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FullSizeRenderAustria is a country with a rich history and filled with a people proud of their nation.  History took a horrible turn for the worst with the rise of the Nazi’s who put an unspeakably ugly grip on the European continent under the brutal demagoguery of Adolf Hitler.  Jews in the nation were persecuted, slaughtered and robbed of their personal possessions.

One of the many families that felt the excruciating oppression of the Nazis were the Altmann’s.  They were torn apart by the Nazi take-over.  As a family, survival meant some stayed behind while others fled for their lives.

While the Altmann’s fled the Nazi took over their home and stole their art treasures.  The portrait of Aunt Adele by Klimt was the center piece.  She was the sparkling painting decked in gold leaf throughout, a thorough masterpiece.

Maria Altmann has aged into her senior years when she discovers that she may have a chance of recovering her family paintings through an intricate series of hearings.  She taps a relative, he is a young inexperienced lawyer.  She trusts him and chases her dream of being reunited with what was once her family’s property.

It is an arduous legal battle. The venue for the grinding litigation starts in Austria, moves to America and finishes with arbitration in Austria.  Justice is ultimately served.

Strong performances by both lead actors drives the story.  Even the supporting roles of the Austrian patriot trying to make amends for his father’s unexplainable choices adds to the story.  The viewer is treated to a long story which is unfolded in a short movie.  It is a true story that makes anyone who is a real human being cheer for the little person.

When a wrong is corrected, then I am riveted to the story.  Set up a Goliath and his brother against a little David and I am paying attention.  Maybe governmental bureaucracy and the smug attitude of arrogant people will always get my goat.

Certainly, this one bright story among so many that are still hoping for redemption makes this victory shine so brightly.  I liked this movie.  In fact I really liked this movie and I am glad that I saw it and I recommend it to you.

Helen Mirren is a favorite. Ryan Reynolds was splendid.  Bruhl and Holmes were great supporting roles.  Now, I would take that opportunity to see the painting for myself if I am ever in the area.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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Every news media outlet was buzzing over the release of the movie “American Sniper”.  Some touted it as a fantastic portrayal of patriotism, liberty and American pride.  Others vehemently condemned it as an exploitation of war or a misrepresentation of snipers as heroes when in the warped opinion of the critic they were in fact cowards. A few even claimed it was of such poor cinema quality that it did not deserve any attention at all.

Admittedly, I was shocked by the animated negative opinions.  Now, I believe that in a nation that protects the freedom of speech, these critics have a right to their opinion.  What was stunning to me was that these vicious views would be directed to oppose such self-sacrificial lives.

I was reading the book when the movie debuted.  Through each chapter I was tracking with Chris Kyle’s life, moments of maturing, struggles with family and horrific episodes in the battlefield.  War was not glorified but devotion, commitment, family and country were.

Clint Eastwood directed the film.  I thought that he captured so many moments of fear, frustration, courage, conflict, joy, encouragement and family.  In a matter of seconds Eastwood told the story of many pages with a single take in the film.

Despite the critics I learned about a man whose sacrifice and skill keeps my liberty safe.  My life has been protected by Kyle’s service.  I for one am very grateful to him and to his family.

I am left wondering how a movie theater in the second week of its release is so full.  If there are pundits out there who insist that we believe and adopt their negative and critical spirit, then why are so many turning away from their stinging words and going to see the movie?  In my mind there are many Americans who love this country and lift up the military with respect and appreciation.

It was not just  the courageous deeds of Chris Kyle on the battlefield.  His wife Taya sacrificed too.  Her steady care for their family during Chris’ deployments were a testament to the family courage.

She was there to help Chris find a way to let go of the war.  It had so captured him that the commitment to let it go and really return home was a much a part of the message of the book and film as was his faithful service.

I heard Taya’s moving words at Chris’ memorial service.  They touched  me as did the movie.  Thank you to the Kyle family for your service and sacrifice.  God bless you and God bless the USA.

IMG_4304The movie theater is a Houston refuge.  When the summer months descend on our city, the temperatures soar.  We have learned to take refuge in places where the air conditioning is always guaranteed.

Sometimes we go to the Mall for a walk.  Hordes of people have the same idea.  There is always plenty of parking.

Other times we do our grocery shopping.   For some reason we linger in the refrigeration area.  Even when we do not have to buy any frozen goods we open a door and pretend to be doing some shopping.

When the legs tire we hold out for the movie theater.  Our Senior status makes it an affordable option.  The air conditioning is always on.

Often the Texas way is to walk into a theater with short sleeves and shorts.  But, it is wise to carry a light jacket or sweater.  Yes, it is so cold that Texans go in to put something on.

This time the lights dimmed and the movie The Hundred Foot Journey was showing.  The plot is the adventure of an Indian family who trying to find a new home after they were burned out from bad people in their home country.  It is the father’s patriarchal extra sense that is leading them.

Their wanderings in search of a new home take them to England, Switzerland and finally to France.  It is the life in the flavor of abundant ingredients that keeps them in a small French village.  There they acquire a neglected restaurant and start their business.

Unfortunately, right across the street, a mere hundred feet away is an upper scale French restaurant.  The widowed owner is famous for her one star establishment.  Competition between the two establishments is the tension in the movie.

The talent of Hassan is finally acknowledged by Madame Mallory through painful admissions marred by arson, open impediments and social friction.  Yet, the melting of the cold feelings is the delight of the story.  Enemies become colleagues.  Colleagues become allies.  Allies become deep friends.

Success puts the spotlight on one.  Those who are left behind settle for the best that they can do.  But, love draws the family back together.

Love fills the kitchen.  Joy comes with the love.  You can taste the delight that climaxes the reunion.

The future is bright.  Laughter and achievement abound.  The third star is aptly deserved and appropriately settles in as part of the blended lives of these who treasure amazing taste.  It is an excellent film.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3300The film Saving Mr. Banks is a movie about making a movie.  This literary technique helps tell the story’s lengthy intricacies in a movie-span of time. The choice of this double-layer of literary art also reveals the story of a story writer reliving her own past through the creation of a highly imaginary character, Mary Poppins.  The complicated life of the fictional character is being lived out in the star of the movie, Emma Thompson, whose performance is magnificent.

Walt Disney, Tom Hanks, has been pursuing the film rights of Pamela Travers’ stories for twenty years.  Travers, however, is stoic, staid, and stubborn.  She view the overly friendly Americans and the whole Disneyland style as unrealistic and highly improper.  Yet, her own financial woes force her to journey to Los Angeles to meet Disney and explore the possibility of a screening of her character, Mary Poppins.

Travers is at odds with every person she meets.  Her snobbery and unpleasantness rub people the wrong way as they cater to her every whim in hopes of securing the rights to make Mary Poppins into a film.  Slowly, the creative team realizes that Travers’ stubborn spirit is a protective attitude toward characters that are real people in her life, including her.

Trust is gained through creative efforts by Disney and his team.  She begins to see the happiness that can be realized in life.  Cautiously and surprisingly she is being won over to believe.

A deep offense, however, erupts when Travers hears of an animated sequence that is planned in the film.  She angrily departs back to England with her screen rights papers in hand.  Disney follows her across the Atlantic.

In one of the most powerful sequences of the movie, Disney talks candidly to Travers.  He tells her that she can trust him to handle her stories well but she needs to let go of her own past.  Then, he reveals his own disappointments as a child but how his art has set him free.

She releases the rights to her Mary Poppins to Disney.  It is a release that continues.  While watching the premier, Travers repeats her sequence of life, written on her face.  Offense by the jocularity of the film moves into emotional release as she witnesses the redemption of Mr. Banks, the personification of her own alcoholic father.

This was an amazing film.  I highly recommend it.  It was a deeply thoughtful and entertaining experience.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

 

IMG_2096Did you like Iron Man?  What about the sequel?  If you liked the first two, I did like them both, then chances are that you will like the third installment.

This continuing adventure has the quick-witted Tony Stark still being precocious, genius-like and more in touch with his human side.  Before a brash egotistical self-centered rich arms developer, He has lived with his mortality and caused enough pain in the lives of those who mean the most to him, that the is coming to grips with what he can and cannot do to help as well as protect them.

I like the way he connects with a young boy in a secondary Father-son relationship.  Out of it emerges humorous dialogue and hints of longings from both of them.  Harley gives Stark moments for his tender side to show itself.  Bright beyond his years, young Harley impresses Stark with his curiosity, creativity and confidence.

Stark will invest in this young life that helps him make key steps in solving the mysteries of the villain in the show.  Some may have wanted this relationship to develop even further but that would have been a test of believability that most of us who have Stark pegged would have had a hard time believing.  It is enough for a future installment in the Iron Man saga.

Who does not like Pepper Potts?  Gwyneth Paltrow is perfectly cast in this role.  She keeps the reality of humanity doggedly as a part of this movie.  Her devotion, sensibility and emotional contributions are perfectly balanced for a non-super superhero.

Ben Kingsley is wonderful both as the villainous “the Mandarin” as well as the somewhat uncertain and insecure actor.  Who would have predicted this development.  It was a total surprise to me to not see the collision course of two on the evil side either collide or join as allies against the side of good.  Kingsley shows his acting virtuosity.

Every good story has a well sculpted villain who nearly controls all things and threatens all that is right in the world.  Killian fits that role.  At first he is an interesting threat.  Yet, I was not convinced that he had the wherewith all to dominate the Iron Man.

Then, surprises along the way launch him from being dismissed as an evil enough bad guy, to totally powerful enemy for Iron Man to hopefully find an unexpected way to pull off a victory.  I liked this movie.  It was very entertaining.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2081Baseball after World War II had a major change.  America, the world, had changed after that horrific war.  People understood their mortality and took another look at their values.

Branch Rickey was the team executive of the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He loved the game of baseball.  At least he used to love the game.  He wanted to restore that passion again.

Rickey made the decision to bring an African-American into the game.  That would be the first time that the all white All American pastime would experience a break in the unspoken code of the game.  He knew that it would take a special player.

He and his executives went through piles of names.  They wanted a player who could hit, run and field.  This pioneer against the racist limitations of the day could not be soft, too nice or out-of-control with his temper.

They chose Jackie Robinson.  His baseball skills were excellent.  He had a fire in him that could be the strength he would need to survive the hailstorm of abuse hurled at him from baseball’s constituency.

In a featured dialogue between Robinson and Rickey, Jackie declared, “So you want someone who is strong enough to fight back.”

“No,” Rickey retorted, “I want someone who is strong enough NOT to fight back.”

This is a revealing conversation.  It is at the heart of a truth in life that only a few understand.  Fighting back is the world’s way.  It is not the revealer of truth.  Rather, in the hands of what is genuine, what is real fighting back rarely gains ground against prejudice.  Instead, it usually loses ground because that reaction feeds biased opinions.  It fuels hate and perpetuates bigotry.

When Jackie is being stitched up from a vicious spiking of his leg, he asks Rickey why he chose to break the color barrier in baseball.  Branch recounted his school years.  An African-American teammate took a lot of abuse for his ethnicity.  He had convinced himself that he had done all that he could to make a difference in that situation, but truthfully he had not.

Now, he could make a difference in baseball.  He could see that his decision was making a difference.  Baseball was his love and now he could love it again.

This was more than about a sport.  It was about one of the world’s ugliest blights, racism and bigotry.  If you have been a victim of this base practice, watch the movie and be inspired.

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photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1609Can America keep on course with vital issues even during the political turbulence of the day?  When those in position of leadership flip-flop, grab for headlines and spin every decision to shift the blame to others while taking credit for projects started by their own adversaries?  How great is the USA really?

When I left the theater after viewing the world’s most intense manhunt, I believed that America is great because of the Americans who make up this amazing country.  It is the individual who is sold out to the cause for which they have been chosen.  The average citizen who dives into duty, performance and obligation makes this nation superb.

Maya is a CIA officer is given the task to focus solely on tracking down Osama bin Laden following the 9.11 attack on the USA.  She is initiated into the world of interrogation where waterboarding and humiliation are tactics used to break prisoners suspected of harboring vital intelligence.  Slowly but surely she and her colleagues are able to piece information together after years of sorting out facts from lies, clues from distractions and follow a trail.

Tragedy looms large as colleagues are murdered by terrorists.  Political procrastination gums up the efforts to move quickly, costing more lives of loyal Americans in harm’s way.  Maya escapes a bomb blast and a machine gun attack.

Unfortunately, not all of her colleagues were so fortunate.  Close coworkers died at the hands of the terrorists violence.  This emboldened Maya to increase her ferocity to find her target.

Political changes in America were merely shifts in the world above the intelligence community.  They carried on their tasks with determination.  Only political appointments of egotists more interested in personal glory than facilitating the good work started previously to their term threw a glitch into the system.  Veterans tolerated the tirades of these politicians, then went about continuing their work.

Maya not persevered in her quest to hunt down the world’s most heinous terrorist, she doggedly reminded her superiors when the foot-dragging by headliners in Washington.  With brash and brazen forthrightness, she pressed her supervisors to act on her intelligence of where Osama bin Laden was staying.

A large compound in Pakistan was targeted.  The President wanted more confirmation, refusing to act until the evidence was certain.  His slow response lasted months.  Finally, approval was given and Maya witnessed the SEALs launch, execute and bring back the remains of bin Laden.  Maya is the heroine.  The SEALs were the heroes.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1599News of the Tsunami that devastated Thailand on Boxing Day 2004 reached around the world.  One of the worst recorded natural disasters had the good will of nations pouring out their aid and the people of the earth passing on their deepest sympathies to the grieving families.  Stories of tragedy, heroism and mercy filled the air waves for weeks.

From the hardships of this cataclysmic event emerged an incredible story of a family of five.  They were swept up in the horrific waves of the Tsunami.  In a matter of minutes, the five were separated and struggling to survive.

Terror and death surrounded them.  Each one narrowly missed fatal wounds from the massive amounts of racing debris, snags under the swift currents that would have sucked out their final breath mounted with each moment.  When you think that there was a reprieve, there was only more horror.

Another wave would mount its onslaught on the survivors.  More would be swept into eternity.  Children would be orphaned and parents would no longer see their children.

Disaster movies must be believable.  There are too many features in this genre that make a film corny or phony.  This was not either.

Here it wasn’t about heroics.  It was about blessing.  How incredulous would it be for a family of five to be hit by one of the most devastating giant waves with thousands dying around them, yet each one survived and then discovered each other?  Getting back together after the pain and trauma is the story.

Why them?  What should they consider about their good fortune?  Their lives could never be lived the same no matter how hard they tried.

Some things give life pause.  We need to consider our fortune.  Comparison to others is often unhealthy, meaningless or detrimental.  The story calls on all of us to count our blessings.

I wanted a hero.  To add one would have made this an action flick.  It was certainly not that.

Family devotion and loyalty was at the heart of this amazing story.  Resiliency against pain, impossibilities and hopelessness are at every turn in this stunning account.

Out of great loss there is wonder when a blessing can be counted.  Their story is one of those that can be counted.  There were enough tears and wailing that followed in the aftermath of this monster of a wave.

Prepare to be exhausted.  Start counting your blessings when it is done.  Wonder at the power of family.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1408A sickening killing melee opens the movie.  Some nut-case unloads a half a dozen rounds from a parking structure on the citizens of Pittsburgh.  He is shooting across the river to people enjoying the day.

It is disturbing to be peering through the scope of an assassins rifle, watching as he sets the crosshairs on unsuspecting, innocent civilians.  This normal reaction by law-abiding people is the basis for a story that digs up our national desire to see justice meted out on those who are wicked.  Now, we want the story on the screen to give us a solution to the tension that has been generated in our minds.

This is the heart of good story telling.  Raise a need in the minds of those who hear a story and give them a reason to expect a solution that will be satisfying to them.  Race from option to option, tantalize their appetite for a quick resolve with misdirection.  

Most importantly, as a villain is taking shape on the silver screen, be sure to bring a hero who will save the day.  Make him bright, capable, clever and vulnerable at the same time.  Throw in some swashbuckling action and you have a story that will bring some good entertainment to the audience who has paid for an enjoyable matinée.

The tragic shooting of five seemingly random innocents impassioned the city to demand that city law enforcement find the killer.  Swiftly and methodically, the detective in charge of the investigation has an arrest in record time, a mere 18 hours a prime suspect is in custody.  Watching the collection of evidence  and the detective work unfold is impressive.

A city is relieved and the police are heralded as heroes.  But, the suspect injects a twist into the story.  There is no confession just a handwritten note for outside help, a stranger, a mysterious individual who is not even a friend: Jack Reacher.

His background, training, skills, mysterious episodes as intrigue to the solution of the case.  There is seemingly betrayal, tempting romance, swashbuckling action, novel twists, suspicions that prove false and a surprise ending that begs for a sequel if not a series.

It is comic-bookish invention of a near superhero.  Mental acumen is his superpower.  The story is entertaining, the movie is worth a look, I enjoyed it with my family during our holiday ventures.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_1474There are masterpieces of literature from world human history that touch most of our lives.  Les Miserables is one of those incredible works of art.  Victor Hugo served the entire world well when he penned this novel in the 19th century.

It became popularized as a musical.  Perhaps this adaption can be argued to be one of the best musical productions of all-time.  The songs are riveting and lyrics stir the souls of so many.

This movie has captured the story of these lives caught up in the ugly circumstances of life where poverty, oppression and wickedness offend the good senses of humanity.  Themes of grace and legalism form the backdrop of this story.  Javert is the obsessed inspector who personified legalism, representing people who judge others with the sharp edge of the law with no measure of mercy or leniency.  In contrast is Jean Valjean who is the recipient of grace and turns his life into giving that grace away as often as he could.

The cast is brilliant.  Anne Hathaway plays Fantine.  Her performance is Oscar-worthy. 

You are swept along through each tragedy that she suffers in sacrifice for her daughter, Cosette.  Poverty and the inevitable abuse that women endure grips your soul.  Throughout time this story pleads for mankind to end the plight of women mired in the grips of economic woes.

Hugh Jackman deserves an Oscar for his role as Jean Valjean.  From his life as a survivor in prison to the desperate bitterness of the life lived as a convicted felon to the transformation into a life that values grace, he delivers a powerful in-character role that could easily be his signature professional performance.  He makes you see and believe every turn, twist and struggle in his life that is doggedly pursued by the vicious judgemental legalistic ire of the self-righteous Javert.

Samantha Barks plays the role of Eponine.  It is a support role from every perspective but when she is center stage, she delivers.  Each expression of her soul is gripping, heart-rending and soul-searching. 

The child actors are ideal.  They sing with bravado and stir your spirit.  Hang on to your tissue when one young life ends at the shots of the French army and another cowers under that abuse of a would-be benefactor.

Too many lives ended in sadness.  But, life has its greatest meaning when it is captured and passed on to those of us who keep on living.  As long as God is seen in life and the life hereafter, then we can live for Him today with the lessons learned about grace and law.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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