TELLING STRANGERS TO TRY HARDER WAS not something that came easy to me, at first. My biggest fear was someone becoming ill or injured in my fitness classes. Honestly, I had simple goals when I started out teaching at health clubs and fitness centers; I wanted people to be safe, have fun and feel good about themselves. If they lost weight or inches or gained muscle mass, I considered it “icing on the cake” so to speak. The goals I set out were easy to achieve despite the wide diversity of people who came to my classes. There were some members who considered class their social hour, where they preferred to catch up with their friends and neighbors. I had members who were so serious about working out they made it known they did not want any distractions from anyone, including me. I remember trying to find a tactful way to encourage some members from using perfume and cologne as part of their workout attire because other members were gagging over the smell of it combined with sweat. No matter who walked into the class, all I wanted was for them to try their best and from my experiences I knew barking orders was not the way I wanted to conduct my classes. WHAT WAS ONE OF MY BIGGEST assets when motivating class participants was my humor; I truly believe this. When I would get the class in position to tackle a challenging movement, I would change my voice to make comments as if I were someone who disliked working out. Along with humor, I would always show a variety of options members could do to achieve the same results. In a yoga class I had a member who could not do a plank pose. I had her start the pose with both of her knees on the mat, explaining she would still gain the benefit of the pose without the struggle. As the weeks passed, I encouraged her to try the same pose with only one knee on the mat. The look on her face when she did it was priceless. Over the course of several months she went from doing the pose on both knees to achieving the traditional pose with only her forearms and toes on the mat. No matter what fitness level a member was at, I tried to get each member to push themselves to go an extra 10 seconds or do the movement two more times; it is all about providing a space where everyone feels safe, accepted and part of a group/team. Under these circumstances, I can push myself to take on harder tasks; however, from watching this dramatic action thriller, I do not know how the men were motivated to do what they had to do. IN 1969 VIET NAM US FORCES WERE ordered to capture a hill from enemy forces. The hill was called Hamburger Hill which the servicemen knew was not meant to be a good name. With Anthony Barrile (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning; Kiss Me, Guido) as Pvt. Vincent “Alphabet” Languilli, Michael Boatman (The Peacemaker, The Good Wife-TV) as Pvt. Ray Motown, Don Cheadle (The Guard, Traitor) as Pvt. Johnny Washburn, Dylan McDermott (Survivor, Reign Over Me) as Sgt. Adam Frantz and Courtney B. Vance (Ben is Back, Dangerous Minds) as Spc. Abraham “Doc” Johnson; this story that was based on true events was intense, with graphic scenes. As far as war films go, I found this one to be close to authentic. It was hard for me to imagine that type of action taking place; however, what I was watching made sense. The acting from the cast was good but this film was all about the action, despite some of it looking a bit dated. Based on the script, I cannot believe how much the men had to endure. Even after the film was over, I still had a hard time imagining what the motivation was that pushed these men on.
IT WAS NOT UNTIL I CAUGHT his sideways glance back at us that I realized we needed to stop talking separately. I understood because I had been in his position myself and knew what it felt like. Early on, I did not realize when two people are together in a relationship, they learn to talk to each other in a certain shorthanded type of way, that only they understand. They also can get a sense through their partner’s body language; people refer to this as non-verbal visual cues. I remember walking with their new significant other as mine was walking behind to catch up with their old flame. To me it sounded like they were conversing with sentence fragments; little snippets of phrases and idioms that made little sense to me. They would laugh at what I heard to be random bits; but to hear them, one would think they were a couple of comedians sharing their comedy routines with each other. I cannot say I was feeling hurt per se, however, I did feel as if I was being left out from being part of their clique. As I said, the first time this happened to me I was uncomfortable. But as I gained experience being in that role and with maturity, I stopped feeling threatened and instead, learned to respect it for what it was: 2 exes’ catching up in the way only they knew how to communicate with each other. WHETHER IT IS TWO OR A DOZEN people who have spent a significant time together, it is understandable they form a special bond between themselves. The bond becomes so strong that a long expanse of time filled with absence barely shaves off a layer from the top surface of the connection. I remember going back to an elementary school class reunion and despite having had no contact with many of my classmates for decades, all of us immediately fell into that comfortable spot of familiarity and belonging. It was as if I had just been with them a short time ago as my memories burst into my awareness like a school of swimming dolphin coming up for air at the same time; I would see someone new walk into the room and I immediately recognized them and recalled the interactions we had together when we were back in such and such grade. Any of the petty issues that any of us were carrying about a bad experience shared got washed away from the excitement of being back together as one cohesive body of students who survived the formative years of elementary school. That special bond between people was something that resonated with me when I watched the group of friends in this dramatic war adventure film. RETURNING TO VIET NAM AFTER MANY YEARS, four military Vets were determined to complete their mission to retrieve their buddy’s remains and a stack of gold that was left behind. The bonds between them would serve them well as they went back into the jungle. With Delroy Lindo (Malcom X, Get Shorty) as Paul, Jonathan Majors (White Boy Rick, Captive State) as David, Clarke Peters (John Wick, Marley & Me) as Otis, Norm Lewis (Winter’s Tale, Sex and the City 2) as Eddie and Isiah Whitlock Jr. (Cedar Rapids, BlackKklansman) as Melvin; the story in this movie was loaded up with several topical themes. The acting was excellent to the point I believed the 4 Viet Nam vet characters really fought together in the war. Granted I have no personal experience about being in the military during the Viet Nam war, but I found the script authentic enough for it to be believable. There were times where I felt some preaching was taking place, but it did not distract me enough to care about it. There were several scenes with blood and violence. One other positive thing about watching this movie was it reminded me how good pictures can provide viewers with things to think about afterwards.
3 ½ stars
WHO WILL REMEMBER THE MEMORIES WHEN the keepers of the memories are gone? I think about this from time to time. At a recent get together I started thinking about it again as the people in attendance were going over old, family photographs. There were several photos of people whose identities were unknown to the people at the party. These strangers, one had to assume, were related somehow to the family; but there was no one left from the previous generation who could help identify these strangers. I sat and wondered how many generations would have to pass before all the people in the photographs turned into unknown beings. As the gathering continued, I recalled from when I was little a neighbor who had lost many relatives due to war. She was a survivor herself. In fact, the first time I ever saw a tattoo was the one on her arm. It was a series of numbers and I remember asking her what the numbers meant. Looking back, she explained as best she could without frightening me how she was given the tattoo when she was in a concentration camp. Being so young I had not reached an age where I could comprehend the words, she was telling me; yet, though she is long gone I have not forgotten what she had said to me. NOW THERE ARE TIMES WHERE I wished I was privy to a person’s memories, especially when they have a historic factor. I knew several Viet Nam veterans, but that is all I knew about them. They never talked about their time away, what they did or what they saw; it was a subject one realized quickly they never wanted to talk about to anyone. I remember a friend’s family where one of the siblings was a soldier in Viet Nam. The family’s mailbox became their only connection to their son and brother. I was over at their house when a letter had arrived from overseas. The family huddled close together as a parent carefully opened the envelope and took out the onion skin piece of paper. Seeing the joy in their faces is something I have never forgotten. Being curious all these years, I had the privilege of talking to a Viet Nam veteran recently and asked him if the norm was not to talk about one’s experiences during the war. He explained the possible reasons for someone not wanting to talk about it, then generously shared his story. I carry his memory with me as I do now of the heroic act that took place in this dramatic, war film. THOUGH WILLIAM PITSENBARGER, PLAYED BY JEREMY Irvine (War Horse, The Railway Man), had the opportunity to save himself from the heat of a battle, he chose to remain behind and help save his fellow soldiers. Those who were saved wanted to make sure William was never forgotten. This film’s story was inspired by true events and I must tell you I was surprised with some of the things I saw in this picture. With Samuel L. Jackson (Shaft, Jackie Brown) as Takoda, Sebastian Stan (Captain America franchise; I, Tonya) as Scott Huffman, Diane Ladd (Joy, Chinatown) as Alice Pitsenberger and Christopher Plummer (The Man Who Invented Christmas, Knives Out) as Frank Pitsenberger; I thought the cast was excellent. Seeing the older actors display their gift of acting made the characters come alive for me. I found the story unbelievable to the point it started playing out like a mystery. The issue I had, however, was with the directing and the script. Instead of coming across like one continuous emotional journey, the scenes felt like snippets of events which damaged the build up of emotional depth. I would start to connect to a character but then the scene would jump and sever that feeling. The story I felt was important enough that it needed more time to blend scenes together and tighten up the script. Essentially, this film lacked drama for me. Now maybe those who have gone through the war will have a different feeling, which I would certainly understand. Still, I am glad this story came to light and now I know and remember it.
2 ½ stars
The majority of the people who asked me if I was paying attention never knew how much attention I was actually devoting to them. I was probably studying their face as they were speaking to me. Looking at the shape of their ears, studying the color of their eyes, listening to the sound of their speech, checking their teeth for any errant food particles, noticing any unusual smells wafting off of them; I was trying to expand and fine-tune my senses. Our five senses, some say six, is something I never took for granted. I thought everyone practiced exercising their senses; it never occurred to me that someone would not be doing it. Growing up I thought the more I used my hearing the farther and clearer it would be able to hear sounds. The idea of hearing a colony of ants on the sidewalk as they systematically moved particles of sand fascinated me to no end; I thought with practice one day I would hear them. Little did I know in the adult world hearing or should I say listening would almost be a lost art form. I have encountered so many people who do not hear what a person is telling them. The same can be said about seeing; haven’t you ever walked down the street with a friend and at some point asked them if they saw that stranger standing at the store window or say bus stop? They did not see anyone and have no idea what you are talking about. I have had this happen to me more times than I can count. There is so much going around us in our daily lives that I cannot imagine not being able to experience even a little of it each day. If you are not totally convinced maybe this beautiful drama will help you. TEN year old Mui, played by relative newcomer Man San Lu, was sent to live with a family who had experienced a tragic loss, to become their servant. Nothing was taken for granted in this household. This film festival winner and Oscar nominated movie had a gentle, quiet story. I say quiet because scenes focused on some of the simplest things but were able to produce exquisite results. With a beautiful music score I thought the script was well done and the actors such as Tran Nu Yenkhe (The Vertical Ray of the Sun, Cyclo) as the adult Mui and relative newcomer Thi Loc Truong as La mere were all totally believable. I enjoyed the way the story moved forward; things were subtly introduced instead of being too overt. In some ways I felt this produced calmness to the story even when there was an issue brewing underneath the surface. In addition, the use of dialog was kept to a minimum. This was the type of picture one could easily sit down to watch and absorb the action with one’s senses. Vietnamese was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
One of the hardest things to see is a pet or child suffering the consequences of an adult’s actions. Seeing those pitiful eyes looking out at you in pain is just brutal. More so when they cannot communicate their hurt. There was a recent trial taking place here where a man was accused of dropping puppies off a highway overpass. If the fall did not kill them a speeding car or truck would have done it. What type of person would think of such a thing? This is an example of why I believe some people have only pure evil inside of themselves. When it comes to some of the caretakers of children, they too have that same type of evil. There was a story in the newspaper about a boyfriend who poured scalding water on his girlfriend’s 2 year old son for crying; can you believe it? The two adults in the situations I just described knew what they were doing and deserve to get the harshest of terms. But you know there are other adults who do not realize what ramifications their actions can cause innocent people. The individual who wants to kill themselves by driving into oncoming traffic; why harm anyone else when one wants to die? Or what about the innocent children who suffer the effects of armed conflicts between adults? Whether they become orphans or physically disabled due to guns or bombs, these children did not ask nor deserve this type of outcome due to the adults’ actions. It takes a special person to jump in and try to help in these types of situations. BASED on a true story this film festival winning movie was about Christina Noble, played by Deirdre O’Kane (Intermission, Boy Eats Girl), a poor Irish girl who had to fight for everything just to survive. Her battles were just the training she needed for what lied ahead for her and the orphaned children of Viet Nam during the late 1980s. This biographical drama’s strength was not only having Deirdre star but also Sarah Greene (The Guard, Love & Savagery) who played the younger Christina. The story lines were captivating for both characters. I think they would have been even more powerful if the director had done a better job; for the direction dragged the story down. Scenes that were tough to watch due to the circumstances taking place in them felt slightly disconnected to the scenes around it. However, the story truly was amazing to watch because Christina was such a strong character. I know there had to be more to this story than what was depicted in this film and to tell you the truth, I would not have minded if they had to make the movie longer to tell the story. For being such an amazing woman, Christina deserved to get more exposure.
Along with the required classes I took, there was included courses on peer pressure. There was no financial cost. I had never signed up for them, but I quickly learned about it during my schooling. During our younger years, where we may not have yet built-up a base of self-confidence, it was the more assertive pupils who staked out claims to yield power over fellow students. Those kids who were not strong enough (either emotionally or physically) would follow the assertive/aggressive leaders of the class. Now I have seen it time and time again, those who seek out and gain power strictly with brute force tend to have a weak moral compass. It starts out slowly with an odd request or weird command before things escalate and the leader has his own personal lynch mob at his beck and call. The saddest part of this equation is seeing those individuals, who on their own would never act out in such a way, having to participate in a wicked attack goaded on by their fierce leader. There is an ugly addition to this scenario which involves those students who refuse to participate. Chances are they will become the hunted as the aggressive head of the group directs his minions at the innocent. DURING wartime there were horrors one expected but Eriksson, played by Michael J. Fox (Back to the Future franchise, Family Ties-TV), never imagined he would be involved in the kidnapping of a young innocent girl, instigated by his platoon leader Sgt. Tony Meserve, played by Sean Penn (Fair Game, All the King’s Men). This film festival wining war drama was directed by one of my favorite directors, Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Dressed to Kill). He has an eye for setting up scenes similar to Alfred Hitchcock. I say this because I want you to be aware of the backgrounds during scenes; Brian places other forms of action behind the actors. The pairing of Sean and Michael would appear odd at first, but it actually was a brilliant choice and they were amazing together. So were other members of the platoon like John C. Reilly (Chicago, Step Brothers) as PFC Herbert Hatcher and John Leguizamo (Romeo + Juliet, Chef) as PFC Antonio Diaz. Inspired by true events, the story offered a different view of military life during the Viet Nam war. One other thing I wanted to mention about Brian’s directing; the way the scenes were filmed really amped up the intensity of them. After recently reviewing the movie American Sniper, I found it interesting that this DVD should show up soon after. There were scenes that included blood and violence in them.
3 1/2 stars — DVD
It seems as if everything in the world is evolving to become disposable and replaceable. I believe we are being conditioned to accept things will not last. As an example I have a friend who has to replace her hair dryer almost every year or sooner because they keep breaking. She is resigned to the fact that once something starts to go wrong with her dryer it is easier to throw it away and get a new one. Except for the cost factor I guess little energy has to be devoted to replacing material items these days. There is however something that survives even on the littlest amount of spirit from inside of us. When I think about it through the history of mankind, I find it to be one of the most resilient forces on the planet. What it is, is hope. Hope has the ability to carry a person through absolute perilous, debilitative times; yet, like an ember that remains lit in a pile of discarded brush, hope resuscitates the soul. From a thought, a kind word, a gentle action or even a locked glance; hope will rise within each of us to be that beacon of light, shining a picture of a brighter future on the inner walls of our mind. ORPHANED and forced to work in a bamboo factory; ten year old Thuy, played by newcomer Han Thi Pham, felt life had to be better almost anywhere else than her small village. Running away to Saigon, Thuy would discover a world filled with people who were each missing something in their lives. She was undeterred because she believed her hopes and dreams would come true one day. This film festival winning movie had a beautiful subtle charm to it. There was nothing overt or thrown in the face of viewers; the story maintained tenderness even during tense scenes. For a young girl, newcomer Han Thi Pham had a wonderful screen presence as she displayed a natural flair in her acting. Cat Ly (Journey From the Fall, 21 and a Wake-Up) as flight attendant Lan and The Lu Le (The Buffalo Boy) as zookeeper Hai both were similar in the way they were able to let their physicality express their feelings. I found myself being pulled further into the story as the movie unfolded. Though there were a couple of spots that were predictable, I never felt the story was contrived or manipulative. I not only enjoyed watching this sweet and gentle film, I also had a sense of hope by the end of the movie that more people around the world would continue to tell good stories on film. Vietnamese with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
Since the euphoric high several weeks ago from the Oscar telecast, the caliber of movies that have been released has continued to sink week after week. My times spent at the movie theaters have dragged out due to boredom. There are moments I have sat staring at the movie mess splashing on the screen and thought if I at least had my checkbook, I could balance it. I am annoyed that movie studios do not spread out their quality films through the entire year instead of stacking them up on holidays. After several long weeks I finally saw a movie that surprised and excited me. Inspired by a true story, four aboriginal girls hoped to form a singing group that would lead them to a better life. Set in an Australian town in the late 1960’s; sisters Gail, Julie and Cynthia, played by Deborah Mailman (Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Book of Revelation), Jessica Mauboy (Bran Nue Dae) and relative newcomer Miranda Tapsell, entered a singing contest despite the all Caucasian audience. MC/talent scout Dave Lovelace, played by Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, This is 40), recognized the girls’ talent and began a business relationship that would take the girls overseas to entertain the U.S. troops in Viet Nam. The sisters with their cousin Kay, played by relative newcomer Shari Sebbens, would have to grow up fast as the world around them could quickly end with a single explosion. This film festival winner touched on heavy topics such as prejudice, war and death; but maintained a light coverage, keeping the focus on the girls. I thought Chris did a wonderful job with his character, carrying the majority of amusing lines. An important aspect of this movie was the awesome soulful soundtrack headed by Jessica Mauboy’s killer vocals. Numerous times I found myself tapping my feet to the musical beats. What a great story that superseded any acting quibbles I may have had or the stretching of the truth. I was able to leave the theater with a smile on my face and Motown tunes in my head. A couple of brief scenes with blood.
3 1/2 stars