taken up by him reading to us from a book. I could have done that on my own. There were no historical insights offered by him, very little debate initiated; the time always dragged slowly with this professor. THE FIRST DAY WALKING INTO MY European history class, the instructor who was standing near the door, bellowed, “Who might you be and where did your family originate from?” I was startled; but did not show it, telling him my name and where my ancestors came from. After attending my US history class, then walking into this one; wow, there was a stark difference right from the start for me. This instructor turned out to be a character. There were times he came into the classroom dressed up in clothing that was fashionable for the period we were studying. He regaled us with colorful, historical stories that mirrored what we were presently learning. I looked forward to coming to this class for the simple reason it was informative in a fun way. Compared to my other history class, you could not have asked for two totally opposite ways of teaching a class. I could see with my classmates’ interactions with the instructors that this European history instructor was teaching us to think and learn, not just memorize what was being told to us. This was such a preferable way of learning; almost as good for me as this historical, action adventure film. WITH ANCIENT CHINA BROKEN UP INTO several different kingdoms, a lone man arrives to give the king of the Qin empire the weapons from his dead assassins. It would take a special man to come anywhere near the king in his palace. With Jet Li (The Warlords, Fearless) as nameless, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung (Internal Affairs, The Grandmaster) as Broken Sword, Maggie Cheung (In the Mood for Love, Days of Being Wild) as Flying Snow, Ziyi Zhang (Memoirs of a Geisha, House of Flying Daggers) as Moon and Daoming Chen (My 1919, Internal Affairs III) as the King; this film festival winning and Oscar nominated movie was gorgeous. One should not think of this picture as a typical “kung fu” or “marital arts” film; the fight sequences were so creative and visually stimulating that they looked like a choreographed ballet. The sheer size of the sets and cast was astounding; and yet, at the heart of the story there was a strong element of love. I believe the script was created from an element of historical truth; but I do not know by how much. Regardless, if the intention of the producers was to teach the viewers some history while entertaining them, then sign me up for next semester’s class.
3 ½ stars
I WATCHED HIM DILIGENTLY AND DELIBERATELY outline each space that had the number 1 inside of it. My relative was using paint from a small container that was labeled with the same number 1. He first traced the outline of a space with the paint before filling it in. Once he completed all the number 1 spaces, he went on to doing the same thing to all the number 2 areas. It was my first time seeing someone paint by number. He had only gotten the paint kit as a birthday gift a couple of days ago; but to me, he looked like he was an expert painter. I sat and watched as the canvas in front of him took on more colors. To me it looked like the colored spaces were jigsaw pieces that were getting closer to completing the puzzle. Surprisingly, I started to recognize what he was drawing; it was a scene of Buckingham Palace with the Queen’s Guard out in front. There was a part of me that wished I had a paint by number kit because I would have liked to try a different way of painting. Most of my paintings were abstract or landscape scenes because I had a hard time drawing people; I wanted them to look real like a photograph. I was even a perfectionist back then. I WOULD NOT SEE THE COMPLETED painting until my next visit to my relative’s house. My relative had done a great job of painting because there wasn’t a place where he drew over the line; everything looked exact and precise. If I had not known my relative used a paint by number kit to create the painting, I would have thought they had drawn it on a blank canvas. Don’t get me wrong, my relative did an amazing job; however, for me the painting did not look as realistic as I had expected. I guess I was hoping it would have appeared just as clear as a postcard or photograph, especially since there was no freeform sketching involved. Having gotten a camera for a birthday gift, I was very much into taking photos. Whether it was of people, landscapes or objects; I enjoyed setting up the framing for a photograph. I had thoughts of asking for a paint by number kit for my birthday; but, after seeing the final results I decided I did not really need it. Drawing from imagination and photography were better suited for me. When I saw this film festival winner, I had a similar reaction of disappointment. A GROUP OF FIREMEN HAD THE battle of their lives on hand when a fire broke out at an oil refinery; a refinery that was situated too close to a major population center. With Xiaoming Huang (The Message, Ip Man 2) as Jiang Liwei, Jiang Du (Last Letter, Operation Red Sea) as Ma Weiguo, Zhuo Tan (Gone with the Light, Dying to Survive) as Li Fang, Zi Yang (Bodies at Rest, Ode to Joy-TV) as Wang Lu and Hao Ou (The Captain, The Left Ear) as Xu Xiaobin; this dramatic, action thriller had a typical storyline for this genre. There were many scenes with big pyrotechnic productions and blasts; however, I do not know if it was the dubbed English or not that made the acting come across cartoonish. The script was easy to figure out, though there were a few touching scenes that added a touch of newness to the oft used storyline. While I was viewing this film, I kept thinking the writers and producers were trying to get a Hollywood disaster picture wannabe. If you are one who can find entertainment in just seeing special effects and things blowing up, then you might be fine watching this picture. After I finished seeing this film, I wished I had found my old copy of The Towering Inferno. Mandarin was spoken with English subtitles/dubbing.
1 ¾ stars
HE WAS SUCH AN UNASSUMING INDIVIDUAL that I did not know he was the owner of the company. A fellow employee pointed him out to me one day; I thought they were playing a joke on me because I did not believe it. The owner was casually dressed in nondescript clothing. In other words, there were no fancy labels or names on anything, nor did he wear anything around his neck or wrist like a gold chain or expensive watch. Basically, there was nothing about this man’s appearance that defined his achievements. The product the company was selling was something he had invented. I thought that alone would have been enough reason for him to put on airs or display a sense of importance around the offices, but it was not. He acted like one of the employees of the company. When I think about it, the only time one would wonder what his position was in the company was during the holidays. He would receive a variety of thank you gifts from vendors; things like boxes of fruit, assorted cookies or other food-based products. Instead of keeping them for himself he was always opening the packages and placing them in the company kitchen for people to take for themselves. AS MUCH AS THE OWNER WAS humble, there was one company salesman who had ego for days. Every day he was dressed in a suit, whether he had customer appointments of not. That alone would not have been a big deal; but he wore quite a few expensive accessories. I had counted at least 6 expensive watches he switched up every day, besides thick gold jewelry pieces on his other wrist. Whether you asked him for his opinion or not, he was the type of person who would always tell you what you should do. Even things that were just common sense, he had to make a point of telling you what was the “right” way to do it; at least right according to him. If a customer came into the offices, they usually assumed he was the owner based on his mannerisms and speech. He was full of himself as they say; I did my best to have only minimal interaction with him. From that job to all the others I have had I have learned those who “crow” the loudest usually know the least. Those who do not brag, or showoff tend to be the most knowledgeable. This certainly applies to the main character in this biographical film festival winning movie. HAVING PRACTICED A LIFESTYLE OF NON-CONFRONTATION became a conflict for Ip Man, played by Donnie Yen (Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, Seven Swords) when Japanese forces invaded and took over his town. With resources scarce, he would have to find a way to survive. With Simon Yam (Election, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) as Quan, Lynn Xiong (Hotel Deluxe, My Sassy Girl 2) as Cheung, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi (The Handsome Suit, Railroad Tigers) as Miura and Siu-Wong Fan (Future X-Cops, Flying Swords of Dragon) as Jin; this action drama surprised me. For the genre it is in, this film’s focus was on the story and I found it interesting. It felt to me like a partial history lesson with its inclusion of the Japanese invasion of China back in the 1930s. The action scenes were beautifully choreographed, even when a bit of humor was interjected in some of them. It was unexpected to see a martial arts movie that was so story driven; I was drawn into the plight of Ip Man and his family. Also, the fact that this character was based on a true person (who in real life had Bruce Lee as a student) made this picture that more enjoyable. Seeing photos of the actual man at the end was an added treat. Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars
RARELY DOES DEATH HAVE A PRETTY face. I hope when my time ends here I die peacefully in my sleep. Surely, I am not the only one who wishes for this to happen. The first time I ever saw the face of death it was on a woman with cancer. I did my best not to show my horror when I walked into her hospital room. She had turned her head towards me when I knocked on the open door of her room. Her eyes once prominent and bright were now dull and sunken deep into her skull. The thing that shocked me the most was her teeth. They looked huge because of the wasting away of her face. Dimples once deep and defined were just vertical lines now, accentuating the prominence of her teeth. I swear, they looked like they belonged to a carnivorous animal. The dry, chapped lips were stretched thin. She smiled at me; I wondered how much effort that must have taken her. A nurse stopped in to check on her vitals and give her a few ice chips to suck on. It took everything for me not to lose control of myself. I knew this was going to be the last time I would see her alive. I COULD NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT her. Though we never talked about it, it must have been brutal to be aware of the cancer that was taking the life away from her. By the time she died there was a sense of relief among her survivors. I realized right then that the longer a person stays in the throes of a disease, the easier it becomes for the survivors to say goodbye. No one wants to see a loved one suffer; by the time a person succumbs, those left behind are relieved their loved one is no longer in pain. On the other hand, I realize when a person dies suddenly it is harder for their survivors to deal with the unexpected death. I had a friend who was driving their sister to an event and the sister, at some point, raised her hand to her head saying she had a sharp pain. That is all she said because she died instantly from a brain aneurysm. Except for the immediate sharp pain in the sister’s head, she did not suffer; however, the other sister did not recover from that experience for years. Not that she would ever recover completely. Death as you can see has been on my mind since I watched this comedic drama. THE DECISION WAS MADE NOT TO tell her grandmother she had cancer; but Billi, played by Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians, Ocean’s Eight), did not know if she could live with that decision. This film festival winning movie also starred Tzi Ma (The Ladykillers, Arrival) as Haiyan, Diana Lin (Australia Day, The Family Law-TV) as Jian, newcomer Shuzhen Zhao as Nai Nai and Ines Laimins (Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, Lady Bloodfight) as Kathy. Overall, I enjoyed this picture. Many of the themes in this story have been told before; but here there was a different perspective put on them, which I attributed to the Chinese culture. I wish I could say Awkwafina was outstanding in her role, but I honestly wonder if there could have been more drawn out of her. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very different role for her and I thought she did an excellent job; but, I wanted to see more intensity in her character. Again, it may be because I am not completely schooled in Chinese culture. The humor in the story grew organically for me as it came out of family dynamics. If I was put in such a position as Billi, I do not know how I would have handled the situation. Instead, this picture made me think about what I would want done for me if I fell ill. At times Chinese was spoken with English subtitles.
3 ¼ stars
GROWING UP IN AN APARTMENT BUILDING, our pet bird was more like the family dog. We had gotten her as a baby when I was in elementary school. She was a very smart bird and if we had spent more time teaching her, I am sure she would have been able to speak. When I would walk into the living room, I would stand just inside the entryway and call out her name. She would jump out of her cage and fly right to my outstretched arm. Once landed she would walk up my arm to my face and plant a kiss on my cheek; seriously, she would do this every time and not just to me. She would do the same thing to anyone in the family. During the summer months I would ask her if she wanted to take a refreshing bath and she knew to immediately fly over to the windowsill, where I would set up her bathtub. One trick I especially enjoyed was pretending she was a hawk. With her perched on my arm I would tell her to “go get them” and she would takeoff and fly around the room once or twice then come back to land on me. BECAUSE WE HAD GOTTEN HER SO young, I wondered at the time if she had bonded with us like I had seen done in a classic comedy cartoon. Ducklings had hatched just as a different species of animal walked by them and the little ducks imprinted themselves onto this animal as their parent. I have seen similar circumstances when friends and family members have adopted a kitten or puppy. When there is more than one person in the household the little puppy or kitten can focus solely on one particular member. I know this married couple who got a puppy that bonded to the “father.” The female puppy wanted to be in his lap anytime he was sitting down; it got harder for him as she grew into a 65-pound dog. If she heard him sneeze she would race into the room and jump up on him to lick his face. I have to say it was funny to see her standing on her hind legs with her front paws up by his neck, licking his face because he was standing when he sneezed; it almost looked as if they were dancing. So, you are wondering now how the dog interacted with the “mother” aren’t you? The dog would let the “mother” pet and feed her, but she would have to go over to the dog to pet her. The baby/parent bonding thing certainly is fascinating; you will not believe how it was done in this beautifully filmed documentary. RESEARCHERS BASED IN SICHUAN, CHINA solicit the help of a man from New Hampshire who has a special way with bears, earning him the nickname of Papa Bear. This film was being shown at the IMAX theater at the movie complex near my house. Did it need to be in this format? No not really, but I will say the scenery in this picture was gorgeous. With that being said the stars of this film were the panda cubs. I could not get over how much they looked like a bunch of kids playing. With the movie only being 40 minutes in length, I enjoyed the way the story went because it evoked different emotions out of me. Narrated by Kristen Bell (Bad Moms franchise, The Good Place-TV), one would be hard pressed not to fall in love with the pandas. If the reason for filming this movie with the IMAX format was to increase profits, then I am comfortable with it if some of the proceeds are going to help the panda institute. My only criticism is the film was too short; I could have sat there for a longer time just to see what the pandas would do next.
THERE were so many people watching April the giraffe’s pregnancy that the computer servers became overloaded and the park had to shut down the live video streaming. I only saw a bit of it on the news; but I was fascinated with the attention April was getting from all around the world. What is it about an animal giving birth or more directly the immediate mother/child bond that gets formed that makes us humans stop and take notice? One thing that comes to mind is the pureness in animals’ behavior. Seeing the way a mother protects her child is amazing, especially when the animal’s instincts are being formed. The reason I use the word pureness is because I do not recall ever seeing an animal putting its offspring in harm’s way. Every action and reaction has a purpose as far as I can tell; unlike some of the things I have seen human parents do with their children. PLEASE understand I do not mean to disrespect parents and parenting skills, but there have been times where I witnessed something that was puzzling and/or troubling. Sitting at a casual fast food restaurant I once saw a mother give her infant child a cola drink. The child must have been no more than 2 years of age; am I old fashioned or mistaken in my beliefs that giving a sugary soft drink to an infant is not a good idea? Personally I would never reprimand a child by slapping them across the face, yet I cannot tell you how many times I have seen it being done. And as I have said before children are born into this world without having the awareness of hatred, prejudice or discrimination; it is something that is taught to them. So you see why I say there is a pureness in the animal world that I do not easily find in the human one. This documentary will show you what I mean. SET in the outer remote reaches of China director Chuan Lu (City of Life and Death, The Missing Gun) follows the lives of three different species (snow leopard, golden snub-nosed monkey and panda) and their babies. Narrated by John Krasinksi (13 Hours, Away We Go) I found his telling of the story was okay; he did not have the dramatic appeal compared to other actors I have heard in similar roles. There were two big reasons why I enjoyed watching this film. The first one was the cinematography; it was not only gorgeous, but exciting for me to see places in China that were so far removed from the familiar locations that are associated with the country. The other reason to see this film was the animals, of course. Sure the movie studio did its spin in creating a human emotional story onto the creatures, but ultimately it came down to the bond a mother and child have with each other. Compared to the previous movies done in this category there was really nothing new; the audience here witnessed the usual animal antics, danger and thrills. However it did not matter too much for me, though I was surprised there was a scene of sadness included in the story. I enjoyed this documentary about three species of animals that may not be residents at my local zoo, but I clearly understood what they were doing for their young. There were extra scenes during the credits.
I am not sure if the word is “refreshed” or “encouraged” when it comes to how I feel when I see an act of kindness. There are many incidents where I see or experience rudeness, meanness or hatefulness; so when I see someone doing an act of kindness it really stands out for me. Even with horrific news that gets reported these days, sometimes an act of kindness comes out in the middle of it. Recently I heard about a person who was dealing with a life threatening disease. Before they went into the hospital for surgery they were comforting their significant other, telling them everything would be okay. I was touched by such a selfless act. Of course if the person had always been kind, it would not be a surprise. However, it would be a bigger surprise if the person who did the act of kindness was not considered a nice person. There was an employee I used to work with who was so miserable that you would get a sour taste in your mouth if you were just near them. They never engaged in a friendly conversation; heck, they barely made eye contact with you if you had to talk business with them. Imagine the shock all the employees felt when there was an article in the local papers about this particular employee’s generous contributions made to a shelter. None of us could believe it. I guess one could say never judge a book by its cover; but I have to tell you, when situations like this come up it does give me hope. MORTICIAN John Miller, played by Christian Bale (The Dark Knight franchise, The Fighter), arrived in the city of Nanking, China just as Japanese forces staged an invasion. His main task now would be to stay alive. This historical drama was a Golden Globe nominee and film festival winner. I was familiar with the story, having seen it in documentaries; books and news articles. The invasion was brutal; in turn, there were several tough scenes in this film. Christian did a very good job of acting, as did Ni Ni (Back in Time, Up in the Wind) as Yu Mo and relative newcomer Xinyi Zhang as Shu. Maybe it was challenging to tell this story in a way that would keep the viewer’s interest, but I found it disjointed. It would go from torturous scenes to poignant ones. I was disappointed because the cinematography at times was stunning; though I must say I felt some of the scenes used too much blood if you know what I mean. On any level I think this would have been a challenging story to transform onto film; however, it was obvious there was much thought put into this one. Despite its shortcomings I was surprised by the turn of events in this war film that had its own sense of hope. There were multiple scenes where Mandarin and Japanese were spoken with English subtitles.
2 1/3 stars — DVD
There goes by a young couple walking hand in hand. As they stroll through the park they carry on a conversation that causes them to chuckle, sigh, exclaim and smile from time to time. Periodically one rests their head on the shoulder of the other and when the pathway narrows they wrap their arms around each other to get closer. In a completely different locale there is a couple sitting in an airport gate’s waiting area. While one leans into the other as they begin to doze off, the other is reading a book. When finally coming back to consciousness, the other brushes the hair off their sleepy face, looking into their sputtering eyes. With the book closed and placed to the side the two simply lean into each other, one affectionately massaging the neck of the other one. Anywhere you look you can always find people in love. A candlelight dinner, shopping at the grocery store or sitting together at a sporting event; they do not need to declare their love to the world, the way they interact with each other is proof enough. But I ask you, how often do you see couples in their twilight years out and about participating in public displays of affection? How about in the media or forms of entertainment like movies and television? I can only bring to mind a few from recent movies compared to the amount of films I have seen about youthful love. And the reason why I believe that is the case is because growing old isn’t for the weak. Let us face it when one hears the words, “in sickness and health,” how often do they imagine what their life might be like in their later years? AFTER spending years in a labor camp during the cultural revolution in China Lu Yanshi, played by Chen Daoming (Hero, Aftershock), was finally released to return to his waiting wife Feng Wanyu, played by Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern, Memoirs of a Geisha). But after so many years Feng did not recognize the man who showed up at her door. This film festival winning drama’s story was beautiful in its simplicity. With newcomer Zhang Huiwen as the couple’s daughter Dan Dan, the acting was painfully real. It was wonderful watching Gong Li as she would turn an emotion upside down with a look or subtle movement. On one level the story focused on the effects the cultural revolution had families. The stronger part of the story in my opinion had to do with the strength love had between two people. I did find a few places where the movie dragged for me, in a repetitive type of way. However, the way the story unfolded as it progressed kept me engaged. After the movie was over I walked away with the feeling I had just witnessed a full and unconditional love. Mandarin was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/4 stars
The passage of time quickly vanishes any time one sees the person responsible for them having stored inside of themself fond memories. It does not matter if it is a real or fictional person; the fun feelings do not discriminate. It is like this old friend I have who lives across the country from me. We may not talk or see each other for months and months, but as soon as we do it seems as if we had just been together a day or two before. That bond we formed decades ago continues just as flexible and permanent as it did back then. I experienced a similar reaction when I saw some of my classmates when I attended my high school reunion recently. It is relatively easy for me to attach these types of feelings onto an actress or actor based on their screen roles. There is one actress I am especially fond of because I know every time I go to see one of her movies I will never be disappointed by her performance. Even if the film is not that good, she still shines in it. This explains why some people do not bother reading reviews (except for mine I hope) when their favorite movie star is in the cast, since they are going to see them anyway. It does not matter what genre or time period; the feelings people have for their actors never waivers unless something blatant changes their opinion. For me, once I saw one of the actors in this action adventure film I was reminded of his comical martial arts skills. VITAL for continued growth throughout the region Hua An, played by Jackie Chan (Rush Hour franchise, Shanghai Knights), and his band of trained warriors would stop at nothing to protect the Silk Road. When a new threat appeared, Hua An would need to forge alliances between warring factions if he wanted to keep the road from falling into enemy forces. This award winning drama was filled with massive, spectacular fight scenes. Seeing Jackie back on screen after all this time was fun to see. His style of martial arts always had a comical goofiness to it. Where someone like Bruce Lee was always serious in his fighting, Jackie comes across as if he stumbled in the situation; he incorporates any and all objects around him into the fight. With John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, Love & Mercy) as General Lucius and Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Tiberius, the three of them could have done so much better if the story was not so over the top filled with melodrama. For such an historical moment, the script did not do anyone justice here. If it was not for my fond memories of this type of action hero movie, I would have been bored. There was blood and violence throughout the film.