“Hustlers”, An All-Too-Real Film About How Far One May Go For Worldly Gain, Even When It May Hurt Another…

Sometimes there are movies I watch, such as the recent release of “Hustlers” starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, that hits home all too well of the many dark days I once lived where I didn’t care whether I hurt others or not, so long as I got “mine”.

“Hustlers” is actually a phenomenally realistic movie that portrays the dark side that exists in each and every one of us, the side that stems from the ego that constantly looks for how to get ahead in life, even if it means stepping on another’s toes, including those we care about. That old saying of “hurt people hurt people” is so apropos to this film. Based upon a true story, “Hustlers’ is about a young woman named Destiny (played by Wu) who becomes willing to do just about anything to become something more in life. Finding very little financial success as an exotic dancer, she looks to a fellow dancer named Ramona (played by Lopez) who makes it look so easy to make money in their line of work. It doesn’t take long for Destiny to learn the tricks of the trade and follow in Ramona’s footsteps, preying on the clients as if they were like sheep where they were the wolves. But, when the financial market takes a major downturn and causes their line of work to really suffer, Romana eventually comes up with a get-rich scheme and draws Destiny even deeper into behaviors that cross the line of morals and then some. How far will Destiny and Ramona go to get ahead in life? Just how far will they fall into the darkness that comes when money becomes the sole source of one’s happiness? “Hustlers” tells the true story of two people who become willing to sell their souls, all for the sake of seeking worldly riches that ultimately can never bring about the happiness they seek.

I was truly blown away by this movie and feel it’s Lopez’s best work yet. As for Wu, she continues to show she’s well on her way to stardom as an actress between her role in “Crazy Rich Asians” and now this. Both strongly reminded me through this film of how far I became willing to travel down the rabbit hole into behaviors that today I find myself so disgusted by. The number of people I used to get what I wanted in life by stepping on their toes. The amount of times I gave my body away for things I thought would make my life better. The pain I caused both myself and others along the way was immeasurable. Watching Destiny and Ramona treat men as if they were nothing more than expendable objects was almost too painful to sit through, not because the movie itself was done in poor taste, but rather because of how well it portrayed my own old behaviors when I preyed on older attractive men without any regard to their feelings. Sometimes I think the amount of agony I’ve gone through over the past nine years is some sort of a punishment or a release process from all the pain I caused those I once took advantage of. I’m not proud of how I used to live my life and have asked God many times over to forgive me for all the hurt and suffering I caused plenty when my ego ruled my existence and fleshly gains were the sole source of my happiness.

“Hustler’s” is most definitely a superb film that showed me a perfect reflection into my past to a time when I didn’t care whether I hurt someone else or not and the damage I caused to so many in the process. Thankfully, I was able to leave the theater and breathe a sigh of relief knowing it’s not who I am anymore and instead can say I’m doing everything I can now to rectify my past and be a better person. In light of that, I highly recommend this movie and hope when awards season comes around that it may get recognized with a few nominations, as it definitely is one that well-deserves it, especially for Lopez and Wu.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

“The Farewell”, An Emotionally Heartstring Pulling Movie About Keeping A Painful Secret At All Costs

Could you keep a secret at all costs from a family member or some other loved one from your life who was diagnosed with a terminal disease but didn’t know? That’s the very premise of a very emotionally heartstring pulling movie titled “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina as Billi and written and directed by Lulu Wang.

The film begins with Billi living her life far away from her roots in China in downtown New York City when she receives a phone call from her grandmother, who she affectionately refers to as her Nai Nai (played by Shuzhen Zhao). It’s obvious how close the two of them are, even though they haven’t seen each other in person in a long while. That’s all about to change though when Billi discovers from her parents, who actually brought Billi from Changchun, China some 25 years ago to America, that her Nai Nai has stage 4 lung cancer and has been given less than three months to live. Due to a Chinese tradition, the family has opted not to tell Nai Nai the truth about her health and instead decide to carry the burden for her. Chinese culture believes it’s far better for the person who’s diagnosed not to know, as it tends to make their remaining days on Earth far more positive. Nevertheless, everyone from Nai Nai’s family is in on the secret except for her of course and a wedding has been quickly arranged to bring the whole clan together under a much more hopeful pretense rather than a saddened one. Unfortunately, Billi is asked not to go by her parents because they don’t think she can keep the secret, yet Billi is determined to go anyway. Can Billi ultimately hide her sadness and spend a few of her Nai Nai’s remaining days connecting as they always do? That indeed becomes Billi’s greatest dilemma and hardest challenge she’s had to face in her life yet.

Watching this movie made me realize just how different Chinese culture is from our own. Here in America, the idea of keeping a terminal cancer diagnosis from the patient themselves seems utterly preposterous. Yet, in Asian culture, not knowing about a terminal diagnosis has actually proven to have beneficial effects on the patient, and in some cases led to much longer times of survival. I get that completely, as I can absolutely promise you that if I was diagnosed with a terminal illness and told I had very little time left, I’d probably just give up and crawl into my shell until I moved on from this plane of existence. On some level, that’s precisely why I don’t go to doctors anymore, because the news they always gave me did nothing but make me depressed and leave me with very little room for hope. That’s why I’ve lived with chronic pain for so long without doctor intervention because my hope has absolutely superseded what doctors first told me years ago.

Regardless, I’m not sure if I could keep a secret from say my partner Chris if his family suddenly told me they knew he had a terminal disease, but he didn’t. It’s not that my words would break the secret and bring the truth out though. It’s more like I don’t think I could hide the pain of it from my face or stifle the tears. I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve, which is precisely the battle Billi faces throughout the film.

“The Farewell” is mostly spent in subtitles and truly explores Eastern culture in a way that felt extremely genuine. It really helped me to understand just how different the Chinese-American culture is from the Chinese culture itself and kudos to Lulu Wang for creating such an authentic film on every level. There wasn’t a single moment where I felt like I was watching people acting, as more so it was as if I was watching the tragic events of a terrible diagnosis unfold before my eyes with a closely-knit family who truly loves and supports each other in ways I’m not sure I ever could. I fully expect this movie will garner a few awards season nominations when it arrives and I definitely give it five stars.

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson

Grateful Heart Monday

Welcome to another chapter of Grateful Heart Monday, where I find gratitude in my life to focus on and start my week off on a positive note, which for today is for Kodi Lee, a blind and autistic contestant on this year’s America’s Got Talent who is incredibly inspiring and gifted beyond belief.

I’ve been watching America’s Got Talent now for about 7 years and usually find myself looking forward to the beginning of summer each year, as that’s when a new season always begins for the show. It’s the only reality type of show I continue to watch and that’s because I enjoy being inspired by the many ways people in this world are gifted with some type of unique talent.

While America’s Got Talent has definitely highlighted plenty of that, it also occasionally places negative emphasis on acts that are either downright ridiculous with people doing silly things to get their few minutes of fame or people who in their own right mind feel they are talented, but in this show’s standards, are really not. So, when the final act of the first episode of the season began, with a guy being led out on stage by his mother, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Frankly, I probably thought what a lot of people did at that moment, which was wondering what kind of talent a 22-year-old guy who was blind and autistic could actually have. After all, he really wasn’t able to effectively communicate to the judges when asked questions before his act began, other than offering one-or-two-word answers, and he constantly was rocking back and forth like many who are autistic.

Nevertheless, his mother explained Kodi was going to play the piano and sing for everyone, as that was his greatest passion. After sitting down and playing a few random keys on the piano that sort of reminded me of what a little kid might do the first time they placed their hands on an instrument, I found myself feeling a little nervous as I didn’t want the audience to boo this guy or give him any bit of negative energy. Sadly, there have been many times this does happen on America’s Got Talent, which honestly, is probably the one thing I don’t like about the show, because anyone stepping foot on a stage in front of several thousand people is quite a feat in itself, but trying to demonstrate a talent they really believe in themselves is far more of a feat.

So, as Kodi began to play, my heart fluttered somewhat in fear for him, that was until he started singing. Immediately, my jaw dropped and tears proceeded to fall from my eyes. The way Kodi played on those piano keys and the way his voice soothed my soul, words couldn’t ultimately describe what I was feeling in my heart. All I know is that I felt the presence of God during his two or so minute performance and it was then that I realized that no matter how bad my life and my health may be, that God has a specific talent within us all that is meant to inspire others somehow.

Kodi Lee’s talent is something I find myself weeks later still thinking about. How can someone who is blind and autistic be so darn amazing! I have never in seven years of watching America’s Got Talent, EVER SEEN SUCH A GIFT in someone with such limitations in life! When Kodi got the season’s first golden buzzer, which guarantees him a live show appearance, I pretty much became a blubbering idiot and was kind of glad I was watching it alone. My partner Chris, who had watched it already earlier that evening had told me it was one of the best episodes he’s ever watched and I honestly didn’t know why he said that, that was until Kodi’s performance.

It’s pretty easy in this world to overlook someone like Kodi Lee and count them out before they even get a chance to prove themselves. Given he doesn’t have that Hollywood look or persona, one could pass Kodi on the streets and feel sorry for him just by what they see. But Kodi reminded me of why all of us should NEVER, EVER, focus on what we see with our eyes, and instead look to what’s beneath all that. Because beneath Kodi’s exterior is a piece of God that just inspired millions and millions of people in a way, that only God could make happen in my humble opinion.

I’m truly grateful for Kodi Lee and his incredible talent and will most certainly be rooting for him to win this season now. He single-handedly gave me enough inspiration to keep going and never count myself out, no matter how much my body and health continues to be riddled in pain and anguish. Because maybe, just maybe, I have a talent within me too, even in my current unfortunate circumstances of life, that one day will inspire many others as well, just like blind and autistic 22-year-old Kodi Lee is doing right now on America’s Got Talent Season 14…

Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson