Friday, June 3, 2011

Mao's Last Dancer on DVD (with notes on Gulliver and Jack Sparrow)

I've seen several movies recently, but two of them hardly seemed worth reviewing. I will mention them here, although my main purpose for this post will be to write of the third.

Gulliver's Travels
First, Gulliver's Travels just came out on DVD. It's rated PG, but the Lutheran school my husband teaches writing at didn't think it was appropriate for sixth graders. Although there's nothing huge wrong with it, I agree with that assessment, having seen it myself. Some of the humor is crude (straight out of the book, from what my husband tells me), and it's just not quite the thing a church school should be showing to young, impressionable sixth grade minds. Now, if it's something these kids see at home with their parents, or something you might show your kids, that's another matter. But here's my suggestion: don't bother with it. It's not that funny, despite being Jack Black. It's actually kind of boring. Maybe you just have to be with the right crowd, watching at a semi-late hour of the evening, I don't know. I didn't get it. Maybe you have to have read the book.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Second, I saw Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in the theater the other day. If you like the Pirates movies and you like Captain Jack Sparrow, which I do, it's enjoyable enough. But again, I couldn't muster up enough enthusiasm to review it on its own. People seem to disagree with me here, but I miss Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan. I appreciated the characters of the missionary and the mermaid in this fourth Pirates movie to provide the missing balance, but at the end, I was disappointed even in that. It seemed to me that the missionary traded in his faith in God for faith in love, a very Hollywood-like idea but, obviously, disappointing to a true believer in God. Nick saw it a little differently, that the missionary's faith was renewed by love, but even he admits that perhaps that was wishful thinking. Good popcorn movie, but don't expect to be wowed.

Mao's Last Dancer
Finally, tonight I saw a movie I wanted to review. You've probably never heard of Mao's Last Dancer. I hadn't, but frankly, a preview of this movie on the disc for Black Swan was the one good thing I got out of that waste of time. Mao's Last Dancer is rated PG and is clean, linked only to Black Swan by the ballet, I guess. If you enjoy true dramas and beautiful, heartfelt dancing, you should definitely see this fascinating movie that passed under the radar just last year.

Li grows up in communist China under Chairman Mao's rule, the sixth son of a peasant, selected out of his small village school to train as a ballet dancer for China. He overcomes his small build and weakness to prove himself good enough to represent China in the United States. But the United States is not the picture he was painted in China, and he will have to make choices and sacrifices to pursue what he loves.

I suspected that this true story, based on Li's own autobiography, would be sad, and parts were, but it was amazingly, beautifully happy at its end. Though I know real life isn't always so neatly packaged (and perhaps some artistic license was taken to make this movie so), I am so much more satisfied and happy with a good ending, especially if a character struggled to get there. If this sort of story interests you at all, don't pass up the opportunity to see Mao's Last Dancer. It's a decent family movie, if you like to expose your children to other cultures and if they can sit through drama. The B-word and S-word are used briefly, and there is a short discussion on sex when two characters are kissing. It comes off as humorous since the Chinese boy doesn't understand the girl, but for those who are very selective in movie watching, you would want to at least be careful of which children see it.

Of those three, Mao's Last Dancer is the one to see, and it's the cultured, elegant pick, if you ask me.

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