THERE IS A FINE LINE, I discovered, between sympathizing and topping. I am the first to admit that I used to not know the difference but have been working on it. It turns out, I am not the only one who was challenged in this area. There is an acquaintance of mine who consistently tries to “one up” me when it comes to issues of health. When we are talking and I mention an issue I am experiencing, such as a slight dizziness when I first get up from a reclined position, he will then proceed to tell me how he suffers from the same infliction; but invariably his condition is always worse than mine. If I said I had trouble sleeping, he would tell me how he doesn’t get a good night’s sleep because of all the times he wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Or he would describe to me how horrible his mattress is, that he cannot get comfortable on it. No matter what I say, he is always quick to tell me how much worse it is for him. I must tell you this gets annoying pretty quickly; it is not a contest to see who can out complain the other. I THINK OF THIS MAN WHEN someone is sharing their personal information/issue/concerns with me. If nothing else, I try to listen to the person to see if they are asking me for advice; sometimes, a person just wants a sympathetic ear or sounding board to help them figure out their feelings. When appropriate if I have had a similar experience, I may share that information with them. If they choose to ask me how I handled it, I will tell them. Sometimes I will tell them I had a similar experience and offer my advice on how I handled the situation, avoiding any comment with the word “should” in it. I do not know if you experience this; but when two people are sharing their issues and there is an even “give and take” of emotions and feelings, it is a beautiful feeling. There is a sense of healing taking place when I have experienced such a thing. Sometimes hearing what another person has gone through or done about their predicament has provided me with new insight and perspective. Not that I am saying it is a situation where you hear someone’s story, and you think things could have been worse for you; but I guess that can play a part in one’s perspective. Either way, it cannot hurt, and the proof is in this Oscar nominated drama from Japan. HAVING ALREADY ACCEPTED THE POSITION OF director, there was no choice allowed when it came to providing Yusuke Kafuku, played by Hidetoshi Nishijima (License to Live, Tokyo Rendezvous), with a driver for his cherished red Saab automobile. The long drive could become a challenge. With Toko Miura (The Girl in the Sun, Weathering with You) as Misaki Watari, Reika Kirishima (Norwegian Wood, Godzilla: Final Wars) as Oto Kafuku, newcomer Park Yu-rim as Lee Yoon-a and newcomer Jin Dae-yeon as Kon Yoon-su; this film festival winning movie was an experience for me. I was not looking forward to its 3-hour running time, plus I experienced a bit of confusion when the opening credits took place well after the story had begun. With that being said, I was surprised how the confusion cleared up as I slowly was brought into this adult story that was based on the written short story. It was fascinating to watch adults be thoughtful and curious as the cast dealt with their various emotions. The play Uncle Vanya written by Anton Chekhov strongly influences this picture. Not having read it, I felt I was at a disadvantage. However, as the scenes progressed, I appreciated the way the director allowed the actors to explore their emotional baggage. As I said this film was made for adults and it did a wonderful job of exposing the depth of human feelings. Spoken Japanese and Korean sign language were used with English subtitles.
3 ½ 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
THE TWO OF US SAT QUIETLY playing checkers while people in the room were arguing back and forth between themselves. I had joined my elderly relative for the game after we had eaten dinner. I always enjoyed playing checkers with this relative despite him leading in the amount of games won. It was during our 2ndgame when a couple of the relatives, who were still sitting at the dining room table, started raising their voices towards each other. I had no idea what they were saying, so I started to turn around to look at them. My elderly relative patted his hand on my arm to stop me as he told me not to mind those fighting relatives. I asked him if they would start hurting each other; he said no, they both like being right and will continue yelling at each other until they get tired then they will each get up and walk away. He told me they always argue about unimportant things just so they can say they were right about something. “Pay them no mind,” he said. He also told me to learn from them which I thought was odd to say. When I questioned him, he said he wanted me to learn how to be respectful, that I can disagree with someone but respect that person’s feelings. We went back to playing our game of checkers. THE THINGS THAT ELDERLY RELATIVE SAID to me during our checker games were invaluable to me. I have never forgotten our conversations and his thoughts about the things he saw going around him. To the other relatives, we looked like we were simply playing a game; but if they had paid attention to us, they would have realized this patriarch was teaching me important lessons that carried me through many situations. When I was that little boy, he was the oldest relative I knew. Those born before him, I only got to see in a photo album. The photos were old and faded. He would tell me who each person was and how they were related to me. I would ask questions about them and he would do his best to answer me in a way I would understand. There was one relative I was intrigued with because of a shiny pin he was wearing on his suit lapel in one of the photos. My relative told me it was a diamond and ruby pin shaped like a piece of candy because the man was a candy maker; how I had wished he was still alive. The little boy in this animated film sure was lucky to have his relatives. FEELING NEGLECTED AFTER HIS BABY SISTER was born Yukio, voiced by Crispin Freeman (Young Justice-TV, Hellsing Ultimate-TV) found others who cared more about him. They were out in his yard. With Rebecca Hall (The Awakening, The Town) voicing the Mother, John Cho (Star Trek franchise, Searching) voicing the Father, Daniel Dae Kim (Insurgent, Lost-TV) voicing the young great grandfather and Victoria Grace (47 Ronin, Tokyo Grandfathers) as Mirai; this film festival winning adventure drama had some beautiful visuals throughout it. I loved the whole idea behind the story, finding things that were touching and sweet. The one thing I had an issue with however, was the main character Yukko. I felt there was too much yelling and bratty behavior coming out of him; it was hard to sympathize with him after a short time. Also, I would have liked the yard scenes to have been drawn with more magic and fantasy to them, to make them stand out more. Despite these issues, I still enjoyed the story immensely. Because I did not realize I could have changed the language, I saw this film with subtitles; they were hard to read in many scenes. I still was able to understand what was going on while Japanese was being spoken by the characters.
OUT OF THE CLASSROOM WINDOW I SAW two boys fighting. I was working on homework in study hall, but I kept looking up at the two fighters. They appeared to be from an upper grade because I never saw either of them in any of my classes. As was typical, at least at the schools I attended, there were several other students hovering near the two boys to watch them fight. As far as I could tell it seemed like the two were evenly matched. They were exchanging punches and kicks equally. At some point as I was watching them one of the boys tripped on something and fell backwards. As he hit the ground the other boy pounced on top of him and showered him with body and face blows. The poor boy did not have a chance to regain himself and fend off his assailant. It wasn’t until the fallen boy’s face started bleeding that the other boy got up off him and started to walk away, but only after giving the defeated boy one last kick in the stomach. The boy on the ground curled up into a fetal position and laid there as an instructor was running up to him. I TRIED GOING BACK TO MY STUDIES, but the images of the two boys fighting would not fade from my memory. As they replayed in my mind, I remembered the one boy tripping and it occurred to me if he had not fallen the outcome might have turned out differently. It might have been a pebble, stick or some litter that caused him to trip. I thought of all the lucky breaks he could have gotten, he wound up getting one case of bad luck that sealed his fate. Up until that point, I never thought about how luck plays a part in a fight. Maybe because of the video games I used to play, where everything was in a more controlled environment, it made me think skill was the only important factor in a battle. I started looking at the fights I had been in and wondered how big of a factor did luck play in my losses. Since I was mostly on the receiving end, I cannot remember all the details. However, I remember one fight where 3 boys were chasing and throwing stones at me. They had been chasing me for three blocks when suddenly we were all getting drenched in a downpour. For some reason they broke off their pursuit and I made my way home through back alleys. I can see that was a lucky break for me just as I can now see how luck played in the historical battle in this dramatic action film. AFTER THE SURPRISE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR, the United States Navy was left exposed to an ultimate defeat. So many things needed to be in place if the US government wanted any chance of pushing back Japan’s Imperial Navy. With Ed Skrein (If Beale Street Could Talk, Alita: Battle Angel) as Dick Best, Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring franchise, The Phantom of the Opera) as Edwin Layton, Woody Harrelson (Shock and Awe, Natural Born Killers) as Chester W. Nimitz, Luke Evans (Beauty and the Beast, Dracula Untold) as Wade McClusky and Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember, This is Us-TV) as Ann Best; this movie had a lot to live up to because of the well-known true events this story was based on. I thought the CGI effects were excellent, providing an extra thrill to the aerial fight scenes. The story itself is incredible; but sadly, the script was a big letdown for me. I found the dialog cheesy, filled with rah-rah moments by characters trying to build up morale. The acting did not register with me as anything great, but that might have more to do with the script lacking any depth or emotion for the actors to play on. What bad luck for this picture to get a deficient script for such a world changing battle.
RETIRING BACK TO BED I could see the eyes looking up at me from my pillow. As I came to the edge of the bed there lying in my spot, with the covers pulled up to his neck, was our dog. He looked up at me as if to say, “Is there something I can help you with?” I grant you he looked totally comfortable and in place, but c’mon; he already had his own bed to sleep in. Anytime I had to get up in the middle of the night he would immediately jump into our bed once I was out of the room; he was such a character. Dogs have such a beautiful outlook on life I believe. They give unconditional love, get such pleasure in the most mundane of things like a stick or used sock and can be such great companions. To return the favor whenever I would say “doggie massage” our dog would immediately plop down on his side so I could give him a body massage. ANOTHER ASPECT OF A DOG’S LIFE is their ability to instinctively protect a person. However some dogs may have their priorities a bit confused; ours felt the need to protect us from small children. It was the weirdest thing. If we were walking outside and a small child was nearby our dog would stop and stare at them. A low warning growl would be heard despite our pleas to relax. We could never figure out what his deal was about small children. Right now my neighbors got a 2nd dog who is a real cutie. Anytime I walk out the back door and she is in the backyard she quickly crouches down into play mode, with her butt in the air and her upper torso stretched out down on the ground. Her front paws directly out in front of her in anticipation. She waits until I call out her name then bounds over to the fence for me to pet her; unless I am wearing a hat, then all things change. She does not like me in a hat because she will bark at me non-stop, staying just out of reach behind the fence. Despite that quirk I still am quite fond of her which explains why I understood the reason the owner risked his life to find his dog in this film festival winning movie. AFTER THE MAYOR BANNED FROM THE city all dogs Atari, voiced by newcomer Kofu Rankin, was willing to risk his life to find his best friend. Written and directed by Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore) this adventure comedy was so much fun to watch due to the creative animation. If you saw Wes’ movie Fantastic Mr. Fox then you are familiar with this style of stop-motion animation. With Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Why Him?) voicing Chief, Edward Norton (American History, Pride and Glory) voicing Rex, Bill Murray (Lost in Translation, Groundhog Day) voicing Boss and Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, The Grand Budapest Hotel) voicing Duke; everyone blended perfectly into the well thought out detailed script. I found the story quite relevant and appreciated the way Wes incorporated humor into the political scenes. Now the script is not without a couple of dings; there were a few times where I felt the story dragged a bit. It did not hinder my enjoyment because the visuals were just so much darn fun. I honestly do not know if small children will understand the whole concept of this picture, but I cannot imagine their curiosity will not be piqued. Even if you are not a dog lover I feel you will still appreciate the love between a boy and his dog.
3 ½ stars
EXCEPT FOR A couple of friends the rest of the people in the train car were strangers. I knew they were going to the same place we were going based on the various paraphernalia and clothing they had on, besides hearing bits and pieces of multiple conversations taking place around me. By the time we arrived at the stadium there were all kinds of festivities taking place. The atmosphere was giddy and light as everyone was in an excited mood, all having come together for this one big event. Everything went smoothly and the sporting event was a huge success. My ears were still ringing from the sold out crowd’s cheering, along with the fireworks display. I remember it took forever for us to leave the stadium; so many people slowly merging closer together to get through what seemed like the narrowest of passageways. The image of threading a needle came to mind as I looked one last time across the field to see how the fans on the other side were making their way out. I READ IN the newspaper the next day that the event was historic. I looked at the accompanying photo to the article and recalled how much fun I had the night before. It never occurred to me that we were participating in an historical event; we were just there to have a good time. It felt pretty cool to have been part of that event; from now on whenever someone talked about it in the future I could say I was there. This made me think about the circumstances so many of us have that put us in a situation where we can become part of history. Think about our ancestors who left their homes due to war. Some people may only know a relative traveled overseas to start a new life, not aware that family member was affected by an historical event. I am sure some of us were more fortunate in learning the details about their loved one’s experiences than others; I will say it takes on a whole new feeling when the stories become personal, like the one told in this historical, animated drama. THOUGH MORE AND more necessities were becoming scarcer Suzu, voiced by Rena Nounen aka Non (Hot Road, Princess Jellyfish), did her best to keep living a normal life. She had no idea she and her family were going to experience an event that was going to become historic. This film festival winning movie also included Megumi Han (The Garden of Words, Hunter x Hunter-TV) voicing Sumi, Yoshimasa Hosoya (The Anthem of the Heart, Attack on Titan-TV) voicing Shusaku, Natsuki Inaba (Frozen) voicing Harumi and Daisuke Ono (Working!!-TV, Attack on Titan-TV) voicing Akira. It took me a short time to get into the story but once in I was enthralled with the beautiful animation and enjoyed the simplicity of the story. The story unfolded like a roll of fabric, revealing daily life in the midst of wartime Hiroshima. If this picture had been done live I do not think it would have worked as well or at all. Presenting that time frame as an animated movie I believe made it easier to tell the story. Let us face it most of us have seen or experienced deadly conflicts; through this movie the viewer was aware of the situation in a subtler way. This well thought out film was a memorable movie watching experience for me. Two versions of this film are being shown; one spoken in Japanese with English subtitles, the other dubbed in English.
3 1/2 stars
THERE was a soft knock at my door. If I had music playing instead of studying for a test I would not have heard it. Upon opening the door I saw a woman standing with a canvas bag filled with pamphlets sitting by her feet. I asked her if I could help her though I was cautious since I was living in off campus housing; we never had strangers in the building. She asked me if I wanted to be saved today. I simply stared at her because I had never been asked such a question. Asking her what I was being saved from she leaned down to take one of the pamphlets out of her book and started to tell me about her religion. Because I was studying for a test I did not let her go on long before asking her how did she determine such a thing for me, that possibly my religion was taking care of me. She paused while maintaining her slight smile before telling me I should consider her faith because it was the only way for me. THIS was my first time having someone trying to convert me from my faith. At the time I was offended, namely because she was not acknowledging my faith. I finally had to ask her what right she had to make assumptions about my faith and spirituality from our short conversation. Having grown up in a diverse neighborhood, my friends and I were always going to each other’s religious holiday celebrations. Houses in my neighborhood would have either Christmas trees displayed in their windows or menorahs, while others displayed nothing. Maybe I grew up in a bubble but there were never any issues about one’s religion being wrong compared to someone else. I think that non-judgmental environment I grew up in made watching this dramatic film festival winning movie more shocking for me. TRAVELING from Portugal to Japan to find their lost mentor 17th century Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garrpe, played by Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, 99 Homes) and Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Midnight Special) were not safe once they landed on foreign soil. Written and directed by Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed), I understand it took Martin years to get this story filmed. With Liam Neeson (Taken franchise, Run All Night) as Ferreira and Tadanobu Asano (Thor franchise, Ichi the Killer) as the interpreter, the story covered deeper subject matter than the usual heavily marketed movie studios’ films. This story was quite thought provoking where I am still processing the scenes I witnessed. I say witness because there were scenes that were tough to watch with their violence, while others presented interesting discussion. The acting was excellent and some scenes were close to brilliant. One issue I had with the film was the length of it; I found the running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes too long. At one point I felt I was going from one torture scene to another. If I heard correctly the movie was originally over an hour longer; I cannot imagine sitting that long for this story. Putting that aside this film did present a forum to discuss human nature and religious issues. I do not know if this movie would cause one to convert but it could possibly change your views on the power of films.
3 ½ stars
I have always heard it is better to forgive someone instead of letting one’s anger and hate fester inside. Though when someone tells me this I respond by asking them how does it work when there is no hate or anger? What if you just remove the perpetrator from your life? Forgiveness has never been my forte; I have a hard time with someone who is deceitful. For example the customers who break their payment promises to me aggravate me but I do not take it personally. I just retain the memory of the event in a mental file cabinet besides noting it on their account. They will not be eligible to receive any favorable considerations from me. ON a personal level, the people I have met through dating were for the most part honest and sweet. However if I did find out they misrepresented themselves or outright lied to me I would have nothing to do with them. I am afraid this also filters out to my friends who are in relationships. There is a married couple I have been friends with for several years. On the surface they appear to be your typical moderately successful couple, both working, nice cars and house. Recently I found out one of them had cheated on their spouse during a business trip. Here is the real ugly part; they did not say anything but the blister that showed up on their body said it all after it was diagnosed by their family doctor. They went through a divorce soon after that appointment. Though I was friends with both of them, I just could not maintain the same type of friendship with the guilty one. Let me add I have always had a hair trigger of disdain for those who cheat on their significant others; I have had my share of deceitfulness. All I can say about this wicked romantic drama is I am so glad I do not know these people. SOOK-HEE, played by relative newcomer Kim Tae-ri, was part of a plot to gain access to the fortune of Lady Hideko, played by Min-hee Kim (No Tears for the Dead, Helpless). Things did not turn out exactly as planned once Sook-hee became part of the household. Written and directed by Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance), this foreign film was beautifully filmed. Including Jung-woo Ha (The Yellow Sea, The Chaser) as Count Fujiwara and Jin-woong Ju (The Admiral, Nameless Gangster: Rules of the Time) as Uncle Kouzuki; the acting was very good. Set in the 1930s during the Japanese occupation in Korea, the story was twisted; I enjoyed the way events suddenly caused a change in the plot. I will tell you I had at times a hard time getting through the subtitles before new ones appeared on the screen. Oh one more thing, there were some violent scenes that were cringe worthy so be prepared. I do not think this film festival winner will be pleasing to everyone; for myself, I found the unordinary plot provided entertainment even when I wanted to look away. Saying looks can be deceiving seems too easy and clichéd, but in this case it truly applies. Scenes with sexual content, violence and blood. Japanese and Korean were spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/4 stars
One of the main motivations for breeding an animal is to make money. From my college studies I learned how much thought and detail goes into deciding which animal should be bred. Whether a farmer or racehorse breeder they each spot specific traits they want to be carried down to the offspring of their herd. I still remember a course I had where we were taught to look at a pig and figure out their most prominent traits for breeding purposes. Some of you who follow race horsing may already know a winning horse is worth more in retirement when they go out to stud. Aren’t you glad we are not animals? But I have to tell you I am just as fascinated by family traits as I was in animal science. The gene pool to me is this vast reservoir of a family’s history; it is a game of chance when a couple has a child. What traits will the child acquire from the parents? I am always curious when a business establishment is family owned and has been handed down from generation to generation. It makes me wonder whether each new generation has acquired the same set of skill sets to make the business a continued success. Even when I witness a child doing the same thing as one of their parents, like being a tennis player or painter, it amazes me how that talent filtered down to the younger generation. Though I have to tell you I know of a family that has a business that has been handed down and the latest generation involved with it dislikes being a part of it. They wanted to be something else but their family essentially forced them to follow in the footsteps of their parent. Gratefully that was not the case in this gorgeous animated adventure film. KUBO, voiced by Art Parkinson (Dracula Untold, San Andreas), never knew his father and could not understand why his mother insisted he be home before dark. She had a very good reason. With a mixture of claymation and CGI effects, this family film was magical and enchanting. The actors such as Charlize Theron (Young Adult, A Million Ways to Die in the West) as Monkey, Matthew McConaughey (Mud, Dallas Buyers Club) as Beetle and Ralph Fiennes (A Bigger Splash, Harry Potter franchise) as Moon King were wonderful voicing their characters. I do not know if the story was actually from Japanese folklore, but the script was something special. The way it brought in the topic of ancestors was beautiful. I felt there was the right balance of humor, drama, danger and thrills to create a connection to any age group watching this film. Not sure why but there is something about the art of claymation that attracts me. Maybe it is because I know how much effort has to be made to make the characters move seamlessly; the figures are just more dimensional to me. I do not know what else I could tell you except after seeing this picture I had wished I was part of Kubo’s gene pool.