On Friday, May 3, my two youngest sons and I went to see the latest installment in the Iron Man saga–Iron Man 3.
I like this series a lot. At home I own the first two movies, including the first one in a special-edition DVD.
Despite my busy schedule lately, I was able to watch this movie without falling asleep. Still, I think it might’ve been easier to follow if read the comic book series it is based off of.
In this installment, our hero Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is now in a relationship with his manager/assistant, Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow). His latest enemy is actually a group of enemies headed by Mandarin (as it turns out, played by Guy Pearce, one of the true underappreciated actors in Hollywood). Stark appears to be some human villain who through a science experiment can regenerate himself from injuries. Stark and Iron Patriot (Don Cheadle) work together to take on Mandarin and, ultimately, try to save the president.
I should probably stop there since to discuss more would give away plot points.
What I liked about Iron Man 3: Very gripping as Tony lets his ego get the better of him and then has to rely on others to help him in his quest. Pearce does a great job as a bad guy seeking revenge for having been slighted. And the Iron Man suit continues to evolve in ways that lead to fascinating surprises. Many of the plot lines were very gripping.
What I didn’t like about Iron Man 3: I LOVED the first movie, liked the second one but felt this one lagged in ways. By the end of the movie, I was telliing my sons, “I REALLY hope there’s no Iron Man 4.” It’s as if the story went from a job to a quick walk as it crossed the finish line.
Overall, I liked Iron Man 3. I hope they stay with a trilogy. We’ll see.
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If this review seems late, it’s because I rarely have the time to go to the theater to watch first-run movies and since I’m not a “professional film critic”, I don’t get free passes.
Django centers around Django, a slave (Jamie Foxx) who in Texas in 1858 is freed by a German dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz, who is actually Austrian) for the purpose of helping Dr. Schultz locate three men. These men have a connection to Django’s wife, so the bounty hunter becomes a partner with Django to not only collect the bounty, but also to free Django’s wife.
Lots of shooting, including graphic sprays of blood, flesh and tissue, and a prolific use of the N-word. Unfortunately, as historians will tell us, in the American South in 19th century America, the N-word was very commonly used. Sometimes as a way to refer to African-Americans and also as a very derogatory term. I suspect that even without the comic book-style, over-the-top blood and gore that tends to be a staple of Tarantino films, the movie could’ve received an R rating alone for the N-word and other profanities.
The movie also has another unsettling truth about antebellum Southern America. Slave owners would amuse themselves by pitting muscular slaves in a fight to the death. I suppose the strongest was rewarded with the opportunity to mate with any women he wanted for the purpose of producing strong slave offspring.
If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read any further in this paragraph: Django gets his wife back but it comes at the expense of Dr. Schultz’ death. Quentin Tarantino makes a brief cameo and then Django, to ensure he and his wife are able to escape, blows up the plantation of the recently-murdered plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).
What I liked about Django: It featured bit roles by a few actors I have soft spots for, including Don Johnson as Big Daddy and M.C. Gainey as Big John Brittle. Gainey, a Mississippi native, was a fitting casting choice. Johnson showed that while his career has cooled considerably since his Miami Vice days, he is indeed a brilliant actor. And, yes, so is DiCaprio.
Waltz again was wonderful as a character who is so charming you forget how cunning and dangerous he can be.
And, yes, I thought the scene where the KKK struggle to put on their masks was. Absolutely. HILARIOUS!!!
Samuel L. Jackson goes very much against type as the head house slave. Seeing him subservient to whites in a convincing way really showed how great an actor he is. And, yes, he even gets to drop his favorite profane line in the movie.
What I did not like about Django: A few times, a man gets shot right in the groin. Ugh. I hate seeing that. America has probably become desensitized to this due to all the stupid America’s Funniest Videos of men getting nailed in their happy spot, but for me it’s something I care not to see.
I can’t quite describe it, but this movie just didn’t flow with the excitement of Kill Bill or Inglourious Basterds. With those movies, I could not wait to see what happened next. With Django, I didn’t have a strong, itching desire to watch the movie in one setting.
The movie goes down as not my favorite QT film, but I don’t get Lee’s criticism. He finds it disrespectful of African-Americans during their time of slavery. Well, in the movie the antagonists are the slave owners, and many of them and their henchmen meet their doom in gory ways. Not to mention, according to his time on the show Who Do You Think You Are?, Lee actually has a white slave owner ancestor. Perhaps Lee just found the underlying dark humor distasteful.
Overall, I offer two thoughts.
One, Django Unchained wasn’t too bad a film. Not one I will add into my DVD library someday, but a decent film nonetheless.
Two, Spike Lee is jealous with Tarantino because Lee’s star is declining in Hollywood. Anyone care to guess the last time Lee directed a movie that actually made money? Back around 2001, after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I rented Lee’s movie about X and stopped after half an hour. Too much disjointed storytelling made for an unwatchable film.
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According to Google translate, the title means: “Re-learning Chinese”.
From 1996-1997, I spent eight months studying Mandarin Chinese. The Chinese call this language 普通话, or Pu Tong Hua, meaning “Common Dialect”. There are lots of languages spoken in Chinese, and Pu Tong Hua is the universal language used to understand others.
My studies were not successful, and after parting on very amicable terms with my teachers, I was given the option of studying either Russian or the language of Iran, Persian Farsi. I chose Russian. Then, I made the very bad mistake of giving away all my text books and my dictionary to a fellow soldier who was enrolled in Korean but wanted to learn Chinese. At the time, I was very stressed and burned out, and it felt natural.
Now, as I reflect, I’ve thought the past few years that eight months is far too long an investment of time to just quit and never do anything with Chinese again.
So, I am now learning the 214 radicals that are the building blocks of Chinese. I’m also jotting down the characters of anything that fascinates me, such as place names, countries, famous Chinese people (such as 孔子) and things involving astronomy (The Chinese call Astronomy 天文学, or Heavenly Language Study). I can use chopsticks and ask for them, and I can say a few phrases.
Ultimately, I would like to gain a strong understanding or even a fluency in the three languages I’ve studied formally (Spanish, Chinese and Russian) and my great-grandfather’s language (German).
Time will tell.
Richard Zowie’s name while studying Chinese was 左瑞查. He also likes the Chinese name for Richard: 理查德. Post comments here or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From A to Zowie
Two pebbles, a handful of sand, and a piece of limestone
By Richard Zowie
My two youngest sons and I visited Texas in July 2011, our first visit home in over seven, very long years. It was an extremely emotional experience, to put it lightly. Never in my life was I so happy to experience 90-degree weather. While home, we stayed in Beeville with my parents but also spent time in Corpus Christi, Victoria and in Austin. In Austin, we spent the day with Chelsea Taylor, my high school classmate whom I’ve known since fifth grade. I also got to see my nephews, nieces and my sisters Sabrina and Misti, all whom I missed very much.
It was a week that went by far too quickly.
The last night before we flew back to Flint, Michigan, Chelsea asked me, “How has your vacation been, Richard?”
“Let me put it this way,” I said. “If I could, I’d tear up the return-flight tickets.”
Being back in Texas made me realize something I’ve known deep down for years: I’m a Texan. Michigan is a beautiful state, but it’s not home and never will be home. Someday soon, when the time is right, I want to return back to Texas and spend the rest of my life in the Lone Star State.
I wasn’t born in Texas, but I moved to Texas when I was eight, grew up in Texas and think of myself as an adopted Texan.
Why my fondness for Texas? It’s not just because it’s home, but…Texas is a state of mind that I’ve never experienced any other place I’ve been. I love the white-on-black farm to market road signs, I love the scenery, which ranges from the Gulf Coast to the Valley to the Hill Country and to the endless oil derricks you see out in West Texas. I also love the culture, how the independent spirit blends with the Hispanic culture. I’m not Catholic, but I smile when I see old Catholic churches; they make me think of early Texas settlements centuries ago. I love the smell of Tex-Mex food and the accordion-fueled guitar beat of Tejano music.
And, of course, I love the songs of the cicadas.
I know I’m home when I enter a store and for sale on the news stands are the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle, and in the magazine rack is Texas Monthly and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football. And when you enter that store, half the conversations are in Spanish, spoken by family and friends who have spent generations in that town.
All this means I’m especially partial to South Texas.
I am a very sentimental person by nature, and during that visit I decided to collect a few items.
From the back of my parents’ property northeast of Beeville, I found a smooth black pebble.
During our trip to Corpus, we visited the U.S.S. Lexington. While there, I scooped up a handful of sand from the beach of Corpus Christi Bay.
While with my sisters, nephews and nieces for a trip to Victoria to a duck pond, I found another smooth black pebble.
Then, outside Chelsea’s home in Lakeway, I found a piece of limestone.
Someday, perhaps as soon as this summer, I plan to move back to Texas. For now, I live in Vassar, Michigan, a small community about 25 miles southeast of Saginaw. On my nightstand are two plastic containers; one contains the pebbles and limestone and the other contains the sand.
When I return, the sand will be returned to the beach at Corpus Christi Bay.
The small black pebble will be returned back to the duck pond in Victoria.
The larger black pebble will be returned to my parents’ property.
And the limestone will be returned to its home in Lakeway.
When I do those things, I will know one thing.
I am back home for good. And forever.
Richard Zowie grew up in Beeville and is a 1991 graduate of A.C. Jones High School. He currently lives with his sons in Vassar, Michigan. Post your comments here or e-mail Richard at email@example.com. His blog is at www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com.
A newspaper recently closed up shop in Texas. It was a weekly completely void of an internet presence. Not only was it not web-published, there was not even a registered domain name.
Hard to believe in 2013 there would be newspapers that seem to think it’s 1973.
As I look at newspapers now, I see how many of them have elaborate websites. It makes me think of the future. How long will it be before print newspapers are gone?
Newsweek, at the end of 2012, ceased print publication and is online only. I suspect that will continue. There are also fiction magazines and non-fiction magazines that are online only.
My parents are in their seventies and, last time I checked, prefer print newspapers. But when they pass on, and when those who are addicted to their cell phones and the endless applications are old, where will the demand be for print news?
Hard to say.
I’m 40, and I believe that when I’m 70 there will be very few newspapers that still have print versions.
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Pluto and its moons
It’s been said that the two newest-discovered moons of Pluto are looking for names.
Well, not the moons themselves: they are probably too busy oribiting Pluto in the frozen, dark confines of the outer solar system. But astronomers are looking for names for them.
One suggestion I have: Proserpina.
Proserpina (or, in Greek mythology, Persephone) was the wife of Pluto, the god of the underworld. Frankly, I’m surprised none of Pluto’s moons are named after her. Charon, discovered in 1978, is named after the skeletal ferryman who transported souls from this world across the river Styx and into the underworld; Nix, discovered in 2005, is named after the Greek goddess of darkness and night and the mother of Charon; Hydra, also discovered in 2005, is named for the nine-headed serpent that Hercules fought.
It will be another 2.5 years (July 2015) before New Horizons has its rendevous with Pluto, and it’s entirely possible more moons will be discovered.
Ironic, isn’t it, that a “dwarf planet” now has five moons orbiting it while two of our planets, Mercury and Venus, have none?
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From A to Zowie
February 6, 2013: Richard Zowie turns 40
By Richard Zowie
Richard Paul Zowie (as opposed to Richard Lee Zowie, my Dad) at 40
As I drove to work on Friday, February 1, I heard Katy Perry’s song “Wide Awake” on the radio. In the past, I thought Perry’s appeal is more in how she looks than in how or what she sings, but as I listened, the lyrics got my attention.
It gives me a lot to think about today, February 6, on my 40th birthday.
February 6, 1973 seems like a thousand years ago, and it’ll probably take a few weeks to realize that I’m not in my thirties anymore.
In Perry’s song, these three sets of lyrics gave me much to think about…
I’m wide awake/Yeah, I was in the dark/I was falling hard
And now it’s clear to me/That everything you see/Ain’t always what it seems/I’m wide awake/Yeah, I was dreaming for so long
I wish I knew then/What I know now/Wouldn’t dive in/Wouldn’t bow down/Gravity hurts/You made it so sweet/’Til I woke up on/On the concrete
For me, the song represents the continued maturing I’ve gone through as an adult as I further lose my innocence regarding certain areas of my life. We develop an increased awareness as we gain more experiences, observe and process it all. At 18, I knew everything about life. At 40, I know I still have a lot to learn but experience flickers of wisdom. Truth might be simple, but the world is a very complicated place.
Granted, I don’t agree with my parents on everything, but I will say this: my parents both were born into poor families during the Great Depression and had high school educations and some vocational training, and they have far more wisdom than many people I’ve met who have master’s degrees. (One Army soldier I knew had an economics degree from a southern university but could neither budget nor even balance his own checkbook).
But, you live and you learn.
One certain person has always asserted to me that a person is wiser and has better insight if they have more life experiences. I don’t agree. If you don’t learn from your life experiences, then you’re not wiser. All you will be good at is in making terrible decisions. Those who learn or who consistently make good decisions are to be revered instead.
The beginning of my forties bring to mind the ending of a relationship for me. When you’re in a relationship, it is easy to view things through a heart-shaped lens of love and assume that no matter what, love will save the day. But the truth is, when things are ending, such as my marriage, you tend to look back more objectively and see mistakes on both sides. You see which mistakes of yours are fixable and then wonder: what would a relationship would be like if I fix my shortcomings but also have someone who treats me with love and respect?
What would 40-year-old Richard Zowie say if he could travel back to 1991 and talk to 18-year-old Richard Zowie?
One: Don’t be in such a hurry to get married. When you are ready, the right woman will show up. Worry about college and getting set up in a good job first. I’ve seen lots of people enter into storybook marriages…and then into nasty divorces. Besides, the twenties (particularly the early twenties) are a stage where we are still learning to be adults. Unless you have matured, know who you are and what you want and understand the responsibilities of marriage, it’s not a good time to get settled.
My mother told me once that you should date a person for at least a year before you even consider marriage. The first six months, she said, are the newness stage. After that time you and your significant other start to see each other in natural light. That’s when you each must ask: is this the person I want to spend the rest of my life with?
Two: Get a good education and a well-paying job. Getting out and doing different things can give you a clearer perspective of what you really want to do.
Three: Develop self-confidence, self-respect and assertiveness. If you lack these things, people will walk all over you in life. Trust me: I have learned the hard way. My sons appear well on their way to not going down that same route as I did, thankfully. When I was 18, I thought you had to punch somebody’s lights out if you wanted to be taken seriously. Turns out, all you really have to do is be assertive, firm, and look the person in the eye. When people sense a vibe that you are willing to stand your ground, they tend to walk away. My late Aunt Margaret, for example, was a quiet, serious lady. But, with her approach, she received lots of respect.
And, finally, these lyrics from Perry’s song:
“I’m wide awake/Not losing any sleep/I picked up every piece/And landed on my feet…Need nothing to complete myself, no…Yeah, I am born again/Out of the lion’s den/I don’t have to pretend/And it’s too late/The story’s over now, the end…”
(A shorter version of this column appeared in the February 6, 2013 issue of the Genesee County Herald)