A Must-See Movie: FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER

FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER: Loung Ung’s book has been powerfully brought to the screen by Angelina Jolie.

Loung Ung’s fascinating yet horrific book about her survival of the brutal and sick Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, First They Killed My Father, has finally become a movie.

I really have to hand it to Angelina Jolie.  I don’t know her personally, so I’m not shilling, but she’s someone who became a goodwill ambassador to the UN awhile back, which, by the way, was also chronicled in her fascinating book, Notes from my Travels.  She has been raising awareness of the problems in nations like Cambodia ever since.

So it was no surprise when I read the good news online that First They Killed My Father was being made into a movie and that Angelina Jolie was producing it.

The movie follows the story of Loung Ung, age five in 1975 at the beginning, whose happy life with her military man father, mother and several loving siblings in Cambodia is completely disrupted, then destroyed, by the Khmer Rouge takeover of the country.  It’s brilliantly done by showing the bizarre story unfold through Loung’s young and disbelieving eyes.

Wait.  Let me amend that.  Loung is hardly the only one who cannot make sense of what went on when the Khmer Rouge took over.  Neither could the adults who were there at the time, let alone all those of us who weren’t there, thank God, and only heard about the insane events later.

Loung’s gentle father is not the only one the rogue Rouge regime kills.  A quarter of the population of Cambodia did not survive the Khmer Rouge’s psycho system of starving, overworking, and outright murdering anyone who didn’t appear to be in line with their “revolutionary” philosophy, whether they be from the military, educated, in the upper classes, etc.  As seems to be the norm with a lot of the more brutal regimes of the Twentieth Century, this one was obsessed with making everyone into “equals.”  It never works, but those who want it to can go pretty crazy with their ideas of implementation.  The Khmer Rouge went more berserk with that “equality” crap than most.  The entire population becomes enslaved by the Khmer Rouge, who have guns pointed at them as they force them to give up their homes, possessions, former lives, and so on, putting them to work in work camps.  Question, though: how “equal” can people be if one group has guns on the other, then forces them to do all the work?

Sareum Srey Moch does a spectacular job at playing Loung Ung, a child fed with more propaganda than food who somehow manages to hold onto her humanity in spite of every insane thing that is happening around her.  This is a performance worthy of an award, and so is Angelina Jolie’s vivid direction.  As many times as someone can read  about the Khmer Rouge’s takeover of their own beleaguered nation, seeing it played out on the screen packs a wallop.

Get the movie, folks.  It’s on Netflix.  You can see the trailer here:

Advertisements

What a Book! THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen

A cautionary tale about a double-agent.

THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen is more than just a book.  It’s like a force of nature.

The unnamed narrator is the illegitimate son of a North Vietnamese teenager and a priest.  He’s of “two minds,” as a result, or rather, he thinks he is, “torn” between two different cultures, Vietnamese and French, Asian and Caucasian, etc.  He grows up with a whole lot of ridicule and bullying, due to his mixed heritage, and believes it makes him someone who can understand situations from “two sides.”

Oh, really?

He may believe so, but he also aligns himself, secretly and wholeheartedly, with one side over the other.  One of his best friends trains him as a North Vietnamese spy for the Viet Cong.  Meanwhile, he also makes a big but fake show of spying for the CIA…

I won’t say any more, since I don’t like to add spoilers, but I will say this.  The story may be set in Vietnam during the 1960s and 1970s, and is fascinating in and of itself, as a result, but it can also serve very well as a cautionary tale for today’s polarized Americans.  Careful, folks!  Don’t base your entire identity on your politics.  You may be in for a rude awakening.

 

 

 

The Dream of the Silver Coin

Magical things may happen if a silver coin appears to you in a dream…

It happened in 1988.

I had lived in Brooklyn, New York for about a year and liked to board the elevated subway at 20th Avenue Station.  It was a longer walk to that station than to the one closer to my house by about five minutes, but a nicer walk, too, past gorgeous little gardens and a beautiful church.

One night I had a dream.  I was walking up the subway steps at 20th Avenue Station, and in the middle of the staircase I found a silver coin.  A beautiful silver coin, like a dollar piece, glinting and waiting for me.

“What a great dream,” I thought as I woke up.  Then I got dressed and headed off to work as usual, walking to 20th Avenue station.

When I got there, halfway up the steps, what did I find?  A ten-dollar bill!  It wasn’t a silver coin, but it was right there, on the staircase, right where it was in the dream!

Well, no one else was on the staircase so whoever’s pocket it fell out of wasn’t there to retrieve it.  I put the ten in my wallet with a smile on my face and went to work.

Later that day, at my job at Orion Pictures, I checked my lottery ticket in the newsstand that was in the building.  I had four numbers out of six – and won $126!!!!

On the way home that night with my much-heavier winnings-enhanced wallet, walking along 18th Avenue in Brooklyn, right near the fire station, I found several coins on the street!  It was just a few cents worth, but they were coins.  They were on the street.  And they were waiting for me.  It was one of the luckiest days of my life.  Total take: about $136.07.

I’ve often wondered about the dream of the silver coin.   Where did it come from?  Does it even matter?  Look at the good fortune it foretold!

 

Stop Complaining! Take a Positive Action

Go for some positive action.

I could go on for hours about how ridiculous I think all the moaning, groaning, bitching, kvetching, whining and complaining that seems to be so many people’s “new normal” is these days, but don’t worry, I won’t.

Instead, I’d just like to make a suggestion: Stop complaining!  Pick just one cause you care about and DO SOMETHING about it instead!

Get off your butts, folks!  Do you think if you complain endlessly that somehow, by magic, you’re changing the world for the better?  Ha!  It’s more like you’re just driving your long-suffering friends, family members, and online contacts crazy with your negativity.  The smart ones will block you.  The masochists won’t, but do you really want a masochist to claim you as a friend?  I mean, one likes you, what does that say about you?

My favorite cause is Operation Smile.  That’s the wonderful organization that provides free, life-enhancing corrective surgery to impoverished children born with facial deformities all over the world.  The children’s entire lives are transformed for the better.  They go from being ridiculed outcasts to regular, adorable kids, all thanks to a quick medical procedure that changes their everything.

You can change a life with a surgery for $240.00, but if that’s above and beyond what you can give at the moment, you can also provide transportation for four families to get surgeries for their children for just $20.00.  Don’t wait for some other entity to help the poor around the world.  Get off your rumps.  Step up to the plate.

Here’s Operation Smile’s website: www.operationsmile.org.

Be the change you wish to see in the world!

What a difference a smile makes!

Broadway Musical Fans, Here’s a Book Recommendation for You!

SHOWSTOPPERS! by Gerald Nachman: one singular sensation of a Broadway book!

If you love musicals – and I’ve loved them my whole life – then have I got a book for you!  Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore, or better yet log onto your Amazon account, and check out SHOWSTOPPERS! by Gerald Nachman.

I’ve always enjoyed hearing about the back story of how theatrical works are put together.  In this book, Gerald Nachman presents a fascinating, detailed, beautifully researched account of Broadway hit songs and the legions of people who made them happen.

For example, have you ever heard of a 1964 Broadway show called A Damned Exasperating Woman?  Of course not.  That’s because, after Jerry Herman wrote a song that Louis Armstrong liked so much he recorded and released it before the show in question opened.  The song became such a hit it was decided that the show should be named for the song.  Its title?  Hello, Dolly!    The new revival that just opened, starring Bette Midler,  is breaking box office records right now, 53 years later, and while Louis Armstrong is long gone (and missed), we’re all still singing that song.

The back story of the music of Hello, Dolly! is just one of the dozens of fabulous behind-the-scenes-to-before-the-floodlights chapters in this book.  Ever wonder about the differences between the partnerships of Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart, and Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein?  Curious about the real Annie Oakley, who inspired the Irving Berlin musical Annie, Get Your Gun, which was written with Ethel Merman in mind?  Want to find out more about another Annie, the one who was adopted by Daddy Warbucks?  Then this is the book for you.

The chapter that I personally found the most interesting is the one about the song “Wilkommen” in Cabaret.  But let me back up here.  I found the record one day when I was home sick from school as a kid, played the songs and adored them from that point on.  I’ve always particularly loved “Wilkommen,” where the Emcee of a Weimar Berlin cabaret, played by Joel Grey, welcomes the guests in German, English and French.  The song is at once a great show tune and a miniature language lesson in the bargain.  But keep in mind, the first time I played the song, I heard it.  I did not see it acted on a stage.  I didn’t know Joel Grey came out on the stage wearing bizarre make-up.  Until reading SHOWSTOPPERS!, I did not realize that the number, the first in the show, was staged to deliberately set a creepy tone for the audience and let them know what kind of theatrical evening they were in for.  Those who missed seeing many of these classics performed live  the first time around will surely welcome the chance to hear these stories.  They’re certainly giving me a new appreciation of many of my old cast albums.

This book is a treat.  Love Broadway?  Go for it!

 

Penn State Pedophile Enablers Get Their Just Desserts

This creep is Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky.  He’s doing 30 to 60 years in jail for serial rape.

Remember the Jerry Sandusky case?  He’s the pervert who was raping little boys at Penn State college.  He founded a foster home for the boys there – so that he could have easy access to them!  They’ve already sued Penn State for millions over it, and more power to the boys for standing up and fighting for restitution.

Three officials at the college knew about the abuse of the one of the boys when a graduate coaching assistant told them he saw it happening – back in 2001.  Sandusky was abusing the poor kid in a shower.  The three administrators, however, heard it but did nothing whatsoever about it.  All three could have called the cops, but hey!  That might’ve brought a scandal to their little college, which might’ve rocked their precious world, and might’ve been inconvenient for them, so, even though any one of them could have easily called the police over it, none of those three stooges had the courage between them to pick up the phone.

They’re disgraceful in the extreme, and their names are Tim Curley, Athletic Director; Graham Spanier, former President of the college, and Gary Schultz, former Vice President.  Well, now their names are mud, too.

Today they got sentenced to jail over their failure to act, and I’m hoping this will be the beginning of a trend.  Those in authority who don’t stand up and act when they know children are being raped, of all things, simply don’t belong in the wide world, looking the other way for their own stupid reasons while simultaneously making things worse.  Who in their right mind could know something as vile as rape is being perpetrated against little kids and not call the police?

One thing I can never understand regarding a lot of these pedophile cases is the labyrinthine way so many of these crimes manage not to come to light right away.  I’ve heard that predators are adept at terrifying the children they abuse into silence, but nothing occurs in a vacuum.   There’s always more people around in situations like these than just the abuser and victim.  In this particular instance, an adult even witnessed the abuse.  He spoke up to the administrators.  But he certainly told the wrong people.

If I knew of a child who was being raped, I’d call the police.  Not the school principal, or the college president, or the bishop, if it was a church situation – but the police!  It’s a criminal act, so it’s their jurisdiction – not the schools’, and not the churches’.  I’d call the police first.  I’d call Child Protective Services second.  And I’d be screaming bloody murder until I got the pervert in question investigated and arrested as quickly as possible, before more harm was done.

The silent Three Stooges of Penn State are the worst bunch of sex abuse enablers I’ve heard of yet, though, because it involves the abuse of boys in foster care.  They had no parents available to be on the lookout for their boys’ welfare, and with nobody to speak up on their behalf, it was even more crucial for the administrators to take action to put an end to the abuse as soon as they knew it was happening.  Incredibly, these clowns knew what was going on since 2001, but shut their mouths just to “protect” the university’s “reputation!”

Gentlemen, what do you think that school of yours looks like now?  

Penn State’s administrators who were sentenced to jail.  Curley, Spanier & Schutz.  (Curley, Mo and Larry?)

 

 

Documentary Recommendation: ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL

ABACUS: Excellent movie, outrageous subject.

Remember how all of the big banks got away with financial murder during the crisis of 2008?  The huge ones weren’t prosecuted.  But – incredibly, outrageously and astonishingly – one small bank in Chinatown with a clientele of Chinese-Americans and Chinese immigrants was.

The Abacus Bank and the awesome Sung family that runs it are the subjects of ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL.  Only ONE bank was put on trial over the mortgage crisis, and it was Abacus.  When you remember how gigantic and wide-spread that crisis was, doing the math here will make your blood boil.  Only ONE bank got in hot water over it?  That’s crazy.

But then when you realize the one in question was a Chinese bank, the way this one was targeted crosses the line into clear-cut racism.

The family that runs it, the Sungs, didn’t do anything wrong.  In fact, the day they found out one employee there had been “going renegade,” they fired him immediately and reported it to the authorities that oversee such matters.

For doing the right thing, what happened?  A slew of employees of the bank were arrested while chained to one another in one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve ever seen.  The Sung family wound up embroiled in a case that lasted five years.  The baseless charges, one of the family members says, “were super-imposed on us.”  Indeed, they sure were!

This is an excellent documentary, and it’s fun to see how the Sung family does not lie down and put up with their mistreatment – but stands up and fights back.  To the Sungs, I say, BRAVO!