Broadway on Film: Allegiance (2016) starring George Takei, Lea Salonga, & Telly Leung

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Kei, Grandpa, & Sammy arrive at the Heart Mountain internment camp 
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. -George Santayana (1905), philosopher/writer
Allegiance ran on Broadway for 3 mos. during the Winter of 2015/2016, and was seen by 120,000 (which was the same number of Japanese-Americans rounded up and put in internment camps during WWII). The story is partly based on George Takei’s real life experience as a young child raised for 4 yrs in an Arkansas internment camp. Each night of its Broadway run, the veteran actor/activist/social media star, reserved a seat for (then presidential candidate) Donald Trump. Of course, Trump NEVER came to see the show! 
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The Kimura family at the dinner table.
This musical drama centers on the Kimuras, who are a close-knit farming family, yet individuals in their own right (who grow and change over the course of the play). They are sent to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming camp, which is the main setting of this story. There are armed men guarding them 24/7, a curfew is in effect at night, and the living conditions are VERY poor.   
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Sammy encourages the young people to think of ways to have fun in “Get in the Game.”
Sammy (Telly Leung, who has been chosen as the lead in Alladin) desperately wants to enlist in the army and show his allegiance to the U.S. His father says that this can never be, since they “have the face of the enemy.” BOTH men are quite stubborn! Sammy’s older sister, Kei (short for Keiko), serves as a mother-figure for him also. Kei (Lea Salonga, veteran actor/singer best known as Eponine in the original Les Mis) worries about Sammy’s future and takes care of Grandpa (Takei), who is missing his garden back home. 
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Grandpa creates an origami flower from the offensive loyalty questionnaire.
…after graduating from college, studying Asian American history, knowing about the civil rights era now– in a post-Vietnam War era– I think I would have done what Frankie did: You want me to fight as an American? Then treat me like an American! -Michael K. Lee
Kei (though she considers herself an “old maid”) forms a connection w/ Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), a law student from LA.  Since he’s a bachelor, Frankie has to share a cabin w/ 10 other men. His dark humor and sly wit are revealed in the rousing big band number Paradise. Frankie’s allegiance is to the Constitution; this character is based on (real life) activist Frank Emi.  I was quite impressed w/ this character; he seemed VERY fresh and modern!
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Sammy and Hannah joke and about their budding (forbidden) relationship.
Sammy and Hannah (a blonde, young Army nurse from Nebraska) become close while trying to get more medicine and supplies for the camp. They have a sweet duet (With You) which expresses their love, which is NOT safe to express.  The lyrics are simple, yet poignant; below is a sample. 
If I were with you, no one else could see us this way. -Sammy imagines
If I were with you, we would fight the world every day. -Hannah replies
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Sammy (center) with some of the men of the 442nd Combat Regiment
What can be done to end this imprisonment? Mike Masaoka (Greg Watanabe) of the Japanese Americans Citizens League (JACL) has been petitioning Congress to get his people freed. Perhaps in desperation, he proposes a loyalty test (“to root out the troublemakers”). Also, the able-bodied men MUST enlist (in a segregated unit, like the African-Americans) and take on the deadliest missions. (Masaoka was an actual person during this period in history.) Watanabe had older relatives in internment camps, as he noted in one of the behind-the-scenes interviews. I wanted to know MORE about this character!
Women weren’t just sitting around while the men faced danger. Kei and the camp’s women write letters to major newspapers and magazines to let the public know what’s going on. Kei goes after what she wants and becomes a stronger woman, as we see in Higher- a pivotal song for her character and showcasing Salonga’s powerful vocals.
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A banner ad featuring Sammy, Hannah, and a quote from the Washington Post review
In SOME ways, this play is quite traditional for Broadway- love stories, generational conflicts, song and dance. In other ways, it is groundbreaking- a cast of mainly Asian-Americans (incl. those of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Korean ancestry); a Japanese-Canadian director (who had relatives in similar camps in Canada); a Chinese-American co-writer; a female orchestra leader, etc. In this current political climate, this story is a cautionary tale, NOT merely entertainment. Should we prove our worth by standing by our country, no matter what (like Sammy)? Or should we resist the unfair laws being proposed, even risking prison (like Frankie)? 
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Lion (2017) starring Dev Patel, Sunny Pawar & Nicole Kidman

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the movie.

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A poster for the film Lion.

I went to see this MUST-SEE film 3 weeks ago (w/ the NetSAP book club); I had read a FEW chapters of the book upon which its based (A Long Way Home) by Saroo Brierley. The theater (Landmark E St in DC) was packed that SUN afternoon- like nothing I’d seen before! I heard that MANY people has been coming to see La La Land; however, the Oscar buzz had been strong re: several other recent films (incl. Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight). Last year, #OscarsSoWhite was a VERY popular hashtag on Twitter (and other social media); this year, there are diverse movies in the mainstream theaters… AND they’re making money, too.

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Five year-old Saroo (Sunny Pawar) with his eldest brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate)

As soon as I saw him, he just felt like the kid that I’d been imagining and feeling, and then we got him into the rehearsal space and I put a camera on him. I just felt like we were watching our movie. -Garth Davis, director (on Sunny Pawar)

The MAIN reason to see this film is Sunny Pawar, the unknown child actor who plays Young Saroo. He had never acted before and didn’t speak English. The ONLY other performance I can compare it to is that of the tween Anna Paquin in The Piano. Unlike Paquin, Pawar doesn’t have a LOT of dialogue; he expresses himself mainly through his eyes and actions. At the start of the film, Saroo is living with his siblings and mother (played by Priyanka Bose) in the village of Ganesh Talai in the Khandwa District of Central India. He and his older brother, Guddu, go out each morning in the hopes of getting some change, fruit, or (if they’re lucky) milk. His mother works in a quarry, hauling rocks; her husband left her for another woman in a different town (this is discussed a BIT in the book). They are a happy family, though VERY poor and uneducated.

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Young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) in the homeless children’s center in Calcutta.

One night, after Guddu goes off to work (telling him to wait), Young Saroo goes to sleep at the nearby train station. When he wakes up, he doesn’t see ANYONE around, so he gets on an empty train to explore… and it takes off! He ends up in the busy city of Calcutta and somehow survives on the streets for 2 mos. (though he doesn’t know the language, Bengali). One day, a seemingly kind woman, Noor (Tannishtha Chatterjee- star of Brick Lane), living near the train tracks takes him to her apartment. She feeds him, gives him a bath, and asks about his life. Young Saroo suspects something is wrong when Noor’s male friend (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui- one of India’s BEST character actors) visits and checks him out. In no time, the quick-witted (and fast-running) kid is out the door! 

After some time at a crowded homeless center (more like a prison) for kids, Saroo gets the news from Mrs. Sood (a kind social worker) that an Australian couple- Sue (Nicole Kidman) and John (David Wenham) Brierley- want to adopt him. He wonders if everything possible was done to try and find his mother, and Mrs. Sood confidently says “yes.” The local police had interviewed him, ads had been put in the newspapers, BUT his family was a LONG way from Calcutta (which is located in West Bengal). 

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Sue (Nicole Kidman) and Saroo (Sunny Pawar) meet for the first time.

When Saroo reaches Australia (Tasmania to be exact), he easily takes to his new life w/ the Brierleys, who are solidly middle-class and run a charter boat business. He is a comfort to Sue after the family faces challenges w/ his younger brother, Mantosh, who suffered much before he was adopted (also from India). John instills in Saroo a love of the outdoors. 

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The adult Saroo (Dev Patel) uses Google Earth to find his way home.

Dev Patel does a good job as the grown-up Saroo (incl. accent), a young man who loves his adopted family, but feels compelled to find his birth mother. She “could be out there suffering,” wondering where he is, he tells long-time girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). Some friends in his graduate certificate program think that w/ modern technology (Google Earth) he could try and find his old hometown. 

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Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel at the BFI London Film Festival

Nicole Kidman (an Aussie), has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar; she does a fine job as a kind, understanding, and VERY emotionally strong mother. Saroo and Mantosh are “not blank slates” as her own children would’ve been, Saroo explains in one of my favorite scenes. Sue could’ve had her own (natural) children, she admits, BUT she and John chose to adopt knowing there are already MANY kids out in the world that need good homes. (Kidman, in real life, has adopted children.) 

Another element that makes this SUCH a compelling film is it’s superb editing; the life of the adult Saroo is intercut (at times) w/ that of his younger self. Seeing the plate of jalebi at his Indian friends’ house takes Saroo back to when he saw that sweet treat being fried in the marketplace. The music is very good (never over the top), which is quite suited for the film. This story has a big pay-off in the end, which is true to life!   

 

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Fargo (Season 1)

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Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) is bullied by the Hess family

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the FX series (inspired by the Coen brothers’ film- Fargo).

I heard about this show from a former co-worker (who called it “the best show on TV”) and via little snippets online.  However, it took me SOME time to get into the story and finish watching the DVD set (which I purchased on sale from FYE).  I watched it twice to get a better understanding of the story. 

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Lester happens to meet Lee Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) in the ER

If you enjoy watching British actor Martin Freeman (The Hobbit; Sherlock), then this show MAY make you into a fan.  He gets to stretch his acting muscles here, NOT only playing the meek, mild, “Nice Guy” you’d expect. 

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Deputy Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman) interviews Lester at his desk in the insurance office.

The good guys on this show are ALMOST as interesting as the baddies- you’ll want to cheer for them for sure!  Deputy Molly Solverson (Alison Tolman) is a humble, earnest, and observant 2nd gen police officer in her hometown of Bimidji, MN (which is close to Fargo, ND).  Molly is around 30, looks like an average Midwestern woman (thank you, producers), likeable, BUT sometimes undermined in her role (by the males in her department).   

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Deputy Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks) in his patrol car

She finds a complementary foil in reluctant cop and loving single dad, Officer Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks).  On my second watch, I LOVED seeing their working friendship evolve into a slow-burn romance.  Tolman and Hanks have such an easygoing and sweet chemistry- it’s rare to see in modern TV.  Murder investigations CAN bring people together! 

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Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play FBI agents

There are several well-known actors who are guest stars on the show; I esp. liked seeing Key and Peele as two clueless FBI agents.  In a few of their scenes, I wondered if they were making fun of the two cops on Season 1 of True Detective or perhaps such sketches from their OWN show. 

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The “new” Lester flirts with a young woman in Vegas

One of my favorites on the show is Lou (Keith Carradine), a retired cop who now runs a diner; he is also a widower and Molly’s father.  Lou and Molly have such a GREAT relationship; we see the love and respect shine through in every scene they share.  At times, Lou is concerned re: the safety of his daughter, BUT he never undermines her ability to do her job. (FYI: Season 2 goes back in time to find Lou, played by Patrick Wilson, as a young deputy.)

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Malvo tries to get info out of Lou Solverson in his diner

If you like Billy Bob Thornton, then this series will simply be a treat; the veteran movie actor creates a scary good villain and chews up the scenery.  He transforms himself w/ different hair, clothing, posture, manners, etc.  I think Fargo is definitely worth a watch (esp. b/c of the VERY strong acting, writing, cinematography, and music).  It’s a character drama mixed w/ a police procedural, w/ sudden doses of violence (which is to be expected also in MOST of the Coens’ films).