Archives for category: Film

Everyone has what I call “Sliding Door Moments.” If you’ve seen the movie Sliding Doors, you probably get what I mean. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it’s a movie about a woman’s (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) life shown in 2 parallel timelines. I don’t think I’m giving anything away here, but just in case, SPOILER ALERT. In one timeline, the woman catches a subway train just before the doors slide shut and gets home in time to see her boyfriend cheating on her. She breaks up with him and falls in love with someone else. In the other timeline, she misses the train and doesn’t catch him. She stays with him, even though neither one of them seems to be getting much out of the relationship, and he continues to cheat on her. END SPOILER ALERT.

As I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, a Sliding Door Moment is a moment in our lives when something occurs or a choice we have to make radically changes the course of our life. For example, one of my Moments was January 8, 2008 in the early morning. At that moment, I seriously, SERIOUSLY considered not going to the airport and not getting on the plane that would take me to Japan. I clearly remember thinking, “I don’t HAVE to go.” That’s an example of a choice that I made in a Moment. An example of a seemingly serendipitous Moment would be when the representative at Chase Visa gave me the advice that eventually helped me out of debt.

250 yen for one strawberry. To buy or not to buy?

250 yen for one strawberry. To buy or not to buy?

Both of those moments profoundly changed my life. Some of it was good, some of it was bad, all of it was difficult. But at the end of the day, I am here because of those moments, and they helped make me who I am now.

Even though I like my life and who I am now, it’s tempting to think, “What if?” Of course it’s not tempting to wonder about the Moments that obviously led to good things. I have never once tried to imagine what my life would be like if I still had all that debt. But what if I hadn’t gotten on the plane? I had a really good life in the U.S. I had lots of friends, I liked my job, I was very involved in my church. There was absolutely nothing that I wanted to run away from. There are also lots of events I wouldn’t have missed if I had stayed: marriages, births, concerts, parties. Another Moment I often wonder about occurred back in 1987. It was the moment I forgave my high school boyfriend for cheating on me. Forgiving him led to 7 more years in a totally unhealthy relationship, a devastating breakup, and depression. What if I hadn’t forgiven him and instead broken up with him? Wouldn’t my life have been better?

As easy as it is to dwell on those Moments, to convince yourself that life could have been better or easier, it’s so wrong to do it. Most people will tell you that you shouldn’t regret those episodes in your life because they made you stronger and wiser. That may be true, but that is not the only reason I like to leave the past in the past. The Bible tells us that God has a plan for each one of us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And as if that’s not enough, He also says He will go with us: “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He never once promises His way is easy or painless, but He does promise we won’t face our challenges alone. If we trust this, then we know that those Moments were meant to be. There is no point in wondering “What if?’ because there is only what is.

So the next time you find yourself dwelling on a decision that you should or shouldn’t have made, remember that you are right where you are supposed to be.

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A friend of mine recently recommended the movie Saving Mr. Banks to me. We were having one of our epic conversations about the Oscars (3 hours on Skype, and that’s not even a record for us) and Tom Hanks came up. If you saw Captain Phillips, then you know it was an absolute travesty that he was not nominated in the Best Actor category. Seriously, the last scene alone should earn him an Oscar every year for the rest of his life. Even if he didn’t do any movies that year.

Anyway, my friend said Mr. Hanks was also fantastic in Saving Mr. Banks. In fact, he was so insistent, that I felt I had to see for myself. So I settled in with it last night at home. I knew pretty much nothing about P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins, so the whole movie was a revelation (although be warned, the movie takes quite a few artistic liberties, as I learned from my research afterwards). I wasn’t a Mary Poppins fan before, but I am now. The whole story was wonderful, moving, hopeful. It is no wonder that I cried through the entire thing. Really. Pretty much from beginning to end. If I wasn’t crying because something bad happened, I was crying because something good happened. There really was not a lot of down time for me. In fact, I was watching it in the evening and I eventually got hungry at some point and decided to eat dinner. I even cried then. The tears streamed down my face and into my food, forcing me to literally eat my own salty tears. It’s attractive, I know. Sobbing and chewing. This is why I live alone.

This is not the first time I have made a fool of myself crying over a movie. When I saw Forrest Gump in the theater, I cried so hard my contacts fell out. I had to hold them in my palm and hope that they didn’t dry up before the movie ended and I could go to the bathroom and pop them back in (it was close, but I made it). My friend told me in the same conversation that one of his favorite memories is the time we went to see Atonement together. He said that there was a point during the movie where there had been a lot of noise and then it suddenly got quiet. It was at this moment that he heard me make a little gasping, sobbing noise next to him. A sound which reverberated throughout the silent theater. Yep, that was me.

But at least he was understanding about my crying. Yes, he may have teased me later, but it was not at all mean. Unlike Betty the Drama Queen. Betty the Drama Queen (one of my very favorite people and a great friend) used to just flat-out laugh at me during the movie. In fact, her laughing usually distracted people from my crying, for which I was suppose I should be thankful. BDQ and I went to see The Passion of the Christ together at the local theater. Before entering the theater, she said she needed to stop at concessions, where she proceeded to buy a diet Coke and popcorn. As if we were going to see a Michael Bay movie. And if that weren’t bad enough, during the scene where Jesus is being flogged, BDQ kept whispering in my ear about how amazing the makeup was. The whole experience turned out to be the one time when it would have been totally acceptable to break down crying, and yet I could not shed a tear. How could I? With frequent offers of popcorn and whispered exclamations of, “Oh my goodness, HOW did they do that?! Doesn’t that look fabulous?” I just couldn’t get into it.

Yes, many a time I’ve been close to requiring hospitalization after a movie. My earliest memory of losing it during a movie is when I was about 10 years old and my family went to see The Fox and the Hound. I cried my eyes out. I can’t imagine what the parents waiting in line thought when they saw me come out of the theater, eyes all red and puffy. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them quickly took their kids out of line and said, “Hey, I’ve got a better idea. Let’s go bowling instead!” But you know, I wouldn’t change that about myself. It’s rather cathartic to cry like that. I always feel better afterward, if a bit exhausted. And I’d rather be reduced to tears by a movie than by my own real life.

ImageOne of my all-time favorite movies is Until the End of the World.  It’s a 3 hour (the director’s cut is 5 hours) futuristic road movie about chasing love, happiness, and a controversial invention that turns your dreams into home movies.  All set in the year 1999.  In the opening scenes of the movie, the narrator, played by Sam Neill, gives us a brief description of the times: “1999 was the year that the Indian nuclear satellite went out of control. No one knew when it would land. It soared above the ozone layer like a lethal bird of prey.  The whole world was alarmed.” I’ve been wondering if we will think back on 2014 in a similar way, remembering it as the year Malaysian flight MH370 went missing.

Malaysia jetI mean, they lost a jet, a huge Boeing 777.  Filled with people.  And equipped with all kinds of state-of-the-art communication devices.  How can that happen?  They’re saying today (though it could easily change tomorrow) that someone had to have purposely turned off all the devices and whatnot that allow the plane to be tracked.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is not good.  I mean, that sounds like someone wants the plane to not be found.  Is it the pilot?  A passenger who hijacked the plane?  Charles Widmore?  No one knows.  But in the dead time following the Olympics, the Oscars, and a weekend binge of House of Cards, the mystery of it all is somewhat alluring.  Not to make light of it – I’m sure the families who are praying for their loved ones to be found are not at all fascinated. More likely they are dumbfounded, angry, and desperate for a resolution.  But for those of us who are not intimately connected, it’s compelling.  How and why did they do it?  Where are they now?  Are they alive, and if by some miracle they are, why haven’t we heard anything?  And the question no one wants to ask out loud, how long until we give up?

Pray for MH370So what world event will define 2014?  It’s still too early in the year to make that call.  So far we have a few contenders: the Sochi Olympics (memorable more for the sketchy accommodations than for the sports themselves), Crimea being separated from Ukraine and annexed to Russia, and now the missing plane.  Who knows what else will happen in the next 9 months?  I’m just relieved that there’s already enough to overshadow the shock that Matthew McConaughey (Matthew McConaughey, for Pete’s sake) won an Oscar.

Power of WordsI’ve been perusing other WordPress blogs and I’ve discovered something. There are quite a few would-be writers out there. Several times I’ve seen mentions of novels in the works, or dreams of someday being published. Nothing wrong with that at all. It makes sense that people who want to write would find an outlet in the blogosphere. I, however, am not one of them. Oh no. I have no desire to be a writer. All that pressure to write something meaningful, something that makes an impact on the world. No thank you. Alright, yes, it’s true, I guess I’ve thought about it once or twice. But only because so many of my friends have told me I should write. “What?” I say to them. “You’re crazy. What would I even write about?” What would I write about, indeed. I certainly didn’t pay any attention to that recent Buzzfeed quiz, What Career Should You Actually Have, when it clearly stated that I should be a writer. I really wouldn’t even know where to begin. Although, I suppose, yes, I’ve had a few interesting experiences. I’ve often thought that I’ve packed at least 3 lifetimes into the short time I’ve been alive. In fact, some periods of my life seem unreal to me, almost as if they were part of some movie I saw. In all honesty, my life would make a pretty good movie. I guess if I were going to be coerced into writing something, a novel loosely based on my life experiences that could easily be envisioned on the big screen would make the most sense. Not that I would ever really consider it. I mean, I guess I might actually try submitting some of my work somewhere if it would get everyone to stop telling me I should be a writer. That would show them, wouldn’t it? If I tried and just failed? Of course, if you look at it completely objectively, I probably wouldn’t fail. I’m pretty creative, I’ve had lots of interesting experiences, and besides, they can’t all be wrong, can they? But it doesn’t matter because if I wrote a novel and it was made into a movie, there’s no guarantee it would be a hit. Though between you and me, I can already picture some of the scenes in my head, and if you could get some major stars attached, like Jennifer Lawrence and maybe Matthew McConaughey, my movie would be huge. HUGE. I just wouldn’t want to deal with the fame, though. You know, you write a best-selling novel and it gets turned into a hit movie and suddenly everyone knows you and is making all kinds of offers and you’re the most popular person in the business. Way too much stress. Sure, there are perks. Traveling all over the world, getting into the swankiest restaurants, hanging out with celebrities, probably going to the Oscars. That’s really why I don’t want to be a writer. I mean, who wants all that? Not me.

I have to admit, recently I have developed a pretty big crush on Tom Hiddleston.  Not on Loki, as so many fangirls have.  But on the actual actor himself.  He’s got a great smile, dresses well, lovely hair and eyes, an adorable laugh, and he just seems like an all-around good guy who truly enjoys doing what he does.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he has a beautiful British accent.  I always had a weakness for that.  I am crushing big time.  Have you seen his video with Cookie Monster?  How can you not adore him?

Anyway, this got me thinking about Hollywood Crushes in general the other night. I decided I would put them into 3 main categories: Looks, Talent, and The Whole Package.  The Looks category is the simplest to understand.  It is based solely on physical attractiveness without any regard to talent or public personality.  These are the actors that I am rather ashamed of finding attractive, even though most people would agree with me.  Some actors I would put in this category are Antonio Banderas, Orlando Bloom, and Chris Hemsworth as Thor.  I find these actors very pretty, yet sadly untalented. Or perhaps only good as one type of character.  Hence the feeling of shame.  How can I be reduced to such shallowness?  In my little fantasy world where it’s actually possible that one of them would be interested in me, I imagine I would be extremely flattered to be asked out.  But after a date or two, I’d realize that there was no way I could believably support and encourage him in his “art” and I’d have to break it off.  You know, before he got too attached to me.

The second group, Talent, is a bit easier to admit to.  These are actors that maybe aren’t stunningly handsome, but whose talent is great enough for me to truly admire them.  For me, this admiration actually makes them seem extremely handsome.  For example, Gary Sinise, Emile Hirsch, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Mark Ruffalo.  Maybe some of you think these men are really attractive aside from their talent. But attraction is subjective, and I would have to say that if I saw any of these men on the street and they weren’t famous, I wouldn’t really notice them. These are the guys that don’t make much of an impression at first, but if you give them a chance you see how beautiful they really are (talent-wise). “He is SO hot!” is replaced by, “He is SO talented!” The problem is, even in my fantasy world I’m sure none of these guys would give me a second glance (with the possible exception of Gary Sinise, who seems like a genuinely nice guy, probably because he’s also from Chicago).

The third group is easily my favorite.  The Whole Package.  This is where Tom Hiddleston lives.  You might also run into David Tennant, Colin Firth, and Hugh Jackman.  These guys are handsome, talented, and all seem to truly love the business of being famous actors without being arrogant.  They’re doing what they love and they know how lucky they are to be doing it.  They know that being in the limelight has certain disadvantages, but they don’t let it interfere with their joy.  They don’t punch photographers; they pose.  They don’t shove past eager fans; they stop and sign autographs.  With a genuine smile.  They don’t just have a pretty face or a great personality.  They are the whole package.  They are the ones I’d most love to meet.  And based solely on their public images, I think they wouldn’t mind meeting me.  In fact, I’m about to meet Tom for drinks right now.  I just know he’ll find me irresistibly charming.  In my fantasy world, of course.

I went to my very first movie in a Japanese movie theater about 2 weeks ago. It was pretty much the same as an American theater, so no new insights there. But it did serve to remind me of how isolated I feel here. Not only do I feel like I’m in an entertainment vacuum, but when did it become a HUGE event for me to go to a movie? I mean, aside from the midnight show of Return of the King, which was really more like a big party. Yet here I am, trying to carefully choose the next movie I may venture out to see in a month or so. It’s $18 a ticket and I don’t want to pick the wrong one – it has to be worth it. Perhaps this attitude has given me some perspective on my choice of entertainment.

I’ve also been renting a lot of movies lately (which is MUCH cheaper), and something has occurred to me. Hollywood is serving up a lot of garbage in recent years. Yet we pay for it because the trailers tell us we should. Instead of thinking through just which movie is worthy of our time and money, we waste our resources on practically all of them. The trailer is funny, so the actual movie must be hilarious. The trailer is scary, so the actual movie must be terrifying. And we end up going every week only to be disappointed in the long run. Oh, we may say right after the movie, “That was really good!” or “I really enjoyed that.” And we’ll keep thinking that until the next time we watch a TRULY good film. Then we’re reminded of how far that movie we saw last week falls short.

So this is what I’ve learned in Japan about film: 1) Not every film that claims to be good is and 2) The people who make movies don’t really care about entertaining you; they just want your money. To some of you this may sound incredibly simple and logical. To others, it probably sounds cynical and wrong coming from me. But I needed to learn all this. I forgot that movie-making is largely big business. I forgot that a trailer editor’s job is to manipulate you. I forgot that celebrities (for the most part) have houses and habits and lifestyles to pay for. I fell victim to one of the classic blunders: advertising lies.

Before I get a bunch of outraged comments, let me just say that I don’t mean to apply this to EVERY director/actor/writer out there. In fact, it makes me appreciate the great ones even more. Thank goodness for the Coen Brothers, David Mamet and Laura Linney, all professionals who take their craft seriously. I’m sure you all can name several others.

But back to my original point, perhaps we ALL need to rethink how we choose which movie to see. Do we want to continue to be gluttons, consuming everything that comes out? If we DO continue this way, Hollywood will only get worse. How many of you have said in recent years, “Wow, I don’t think there’s anything out there this year worthy of a Best Picture Oscar”? I know you’ve said it, because you’ve often said it to me. And I have agreed. It’s rare for anything decent to come out before Thanksgiving. I know that part of this is the Academy’s fault. They tend to ignore anything released before November, so why release anything great in the dead of February? But just because they’ve given up doesn’t mean we have to. It took an $18 ticket to make me realize this. Suddenly it’s too expensive to go to just any old movie. I need to expect more for what I’m spending. And I’m not just talking about money. It’s those 2 hours that you lose watching a piece of crap, too. 2 hours you will never get back.

So let’s rally, shall we? Let’s tell Hollywood just what we think of the recycled garbage they are serving us. Let’s repeat those infamous words spoken by Peter Finch in Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” Shout it from your windows and rooftops! Shout it from the corner of Hollywood and Vine! I’d shout it from here in Yao, but no one will understand what I’m saying. So I leave it up to you.

I despise movies that have dubbed language soundtracks.

I know, I know. Some of you out there will say, “I want to watch a movie, not read it.” To you I say, “your loss.” There are tons of great foreign films out there that you folks will never see all because you don’t want to do a little reading. And I’ll never understand how anyone can stand to watch an actor’s mouth moving when there isn’t any dialogue. But that’s fine. Whatever. It’s no skin off my nose.

Dubbed films are easy enough to avoid at home. You don’t HAVE to watch Univision. You can skip the Saturday afternoon dubbed tv broadcast of Life is Beautiful and just rent the DVD. And DVDs of course come with the original foreign language. But here in Japan, guess what? Everyone speaks Japanese. And do you know what that means for any American films shown on TV? That’s right. They get dubbed in – Japanese.

What surprised me, however, was that language dubbing actually can be an improvement to some of the more, shall we say, “awful” movies. For instance, I came across The Fantastic Four this evening. While I had zero interest in seeing this movie, I left it on for a bit simply because it starred people I recognize. Much to my horror, the movie was not bad in Japanese. It gave that sort of Godzilla or Mothra feel to it. Remember those? Those movies were terrible, but they were fun to watch just for the cheese factor. Suddenly, the FF storyline no longer mattered – I couldn’t understand it anyway. The lame special effects seemed to look better somehow. And Jessica Alba’s horrid acting no longer seemed to stand out so much. I was amazed!

So I’ve changed my opinion of all language dubbing. Sometimes it’s ok. But only while I’m in Japan. After that, it’s back to skipping those certain movies altogether.