December 16, 2016

Random Acts… Finding “My Christmas Love” a Joy

Posted in Entertainment, Movies, Relationships, Television, Women at 3:22 am by dinaheng

When it comes to holiday movies, Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas is a sure bet for films that convey the nostalgia and true meaning of the season.

This weekend, a sweet tale about a children’s book author who’s always searching for – and never finding — the perfect love, unfolds in “My Christmas Love,” which airs Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. Eastern.Dinah Eng

In the movie, author Cynthia Manning (played by Meredith Hagner) returns to her family home for her sister’s wedding, and invites her illustrator and best friend Liam Pollak (Bobby Campo) to join her for the holidays.

When a series of presents, reflecting each day in “The 12 Days of Christmas,” is delivered to her father’s doorstep, Cynthia is convinced that one of her former boyfriends is behind the deed.

Jeff Fisher, the director of the film, was hooked by the premise.

“I love romantic comedies,” Fisher says. “If you go on a journey with someone in the film, and they find love and happiness, you’re along for the ride. Romantic comedies make people happier when they leave the theater, their TV or their phone.”

Fisher, who has produced reality TV shows (“Keeping Up with the Kardashians”, “Flip It to Win It” and others), says “My Christmas Love” is a return to the genres he loves best – romantic comedies and musicals.

Bobby Campo and  Meredith Hagner star in "My Christmas Love."  Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

Bobby Campo and Meredith Hagner star in “My Christmas Love.” Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Fred Hayes

“My first short films were in those genres,” Fisher says. “To pay those films off, I got some reality TV jobs, then my first movies (“Killer Movie” and “Killer Reality”) were off issues from the reality TV shows.”

“My Christmas Love” is probably as far from horror and reality TV shows as audiences can get. The importance of celebrating Christmas with family is central to the plot, as Cynthia’s dad, Tom Manning (Gregory Harrison), is a new widower who must be encouraged to get out into the community to enjoy the spirit of the holidays again.

As Cynthia searches for her “true love,” her father reminds her that life’s answers are often right in front of our noses.

“I liked Cynthia’s Nancy Drew personality, looking for who sent the presents,” Fisher says, “and I loved the twist of who’s behind the gifts.”

The film, he says, was shot in various cities in Utah, which offered a good tax incentive to the filmmakers.

Shooting the film in Utah, however, may be the reason why the film lacks diverse casting. The only minority face in the movie belongs to actress Yolanda Wood, who had a brief speaking role in the beginning of the film playing Sandra, the hostess of a café that Cynthia often patronizes.

“There can always be more diversity in films,” Fisher says. “I don’t know how diverse Salt Lake City is, since a lot of our supporting actors came from there.”

Regardless, love is a universal language, and the holidays are meant to be celebrated. To see whether Cynthia finds her true love, tune into “My Christmas Love.”

June 27, 2016

Random Acts… Brexit and the “Free State of Jones”

Posted in Business, Diversity, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Politics at 8:06 pm by dinaheng

Life can sometimes seem like a never-ending cycle of unresolved conflicts.

Great Britain surprised the world last week by voting to leave the European Union. The campaigns of the presumptive GOP and Democratic nominees in the U.S. Presidential election mirror the conflicting sides of the Brexit debate. A new movie about the Civil War – STX Entertainment’s “Free State of Jones” — reflects the intractable partisan politics of today’s Democrats and Republicans.

It all comes back to the power of fear versus the power of love.Dinah Eng

Fear of losing cheap labor (in the form of slaves) tore this country apart in the early 1860s. Fear of losing jobs to immigrants is a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and Brexit’s “leave” campaign today.

What we need is more Newton Knights in the world. Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey) in “Free State of Jones,” was a little-known figure in Civil War history whose contribution to this country proves that every action we take ripples through time.

Knight, a Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in breaking away from the Confederacy to form the region’s first mixed-race community. Refusing to fight a “rich man’s war,” Knight became a Confederate deserter, hiding in the swamps of rural Mississippi and inspiring a ragtag army to fight injustice and prejudice.

After the Civil War ended, Knight advocated for the right of freed slaves to vote in Jones County, Miss. and fought the Klu Klux Klan. He fathered five children in a common-law marriage to Rachel, a former slave, and while they could not legally marry, he deeded his 160-acre farm to her, making her one of the few African-American women to own land in the South.

Knight also fathered children by his first wife, Serena, who left him during the Civil War. After the war, Serena returned to the Knight farm, where both wives and their families lived.

Eighty five years later, Knight’s great-grandson Davis Knight, who looks Caucasian, was indicted for violating Mississippi law by marrying Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman. While Davis Knight was convicted of miscegenation in 1948, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the verdict.

Prejudice and economic inequality seem to go hand in hand in humanity’s history. No one knows what will happen when Britain formally leaves the EU. Since last week’s referendum, Scotland is considering the possibility of leaving Great Britain to stay in the EU.

Republicans who can’t stand Trump’s rhetoric will no doubt look for ways to oust him at the GOP convention, or break away to form a new party of their own.

Politically, we can always move from one party to another, or leave a block of countries to stand independently. What people seem to forget is that no matter where we go, if fear is the driving force, we will just end up under another label, afraid of something else.

Brexit’s “leave” faction won the referendum because the positive reasons for remaining in the EU got lost amid the shouts of fear against other cultures, a view held mostly by an older generation that feels left out and left behind in a global society. The same dynamic has driven Trump’s rise in the United States.

Today’s Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to defeat the prejudice that divides us. We must realize, though, that the only way to end any partisan divide is to face our fears, build bridges, and let the power of love heal our wounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 24, 2016

Random Acts… Bridging cultures in ‘A Hologram for the King’

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies at 4:35 pm by dinaheng

When you’re divorced, depressed and about to be downsized, what do you do?

If you’re business executive Alan Clay (played by Tom Hanks), you go to Saudi Arabia to sell a deal to save your career. That is, if you can find a way to bridge the cultural divide.

Hanks’ portrayal of Clay’s journey in search of personal and professional salvation is what saves “A Hologram for the King,” in theaters this week, from being a disjointed mess. The Lionsgate film, based on the novel by Dave Eggers, makes an earnest attempt at showing the many differences that puzzle Americans about Saudi culture, but gives few explanations about the traditions that created those differences.Dinah Eng

Clay, alone in an unfamiliar land, befriends Yousef (Alexander Block), a Saudi taxi driver who takes him through the desert to “the King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade,” a virtual ghost town of half-built buildings, where Clay hopes to sell a state-of-the-art teleconferencing system to the Saudi government.

Trying to set up a meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, Clay must navigate the bureaucratic obstacles of a receptionist who gives no answers, a Saudi manager who leaves him mid-meeting, and his own stressed-induced panic attacks.

When a boil on his back sends him to the hospital, he is treated by the empathetic Dr. Zahra Hakem (Sarita Shoudhury), a Muslim physician who must navigate the complexities of a woman’s role in Saudi society while asserting her authority in a male-dominated profession.

As Clay builds a friendship with Yousef, and explores romance with Zahra, the businessman who came to Saudi a lost soul begins to find new meaning in life.

The movie, shot in Morocco, has sweeping desert scenery and offers a credible substitute for Saudi Arabia, which denied permission for filmmakers to film there. Writer-director Tom Tykwer, who visited Saudi Arabia’s ghost town “King Abdullah’s Economic City,” shot photos that served as inspiration for the movie’s ghost town.

For those who may never have the chance to visit the Middle East, the film shows realistic cultural challenges that Westerners face. Clay’s encounters with different people along the way, however, are often shown without explanation, leaving the viewer confused about what just happened.

How he finally gets to make his sales pitch, and what happens to his deal of a lifetime, is told with irony and humor.

What makes the film worth seeing is the message that regardless of where we come from, cultural differences can be overcome, for friendship and love truly know no boundaries.

 

 

 

January 1, 2016

Random Acts… Newest “Star Wars” awakens nothing

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies, Spirituality at 3:48 am by dinaheng

I am a mild “Star Wars” fanatic.

I’ve seen the original three episodes more than a dozen times. (Sorry, George, but the prequels just don’t compare to your first three.) I’ve read “Star Wars” novels galore, and looked forward to seeing the newest film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Sadly, director J.J. Abrams’ effort was more a snoozer than a film that awakens the Force.

Dinah EngIn “Star Wars: A New Hope,” I’ll never forget Obi-Wan Kenobi, explaining what The Force was to young Luke Skywalker, sharing a vision of spirituality that touched a generation. That mythology inspired devoted fans to become Jedi knights, and even if you dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween, you knew the difference between the Light and the Dark side of things.

This new narrative never explains what The Force is to viewers who have not seen previous “Star Wars” films. There are no climactic moments that give you the chills because the narrative is devoid of a storyline that is greater than a popcorn action flick.

And that is a shame, because we need reminders that the future is not doomed to become the dystopian society of young adult novels, which form the basis of most movies today.

The best thing about this newest film is the casting. By giving starring roles to a black man (John Boyega as Finn), a woman (Daisy Ridley as Rey) and a Latino (Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron) – all of whom are delightful to watch — diversity is now more than a passing nod in the “Star Wars” universe.

Obviously, Abrams wanted to pay homage to the original tale, but “The Force Awakens” is so derivative of the 1977 film that it does nothing to move the story forward.

“The Force Awakens” is the first feature produced by the Walt Disney Co., which purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. Its formulaic premise is clearly designed to drum up attendance at “Star Wars” theme park rides, sell merchandise, and increase commercial licensing opportunities.

The torch has been passed to a new generation of “Star Wars” characters, and Disney is sure to make big bucks off the franchise.

We can only hope that The Force inspires future filmmakers to do a better job of carrying on the true legacy of “Star Wars.”

 

 

 

August 5, 2015

Random Acts… ‘The Prophet’ offers food for the soul

Posted in Entertainment, Movies at 5:49 am by dinaheng

In a terror-filled world, the words of Kahlil Gibran are a balm to the soul.

The poetry of Gibran, a Lebanese philosopher and artist, is most often recognized in the classic book, “The Prophet,” published in 1923. Filled with thoughts on the meaning of love, work, freedom, prayer, death and more, the book – published in 40 languages — speaks to the heart of everyone, regardless of race or religion.

Now, Gibran’s words can be heard in an animated feature, produced and spearheaded by Salma Hayek, titled “The Prophet.” The film, in theaters on Friday (August 7), was written and directed by Roger Allers, whose credits include “The Lion King,” “Oliver and Company,” “”Beauty and the Beast,” and other Disney animated films.Dinah Eng

“The Prophet” is as far from a Disney production as you can get. The film combines Gibran’s poetry with animation and music, performed by Yo-Yo Ma, Damien Rice and Glen Hansard. While many scenes are beautifully rendered, the narrative itself is thin.

The poet Mustafa, voiced by Liam Neeson, is ready to leave a Mediterranean country for home, but is threatened by authorities who fear the truth in what he writes. The exiled artist is aided by Almitra (Quvenzhané Wallis), a troubled little girl who stopped speaking after her father’s death, her mother Kamila (Salma Hayek), Mustafa’s housekeeper, and other villagers who are inspired by the prophet’s words and drawings.

“I read ‘The Prophet’ in college, and it was very meaningful to me, so I jumped at the chance to work on this film,” Allers says. “There isn’t much of a narrative to the book, so I came up with the idea of his being under house arrest, and tried to have the poems flow out of his journey from the house to the ship.”

Allers remembers reading the book aloud with a college friend, and suddenly experiencing an intense feeling of connectedness to everything around him. He calls it a meditation that resulted in an out-of-body-like experience.

"Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet." Photo courtesy of GKIDS.

“Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.” Photo courtesy of GKIDS.

“Poetry shifts us to a different part of the brain,” Allers says. “Maybe it’s part of the musicality of it, as opposed to listening to people just talk. Poetry helps us to let go of our usual perceptions.”

Through the film, Gibran’s words have the power to take your mind to another place, a world where wisdom reigns.

About children, the poet writes, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

About work, Gibran notes, “Work is love made visible.”

About death, Gibran shares, “”For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?”

This film may not be the most intriguing showcase for Gibran’s words, but any movie that explores the meaning of life with this poet’s inspiring message of unity and peace deserves our applause.

October 31, 2014

Random Acts… Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” begins

Posted in Entertainment, Movies, Spirituality at 10:59 pm by dinaheng

If you’re ready for a little holiday cheer, check out the start of the Hallmark Channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” this weekend, which marks the beginning of the network’s annual original Christmas movie offerings and other holiday fare for the season.

This year’s programming starts and ends with two TV movies that celebrate the attraction of opposites who find love in unexpected circumstances. On Saturday, Nov. 1, “One Starry Christmas” premieres at 8 p.m. Eastern with the tale of an astronomy professor who meets a charming cowboy on her way to New York City to surprise her boyfriend and family for Christmas.Dinah Eng

“I love the combination of bringing the cowboy into the city,” says Lewis B. Chesler, executive producer of “One Starry Christmas.” “She’s a woman who teaches astronomy, and he’s lived outdoors all his life. The stars have always had meaning for him, so it’s a meeting of opposites.”

It’s also an opportunity for Holly Jensen (played by Sarah Carter) to see the difference between being with Luke (Damon Runyan), a rodeo cowboy who supports her dreams, and Adam (Paul Popowich), a lawyer who wants Holly to support his ambitions.

For as Holly’s mom (Kathleen Laskey) notes, “The world has enough mediocrity. Love shouldn’t be included.”

Sarah Carter and Damon Runyan star it "One Starry Christmas." Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Christos Kalohoridis.

Sarah Carter and Damon Runyan star it “One Starry Christmas.”
Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Christos Kalohoridis.

Chesler, who works in partnership with David M. Perlmutter as Chesler/Perlmutter Productions, says Christmas is about sharing time with family and the people we love. While “One Starry Christmas” brings a country boy to the city, the film, “The Christmas Parade,” which debuts Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. Eastern, will close Hallmark’s holiday movies with another opposites attract premise.

When morning host Hailee Anderson (AnnaLynne McCord ), who’s lacking the Christmas spirit, finds herself humiliated on air by Jason Keppler (Drew Scott), her fiancé who’s always looking for the next deal. When she runs to a small town to escape the notoriety of her celebrity, she inspires Beck Thomas (Jefferson Brown), a trucker, to rekindle his dreams of being a painter, and helps to save a community art center for the town’s kids,

“There, you have a city personality who goes to the country,” Chesler explains. “This time, the woman finds satisfaction and value when people respond to her for her human qualities, and not her celebrity.”

Chesler, who studied cultural history at Amherst College, joined the Peace Corps before becoming artistic director of the Long Beach Performing Arts Centre in the mid-1970s. He moved into television with a series of variety shows, and created “The Hitchhiker” series for HBO.

Drew Scott and AnnaLynne McCord star in "The Christmas Parade." Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Peter H. Stranks

Drew Scott and AnnaLynne McCord star in “The Christmas Parade.” Photo Credit: Copyright 2014 Crown Media United States LLC/Photographer: Peter H. Stranks

“I jokingly say that I never became the lawyer my mother wanted,” says Chesler, who became a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen. “I like to tell stories, and our production company is based in Canada and the United States. During the holidays, we Canadians love to celebrate Christmas. After all, we’re really close to the North Pole.”

More than 70 holiday movies will air on the Hallmark Channel over the next two months, and if Santa has his way, viewers will be reminded of what’s really important in life – not just during the season of love and giving – but all yearlong.

For more information, check out http://www.hallmarkchannel.com/.

 

 

 

October 5, 2014

Random Acts… Some things we can be proud of

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies at 4:05 pm by dinaheng

One of the biggest movie hits this year is Marvel Studio’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a sci-fi fantasy that transforms characters who seem to care about nothing but themselves into a group of friends who grow to care about each other, and in the process, end up saving the day.Dinah Eng

The characters include Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a cocky space adventurer; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) a green-skinned female assassin; Drax (Dave Bautista) a big red guy with lots of rage; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting raccoon genius, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a walking overgrown tree root of loyalty and light.

In this universe, nobody cares what you look like because everyone looks different. What matters is how you treat those around you. It’s a message that sci-fi, as a genre, conveys to the audience in the guise of characters who usually look far from human.

"Guardians of the Galaxy." Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios.

“Guardians of the Galaxy.” Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios.

The film’s humor, special effects, poignant moments, and rollicking tale have kept “Guardians of the Galaxy” in theaters since August 1, generating box office receipts that no doubt have sent Disney and Marvel executives over the moon.

Another feature, CBS Films’ “PRIDE,” also tells a tale of disparate characters who come together and end up supporting each other in a land and time not that far away. The film is based on the true story of a group of gays and lesbians who decided to support the United Kingdom’s striking coal miners in 1984, creating a comedy/drama of how two different communities overcome their fears and grow to see each other as family.

The characters include Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), a gay activist; Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine), a union rep; Joe (George MacKay), a closeted young man; Hefina (Imelda Staunton), an outspoken townswoman; Cliff (Bill Nighy), the secretary of the local union chapter, and Jonathan (Dominic West), an effervescent gay man.

In the South Wales and London of 1984, people’s differences kept them apart, and everybody cared what side you were on. When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government decided to close 75 pits, British coal miners staged the largest industrial walk-out of modern times, refusing to work for nearly a year as their families faced cold winters without heat and the constant threat of hunger.

"PRIDE."  Photo courtesy of CBS Films.

“PRIDE.” Photo courtesy of CBS Films.

In “PRIDE,” a group of gay and lesbian activists see that the miners are the target of repression by the Thatcher government, the police and the tabloids – just like they are – and decide to raise funds for the miners and their families. When the mining community spurns their contributions, the LGSM (Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners) decides to concentrate their efforts on a local chapter in South Wales, where homophobia is clearly the norm.

How both sides come to see and value each other is an inspiring, entertaining, and uplifting story. Just as the union leadership challenges its members to overcome their homophobia, the leader of the LGSM challenges gays and lesbians to care as much about the pain of others as their own pain.

By the end of the film, you see that changing a mind occurs only after opening the heart, and that as painful as it is to confront fear, there is nothing more glorious than the love that awaits us on the other side.

Sadly, this film is unlikely to gross the box office that “Guardians of the Galaxy” has, which is a shame because the underlying message is the same.

Life is about discovering who we are, accepting who we are, and accepting others for who they are. It doesn’t matter if we have green skin or tree bark on the outside. It doesn’t matter who we love, but that we love. For Love is what will save us all.

 

 

February 14, 2014

Random Acts… Be a Valentine for someone

Posted in Movies, Relationships, Women at 6:07 am by dinaheng

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love. If you have someone special in your life, there’s no excuse for not celebrating your love. If you don’t have someone special in your life, there’s no excuse for not celebrating the love in your heart.

Yes, the love in your heart. Not someone else’s heart. Yours.

This, after all, is the challenge everyone faces… how to express the love within, whether or not we’re feeling loved by another.Dinah Eng

Here are some things to try on Heart Day…

* Think about a relative (parent, aunt, uncle, cousin) you haven’t talked to in a while. Call them and tell them you’re thinking about them.

* If you have a child who’s learning how to talk on the phone, teach him or her to say these words before hanging up — “I love you.  Bye.”

* Bake (or buy) some cookies and give them to an elderly neighbor.  Better yet, take them out for coffee or lunch.

* If you’re at work, include a compliment in every e-mail you send to colleagues.

* Give a verbal compliment to strangers in your path.  A simple, “Great tie” or “Love your     purse” will lift their spirits.

* Take someone to see the movie “Winter’s Tale,” a romantic fantasy about faith, love and miracles. The critics may not like it, but the romantic in you will.

* Treat yourself to something special — a relaxing massage, a sinful dessert, beautiful flowers, or whatever you’d love to receive as a gift.

* And if you’ve got your eye on someone, but haven’t had the courage to ask him (or her) out, seize the moment and do it now.  It doesn’t matter if the answer is yes or no.  What matters is that you express the love in your heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

November 1, 2013

Steenburgen shines in ‘Last Vegas’

Posted in Between Us column, Movies, Women at 10:58 pm by dinaheng

Life and art mesh beautifully for Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen in the new CBS Film “Last Vegas.”

Steenburgen, who’s started a second act as a singer/songwriter in real life, plays Diana, a tax attorney who’s started a second career as a singer in a run-down Vegas lounge, fulfilling a lifelong dream. When four friends from Flatbush come to town for a bachelor party, Diana manages to attract two of the guys, changing the lives of all in the process.Dinah Eng

What was it like working with her iconic co-stars — Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline?

“They were all guys who were on my short wish list of people I admired and dreamt of working with one day,” says Steenburgen, sitting down to talk at the ARIA Resort and Casino, where part of the movie was filmed. “Then boom, it happened. I got to have wonderful, meaty scenes with them.

“It was fun being with grownups, talking about life, different people we had worked with, our dreams, and things we wanted to do and haven’t done yet.”

Steenburgen, who has won numerous awards for roles in films like “Melvin and Howard,” “The Help,” and “Ragtime,” says a lot of her dreams are musical. The actress now writes for the Universal Music Publishing Group, and recently co-wrote music for Grammy Award-winning country artist Tim McGraw.

“I love to write jazz and blues,” she says. “There are a lot of people I’d like to write for. I just took up the accordion this year, and would like to get better at it.”

Living life fully is a lesson her character Diana embodies. She doesn’t hesitate to tell the guys who have come to town to party that she’s divorced, was bored, and gave up a stable career to sing.

Mary Steenburgen sings a song she composed herself on "Last Vegas." Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, courtesy of CBS Films.

Mary Steenburgen sings a song she composed herself on “Last Vegas.” Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, courtesy of CBS Films.

“There’s something interesting about a woman who’s honest,” Steenburgen, 60, says. “So often, when you see attraction on the screen, it’s for young women. There’s a lot of coyness and lies told. It’s interesting to see a woman speak her truth and share who she is. It’s disingenuous and silly in a woman my age. Diana’s earned the right to say who she is, and what she wants.”

So what do Baby Boomer women know that Millennial women don’t?

Steenburgen says Millennial women are afraid of the word feminism.

“My reason for calling myself a feminist is that I want every woman and girl on the planet to be safe, educated, and the best she can be,” Steenburgen says. “Feminism doesn’t have anything to do with not loving men. I have a husband and son I adore, and I worship my father. Young women have bought the bad PR that being a feminist makes you less attractive to men.”

As the film “Last Vegas” shows, society has placed a little voice in older people’s minds that says, “You’re too old to do this.” Steenburgen, who has several business ventures,  ranging from a restaurant in Little Rock, Ark. to a candle company, says it’s important to ignore that thought.

Parents will stand on the sidelines of soccer fields and tell their children, “You can do it,” yet don’t allow themselves to try new things, she notes.

“If you’re not living, you’re dying,” she says, “so it’s vitally important to grow. Singing in the movie was terrifying for me. But I knew I had to stare that down.”

Steenburgen and Diana have another thing in common — both find the love of their lives… the second time around.

“When I met the love of my life (actor Ted Danson), it was after I’d looked at some hard truths in myself,” Steenburgen says. “I had to stop blaming others, and focus on measuring my own strengths and weaknesses. Being honest about what I’d done wrong in relationships let me be more open to finding him. If you find that person, stay in gratitude about it. It’s blessed to find your person in life.”

Spoken like a woman who knows the art of living fully.

‘Last Vegas’ wins on many levels

Posted in Between Us column, Movies at 10:57 pm by dinaheng

Put five Academy Award® winning actors together in a crisply written comedy set in Sin City and you’ve got more than a sure-fire hit. You’ve got “Last Vegas.”

All bets are off when the Flatbush Four — four lifelong friends played by Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline — head to Vegas for a bachelor party to celebrate the marriage of group’s avowed bachelor to a woman half his age. When they meet a charming lounge singer named Diana (Mary Steenburgen), the weekend gets complicated.Dinah Eng

The film — which celebrates the power of friendship and love — is funny, touching, and unexpectedly wise because its insights into human relationships are spot on.

“In any group of friends, you’ll have an enormous lack of commonality,” says director Jon Turteltaub, sitting in a meeting room at the ARIA Resort and Casino in Vegas , where part of the movie was filmed. “There’s the guy you love and the guy you can’t stand, yet somehow you still love him. Friends share faith, and the sense that you’re safe with the other person.

“It’s almost more unconditional love than you get in a marriage because it’s not important to be attractive to the other person. You’re allowed to get fat.”

Turteltaub, who has directed such hits as “National Treasure” and “While You Were Sleeping,” says male friendships are marked by how horribly guys treat one other, as men bond by teasing and ripping on each other. This contrasts with the friendships of women, who are more prone to validate each other, he notes.

“Men would have to share an emotion first,” Turteltaub says, laughing. “The emotions shared at the beginning of this film are resentment and anger. It takes the whole movie to get to the fear and regret beneath those emotions.”

Another theme explored in “Last Vegas” deals with living life to the fullest at all stages of life. Sam (Kevin Kline) is lost in too early a retirement in Florida, while Archie (Morgan Freeman) is itching to break out from under the confines of an overly protective son in New Jersey. Paddy (Robert DeNiro) is mourning the loss of his wife in Brooklyn, and Billy (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy Malibu attorney who finally proposes to his girlfriend. When the four get together, the good old days are here again.

Jon Turteltaub directs "Last Vegas" scene. Jon Turteltaub directs scene in "Last Vegas." Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, courtesy of CBS Films.

Jon Turteltaub directs scene in “Last Vegas.” Photo by Chuck Zlotnick, courtesy of CBS Films.

Living life fully and acting your age, the director notes, is not easy.

“Sometimes it’s about not giving in to your age, and sometimes, it means growing up and not going out to chase the girls,” Turteltaub says. “Growing means you have to leave a perceived age behind. The signs are saying, ‘Death — five miles ahead,’ and you have to leave behind the things you love and feel safe with, which is scary.”

Not knowing when the end of our lives will be makes it hard to “pace ourselves with misery,” he adds.

Turteltaub says while members of the Baby Boomer generation may not want to act their age, the generation that followed may be worse, in another respect.

“We stay young at the beginning part of our lives too long, rather than at the end,” he says. “Your body doesn’t let you mess around with getting old, and we struggle with acting our age.”

Turteltaub was contacted by Amy Baer, then president and CEO of CBS Films, who asked him to consider directing “Last Vegas.”

“She sent me the script and said, ‘It’s a really small budget, around $27 million, and we’re not going to pay you a lot, but…’ ” Turtletaub recalls. “Given that, I didn’t read it right away, but when I did, I loved it.”

He says it took about six months to get the leads signed on because everyone was so busy, but once Douglas agreed, the others quickly followed. One of the most important characters in the film may not get screen credit, but Turteltaub puts it this way…

“Vegas is an important character, and may be the antagonist in the movie,” he says. “It’s a city that’s extremely seductive, inviting, and when you get here, extremely intimidating. It’s there to be conquered.”

And that, of course, is just what the Flatbush Four do.

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