Thursday, July 21, 2011

Video interview with Kung Fu Film Expert Ric Meyers!

Ric Meyers, famous writer, fellow critic, and some say the American expert on Kung Fu films, graciously allowed me to interview him about his new book and corresponding movie, Films of Fury! before he trotted off to the San Diego Comic Con. At this biggest and baddest of the comic cons, at 7:45 p.m. in Room 6A, yesterday he premiered Films of Fury: The Kung Fu Movie Movie!

We had a great time. UPDATE: So I had a great, edited, wonderful copy of the interview with a header and footer and lots of bells and whistles, and for some reason Windows Movie Maker will not process it. I begged, pleaded, and almost came close to throwing my laptop out the window. So here it is folks, the raw copy, uncut and unplugged. The first chunk is about 20 minutes long and the second is about 11 minutes long (don't have to watch it all in one go if you don't wish) long and no fancy intro but bug-free. Hope you enjoy! MANY thanks to Casey Schoenberger who played cameraman and managed to get the video uploaded to his YouTube channel, and for Ric for being patient and a good sport as always.

Without further one and two!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Audiobook Spotlight: British WWII soldier breaks silence to tell tale of extraordinary bravery

Image courtesy of Tantor Media, Inc.

After over sixty years and in his early nineties, British soldier Denis Avey broke his silence and found a way to tell the incredible tale of his experience as a POW in World War II.

The Man Who Broke Into Auschwitz tells of a British soldier's courage to go-willingly-into a Jewish prisoner camp to give one man two days of freedom - and find out for himself the horrors that the prisoners were being subjected to.

This is a very personal and important book, which must have been very hard for Denis Avey to write, even with the assistance of BBC journalist Rob Broomby. What I enjoy so much about the way this book is written is you not only get a feel for what Avey experienced while he was in the war - watching his friend get literally blown to smithereens, for one - but the loneliness and isolation he felt AFTERWARDS.We get the back story, the aftermath, that one so rarely gets to hear about; the long healing process and mental and physical toll the experience took on him as a soldier and as a person. He doesn't tell any of this in a self-pitying way. The writing is direct and finds humor in the most unlikely places.

British narrator James Langton is really quite perfect for making this tale come to life. He strikes the balance between the lighter and darker moments of the book, yet giving it the overall solemn poignancy that the subject matter requires. What makes this such a great audiobook is because the content is so personal, having a compelling voice relating it and infusing it with the appropriate emotions for each passage gives the story an even deeper dimension.

The book takes us through Avey's earliest days of the war fighting Italians in the desert, jumping off a ship to avoid being a POW, his tense flight as a fugitive in Greece, and his capture by the Nazis. Avey was taken to Poland and placed at the British POW labor camp, labeled E715, near Buna-Monowitz, more famously known as Auschwitz III. He recalls the chilling sign in front of his camp and others, reading "Arbeit Macht Frei", which translates as "Work Will Set You Free."

Avey tells of his deeds switching uniforms with Jewish prisoner Hans and writing in code to another Jewish prisoner’s sister in England in order to send him cigarettes, which was the currency of the camps - a valuable asset that could prove the difference between survival and death. He tells all of this with a matter-of-fact attitude that neither pats himself on the back nor diminishes his heroic actions. He unflinchingly relates the horrors of the camp and the war itself not with the intent to shock, but to honestly send forth the message that yes, all of this really truly did happen, and history must never repeat itself. He also includes how he had an opportunity to have an easy time of it during his early involvement in the war after he saved a man in the desert, but went back to fighting because he felt in his gut it was the right thing to do.

This book left me with renewed focus on the importance of the Holocaust and how it is a terrible chapter in our history that should remain undimmed for the ages. Remain so, because it reminds us of how close we are to becoming inhuman and how valuable the lives of others truly are. And it also reminds us that the soldiers who fight for us are very human as well, underneath a hard shell of discipline and courage that allows them to do what they have to.

Whatever made this man tell his story - I am grateful for it. Had it gone to the grave with him; what a huge loss for all of us, what an important message gone unsaid. This is a story that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Click here to listen to a sample of the book.

Monday, July 4, 2011

July Fourth special: Super 8 is really great, let's make a date watch Super 8!

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, and Bad Robot Productions

No movie this year has surprised and delighted me as much as Super 8 did; which I managed to see this weekend quite by chance. It's been one of the most rewarding viewing experiences I've stumbled upon lately.

I chose this movie to review on Fourth of July partly because I just can't contain my enthusiasm for seeing a film THIS good, but mostly because I can't think of anything more American than a plot that revolves around a bunch of precocious kids in 1979 Dayton, Ohio, running around making movies.

It's a good old-fashioned, growing up geeky in America mixed with a good dose of action/thriller supernatural good times. The brain child of Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams, the two directors use this film to wax nostalgic about their mutual passion for film-making from a young age. Indeed, young Spielberg was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and started his film career running around with, you guessed it, an 8 mm.

The film has a kind of movie magic, a kind of wonder, that I have seldom seen since the great adolescent/coming of age films of my youth - The Goonies, E.T., Flight of the Navigator and Summer of 42 all come to mind. Indeed, the Amblin Entertainment logo featuring the iconic scene from E.T. of the bike flying against the moon is the first thing the audience sees, already stirring up the nostalgic cockles of the audiences' hearts.

The biggest complaint I have about the film really only involves the massive amount of suspension of belief the first dramatic scene asks of the audience. You'll see what I mean. But as things get increasingly weirder and weirder; the quality level just goes up and up.

A big part of it is that the kids, who are trying to film a zombie movie in the midst of a real supernatural occurrence going on in their town, are all great actors. Many of them are newcomers - according to Entertainment Weekly, Joel Courtney, who plays the main character Joe Lamb, went to Los Angeles last summer to visit his brother without a single acting credit. "I really wanted a commercial and $100, and I got Super 8," the article says. Elle Fanning, who plays Joe's love interest Alice Dainard, is probably the most well-known out of the bunch for being the kid sister of Dakota Fanning. Riley Griffiths, who plays the obsessive director Charles, definitely comes across as kid Spielberg personified. Add in a stoner friend with a car and a kid with a penchant for explosives and flames, and you're in for one wild, fun ride.

I won't get into the plot. I think its important to watch the story unfold on the screen without knowing much about it. I will say this - there are some scary moments, one that actually made me jump back against my seat, but just as things are on the verge of getting a little too tense, the directors toss you a lifeline of levity with great writing that shows no matter how crazy their current situation might be, kids will still be kids.

What most impressed me about Super 8 is the writing of the script shows kids being intelligent; not stereotyped cardboard cutouts that many high school films portray them to be. It's not about the jocks vs. the nerds, or who's better than who. You never even see the kids at school because its summer and the directors wisely chose that as the perfect time A. to release the movie and B. set the movie because it allowed them to focus solely on this small group of adolescents that are just doing their damndest to follow their hearts and their passions. And best of all, the message brought home at the end is that there's a whole lot adults can learn from kids as well, if they would only listen.

So seriously, what are you still doing here reading this? Go forth and Super 8!