Are You Green Enough to Write ‘A Will for the Woods’

If you’re feeling down this movie won’t bring you up because it is about death, certain death. This is also a very personal movie, one that follows one terminally ill man from his battle with lymphoma to his death and burial and along the way we learn about the green burial movement in the documentary “A Will for the Woods.”

Yet we all will face death and taxes and it’s never too early to think about death.

Clark Wang is a musician, psychiatrist and folk dancer.  We see him playing music with friends. Wang lives in North Carolina. His partner Jane Ezzard is beside him as he fights cancer through radiation treatments and yet the possibility that the battle against will be lost is not far from their thoughts between doctor’s visits and dealing with the side effects.

Director Amy Browne had first learned about the concept of green burial in 2007 from her sister, Sophie, who was working with Professor Roger Short of the University of Melbourne in Australia. They were looking for and developing future sites in that country for green burials. Sophie had begun her research in 2007, but it was in 2009 that Sophie and Amy were stuck in traffic near the Calvary Cemetery in Queens, that Amy decided to make a documentary. According to the press notes, the cemetery is wall-to-wall tombstones, mausoleums and memorials. The grass has dried up. There are few trees. It seems like a waste of land and resources.

Collaborating with co-directors Amy, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale and Brian Wilson, Amy Browne took five years to film “A Will for the Woods.” The team looks at the key figures: Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council, Kimberley and Dr. Billy Campbell, founders of the nation’s first conservation burial ground and Dyanne Matzkevich who is saving part of a forest in her conventional cemetery in order to make a green burial ground.

All that is facts and talk, contrasted to statistical information about the funeral industry–of expensive caskets and monuments and embalming for those who don’t find cremation the way to go. Cremation also doesn’t fit the green profile because it also causes pollution. If you need more background consider reading Evelyn Waugh’s satire “The Loved One: An Anglo-American Tragedy” or Jessica Mitford’s funny expose “The American Way of Death Revisited” (2000 update to the original).

Mitford (1917-1996) was born in England and became an investigative journalist in the 1960s. “The American Way of Death” was originally published in 1963 and looked at the business practices of the funeral industries and how they exploited grief. That led to a congressional hearing.

Waugh (1903-1966) got to the topic sooner with his 1948 “The Loved One” which became a 1965 Tony Richardson movie. Waugh was in Hollywood on the pretense of negotiating with MGM to adapt “Brideshead Revisited.” Instead, he did some digging into the Forest Lawn culture–its founder, facility and the peculiar practices of Americans when they die.

In essence, “A Will for the Woods” is also a reaction to American culture of death and the pomp and circumstance we’ve come to feel is normal. If it wasn’t normal from a universal perspective in the 1940s or the 1960s, one wonders if the culture has gotten better or more ridiculous.

With that perspective, what can we do to fight the mantra of American consumerism. What’s a green activist or even green friendly person to do for a funeral?

That was a question that bothered Clark Wang. Amy Browne and Kaplan heard about him and Wang is such a simple, unassuming man. He’s not an attention hog. He’s not preening. He’s not gloomy. He’s sad but also seems to find a certain comfort in the filming of this documentary. Of course, no one could be quite sure what would happen, but Wang does lose his battle with cancer. He has some regrets, but he does eventually meet his death with thoughtful preparation.

In our home, we often lament the lack of East Asian ethnic heroes and lead characters. Wang just happens to be East Asian American and he also happens to be dying. He’s an average guy trying to settle his affairs and he invites us all to join in his final journey. The co-directors handle this with great sensitivity. You’ll mourn Wang’s passing but also leave thinking about just how green do you want to be?

This documentary is showing at various venues and you can request to host a screening by going to the official website. 


  • Village East Cinema – New York City, NY
  • Creative Alliance – Baltimore, MD
  • The Plaza Theater – Atlanta, GA
  • Temple of Peace – Maui, HI
    • August 21st, 7pm in Haiku – Temple of Peace, 575 Haiku Rd.
    • August 25th, 7pm in Kihei – Awakening in Paradise, 1715 South Kihei Rd.
  • Upstate Theater – Rhinebeck/Woodstock, NY
  • Hyatt Place Hotel – Medford, MA
    • Saturday, August 23rd at 7pm
    • 116 Riverside Avenue
    • This event is free and open to the public
    • Filmmaker present for Q&A
  • Pinckney Community Library – Pinckney, MI
    • Thursday, September 4th at 6:30pm
    • 125 Putnam Street
    • Venue info here. This event is free and open to the public
  • Railroad Square Cinema – Waterville, ME
  • The Clinton Street Theater – Portland, OR
  • Knoxville Film Festival – Knoxville, TN
  • The New Parkway – Oakland, CA
  • Full Frame Third Friday (free screening) – Durham, NC
    • Friday evening, September 19th
    • 318 Blackwell Street
    • Cinema info. Free event, reserve here 9am 9/19 due to limited seating
  • Alamo Drafthouse – Winchester, VA
  • Greenfield Garden Cinemas – Greenfield, MA
  • Tallahassee Film Society – Tallahassee, FL
  • Matthaei Botanical Gardens – Ann Arbor, MI
  • Museum of Fine Arts – Boston, MA
    • Saturday, October 11th, 2:30pm
    • 465 Huntington Ave (Remis Auditorium)
    • Venue info here (ticket info TBA)
    • Q&A with filmmakers following screening 
  • Kansas International Film Festival – Kansas City, KS
  • Films in Forest Row – United Kingdom
    • Friday, October 24th
    • East Sussex, UK
    • More info TBA
  • International Film Series at CU – Boulder, CO
  • Full Frame Theater (3 day run) – Durham, NC
  • The Lensic – Santa Fe, NM
  • Dallas, TX – Venue TBA
    • Thursday, November 6th (Time TBA)
    • More information on this screening available soon – stay tuned!

‘Jarhead 2′ is a competent war tale

This is clearly a movie about war and there will be some casualties and it won’t be pretty. The pretty faces will be few because this, “Jarhead 2: Field of Fire,”  is a straight-to-video follow-up to a more popular movie.

Introductions are short and brief, but they really hardly matter. The troops are being shot at. We see each man’s name and rank and where he was from in white captions using fonts that imitate an old typewriter. Before we even understand who is the lead character, we have our first casualty. A man loses his leg, with blood spurting out into the air and he dies.This is the war and its very permanent consequences.

Then the music kicks in and we’re at Camp Leatherhead in Afghanistan. We’re remind we’ve actually been there 13 years. The introductions continue. The commanding officer of Camp Leatherhead, Major Gavins (Stephen Lang)  greets Corporal Chris Merrimette (Josh Kelly of “One Life to Live” and “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”).  Merrimette is in charge of a unit who will be taking a dangerous journey through hostile territory in order to resupply a remote outpost which lies on the edge of Taliban-controlled regions.

On the team is Cpl Danny Kettner (Bokeem Woodbine), Lance Corporal Danielle ‘Danni’ Allen (Danielle Savre), Private Rafael Soto (Jesse Garcia), Private Justin Li (Jason Wong) and Private Khalid Hassan abu Faisal (Ronny Jhutti) , a Afghan National Army who is bilingual. To get you in the proper mind set, let’s set up the archetypes. Kettner (Woodbine was in the 1996 “Freeway” and last year’s “Riddick”) is the black guy who should have led the team and immediately shows animosity toward Khalid–black guy against Arab guy (London-born Jhutti might be familiar to “Dr. Who” fans) is almost not like prejudice. No one else seems to show animosity toward Khalid.

Danni (Savre was the cheerleader friend of Hayden Panettiere in “Heroes” who was killed early on) is the woman minority. Soto is the Latino guy  who can’t help but ask Danni about the trim nature of her bush in the chatter as they proceed. Li is that East Asian guy whose most memorable scene is wearing a straw hat with flowers early on.

My husband correctly predicted that Li would be one of the early casualties.

As Danni bets the best of Soto in the scuttlebutt about her beaver, suddenly a Navy SEAL Special Operations Senior Chief Fox (Cole Hauser) appears. His crew is gone, he’s on foot and he needs to extract a package: the heavily veiled Anoosh (Cassie Layton).

Almost immediately, the team is ambushed. And people die. Soto freezes and Li died a heroic death trying to save him. He doesn’t get a last gasp for hair, but Li does get a close-up and his face isn’t bloodied. Soto will redeem himself.

Only three of these people will survive as this mission changes from supplying an outpost to taking Anoosh to a UNHCR conference where she will speak out about equal education. Khalid is, at first, the only person who recognizes her and he convinces her to reveal her mission to this team.

In Anoosh we have the answer to the question asked at the beginning of a movie when we are told that “a man has a lot of choices and these choices are rarely perfect” and that a man, “he wants to save this world” but then a man joins a group, in this case the Marines which is unnamed in the introduction. We’re then told, “he will be part of something bigger than himself” and learn to know his weapon better “than his own dick.” The question is: Why is he fighting; why is he dying; what’s the f*cking point?

Directed by Don Michael Paul (“Company of Heroes”) with a script written by Berkeley Anderson and Ellis Black, this is a by-the-numbers war drama about Marines on a mission. It aptly reminds us that our men are still in Afghanistan (and Iraq) fighting a war.

The 2005 “Jarhead” was directed by Sam Mendes and starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard and Chris Cooper. That movie was based on the 2003 memoir of U.S. Marine Anthony Swooford. Swofford’s novel gets its name (as does the original movie) fom the haircut that the Marines favor which makes their heads resemble jars nd thsu jarheads is slang for Marines. The movie “Jarhead” covers both Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. The movie’s ending is far from happy and more disturbingly melancholy.

“Jarhead: Field of Fire” ends on a more positive note, or at least a more pro-military service resolution. In that respect, it is a less thought-provoking movie.

“Jarhead 2: Field of Fire” features good performances and special effects and Paul directs using various things to keep us interested, but thank goodness he deserts the shaky-cam early on.

Kelly brings a certain gravity and authority to his role: He served three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq as an Army Ranger before beginning his acting career.

Jarhead 2: Field of Fire was available on Blu-ray Combo Pack including Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on August 19, 2014, including both an R-rated and Unrated version as part of the DVD Originals line from Universal 1440 Entertainment, a production entity of Universal Studios Home Entertainment.  The film will also be available on Digital HD two weeks early on August 5, 2014.


Robin Williams: ‘Popeye’ pretty thin in charm

When I was a kid, I watched “Popeye the Sailor” cartoons. The cartoon character was created in 1929 and became the subject of theatrical cartoon shorts for Paramount Pictures in 1933 and continued until 1957. The 1980 live-action musical feature film that starred Robin Williams as Popeye is a scattered mess of gags that aren’t particularly funny.

The cartoon always had the old-fashioned feeling Olive Oyl needed to be rescued. Popeye would do the rescuing. Bluto was the villain. In 1960, a new cartoon series was ordered by King Features Syndicate and ran for only two years.

Robin Williams plays his role straight. His character does get to mumble which if I remember correctly is what the cartoon character did, but he’s the straight man and the humor is in the situation. The problem is that we don’t get any of the fantastical characters like Jeep and that most of the humor is dated. Popeye was reassuring in its regular schedule of events. Wednesday would ask for hamburgers. Bluto would try to steal something or take Olive Oyl away. Popeye would save her by gaining strength through eating spinach.

There was nothing I recall as wildly funny as the Bugs Bunny cartoons. The movie does benefit from having music provided by Harry Nilsson, but that’s about it.

A lot of detail has gone into making the sets in Malta, but even that old-fashioned, poor man’s 1930-ish look help the script. Dick Tracy had style and atmosphere, but there’s nothing attractive about this stylistically. This is like Depression era clothing with a bit of exaggeration.

Duvall makes a good clutzy Olive Oyl, but there’s nothing funny about her homeliness or her screechy neediness in the 2010s and not even in the 1980s. We know that with the proper script, Williams can bring the over-the-top to any character and hijack a role into eye-rolling cartoon land, but he isn’t given the chance here. Popeye is neither pathetically sad like a kid who has lost his favorite toy or just realized Santa Claus is never coming back nor the zany take-no-prisoners funny talk of the salesman on speed.

“Popeye” was one of Robin Williams more prominent roles early in his career, but it was also one of his worst. Reportedly, this Paramount and Disney co-production came into being after Paramount lost the bidding war for the musical “Annie.”

“Popeye” is available for instant streaming on Netflix.

Robin Williams: ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’

The Baron Munchausen was a real person, an 18th century nobleman who told tall tales about his exploits against the Ottoman Empire. Co-written and directed by Terry Gilliam, the 1988 movie “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” was a critical success that was a commercial failure. You can watch this idiosyncratic tale on Netflix.

In 1988, Robin Williams had already done “Popeye” (1980), “The World According to Garp” (1982), “Moscow on the Hudson” (1984) and “Good Morning, Vietnam.”

Williams has a minor role as the King of the Moon. If you’ve seen the movie, you won’t easily forget this role. He was a surprise cameo because the credits list him as Ray D. Tutto.

Gilliam would direct Williams again in the 1991 “The Fisher King.”

The movie begins in an unnamed European city in the late 18th century. We learn from an opening caption, that this is the Age of Reason. The Turkish army is outside the city walls.

The Age of Reason is also known as the Age of Enlightenment. It was a time of Francis Bacon, René Descartes, John Locke , David Hume and Isaac Newton. So the movement of intellectual began in the late 17th century. Reason and individualism was emphasized over tradition and faith was under siege.

The Turks are on the edge of Europe and Asia. Even today we can’t quite decide if they are Asian or European. The Ottoman Empire began in Anatolia in 1299 with the Oghuz Turks. By 1453, Constantinople came under Turkish control and what had been a state became an empire. By the 17th century, the empire controlled parts of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, part of North Africa and the Horn of Africa. Vienna and Warsaw were outside of the empire. Budapest, Belgrade, Athens and Sofia were part of the empire as was Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Alexandria, Cairo and Jerusalem.

The empire would eventually be defeated and dissolved between 1908 and 1922 (World War I began in 1914 and ended in 1918).

During the Age of Reason, the Ottoman Empire was still powerful enough to threaten Europeans and this is definitely from a European point of view. In the movie, the people inside the unnamed city are being entertained by a touring stage production about the Baron Munchhausen’s life and adventures.

This being the Age of Reason, the tide has risen against superhuman feats of courage. So much so that a city official (Jonathan Pryce) orders the execution of an extraordinarily brave soldier (Sting) because his bravery would demoralize the more ordinary fighting men.  As the play goes on, an old man protests that the play is inaccurate, claiming to be the real Baron (John Neville). He begins to tell the true story, but is interrupted by gunfire and explosions. He still continues while being pursued by the Angel of Death, carefully watched by the daughter of the theater company’s leader (Bill Paterson), Sally Salt (Sarah Polley).

During the stories, the Baron is alternately old and young, he recalls his romance with both the Queen of the Moon (Valentina Cortese) and Venus (Uma Thurman), both times having to fend himself from their respective jealous husbands, King of the Moon (Williams) and Vulcan (Oliver Reed). During these adventures, the Baron searches for his trusty companions: the fleet-footed Berthold (Eric Idle), the eagle-eyed rifleman Adolphus (Charles McKeown), the man with extraordinary hearing and lung-power Gustavus (Jack Purvis) and the strongman Albrecht (Winston Dennis) as well as his trusty steed Bucephalus (the name of Alexander the Great’s favorite steed although Alexander lived between 355 to 326 BC).

Members of the theater company, play duel roles with the exception of Sally and her father.

Williams is subdued as one can be for someone who has a flying head and who makes love to his wife (discretely shown) beginning with her feet while her head has gone away to speak with her former love, the Baron.

The movie was nominated for Oscars in the categories of Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Visual Effects and Best Makeup. The atmosphere fills the screen with the feeling of ancient cities. There’s a feeling of history, oldness fighting with the new.

The movie doesn’t tax your brain, but invites you to journey into a fantastical world and imagine a time when people could believe that someone flew to the moon in a hot air balloon and could outwit the Angel of Death.

As a Gilliam movie, this is more focused than the 1985 “Brazil” and in the same vein as the 2009 “Doctor Parnassus.”

“The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” is currently available to live stream on Netflix.


‘Coldwater’ is a shallow dip into the juvey reform school boot camp controversy

The independent movie “Coldwater” comes out at a good time. Just when the topic of violence and abuse at reform schools is back in the news. The first set of remains found at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys has been identified. “Coldwater” is about a contemporary juvenile reform boot camp and there are extreme behavior modification techniques such as physical intimidation, starvation and torture.

If you’ve been following cover of the Dozier school, then you know that it was a place for white and black boys during a time in the South when discrimination was a way of life. Located in Florida, the school was opened in 1900 and at least 96 boys died between 1911 and 1970. 

For the boys on the black side, it was like a trip back into time. As one man recounted to Mother Jones, “It was kind of like slavery.”  The first remains identified belonged to a 14-year-old boy who died the same year he arrived, in 1940. 

In “Coldwater,” the boys are mostly white, with a token black boy and a Latino boy. The movie premiered last year at the SXSW festival and won Best Film, Best Director (Vincent Grashaw) and Best Actor (PJ Boudousque). Filming took place in Malibu and Ventura, California.  Grashaw co-wrote the screenplay with Mark Penney.

The problem with this movie is the young boys and men are too good looking. They have regular features, good haircuts and fine physiques when they take their shirts off. They don’t look like the products of bad times at homes. We also don’t get a sense of the psychology. Why do some of the boys stay to become counselors and what drives the retired colonel to cruelty?

Instead of being just a psychological survival story, it also becomes a slasher and revenge tale. Do we cheer for the boys finally breaking the mental hold of the colonel or do we think “Lord of the Flies”?

A better examination of similar circumstances in the 2010 Norwegian movie “King of Devil’s Island.” That story is based on true events of the Boys Bastoy Prison for youths. 

“Coldwater” opens at the Pasadena Laemmle Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. 

‘Weaving the Past’ between Pasadena and Mexico

When your grandparents immigrated from abroad, you’re not that far removed from the traditions of another country. Even if you’re not, even if generations of your family have been in America or even originated from America, it’s worth looking back. The rear view may be a window into your own family. First-time director/writer Walter Dominguez went on a journey into his past that set him into a new determined direction into a better future as he describes in his documentary “Weaving the Past: Journey of Discovery.”

Going back to Japan, I found distinctive connections between the person I am now and my ancestors, and that’s Walter Dominguez discovered when the events of September 11, 2001 sent him into a deep despair. Looking back into his past, and fulfilling his maternal grandfather’s last wish, Dominguez found himself and a new direction, one that led him back to filmmaking.

Born in the small town of Santa Paula, California in 1947, Dominguez was raised in the Pasadena area. He was student body president at John Muir High School and he went on to graduate from Occidental College and did graduate studies in cinema at USC.

Dominguez  went on to work as an assistant director (“The Andromeda Strain”), but had mostly left filmmaking since the 1970s. In 1973,  he married Shelley Morrison, best known for her role on the sitcom “Will & Grace” as Rosario, the maid to the title characters’ rich friend. Morrison is the executive producer of this movie.

Yet he moved away from directing movies in the 1970s, about the same time that his grandfather passed away. Only by looking back did he discover his grandfather Methodist Rev. Emilio “Tata” Hernandez had been part of a social movement, one that strove to end oppression of Native Americans and exploded into a bloody revolution that touched both sides of the border.

Like many people of Mexican background, Dominguez is part Native American, meaning that he has roots that extend further into the history of North America than most. While the Spanish and well-to-do Mexicans oppressed the Native Americans, on the other side of the border, white Americans exploited both the Mexicans and the Native Americans.

We also see how young men grow old quickly with war. After leaving the battles in Mexico, Tata, tired and ill, was only in his early twenties when he was drunk and homeless in Los Angeles, but the kindness of a stranger, a Norwegian minister brought him back to the world of the living. Through that man’s guidance, Tata became part of a different kind of revolution–one of giving and caring through faith and God. And although Tata’s association with the respected Mexican revolutionary writer, political organizer and outlaw Praxedis G. Guerrero ended with Guerrero’s death, Tata kept a life-long correspondence with a mysterious spinster in Mexico who tied him to Guerrero.

In the end, Dominguez renewed his interest in filmmaking and carrying on the tradition of his grandfather, became a social activist, one determined to record the personal histories of Latin Americans in Los Angeles and the Soutwest.

“Weaving the Past” is, in many ways, the beginning of that journey. Previously shown for a benefit at the Los Angeles United Methodist Museum of Social Justice in May of last year, the documentary opens on August 15 (Friday), but the 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. screenings have already sold out.  Director Walter Dominguez and executive producer Shelley Morrison as well as other members of the production team will be present for a Q&A following the Sunday, August 17, 2014 4 p.m. screening.



Ms. Geek Speaks: Fat shaming and the Dear Abby bikini top question

Some people are too comfortable in their own skin. I’d wish I could see less of theirs and this goes for both men and women.  Since I’ve already had a skin cancer scare and know others who have, I don’t lounge around in the sun in a bikini so I agree to some extent with Dear Abby

When I was young, I did have a bikini that was little more than a bandage according to one much more voluptuous friend. With my body type, I don’t really worry about support. I’m watching “The Birdcage” and some of those transvestites have better cleavage than I do. When I was in junior high and high school, my mother discouraged my wearing shorts (not Daisy Dukes) and wearing bikinis. I was 4-foot-10 at the time and about 90 lbs. I did gain a few on freshman year, but slimmed back down to 90 lbs. at 4-foot-11. 

When I first read the Dear Abby letter in question, I understood it without the fat-as-a-feminist issue. Mother doesn’t want her daughter wearing a bikini top because “it makes people feel uncomfortable.” When you’re on your own and visiting your parents, you’re supposed to abide by house rules: Dress code, drug usage (alcohol, smoking, etc.)  and sleeping habits.  

From the letter, we’re not sure exactly who felt uncomfortable, but then it seems likely that the daughter made everyone feel uncomfortable by asking all her aunts and cousins if the felt uncomfortable or was her mother just being puritanical. Pitting cousins and siblings against your mother never helps a family gathering unless you’re playing something like Twister or some team sport and even then it can be a catastrophe.

In some cases, a direct approach won’t get you honesty. It might just get people to say what you want to hear. If you didn’t catch her actual comment, she admitted that not all but “most” of her cousins and aunts. That means at least 51 percent and we don’t actually know if she has any uncles, but one suspects if she has cousins that men were somehow involved. So their opinions didn’t matter or the letter writer wasn’t comfortable enough in her own skin to ask. 

The plus-sized woman who wrote the letter was quick to query if her mother would feel the same about a large man swimming without a T-shirt. Her mother said it was different for men. Here, I’d disagree with her. I’d prefer not to see overweight men swimming without a T-shirt. I’d rather see everyone swimming with a rashguard.  One friend of mine had just finished college and found his days in the sun had left him with cancerous cells on his back that required excision and stitches. 

Other things we don’t know is just how tall the letter writer is and what percentage of her weight that 60-70 pounds is. If she was my height, then 70 pounds would make her morbidly obese. If she’s six foot tall and big boned, then she is more pleasantly plump. 

Nor do we know how much or how little coverage that bikini offers. Is it a string with two small triangles that signal danger with every shift of weight? Or is the bikini top as solid and athletic as what athletes wear for jogging or playing beach volleyball? 

The letter writer might “feel good when my curves are properly accentuated,” but not good enough to go out in public in a bikini.  If you can’t wear it in public then save it for when you’re alone with your significant other only. 

At some point, you have to grow up. Your cousins become potential business partners or sources of referrals and in this day of smartphones, they have them and will take photos as if they were the poor man’s version of paparazzi–hoping for viral fame out of your most embarrassing moments.  


Roger Ebert Hulu promise: ‘Bleach The Movie 3: Fade to Black’

In the summer of 2012, I promised Roger Ebert that  I would watch all the Japanese movies available on Hulu Plus. At the time I didn’t realize that most of them were Zatoichi films. As of 2 August 2014, there are 321 movies. Some of which I have seen. Most I have not. I’m going in numerical order because that’s what seems to be easiest on Hulu Plus with my Roku (bought at Roger’s urging).

First up is an adult (as in mature and not as in pornographic) anime called “Bleach The Movie 3: Fade to Black.”

This anime you can watch with the English-dubbed. I hate that, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. I watched both.

First, as always, I want to consider the title. The title is taken from English and on the original poster, written in English. This works because the standard Japanese education requires English language reading ability. I can’t help but think that the title refers to the hero’s hair color, but that isn’t the case.

The Bleach series (ブリーチ)is a Japanese serialized manga that has been published in “Weekly Shōnen Jump” since August 2001 and is popular enough to have produced an animated television series (produced by Studio Pierrot) from 2004 to 2012, two video animations, four animated feature films, ten rock musicals and, of course, video games.  This is a cultural phenomena.

As the English title indicates, this 2008 animation is the third movie after “Bleach: Memories of Nobody” (2006) and “Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion” (2007).  Our protagonist is Ichigo Kurosaki or in Japanese 黒崎一護(くろさき いちご). His last name means black promontory. His first name means first protection. At one point in the series, they use a pun because Ichigo is a homophone for the Japanese word for strawberry.

Ichigo has bright spikey orange hair and he has a samurai scowl although he is kind-hearted. Life isn’t fun in the world of Bleach.  For comic relief, there is a modsoul named Kon (コン)and is most often seen taking the form of a male lion plush doll. According to the Bleach Wiki, Kaizō Konpaku (改造魂魄) or modified souls are “artificial souls designed to enhance regular human physiology, making them capable of battling Hollows equally.”

The Hollows are “corrupt spirits with supernatural powers which devour the souls of both living and deceased humans.” They have not, according to the Bleach Wiki, crossed over to the Soul Society (here I imagine Motown playing in the background) after their death. They can cross over into the human world and the Soul Society and are considered the opposite of human beings.

Although still a student at Karakura High School, Ichigo has a paranormal occupation. He can see ghosts. One day he meets a young girl spirit named Rukia Kuchiki. Rukia is a member of the Soul Society and a Soul Reaper. As a Soul Reaper, she guides the good ghosts to the afterlife and protects humans from the Hollows.

In “Bleach: Fade to Black  君の名を呼ぶ (Kimi no na wo yobu, I Call Your Name), the tagline is “Goodbye Rukio.” 

Bleach presents us with a contrast of old Japan and new Japan. Ichigo is, at times, dressed in modern casual–loose fitting shorts and a t-shirt, and at other times dressed in a haori and hakama (but without that forehead shaving samurai hairdo).

The old world is the Soul Society with a little steampunk. In his lab, Mayuri Kurotsuchi 涅マユリ (Kurotsuchi means black soil)  is confronted by a pair of sinister siblings. What makes them sinister is they have a scythe and they don’t use it to cut people down, but to cut off memories. Kurotsuchi causes an explosion that releases a white liquid that merges and separates into a river of serpents. The serpents cover the world of the Soul Society and freeze many of the Soul Reapers.

In the real world, Kon shows Ichigo a note, but Ichigo thinks it is gibberish at first. In a dream, Ichigo recalls Rukia and goes to Kisuke Urahara 浦原喜助 (Urahara means creek field and Kisuke means joyful aid/help), but Urahara can’t remember Rukia yet he has her listed as a customer. Ichigo and Kon then go to the Soul Society and they are attacked. No one seems to remember Ichigo.

Rukia is living with a sister and a brother, who tell her they used to be close friends, but she has forgotten them. From here Ichigo, Rukia and their friends and Soul Society colleagues fight to regain memories and defeat what they learn is a parasitic Hollow that was released during the explosion and cuts away memories with a scythe. Ichigo must decide whether to slay Rukia who becomes possessed by the monster, changing her into Dark Rukia.

“Bleach: Fade to Black” is worth watching in Japanese or English because it is an important part of Japanese pop culture. The anime mixes themes of Shinto spiritualism with Christianity and Carribean Santeria voodoo.


Another enchanting Celtic tale from makers of “Secret of Kells”

One of the longer lines at the San Diego Comic-Con’s Artists Alley was for the book signing by the Paul Young and Tomm Moore, the founders of the Kilkenny-based Irish Animation Studio Cartoon Saloon for the new book, “Designing The Secret of Kells.” I wasn’t able to catch any of the three book signings or the Friday sneak peek panel for the studio’s new animated feature, “Song of the Sea,” but I did attend a similar event at the International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

The Academy Award nominated “The Secret of Kells” was a 2D animation that celebrated its two-dimensions. The lines and abstract decorations gave these two-dimensional characters more depth than some live action roles played by humans. The designs ignore Renaissance rules of perspective and instead looked at the legacy of the illuminated illustrations for the Christian Gospels dating back to 800 A.D. in the “Book of Kells.” The real “Book of Kells” is housed at Trinity College in Dublin.

“Song of the Sea” has no relation to the Shirat HaYam poem that appears in the Book of Exodus or to the 1952 Brazilian film “O Canto do Mar.” Cartoon Saloon’s “Song of the Sea” draws on an experience director Tomm Moore had long ago. Moore described walking on the seashore where he noticed the carcasses of many seals. When he inquired about the seals he learned local fishermen were killing them out of frustration, blaming the seals for the low numbers of fish. One local commented that this would have never happened long ago when the fishermen believed in selkies.

Selkies are water spirits in Irish, Scottish and Faroese folklore. They were the souls of those lost at sea or humans who have returned to the sea, Moore said during the panel discussion. According to folklore they can turn into very handsome men and beautiful women on land. If a man wishes to keep a selkie for his wife, he keeps her coat and then she can never return to the sea.

In “Song of the Sea,” the mother has taken care to teach her son, Ben, the songs of her youth, but she dies before she can teach them to her daughter, Saoirse. Sent to the city to be cared for by their grandparents, Ben and Saoirse escape and wander back through the Irish countryside toward their home. On the way, they meet mythical creatures including three who will turn to stone unless Saoirse is able to sing the selkie song of the sea while wearing her selkie coat.

The sibling rivalry between Ben and the mostly silent Saoirse also comes into play as they both look for ways to remember and honor their family and their heritage. Like “The Secret of Kells,” “Song of the Sea” also has a distinctive style despite being the product of seven years of development between four different studio partners in four different countries (Ireland, France, Belgium and Denmark).

Moore and Young explained that they learned from “Kells” the necessity of developing their story fully and testing it on school children before beginning the animation process. With “Song of the Sea,” they wanted to contrast life in the city with the countryside and yet the world of the children’s family is, much like in the 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz,” echoed in the fairy world. They found inspiration in the TV miniseries “Into the West,” Hayao Miyazaki’s “My Neighbor Totoro,” and the Disney classic “The Jungle Book.”

An American release date for “Song of the Sea” hasn’t been established yet, but you can keep updated on the progress of “Song of the Sea” by following the director’s blog or by following Cartoon Saloon (@CartoonSaloon), Tomm Moore (@TommMoore) or Paul Young (@PaulYoung99) on Twitter.

‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ is a family-friendly foodie fantasy

Do you like Hallmark movies? “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is a very family-friendly foodie fantasy. The movie is rated PG for some violence, language and brief sensuality, but really, your kids would have seen worse from beer commercials and MTV music videos.

Although this movie is directed by Swedish Lasse Hallström (“Chocolat” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”), it was produced Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey and takes on the schmaltz of one and the comfortable homeyness of the other. Based on a book by Richard C. Morais with a screenplay Steven Knight (“Locke” and “Dirty Pretty Things”),  “The Hundred-Foot Journey” whisks us away from tragedy in Mumbai to a brief stop in England and then to the South of France.

Morais is the editor of of “Barron’s Penta” which his website tells us is a qartly magazine and website that offers “insights and advice to wealthy families.” Morais had previously worked for Forbes magazine for 25 years and Morais has an international upbringing–born in Portugal, raised in Switzerland and the stationed in London (17 years  for Forbes).

The movie isn’t particularly concerned with history so much as teaching us a lesson: That understand food is a means of understanding a culture and the love of food can form a delicious bridge over culture. That’s very romantic.

The movie begins as a young man explains to a uniformed man why he wishes to enter Europe. The man, Hassan (Manish Dayal), recalls Mumbai where as  a young boy, Hassan  (Rohan Chand) who finds rapture with a sea urchin in a crowded marketplace while with his mother (Juhi Chawla). Hassan grows up learning about cooking from his mother.  She has the gift of gourmet genius and that gift has been passed down to her eldest son.

Mumbai was renamed in 1996, having been formerly known as Bombay, and is the most populous city in India. From Mumbai, recent events that would not be family friendly (e.g. rape) have become an international issue. In the movie, the mob only wishes to destroy the restaurant and home of the Kadam family. The mother dies in the fire, and the father (Om Puri (“Love Express” and “The Jewel in the Crown” mini series) moves the whole family to England where they live in a small house in the flight pass to Heathrow.

Now, Papa loads his family of three sons and two daughters into a rickety van and they venture into France.  This is a France that is, despite being on the Mediterranean Coast, at one end of the silk trade routes, ignorant of Indian cuisine. As the British had been in India from 1612, the French also had sent ships to India in the 16th century and there was a French India Company. The so-called French India dates from 1769 to 1954. After the East India Company rule of India from 1757 to 1858  there was the British Raj from 1858 to 1947.

The movie was filmed in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, Tarn-et-Garonne, and Castelnau-de-Lévis, Tarn, France. This is the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. The town Saint-Antoinin-Noble-Val was used for the Cate Blancett 2001 movie “Charlotte Gray.”

The Kadam family is traveling down a  mountain road when the brakes fail but after a few scary moments, the van stops. The family is stranded but luckily they run into an attractive young French woman Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon). She helps the family tow the van into the town and she provides them with a simple feast of cheese, bread (she made herself) and tomatoes. The garage must send out for parts and while they wait, Papa passes down a rundown house with a courtyard directly across from the best restaurant in the town and perhaps the region.

The restaurant is the American definition of a high quality French restaurant–white thick tablecloth, well-dressed staff and a snooty woman in charge, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Madame Mallory is a widow and very much against the family moving directly across from her restaurant to live and to set up an Indian restaurant. The two buildings are separated by 100-feet. The family may have been driving around in a junker of a van, but they have lots of money–enough to start a very large restaurant with none of them working another job (and we don’t actually see the younger kids attending school either). Money is not problem which is what makes this more like a fairytale.

Like a Hallmark movie, there will be romance, but all the problems will be resolved. Young Hassan will not only be a successful Indian cook, he will also read and master French cuisine with the help of Marguerite who just happens to be a sous chef at Madame Mallory’s restaurant. There will be some jealousy between Marguerite and Hassan but no one is really worried. The xenophobia, something that has troubled France in recent years, is easily resolved. Not impossible, but just improbable.

While you might gain some appreciation for classical French and Indian cuisine, the movie seems to consider the new wave of scientific cuisine experimentation with foam and drizzles and drops artistically arranged on small plates as being soulless.

No matter. If you want a well-calculated family friend foodie fare, this movie will fit the bill. I won’t say that the cinematography is exceptional since I disliked the many instances of solar flare and distracting horizontal rays of light. There are better examples of atmospheric golden light embracing the characters without those distractions. Yet the characters are all charming and Hallström doesn’t allow things to get too sappy. Asian ethnic men will be gratified that the Asian guys get the girls.

Afterward, go home and have some Indian food, even if it’s frozen food Trader Joe’s.


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