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Flash Movie Review: In This Corner of the World

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

 

 

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Flash Movie Review: Silence

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     

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Good, The Bad, The Weird

I could only imagine the parking lot must have looked like a bustling ant farm if seen from above. Cars were streaming in and out in a slow series of dances; some would tango together to get into an open parking space while other cars waltzed around the lot seeking a free spot to rest. Why I decided to venture out and get some shopping done on one of the busiest days of the shopping year I cannot explain, but I found myself there secure in finding a place to park on the street to avoid the chaos in the lot.   ENTERING the store was not too dissimilar from walking into a carnival. There were displays everywhere touting sale prices and bargains. In the aisles were temporary display shelves crammed full with what marketers call, “last minute items.” I was not as stunned with the amount of the people in the store, since the parking lot was full; as I was with the way they were acting. Shoppers with their shopping carts were careening through the aisles, dodging bystanders and display cases. They reminded me of contestants on a game show who were being timed as they grabbed as much merchandise as they could within the allotted minutes. Two women reminded me of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz as they played tug of war with a grape colored bath towel set. My overall feeling as I walked through the store was one of perplexed curiosity as if I had ventured into one of those freak show acts that make up part of the carnival. I passed people yelling at each other, scanning product codes with their smartphones or carefully balancing packages on top of an already full shopping cart. It was a crazy, non-stop, noisy atmosphere similar to what took place in this action adventure comedy.   EACH desperate to steal for themselves a secret map for a hidden treasure; an assassin, bounty hunter and outlaw traveled across China while each being chased by other forces. This film festival winning movie’s story was inspired by the works of writer and director Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, Once Upon a Time in America). Starring Kang-ho Song (The Host, Memories of Murder) as Tae-goo Yoon, Byung-hun Lee (G.I. Joe franchise, The Magnificent Seven) as Chang-yi Park and Woo-sung Jung (A Moment to Remember, The Warrior) as Do-won Park; this film took place in the 1940s at a time when Japanese forces were occupying China. There was an over the top feeling for me as I watched this DVD. The scenes, the action, the pace all had this bigness to it; in other words, nothing was subtle. Directed by Jee-woon Kim (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life), the pacing was consistent though at times there was almost a spastic pulse to it. I thought the choreography was excellent; it reminded me of several of Jackie Chan’s movies. This was an easy picture to watch; one need not have to put much thought into it to get enjoyment. Essentially it comes down to a long chase scene/race with twists and turns. I was just glad I did not have to be a part of it. Korean, Mandarin and Japanese were spoken with English subtitles.

 

3 stars — DVD    

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Handmaiden

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            

Flash Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

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.

 

4 stars

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Forest

It was a couple of months or so ago where I read a news article about a set of twins, two sisters. They were in their late 80s, living on opposite sides of the country. They each were married with grown children. Based on what I read about them they seemed to have led an “ordinary” life; in other words there was nothing extreme that befell either of them. Now the reason why I was even reading about them was due to their death, which was the headline of their story. One of the sisters had died of a heart attack and within less than an hour later the other sister died of the same thing. There wasn’t time to even tell the living sister about her twin’s death. Some people who read this article would say how sad it was that the sisters could not say goodbye to the other, while others might say each of the women did not have to experience the sadness of losing their sister. I think both trains of thought are valid. The first set of twins I met was in high school. Actually the school had several sets which fascinated me even more. The reason being some sets were identical both in personality and physicality, but others looked the same but totally different in temperament; I am talking the perfect examples for what was a good and a bad conscious. But what really intrigued me was the special silent bond the siblings shared with each other. Without uttering a word a set of twins could still communicate with each other on, what I interpreted it to be, a psychic level; similar to what was taking place with the twins in this horror film.    SARA, played by Natalie Dormer (Rush, Game of Thrones-TV), felt it deeply; her twin sister Jess was in trouble somewhere in the Aokigahara Forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji in Japan. Even the forest’s nickname, “Suicide Forest,” would not stop Sara from finding her sister. The cast which included Taylor Kinney (The Other Woman, Chicago Fire-TV) as Aiden and Eoin Macken (Centurion, Merlin-TV) as Rob did a good job of acting. I enjoyed the outdoor scenes which lent themselves to an almost mythical atmospheric platform for the characters to play with as the story progressed. The horror was more psychological based than gruesome terror. Too bad the script was poorly written because there was nothing scary or suspenseful in this movie. I kept waiting for something to happen besides the sudden sound or strange appearance in a scene but no luck. There were more groans in the theater than in this film. The idea for the story was sound. The cast was capable, the setting was fine; but nothing was done to utilize them to their best advantage. What scared me was a scene that looked like it could be a prelude to a sequel; I certainly hope I am wrong.

 

1 1/2 stars

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: Red Beard

Knowledge is acquired by studying, practicing, being taught or experiencing something. It took me some time before I realized I was a visual learner. I cannot tell you how torturous it was for me to be in a classroom where the teacher would sit and just read to us straight out from our textbook without any type of dscussion. My mind would try to create images of what was being told to us, but after a time my brain would start to venture away from the subject. You could say I was an active daydreamer. Listening to my friends talk about the way their children are currently being taught, it amazes me how different times have changed since I was in school. It is curious to me when I see a child acting out, especially in a way that borders on hatefulness or prejudice. Where does a child learn such things? If I had to guess I would say they learned from example. I have always been a firm believer in explaining choices to children. For example if they choose to act a certain way, explain to them what the consequences would be for that type of behavior. Even as adults we all have the ability to make choices. When I think about those times where I would get angry over something and make everyone miserable around me, I now cringe about it. I had a choice back then on how to act and I made a poor decision. It is so true how one learns from example.    ARROGANT and upset when he arrived at the clinic Doctor Noboru Yasumoto, played by Yuzo Kayama (47 Samurai, The Sword of Doom), did not want to have anything to do with such a poor facility. No matter what Doctor Kyojo Niide a/k/a Red Beard, played by Toshiro Mifune (Throne of Blood, Rashomon), had to say about the patients and staff, Dr. Yasumtot did not care. It is what he saw that made a difference. This film festival winning drama by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai, Ran) had such a simple story that was told in a beautiful way. Filmed in black and white, scenes were presented in a clean creative way with a heightened use of shadows. I almost found the dialog secondary as the actors actions were more pronounced. Set in 19th century Japan this DVD had a long viewing time. At first I felt the pacing of the film was slow; however, as the story progressed things started to fall into place for me and I was won over. I felt because the emphasis was placed on the physical aspects of the characters the story had to stay at a slower pace throughout the film. This movie offered teaching moments without having to say a single word. Japanese was spoken with English subtitles.

 

3 1/3 stars — DVD

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: The Flowers of War

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

 

 

 

Flash Movie Review: City of Life and Death

Our usual ammunition was snowballs and squirt guns, with the occasional water balloon bombs. But when a friend came up with the brilliant idea to freeze the water balloons first, our parents put a stop to it when one friend on the enemy’s side got a black eye from one of our frozen balloons. In wintertime when a heavy wet snow would fall, my friends and I would be outside building forts, stockpiling them with snowballs. During summer we would choose different apartment buildings to be our designated headquarters as we would sneak through alleys and gangways for a surprise attack on our enemies. This was the extent of our war games; it was based on what we learned about warfare in school. From our textbooks and videos we saw war as a distant game filled with bombs and guns. There really was no personal connection for most of us. It was not until new neighbors moved into our apartment building, that I got a deeper understanding of how war affects all of us. One of the new neighbors had a series of numbers tattooed on her forearm. It was the first time I had seen such a thing so I asked her about it. She explained to me how she was a concentration camp survivor which led to multiple questions from me. From that point on, whenever the subject of war came up in class, I would always go and ask her opinion. I discovered there were and had been many horrors done throughout the world.    AFTER defeating the Chinese troops in the city of Nanking during the year 1937, the Japanese troops settled into a six week reign of terror against the city’s residents. Though I was familiar with the history of this event, this film festival winning drama was utterly riveting. Filmed in black and white, the story unfolded with the assistance of seeing things through the eyes of three different individuals. There was Hideo Nakaizumi (Who’s Camus Anyway, Scout Man) as Kadokawa, Wei Fan (Back to 1942, Set Off) as Mr. Tang and Yuanyuan Gao (Beijing Bicycle, Caught in the Web) as Miss Jiang. I thought it was brilliant the way the director shot this historical war movie; there was a direct approach that needed no special effects or swooning melodrama. Honestly, this was one of the most realistic portrayals I have seen in a World War II film. It also had some hard scenes of brutality and horror, besides violence and blood. Speaking to a friend after seeing this picture, she asked me why I watch such movies. The reason is to remind me that war is not a kid’s game. Chinese, Japanese, German and English was spoken with English subtitles.

 

3 1/2 stars — DVD

Flash Movie Review: The Wind Rises

Even before I knew what dreams meant, music has always been around me. Once I learned how to walk I was immediately placed on any tabletop or chair seat where I instinctively would begin to move to any music that was playing in the house. From those basic dance moves, as I got older, a dream was born inside of me to become a dancer. Visions of me dancing on Soul Train, being a go-go boy or becoming a part of the Solid Gold Dancers lingered at the front of my mind until I realized I was not disciplined enough to forge through the actual work of becoming a dancer. However, my dream did not totally deflate because it still played a part when I became an aerobic and group fitness instructor. My aerobic classes were not your usual type of class. Being a long time member of the licensing agencies ASCAP and BMI (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; Broadcast Music, Inc.), I would choreograph every move to music from the actual artists. The members felt they were dancing at a concert. That dream of me being a dancer morphed into a career that has brought me unlimited joy, even to this day. Dreams are the fuel that ignites willful desire and in this English speaking version of the Oscar nominated film for best animation, there was a man whose entire life revolved around one simple dream. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Don Jon, Looper) voiced Jiro Horikosai, who only dreamt of flying. Due to his nearsightedness preventing him from flying, Jiro kept his dream alive by becoming an aeronautical designer like his idol Count Caproni, voiced by Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games franchise, The Terminal). Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle), this dramatic movie was utterly beautiful to watch. The way the colors and scenes would move and evolve were stunning to me. I did not realize the film was a tribute to a real person; if I had known this I might have felt a stronger connection to the story. As it was, I thought the story was slow in parts. If it was not for the flawless animation I would have been less entertained. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all the events shown in Jiro’s life, but I could easily relate to a man living out his dream.

 

3 1/3 stars

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