September 28, 2011

‘IRIS’ explores wonders of cinema

Posted in Between Us column, Business, Entertainment, Movies at 9:54 pm by dinaheng

If French is the language of seduction and love, Hollywood has fallen under the spell of Cirque du Soleil’s new extravaganza, “IRIS…A Journey Through the World of Cinema,” now playing in the Kodak Theatre in the heart of Tinseltown.

The $100-million production, which starts a 10-year run in the venue that hosts the Academy Awards, is the newest jewel in the crown of the Montreal-based global entertainment company known for creating innovative shows with stunning visuals and dazzling acrobatic performances.

The origin of the show goes back to 2002, when Cirque du Soleil was asked to perform in the Kodak Theatre as part of that year’s Academy Awards show, presenting the nominees for Best Picture.

“It was nerve racking to be in front of the world on television,” recalls Daniel Lamarre, president and CEO of Cirque du Soleil, “but we got a standing ovation, and I thought there was a possibility to do something here.”

CIM GROUP, which owns the Kodak Theatre, thought the same, and contacted Lamarre to see whether a partnership in an ongoing production at the facility would be possible. Lamarre and Guy Laliberté, the owner and founder of Cirque du Soleil, said yes.

“The challenge is to become the flagship of Los Angeles, a must-see event for 1.8 million tourists who walk in front of the Kodak Theatre every day,” Lamarre says. “I feel confident that what we have created has the elements of success.”

The City of Los Angeles and local businesses agree, rolling out the red carpet for its newest resident, and offering consumers everything from “IRIS” dinner discounts at area restaurants to parking specials.

The show brings a major new tourist attraction to the area, raising the bar of entertainment on Hollywood Boulevard from watching the occasional movie premiere from the sidewalk to a live theatrical performance that charges anywhere from $43 (plus handling fee) to  $253 for a VIP ticket (plus the fee).

In a town that worships the movies, there’s no doubt that audiences will embrace the dance,  circus arts, and storytelling that come together in this dazzling production directed by Philippe Decouflé, a French choreographer and dancer. Fittingly, the orchestral score was written by prolific movie composer Danny Elfman, who received Grammy Award nominations for scoring “Milk” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

Spectacle and grace come together in the magical world of “IRIS,” where cinema’s ability to transport viewers to a make-believe world is reflected in moments where live performances are blended with multimedia presentations, such as one graceful act where the dancers are shadowed by their rapidly unfolding choreography on the screen behind them.

Amazing acrobatics, imaginative staging, and a touch of humor make this show a true homage to Hollywood. As with every circus, the clowns offer a comic, and sometimes poignant, commentary on the frenetic madness of the movie-making industry.

As one clown noted, “This is the real true story of Hollywood… rejection.”

For those who have stars in their eyes, though, “IRIS” will not disappoint. Fans of Cirque du Soleil’s acrobatic artistry will applaud the performers in the flying trapezes, the contortionists who twist their bodies into impossible positions, and the trampoline artists who never miss a beat in their intricate routines.

While the show gives a nod to aspects of cinema, from Noir as a film genre to the development of animation, there’s no clear evolutionary journey through the history of filmmaking. Instead, the love story of two characters — Buster and Scarlett — serves as an emotional through-line against the backdrop of an ever-changing motion and picture spectacle on stage.

The snippets of their story makes sweet poetic sense, since all movies are really about love — the search for love, the loss of love, finding love anew…

For an evening of seduction and wonder, “IRIS” is sure to please.

For ticket information, check out cirquedusoleil.com/IRIS or call 877-943-4747.

 

September 27, 2011

Winter needs a new home

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Travel at 5:37 am by dinaheng

Walk up to the pool where the real star of the new film “Dolphin Tale” lives, and you’re likely to get a curious look from the five-year-old female Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin named Winter.

Happy to speak her mind, the dolphin emits her signature whistle — a tweety bird sound — as she’s fed a snack by Abby Stone, senior marine mammal trainer at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA).

“We believe dolphins have a more advanced form of communication than other species,” Stone says, petting Winter’s flank as she stretches the rear end of the dolphin to work her muscles and tendons. “They’re good problem solvers and have good memory. The brain to body proportion is large, and while we don’t know what they use the larger brain for, in a group, they work together. They have cooperative hunting, are capable of play, and being deceptive.”

In other words, they know how to fool anyone who thinks they’re smarter than the average dolphin.

The story of this particular dolphin came to the world’s attention several years ago when Winter was found entangled in a crab trap near Cape Canaveral by a local fisherman. The wounds on the animal were so deep that the tail tissue was dead and fell off within a few days of being rescued and taken to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

“A lot of what you see in the movie ‘Dolphin Tale’ is what we do in real life,” says David Yates, CEO of the aquarium. “We’re on call 24/7. Our job is rescue, rehabilitation and release. If a wounded animal won’t survive in the wild, they’re kept here. We promote environmental work to inspire people to take better care of our  marine life environment.”

Six years ago, the aquarium was in debt and in danger of closing, so Yates decided to use Winter’s story to draw attention to the animal hospital, holding a series of “Save Winter” events as fundraisers.

“When Winter’s tail came off, she shouldn’t have survived,” Yates says. “If she can’t swim and come to the surface to breathe, she’d die. So we held her up 24 hours a day until we could figure out what to do.”

News reports of the dolphin’s rescue and loss of her tail prompted Kevin Carroll, and Dan Strzempka, prosthetists with Hanger Prosthetics & Orthotics (which makes prosthetic limbs for humans) to volunteer to try to make a tail for Winter. The two prosthetics designers, Dr. Mike Walsh, a marine mammal veterinarian, and CMA’s marine mammal trainers formed a braintrust that then created an artificial tail for Winter.

In the process, they also developed “Winter’s Gel,” a sock made of very soft rubbery material, to help keep the tail on the dolphin. “Winter’s Gel” is now used to also help many veterans and amputees reduce the pain of wearing their prostheses.

Winter now wears her tail four or five times a day as she continues to adapt to it. The dolphin is fitted for a new tail every two months because of her continued growth.

In addition to working with dolphins, CMA rescues turtles, river otters, and is on-call to respond to other marine animals in distress.

For the filming of “Dolphin Tale,” Alcon Entertainment built an addition to the aquarium where most of the scenes with Winter were filmed. The “Dolphin Deck” remains as a facility that is now used to rehabilitate wounded animals.

The aquarium has launched a campaign to “Help Build Winter’s New Home,” planning to build a new animal care area that would allow it to double the number of animals it can rehabilitate, and build a new dolphin complex to give Winter and her friends more living space.

“We’ve got commitments for $3 million of the $12 million that’s needed for the expansion,” Yates says. “We’re hoping that after seeing ‘Dolphin Tale,’ the world will help us build Winter’s new home.”

To see Winter’s real home at CMA, check out http://www.seewinter.com/.

 

 

September 25, 2011

Child stars bask in starring roles

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 1:20 am by dinaheng

When it comes to press interviews, movie studios are careful to monitor and protect access to young actors who are just starting their careers. So it was no surprise that “Dolphin Tale” stars Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff were paired for every interview at a recent Clearwater Beach, Fla. media junket.

But studio executives need have no worries about these two 13-year-old actors, who never lacked for something witty or genuine to say about their experience making the movie. Both clearly loved working with Winter, the dolphin.

“I first met Winter on my audition,” says Gamble, a blond whose hair was dyed brown for the role of Sawyer. “They flew me in from Los Angeles to make sure we bonded. I was a horrible swimmer before the movie, but am pretty good now. Holding my breath for the underwater ballet scenes was the most challenging thing for me.”

Zuehlsdorff, who played Hazel, the daughter of the marine biologist who supervises Winter’s recovery, adds, “They take such good care of Winter, and make sure she’s not stressed out in any way. You can tell she’s forming an opinion about you when she looks at you.”

Gamble — the more experienced of the two — made his feature film debut as the son of Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett’s characters in the 2006 movie “Babel,” earning a Young Artist Award nomination for his performance. He then went on to appear as Commissioner Gordon’s son in “The Dark Knight.” Along with other film credits, he was a regular on the TV series “Hank,” and has had guest appearances on shows including “Private Practice” and “House MD.”

Like the pro he is, he’s quick to praise his co-star. “Cozi’s a blast to work with,” Gamble notes. “You could never tell this was her first movie.”

Zuehlsdorff, who has appeared in numerous commercials, began her acting career at the age of eight, when she starred as “Annie” in a local theater company in Aliso Veijo, Calif. Her effervescent personality and singing ability then led to roles in shows like “The Wizard of Oz,” “Seussical the Musical,” and “Willy Wonka.”

“I loved the camaraderie on the set, and having good chemistry with people,” Zuehlsdorff says. “Not all of the kids in youth theater care about being in the show. But on the movie set, it was different.”

The two speak with a maturity that belies their years, something that every adult on set noted. Director Charles Martin Smith auditioned nearly 100 youngsters for each role, and quickly zoomed in on Gamble and Zuehlsdorff.

“They’re mature, but they’re funny,” Smith says. “Kids at that age will act like a 7-year-old one moment, then a 15-year-old the next. I wanted them to be real kids, to be upset and unreasonable sometimes, and goofy and giddy other times. They both come from good Christian families, which underpins everything in the movie. We didn’t want to be religious in the tone, but Sawyer finds a sense of family and community through caring for others in need.”

Harry Connick, Jr., who plays Zuehlsdorff’s father in the film, is equally enthusiastic about his young co-stars’ abilities.

“These two kids are freaks,” Connick says, with admiration. “Nathan’s incredibly bright and possesses so much maturity, it’s sometimes hard to interact with him. He’s 13, and sometimes I had to remind myself, I can’t tell him that (raunchy) joke. Cozi’s an incredible singer and actress, and I’ve become great friends with both of them. “

Zuehlsdorff says acting has made her comfortable around adults, and she’s quick to find things in common with people she’s working with. With Morgan Freeman, who played the doctor who designed the prosthetic tail for Winter, Zuehlsdorff turned to music as a common denominator.

“Morgan likes to sing a lot, so we had these musical theater moments,” she says, laughing. “We were talking about ‘West Side Story’ one day, and he was pounding his foot on the grates in the rhythm of one of the songs, and the trainers said, ‘Stop! It’s freaking the dolphins out!’ “

While Winter was in most of the dolphin action shots, Gamble explains that a “stand-in” blow-up named Plan B was used when needed. For a birthday gift, everyone in the cast and crew signed one of the Plan B dolphins and presented it to him.

“I got so used to being around Winter, Winter would push Abby (her trainer) off and circle around me, like she owned me,” Gamble says. “After spending three months with this magnificent creature, it was sad to let go.”

When he’s not working, Gamble is home-schooled, which means he can’t play on sports teams like many kids his age. But it’s a trade-off he accepts in order to have an acting career, which he loves. Speaking to the press like an adult, rather than a young teen, is part of that life.

“A lot of sets don’t have a lot of kids, so I’m surrounded by adults,” Gamble says. “The only way to connect, for me, is to be more adult-like. I have three role models — my dad, Jesus, and Indiana Jones. My dad’s absolutely fantastic, a really kind person, the kind of person I want to be when I grow up.”

Now that’s a true star talking.

 

 

September 22, 2011

A ‘Dolphin Tale’ worth catching

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies, Relationships at 9:49 pm by dinaheng

Good family films with inspiring messages that can be watched by people of all ages tend  to be few and far between, so when a good one comes along, you want to make special note.

Dolphin Tale,” inspired by the true story of a wounded dolphin named Winter and the humans who became her family, is one of those films. In real life, it was December 2005 when three-month-old Winter was caught in a crab trap line, losing her entire tail and two vertebrae from her injuries.

Her rescuers at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, Hanger Prosthetics and Orthotics, Inc., a human prosthetics company, and Dr. Mike Walsh, a marine mammal veterinarian, joined together to come up with a prosthetic tail for the dolphin. What they invented has benefitted thousands of humans who have lost their limbs, as well.

In the film, scheduled for release on Friday, Winter’s plight brings together Sawyer, (Nathan Gamble) a lonely young boy, Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.) a dedicated marine biologist, and Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Morgan Freeman), a quirky and brilliant prosthetics designer. As the humans work to save Winter’s life, she becomes a healing force that brings hope to the disabled, including Sawyer’s cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), an Army veteran who’s lost a leg in combat.

“What attracted me to the film was the positive message in it,” says director Charles Martin Smith. “Winter’s a character who does not give up, in the face of all obstacles, and we can all learn from that. By helping Winter, the humans in the film are helping themselves. It shares the lesson that what we give out in the world, we get back.”

For Harry Connick, Jr., working on the family film gave him a glimpse into a world he had not known about before.

“I love to fish, so am out on the water a lot, but this was seeing things from a different perspective,” Connick says. “It was an education being with the staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, who taught us about marine life and these animals. What they do is an under-funded, passionate vocation. My favorite part was showing up to work everyday and being with Winter.”

Connick says interacting with Winter was an amazing experience, as the dolphin’s actions convinced him that she was an intelligent creature with feelings of her own.

“I’m a loud, physical person, and we couldn’t behave like that around her,” Connick says. “When you were in the pool with her, you got the sense she was human-like. She taught me how to be quiet, which my wife is thrilled about.”

Bringing quiet strength and an eccentric personality to the role of  Dr. McCarthy was a fun project for Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman (“Million Dollar Baby”), whose talents have garnered him numerous Oscar, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice Award  nominations.

“It was an amusing, interesting part in a very nice story,” Freeman says. “A character has to jump out of the script at me. I’m not modeled after (either of the two men) who actually designed the dolphin’s tail. I did learn that a dolphin’s body is not meant to go from side to side.”

Sharing some poignant scenes with Freeman was relative newcomer Austin Stowell, whose character Kyle returns from war an injured, disheartened man, far from the champion swimmer he was before joining the military.

“When they told me who was cast as Dr. McCarthy, I was like…um, no problem,” Stowell says. “But the night before was nerve racking. I turned on the TV and there was ‘Invictus’ (which starred Freeman as Nelson Mandela). I thought, I’m going to work in the morning, and I’m going to work with that guy.”

Stowell got past his nervousness on set, and says working with Freeman was an honor he’ll never forget.

“Morgan’s very comfortable with himself, and he taught me that,” Stowell says. “Love me or hate me. Here I am. Working on this film was my wildest dream come true. I hope kids look at this movie and Winter’s story, and realize that if they can set a goal and work hard, they can achieve it.’

If Winter could speak, no doubt, she would agree.

September 17, 2011

‘Dear Bully’ is must reading

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Relationships, Women at 3:13 am by dinaheng

When I was in elementary school, Dad moved our family from San Francisco to Houston to start a grocery business. While it was bad enough being the new kid in school, I was also the only Chinese-American kid.

Every day, I would get on the school bus, not knowing if the kids sitting behind me would choose to pull my long hair or not. Taunts of “ching-chong” followed me everywhere, and not once did a teacher say anything to stop the torment.

It’s no fun dealing with bullies.

The experience is frightening, and for many children, it’s a humiliating experience that leaves emotional scars for life. Most of the time, we don’t see those scars, so a lot of adults seem to think that bullying is just a rite of passage in growing up.

It’s not.

Last year, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hung herself in her parents’ home after being bullied relentlessly by fellow students at South Hadley High School in South Hadley, Mass. The teenager was bullied for months in school and through online comments over a brief relationship with a boy at the school.

Nine students were charged with statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, and disturbance of a school assembly. Plea agreements resulted in sentences of probation and community service.

While Prince’s case garnered international attention, 160,000 children miss school in the United States every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students, according to National Education Association statistics.

This painful reality struck home with young adult authors Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, who each started blogging about the Prince suicide and bullying. The two decided to join forces, and started a Facebook group called Young Adult Authors Against Bullying, which quickly grew to 4,245 authors.

“We asked the members of the group to report pages that were bullying people to Facebook, where much of the cyber bullying occurs, and Facebook has taken some of them down,” Hall says.  “We also asked the authors to share their own stories about bullying, thinking that we’d create a safe place for authors and readers to talk about bullying online. There were so many great stories, our agents came up with the idea of doing an anthology, and Harper Collins loved the idea.”

More than 200 young adult authors submitted essays for “Dear Bully” (Harper Teen, $9.99). Hall and Jones served as the editors, selecting 70 essays for the book, most of which were written by New York Times best-selling authors from all the top publishing houses in the country.

Participating authors include Ellen Hopkins, Lauren Oliver and Alyson Noel to Jon Scieska, Lauren Kate and Mo Williams. Essays share experiences about being bullied, watching others being bullied, and being the bully… all meant to show young readers that life does get better, and that none of us is alone in being bullied.

R.L. Stine writes about how being the “funny guy” was the best defense against bullies in his class. Cyn Balog writes about the connection she had with a high school classmate who committed suicide, teaching her that “kindness is never, ever the wrong choice.”

“Young adult authors typically write for ages 12 and up,” Hall says. “Some research says bullying is more rampant in the middle school years, from 12 to 15. But bullying starts as young as five or six, and is practiced by adults, as well. Bullying never really goes away. It just changes form.”

“Dear Bully” is a book every parent should read, then give to their children. For as Carrie Jones says, we learn through stories. We learn what’s right and wrong, what is hurtful to others, and what brings joy to others.

“A lot of bullies are bullied at home,” Jones says. “They become bullies because it gives them a sense of power after feeling helpless. When you get bullied, it can be for things you’d never expect — for being too skinny, too smart, too pretty.”

In Jones’ s childhood, it was slurring her s’s and speaking with an accent that attracted the attention of bullies in her first grade class. After being continually teased about her voice, Jones stopped talking at school.

“My mom went to a parent-teacher conference and came back crying because she was told I wasn’t talking, and they thought I was developmentally disabled,” Jones remembers. “She said, ‘I know you’re smart. Why aren’t you talking in school?’ “

Jones explained the taunting by classmates, and her mother made her promise to speak at least once in every class.

“I did, but I avoided the s words,” Jones says. “It’s amazing how much bullying affects your self-esteem, and how it affects choices through your entire life. If adults would react with compassion and respect to those who are being bullied, what a difference it would make.”

It’s great to see these authors speaking out about how bullying affected their lives. If even one author’s story helps one reader (teen or adult), it will give the phrase “bully pulpit” new meaning.

 

September 8, 2011

‘The Space Between’ remembers 9/11

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Entertainment, Movies, Politics, Television at 11:10 pm by dinaheng

It’s hard to believe that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is upon us.

When terrorists took control of four airplanes, crashing them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pa. — killing everyone on board — the world was united in its grief.

Since then, as the years have passed, the pain of grief has dulled, and the fear of others who are not like us has grown. Just as Americans hated and feared Asian Americans after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, many Americans today hold similar feelings of hate and anger against Arab Americans because of the al-Qaeda attacks.

When it comes to movies and TV, Arab Americans are often portrayed as the villains, and if you ask most Arab-American youngsters what stereotype do most people associate with Arab Americans, they won’t hesitate to say, “People think we’re terrorists.”

Combatting prejudice and hate is not a popular, or easy, task, so when a television network makes it a cornerstone of its brand to do so, we’ve got to stand up and cheer.

The USA Network will be presenting a Characters Unite film called “The Space Between,” starring Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actress Melissa Leo, on September 11 at 9 p.m. Eastern to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

The film chronicles what happens when Montine McLeod (Leo), a lonely flight attendant on a path of self-destruction, and Omar Hassan (portrayed by Anthony Keyvan), a 10-year-old Pakistani-American boy, are stranded together in Longview, Texas when planes are grounded the morning of 9/11.

When McLeod learns that Omar’s father works in the World Trade Center, she decides to drive him home herself. The two set off on a journey across country that brings unexpected companionship, acceptance, and hope for the future.

Following “The Space Between” will be the Oscar-winning short documentary film “Twin Towers” by Dick Wolfe, producer of the long running “Law & Order” franchise.

The evening’s programming, which promotes tolerance and acceptance, is part of USA Network’s Characters Unite Campaign to combat discrimination, an effort that includes on-air programming, public service announcements, digital content, and special events in communities and schools across the nation.

“We’re a network that can reach millions who tune in every night,” says Toby Graff, senior vice president of public affairs for the USA Network. “We wanted to do something special for 9/11 and learned of this powerful film (“The Space Between”) that debuted at the Tribecca Film Festival. These two people who take a journey across country discover that what makes them different is not as strong as what unites them.”

Using the power of storytelling, Characters Unite has started a national storytelling tour to raise awareness about prejudice, hate, and discrimination, and to bring people together in community and school events.

Graff says Mainstreet stage events have occurred in New York, New Orleans, Denver, Seattle, and Chicago where local cable affiliates in each market identified a high school with a diverse community to participate in storytelling workshops and city-wide events staged in partnership with The Moth, a non-profit organization dedicated to the art of storytelling.

In each city, five storytellers took to the stage with celebrity hosts, including Kristen Chenoweth, Angela Bassett and Peter Gallagher, to share powerful tales of discrimination. On the last day of the events, high school students in each of the cities joined the adult storytellers to share their experiences. The tour will continue this fall in cities yet to be announced.

“This all stems from a campaign that Bonnie Hammer (chairman of NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment and Cable Studios) launched in the mid-1990s called ‘Erase the Hate,’ to improve race relations,” Graff explains. “To fit with USA’s  branding of Characters Welcome 10 years later, we wanted a way to reflect that every person is welcome and accepted. We wanted to make it broader than just race relations, so we expanded it to gender equality, people with disabilities, sexual orientation, any civil rights issue.”

Characters Unite now gives out awards to unsung heroes doing great work on civil and human rights issues, and is establishing partnerships with other organizations to inform, support, and inspire audiences to bridge cultural divides and overcome social injustices, tied to original programming.

“The country has changed in a lot of ways since 9/11, some for the better, some not so much,” Graff says. “We want to look back with respect at the tragedy of 9/11 and forward with renewing the spirit of being united as a country after that horrible tragedy. We want to concentrate on how we all can talk more with each other.”

 

September 3, 2011

Escape to the movies

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 7:13 pm by dinaheng

It takes years for most movies to be made, from the time a story is sold to the day it premieres on the widescreen. So producers and studio execs are constantly gambling that whatever they back will bring in the bucks at the box office down the road.

Sometimes the gamble pays off, and sometimes the bet is a loser, but it’s always interesting how the audience’s reaction reflects present day longings or anxieties.

A current box office favorite, “The Help,” is based on a novel by Kathryn Stockett that chronicles life in Jackson, Miss. during the 1960s, telling the story of three different women who join together to produce a secret writing project that will expose the way white women treat their black maids.

While praised for its inspiring message, some have criticized filmmakers for making a white female writer (played by Emma Stone) the central heroine, rather than the black maids (played by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) who helped to gather their friends in secret to tell their stories, risking their lives and livelihoods in the process.

That criticism, of course, reflects the fact that many in today’s society still feel marginalized, even in the telling of their own stories. From my point of view, “The Help” could not have been told without both black and white heroines, and it accomplished that.

Racial prejudice is a painful issue that lies under much political rhetoric today, but it’s still very much alive in the fear that people hold in their hearts. If a film prods people to look at the fear within themselves and others, I think it was worth the price of admission.

Usually, the genre that speak most about racial prejudice is sci-fi. Superheroes and wizards are always ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations, battling the enemies of oppression, greed and hate. The enemies are always scary aliens or ordinary people who have turned into ugly creatures. That ugliness, of course, is the fear that exists inside each of us, shown on the outside for all to see.

Two of my favorite sci-fi films this summer were “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.”

In “Captain America,” Chris Evans plays a scrawny guy with a brave heart who is transformed into a superhero during World War II. In an economic time like ours, it’s good to be reminded that we may all feel like the little guy with no power, but we also all have greatness inside us. In a global economy, the United States’ power is waning, but we can find the solutions to our problems if we work together.

It’s easier to see the racism in Hitler’s Germany than to confront the veiled and not-so-veiled prejudice some Americans hold against our first African-American President. But if we could get past the suspicions Democrats and Republicans hold against each other, we could become the nation that inspires others on all fronts again.

For like the last adventure of “Harry Potter,” we all have to eventually grow up, or risk losing everything we were born to be. I loved following the story of Harry, Hermione and Ron in their magical world, which reflected so much of what we face today… and perhaps will face as long as human beings are, well… human.

It was amazing to watch them battle Voldemort and his minions, besting the bad guys as we all wish we could in our daily lives. It was painful to watch them lose childhood innocence, poignant to share their adolescent crushes and jealousies, and inspiring to witness their loyalty and lasting friendship.

Good movies make us feel good. Great movies become a part of our collective memory.

Then, there are those films that make you wonder why they were made in the first place. Unfortunately, “Contagion” — which stars some wonderful actors, including Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marion Cotillard — falls into that category.

Due out in theaters Sept. 9, this movie explores what would happen to people if a global pandemic broke out with no immediate cure in sight. While the subject sounds interesting, the execution is so fast-paced and clinical, you don’t connect with any of the characters. You see many people valiantly trying to work on a cure, trying to contain panic; the isolation that can occur when you’re trying to stay safe, and the greed that can drive some people’s actions.

But at the end of the film, you’re left wondering, what was the point of the story? Touch not, if you want to avoid germs? Clearly, the real heroes in a pandemic are the ones who focus on helping others, no matter the cost to themselves. Too bad this film didn’t have a focus.

As we head into fall, you still may be able to catch “Midnight in Paris,” one of the longest running films of the summer. If you haven’t seen this Woody Allen film, it’s well worth seeing while still in the theater.

Romantics will love this sweet story about Gil, a screenwriter/novelist (Owen Wilson) who’s unable to enjoy a trip to one of the most romantic cities in the world with his fianceé and her family until one night he begins to meet the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo) in the Paris of the 1920s.

If you’ve ever wondered if you’d be happier in another world and time than the one you’re living in now, you’re probably not alone. Whenever things get rough, we all think about happier times in our lives, or fantasize about things that would make life happier today.

“Midnight in Paris” uses that fantasy as a clever device to take the audience on an imaginary trip that is romantic, funny, and thought-provoking. In particular, Kathy Bates, as the exuberant and wise Gertrude Stein, gives Gil some feedback on his work that leads to life lessons for us all.

Il est intéressant de voir, mes amis.