Logan Review

We might as well get this out of the way early. The solo Wolverine movies have not been very good so far. From Marvel Comics to Twentieth Century Fox, writers have never been quite sure what to do with the character. Except that, whether on comic books or movie tickets he seems to be good for sales whenever he shows up so, clearly, doing nothing is not an option. The first X-Men movie cleverly played with this notion by shifting the focus away from the character in a 3rd act reveal with Ian McKellen’s Magneto delivering one of his many wry lines, “You? My dear boy, whoever said I wanted you?”

Despite that offhand snub, The Wolverine was very much in demand and spinoff flicks soon followed. But the solo films had no such easy way to skirt around the issue of how to make the character interesting, what with Wolverine being the central figure, and the results were less than inspiring. One of the main problems was having to tame down the inherent violence of its protagonist in order to secure that lucrative PG-13 rating and in the process turned what was a savage and vicious character into something the whole family could enjoy. Long time comic books fans will happily tell you that, whatever Wolverine is, he is not Captain America.

For the 3rd solo outing of ol’ Weapon X director James Mangold and star Hugh Jackman have fought and secured an R rating and here, at last, we have the Wolverine movie that we were promised. Reportedly the star and director lobbied the studio tenaciously with Jackman going so far as to take a pay cut in order to convince timid studio executives. Their efforts paid off and the studio was convinced.  One suspects persuaded in no small part by Deadpool’s hefty box office receipts. The results are that here we have a serious enough film befitting the source material with Mangold finding depths to the character previously unfathomed. And with the film geared towards an adult audience, we can finally see what actually happens when a man with metal claws protruding from his knuckles goes into a berserker rage.

Logan features some of the most graphically violent scenes in any comic book movie. Some even shockingly so; and that’s a good thing. For this is the next step in the evolution of X-Men movies. Based in part on the excellent alternate-future comic book “Old Man Logan” by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven, the film finds Logan, or James Howlett, as is stated on his driver’s license, working as a limousine driver.  James is worse for wear, that legendary healing factor not as quick as it used to be. He keeps his head down and tries to stay out of trouble in a world where most superheroes are gone and mutants are almost extinct. He keeps mostly to himself barely making enough money to buy medicine and occasionally goes to visit a certain aging former telepath until a desperate woman comes asking for help. Logan is forced to confront the legacy of his past and has to make some tough choices. Is there any remnant of the anti-hero he once was or has he given up completely?

Helping him answer these questions is his former mentor Charles Xavier also feeling the ravages of time. Patrick Stewart is obviously enjoying himself playing the cranky, old grandpa version of Professor X, who despite his advancing age is still one of the most powerful mutants on earth.  Incidentally, this is the first X-Men flick to really showcase the dangers of unchecked mutant powers and in doing so contributes to enhancing the mythos of the entire series.

But that’s not the whole story, for this film has a secret weapon (X). The X-Men movies have been defined by some genius casting choices (Can you even picture anybody else but Stewart and Jackman in their respective roles?) and here the tradition continues with Spanish actress Dafne Keen Fernández. In Logan, she is a revelation, scarily good in her scenes, acting way better than an 11-year-old has any right to be and holding her own opposite grizzled, old, veteran actors. Wait until you get a glimpse of that thousand-yard stare. Keen, who wasn’t even born when Wolverine debuted in the first X-Men flick way back in 2000 plays Laura, a mysterious mutant that comes across Logan’s path and doubles as the film’s McGuffin. Laura is a lost soul and Keen imbues the character with depth and personality, going from wide-eyed, sweet little girl, in constant wonder of a new world she has never seen before to a raging, vicious killer, attacking anything within range in the space of mere seconds. Going between vulnerable victim of abuse to murdering killing machine within a whole movie would be a remarkable feat for any respectable actress with decades of experience. That Keen manages to do it so effortlessly within single scenes is nothing short of uncanny. It will be very interesting to see where the career of this young talented actress will lead.

But despite the stellar performance of its cast, it is the strength of a meaningful story compellingly told that elevates this from being yet another tired, derivative sequel and places it among the most relevant of the comic book flicks. The human moments stand out as much as the head stabbings.  The age difference between its cast can be seen as a guide for the film itself. Logan is a film that uses the old as a lodestone to find the new. While mining the Wolverine mythology for context the film attempts to find closure to his arc while opening up new potential storylines in which to place his legacy.

In setting the story in his twilight years the writers have managed to find new meaning in a character that many would have thought would be played out by now. And Jackman snarls and slashes through it all with gusto. The filmmakers’ refusal to compromise has produced a film that stands way ahead of its predecessors, severely upping the action scene quotient while packing a surprisingly emotional punch. A comic book film that deals with themes of redemption, senility, alienation and even manages to throw in a little current political commentary on the issue of immigration and border security. (And as a native speaker, I thought the Spanish was a nice touch.) Not bad for a character that started out as a 3rd rate antagonist for the Hulk.

If this is indeed to be the last Hugh Jackman Wolverine movie it could not have made for a better send off.  The best Wolverine movie by far, one of the best movies from the X-Men franchise overall and one of the best comic book movies of the whole genre.

Parent’s Brief

Rated: R

Running Time:   2h 17min

On Sex, Violence and Nudity:

No sex. A pair of boobies appear briefly on screen. On the violence front, there is plenty. People get decapitated and limbs get cut off with impunity. Also, people get graphically stabbed in the face. A lot. And there is a fair amount of blood.

Cats And Their Owners

If you’re a regular reader of my page (and if you’re not, I’m going to need to see some ID) you know I’m not a big fan of cats. It’s nothing personal, I just don’t have a lot of respect for a creature whose greatest evolutionary achievement has been convincing gullible persons they make good pets. But as insufferable as the little beasts can be there is one creature that is even more obnoxious. I’m speaking of course of:

Cat Owners

I have never understood the unholy fascination some people have with the little bastards and there are a couple of reasons why:

Cats are incredibly stupid animals. While your average dog can be taught to lead the blind, detect bombs and even smell cancer (Freaking cancer!!!), a cat’s greatest accomplishment is . . .  pooping in a box. And for this they are considered sophisticated by their naive owners. Hell, even I have an 89% success ratio on the porcelain throne, and I have to balance myself on 2 legs! Try doing that, cats. In fact, cats cannot be taught anything at all. But don’t tell that to their owners. Your average cat owner will tell you that THEIR cat will solve quadratic equations when they are not doing the taxes for the home. To hear them tell it, their cat is the feline equivalent of Steve Jobs and Stephen Hawkins rolled into one.

Here is another reason: Cat’s are notoriously useless as guard animals. An intruder could break into your home, tie you and your whole family up and probably make himself a sandwich while browsing your Blue Ray collection without your cat lifting so much as a paw. While any dog would defend you and your home to the death, having a cat as defense would be about as useful as having Lindsey Lohan as your sponsor in a AA meeting. “But Javi”, I hear some of you saying (in a high-pitched whiny voice because that’s how I imagine cat owner’s talk), “what about Chihuahuas? They’re not much bigger than cats? What about them?” Sure, but the thing is, a Chihuahua would bark up a storm if he so much as suspects somebody is breaking into your neighbors’ 3 houses over, thereby alerting anybody of danger. An intruder could have your way with you, flip you over and go for seconds without your cat having the decency to even look bored. And for the record, your average Chihuahua is such a tiny bundle of neurotic inferiority complex that they will face down much larger dogs simply out of principle. Sure, they’ll get eaten in one bite, but a Chihuahua will be goddamned if he’s gonna show that douche-hat pit bull down the street any fear.) But don’t tell that to a cat owner. A cat owner will happily tell you of that one time THEIR cat single-handedly saved them and their family from a pack of rabid wolves when they were out vacationing in The Poconos.

And finally, cats have no concept of loyalty. They simply have no idea what that means. While the interwebs are full of stories of dogs faithfully standing by their masters’ graves after they’ve passed away, a cat would not change his routine if his whole family was abducted in the middle of the night and replaced with Russian spies. If cats could talk they would gladly tell a stranger your social security number and your bank account password if he thought he could get a little food out of the deal. To put it bluntly, cats just don’t give a fuck. Every time you come home a dog will greet you like he hasn’t seen you in years. A dog is genuinely ecstatic to see you. A dog wants to know how your day was, and if you would like play for a bit, if you’re not too tired of course, and if not then that’s ok, he understands, anyhoo he’s so glad to see you! A cat won’t even turn to look at you when you walk thru the door and is probably thinking what is taking you so long to fill his food bowl. Oh you were gone? Didn’t notice, now hurry up and give me some Meow-Mix, you fat whore. That’s what cats think. Just so you know. But don’t tell that to a cat owner. A cat owner will tell you that THEIR cat is the most loving, caring creature in god’s green earth. Their cat only wants to cuddle and hug them in their sleep.

So yeah, I will never understand cats or their owners. So for those of you out there that still insist on keeping these dumb, useless, traitorous little bastards as pets do yourselves a favor and get yourselves a nice Beagle. Or maybe even a Chihuahua. Just make sure it doesn’t know about the pit bull down the street.

The Shallows Review

If you’re going to be reviewing a movie involving a shark trying to eat people, comparisons with a certain early Steven Spielberg film are inevitable so let’s get them out of way. Despite featuring a beach setting and that, almost mandatory, dorsal fin, this is a different animal than Spielberg’s suspense masterpiece. It does feature a shark but Jaws this ain’t. What we have is a shark attack flick updated for the millennials. The setting is cleverly simple. In an unspecified Latin country, a young medical student and surfer goes in search of a secluded, “secret” beach where her mother had found some sweet swells years before. She finds the spot before the opening credits finish and then it’s time for some skillful aquatic camera work coupled with some gorgeous beach shots that make you wonder why the hell you never took up surfing anyway.

The film gets big props from me for not spoiling everything on the trailer as is Hollywood custom by now. Our heroine meets some locals with dubious accents, barrels and rolls to her heart’s content and, despite a running time of only 86 minutes, you’re left wondering when Mr. Bitey is gonna show up. But show up he does and the film does a very good job of further distinguishing itself from that other shark movie by keeping the action mostly in and around the water. The movie becomes a cat and mouse game and the fact that land and salvation is always, agonizingly within sight serves to ratchet up the tension.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra manages to keep things interesting despite the sparse setting and Blake Lively makes for a likable heroine. Watch her get up close and personal with said shark and suffer thru some Rambo-esque self-stitching. The film does suffers from some movie tropes like getting cell phone signal even in remote locations and electronic batteries that never die that are to its detriment but it is entertaining for the most part with perhaps its biggest flaw being an ending that borders on sci-fi channel territory. It is a perfectly serviceable summer flick even if it won’t make you quite afraid to go back in the water.

Parent’s Brief (Spoiler Alert)
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 86 minutes
On Sex and Violence: No sex or nudity. A character is shown in a bikini. There are scenes with blood, a character receives a gashing wound on a thigh and a character is bitten in half off screen but the 2 halves are shown briefly while character is still alive.

Memories Of Life With My Mother

By Lili Zamudio

If I’m going to talk about my mother, it is important to note what my grandmother used to say about her. “La cigüeña se equivocó. The stork made a mistake.” This was in reference to who my mother is, and how she grew up. My mom was born in Monterrey, Nuevo León, or so she says. Here’s what I know about my mom before I came into the picture. She is the oldest of twelve. She had her uniform and one dress in her closet; that’s it. My mother was allowed to finish sixth grade before getting pulled out of school in order to work to help support the family. By the time she was 15 she was working as a bank teller, then moved up to be the manager’s secretary. She had it rough, but she was my grandpa’s favorite, so at least there was that. The reason my grandmother used to say the stork made a mistake is that my mom was always very proper, she may have had one dress, but that dress was spotless. She also didn’t associate with any of the neighborhood children. She knew she wasn’t like them. Ever since she was little she used to say someday she would live in America.

Six years after meeting my dad, they got married. They moved to Tampico, Tamaulipas where they had my brother, sister, and then me. We relocated a handful of times because companies would seek out my dad and offer him better jobs. He also grew up poor, and was the oldest of four. My dad finished high school and put himself through his undergraduate studies. Later on, after my brother was born, and with the support of my mother, he got his master’s degree. He always worked for big companies and my mom always had her own business.

One of the earliest memories I have of my mom happened at one of her businesses. She had a furniture store in Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala that had grown very quickly. I remember breathing in the smell of wood as I would hide out under a desk or table. I would hear her booming voice as she talked to customers. I would hear deals and scheduling of deliveries. I thought my mom was amazing.

We moved to Apizaco in the same state. My favorite memory of my mother is a simple one. We lived on a dirt road at the top of a small hill in a small compound just big enough for a two story house, a swingset out front, an area to park two cars, and a large area behind the house, all walled in by a tall brick fence and huge metal doors on rails. It’s not that it wasn’t safe, that’s just how things were done in that area. There was a tortilleria at the bottom of the small hill. My mom would drop me off at the tortilleria, give me the few pesos needed to buy a kilo of tortillas, and wait in the car outside. I would come out, hand her the package, and she would invariably say, “I’ll race you.” I would take off running up the hill on that dirt road, and she would drive along just slower than I was running. She always let me win.

When I was just weeks away from turning seven, we moved to my fourth city, Juarez, Chihuahua. I spent two years in a Catholic school in Juarez, and by the time I was supposed to go into fourth grade, my parents decided to put me in private school across the border in El Paso, Texas. We commuted across the bridge every day. It was difficult for me to adjust the first year. What she would do on those days I was feeling sick or insecure and didn’t want to be left in a school where kids teased me, for different reasons than I was teased in Mexico, is she would reapply her lipstick, take my little hand in hers, and give me a kiss in the palm of my hand.  She would tell me to look at that kiss anytime I felt like I couldn’t go on, anytime I felt lonely, or anytime someone was being mean.  She would close my hand into a little fist and tell me she loved me as I got out of the car.  I can remember countless times when I secretly looked at my palm and saw her pink lipstick.  I’d sit at my desk working and unfurl my left hand to where only I could see my palm, marked by my mom’s lipstick.It made me smile every time.

We went through a rough time once I got into middle school. I was having some cultural turmoil. I was trying so hard, without knowing, to become just like everyone else, that I began ignoring my heritage. I didn’t want to speak Spanish. Spending more time with those private school kids than I did my own family had started to change me.  I became ashamed of where I came from, I ignored my first language, and I despised how I had different rules than my friends did. My mom was relentless with the SPANISH AT HOME rule.  She would ignore me until I spoke to her in Spanish.  In more than one occasion I remember going to bed hungry because I refused to give in.  I was having a serious identity crisis and didn’t even know it.

Once I got to high school, we had grown closer together because my mom started showing a willingness to learn from me. My mom had refused to buy me flip flops because I told her I wanted them for school. “Cómo que vas a ir a la escuela en chanclas? What do you mean you want to wear flip-flops to school?” she had been almost offended. I explained that it was normal in public school. We argued back and forth until I convinced her to park outside the high school one day and just watch. She had seen enough, we went to buy flip-flops after school that day, but they had to be nice.

At the end of my first master’s my mom asked what I wanted. I wanted to experience something with her that was of interest to me, and since I knew she wouldn’t get a tattoo with me, I asked her to go get her nose pierced with me. She agreed. We went to a well-known tattoo shop, and she sat nervously. She saw me go first. It wasn’t so bad. She sat in the chair and went through it like a champ.That was three years ago, and while my nose piercing is long gone, my mother still wears her and is proud to share the story with anyone who asks.

Now, at the end of my second master’s, we are on the cusp of getting matching tattoos, crowns, because she is a queen, and as she likes to brag, I am her princess. My mom is one of my best friends. She has come so far, been so willing to learn so much. She is one of the smartest and most inspiring people I know. She is truly incredible. She has, over the last twenty years, gotten her GED, “In English because I’m in America,” been a successful business owner, learned to play the piano, witnessed me get tattoos, “I didn’t expect a tattoo shop to be so clean and people so friendly,” and she even attended her gay niece’s wedding in New York. I have raised my mother well.

A Picture

By Lili Zamudio 

Flipping through the pictures on her phone, one caught her attention. “What the hell?” She thought to herself as she pressed her thumb to the screen. It was dark, but she could make out a little piece of what looked like fabric in the corner. She swiped left, a picture with her boyfriend. She swiped right, twice, a picture of her dinner with him that night. That was a week ago. She figured it was a picture accidentally taken in her back pocket. She pressed the trashcan. Delete photo. And it was gone.

A few more weeks passed, and the morning after her and her boyfriend went to the movies and spent their first night together, she found another picture that seemed out of place. Still lying in bed with him, with the bright morning filling room, she tapped it. It looked to be the same picture from weeks before, but it was a little clearer, just not enough. She didn’t make the connection, but now she could see the fabric in the corner better. It looked like the pink comforter on her bed. A smile spread across her face. “You weirdo!” She leaned over to snuggle him. He hugged her close, and didn’t say a word. To her, this confirmed her assumption. He had tried to take a picture of her sleeping, but neither the picture, nor the relationship worked out.

“Damn it! This fucking phone is glitchy!” It kept randomly duplicating the picture from that night intermittently for a month, a sick reminder of her failed relationship.  It wasn’t a big deal, except she couldn’t delete it anymore. She’d press the trashcan. She’d press delete photo, but it was still there. By the end of the month she had 17 of the same picture. She’d just shake her head every time she found another duplicate. Except for she realized the picture was getting just a little lighter every time. It was hard to notice from picture to picture, but looking at the original, and the last one, she could definitely see more of her comforter. She could even make out a bulge, her leg maybe, in the latest one.  “Great, now I have a constant reminder of the night I spent with that asshole. How am I dumb enough to sleep with someone after two dates and think it was love? We didn’t even have much in common.”

The first thing she would do every morning now was snatch the phone off the dock on her nightstand and look. Finding those mysterious pictures became an obsession for her.  She wasn’t sure what was happening or why, but she couldn’t wait to upgrade her phone to get rid of this one.  She had stopped taking pictures of her own. They wouldn’t save anymore. All she saw was dark squares getting progressively lighter.  She started to think maybe she should have stayed with him.

As the picture continued getting clearer, she began to see the bulge, definitely her leg under the comforter, swell into a curve, her hip, and her hand resting on it, her signature sleep pose.  She had to admit, this was starting to freak her out, especially when she noticed all the pictures were categorized into different dates.  It was as if each picture had been taken on a different night.

She couldn’t wait for the torture to stop, so she started a countdown to her upgrade day, set an alarm to it and everything, 29 days. Now, she could take solace in checking her countdown everyday, after finding a new, clearer picture of herself everyday.


By the time the countdown indicated 15 days left, she could see the bulge of her leg, her hip, her hand, and some of her shoulder covered with her long black hair.  By day nine she started losing sleep, getting maybe four hours in small bursts, checking her phone every time she woke up to see if the picture had appeared yet.  She had circles under her eyes, had trouble focusing in class at the university, even her English composition teacher sent her to the counselor, but her story was too surreal, so she didn’t tell it. She used the break up with her boyfriend a month ago as an excuse.  “We were perfect for each other. It’s been hard.” Even she almost believed her lies.

She went in to Best Buy with five days left to go, pleading for the upgrade.  “It’ll be an additional charge of $200 for early upgrade, ma’am,” a boy not much older than her explained, “ there’s nothing I can do about that.” She didn’t mean to cry, but five days seemed like an eternity.

Day three shocked her. She clicked on photos, clicked the latest abomination, and saw her leg, hip, hand, shoulder covered with her long, black hair, and the left side of her face.  Her eyes were open, lifeless, her lips grey.  She threw the phone across the room, sobbing, hoping to hear it shatter.  The cover flew apart in two pieces, and the screen shattered; she felt a sense of relief.  When she finally gathered herself enough to go pick it up, she had to stabilize herself at the sight if the glowing screen.

After she picked up the pieces, she decided that she could live without Facebook, and texting, and her email for two days.  She shut the phone off and put it away. She tried to distract herself with her friends that day, take her mind off that horrible image that had imprinted itself on the inside of her eyelids. Even when she blinked, she could see it.  She didn’t sleep that night.

She breathed a deep sigh, “First thing tomorrow.” She stayed up all night, sitting on her bed, afraid to close her eyes. She just sat there because no matter what she did, watch TV, read, browse the internet, her mind would take her back to that image.

The hours passed and eventually light started streaming in her apartment window. She blinked fast and slowly turned her head to face the early morning sun. She smiled.  For the first time in weeks, she finally smiled. “I made it.”

There was still the issue of getting the phone.  She couldn’t resist. She really shouldn’t have turned it on.  With a trembling finger she waited for the app icons to come up.  When the photos icon appeared, she took a deep breath. She pressed it. There, on the screen appeared the endless tiles, all the same, progressively lighter. The last one was different.  There it was, clear as day, her sitting on her bed, looking towards the light streaming from the window, just like a half hour ago before she got ready, before she got out of bed, but her body was grey and broken, distorted, and her eyes a pale, crystalline shade of blue, her mouth agape, dried brown blood smeared across her neck.


It took days for the fire department to show up.  They found her in the living room, dressed, purse across her chest, keys in one hand, phone in the other.  “Weird, she was so young.”  The phone flashed an alert.  The paramedic removed the phone from her hand hoping it wasn’t a phone call.  He let out a chuckle and turned to his partner.  “Oh dang, that sucks, she missed her upgrade date.”

Deadpool Review

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Hooo boy! The year has barely started and already we have shots fired. In the battle to earn your comic book movie love (And dollars) Marvel has come charging out of the gate. After a dearth of comic book films last year Deadpool comes out swinging giving us a reason to love the summer again and it ain’t even March. The film begins with an ambitious opening scene, the credits of which, perfectly set the tone of the movie from the get-go: funny, irreverent and self-aware. Marvel appears to have adopted a doctrine of making their films be entertaining (Imagine that!) above any other concerns and Deadpool seems to be a culmination of that philosophy. It is a testament to the skill and commitment of Marvel and the makers that they can get so much mileage out of one second tier character, and half the budget, than other companies can with four first rate ones, fantastic or otherwise. (Way to redeem yourself 20th Century Fox!) Not bad for a character that was a created as a joke. (For the non-initiated, Deadpool started life as a blatant clone of Deathstroke, a character from DC Comics, Marvel’s main competitor.)

In all this the film is aided in great part by a crackling script that never lets up. Whereas too many action movies treat the scenes between set pieces as filler packed with exposition and the occasional comic relief, Deadpool deftly weaves between wise-cracking slapstick, violent acrobatics and scenes of serious peril with effortless ease. The result of all of this is a movie that is engaging throughout whether featuring profane, brilliant banter or graphical, bloody shootouts. For the film wears that R rating proudly with enough sex and violent to make Paul Verhoeven get all misty-eyed.  It is not surprise there is already a sequel in the works.

Another revelation here is Reynolds himself who in Deadpool seems to have found his Iron Man, a character so indelibly linked to the actor that plays him that you cannot imagine anyone else playing him. And his work here acts as vindication of that whole Wolverine debacle which we won’t mention ever again. But the secret ingredient in the Deadpool stew is geek heroine Morena Baccarin, who, besides being cute as a button brings the acting chops honed in fan favorites like Gotham and Firefly or even as the damnest adorable reptilian alien ever in the short-lived “V” reboot. Baccarin has the perfect easy-going confidence to match Reynold’s sardonic bravado and their superb and convincing on-screen chemistry provides the impetus for Deadpool’s heroic arc.

For despite all the foul language, gore and masturbation jokes, this is a story that is surprisingly tender. It turns out it wasn’t just a marketing gimmick and, Deadpool, really is a love story. To be sure, one with more severed body parts than your average love yarn but a love story nonetheless. Starting a new franchise is always risky and studios hate taking risks. Whatever your stance on comic books is, the fact remains this movie should not have been this good. The writers and director have shown what can be achieved with bold writing and an unapologetic attitude, and,  more importantly, that comic book movies need not be made for kids to be enjoyable or, indeed, successful. Here’s to hoping that trend will continue. Hopefully Hollywood will take notice.


Parent’s Brief

Rated: R
Running Time: 108 minutes
On Sex and Violence:  Plenty of both. There is graphic violence of the gratuitous kind. People get shot in all kinds of places and I mean their bodies not exotic locations. Limbs get bloodily cut off. A lot of foul language which I don’t mind but I’m not here to judge. Deadpool and his love interest get into some vigorous love making and elsewhere there is some brief frontal nudity. Boobies. Boobies are shown.  So yeah. Don’t take the kids.

The Grandmaster Review

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Ever since the young son of a Chinese opera singer punched and kicked and screamed his way into history we, in the west, have been fascinated by kung fu. Bruce Lee’s combination of exotic moves and unbridled badassery proved irresistible and some of us have never been able to get over our kung fu film addiction. As in any art form, the films come in wildly varying degrees of quality. From the badly dubbed Saturday morning flicks we all watched to art house masterpieces like House of Flying Daggers and Fearless. I’m elated to report that Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster is of the latter variety and is as far removed from those Saturday chop socky movies as Citizen Kane is removed from a Wayans bothers crapfest. This is the kung fu film as a work of art, martial arts by way of Martin Scorsese, who gladly sponsored the film’s American release.

The story follows master Ip Man, played by Tony Leung, the most famous practitioner of the fighting style Wing Chun and, as you’re sure to get tired of hearing, one of Bruce Lee’s most influential teachers. Given the recent trend of Ip Man biopics in the last few years comparisons are inevitable. While those films focused on the character of Ip Man, here the scope is widened to present the relationship and sometimes rivalry between the North and South schools of martial arts. The film opens with a virtuoso fight scene in the rain and as opposed to the fast paced sequences of the earlier movies here the action is slowed down for your viewing pleasure, the equivalent of a slow cooked dinner, the camera delicately focusing on punches, kicks, reactions and footwork. The cinematography is exquisite with director Wong Kar Wai exhibiting grandmaster traits of his own with his camerawork and some of his shots are a delight to watch.

While the redoubtable Leung does an excellent Ip Man I was personally gratified to see the return of Zhang Ziyi, the doyenne of  martial arts flicks (I’m sorry Michelle Yeoh). You remember her from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.  Oh Zhang how I missed thee! I don’t care how many sex scandals you’re involved in, you can use your forbidden moves on me anytime. As the daughter of the grandmaster of the North, Zhang provides the film with its emotional punch and her story encompasses the final 3rd of the movie and, suitingly for a film about a martial art created by a woman, hers is not the only well written female role.

The other presence that contributes to the richness of the film is of that other master: Yuen Woo-Ping. For the faithful he won’t need any introduction. As for the rest of you heathens, if you’ve seen a memorable fight scene within the last 30 years chances are Woo-ping choreographed it. “Fearless”, “Kung Fu Hustle”, “The Matrix”, “Kill Bill”, “Fists of Legend”, “Iron Monkey 2” among many others all owe their superlative fighting sequences to the man who was quoted as saying “Make the audience feel the blow”. In The Grandmaster he brings a lifetime of expertise to fight scenes involving a variety of fighting styles like Tai Chi, Xin Yi, Hung Gar, Bagua and a bunch of others I won’t even pretend to be familiar with. He also makes a brief cameo as Chan Wah-shun, teacher of Ip Man.

Speaking of various martial arts, one of the few quibbles I have with the film is that here Ip Man is given almost mythical status. The Wing Chun master seems to have intricate knowledge of a wide ranging variety of styles. Now, this may well have been the historical case but it seems to ring hollow when presenting a character so accomplished in his own style. Another point of detriment is no fault of the film itself. The movie is presented in Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles. Now if there’s one thing that “Merica hates more than exercising and science is reading. That single aspect alone, I believe, will insure the movie won’t reach the wide audience it deserves. Pity. The film is a masterpiece of movie making and a genuine love letter to the martial arts from a director and cast working at the top of their game.

What a dog biting a bull in the face can teach us about life

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Yes, I know you have seen this video before. A Spanish guy gets attacked by a bull and it looks like he’s about to take that Big Siesta in the sky when suddenly a comically tiny dog runs out of nowhere, bites the bull right in the face allowing the guy to escape. Looked pretty awesome first time you saw it, right? Not so much lately. You have seen a lot of youtube videos since then. A Spaniard getting attacked by a bull is nothing remarkable. That’s pretty much how the Spanish get their exercise.  And dog is man’s best friend after all, right? Well, do me a favor. Watch it again. Only takes 2 or 3 minutes. What you may or not realize is that the Spaniard being hilariously gored to death is not the dog’s owner. That dog had no reason to come to the man’s rescue. He could have sat the whole thing out and no one would have thought any less of him. Hell, I bet you there were several of that poor fool’s friends and relatives in that crowd right there but you don’t see any of them stepping up to help him.  Aaah, but you see? That, my friends, is no ordinary dog. That, gentle reader, is a dog with an agenda. And the only item left to check that day was:

Bite a goddam bull in the face.

All he was waiting for was an excuse and the little Spanish man fighting for his life handily provided one. You can even see him at about the 37 second mark running around, joyously waiting for a chance to bite in the face an animal about 20 times its size, an animal that could kill it just by laying down without looking first. And why, you ask? What reason did it have for attempting something that goes against the very laws of nature? Well… Because fuck that bull that’s why. And that’s the only reason it would ever need. Think about that for a second. That’s like Verne Troyer (Mini Me from “Austin Powers”) hanging around UFC octagons  just for a chance to pick a fight with Brock Lesner… and then proceeding to submit the ever-loving bejesus out of that humongous man beast. Look at him starting at around the 2:20 mark. To say that this dog doesn’t care would be a silly understatement. There are deep sea trenches that could be filled with all the fucks this dog just does not give. It’s like nature, playing a drunken role-playing game with life, decided to see what would happen if you removed the self preservation instinct from an animal and then maxed out its confidence attribute.

But here is the astonishing thing. After everything is done and the huge bull has been shown who’s the main mammal in Málaga, the dog is not even upset in any way. I mean obviously he was not scared but you can see from its expression at the end he was not the least bit fazed. You could almost get the sense that right after the video ended he sauntered over to the bull and told him he’d buy him a beer just to show him there were no hard feelings. No anger. No fear. That is some Zen shit right there my friends. That dog should open its own freaking dojo and teach people how to meditate.

Most folks walk thru life filled with self doubt. Should I quit my job and move to Spain? Should I leave my douche bag boyfriend? Should I go back to school? Should I ask that cute girl in Customer Service out? (No not that one, the one in the back everybody thinks is a little weird). The inability to answer these questions fills people with anxiety. At the same time a lot people, when presented with a situation that they perceive to be outside their control, tend to react with anger. The dog shows us what is like to deal with a difficult situation calmly but decisively; what is like to approach life with a complete absence of self doubt. Think about that for a bit:

What would you do if you knew absolutely that you could not fail?

Now ask yourself, what exactly is stopping you from doing what you want to accomplish? Visualize your obstacles. Imagine all your fears laid out in front you. Picture your doubts and trepidations. Got it? Got that image firmly in your mind? Good.

Now bite it in its goddam face.